Friday, December 27, 2019

Roundup for 2019

As always (at least since 2014, when I started this tradition), here in the final post of December I review my goals for 2019 and how well I met them, in preparation for setting new goals for 2020 next week.

On the whole, I met and in some cases exceeded this year’s targets. See below for details.

(1) Publish Song of the Siren (Songs of Steppe & Forest 1), on schedule in late February. 

Met. Song of the Siren launched on February 19 with a number of lovely endorsements from fellow writers and, although nowhere near bestseller status, has done well in comparison with my other novels. It has also spurred sales of my earlier books, especially The Golden Lynx and The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel.

(2) Produce a final manuscript of Song of the Shaman (Songs 2) and sketch out book 3, Song of the Sisters.  

Exceeded. Song of the Shaman is available for sale as of today and ready for its formal launch date on January 14, 2020, by which time I expect Amazon to have linked the print and paperback versions. Song of the Sisters is now on its second draft, and I have developed a complete outline for a historical murder mystery to be co-written with P. K. Adams and set in Muscovy in 1553. We hope to start the writing any day, with the idea of producing a full draft by next summer and, with luck, eventually a trilogy set in Poland-Lithuania as well as Russia.

(3) Conduct twelve New Books in Historical Fiction interviews.

Exceeded. Demand was heavy from January on, and at one point it looked as if I would have twenty by year’s end, but for various reasons I topped out at eighteen. I also hosted Q&As with authors on this blog about once a month in addition to the podcast interviews for the New Books Network, and I reviewed a number of other books either at length or as part of my quarterly Bookshelf rubric—most often both.

(4) Typeset/proof, produce e-books, and in some cases edit Five Directions Press titles scheduled for 2019.

Met. For a while, it looked as if Song of the Siren might be our only title this year, but in the end we had three. I edited Joan Schweighardt’s Gifts for the Dead (Rivers 2) while she edited Gabrielle Mathieu’s Girl of Fire (Berona’s Quest 1); then I typeset them both and produced the e-books after they finished proofing the typeset files.

(5) Stay current with online marketing efforts and outreach. At a minimum, I plan to keep up my weekly blog posts, maintain my website and the Five Directions Press website, and participate regularly if not every month in such group features as “Books We Loved” and “Five Directions Press Authors Dish.”  

Met. Although heavy work commitments meant that I was absent from social media more than is either desirable or wise for a small-press author, I did manage to keep up with my blog, maintain and update my website (hint: book links are now separated by series rather than all crammed into one page) and the Five Directions Press site. I submitted entries for “Books We Loved” in eleven out of twelve months and contributed at least three “Authors Dish” posts, as well as a Spotlight interview with P. K. Adams (conducted before we established the parameters of our joint project).

So not a bad show, all told. Check back next week to find out what I have planned for next year. In the meantime, my best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful and productive 2020!


Image: Purchased by subscription from iClipart.com, #c1219315_b.jpg .

Friday, December 20, 2019

Island Paradise

As luck would have it, I’ve never visited Hawaii. I’d love to, someday, but so far I have not. 

I first heard of the islands as a schoolchild in the UK, as the place where Captain James Cook died. In those days, Hawaii was an independent kingdom, although portrayed as a savage, uncivilized one in the colonialist textbook of my primary (elementary) school. Of course, this was the same textbook that reduced the six-year American War of Independence to a paragraph stating that King George III kindly released the colonists from their obligations to the crown in response to a few disturbances. When I moved across the Atlantic at the age of eleven, I soon learned the other side to that story, and it wasn’t hard to imagine that the Hawaiians might have had good reasons for objecting to Captain Cook as well.

There in Chicago, I learned about Hawaii as the fiftieth state, an island paradise where folks from the other forty-nine wanted to hang out on their vacations. Sun, beach, sea, mountains—even a kid in junior high school could appreciate the appeal. There was a casual mention of annexation in my US history classes, but that appeared as little more than a footnote on the way to rounding out the national roster—glossed over along with all the other stories of conquest and exploitation in favor of emphasis on the Louisiana Purchase and the $7 million that William Seward paid for Alaska. A different picture, for sure, stripped of the savage and uncivilized element, but not much more accurate for all that.


The Hawaii portrayed in Katherine Kayne’s Bound in Flame, the subject of my latest interview for New Books in Historical Fiction, is, in contrast, a vibrant and multifaceted place—still wrestling with the reality of US annexation, the loss of the islands’ independence, the overthrow of its royal family, and the assault on its ancient culture. There are certainly beaches, mountains, and flowers by the cartload, but the story behind the story is darker, grittier, and more realistic than the glorious photos of Waikiki with which we’re so familiar. Richer, too, since this is a tale of an island kingdom that valued education, experienced a deep attachment to the land and its creatures, and supported strong and assertive women—riders, spiritual leaders, rulers—at a time when much of the mainland insisted that females should see themselves solely as “angels about the house.”

 

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Leticia Liliuokalani Lang, better known as Letty, has good intentions, but her strong will and quick temper tend to get in her way. Banished from her Hawaiian home due to a conflict with her stepmother, Letty winds up in a California boarding school, where she decides to devote her career to healing animals—even though female  veterinarians are scarcer than the proverbial hen’s teeth in 1906.

On the ship back to her beloved islands, Letty notices a beautiful racehorse and realizes the horse’s trainer is abusing him. An accident in the harbor sends the stallion into the ocean, and Letty dives in to save him without a second thought. That sets her on a collision course with the horse’s owner and trainer after she insults the former and reports on the latter’s mistreatment. All this before Letty even reaches her home and confronts the stepmother who sent her away.

Letty learns that she has a magical gift that challenges her self-control but acts as a source of strength and connection. She is one of nine Gates, bound to the earth, born with the ability to harness its power—represented by the flames of her spirit—to direct her intentions, for good or for ill. But Letty resists her destiny, knowing that her gift comes at a cost: a lifetime alone.

In this delightful debut novel Katherine Kayne sweeps us back to a Hawaii still mourning its lost kingdom, where ladies—their ballgowns covered in yards of protective fabric—gallop across the mountains and down the city streets on their way to polo matches and parties, men dance the hula as well as women, and flowers are everywhere. It’s no accident that Bound in Flame kicks off a brand-new series, aptly called The Hawaiian Ladies Riding Society.

Image: Lei © Sanba38 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Milestones


Yesterday I recorded the hundredth interview for New Books in Historical Fiction. It should go up next week, or at any rate before Christmas, and it will take us to early twentieth-century Hawaii, which is exactly where I’d like to be as the snow and long nights close in.

Of the hundred interviews that have posted or soon will, ninety-nine are mine—recorded over seven years, including eighteen this year alone. So it seems like a good time to stop and take stock. It’s been a great deal of fun, and I hope to keep going. I’ve made great connections, talked to many wonderful authors, and even started a few friendships. And all because of a mistake.

A mistake? Well, you see, when I first approached Marshall Poe—the editor in chief of the New Books Network (NBN) and, not coincidentally, a fellow Muscovite historian—back in 2012, I just wanted to get some publicity for The Golden Lynx, then hot off the press. I’d seen a reference to the NBN in the journal I edit, and when I checked the site address, I saw a reference to a channel called New Books in Historical Fiction. At that point in time, I still had so little idea of what the NBN was that I didn’t understand it involved podcasts. (In truth, back then I wasn’t quite sure about podcasts, either, although I did know they were audio recordings.) But I knew Marshall from way back, so I wrote to him and asked for an interview.

Well, to cut a long story short, the NBN had a channel for historical fiction but no host. Marshall offered me the job, and I almost didn’t take it. In high school I was a nerd, and shy as all get out (this news amazes people who know me now, but it’s true). My husband called radio stations for contests or to make comments; I never did. The idea of getting on a microphone and talking on the air was alien to me. But then I thought about it and decided: why not? I had to grow up sometime. And I’d get to talk to fellow writers. How bad could it be? So I said yes.



Early on, while I was making every mistake imaginable—including my second interview, where I managed to press the buttons in the wrong sequence and record only my side of the interview, not my guest’s—I had the good fortune to link up with Heather Drucker, the publicity director at HarperCollins. A stunningly competent and responsive publicist, Heather has sent me more authors than I can count. She’s arranged three podcast interviews, as well as two blog posts and a written Q&A, with Bernard Cornwell. She’s also connected me with half of her staff, who routinely send me books to consider and set up interviews as needed. One landed on my doorstep just the other day.

Also in those first few months, a chance connection on GoodReads, the social media site for readers, brought me into contact with Caitlin Hamilton Summie, an author and independent publicist who represents authors at many levels of publishing. In addition to these two wonderful ladies, I’ve approached quite a number of authors directly or by responding to e-mail requests. In the beginning, I was amazed and grateful that people even answered my e-mails and agreed to talk with me. These days, I rarely have an unfilled slot in my schedule (I’m booked now well into next year), but I’m still touched by authors’ willingness to share their literary worlds with me, whether those involve Austen’s England or some new angle on World War II.

In the meantime, the NBN has grown dramatically. From one channel in 2010, it’s expanded to more than eighty, although most of those focus on academic subjects (exceptions include historical fiction, fantasy and adventure, science fiction, literature, and poetry). We’ve established a partnership with the Literary Hub, which posts links to new interviews every Friday. And as of last report, we’re on track to serve nine million interviews in 2019. How many of them are mine, I don’t know, but I do know that we have listeners in Europe and Australia as well as North America, which is very cool.


So have I sold many books, which was my original goal? Not really. A few, certainly, on occasions when I’ve been the guest rather than the host. But there are so many other benefits to this gig. The interviews give me something to post on social media that focuses on others rather than myself. I’ve made the acquaintance of many wonderful writers and enjoyed many fascinating conversations about writing. I’ve gotten a few endorsements for my books and visits to this blog. Through interviews I made the acquaintance of Joan Schweighardt, who has since joined Five Directions Press, and P. K. Adams, now a partner on that “Tudors meet Romanovs” mystery that I’ve mentioned in previous posts, now fully outlined and ready to write. For all those reasons, I’m so glad I took the chance and said yes when Marshall asked.

And although I still find new mistakes to make, I’ve become completely comfortable chatting with people on the air—something I never expected that day when I sent an e-mail asking for an interview about The Golden Lynx.

Maybe I’ll even call a radio station someday. But then, why bother, when I have this lovely channel of my own?

Images: Lei of plumaria, “On Air” sign, Henry VIII reenactor—all  via Pixabay (no attribution required).

Friday, December 6, 2019

Interview with Molly Greeley

I have to admit, for all the times I’ve read and watched Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, until I encountered Molly Greeley’s new novel, The Clergyman’s Wife, I had never spent a moment wondering what happened to Charlotte Lucas and the Reverend William Collins after their marriage. For people who have somehow managed to avoid the novel in all its forms, Charlotte is the plain, older (twenty-seven, which to me now seems very young!) friend of Pride and Prejudice’s heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, and William Collins is the fly in the Bennet daughters’ ointment—the little-known heir to their father’s estate, who has illusions of further strengthening his claim by marrying Elizabeth.

But to my amazement, by the time I finished The Clergyman’s Wife, not only was I delighted to have renewed my acquaintance with Charlotte but capable of mustering some sympathy for the otherwise risible Mr. Collins. How Molly Greeley works this miracle you’ll have to discover for yourself, but here are a few insights into what got her started on this project and where she goes with it.

Pride and Prejudice novels are, in a way, the gold standard of publishing dreams, especially if an author can come up with a new take on the Bennet sisters’ story, which you certainly have. Where did the idea come from to focus on Charlotte Lucas and the Reverend Williams Collins?

To be completely honest, I have always found Charlotte’s story even more compelling than Elizabeth Bennet’s, perhaps because it’s (much) less of a fairy tale. Though Lizzy is brave in one way, determined not to compromise her values in favor of security, Charlotte has her own brand of courage, taking charge of her own life in the best way available to her.

Like all of Austen’s novels, there is a lot in Pride and Prejudice about women’s financial insecurity; but because the heroine falls into the arms of a man with ten thousand a year, the actual fallout of the inequalities between men and women during this time period doesn’t fully play out, at least for Elizabeth Bennet. But Charlotte’s story offers an opportunity to explore more deeply what might have happened to women who did not feel comfortable sacrificing their own and their family’s comfort for the sake of romantic love that, realistically speaking, may or may not ever arrive. Lizzy’s story is more palatable to our modern sensibilities, particularly since most modern women don’t face destitution if they don’t marry; but Charlotte’s story is probably closer to the truth of what many women in Austen’s time experienced.

Although Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet’s good friend, Charlotte is a bit player in Austen’s novel. Who is she as a character there, and how have marriage and motherhood changed her in your book, which starts a few years later?

In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte is shown to be by turns playful—urging Lizzy to play the pianoforte, teasing her about Mr. Darcy—and practical to a fault. She thinks that Jane Bennet ought, in order to “secure” the rich, handsome Mr. Bingley, to pretend to a deeper affection for him than she is comfortable displaying until she knows him better; and she herself sets out to seduce Mr. Collins with her sympathy and attention, even while suspecting that she can never truly respect him. We know that she is intelligent and interesting enough to be good friends with Elizabeth, whose wit and love of a good laugh indicate she likely wouldn’t be friends with a bore.

When Lizzy returns home from visiting Charlotte and William after their marriage, she reflects that Charlotte’s “home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry … had not yet lost their charms.” That “yet” seems very telling to me, and so when Chapter One of The Clergyman’s Wife begins three years after Charlotte’s marriage, all of those charms have begun to wear very thin. Her life in Hunsford is very solitary, and in order to slot herself into the role of the good clergyman’s wife according to both William and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she has lost, or at least buried, much of what would have made her an attractive friend to Lizzy. She is also now mother to a young daughter, and there is a fundamental tension between her realism—she knows deeply how important financial security is for a woman—and her burgeoning understanding that, while important, security simply isn’t enough.

William Collins is, to put it bluntly, not the man of most young women’s dreams. Why does Charlotte make a play for him after Lizzy turns him down?

I love that you said Charlotte “makes a play” for Mr. Collins, because this is exactly what she does, and it’s one of the reasons I love her character so much. She doesn’t set out to seduce him with her body, but by giving him what he really wants: attention. There are so many layers to unwrap here with regards to Charlotte’s character—she is capable of boldness; she is calculating; she is empathic. And then there are the unspoken layers, which Austen may or may not have intended, but which seem, to my mind at least, likely. Layers of fear and insecurity, because, as a woman who lacked both money and beauty, and who was already in her late twenties, her future was precarious. If she didn’t marry, she was going to end up dependent on the charity of her father and, later, her brothers. Depending on her brothers’ (and their wives’) personalities, this could mean a lifetime of being seen as a burden, no matter how she helped in the household. A woman of Charlotte’s standing in society could become a governess, if she were well-educated enough, or a paid lady’s companion; but these, too, were precarious options, and came without the status conferred by being someone’s wife.

So William Collins, for all his many failings, seems like a good option to her—really, the best option she has. He has a respectable position as a clergyman, and when his cousin Mr. Bennet dies, he stands to inherit Longbourn estate. When her friend Lizzy doesn’t snatch him up, Charlotte sees an opportunity and takes it.

And what of William himself? Remind us briefly of how Austen characterizes him, then how you went about making him a more sympathetic character—which you do wonderfully, without changing his fundamental personality as Austen defines him.

Mr. Collins is described as a tall, heavyish man, with very stately manners, who talks a lot without ever saying much of interest. He offers compliments fawningly, and whenever he feels he has offended someone his apologies are just as excessive. By turns vain and self-debasing, he is, basically, awkward in almost every imaginable way. He’s a caricature of a certain type of clergyman from Austen’s time, and a certain type of person, one who is over-awed by titles and riches.

Because my story centers on Charlotte, and because Charlotte is married to William, I knew I had to turn him into something resembling an actual person rather than a caricature. We know from Austen that William’s father and Mr. Bennet, Lizzy’s father, had a falling-out, and we know that his father was “illiterate and miserly.” This provided a jumping-off point in my mind for William’s backstory. And I tried to use little moments—his difficulty connecting with his baby daughter, for instance—to show that under his awkwardness lay an essential insecurity; that he wants to connect with people, but has trouble really doing so.

To be honest, Mr. Collins was not too difficult to humanize because he is never portrayed as a villain in Pride and Prejudice, only as ridiculous. And while ridiculous people may be easy targets in comedy and satire, in life there is usually something deeper going on underneath.

No story about Charlotte and William would be complete without mention of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. What is her role in Charlotte’s life?

Oh, Lady Catherine! Yes, she’s overbearing, certain she always knows best, and much more involved in Charlotte’s life than Charlotte would like. Lady Catherine is William’s patroness, which means it was she who offered him the living at Hunsford parish; however, in my research into the ins and outs of Regency-era clergy, it looks like the living, once given, couldn’t easily be rescinded. So it wasn’t so much that Charlotte and William risked losing their home and livelihood if they didn’t dance attendance upon Lady Catherine; rather, they merely risked the ire of a powerful neighbor, a woman who was petulant and very accustomed to getting her own way.

I mean really, it was probably just easier to bow to Lady Catherine’s whims rather than try to stand against them; having her for an enemy, especially living just across the lane, would be unpleasant to say the least. But there was also the matter of William, who genuinely seemed to be in awe of her ladyship; if she stood up to Lady Catherine, Charlotte would also have to stand up to her husband—in a time when the “obey” in marriage vows was literally meant. And of course, there were the societal strictures of the times, by which someone nobly born like Lady Catherine was automatically offered respect based on her bloodline alone, regardless of how distasteful her company and her meddling might be. So Lady Catherine offers Charlotte “advice” on how to keep house and raise her daughter, and Charlotte nods and smiles and inwardly screams with boredom.

But this story is really about Charlotte’s developing friendship with Mr. Travis, which for me is both beautifully handled and believable. What can you tell us about him, as Charlotte sees him?

Mr. Travis is a farmer, a tenant of Lady Catherine. As such, he isn’t someone Charlotte would ever have considered a suitable match for herself, or any woman of her station. But after they have a chance meeting in the parsonage garden, she discovers he has a sly, irreverent humor, and, more than that, kindness, and an ability to connect, not only with her but with her child.

Mr. Travis is someone who truly sees Charlotte, and truly cares about her. William loves the idea of Charlotte as his wife, but she has never fully been herself in his company—and, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t really understand her if she were. But from the first, Charlotte and Mr. Travis share a sort of fundamental understanding of each others’ characters and situations. In some ways, too, he offers Charlotte what she, herself, offered to William, though on a deeper and more sincere level—someone who truly listens to her.

And what of you? This book came out on Tuesday. Are you already working on another novel?

I am! I have another Austen-inspired novel in the editing stages, and I’m starting work on a contemporary story.

Thank you so much for answering my questions!

 

Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her addiction to books was spurred by her parents' floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A graduate of Michigan State University, she began as an Education major, but switched to English and Creative Writing after deciding that gainful employment was not as important to her as being able to spend several years reading books and writing stories and calling it work.

She lives in Traverse City, Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops. Find out more about her at https://www.mollygreeley.com.