27 July 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Chris Westcott on IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY



This week, we're pleased to welcome author Chris Westcott with the latest novel, IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY. The author will offer a free copy of In the Shadow of Tyranny to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

In the Shadow of Tyranny – A Novel of Ancient Rome

When the Emperor Nero causes the death of his parents, Gaius sees his future dreams and aspirations brutally shattered. Unexpectedly thrown a lifeline by Vespasian, his father’s closest friend and a celebrated military leader, an offer of a role in the campaign for Judea, finds him playing a pivotal role in the epic battle for Jerusalem.
Summoned back to Rome by Domitian, the new Emperor and his lifelong friend, Gaius finds his friend a changed man, a man capable of cold-blooded murder, and Gaius is swiftly dispatched to distant Britannia with orders for the island’s legendary governor, Agricola.

Forming a mutual respect with Agricola, Gaius embarks on a campaign that will end in triumph and terror, as with the opportunity to expand the Empire within their grasp, Gaius will find himself facing a choice on which the lives of his family and the fate of an Empire will hang.


**Q&A with Chris Westcott**

What inspired you to write the book?
Quite simply I felt that I had a story to tell that could add to the genre of historical fiction set in ancient Rome.
What is it about ancient Rome that fascinated you enough to write a book on it?
When I was about five years old my parents gave me a book that had belonged to my Dad, it was a children’s book describing the history of Romans in Britain. The illustrations were incredible and, as children tend to do, I read the book a hundred times. Agricola, a key character in my novel, was prominent in this children’s book and I guess this must have stayed buried at the back of my mind. In 2005, I read Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series and it was literally a life changing event, from that moment I wanted to understand as much as I could about every element of life in ancient Rome. Later as my new found passion lead me to history books I learned about the incredible events in Judea and I realised I wanted more people to know about that often overlooked piece of Roman history, when I discovered I could combine that with telling some of Agricola’s story I couldn’t grab my laptop quick enough!
How much of the book is based on fact and how much is fiction?
All the key events in the book and the majority of the major characters are based on real people albeit I have imposed my own take on their personality and character. The main character is a fictional creation that I have placed in that world to tell the story.
Tell us something surprising about ancient Rome.
I have always been fascinated by how much ancient Roman history impacts on us today - the calendar we use, the names of the months of the year, the legacy of Roman architecture and engineering, the influence on our political and legal systems to name but a few examples. Learning about ancient Rome has allowed me to view the world around me today with a fresh pair of eyes.
Tell us about the main character.
The main character is fundamentally a good man who is caught up in the events around him. I deliberately gave the character an unusual upbringing as I wanted him to view Rome and the Empire with a naivety that would both endear him to the reader and to allow me to describe the emotion of someone faced with loss, love and achievement. As much as possible I wanted to create a character a reader could engage with albeit in the context of a story set 2000 years ago.
How do you research your novels?
Initially my research consisted of reading as many fictional and non-fictional books on the time period as possible. As the story began to solidify in my head, I started to target the research to the specific time periods and geographical locations. I find it challenging to tread the fine line between having enough detail to create the world of ancient Rome for the reader and disrupting the pace of the story with description so my research tends not to be overly detailed.
What advice can you give to other writers?
Write something that you would want to read yourself. I know that is a cliché but when I write I can imagine how I would feel if I had just read that scene in someone else’s novel and that helps me judge whether I have captured the emotions or details that I hoped to. Another piece of advice would be to get the story down and worry about the details later. It is tempting to go and check a fact or detail but doing so can completely disrupt your flow - all the details can be added in later.
Do you write about any other periods of history?
Not at present but I am fascinated by the idea of a series of novels based around the exploits and achievements of Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville. It was an age of exploration, conquest, heroic military achievement and political intrigue - in short all the ingredients that make for great historical fiction.
Who are your favourite historical fiction authors? Who is your work influenced by?
There are a few but the legend that is Bernard Cornwell for me stands head and shoulders above all others. His ability to educate on a specific time period while creating the most captivating characters and storylines is nothing short of genius. With regards to ancient Rome, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow and Steven Saylor are the real standouts. It was Conn Iggulden's Emperor series that first sparked my interest in Rome and from there I haven’t looked back. I must also make mention of David Gemmell. Although primarily known as a fantasy writer his trilogy based around the stories of Troy were some of the finest historical fiction novels I have ever read.
What are you working on next?
I am currently finishing another novel set in ancient Rome. This will be the first in a two-part story of brothers caught in opposing factions in the ‘year of four Emperors’. The time period is similar to my first novel but this new series allows me to really explore the incredible events that took place in what is arguably the most eventful year in the entire history of the Roman Empire.
Learn more about the novel:

24 July 2014

Excerpt Thursday: IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY by Chris Westcott

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Chris Westcott with the latest novel, IN THE SHADOW OF TYRANNY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of In the Shadow of Tyranny to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

In the Shadow of Tyranny – A Novel of Ancient Rome

When the Emperor Nero causes the death of his parents, Gaius sees his future dreams and aspirations brutally shattered. Unexpectedly thrown a lifeline by Vespasian, his father’s closest friend and a celebrated military leader, an offer of a role in the campaign for Judea, finds him playing a pivotal role in the epic battle for Jerusalem.
Summoned back to Rome by Domitian, the new Emperor and his lifelong friend, Gaius finds his friend a changed man, a man capable of cold-blooded murder, and Gaius is swiftly dispatched to distant Britannia with orders for the island’s legendary governor, Agricola.

Forming a mutual respect with Agricola, Gaius embarks on a campaign that will end in triumph and terror, as with the opportunity to expand the Empire within their grasp, Gaius will find himself facing a choice on which the lives of his family and the fate of an Empire will hang.


**An Excerpt from In the Shadow of Tyranny **


Growing up, I had anything but a normal life. An only child, I was raised in the town of Baiae, in a villa built specifically to give wondrous views of the spectacular Bay of Naples. My father, Lucius Antistius Vetus, had originally bought the property as a holiday home, in which our family could escape the crippling heat of a Roman summer. However, my mother, Sulpicia, when giving birth to me, had fallen dangerously ill. Whilst recuperating in the few years after, she had moved herself the hundred miles from Rome to take advantage of the comfort of the villa and of the hot healing springs, for which the region was famed. She fell in love with Baiae and became convinced that a return to Rome would lead to a return to ill health and so, despite the misgivings of my father, she decided that she would live in the villa permanently. She had insisted that I come to stay with her and so at the age of four, I was whisked out of Rome and relocated to my new life beside the sea.
Now don’t get me wrong, it might have been highly irregular for the only son of a wealthy Roman family to be raised in Baiae, but the villa was a wonderful place for a young boy to grow up. Being right by the shores of the bay, I became an impressive swimmer and proficient fisherman. I would spend whole days in and out of the sea, and through a combination of swimming and the attention of my tutors, I became strong and athletic. My skin was a permanent deep brown, a testament to my outdoor lifestyle, and I was nearly always in vigorous health. This was in stark contrast to my mother who, despite her insistence that the sea air and healing springs worked wonders, was a fragile and sickly woman.
Although I never knew her otherwise, she hadn’t always been like that. My tutor, Doxiadis, told me that in her day, my mother had been one of Rome’s great beauties, a woman who had every man of note clambering for her affection. Looking at her shuffling around the garden in her thick shawl, I always found that a rather hard image to conjure. The illness seemed to be as much of the mind as of the body, for she could spend whole days alone in her private rooms doing nothing and seeing no one. I barely had any relationship with her even from a young age.
One summer, when I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, a local fisherman showed me the shell of a sea creature that seemed to shimmer and radiate twenty different colours at once. He also showed me how to carve a hole in the end of the shell with a knife so that I could thread it onto a cord to make a necklace. I spent hours scouring the beach trying to find flawless examples of the shells. It took me days to find enough of an appropriate quality but eventually I had a completed necklace. To me, it was a thing of beauty and I was bursting to give it to my mother. I raced up the beach and into the villa only to be told by her attendants that she was resting and was not to be disturbed. I spent the next few hours literally hopping with anticipation at how much my mother would love my gift.
Eventually I received word that she would see me and I bounded into her room. She was sitting by a window in a high-backed wooden chair, looking out over the gardens. She turned when she saw me enter but didn’t smile. She hardly ever smiled. I had the necklace hidden behind my back and when I was within a couple of paces from her chair, I produced it with a flourish, beaming with pride at what I had created. Her vacant eyes barely glanced at it as she took it from me and put it on the small table at her side. She turned back to the window and without so much as looking at me, dismissed me from her presence. I never gave her another gift from that day forward.
Given that my father spent nearly all of his time away from the villa attending to business, and given that Mother was hardly capable of anything, most of my time was spent in the company of Doxiadis. Doxiadis was a Greek slave who had been owned by my father since before I was even born. He was very tall, though he was the skinniest man I have ever seen. His hair, always short cropped, was the colour of shining silver and he had a long, beak-like nose that protruded over a neatly trimmed beard, which matched the colour of his hair.
From my earliest days, he seemed elderly, though he never would reveal his actual age, and he played the role of a tutor, friend, and given that as a slave he had never been allowed any family of his own, surrogate father to me. His official duties were teaching me Greek, honing my writing and speaking skills, and ensuring that I learned the history of Rome and her great families. This last area was of particular importance to my father who, conscious that I was being raised outside of Rome, did not want me to lose sight of our distinguished family history. Our family ancestry could proudly claim six consuls and from what Doxiadis told me, there was a better than even chance that if my father’s career continued on its current trajectory, he would be the seventh. 

Learn more about the novel:


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23 July 2014

Unusual Journeys: Aleksandr Baranov and Russian America

The merchant adventurer who could have made California a Russian colony

In Stephen R Bown’s excellent history of the “Merchant Kings – When Companies Ruled The World”, one story stands out. Aleksandr Baranov of the Russian American Company was not a larger-than-life buccaneer, but a calm, organised man with the face of a bureaucrat who earned the loyalty and respect of his followers.

After nine tough years on Kodiak Island, extending Russia’s hold on Alaska despite his own fluctuating health, Baranov was appointed Governor of the Russian American Company, with a charter giving him powers over the Pacific coast of America.

Baranov was a careful man: he went as far south as he could without overextending his long supply lines from Irkutsk. He set up a fur-trading outpost on Sitka Sound, but after he departed, the Tlingit natives attacked it, killing many Russians and stealing a fortune in furs. He assembled one of the greatest invasion forces ever commissioned by a private company, with over 300 vessels, and retook “New Archangel”.

His most unusual voyages did not involve Russians at all. It was so unprofitable to ship his fur pelts all the way to China via Russia that he entered into a web of commercial relationships with American sea-captains and traders, making him one of the first “globalisers” in an age of protectionism.

Baranov dreamed of establishing a base on Hawaii, and of conquering Spanish California, but his empire was really a commercial one, not military. Unusually for a “Merchant King”, he died in his old age, his fortune already generously given away to dependents.

You wonder what California and Hawaii would be like had they been Russian colonies..!

Piers Alexander

Piers Alexander's novel of the Glorious Revolution, The Bitter Trade, is now available as an ebook and paperback (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bitter-Trade-Piers-Alexander-ebook/dp/B00JGN9GT8/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1)



20 July 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Piper Huguley on THE PREACHER'S PROMISE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Piper Huguley with her latest novel, THE PREACHER'S PROMISE. The author will offer a free copy of The Preacher's Promise to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

1866 – Oberlin, Ohio
Devastated by her father’s death days after her triumphant graduation from Oberlin College, Amanda Stewart is all alone in the world. Her father’s unscrupulous business partner offers her an indecent proposal to earn a living. Instead, to fulfill a promise she made to her father, she resolves to start a school to educate and uplift their race.  Sorting through her father’s papers, she discovers he had carried on a mysterious correspondence with a plantation in Milford, Georgia. She determines to start her teaching work with the formerly enslaved. However, when she arrives, the mayor tells her to leave. 

Virgil Smithson, Milford’s mayor, blacksmith and sometimes preacher man with a gift for fiery oratory, doesn’t want anything to do with a snobby schoolteacher from up North. On top of everything else, the schoolteacher lady has a will hard enough to match the iron he forges. He must organize his fellow formerly enslaved citizens into a new town and raise his young daughter alone. Still, his troubled past haunts him. He cannot forget the promise he made to his daughter’s mother as she died—that their child would learn to read and write.  If only he didn’t have secrets that the new schoolteacher seems determined to uncover.

To keep THE PREACHER’S PROMISE, Amanda and Virgil must put aside their enmity, unite for the sake of a newly-created community in a troubling age, and do things they never imagined. In the aftermath of the flood that was the Civil War, God set his bow upon the earth to show love and understanding for humankind. To reflect God’s promise, these combatants must put aside their differences and come together--somehow.

**Q&A with Piper Huguley**

Why did you decide to write about a college?

As many people know, I am a professor.  As a student, I attended large flagship schools.  I had no affinity with the history of the schools that I attended.  Even when the University of Pittsburgh turned 250 while I was there, it was meaningless to me.  However, when I began to teach at smaller schools and taught at an HBCU(Historically Black Colleges and Universities), I was required to attend a ceremony called “Founder’s Day.”  I had never been to such an occasion before where students performed in skits, showing the way the school came to be.  I never bore witness to such a phenomenon before.  After sitting through these required ceremonies for a few years, I began to think of how a similar school might have started.  To my way of thinking, as a complete history nerd, if I didn’t know these histories, most other people didn’t know them either.

This was confirmed for me when I attended a scholarly romance conference in Belgium where other attendees were appalled that Historically Black Colleges and Universities still existed in the United States. They took their existence as evidence of the continued racism of people in the United States. That’s when the idea to explain the origins of HBCUs started to come together for me in my mind.  The introduction of the new genre “New Adult” seemed to confirm that the public might not mind stories about a college as much.
I started working on the first book in 2012.  I called it The President Wants a Wife, which was a contemporary. I started to think about what was on the campus and why it was there. Milford College had certain traditions that had to be explained.  So, I thought to myself, I’ll just write up a quick history of the college, so I know…ha!  Ultimately, it will take me a few years to go through that history, but I’m enjoying it.  I hope others will as well.

Why write about the Reconstruction Era?

I’m a bit of a political junkie and whenever I would hear pundits talk about an African American being elected to congress from somewhere, they would always say something like “That’s the first time an African American has been elected to that seat since Reconstruction.” for a while, I would wonder what that meant. Once I started doing research, I found out that a number of these schools were formed at a particular “high point” during Reconstruction, where African Americans were actually in political power. This “high point” lasted for about five years and came to an end.  When the “high point” came to an end, it seems that those who gained power in the subsequent era saw to it that the gains of the Reconstruction period, and all of its potential outcomes were buried in history.  So people believe it has a sad outcome.  I have a different point of view, however.  The political power may have ended, but the dream of using education to improve lives had just gotten started.  People protected that fire over time.  That’s what the Milford College series is all about. 

But they lost their power.  Isn’t that sad?

It is so interesting to me how people want to keep telling stories from the Southern side of things after the Civil War.  Or keep telling Western. So weknow who lost the War and that technology and a different way of life came to the West that ended those times.  Why can’t Reconstruction stories be told? It was a rare era of attempts at  racial cooperation, a time of hope and inspiration.  To me, it’s a lot like present day.  Just as the formerly enslaved had to shift their way of thinking and being in the world, technology is doing the same thing for everyone today.  Yet, contemporaries are the hottest thing out there.  Why can’t stories about the Reconstruction era work in the same way?

Are the characters in the Milford College series based on real people?

Some are.  I’ve written about this on my blog (http://piperhuguley.com).  There are so many stories of real life people out there who were heroes. They insisted on creating and maintaining schools. Really, I’m almost half ashamed that my narratives are historical fiction and romance. They deserve the historical treatment as well, and are just beginning to get their due in non-fiction. Overall, in terms of history, we don’t discuss the “ordinary” people nearly enough.  I hope to put that to rights with my work—just a little bit. 

Learn more about Piper G Huguley, the author of the "Home to Milford College" series. The series traces the love stories at a small "Teachers and Preachers" college in Georgia over time, beginning with the love story of the founders. Book one in the series, The Preacher's Promise, was a semi-finalist in Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write contest, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The prequel novella, The Lawyer's Luck, and The Preacher's Promise will be independently published in July 2014. The Mayor's Mission will be independently published in the fall of 2014.

Huguley is also the author of "Migrations of the Heart," a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion's Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.

Piper Huguley blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

Twitter: @writerpiper
Facebook: Piper Huguley

18 July 2014

New & Noteworthy: July 18

Michelle Styles' latest novel, TAMING HIS VIKING WOMAN, was accepted by Harlequin last Monday. It is another Viking set romance, this time with a shield maiden as a heroine. Her upcoming novel SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR will be released in September.

Blythe Gifford will be at the Romance Writers of America "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in the 3rd floor ballroom. The signing is open to the public. Hundreds of authors will participate, with proceeds going to support literacy. She’ll be signing both THE WITCH FINDER, the Booksellers Best finalist Short Historical, and SECRETS AT COURT, her most recent Harlequin Historical release. For more information and a complete list of authors, visit the Romance Writers of America, www.rwa.org.

17 July 2014

Excerpt Thursday: THE PREACHER'S PROMISE by Piper Huguley

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Piper Huguley with her latest novel, THE PREACHER'S PROMISE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of The Preacher's Promise to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

1866 – Oberlin, Ohio
Devastated by her father’s death days after her triumphant graduation from Oberlin College, Amanda Stewart is all alone in the world. Her father’s unscrupulous business partner offers her an indecent proposal to earn a living. Instead, to fulfill a promise she made to her father, she resolves to start a school to educate and uplift their race.  Sorting through her father’s papers, she discovers he had carried on a mysterious correspondence with a plantation in Milford, Georgia. She determines to start her teaching work with the formerly enslaved. However, when she arrives, the mayor tells her to leave. 

Virgil Smithson, Milford’s mayor, blacksmith and sometimes preacher man with a gift for fiery oratory, doesn’t want anything to do with a snobby schoolteacher from up North. On top of everything else, the schoolteacher lady has a will hard enough to match the iron he forges. He must organize his fellow formerly enslaved citizens into a new town and raise his young daughter alone. Still, his troubled past haunts him. He cannot forget the promise he made to his daughter’s mother as she died—that their child would learn to read and write.  If only he didn’t have secrets that the new schoolteacher seems determined to uncover.

To keep THE PREACHER’S PROMISE, Amanda and Virgil must put aside their enmity, unite for the sake of a newly-created community in a troubling age, and do things they never imagined. In the aftermath of the flood that was the Civil War, God set his bow upon the earth to show love and understanding for humankind. To reflect God’s promise, these combatants must put aside their differences and come together--somehow.

**An Excerpt from The Preacher's Promise**

The school master would be the one to find out Virgil was the very last person in this hamlet of six hundred or so God-fearing souls who should be the mayor. Even as he approached the platform, his heart pounded at being found out.
            But when he and March rounded the corner to where the once-a-day train dropped off cargo and people and chugged on to Savannah, there was no schoolmaster waiting on the platform.
            Instead, on the train bench, sat the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.
            He would have been no less surprised if a colorful parrot or macaw from one of the Milford grandchildren’s picture books came and lit on the wooden bench.
            March took in a deep breath and he put his hand on her shoulder to steady her. His little daughter trembled at the sight of the lady.
            His own stomach pitched around like ash at the edge of the fire. The lady leaned forward to regard them both. Her skin was the medium brown color of cooked oatmeal, the kind someone else made and not him, since he tended to scorch it.
            And she flashed a smile to them with small, even teeth of the pearliest white.
            Her cheeks had dimples that sunk in so charmingly he would have sworn his heart flipped upside down inside of his chest.
            But almost as spectacular as she was in face, she was surrounded by yards and yards of black dress material, a dress so big and wide with hoopskirting, she tamed it down with small dainty hands as she stood to greet him.
            Her black bonnet bobbed in kind as she greeted them with a pleasantly voiced “Good Day to you.”
            “She’s so pretty.” March breathed in.
            She must be the schoolmaster’s wife. Such a beautiful lady must be married to a high-up man like a schoolmaster. Where was the schoolmaster? No one emerged and instantly, he was made a fool in front of this beauty. He would have to speak to confirm it.
            “Ma’am. We’re here to meet the schoolmaster. Is he ’round this way?”
            She regarded him with large eyes that resembled the candy chocolate drops Mrs. Milford kept in a big jar in the parlor. Her eyes were merry. “Are you Virgil Smithson?”
            “I am.”
            He did not put out his hand as it would not be appropriate to shake hands with another man’s wife. He had a daughter to raise and did not want to start trouble with the schoolmaster first off.
            “I’m Amanda Stewart.”
            Virgil nodded. A nice proper name. “And your husband is getting your trunks?” Although it made no sense, a trunk should have been unloaded with them, but he saw nothing.
            “I have no husband, sir. And I have no trunk.”
            “Your black dress?”
            “For my father. Lawrence Stewart. I’m his daughter, Amanda. I’ve come to be the schoolteacher.”
            A rush of blood came into Virgil’s ears and his heart threatened to beat right out of his chest.
            “You? A schoolteacher?”
            The lady, she said her name was Amanda? She rearranged her big skirt, big like how Mrs. Milford’s used to be, and put her gaze on him. Something about her eyes, made her look as hopeful a little girl as March. “Yes, thank you Mr. Smithson. I’ve just finished the course at Oberlin College in Ohio. I’ve been my father’s pupil for many years before that. Let me assure you, I’m well qualified.”
            “We wanted a man. Where is he?” Virgil blurted out and red heat blossomed onto his neck and face. She was sure to see it, no matter the deep brown of his skin tone. “Oh. So sorry for your loss.”
            The look on her delicate features etched deep pain. If she had been punched in the gut, she would have looked as hurt.
            He wanted to collect her up and tell her it would be all right. “I’m sorry for your loss, miss.” And he was sorry, but there was some terrible mistake.
            “Thank you.” She pulled a delicate white hanky out of a skirt pocket within the big skirt and wiped at her nose with it.
            The whiteness of her hanky contrasted sharply with the deep jet of her gown and Virgil almost forgot his daughter in his discomfort until March said, “Pretty lady teacher.”
            And before he could stop it, Amanda Stewart bent down to talk with March, her big wide skirt spreading out into the dusty wooden platform. “Hello, I’m Miss Stewart.”
            “Pleased to meet you, Miss Stewart.”
            She bestowed that smile of hers on his little daughter and a connection knit itself between the lady and his child. No. Time to cut this off. He took March’s hand in his. “The community sent for a male teacher, Miss.”
            Amanda stood and faced him again. This time he was surprised that the tip of her bonnet just about measured up to his chin. She carried herself much bigger than that. Or maybe it was her clothing. “You are mistaken, sir. The missive said you needed a teacher. I can provide that service.” 


Learn more about Piper G Huguley, the author of the "Home to Milford College" series. The series traces the love stories at a small "Teachers and Preachers" college in Georgia over time, beginning with the love story of the founders. Book one in the series, The Preacher's Promise, was a semi-finalist in Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write contest, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The prequel novella, The Lawyer's Luck, and The Preacher's Promise will be independently published in July 2014. The Mayor's Mission will be independently published in the fall of 2014.

Huguley is also the author of "Migrations of the Heart," a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion's Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.

Piper Huguley blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

Twitter: @writerpiper
Facebook: Piper Huguley

16 July 2014

Unusual Journeys: Miguel de Cervantes’s Unexpectedly Prolonged Mediterranean Adventure

Miguel de Cervantes’s extraordinary qualities extended far beyond his writing. His biography reads like an adventure novel. Born the middle son of an itinerant barber-surgeon, travel came into his blood with his mother’s milk. But his most unusual journey was a routine trip on the galley Sol in 1575.

Cervantes was nearly 28 years old when he embarked. He would live another 30 years before Don Quijote de la Mancha would meet the public. (Cervantes should stand as an inspiration to late bloomers everywhere.) In 1569, the story goes, a nobleman had insulted his sister and Cervantes wounded him in a duel in the royal palace. The penalty would have been to lose his right hand and be exiled from the kingdom for ten years. There is disagreement about whether or not the dueler was our Miguel de Cervantes. In any case, right around this time, Miguel joined the Spanish navy marines in Italy, perhaps waiting for the law to forget his offense.

His brother Rodrigo joined him and together they participated in the Battle of Lepanto, a naval victory against the Turks much celebrated at the time. On the day of the battle, Miguel was sick with a fever and ordered to stay below, but his sense of duty held sway. He seems to have fought on deck in the midst of the thickest action. Two bullets lodged in his chest; a third resulted in the loss of the use of his left hand. This wound, though debilitating, served as a badge of honor for the rest of his life.

Battle of Lepanto, Andrea Vicentino
WIkiMedia Commons
He convalesced in Italy for six months. The world must remain forever grateful for this down time, because he finally had leisure to do the reading that would so heavily influence his thoughts and work. He participated in at least two more battles before he and Rodrigo were sent home to Spain.

It was September, 1575. It was a totally unremarkable trip from Naples to Barcelona. Miguel carried letters of recommendation addressed to the king and had high hopes for stable employment with the State. But, especially in the sixteenth century, there is no sure thing in life. Just when it seemed Sol was about to pull into safe harbor, North African pirates captured the ship, killing the captain and many crew members.

Miguel and his brother Rodrigo were sold at the slave market in Algiers. Suddenly Miguel’s papers of commendation became a liability. The Algerians, who were in the habit of holding the important Christians they captured for ransom, thought Miguel was one such important Christian, and they set his price unattainably high.

Miguel’s sisters gave up their dowries and his mother begged the government in futile efforts to bring the brothers home. Conditions in captivity were harsh. Most prisoners were chained in dark rooms and required to perform physical tasks under strict guard. Miguel’s apparent status as well as his injury may have spared him too much labor, and some biographers have surmised that he served as a notary or an interpreter for his master.

The conditions, or the mere fact of captivity, were harsh enough for Miguel to attempt to escape four times. No one knows why he didn’t receive the official punishment for fugitives: death by torture. The Algerian officials were noted for their cruelty, often lashing, impaling, and hanging offenders such like Cervantes by the feet until dead. However, they let him off every time with only a short prison sentence. Biographers suggest that they were impressed with Miguel’s courage. When questioned about the accomplices to his escape plans, he never betrayed his collaborators, but asked to be punished alone.

When his family miraculously gathered enough money to ransom one, but only one, of the brothers, Miguel allowed that brother to be Rodrigo. In the end, the family enlisted the help of Nuestra Señora de la Merced, a Trinitarian order that specialized in rescuing Christian captives in Africa.

Cervantes returned to his home country in 1580, five years after Sol was to have delivered him, and five years of unknown torment. As he later expressed in the voice of Don Quijote, “no treasure the Earth contains nor the sea conceals can be compared to” freedom after captivity.

He had left a criminal in danger of losing his right hand and being exiled for ten years, and returned, after twelve years away, an unemployed hero without the use of his left hand. A routine sail to Barcelona became a defining moment and the most unusual journey of Cervantes’s life.

And the most surreal, most artistically fruitful part of his life was yet to come.


Some great resources on Cervantes’s life:

Cervantes by Jean Canavaggio, Joseph R. Jones (Translator), 1990.
Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive’s Tale by Maria Antonia Garcés, 2005.
Miguel de Cervantes (Modern Critical Views), ed. by Harold Bloom, 2005.
The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. by Anthony J Cascardi, 2002.
Critical Essays on Cervantes ed. by Ruth S. El Saffar, 1986.


A driven fiction writer, Jessica Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is currently a bilingual copyeditor at an educational publisher. Find out more about her historical novel, Seven Noble Knights, here, and her other writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too!

13 July 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Kelley Heckart on DAUGHTER OF NIGHT

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Kelley Heckart with her latest novel, DAUGHTER OF NIGHT. The author will offer a free copy of Daughter of Night to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Their destiny began in the ancient land of Anatolia.

In 1326 BC, Crete is the last remaining sacred place for the Great Goddess, but changes began to threaten the old gods, the Titans. Forced to become an ally to the power hungry Olympian gods, Rhea hangs on to the secret of the star metal, the one key that would make Zeus and the other young gods invincible. When this secret is stolen, Rhea must find the Dactyl and the goddess who betrayed Her before Zeus does.

Becuille is a daughter of Night, a servant of the Great Goddess created to impart Her vengeance on mortal and immortal wrongdoers. Made mortal by Rhea, she is sent to find the ones who betrayed the Great Goddess. In the land of Hatti, she meets a proud and handsome prince. When love binds her to him, her loyalties are torn.

Callileon, a prince of the Hatti, has closed off his heart to love only to rediscover it in the arms of the mysterious and fiery slave girl he has purchased. He is caught up in a dangerous world of power hungry gods, jealous goddesses and potent magic, which even the Fates cannot steer him away from.

Can two mortals fight the will of the gods?

**Q&A with Kelley Heckart**

How do you pick your time periods for your books?

I like to write in time periods that interest me, ones that are steeped in myth and mystery. I look for time periods that have few, if any, records, like Dark Age Scotland or Bronze Age Greece because then I can fill in the blanks to create my stories. This doesn’t mean I slack off on research. I do a lot of research to gather whatever information I can find about the setting, the people, and customs. I rely on myths and early writings for my research. For Daughter of Night I relied on the Iliad, Greek and pre-Hellenic myths and writings by ancient Greeks.

What made you pick one of the Erinyes (similar to Roman Furies) as your heroine in Daughter of Night?

I think I like to punish myself. I’m kidding. Sort of. I picked a vengeance goddess because my heroine had to be able to have some control over the gods and goddesses under Rhea’s rule. She had to be close to the Great Goddess, so I made her a special vengeance goddess that enacted Rhea’s vengeance upon any Titan that angered the Great Goddess. She also acted as the goddess’ bodyguard. But I had a challenge because I had to make her likeable and had to find a way to give her feelings since a vengeance goddess has no remorse. Rhea needed her vengeance goddess to find the Titan that betrayed her and stole the secret of the star metal—and to do this, Becuille (the heroine) had to be made human. Now she had human feelings.

Daughter of Night is rich in historical detail. How much research did you have to do to make that possible?

Tons of research. Not only did I have to do extensive research on the older gods known as the Titans, and on the history of iron smelting, but I also had to research Crete and the Hittites that ruled Anatolia (modern Turkey) from 1600 BC to 1200 BC. While researching the Hittites, I found some fascinating information that worked with my story. Most of what is in Daughter of Night is recorded history. Here is what I discovered about the Hittites:
Very little is said about the Hittites (Hatti) of ancient Anatolia, but they rivaled the Egyptians and Babylonians in power and sophistication. They thrived from about 1600 BC to around 1200 BC and were the first people to smelt superior iron.

The Hittites (Hatti) also built large advanced cities with clay water pipe systems and grand temples for their gods. They worshipped a Storm god and a Sun goddess. Before someone could go before the king, they had to bathe. The same rules applied to the deities, and the people that had direct contact with the deities had to shave the hair from their bodies.

The Hittites (Hatti) came to a mysterious end, the once thriving civilization gone. There are accounts of a battle with the Egyptians where some Egyptians were taken prisoner—these prisoners carried a plague that wiped out the Hittite/Hatti people. I used this theory in my story. I also drew on their ability to smelt superior iron and how this knowledge was stolen from the Great Goddess (Rhea). In my story the iron was cursed and that contributed to the rise and fall of the Hittites.

What would you say is your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite part?

My favorite part of writing is definitely the creation part—deciding on my main characters and putting their backgrounds together. I also enjoy doing research. I’m a bit of a history geek. There are so many unknown gems out there, and I love uncovering things I didn’t know before—like about the Hittites and how sophisticated they were. I had no idea until I started doing the research on them. My least favorite part is self-editing. Yuck. For one thing, I’m terrible at seeing my own mistakes. It’s really frustrating for me. I would never publish without an editor, that’s for sure.

How about a fun question? Describe your ideal date.

Date? I haven’t dated in years. I don’t even remember how to date. But if I went on a date, my dream date would be to go horseback riding in Sedona, AZ in a remote spot—a sunset ride during a full moon—so we can stop, watch the sunset paint the rocks a fiery red, then build a fire and snuggle on a blanket in the moonlight. And feed each other smores.

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Learn more about Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author
Captivating...Sensual...Otherworldly
Website: http://www.kelleyheckart.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/kheckart

Buy links:
Mundania Press (in ebook formats and trade paperback):

Buy links on author website: http://kelleyheckart.com/daughter_of_night.