18 October 2009

Guest Author: JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

Sundays here at Unusual Historicals mean guest authors, and our guest today is JoAnn Smith Ainsworth. Her latest release from Samhain Publishing is MATILDA'S SONG, a fiery star-crossed tale of a Norman man and a Saxon woman in 12th century Britain. Here's the blurb:

Duty requires sacrifice...but the heart will not be denied.

At the time, pretending marriage to her middle-aged widower cousin seemed like the best way to escape a politically motivated betrothal to a brutal knight.

Now, Matilda's journey toward a new life has landed her in hot water--she's been waylaid by a local Norman baron who's mistaken her for a real bride. And he demands First Night rights. Hot water turns to steam in a scalding night of passion...passion she has never known. And now must live without.

Lord Geoffrey is entranced at first sight of the Anglo-Saxon beauty and finds that one night in her arms is not nearly enough. But all he can offer the low-born Matilda is a life in the shadows--as his mistress.

Her head warring with her heart, Matilda resigns herself to her duty in a masquerade of a marriage. It's a choice that could cost her life. For the knight who first sought her hand is back with murder on his mind. Now it's Geoff who's faced with the ultimate choice: which is more precious...his estates or the love of the one woman who can heal his soul?
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Reviews:

"One of the best books I have read this year." ~ Coffee Time Romance
"If you enjoy a good medieval tale, don't miss this one." ~ ParaNormal Romance
"I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book." ~ Literary Nymphs
"Great story" ~ RT Book Reviews

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What's different about your medieval romances?

I write stories about ordinary folk faced with extraordinary circumstances. A reviewer for Paranormal Romance says about MATILDA'S SONG: "One thing I really liked about this story is the fact it isn't about lords and ladies, instead it tells a tale of a common born woman."

How did you choose the 1120 A.D. settings for MATILDA'S SONG and its companion novel OUT OF THE DARK?

My choice of a novel highlighting medieval Britain derived from the roots of the Ainsworth family in 900 A.D. The name is Anglo-Saxon, meaning the property of Ains. It has a coat of arms with fearless courage as its motto.

I needed a time period when women had a certain amount of freedom to choose their husbands. After research, I learned that 900 A.D. would not work. The first generation after the Norman Conquest gave me the right blend of social conflict with the diminishing of Saxon laws, religion and healing practices while the Norman culture was gaining a toehold--but with relative political calm and no war.

What is unusual about your medieval romantic suspense, OUT OF THE DARK?

A reader review on Barnes & Noble says: "Having a blind relative, I especially appreciated reading a story in which the leading lady is blind."

The heroine for the novel comes from personal experience. I worked with a blind woman who ran the department for disabled students at a local community college. I admired how much she could accomplish in a day with only one reader to help her. While my heroine is not totally blind, I wanted the challenge of writing about a limited sight experience.

Besides my critique partners, I had Lynne Laird, a retired instructor for the California School for the Blind, read the OUT OF THE DARK manuscript. Like my heroine, Lynne is sight-impaired. I had to print the manuscript in 16 point Courier for her. It took almost a ream of paper. It must have pushed her eyes to the limit, but when she was done I was confident I had a heroine who was acting within the abilities and limitations of her sight.

How do you strive to write realistically?

A reviewer for Affaire de Coeur says I write "vivid descriptions of time and place."

I write vividly of medieval times because personal experiences bring realism. When I carried wood as a pre-teen so my Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, I wasn't thinking, "I could use this in a novel someday." Yet, the skills I learned from my horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for my historical romance novels.

Growing up with these experiences provided me with a sense of everyday life before labor-saving devices: an out house, a great aunt who had a root cellar, hand-pumping water, an ice box, wash boards, home-made lye soap, canning, growing our own food, feeding chickens, plucking feathers, reading and embroidering by candlelight, and Saturday night baths in a metal tub with water heated on the kitchen stove (with wash basins for sponge baths during the week). While technological change happens rapidly these days, changes were slow centuries ago. My youthful experiences weren't that far away from those daily household chores needed to add realism to my historical settings.

It was hard work, but we didn't know better at the time. To us, we lived in "modern" times.

Can you describe some of those experiences?

Take lye soap, for instance. It's caustic. It sears your lungs and burns your skin if you don't handle and mix it just right. Once it's made, you still have to shred it into detergent flakes by scraping the bar of soap across a metal slicer. When the soap bar gets small, there's a good chance you'll shave your fingers.

Then there is plucking chicken feathers. The headless chicken is dunked in scalding water to loosen the feathers. The bigger feathers are easier to pull. But the little ones! Besides being hot to the touch, the pin feathers just didn't seem to want to come out. If you leave them, they become part of your dinner.

Beating dust out of rugs was fun. Grandpa would hang the rugs over the clothesline on a spring or fall housecleaning day. We kids grabbed the wooden handle of a woven-wire tool with a head about as wide as a shovel blade and beat the hell out of the rug. Dust would go everywhere. Being outdoors, it blew away. One catch--we didn't have dust masks in those days. These early childhood experiences make the "vivid descriptions" in my novels.

Thank you for inviting me to share my writing with you. I invite you to visit my website.

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Hmmm, a blind heroine who knows her caustic lye? Sounds like my kind of story! Leave a comment or question for JoAnn and you'll be entered into a drawing for one of her books. Your choice: either MATILDA'S SONG or OUT OF THE DARK. I'll draw a winner at random next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Good luck!

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