Connecticut writer Kristen Harnisch brings a little-known portion of women's history to light in her compelling first novel, The Vintner's Daughter (She Writes Press). Set in 1890s France and America, it follows one woman's relentless quest to become a master winemaker—something that only a handful of real-life women have managed today. In a guest blog post, Harnisch explains the inspiration behind her remarkable heroine.
Sara Thibault is my hero. She fights against a rival to reclaim her family’s Loire Valley vineyard, sails across the Atlantic to bring herself and her sister to safety, and then journeys to Napa, California, determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. Sara is passionate, principled and self-possessed, and although she leapt from my imagination onto the page, Sara’s spirit was inspired by the women winemaking pioneers of the late 1800s.
Three wine women in particular served as the inspiration for Sara’s character. A Frenchwoman, the Duchesse de Fitz-James, was the first to tout the benefits of replanting French vineyards with American rootstock to combat the devastation wrought in the 1870s by the phylloxera. This pale yellow louse attacked nearly 40% of France’s vineyards, sucking the vines dry of nutrients. The Duchesse’s French neighbors refused to try her idea, but she persisted, citing the recent success she’d had replanting the resistant rootstock in her own vineyard. Although it took years, the French winemakers did eventually replant, saving most of the vineyards that had been affected.
During the 1880s, California women were beginning to trade their kitchen chores for increasingly important roles in their family-owned businesses. The wine men of the region generally ignored their efforts. In 1886, after her husband’s suicide, Josephine Tyschon finished the winery they had planned to build on the 26 acres of land they’d purchased along Route 29 in St. Helena. The Tyschon Winery (now the site of Freemark Abbey) opened with a capacity of 30,000 gallons. By 1891, Tyschon had cultivated 55 acres of zinfandel, reisling and burgundy grapes. However, when the phylloxera struck in 1893, she lost 10 acres to the bug, and soon sold the winery and vineyard to her foreman, Nels Larson.
Josephine Tyschon’s neighbor, Mrs. J.C. Weinberger, also took over the family winery after her husband’s death. Weinberger’s operation was much larger than Tyschon’s, boasting eighty acres of grape bearing vines and a first-class winery with 90,000 gallons of capacity. Mrs. Weinberger won a silver medal at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris for her wine, and was the only woman in California to bring home this coveted award.
What compelled these amazing women to create such fine wines? Every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses.
According to the American Association of Wine Economists, as of 2011, only 12% of winemakers in Sonoma and 12% of winemakers in Napa, were women. In an industry long dominated by men, I raise my glass of Cabernet to these adventurers, and to the wine women of long ago who sparked the inspiration for The Vintner’s Daughter.
Author’s Note: William Heintz’s California’s Napa Valley (Stonewall Associates, 1999), and Sherry Monahan’s California Vines, Wines & Pioneers (American Palate, A Division of the History Press, 2013), were particularly helpful in my research of this topic.
Author photo by Alix Martinez Photography.
In her latest Regency romance, Shana Galen brings her Lord and Lady Spy series to a conclusion with Love and Let Spy. In this cheeky take on the classic Bond movies, Jane Bonde is Britain's best spy and last hope. Jane is worried her dangerous position will get in the way of her relationship with fiancé Dominic Griffyn, but as secrets come to light, she may have to choose between the most important mission of her career and the troubled man she's come to love. In this guest post, Galen tells us about the inspiration behind her spy-themed romances and why she loves writing strong heroines.
I never intended to write a series based on popular spy movies. In fact, the first in the series, Lord and Lady Spy, was a tough sell. My editor gave me a one-book contract for the book, and I figured that was it. (OK, I had hope. I might have sort of left the end of Lord and Lady Spy slightly unresolved because I had my fingers crossed that readers would want more.)
And I’ve never been so thankful that they did. I wrote True Spies, and now I have Love and Let Spy coming out. The fun thing about these books is that they’re each based on a spy movie. The idea for a book based on a modern movie came to me one evening while watching the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I started thinking, what if this movie were set not in the 2000s, but in the 1800s? What if I wrote a book about a married couple who were rival spies and never even knew it? And what would happen when they inevitably find out?
True Spies is based on the movie True Lies, and for the third book, I wanted another iconic spy movie. I watched a lot of them, and then I went to see Skyfall. Of course, I’d seen James Bond films before, but while I was watching the latest Bond film, I thought, why don’t I do a Bond book? Except I’d put a spin on it, and my James Bond would be Jane Bonde. I knew I could have fun with it by including nods to the Bond films. Jane would prefer her ratafia shaken not stirred. She’d have a friend and co-worker named Q and an admirer named Moneypence. There would be a fast-paced opening scene and plenty of cool gadgets.
I also knew all of these elements would add up to nothing more than a parody of the Bond films if I didn’t also have a good story. Jane had to become more than Jane Bonde to the reader. She had to have a poignant and interesting backstory as well as a vitally important mission. And, unlike the Bond girls in the movies, my Bond. . . boy had to have complexity and his own character arc. Dominic Griffyn isn’t just a pretty face. He’s dark and tortured and exactly the kind of man Jane could fall for.
I’ve always written strong heroines, but writing female spies gave me the opportunity to write tough, kick-ass heroines. Jane Bonde in Love and Let Spy is the toughest yet. I mean, she’s a female James Bond—She has to be able to run with the big dogs. For me, the key to writing strong heroines is to give them an inner vulnerability as well. Readers want to identify with the heroine of a book, and no one identifies with someone who is strong and sure of herself all the time.
In Love and Let Spy, I wanted to take a look at what the life of a spy might really be like. Behind all the glitz and the glamour of having a secret identity, it must be very lonely work. A spy has to protect herself at all times. She can’t let anyone know the real person behind the mask. Jane has been trained from a young age for the work she does for the Crown, and she doesn’t know anything else. She doesn’t have any true friends, hobbies or life outside of her mission. As she comes to know Dominic, she realizes it’s very likely she might end up alone. It’s a tough choice—go on devoting her entire life to spying or pull back and make room in her life for more.
It’s a dilemma a lot of romance readers can identify with, myself included. We can be the supermom or super-wife the media expects us to be, or we can step back and enjoy life, even the messy parts of it.
See more from Galen on her website. Love and Let Spy is available now!
There's something quentissentially hopeful about young adult novels that feature teenagers on crosscountry roadtrips. Adi Alsaid's debut novel takes an even more hopeful approach, as the main character of Let's Get Lost might be on an epic journey, but it's a uniquely selfless one, as she has plenty to share with those she meets along the way.
Writes our reviewer, "Adi Alsaid weaves together the distant and disparate stories of his multiple characters, using Leila as the bright red thread to sew the patchwork quilt of their lives. The final product is beautiful, moving—and nothing like it would have been if kept separate." Read our full review of Let's Get Lost.
Adi is touring the web with ‘’Seize the Tuesday” posts to celebrate the publication of his new novel which goes on sale today! Each piece focuses on a different, fun example of how Adi was able to "Seize the Tuesday" in his own life and how that can inspire others to make a change in their lives, too. Seize the Tuesday not only gives readers a glimpse into Adi’s life, but also introduces readers to one of the key themes in Let’s Get Lost of "seizing the Tuesday"—of seizing a moment that can change your life forever.
About Let’s Get Lost:
Five strangers. Countless adventures.One epic way to get lost.
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.
There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings . . . until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.
Seize the Tuesday: Learning to cook
By Adi Alsaid
One summer during college, I was back home in Mexico, bored out of my mind. Few friends were in town and the rainy season had me stuck indoors far more than I would have liked. Watching TV all day wasn’t my ideal way to spend the summer, but options were limited, and I ended up sitting in the living room with my sister a lot. That was the summer she became a big fan of the reality cooking show, "Top Chef."
It was during a marathon of "Top Chef" that I realized a crucial mistake in the way I’d been living my life. I’d always believed that living well and eating well went hand in hand, but up until then, I’d trusted others to provide me with great food. I could barely pour myself a bowl of cereal. Then I watched "Top Chef" and realized that the people on that show can make themselves those ridiculous dishes anytime they want.
As soon as I got back to Vegas, I begged my older brother, who’d gone to school for hospitality and therefore taken a cooking class, to teach me. He wasn’t quite up for it, too impatient to deal with someone who didn’t even know how to hold a knife the right way. So I watched a few more shows on the Food Network, then decided to cook for the first time ever. I was going to make tacos. Except I was a little trigger shy, so I decided to call a friend over and have him cook the chicken for the tacos while I made a salsa. Cutting vegetables and throwing them together seemed like a good stepping stone.
I moved on to pasta with sauce from a jar. I burned chicken. I didn’t think to wash vegetables. I watched more Food Network, made more salsas. I started going home for lunch to make myself bagel sandwiches, which slowly got more and more complex. I brought homemade dips to potlucks, perused the cookbook section at bookstores. I started making pasta sauce from scratch, offering to make a dish for family dinners. Spice is the spice of life, and I was starting to live it up.
In the years since, I’ve spent more and more time in the kitchen. My sauces are a little more complex, my repertoire more extensive. I’m sure my techniques are often ineffective, my knowledge still lacking, my knife skills still weaker than my brother’s. As friends and my Instagram followers know, I cook a lot now (and, yes, am guilty of photographing my kitchen exploits). But I’ve learned the joys of cooking delicious things for myself and for others, the joy in going to a grocery store with headphones on, not knowing exactly what I want to make but looking around until inspiration hits. There’s even the joy in cleaning up afterwards (not always, but sometimes), the evidence that hard work went into whatever I just ate, that a meal was earned.
Eating has always been life-affirming for me, and now cooking is, too.
About Adi Alsaid:
Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it's no surprise that after graduating he packed up his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He's now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he has lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him that more places will eventually be added to the list.
Readers, Let's Get Lost is now available! Enjoy an excerpt.
In Falling for Max, her latest book in The Kowalskis series, Shannon Stacey chooses quite the unlikely hero to sweep readers off their feet. He's shy, awkward and filled with anxiety about women, and Tori Burns is determined to fix him right up. But does he really need fixing? Because honestly, who's the more realistic dream boy—A pirate on a motorcycle with a heart of gold, or the sweet boy-next-door you never saw coming? In this guest post, Shannon Stacey writes about her decision to cast an unlikely leading man.
Sometimes a secondary character comes along who’s meant to fill a role in the lives of the main characters, but then takes on a life of his own. Max Crawford, the hero of Falling For Max, was such a secondary character. He was simply a friend of Josh and Katie (from All He Ever Dreamed), but as his character developed, I became more intrigued.
Whenever he appeared, I’d uncover more details about Max: Why he liked sports so much; why he’d moved to Whitford, the fictional town in Maine where the Kowalski series is set. I started a file to gather little tidbits about him, but all the while I was thinking, “What am I going to do with Max?”
I tend to write men who are confident and charming. They don’t worry about how to talk to a woman and don’t have trouble finding a date. They’re mostly blue-collar guys who work hard, play harder and walk tall in their worlds.
Max isn’t like the other men in my Kowalski series. He isn’t like many other romance heroes at all, actually. He’s shy, awkward with people he doesn’t know well and he likes his life a particular way. He has a great sense of humor, but most people don’t get it. He has an interesting hobby that he turned into a career, but not many people know a lot about model railroading. Between finding social interactions awkward and working from home, Max finds it hard to meet people—especially women.
I loved writing Max’s story. He’s inspired by several people very close to me who share a lot of his traits, so his journey to happily ever after was important to me. And it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I realized his heroine would be Tori Burns, another secondary character from the series.
Tori is younger than Max and quite the opposite of him personality-wise. She’s friendly, if a little cynical due to her family situation, and has no trouble talking to people. If she wasn’t purposely avoiding serious relationships, she wouldn’t have any problems attracting a man. She begins spending time with Max after watching him get shut down while attempting to talk a woman. In a little twist on My Fair Lady, she wants to help coach Max and make him more “dateable”.
Watching her slowly come to appreciate qualities in Max that people around him tend to find weird was personally satisfying to me as well as professionally. As I mentioned, Max was inspired by several guys in my life who are close to me, and I want them to find women who love them the way they are. I wanted the same for Max. I didn’t want him to change in a way that made it easier for a woman to love him.
It was a challenge, balancing Max’s quirks with expectations many readers have when it comes to leading men in romance novels. He’s physically attractive, of course. But I’m also hoping that, along with Tori, readers will find Max interesting and fun, and slowly fall in love with him just the way he is.
Thanks, Shannon! See more from Shannon Stacey on her website. Readers, what do you think about non-traditional romance heroes?
Loyal fans of best-selling author Linwood Barclay will remember the Archer family from No Time for Goodbye (2007). Barclay's new novel, No Safe House, picks up seven years later. Once again, seemingly idyllic neighborhoods hold dark secrets, and the murder of two elderly locals has everyone on edge. The Archers are still recovering—and quite frankly not doing a great job of it. Their little family unit threatens to fall apart, and they soon once again find themselves fighting for their lives.
Barclay certainly has his finger on what makes for a fast-paced, intense tale of suspense and secrets. We wanted to know what books shaped him as a writer.
The Hardy Boys opened the door, but it was Lew Archer who really invited me in.
The first books I ever read—not counting The Cat in the Hat, which is a classic, but not really what we’re talking about here—were crime novels.
The first honest-to-God hardcover crime novel I owned was a Hardy Boy book. It was The Great Airport Mystery, the ninth adventure starring brothers Frank and Joe Hardy. There were bad guys. There was action. There was a mystery to be solved.
I was hooked. I read as many Hardy Boys novels as I could get my hands on. The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, What Happened at Midnight.
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade, I discovered Agatha Christie. The plots became more intricate, more inventive. I devoured the classics. The A.B.C. Murders, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None.
About a year after that, I stumbled upon the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout, and loved those even more. The plots were every bit as good as Christie’s, but there was something more. There was humor. Crackling dialogue. As memorable a character as crime fiction has ever had: Nero Wolfe himself. (Apologies to Sherlock Holmes fans. Yes, he’s probably the single most memorable crime solver, but amazingly, at this point in my mystery education, I hadn’t yet discovered him.)
Stout’s books were terrific, and, oh joy, there were so many of them. By the time I’d read all of them, I was about 14 or 15, and looking for something new.
I found it on the squeaky, spinning paperback rack at the IGA grocery store in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It was the Bantam edition of The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald, and what caught my eye was the quote at the top of the cover: “The finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” (That was from William Goldman’s review in The New York Times, and a few short years later I would be blown away by his novel Marathon Man, which remains one of my favorite thrillers ever.)
No one seems to know whether blurbs work or not, but that one worked on me. I bought that book and was completely drawn in by the detective work of one Lew Archer. I followed him through this case and all the others available at that time, including The Galton Case, The Doomsters, The Zebra-Striped Hearse and, one of the best crime novels of all time, The Chill.
These were the books that changed me. These books showed me how an author could take the conventions of the mystery novel and use them to do more than figure out how someone was murdered in a locked room. Through Archer, Macdonald shined a light on America’s darkness. He explored family dysfunction, alienated and troubled youth, the corruption of wealth and, in later novels, the destruction of our environment.
Macdonald may not have been the first to show the world that a mystery could be a novel, that it could be literature, but he was the first to show me. No writer had a greater impact on me up to that time, nor has any writer since.
Thanks, Linwood! Readers, No Safe House is on sale August 5.
Mystery fans: Was there a mystery you read at an early age that you'll never forget?
Author photo credit Bill Taylor.
Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
In today's guest post, BookPage contributor Carla Jean Whitley discusses what it's like to go from critic to critiqued on the eve of the publication of her first book.
I was recently part of a group of readers who were assessing recent reads and recommending a variety of books. A dozen people curled themselves around cups of coffee in the second-story nook of my local bookstore, eager to hear what upcoming books the booksellers would suggest.
Some of those gathered—including me—were equally excited to share the best books we’d read lately. But as the conversation grew more analytical, I was taken aback by a realization: Soon, readers could be assessing my book.
I’ve grown accustomed to reviewing other people’s work. Review writing was my favorite course in grad school, and my first writing paycheck was for a book review. I’ve reviewed books and music for much of the 10 years since that first piece was published. I try to consider the reader or listener, not the author or musician, when I write a review; even so, I’m keenly aware that there’s nothing to be gained in beating up on an artist. Even when I’m editing at my full-time magazine job or grading the work of college students, I’m quick to offer criticism coupled with praise.
Will reviewers be so kind when they read my work?
My first book, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music, goes on sale today. It’s a history of a tiny recording studio in northwest Alabama and how it became a destination for artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, The Black Keys and the Rolling Stones. Eleven-and-a-half months lapsed between the day I received a signed book contract and the moment I hit send on an email containing my manuscript. I spent those days buried in research, poring over album reviews and old interviews, watching documentaries and searching for mentions of the historic Alabama recording studio. And as I did, I battled the voices in my head, which were quick to assess every stroke of the keyboard.
As I wrote, I often returned to my writing mantra, care of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: shitty first drafts. I practice this daily as a magazine editor, but writing a book amplified every insecurity I’ve got. Rather than obsessing about whether people would like the book, if it would sell well or what I might write in the future, I labored to redirect my attention to the thing I know best: Writing.
After months of questioning myself—but never the story of this remarkable recording studio—I’m ready to hold the finished product in my hands.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is managing editor of Birmingham magazine. She is a regular BookPage contributor, and is still talking about her favorite book of 2013, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Carla Jean volunteers with literacy organizations and teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and Samford University. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.
Author photo by Cheryl Joy Miner.
Like his rebellious game warden Mike Bowditch, Maine author Paul Doiron has come a long way. His debut thriller, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and each subsequent book has gained richness and nuance. In Doiron's newest novel, The Bone Orchard, Mike shows signs of becoming a real hero. Doiron shares a little bit about the journey he has made as a writer and how it is reflected in his hero's story.
When I began writing my first novel, The Poacher’s Son, I had no idea I was about to change my life. I was a magazine journalist who had written a few nonfiction articles about Maine game wardens, and one Saturday morning, I started noodling around with a short piece of fiction—not even a story, just an anecdote—about a rookie warden and a marauding black bear. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote the episode from the perspective of the young man, whom I named Mike Bowditch. It didn’t occur to me that this might be the beginning of a crime novel, let alone a series of them.
I just wrote the story and, because I liked what I’d done, I kept going. I decided my warden should return home after dealing with the bear. What does he find there? A message on the answering machine. Who is it from? His estranged father. Who is his father? A notorious poacher in the North Woods. Mike Bowditch, I decided, has become a law enforcement officer to make amends for his dad’s life of criminal acts.
As I continued writing, I found that one creative choice led inevitably to another. A son who chooses his profession as a rebuke to his father is going to have a lot of unresolved issues. He would be filled with anger and yet crave approval and respect. And because I was writing this story in the first person, it followed that Mike Bowditch would be blind to his own emotional problems. The plot of what I now recognized as the beginning of a novel took shape from this essential conflict in his character. The father is accused of having committed murder, but the son, despite his boiling resentments, cannot bring himself to believe that he is guilty.
Flash forward several years: The Poacher’s Son is done, and I have just approached Ann Rittenberg, the woman who will become my literary agent. She asks if the book is the first in a series of Mike Bowditch novels. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind while I was writing. Game wardens are Maine’s off-road police force, and they are involved in the investigation of almost every major crime committed here. There were opportunities for my troubled-but-brave young warden to get himself messed up in any number of stories. In fact, I was itching to tell them.
I also recognized that few readers would continue rooting for an impetuous and headstrong protagonist if he didn’t mature, no matter what other noble qualities he might possess. Rather than write about a character who stays the same from book to book, I decided, my series would be about the process of becoming a hero. How does it happen? What mistakes would Mike Bowditch need to make, both personally and professionally, from story to story, and how would he learn from them?
The Bone Orchard is my fifth book, and I have said that it is my best (although readers will get to decide that question for themselves), and I’ll try to explain why. Over the course of the series we have watched Mike Bowditch get in recurring trouble with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of The Bone Orchard, Mike has finally come to the same conclusion. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide. He is trying to move on with his life. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both a mansion in the woods and the family of an incarcerated friend.
There’s only one problem: “Just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you,” Mike realizes. After his former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in what is a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for having left the service, for not having been with her as back-up the night of the shooting. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the investigation and second-guessing his decision to quit. His newfound maturity allows him to see that there are other ways of getting answers than going head-to-head with people. And he realizes, as he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter, that he has all the necessary instincts and skills to be a successful law enforcement officer after all.
The Bone Orchard is about all the ways the past can haunt us and what we need to do to transcend it—lessons it has taken Mike years to learn. The novel isn’t the conclusion of the series. But it is the end of a story I began writing one Saturday afternoon many years ago, and the beginning for a newly self-aware and heroic Mike Bowditch.
Thanks, Paul! Readers, The Bone Orchard is out now!
Author photo credit © 2012 Lori Traikos.
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
With The Catch, readers find themselves hanging on for dear life as Vanessa Michael Munroe—"the cleverest, fightingest and all-around baddest heroines in contemporary suspense fiction"—takes us to Djibouti for her newest no-holds-barred adventure. Munroe is the unforgettable brainchild of author Taylor Stevens, who has a fascinating backstory of her own: She was born in New York state and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade. Stevens was in her 20s when she broke free, and she now lives in Texas.
It's easy to wonder how much of the inspiration for Munroe came from Stevens' own life. As it turns out, that seems to be the question on everyone's mind. Stevens responds, once and for all:
Whenever I walk into an event—be it a book signing, Q&A or author’s talk—it’s pretty easy to spot the participants who’ve read my biography and at least one book, but haven’t yet interacted with me online or in person. It’s easy because they’re the ones wearing the guarded, concerned looks, subtly checking me out for signs of sanity, as if at worst I might be right on the edge of snapping and at best might need some soothing and comfort.
I suppose, really, this can’t be helped. Unusual characters populate my books, and I’ve led an unusual life. This has resulted in the most frequently asked question: "How much of Vanessa Michael Munroe is based on you?"
At the beginning, this conflation between character and author baffled me. Vanessa Michael Munroe is a hyperpolyglot (someone who speaks more than 12 languages), born and raised in equatorial Africa. She took up with gunrunners at the tender age of 14 and carries the mental and physical scars of a violent adolescence. To plagiarize myself, “the knife became her way to salvation and the missionary’s daughter, made to traverse the valley of the shadow of death, walked out the other side an apex predator.” She’s a chameleon, a hunter, an adrenaline junkie, self-contained, indifferent and shut off from the world—except when she’s not.
Oh that I was so brutally badass. Can you imagine the results I’d get at PTA and HOA meetings? Unfortunately, Munroe and I are nothing alike. Well, except for a hijacked childhood—we do both have wacky backgrounds. Mine had me born and raised in an apocalyptic religious cult, growing up as child labor in cult communes, spending far too much time out begging in the cold, and having my education stopped completely when I was 12.
But I’d made peace with all that long before turning to fiction. I started writing as a way to bring to life a small, paranoid, corrupt country off Africa’s west coast where’d lived for a little over two years. The thought of drawing on my childhood and adolescence for that first tale never even crossed my mind, and if it had, we would have had completely different characters—and probably not very good ones. I’m far too happy and enamored with life to belong in these intense, dark stories. I cry when I see sunsets and hear moving music, smile at everyone, am a total fraidy cat, and am overly empathetic to the point that my heart bleeds out onto my sleeve, which is super embarrassing. In perfect irony, I also hate suspense and violence—can neither watch it on screen nor read it in books—and yet that’s what I write.
Because I’m so opposite the characters that populate these stories, and because Munroe was drawn completely from imagination and snippets of other fictional characters (Jason Bourne and Lara Croft), I couldn’t understand at first how anyone could think she represented a real-life person, much less me. But then it got worse. People I’d never met used my fiction as a way to psychoanalyze the author, going on about my tormented psyche, insisting I was obsessed with violence against women, as if they knew me, as if assuming something about me magically made it true. Offended and insulted, I wondered if they also thought Carrie was based off Stephen King.
Once my skin thickened up a bit, once I realized how completely cool the character and author fusion was, I was able to embrace these assumptions for what they were: the ultimate compliment—proof of good storytelling—because the only way fantasy and reality can blend into such earnest beliefs is if the fiction feels real enough for the reader to assume that it had to have been drawn from real life, somehow.
These days I wear the conflation like a badge of honor, and when people ask me how much of Munroe is based on me, I look them dead in the eye and say, “all of it.”
Taylor Stevens is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of The Informationist, The Innocent and The Doll. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in 20 languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Her latest novel, The Catch, will be published by Crown on July 15, 2014.
Author photo credit Alyssa Skyes.