Getting to know MaryAnn Shank #author #action #adventure #Somali #fiction #NewAge #LGBTQ

My guest author today brings her own unique experiences to storytelling. Please help me welcome MaryAnn Shank to the interview hot seat! Let’s peek at her bio and then we’ll find out more about what inspired her story.

In the 1960s MaryAnn answered President Kennedy’s call to, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This idealistic young woman went to Somalia as part of the new Peace Corps, and when she returned home two years later even her own mother did not recognize her. Now, after fifty years, she has set her experiences in this exotic, mystical land to print. In between, MaryAnn served as a research librarian, a business writer, and a web coach helping entrepreneurs create new businesses. It took the screams of TV newscasters shouting about “Somali war lords” and the massive misrepresentation of Somalia in Black Hawk Down to persuade MaryAnn to put pen to paper to tell the real stories of Somalia, as she does here.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

MaryAnn: Fifty years ago I spent two years in Somalia, with the Peace Corps. This was not the Peace Corps that you see in brochures, with palm trees and laughing children. This was the Peace Corps of extremes – live bullets, seething hatred…and kindness beyond belief. It was a very dramatic time in my life, and is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time. It has taken me all of those 50 years to focus my thoughts so that I could write the story. I wanted honesty in the story, and I wanted the world to know that not all Somalis are represented in Black Hawk Down.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

MaryAnn: We might suspect the main character, a woman, a lesbian. But that isn’t so. I actually had a difficult time writing her story. Perhaps she was just too close. A couple of men were much clearer.

One was Padre Vittorio, the head of the orphanage, the one intent on giving “his” orphaned boys a real chance at life. The power of his goodness stays with me even now.

Omar “Chicago”, our landlord, was another. There was a great deal that I have never understood about Omar, but I do know that he would have given his life to protect me. I depicted those men as clearly as I remembered them.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

MaryAnn: I was watching the news one day and saw the reports of the “Somali pirates” and how terrible the “Somali warlords” were. I nearly jumped out of my chair. There are no “pirates”, no “warlords” in Somalia. Most clans have elders they respect and look to for guidance, even to judge a dispute. These clan leaders are far more intent on maintaining peace among the tribes than in fighting them.

I heard this depiction of Somalis as “war lords” again and again. The news media had found a fear it enjoyed: African war lords.

Somalis are a strong people. They walk with their backs straight and eyes level, no matter their station in life. They have faced severe drought, devastating floods, centuries of foreign invasion. And yet they have survived. They are a proud people. They are tall, dark, and very beautiful. Of course they scared the daylights out of modern white men, but there was no need for the fear. Somalis are also among the kindest people I have ever known.

Bringing this duality of “strength” and “kindness” into one story was the real challenge. I opted to center the story on a young woman much like myself, one who knew first hand the intensity of emotions in Somalia. I wanted my readers to be able to relate to Somalis through the eyes of this young woman, so I opted to tell stories about her life in Somalia. Each story speaks to this duality of strength and kindness, even the stories with bullets flying.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

MaryAnn: It was very hard to get to know the Somalis themselves. They are a private people. I was intrigued with folk tales and songs, but they were reluctant to share even that with me. I didn’t learn the story of the Goddess Arawello until many years after I returned to the U.S. Somalis had been battered and ridiculed for so long that they held their culture close to their hearts. My being a woman confounded them even further, for they had woefully little contact with foreign women. The emotions they did express were extremely subtle, like they put on a “public face” whenever they saw a foreigner. They all knew what these public faces said, but I had a much harder time deciphering them.

And since I was writing about real experiences, I often included real people, especially real foreigners and real Peace Corps volunteers. The more I could “invent” a character, the easier it was to write about that character. Friends are hard to put into a story. I didn’t want my friends’ warts to dominate a story. I knew that we had all had our challenges in Somalia. But I wanted it to be real. It was a constant balancing act.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

MaryAnn: Fortunately, I didn’t have to do a lot of research. A lot of research simply would not have been possible; it had never been written. I was there, I knew most of it. But other Somali Peace Corps Volunteers were a huge help with details, like I had forgotten about the glorious pink bougainvillea on the government buildings. And one volunteer told me the story of his cat, which I had to include.

And my friend Abdi who lives nearby was kind enough to read the final draft and correct a few things, one even that Wikipedia had gotten wrong! Abdi is a Somali who lived in Baidoa, the town I was in, and he attended the Catholic school where I taught. We missed meeting in Baidoa by a couple of months. I left Baidoa about two months before he went to the Catholic school. But Abdi came to the US on a basketball scholarship and stayed, marrying a wonderful woman named Mary. We serendipitously met, discovering that we were neighbors. We’ve spent many hours talking about Baidoa life. He and his extended family here have been a magnificent source of information and inspiration for me.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

MaryAnn: Lots. Each chapter became a story in its own right, and each story was revised many, many times. The only story that came intact was the one about Christmas in Baidoa and my conversation with Padre Vittorio.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

MaryAnn: If Mystical Land of Myrrh were a poem, I would likely finish it in a few hours … or a few weeks.

If it were a business plan, I could whip that out in a few days … or a few weeks … something that I did for over a decade in the venture capital world.

If it were a web page, odds are that I would devote an hour or two to writing it before loading it up.

But Mystical Land of Myrrh isn’t any of those things. It is an historical novel, a biographical novel. A very personal novel. That is why it took fifty years for the words to be set on paper; fifty years for me to focus my thoughts, prodded no doubt by the unfair, shattering bad press of the U.S. government when the president put Somalia on the “no entry” list, when the media told the stories of Black Hawk Down and the Somali pirates, with barely a sentence devoted to the Somali point of view. It was all so wrong, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.” The Mystical Land of Myrrh is a small step in that direction.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

MaryAnn: I begin with handwritten sketches, usually over a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee house. That forms the “skeleton” of the story. For The Mystical Land of Myrrh the “skeleton” had to be trimmed down and down and down – I had just too many stories to fit into a book, so I had to do a lot of selection.

I also like to gather around me “things” that feel like the story. In the case of The Mystical Land of Myrrh, I brought out a real piece of myrrh, a small carving of a lion that a Somali did, and a carved headrest that nomads use. I put these in my display case (out of reach of my two kitties). Things like this seem to keep me grounded in the environment I want to be in.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

MaryAnn: “And” and “But” are the biggies. There always seems to be more to write AND those conjunctions do the job – lol.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

MaryAnn: I have two role models whose examples are with me every day: my two grandmothers. Both grandmothers were born in the late 19th century and lived to see the world transformed through two world wars and immense technology.

One grandmother raised two boys by herself, supporting the family with a one-pump gas station and a small apple orchard. She told me long ago that her proudest time was when she could put two decals on her front window: one for a son who went into the Army, and one for a son who went into the Navy. This was during World War II.

The other grandmother, a Christian Scientist, turned to nursing to support her family of five children and a crippled husband. Few occupations were open to women, so she chose nursing, in spite of her religion.

I am in total awe of the strength of character and resourcefulness of these two women. The challenges were simply dumped on them, and they responded without question, raising families that anyone would be proud of.

I know there are many women today who find themselves in similar situations, and I have but the highest respect for them all. I simply feel so blessed to find two such strong, loving women in my own family tree.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

MaryAnn: My coffee house, of course. I am also working on some children’s stories about a little fairy, and I find inspiration for her in a nearby park. She seems to scamper and hide behind bushes, just to tease me.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

MaryAnn: I am retired now. My former jobs – a research/children’s librarian, a researcher/writer for a venture capital firm, a web coach for entrepreneurs – all honed skills that I use daily now. I have indeed enjoyed my career and am pleased to live in southern Oregon where inspiration is contagious.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

MaryAnn: First, just beginning to write is a major accomplishment. It is scary. It is a solitary task that no one understands until they try it themselves.

Second, finishing a book. “Finishing” is a tough word, for it is hard to “finish” anything artistic. There just comes a point where it has to be introduced to the world, and that is a major achievement. I am proud that I am able to speak of a people so sorely misunderstood, my biggest regret being that I couldn’t find a way to paint them more completely.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

MaryAnn: Shel Silverstein. I was a librarian when the book Where The Sidewalk Ends was first published. I have never seen poetry so enrapture children, and adults too. I don’t know that I could learn that much from him, for he is genuinely gifted, but I know it would be a raucous, wonderful dinner!

Betty:Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

MaryAnn: I am old enough to know that money isn’t the answer to anything. I treasure a nod or a smile from a reader, an acknowledgement that Yes … Yes.

Moira, a young Peace Corps Volunteer, and a lesbian, confronts a magical, sometimes terrifying land of Somalia. Ancient tales hold Somalia together while modern warfare tears it apart. Moira quenches her soul at the women’s watering hole, and in the classrooms of her students, while all manner of peoples – local clan leaders, nomads, earthy waitresses, Italian ex-pats and the orphans of the Catholic sanctuary – all pull at her energy. Over it all is the aura of Arawello, the Somali Goddess Queen, who once rose from Her people to save the nation, and who may do so again. So strong is the pull on Moira’s heart that in the end even she hardly recognizes herself anymore.

Buy Links: Amazon

That’s a fascinating background to The Mystical Land of Myrrh. I hope many people will read it to learn more about your experiences in Somalia.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

My Impressions of ancient Rome from First Man In Rome #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

As I mentioned last time, I don’t know a whole lot about ancient Rome. However, I have been to Greece and Turkey, so actually have visited territory within what was the Roman Empire. By the way, the extent of the Roman Empire was vast at its height in 211 AD as shown here. The map of the Roman Empire within The First Man in Rome also shows how vast it was at the time of the story.

Before I get into my impressions, let me share that my Thanksgiving romance, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, is currently on sale for $1.99 (ebook) everywhere. More info is below if you’re interested in reading this story about a family dinner that’s causing Beth some huge angst and the enchanted valley she and Grant find themselves trapped in just days before the event. Moving on to today’s post…

If you’re just joining my tour of historical fiction around the world, you might want to start here by reading why I chose Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome. I talked last time about my first thoughts about the novel, but today I want to talk about my impressions of life in ancient Rome based on my reading so far in this novel. I think I’m about a third of the way through the story because I didn’t have as much time to read this week as I’d hoped. But I am most definitely enjoying the story!

Having toured historic sites in Athens, Greece, and Ephesus, Turkey, among many of the beautiful Greek islands, I can visualize the sites as described in McCullough’s tome. The pictures below are from Ephesus, Turkey. The soaring columns, the stone buildings with carvings and flourishes, the stone roads, she’s brought all of it to life for me. This is one of the reasons I read historical fiction: to experience life in the past in a specific place and time in a holistic way. A recent article from the Smithsonian newsletter, coincidentally, describes how ancient Romans in Ephesus went to the bathroom. I remember seeing the latrines but I didn’t take any pictures because who knew I might want to share them with anyone? But the article is interesting to read, as to the plumbing at the time which was more advanced than many realize.

I also have an impression of the cut-throat political scene in the 110 B.C. era while the empire was expanding. The methods used to climb the power rungs of political influence are the reasons why we have methods of detecting who-done-it today I bet! Poison without any trace left behind in sight even by autopsy. A quick knife thrust through the careful folds of a toga in a crowd by a vanishing perpetrator. Even an organized letter-writing campaign to oust the man in power who has run afoul of others’ schemes and desires.

I hadn’t ever thought about the attire of people in ancient Rome. I think of the toga as the mainstay when in fact it seems to be a belted tunic. The toga was used for more formal occasions. At least, the tunic is what is mainly described in the story so far for the men’s apparel. Women wore dresses, of course, sometimes without any undergarments apparently. Sometimes with a bare breast for all to see, too. Costume parties were also apparently all the rage at the time, the more outrageous the costume the better.

Other observations include the extent to which pride and honor were used as currency among the elite of the Roman populace. Bloodlines also mattered with certain family names linked forever to the founders of Rome and the empire. If you came from a lesser well regarded family, or didn’t have any money, your options and future were limited. Neighbors were very nosy about what was happening next door, and didn’t hesitate for long to do something about unwanted activities on their street.

And don’t tick off the paterfamilias! The “head of the family unit” had absolute power over every other member of the house. His word was the law. Period. He could execute anyone for whatever egregious crime he chose, and he decided what was meant by egregious. Or he could banish, punish, sell, marry off anyone he wanted for whatever reason.

That’s my impression thus far but there’s still a about 600 pages to go. I’m going to challenge myself to finish it this week but we’ll see! I had originally hoped to read a book each week, but it’s not possible if the book is over 1000 pages. I have books of my own to write, as well, after all.

Speaking of which, I’ve started writing book 5 of the Fury Falls Inn historical fantasy series, set in 1821 Alabama with ghosts and witches and other fun within its pages. My plan is to wrap up that series with two books releasing simultaneously next summer. Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans, and happy holidays to all!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

Discover the Secrets of Roseville series!

Love is never lost; it haunts the heart…   An unsuspecting Southern town. Ghosts. Witchcraft. Skeletons in the closet. Discover the Secrets of Roseville in this five book series… Undying Love, Haunted Melody, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, Veiled Visions of Love, and Charmed Against All Odds!

A romantic Thanksgiving story: The Touchstone of Raven Hollow

Cover of The Touchstone of Raven Hollow showing at the top a couple embracing with fall colorful leaves behind them, and below a black raven on a post in the foreground with a stone cabin in the background.

He dug for the truth and found her magic…

It’s safer to stay hidden. Or so Tara Golden believes. To not draw attention to her healing powers. She has hidden her powers ever since shunned as a child for using them. But occasionally, she helps people passing through town, sure they’d never figure out what saved them. But a tall, sexy geologist is demanding answers to questions she doesn’t want to face at the same time she’s forced to use her nonexistent baking skills to make desserts for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. The hunky guy is in for a huge disappointment since she would never expose her abilities and her gifted sisters even to silence the handsome and intriguing man. 

Grant Markel’s condition is cured, his eyesight restored, but the scientist within him won’t accept it’s a miracle. Miracles don’t explain how he overcame a fatal disease. He followed his brother to Roseville on the fool’s errand of creating an alchemical Elixir of Life. Only to have his condition mysteriously disappear without any Elixir or other treatment. When he learns Tara is the sexy, mystical witch who may hold the answer to his quest, he’s determined to prove she’s full of smoke and mirrors despite their mutual attraction.

When they are trapped in an enchanted valley on the eve of Thanksgiving, Tara must choose between her magical truth or his scientific beliefs in order to escape. Can she step from the shadows to claim her true powers before it’s too late?

Amazon     Barnes and Noble      Kobo     Apple     Books2Read     Google Books     Bookshop

Getting to know Lynn Downey #author #historical #western #mystery #historian

I’m happy to welcome a fellow lover of history to the interview hot seat today. Cinch into your chair for a ride with author Lynn Downy and her debut novel set on a dude ranch! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her and her inspiration.

I’m a native California writer, historian, and archivist. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but didn’t get paid for it until 1985, when I started publishing articles and books about the history of the West. I was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years and wrote the first biography of the founder, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World. And my grandmother’s experience in a TB sanatorium in the 1920s led to Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women, which won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. My next book is a history of dude ranching, American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, which will be released in March of 2022. I’m obsessed with the dude ranch, which is also the setting for my first novel, Dudes Rush In, a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award. I’m the Vice President/President-Elect of Women Writing the West, and a member of Western Writers of America. I live in the northern California wine country with 4 cats and a Pinot Noir vineyard in my back yard.

Author Social Links: Website * Blog * Instagram

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Lynn: I have been writing books and articles about history for over 30 years, and I love to read historical mysteries. In 2012 I was reading one of Donis Casey’s wonderful Alafair Tucker mysteries, and when I finished, I thought to myself, “Gee, I’d love to write a historical novel.” Well, I had to grab pen and paper because as soon as I had that thought, the characters and plot of a story started running through my head as though someone had turned on a movie projector.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Lynn: My main character Phoebe McFarland, and the woman who wrote the diary that she discovers, Ellender Shepherd, both came to me almost fully-formed. They are very different, in back story, looks, and time period, and that actually made it easier for me to flesh them out as I worked on the book.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Lynn: I’m fascinated by the concept of the dude ranch, which is the perfect setting for a novel, especially a mystery: an isolated location with its own language and customs, filled with people from different places with unique back stories of their own. Stick everyone together in the ranch house, throw in cowboys, horses, and beautiful scenery, and the drama will happen.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Lynn: It was hardest for me to get into the head of the male characters. I think this is partly a function of being a woman, and partly being a first-time novelist. Luckily, I had a wonderful editor at my publisher, Pronghorn Press, who helped me get those details onto the page. The men in my book were a little two-dimensional, which I needed to fix.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Lynn: Historical research is my profession and my favorite thing to do, so I dived into the history of dude ranches, focusing on the 1950s. I have stayed at a few dude ranches, and I was able to translate those experiences into the book, making sure I stayed true to the decade in which my story is set. My fictional town, Tribulation, is based on one of my favorite places in the world, Wickenburg, Arizona, and I used aspects of its history for both plot and setting.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Lynn: I wrote 2 drafts of my manuscript before it was picked up by Pronghorn Press. Annette, the publisher and editor, liked my story but she made many editorial suggestions to strengthen the narrative. I ended up reorganizing some chapters and doing a lot of rewriting, all of which I started as the COVID pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020. I spent the entire first month of the lockdown working about 5 hours a day on my manuscript. It was a great way to distract myself from the horrors, was the hardest work I’ve ever done as a writer, and was also a great joy.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Lynn: Dudes Rush In is my first novel, and I started it when I was still working full time. The germ of the idea came to me in the summer of 2012, I semi-retired in 2014, worked on it exclusively in 2018, and the book came out in the fall of 2020. I call that a long time! I’m working on the second book in the series now and I expect it to come out next year or the beginning of 2023. That’s certainly an improvement.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Lynn: I always listen to music, and it has to be music that’s pertinent to whatever I’m writing. When I was working on Dudes Rush In, I listened to a lot of Western swing and theme music written for Western TV shows and movies. And I threw in some 1950s jazz, too.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Lynn: I have a passive voice problem. When I edit—whether non-fiction or fiction—I have to go through the manuscript and fix limp, lifeless sentences.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Lynn: One of them is writer Donis Casey, whose work not only inspired me to try fiction, she was also personally supportive to me when I made a tentative beginning. Her family history inspired her books, and I also use my own family as a starting point in my novel. She is one of those authors who believes in lifting up others as they travel their own paths.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Lynn: I write on my computer in my home office, and I cover the walls with photos, pages from magazines, and other artifacts that pertain to what I’m writing. I surround myself with these visuals so that I’m immersed in whatever world I am trying to create. Sometimes my office looks like those rooms on TV crime shows that stalkers or serial killers have filled with the objects of their obsession. But it works for me! I like editing on paper in a bustling coffee shop, but that was out of the question for a long time in 2020 and 2021. So, I take my printed pages into my living room, sit on the couch and put on some music, hoping one of my cats won’t bat the pen out of my hand.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Lynn: I’m a consulting archivist and historian. I work with companies, museums, and libraries to organize their historical materials, and I write everything from social media posts to books for my clients. I did this work full time until 2014, when I decided to move into the world of consulting, which allows me to choose my projects and gives me more time to write. History and historical archives are my profession and where my heart lives.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Lynn: Being persistent and true to my stories. I sent the manuscript of my book Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women to a publisher I had worked with before. It was rejected (with extreme prejudice) and I was in such despair I almost gave up on it, but the book was something I had wanted to write for over 30 years. I had to keep going. Then, a historian friend introduced me to an editor at the University of Oklahoma Press, who looked at the manuscript, made some suggestions for improvement, and then saw it through to publication. As I mentioned earlier, the book won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. I believed in my story and dug in and worked hard to make it happen. It’s a lesson I think about whenever I write something new. And the University of Oklahoma Press is also publishing my next book, so this connection has been personally and professionally fulfilling.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Lynn: I would love to chat with historian and author Heather Cox Richardson, who has a unique perspective on how the American West helped to shape national history. And she has a clear-eyed way of looking at modern politics through a historical lens.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Lynn: Success for me is getting better at what I do, and writing the best version of whatever book I’m working on. Because it’s all about the story, which means it’s ultimately all about the reader.

In 1952 San Francisco, restless war widow and aspiring writer Phoebe McFarland decides to change her life and spend six months on her sister-in-law’s dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona, called the H Double Bar. She has enjoyed many vacations at the ranch, she loves the desert, and is happy for the opportunity to spend time with her late husband’s family. In exchange for room and board, she helps out in the office and hopes to finally finish the novel she is working on. When a group of magazine writers comes to stay, including an attractive single man, Phoebe sees a chance to connect with the professionals. But Tribulation soon lives up to its name. When Phoebe finds an old diary hidden in her desk, she stumbles onto secrets from Tribulation’s past that collide with a shocking revelation of her own, leading her down a trail to both discovery and danger.

Buy Links: Website * Amazon * Bookshop

I enjoy stories with horses and cowboys, so this one is going on my ever-growing TBR list. Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

First Thoughts on First Man In Rome #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I’ve begun my around the world historical fiction tour with Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome. This is a long, epic work which will probably take me some time to read all the way through. The 1990 paperback I’m reading consists of 1,076 pages, including a Glossary (116 pages) and two Pronunciation Guides (Masculine Last Names and Other Names and Terms; 21 pages). Several maps are also included at the beginning to help orient readers to the territory she writes about. These all have proved very useful, too!

This is not the first McCullough work I’ve read. Back in the dark ages when I was a teenager, I read The Thorn Birds, which I devoured in one night. So when members of the Historical Novel Society Facebook group recommended this one, I figured it’s a good place to start my journey since I already know I like her writing. Although I haven’t read far into her story, I do have several things I’d like to share about the initial experience of reading this book.

I think it’s important to note that I don’t know much about ancient Rome. When I dove in and  started reading the story, I quickly realized I needed to take a different tack. There were far too many unfamiliar terms and historic references to pick up quickly out of context. So I backtracked and read the Glossary and Pronunciation Guides instead. Now, it’s somewhat of a misnomer to call the Glossary by that name since it’s more than just word definitions.

The Glossary actually contains lots of historical context surrounding the people and places and objects in the story. Everything from the biography of famous Romans and others, to how they made wine, to the origin of idiomatic phrases of the time as well as insults. Terms for common units of measurement or money are also explained. Under the entry for toga, for example, I found out about who wore which kind of toga and even a sketch of a pattern to cut out a proper toga that will drape correctly. She also indicates where she has exercised “novelist’s license” (instead of “poetic license” which made me grin) with her character names and other historical references without solid sources where she had to make an inference or best guess. It’s quite apparent she knows her history and has done extensive research into all aspects of ancient Roman life and culture. She also explains her thought process when she needed the “joke name of the kind people in all places at all times have used when they wanted to refer to a faceless yet representative person.” In this story, that name is Lucius Tiddlypuss. I’ll let you look it up for the lengthy explanation, but it was good to know that particular character was not a real person like some others in the story. All in all, reading the Glossary educated me to the place, the people, the government, the society, and more.

Then I read the pronunciation guides to make sure that as I read the often Latin words and the Roman names that I was hearing them in my head correctly. See, I’m a word lover at heart and I understand how the sound (the pronunciation) reflects the society on an internal level. If that makes sense… Language evolves over time with usage and changes in our society, so one thing I’ll be looking at is McCullough’s word choices. She explained some of her reasoning for those in her Glossary, by the way, which is super helpful to me.

Thanksgiving is nearly here in the U.S., so I wish all of my fellow Americans a Happy Thanksgiving! And of course, happy reading! That’s what I’m going to do since I have 931 pages to go… Let the Holiday Season begin!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

Discover the Secrets of Roseville series!

Love is never lost; it haunts the heart…   An unsuspecting Southern town. Ghosts. Witchcraft. Skeletons in the closet. Discover the Secrets of Roseville in this five book series… Undying Love, Haunted Melody, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, Veiled Visions of Love, and Charmed Against All Odds!

Cover of The Touchstone of Raven Hollow showing a sitting couple embracing before a pile of colorful leaves at the top half, and a raven perched on a pole in front of a stone cabin on the bottom half.

A romantic Thanksgiving story: The Touchstone of Raven Hollow

He dug for the truth and found her magic…

It’s safer to stay hidden. Or so Tara Golden believes. To not draw attention to her healing powers. She has hidden her powers ever since shunned as a child for using them. But occasionally, she helps people passing through town, sure they’d never figure out what saved them. But a tall, sexy geologist is demanding answers to questions she doesn’t want to face at the same time she’s forced to use her nonexistent baking skills to make desserts for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. The hunky guy is in for a huge disappointment since she would never expose her abilities and her gifted sisters even to silence the handsome and intriguing man. 

Grant Markel’s condition is cured, his eyesight restored, but the scientist within him won’t accept it’s a miracle. Miracles don’t explain how he overcame a fatal disease. He followed his brother to Roseville on the fool’s errand of creating an alchemical Elixir of Life. Only to have his condition mysteriously disappear without any Elixir or other treatment. When he learns Tara is the sexy, mystical witch who may hold the answer to his quest, he’s determined to prove she’s full of smoke and mirrors despite their mutual attraction.

When they are trapped in an enchanted valley on the eve of Thanksgiving, Tara must choose between her magical truth or his scientific beliefs in order to escape. Can she step from the shadows to claim her true powers before it’s too late?

Amazon     Barnes and Noble      Kobo     Apple     Books2Read     Google Books     Bookshop

Getting to know Tony Damascus, character of author Luanne Oleas #author #familysaga #inspirational #contemporary #romance #literary #fiction

Okay, gang, buckle in for my next guest, Tony Damascus, who has taken time away from his book to be grilled—er, interviewed by me. Thanks to author Luanne Oleas for giving him some time off to stop in. Let’s find out a bit about Luanne, and then we’ll dive into the interview.

Luanne Oleas was born in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, the setting for her novel, Flying Blind: A Cropduster’s Story. For several years, she worked as a reporter, features writer, and weekly columnist at the Salinas Californian newspaper with reprints in publications such as Reader’s Digest. After moving to the Silicon Valley, she turned her talents to technical writing, finishing her career at HP. She left high tech in 2017 to write novels full-time.

Her first novel, A Primrose In November, is a family saga set in England and France. It’s a story about loving, losing, and learning to love again.

When she isn’t publicizing Flying Blind, Luanne works on her upcoming novel, tentatively titled When Alice Played The Lottery. It’s the story of a 50-year-old widowed receptionist who starts a lottery pool with nine multi-cultural coworkers at a failing Silicon Valley startup. Just as the layoffs start, the coworkers win the big jackpot and go on to star in their own reality TV show. It takes place in the Silicon Valley where Luanne lives with her husband and Blackberry the cat.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Tony: Fractured. My name is Tony Damascus and my life began normally enough with Mom and Dad, but it split wide open before I turned two. Mom died, Dad took off, and I entered the foster care system. Care is a loose term. Maybe I wasn’t the easiest kid to have around but locking me in a closet didn’t help. I spent a lot of time drawing airplanes and staring out the window.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Tony: I attended public school—occasionally. It was good to get away from my foster family, but it was hard to stay out of trouble. By high school, I visited my classes off and on—enough to graduate. I spent more time at the airport than I did in any after-school activities. I did like getting to know the girls though, but I wasn’t always the guy parents wanted to see coming up the walk.

Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?

Tony: It’s hard to remember exactly, but I want to say I was four. It was with my foster mother. You might think that doesn’t count, but trust me, if you had kissed her, you’d be counting it. My foster father counted it. I mean, she may have been a slut, but in my situation, I took what affection I could get.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Tony: Easy question. Becoming a pilot was my greatest achievement. It wasn’t easy, flying for 15 minutes at a time and trying to build up the hours needed for my private and commercial licenses. Of course, the flying I dig the most is ag flying. Cropdusting. The hard part is eventually, you have to land. But being alone in the cockpit, with the earth below looking well-ordered, is a trip.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Tony: Whoa. . . It’s hard to narrow it down to just one embarrassing incident. Getting caught with the boss’s wife is up there. It’s even worse when he fires you. Then, starts shooting at you. I did get caught using the spray plane to waterski on the Salinas River. That was kind of a bummer. Getting caught, I mean. Making rooster tails with the landing gear was great. I accidentally shot a hole through the neighbor’s bathroom window. That was embarrassing. It didn’t do much for our relationship either. The guy never let me borrow his lawnmower again.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Tony: Just one? I suppose I should have stopped drinking sooner. Of course, it was fun for a long time, until it wasn’t. Oddly enough, it didn’t really seem to affect my flying, but it effed up more than one relationship. Of course, it inspired most of them, based on what I was drinking—and how much—when I met a woman. It ruined several marriages, but only one that mattered.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Tony: Falling in love. Things were humming along just fine until that happened. Before that, I was partying like there was no tomorrow and having a grand time. I could tell you stories about a masseuse I dated but we’ll keep this PG. I suppose the only one who knew my fear, or let me know he knew, was my best friend, Bill. He was one of those stable guys with a library card and morals. It’s a little odd that we became best friends. Flying connected us. It’s probably a good thing we became friends. The dude saved my life. No B.S. He really did.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Tony: Oh, everyone pretty much gets all of me. How long they stick around and tolerate it is another story. I don’t hold back. Like when I had to teach that priest how to fly. Huge mistake putting me in as his instructor. Especially when I was describing how flying fast and low was like making love with a beautiful woman. He didn’t know what I was talking about. When he asked me if it was like praying, I didn’t know what he was talking about.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Tony: Are we close? Ha-ha-ha, very funny. I would have to say we are about as close as a group of porcupines. How do I wish my relationship was different? Well, with my foster family, I wish I didn’t know ’em. Especially my foster brothers. My wife invited them to the wedding. One shot up heroin and the other stole the maid of honor’s purse. As far as my real parents, I wish they had stuck around longer. Especially my mom.

Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?

Tony: Well, being good in bed matters. In fact, that used to be my only requirement until I met Angela. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t even get her in bed for a few months. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t cook. Finally, someone looked beyond how screwed-up I was and just got me. I never thought of myself as a provider. Hell, I could barely take care of a dog. But with Angela, I found I wanted to protect her.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Tony: I like women, guns, and yellow airplanes, not necessarily in that order. Flying relaxes me. It also turns me on. Listening to music definitely helps. My favorite tune is “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Anything by the Rolling Stones works for me. Listening to music AND flying at the same time rocks. I did try duck hunting once, but my leg was in a cast at the time, and it got stuck in the mud. I had a motorcycle for a while. That was cool. I had to get rid of it to collect the insurance when I lost my job. I miss that old Hog.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Tony: You know, giving that priest flying lessons made me wonder if there was more to life than sex and flying. I’m not talking about getting saved, but when your plane goes down and it looks like you might die, you wonder about whether there’s more to life than you know. I guess I wish I was willing to believe that faith crap. I think it might make me a better person.

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Tony: I’m awesome at flying. I think I’m good in bed, too. I can fix an engine. Any engine. They used to call me the piano tuner because I fixed them by sound. Even with my lousy hearing. What am I bad at? You name it. Making a relationship work. Staying employed. Staying sober. I’m horrible with money. If I have it, I spend it.

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Tony: In my pocket right now, I have a lighter with a Great Lakes biplane on it. Don’t tell Angela—I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings—but that masseuse gave it to me as a birthday present. That gal was fun to hang out with—until she got divorced from her long-haul trucker husband. Then she started rubbing me the wrong way, if you get my meaning. She started hounding me to settle down. What a drag! I also used to have a beer opener that looked like a naked lady, but it fell out of my pocket at the airstrip one day.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Tony: Beer. And more beer. Once I had this gal as a maid (she thought she was my girlfriend, but she was really just a housekeeper with benefits. I was the benefit.) Anyway, she used to make this great pineapple upside-down cake. It went well with screwdrivers. I like barbequing steaks, too. Great big ones.

Tony flees Texas at the point of a shotgun and finds himself unemployed. Taking a temporary job as a flight instructor, he demonstrates flying spray runs to his worst student, Father Roberto. Imagine the Great Waldo Pepper teaching Mother Theresa to fly in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley in 1972.

An ace in the air, but a mess on the ground, Tony needs to tame his inner demons. Can he stay alive long enough to do that? Is flying fast and low really like making love to a beautiful woman?

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N

 Wow, Tony, you’ve had quite a life. I hope things work out for you in the best way possible. Thanks again, Luanne, for letting Tony stop by and talk to us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Announcing an Historical Fiction Around the World Series #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

Happy November, everyone! With Thanksgiving right around the corner here in the USA, I thought I’d highlight a backlist book, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, which happens during Thanksgiving week. I hope you’ll check out this romantic retelling of an Irish myth, details are below. Enjoy!

I am going to switch gears with my Monday blog posts from talking about the research that goes into the stories I write to instead challenge myself to widen my reading spectrum of historical fiction. You know my Friday blogs are dedicated to introducing you to contemporary authors who write all kinds of fiction. But now I want to delve into historical fiction from around the world. To that end, I have compiled of list—thanks in great part to the members of the Historical Novel Society Facebook group of readers and writers alike!—of  authors from various countries who write historical fiction in any time/place. My plan is to read them, hopefully one per week, and provide my review of what I enjoyed from the story with you all. Can I read one each week? Well, some are pretty long so I’m not exactly sure! But I’ll try.

My aim is to sample perspectives from authors of other countries than the U.S.A. I want to see what issues and concerns they raise and how they do so with not only their characters and situations but also their language, word choices, etc. Will there be noticeable differences? That’s one of my questions.

Now that I’ve compiled a list of authors, I’ll start working through them one by one. I browsed my own extensive library and found two to begin with on my shelves, books inherited from my beloved mother-in-law’s library when she passed in 2009. I’ll start with Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome. This story is 931 pages long, with an additional glossary, pronunciation guide, etc. So I’ll do my best to read it in a week! If I don’t finish it, then I’ll give you my initial thoughts and reactions to what I have read next week. I think this could be an interesting experience for all of us, but let me know what you think of my plan and if you’ve read any of the books as we go along. I’d love to hear your perspective, so if you want to read along, feel free to join me in this quest to gain a new perspective on historical fiction from authors around the globe.

Cover of The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

Guess I better go read, eh? Until next time…

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

Discover the Secrets of Roseville series!

Love is never lost; it haunts the heart…   An unsuspecting Southern town. Ghosts. Witchcraft. Skeletons in the closet. Discover the Secrets of Roseville in this five book series… Undying Love, Haunted Melody, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, Veiled Visions of Love, and Charmed Against All Odds!

A romantic Thanksgiving story: The Touchstone of Raven Hollow

He dug for the truth and found her magic…

It’s safer to stay hidden. Or so Tara Golden believes. To not draw attention to her healing powers. She has hidden her powers ever since shunned as a child for using them. But occasionally, she helps people passing through town, sure they’d never figure out what saved them. But a tall, sexy geologist is demanding answers to questions she doesn’t want to face at the same time she’s forced to use her nonexistent baking skills to make desserts for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. The hunky guy is in for a huge disappointment since she would never expose her abilities and her gifted sisters even to silence the handsome and intriguing man. 

Grant Markel’s condition is cured, his eyesight restored, but the scientist within him won’t accept it’s a miracle. Miracles don’t explain how he overcame a fatal disease. He followed his brother to Roseville on the fool’s errand of creating an alchemical Elixir of Life. Only to have his condition mysteriously disappear without any Elixir or other treatment. When he learns Tara is the sexy, mystical witch who may hold the answer to his quest, he’s determined to prove she’s full of smoke and mirrors despite their mutual attraction.

When they are trapped in an enchanted valley on the eve of Thanksgiving, Tara must choose between her magical truth or his scientific beliefs in order to escape. Can she step from the shadows to claim her true powers before it’s too late?

Amazon     Barnes and Noble      Kobo     Apple     Books2Read     Google Books     Bookshop

Getting to know Gayle Leeson #author #cozymystery #mystery #ghosts #haunting #fiction #books #mustread #amreading

I have a lovely surprise for you today, everyone! Author Gayle Leeson has given her character Amanda Tucker some time off out of her story, Designs on Murder, to come chat with me for a few minutes. Let’s take a glance at Gayle’s bio and then we’ll get to know Amanda.

Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent. Gayle has also written as Amanda Lee and Gayle Trent. As Amanda Lee, she wrote the Embroidery Mystery series, and as Gayle Trent, she writes the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series. Going forward, Gayle intends to keep her writing under the Gayle Leeson name. Please check out her Ghostly Fashionista and Down South Café series.

Author Social Links: Newsletter * Facebook * BookBub

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Amanda: For the most part, it was great. My mom was—ha! is—a little overbearing and demanding sometimes, but my dad spoiled me rotten. Plus, Grandpa Dave and Grandma Jodie lived nearby, and I loved spending time with them. In fact, I still do enjoy living close to Grandpa Dave and see him nearly every day. Grandma Jodie is no longer with us, and Mom and Dad moved to Florida, so Grandpa and I keep a close eye on each other.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Amanda: I went to public school, and it was all right. I loved drawing and sewing and making patterns, so I excelled more away from school than I did inside it. Still, I made good grades, and I recently graduated from college with a degree in business administration.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Amanda: I feel that opening my shop this past year was my greatest achievement. Doing something so bold was both exhilarating and frightening; but I took the leap, the business has been successful, and I’m so glad I took the risk.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Amanda: Well, this happens on a regular basis—I’m trying to talk with people in my shop and find myself answering Max, the ghost that they can’t see or hear! I’m sure my coworkers often think I’ve lost my mind.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Amanda: I’d like to have found Max sooner.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Amanda: Failure. I think Grandpa Dave knows, but he has enough confidence in me for the both of us.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Amanda: Very little unless I’m really close to them. There are only a handful of people who know about Max, and that’s because they can communicate with her too.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Amanda: I am. I wish my mom and I were closer. Now that I’m an adult with my own business/life, I realize that much of her domineering behavior comes from a place of love and fear. That doesn’t always make it easier to live with, but I can make an effort to understand her better.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Amanda: I love reading and watching old movies. Max and I have a sort of book club now. She adores reading but hadn’t been able to do so until I introduced her to eBooks.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Amanda: I think I’d like to be more fearless—like Max!

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Amanda: I’m excellent at designing a dress and creating a pattern for it. I’m horrible at saying no. I need to be less of a people-pleaser!

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Amanda: I’m never without a tape measure and a sewing kit.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Amanda: – Tea, bottled water, salads, fruits, and something chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth.

What if you discovered your lively new friend wasn’t really…alive?

When Amanda decides to lease a space in historic Abingdon, Virginia’s Shops on Main, she’s surprised to learn that she has a resident ghost. But soon Maxine “Max,” a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark, a web designer who rented space at Shops on Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” is a killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–she can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound * IndieboundAudio

I hope you catch the killer without any scary moments yourself, Amanda. Thanks for swinging by!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!