Wrapping Up The First Man In Rome #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I have finished reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and it only took me 24 days! As you may recall, the entire book spans 1076 pages with the story proper comprising 931 of those. I chuckled at the Los Angeles Times quote in the front of the book: “An awesome and epic new work…This is an absolutely absorbing story—not simply of the military and political intrigues that went into the final days of the Republic but also of what it was like to live, love and survive at this pivotal point in our civilization…A master storyteller…A 900-plus-page novel that is every bit as hard to put down as it is to pick up.” [emphasis mine] Yes, it is a rather hefty lift!

If you’re just joining my tour of historical fiction written by authors from around the world, you might want to start here by reading why I chose The First Man in Rome. Note that I’m broadening my reading by sampling historical fiction written by authors in countries other than my own USA. I want to see what different nationalities have to say about their point of view of history. I started by sharing my first thoughts about the novel, then my impressions of life in ancient Rome and some overall observations of the story and writing. Today I’m going to talk about the story and my take-aways.

I will admit to being happily surprised to enjoy the story. It’s filled with political intrigue, infighting, actual fighting for ascendancy in the government, and revenge. All of which is not something I typically enjoy reading. I can’t put my finger on what the author did to weave that magical spell over me, but she did! In doing so, I feel like I glimpsed life in ancient Rome. She made that life style along with its trials and tribulations and achievements come to life for me.

More than once I wondered about the kind of research she must have delved into in order to provide the specific details. Did she find source material as to the layout of the ancient buildings and spaces she includes in the story? Did she walk down the roads, the steps, through the green spaces and cluttered parts of the city? How did she know the fighting techniques, the technological advancements, the strategies employed by the generals of the various armies, and, well, everything? The various maps she includes are rather difficult to read but they do help me visualize the areas she writes about. McCullough’s details create a vibrant, breathing society on the page. Makes me want to go do some research of my own.

I’ve read The Thornbirds by McCullough way back when I was a teen. Her style drew me in then just as strongly as she did with this one. That style also seems similar to other historical authors even though she has a unique narrative voice throughout her works. What I mean is that I didn’t notice anything about her author voice that stood out as different than a good storyteller’s technique. As I read from authors around the world, I wonder if I will come across any who write with a different rhythm or meter. We’ll see, I guess…

So, what’s next you may be asking? Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings. It’s half the size of The First Man in Rome so theoretically it should take me half the time to read it, right?

Happy reading 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.

On sale for $1.99 (ebook) through 12/14/21!

Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.

Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.

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

As much as I’d like to say I’d finished reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome such is not the case! But I am thoroughly enjoying the story, at least most of the time. But I’ll get into that in a minute.

First, I’d like to share that in honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7, I’ve put my historical women’s fiction story, Notes of Love and War, on sale for only $1.99 (ebook) now through December 14. This story is set in Baltimore, Maryland, during World War II, and was inspired by my parents’ correspondence during and after the war. If you’re unsure, you can download and read a free sample here. More info about the story is below. I hope you enjoy it!

Now back to The First Man in Rome. If you’re just joining my tour of historical fiction written by authors from around the world, you might want to start here by reading why I chose The First Man in Rome. Note that I’m broadening my reading by sampling historical fiction written by authors in countries other than my own USA. I want to see what different nationalities have to say about their point of view of history. I don’t know what I’ll find, but that’s the fun and intrigue for me! I started by sharing my first thoughts about the novel, and last week I gave my impressions of life in ancient Rome. I’m more than half way through this 930+ page story, so hopefully will finish reading it this week.

As I read this intricate and expansive tale of life and politics in ancient Rome, it is quite evident to me that the author had to do extensive research and then employ her impressive imagination to weave the story. I already mentioned the glossary and pronunciation guides which enhance the story for me. I’ve referred to them a few times as I’ve been reading to remind myself of the history or meaning of a reference, or on how to correctly pronounce a given name. It’s not a requirement, naturally, but it does help me. I find myself wondering just how much research she did before writing this book. Which, by the way, is the first in a series.

Did she research each individual focus character so she could authentically portray the person’s attitude, goals, means to an end? How much is based on historical fact versus her vision of how it might have unfolded? I don’t know but I suspect from the authoritative tone of the narrative (as well as the detailed glossary) that she knows her setting, characters, and historical context through and through.

Speaking of the narrative, McCullough chose to use an omniscient narrator of this story. For those who aren’t sure what “omniscient” means, it’s when the narrator is privy to what every character is experiencing in the story and shares it with the reader. Omniscient can even mean the narrator knows the back story of each character, the reasons for why they do what they do. McCullough switches easily between various character points of view, even within one scene. This technique can easily become what is known as “head hopping” in contemporary fiction, but works well in her hands for this story. I found myself comparing how I ended up using first person point of view in my historical women’s fiction title, Becoming Lady Washington. That choice meant I didn’t need to know the motives and intentions of the other characters, just their actions and her interpretation of them. But McCullough delves into and reveals the motives and intents of many of the characters in her story. Thus I think she must have spent a good deal of time getting to know these actual historical figures and characters based on the culture before having them join forces on the page.

I do have one tiny gripe about the writing, which is more my pet peeve than any real critique. There are a few “info dumps” within the story. To me, an info dump is when the author includes a block of unnecessary or irrelevant description or history. In one such section, 2-3 pages of description of the villa’s layout go by before the point of view character dismisses it as unnoticed. I’m left to ponder, then why include it in such detail from his point of view? Now I realize that other readers may be looking for the kind of flooring, what’s hanging on the walls, what rooms lead to what other parts of the house as a sort of setting the stage for the story. And it does and it is somewhat interesting, I admit. I just think it could have been woven into the story from his point of view instead of paragraphs of description beforehand. But maybe that’s just me!

McCullough also uses contemporary language throughout her story. Some of the terms are a bit jarring to me, because I strive to keep my word choices to ones used in the time period of my stories. For example, I came across the word “infected” and it pulled me right out of the story because I’m thinking to myself, they didn’t know about germs, so would they have used that word? (In case you’re interested, according to the Oxford English Dictionary “infected” didn’t enter written English until 1480 AD.) But when you’re writing for a modern reader about the time period of 110 B.C. in the Roman Empire which spoke Latin or Greek, to do so would make the story unreadable to the modern reader. I don’t know how formal their spoken language might have been then, and researching documents from that time would only tell how formal the written language was. Either way, we, modern readers, know what the word means even if they wouldn’t. I do try to keep in mind that modern writers are telling stories for modern readers. So sometimes the more familiar terms have to carry the story.

Enough of my musings for this week! I suppose I should get back to reading, and writing my own books, plus addressing some holiday greeting cards and decorating the house for Christmas.

Happy reading 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.

Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.

Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.

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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?

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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

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!

Final Stop on the Guided Tour of the Fury Falls Inn – Residence Upper Floor #visual #layout #FracturedCrystals #FuryFallsInn #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel

One more stop on my guided tour of the interior of the Fury Falls Inn! If you missed the beginning, feel free to loop back to the Falcon’s Eye view of the property where the Fury Falls Inn is situated, then wander through as the Main Floor, before climbing the stairs to the Upper Floor  to see the guest rooms. Last time we wandered through the Residence Main Floor, and today we’re going on upstairs to take a peek at where the family sleeps. Remember that the inn is a large building, comprised of two separate structures joined by the covered porch.

The family continues to grow as each of Cassie brothers find their way to the inn. When you climb the stairs to the second floor, you emerge into a large hallway with doors leading to the bedrooms. Off to the right is where Mercy and Reggie’s bedroom is located. Beside theirs, at the front of the building, is where Sheridan’s room is located, making it easy for him to ease out of his room early in the morning and go downstairs to start the day’s cooking.

Upper floor of the Residence at the Fury Falls Inn.

Cassie offered to share her room with Mandy due to the ongoing threat to single women in the region. I’m sure Abram doesn’t mind the fact that he’s sharing a room with Daniel, especially since it’s located next door to his fiancée. In the left rear corner you’ll find Flint’s room, which is a larger room befitting the interim innkeeper.

The front left corner is where Giles is sharing a large, two-bed room with his friends, Zander and Matt. There’s one spare room left in the residence… I wonder who will ultimately occupy it? Silas is the only brother left to arrive; he’s on his way. Perhaps he’ll move in there if Flint decides that’s fitting.

The furniture and furnishings are pretty basic in each room: a bed (or two), a dresser, perhaps a wardrobe, and a table and chairs by the window. Each has some kind of curtain or drape at the window to pull shut to darken the room, or block out the flash of lightning.

Thank you for your attention as we complete the guided tour of the Fury Falls Inn. Please descend the stairs and exit out the front door. I hope you enjoyed the tour. <grin>

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.

Fury Falls Inn in 1821 Alabama. A place for ghosts, witches, and magic. A place of secrets and hidden dangers. A place where Daniel Fairhope’s family kept life-changing secrets from him.

His sister’s magic is coveted by two powerful, angry witches intent on her willing compliance with their demands. Worse, a witch hunter is on the loose, determined to rid the area of all witches. Struggling to cope with those threats, Daniel discovers his own unique and powerful ability as well as those of his estranged brothers. Abilities they’ll need to unite to protect their sister and the family secrets. But these challenges all pale in comparison to convincing the captivating woman he meets at the inn to trust him before she breaks his heart.

Books2Read    Amazon      Barnes & Noble     Kobo     Apple

If you’d like an autographed paperback, personalized to you or someone you want to give it to, and mailed to you for only $18, you can order one directly from me here. Be sure to give me the name you want it made out to and your mailing address (you can send both to me at betty@bettybolte.com) and I’ll send it out as soon as possible.

Getting to know Fred Misurella #Author #Contemporary #WomensFiction #LiteraryFiction #FamilyLife

My guest today is an intriguing character from one of Fred Misurella’s novels. Please help me welcome Jamie Sasso straight from between the covers of A Pontiac in the Woods. First we’ll get a quick look at Fred’s background and then we’ll dive right in with finding our more about Jamie.

A Pontiac in the Woods is the fourth in Fred Misurella’s cycle of novels about the modern American family. The others are Only Sons, a saga of two competing Italian immigrant families in rural Pennsylvania; Arrangement in Black and White, the story of an interracial marriage in Connecticut; and A Summer of Good-Byes, about an American couple’s attempt to restart their marriage on a visit to Provence in the face of past infertility and the wife’s recent extramarital affair. Misurella has also written Lies to Live By: Stories, and Short Time, a novella about the Vietnam War. His literary journalism has appeared in Partisan Review, Salmagundi, Voices in Italian Americana, Italian Americana, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals. His essays on Primo Levi appear in The Legacy of Primo Levi and Answering Auschwitz. He is the current book review editor for VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), a former Fulbright scholar in France, and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. He lives with his wife and children in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Jamie: Miserable, especially at the beginning. I was abandoned as an infant, adopted by an older set of loving parents who died when I was still a young teen. From there it was catch as catch can because I never really knew what I wanted to do, or even what was possible. Then a social worker, Mr. Santa, began helping me.

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

Jamie: A pretty good public school full of kids and parents with snotty noses constantly pointing skyward. So, to be truthful, I didn’t enjoy it. In fact I fought a lot because everyone thought I was weird. Maybe I was. But running track with the boys helped, and when I met nerdy Misha I finally found someone I could trust (and dance with).

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

Jamie: Please, that’s really my business, don’t you think? In any case, it went, and it went well enough from there for me to want more. But you know, there’s a lot more important stuff in life than sucking tongues, so let’s get to it.

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

Jamie:  Achievement? For a fourteen-year-old girl living on her own (yes, in the woods, in a Pontiac) what do you think the answer should be? I survived. In a certain way I thrived, which is even better than survival because it gave me a sense of what path I could take and what I might be able to do if I kept pushing forward.

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

Jamie: My drug-addled birth parents, who abandoned me. And then my living situation after my adoptive parents died, while a distant, no-brain cousin told me to fuck off because he just wanted money. Who could be proud of that? I kept wondering what I had done, if it was somehow all my fault.

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

Jamie: That’s a no-brainer, believe me. I’d like my adoptive, loving Mum and Dad to have lived many, many years longer. I still miss them and feel cheated I couldn’t see them grow old and content with me and what I might become. I think of them and miss them every single hour of every single day.

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

Jamie: A repeat abandonment, and the whole world either should know and understand that already or is incredibly dense.

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

Jamie: A lot, I think. Read my story. I pretty much let it all hang out, even the sucking tongues parts.

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

Jamie: Sometimes I think Mum and Dad were too good to live. Maybe I jinxed them; maybe I was too bad to have them with me all this time. I just wish I could hug them again and explain the shit that I’ve been doing.

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

Jamie:  Jesus, what a question! Somebody who will love me and stay with me a long, long time without getting bored or disgusted; nice eyes wouldn’t be bad either.

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

Jamie: Again, read my story: I love to run; I love to dance. And before the pandemic, New York was perfect for both those things when Misha and I went there.

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

Jamie: I’d like to stop feeling abandoned again or threatened by it all the time. Even with Mr. Santa and Misha that shit comes over me still. I cannot stop feeling alone.

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

Jamie: Good at dancing, better at running. I ran with the boys’ cross country team in high school (there was no girls’ team) and was faster than all but the top one or two. Bad? I don’t know. I’m bad at feeling sorry for people who haven’t suffered as I have. Is that selfish? Probably so.

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

Jamie: Please… I’m a constant runner. I like to keep things light. I don’t carry a handbag; no phone either; just some identification in my pocket and, maybe, a paperback or two in a very tiny backpack.

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

Jamie: Don’t have a refrigerator, so it’s all canned food and boxes. But that may change if things work out the way I want them to. Check out my story for more details.

Jamie Sasso finds herself alone, with no family or home. Cast adrift by a distant cousin in another state, she finds she cannot tolerate her county’s foster care program. But where can she live, how can she feed herself, and in what way can she plan for her future? Will she even have a future? A Pontiac in the Woods explores those issues and raises meaningful questions about them. With the help of a social worker, Mr. Santa, Misha, a young man she meets at a dance, and her school’s track coach she begins to find her way. But the way is never smooth. More important, she cannot find for sure where that way will lead.

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I hope you find the stability and loving home you’re seeking, Jamie. Best of luck to you! And thanks to Fred for giving you the freedom to come talk with us today. It’s been interesting!

Happy reading!

Betty

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