02 July 2015

Excerpt Thursday: SWORD OF THE GLADIATRIX by Faith L. Justice

This week, we're pleased to welcome author FAITH L. JUSTICE with her latest historical fiction release, SWORD OF THE GLADIATRIX. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Sword of the Gladiatrix. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Two women. Two swords. One victor.

An action-packed tale that exposes the brutal underside of Imperial Rome, Sword of the Gladiatrix brings to life unforgettable characters and exotic settings. From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero's Rome: Afra, scout and beast master to the Queen of Kush; and Cinnia, warrior-bard and companion to Queen Boudica of the British Iceni. Enslaved, forced to fight for their lives and the Romans' pleasure; they seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other's arms. But the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.

**An Excerpt from Sword of the Gladiatrix**

Chapter 1

Kingdom of Kush, in the sixth year of Nero’s reign (60 CE)

Afra watched with her fellow Kushites, as the small contingent of Roman soldiers escorted General Decimus Cornial Asina through the streets and plazas of the Kush capital of Meroe. The setting sun washed the city in bloody light—an ill omen. As their guide from the Egyptian border, she should have tried to delay the Romans till morning, a more auspicious time for new beginnings.
She shook her head. Leave the auguring to the priests. Only they can determine the will of the gods, what is auspicious, what is ill-omened. Besides, the General had been most insistent on setting the pace. Any ill-luck is his own.
The blare of curved horns—what the Romans call buccinae—announced the Roman presence at the palace. Bright limestone steps led up to a colonnade sheltering a massive wooden door, flanked by monumental stone carvings of the king on one side and the queen on the other; both smiting their enemies with flails and spears. The red sun reflected off the soldiers’ burnished breastplates and sharp spears.
Kashta, the king’s chief advisor, and his own entourage of aides and guards, met the delegation with their own fine show of trumpets and drums. Among them, Afra spotted Piye, Kashta’s son and her step-sister’s husband, dressed in shimmering striped robes. His hooked nose curved over a cruel mouth.
Her stomach roiled and her lips unconsciously curled into a snarl.
Gods curse him!
A final flourish of trumpets called her attention back to the ceremony. The chief advisor raised his hands for silence. “My Lord Amanitenmemide, Qore of the Kushites, born of the gods, and his wife Kandake Amanikhatashan, Mother of the next Qore, bids the representative of Nero, Imperator of the Romans, welcome to their lands.”
General Asina gave the briefest of bows. Afra knew he would take the King’s absence as a slight on his honor. Her people knew the absence of the queen was just as great an insult. Perhaps it was meant to be. If so, it was a dangerous game to bait these Romans.
Asina intoned in his stentorian voice, “Imperator Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, Pater Patriae and four times Consul of the People of Rome sends his greetings.”
Kashta did not bend his neck. “My Qore has had accommodations prepared for you, but asks your pardon for his absence. He has duties in the temple of Amun and will greet you properly at a feast in your honor after you have rested and refreshed yourselves.” Asina gave him a stiff nod and ordered his men to camp outside the walls. An honor guard accompanied him to his more comfortable accommodations.
The Romans marched off and the crowd dispersed, muttering. One young man spat in the street as the Romans left it. Three women with kohl-rimmed eyes watched the soldiers retreat; speculative smiles on their faces. Afra shrugged as the women drifted down the street in the Roman’s wake. Everyone had to eat. If not for her hunting skills, it might be she following the Romans to their beds. The thought made her shudder.
Thank you Mother Isis, Queen of all Gods, Goddesses, and Women for saving me from that fate.
Afra walked across the plaza fronting the palace and the brightly painted Temple of Amun, wondering if she dared visit her step-sister before retiring for the night. She lived for Asata’s smiles and loving embraces, but it was dangerous meeting too often. Her rumbling stomach and a whiff of rancid odor decided for her. Dinner, then a wash.
She didn’t make it to her room.
One of the queen’s servants caught up to her, panting. “Huntress, the Kandake wishes to talk to you.”
Afra indicated her sweat-stained linen clothes, worn sandals, and dusty hair. “Now? It’s been a long journey escorting the Romans from Hierasykaminos. I don’t wish to offend the Kandake with my stink.”
The slave sniffed and raised the corner of his mouth. “She says at once.”
Afra entered Kandake Amanikhatashan’s private receiving chamber through a small back entrance used for servants and others with more clandestine charges. Afra had used that entrance more than once doing the queen’s bidding. The room opened on an interior courtyard which, during the day, provided bright light and cooling breezes. Now the room glowed in the soft light of oil lamps hung from the ceiling. Coals in a brass brazier chased off the night chill and gave flickering life to the frescos of Nile plants and animals on the wall. The queen entered and Afra abased herself on the soft wool carpet.
Rise and be seated. Take some refreshment.” In the tradition of Kushite queens, Amanikhatashan was an immense woman—shorter than Afra by a head, but three times her girth. Her dusky skin glistened with oil; her ears, hands, and arms glittered with gold ornaments. A gold pectoral decorated with blue faience rested on the substantial bosom of her white linen gown. She had not finished her preparations for the Roman banquet. The queen’s shaved head awaited the elaborate wig and headdress reminiscent of the ancient Egyptians her ancestors had once ruled.
Afra perched on a chair decorated with blue-green cushions made of a smooth material that felt like water gliding over her fingers—silk it was called, from lands beyond the east sea. She reached for a blue glass goblet filled with cool wine but left the plate of sliced melon untouched.
The queen settled on a more substantial couch and clasped her hands in her lap. Afra lowered her eyes and awaited the queen’s pleasure.
Finally the queen nodded. “My daughter, you have been a good and faithful servant since you came to me two years ago. Your hunting skills are renowned and you have completed every…delicate…task set to you with diligence and discretion.”
Afra bowed her head in acknowledgment. She had seen but eighteen summers when her step-mother drove her from home, calling her abomination. These last two years, serving her queen, allowed her hope of a future with Asata.

Book Info:

ISBN:  978-0692386491
Length:  260 pp
Price:  $11.99 (Print-discounts vary) $3.99 (ebook)
Available at:
Amazon Worldwide (US, UK, Canada) (print and ebook)BarnesandNoble.com (print and ebook)
CreateSpace (print only)iBooks (ebook only)Kobo (ebook only)Smashwords (ebooks–all formats)

Learn more about author Faith L. Justice

FAITH L. JUSTICE writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, the Circles in the Hair anthology, and many more. She is a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine, and co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites. Contact Faith online at:

29 June 2015

Weddings in History: Creating the Wedding of a Fictional Priestess in 14th Century Wales

By Ginger Myrick

My current project is The Welsh Prophecy, a work of historical fiction with a fantasy twist. It is set in 14th century Wales and spans the reigns of Edward II and Edward III. The tale begins in the general area of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales and ends up in a town called Ashford in Kent, England. This very real setting sounds like a decent enough basis for straight historical fiction, but I had to complicate things by adding a fantastical element, which can be challenging, especially when this author wants that particular element to ring true.

The story opens on the main character’s wedding day. Family history holds that Briallen is descended from a legendary cult of priestesses. Because many of the traditions of the British Isles are unofficial and oral in nature, research material is scarce. Fortunately, accounts from the widely varied cultures share many like elements. The legends of Avalon and the Mabinogion—a collection of Welsh mythological tales—feature heavily in the local folklore and have been preserved in written form for centuries. These were the main sources I used to make the story come to life. The priestesses of Sena were a common theme and were described as far back as the first century in this account by Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela:

“In the Brittanic Sea, opposite the coast of the Ossismi [of Brittany], the isle of Sena belongs to a Gaulish divinity and is famous for its oracle; whose priestesses, sanctified by their perpetual virginity, are reportedly nine in number. They called the priestesses the ‘Galligende’ and think that it is because they have been endowed with unique powers; that they can stir up the seas by their magical charms; that they turn into whatever animals they want; that cure what is incurable among other peoples; that they know and predict the future - but that it is not revealed except to sea-voyagers, and only those travelling to consult them.”

Considering the strong influence of fantasy, I could have simply made up the rites and rituals of Briallen’s mystical binding ceremony, but I wanted it to be believable and tie into the cultural superstitions of the native peoples. Both the winter and summer solstices held great importance for the indigenous tribes of Britain. The summer solstice would seem the obvious choice for a wedding—with the feting of the sun during its longest day on earth, festivals hailing the abundance of nature’s bounty, and the fine weather permitting long revels, even after the object of celebration slips below the horizon—but the winter solstice has equally compelling reasons for hosting a wedding.

Although the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, thus the darkest, it also marks the turning of the sun and the beginning of the days getting longer. It presages the coming of spring and the promise of rebirth and potential growth, appropriate themes for the union of bride and groom. Also, in my eyes there is something exceedingly romantic about cold weather and a snow covered landscape. It begs for its own showcase with images of a ceremony attended by family and friends in plush furs and rich cloaks, their breath hanging in delicate clouds on the frigid air, candles producing mystical circles of haloed light in the haze, and all of this followed by a wedding night snuggled under an animal skin in front of a blazing fire. For dramatic effect, I chose the winter.

The vows themselves were a bit easier. The concepts behind them are timeless and enduring, so I just thought about what lovers have been saying to each other through the ages. The fantasy element, along with the fact that organized religious ceremonies would not have been readily available in the setting, gave me a bit of license. When the vows were written, though, I did have them professionally translated into Welsh to lend some realism.

“I love you with my entire being. I bind myself to you of my own free will that we may face our future—whatever it may bring—as one mind, one heart, one spirit. I will love you forever. As I say, so shall it be.”

“Rydw i’n dy garu gyda’m holl hanfod. Fe’th glymaf fy hun atat o’m hewyllus rhydd, fel y medrwn gwynebu’n dyfodol—beth bynnag a ddyfod—fel un meddwl, un calon, un ysbryd. Fe’th garaf am byth. Fel hyn y ddyweda i, fel hyn y bu hi.”

Details, like clothing, had to be realistically portrayed to give the scene authenticity. In the 14th century, few people in Britain had access to fine exotic fabrics like silks and satins. In Wales, which was a land largely considered untamed and its nobility less sophisticated than in England proper, even the landed gentry would not have possessed such garments, nor even have call to wear them in the unpredictable and extreme winters of the wild Welsh countryside. The main character of my story, Briallen, is from the rugged foothills below the Bannau Brycheiniog mountain range in Wales. Not a whole lot of international commerce going on there—mostly just sheep farmers—so her gown logically would have been made of wool dyed with plant material from the woodland surrounding their home. This was one concession to realism that I did make.

But I could not help topping it off with a more elaborate garment to signify her revered position within the community. I gave the bride a cloak of red and gold brocade lined with white feathers. Although materials like silks and satins may have been impractical and scarce, a thicker woven fabric like brocade would have been more suitable to the climate and more accessible. Again, not every working man of the era, indeed no common sheep farmer, would have the means to purchase a fine red and gold brocade, but a sought-after healer with rich patrons must have received many such trinkets in payment for her services.

In borrowing heavily from tradition, peppering in a few embellishments of my own, and dropping the whole of it into a documented historical setting, I hope I’ve been able to achieve my goal of creating a believable historical wedding and accompanying mythology with its own prophecy, fulfillment, and ensuing legacy, that should render a compelling trilogy when finished.

Ginger Myrick was born and raised in Southern California. She is a self-described wife, mother, animal lover, and avid reader. Along with the promotion for BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, WORK OF ART, THE WELSH HEALEREL REY, and INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCEshe is currently working on novel #6. A Christian who writes meticulously researched historical fiction with a ‘clean’ love story at the core, she hopes to show the reading community that a romance need not include graphic details to convey deep love and passion. 

28 June 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Ona Russell on RULE OF CAPTURE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ONA RUSSELL with her latest historical mystery release, RULE OF CAPTURE. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Rule of Capture. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Los Angeles, 1928. Oil, oranges and site of the C. C. Julian Petroleum stock scandal, a Ponzi type scheme to rival any in American history and a foreshadowing of the decade's looming, economic crash. As one of the scheme's victims, Ohio probate officer Sarah Kaufman--still reeling from the KKK murders she helped solve in Tennessee--is in the city to attend the trial of the perpetrators, in particular of the ''friend'' who convinced her to invest. Sarah is eager for justice and committed to seeing the trial through. She's glad she's alone, that her lover Mitchell isn't there, that after court she'll have time to herself. But when a Mexican woman she barely knows winds up dead, Sarah's plans are thrown upside down. Suddenly she finds herself in a nightmarish trial by fire, one that takes her from the glamour of Hollywood to the Tijuana frontier, tests her deepest beliefs and leads her to discover not only a killer, but a part of Los Angeles built on a terrible secret. Includes Readers Guide.

**Q&A with Ona Russell**
Rule of Capture is a legal mystery that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1920s. What inspired you to write a historical novel set in that time and place?
As for the era, it really found me. I situated the story in the 1920s because I was led there by the news clippings that formed the basis of my first book. After becoming fascinated with the period in general, however, especially after realizing how similar it was to our own time, I decided to stay there. Los Angeles was another matter. In trying to figure out the setting of my next book—I had initially planned a series that would include every state in the Union!—I came across a little known but incredibly important court trial held in L.A. in 1928. This led to other discoveries that I thought could provide interesting plot twists. Plus, my grandfather owned a shoe store in L.A. that I decided to weave into the narrative. Also, I was born in L.A, my daughter and parents live in the city, and it was a relatively close place to do research. So, voilà! Los Angeles!
Like Rule of Capture, your first two novels, O’Brien’s Desk and The Natural Selection, feature a real person, juvenile social worker and counselor Sarah Kaufman, as their heroine. What’s special about Sarah and how did you come to choose her as the star sleuth for your mystery series?
I was introduced to Sarah while doing research for O’Brien’s Desk. O’Brien was my husband’s grandfather and a prominent judge in 1920s Ohio. He frequently appeared in newspapers of the day, accompanied by his court appointee, Sarah Kaufman. I was immediately struck by Sarah, a Jewish woman who had made a name for herself in a male-dominated and gentile environment. She was a working professional at a time when few women left the home and a civic leader involved in all sorts of Progressive causes. But she also lived with her siblings, never married, and was an aspiring writer. This gave her a complexity that I thought could be developed. The more I read and imagined, the more convinced I became of her fictional possibilities. As a Jewish woman myself, I identified with her, so much so that I laid flowers on her grave to thank her for inspiring me. In life she was a crusader for justice; in fiction she’s the same. And I’m proud to say that as a result of my first book, she (the real Sarah Kaufman) was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame.
There are strong elements of feminism and civil rights, especially with regard to religion and race, in all of your novels. What made you decide to pursue these thematic issues in your historical series and in this new novel?
Well, I’d have to say that it’s a combination of personal experience, education and history. I come from a family that values diversity and human rights. I approach the world from this perspective, and when I encounter opposition, I react. With respect to religion in particular, I’ve experienced my fair share of intolerance, and my reaction has taken many forms, including writing. Writing is for me a way to work through these experiences, to lay them bare and alter the narrative to my liking. Since the 1920s saw the rise of the KKK and all manner of bigotries, it’s natural, given my bent, that I would be drawn to these topics. My academic training was also a factor in my interest in such themes as it both exposed me to the pervasiveness of intolerance and taught me the importance of examining the context in which it occurs.
What do you find the most fascinating about the historical genre?
Emily Dickinson put it best: “Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant.” History is a powerful form of knowledge, but it is often told dryly and with a limited focus. I like the ability to bend history, to tell it “at a slant,” to be as faithful as I can to the facts but even more so to truth. I like research and getting the details right. But I love bringing unknown or underappreciated people and events to life. To do that, you sometimes have to fill in the missing pieces. Historical fiction gives you the permission to do so, as long as what you construct is consistent with the character and the time. I really believe that this kind of excavation and reimagining of the past is my calling. I feel most alive when I’m involved in the process of resurrecting the dead. The historical genre also allows me to teach about the past, to show its correspondences to the present, for instance, while entertaining with (hopefully) a compelling plot.
What would you like readers to remember most about you and your books?
Hmm. I guess that I take my writing seriously, that I work very hard to have the stories ring true. I promise readers that I will present them with some historical facts that they’ve probably never heard of before. Also, although I’m a mystery writer and proud of it, I’m not a formulaic one. I want readers to remember that there are no simple answers, and my books don’t offer any. But I value readers’ opinions and am open to their criticism. Well, to a point. To be absolutely honest, I want to be able to say, in the words of actress Sally Field: “You like me!”
Are you working on a new Sarah Kaufman novel and, if so, what can you tell us about it?
Yes and no. Sarah will be a character in the next book, but not the protagonist. She’ll be older and act as a kind of adviser. The story will take place in the 1940s, during WWII. And that’s about all I can say without giving away a critical piece of Rule of Capture.

Learn more about author Ona Russell

25 June 2015

Excerpt Thursday: RULE OF CAPTURE by Ona Russell

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ONA RUSSELL with her latest historical mystery release, RULE OF CAPTURE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Rule of Capture. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Los Angeles, 1928. Oil, oranges and site of the C. C. Julian Petroleum stock scandal, a Ponzi type scheme to rival any in American history and a foreshadowing of the decade's looming, economic crash. As one of the scheme's victims, Ohio probate officer Sarah Kaufman--still reeling from the KKK murders she helped solve in Tennessee--is in the city to attend the trial of the perpetrators, in particular of the ''friend'' who convinced her to invest. Sarah is eager for justice and committed to seeing the trial through. She's glad she's alone, that her lover Mitchell isn't there, that after court she'll have time to herself. But when a Mexican woman she barely knows winds up dead, Sarah's plans are thrown upside down. Suddenly she finds herself in a nightmarish trial by fire, one that takes her from the glamour of Hollywood to the Tijuana frontier, tests her deepest beliefs and leads her to discover not only a killer, but a part of Los Angeles built on a terrible secret. Includes Readers Guide.

**An Excerpt from Rule of Capture**


The L.A. morgue. Not where Sarah imagined she would spend the afternoon. But after she retold her story to the only slightly more interested officer, she agreed to his perfunctory request. It was already 3:00 p.m., and she was still thumbing through magazines in the waiting area. The trial would have to go on without her today.

She leaned back. The shoes were now in police custody. Not that they’d be in a hurry to investigate. Based on everything she'd seen thus far, the death of a Mexican would be a low priority. Although with her husband being white and apparently a prominent citizen, they might be forced to act if there were more evidence that pointed to a homicide.

She picked up a Saturday Evening Post. It was the March edition, featuring on its cover a nightmarish Pied Piper figure surrounded by equally creepy-looking animals celebrating the onset of spring. Sarah thumbed through and stopped on an excerpt of Lost Ecstasy, a new novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, the recently dubbed Agatha Christie of the States. Sarah wasn’t a fan of humorous mysteries but this one didn’t sound too funny:

Kay Dowling was used to luxury, expensive pleasures, and the gentlemen who could afford them. But when she accompanied her wealthy family to her late grandfather’s ranch, it was ordinary Tom McNair who caught her eye. Then Tom was arrested for a not-so-ordinary murder, and Kay’s life was turned upside-down. But she was determined to help Tom prove his innocence, even if she had to put her own life in danger to do it.

“Sarah Kaufman?”

Sarah dropped the magazine and gasped, startled by the somber, hospital-garbed man appearing at the door. “This way,” he said, and without introduction, led her down the cold, sterile hall. Their syncopated steps echoed in the silence.

If Sarah never had to visit one of these places again it would be too soon—one of Tillie's tired expressions, but it was true. Most of her work for the courts was life affirming—repairing marriages, rehabilitating juveniles, finding work for the unemployed. But then there were the suicides, the wives beaten to death, and worse, the children, who had no family to bury them. The first few times she had to identify a body, she trembled violently, got sick, thought she could never do it again. But eventually she learned to control her emotions. Or more accurately, was able to control them, because she didn't quite know how she did it. An unconscious mechanism of some sort. Self-protection, no doubt. The psyche was good at that. But whatever the source, she was grateful for it, because the calm that came over her in such instances allowed her to focus. And that is exactly what she did now as a gloved hand slid open the metal drawer and pulled back the white sheet.


Sarah took in the stiff, purplish features. Mouth, cheeks, hair.  Bruising on the neck. She could just make it out. The striking eyes were closed for good, but there was no question. She looked at the corpse hard, again hoping to remember something in the stilled face. “Yes,” she said dully. “That’s her.”

The man nodded, and then mutely escorted her out. Soon she was back at the police station. Officer Hodges lit a cigarette and rocked back in his worn chair. “Well ma'am.” He smiled sheepishly. “We appreciate your help, but, uh, looks like we didn't need it after all.”


“Nope. Path report is in. Cause of death is heart attack.”


“Massive heart attack. Probably happened very quick.”

“Heart attack? A woman of that age? What about the bruising?”


“The bruising on the neck.”

“I don’t know. Probably when she fell.”

“Are you sure?”


“Nothing else?”

“See for yourself,” he said, handing her the official yellow form.

Sarah read over it. Huh. “Well, that's that then,” she said, standing and feeling something between confusion and relief. “Do you know why she was in that area?  I read it was popular with Chicanos.”

“Well, if you hadn’t noticed, she was one of them, ma’am. Marianna’s just a street. Residential, mostly, with that ravine at the end. But there are a few shops nearby with junk from Mexico. Probably went for that. I’ve heard even some stars like it for the novelty.”


 “Oh, by the way. You can have these if you want.” Officer Hodges reached under his desk, pulling out the bag with Rita's shoes. “Family doesn't want 'em.”

            “What? Are you sure about that?”

            “Wouldn’t say so if I wasn’t. So you want ‘em?”

Really? she thought. According to the paper, the husband was in shock. Maybe not even in town yet. “No, no. Why don't you donate them to…uh, on second thought, I think I will take them.”

“Here you go. Now then, Miss Kaufman. I've got a lot of work to do,” the officer said. “Like I told you before, real crimes to solve.”

Sarah nodded.

“Oh,” he said, “uh, you say you're here for the Pete trial?”

“That's right.”

He snickered. “C.C.’ll get off. Trust me. Him and all his Jew friends. They know how to work the system.”

Sarah flushed and glared at the grinning officer. His smile dropped as he searched her face. “Oh, uh, I didn’t mean nothin, really. Just a type, you know, a certain kind I'm talking about, uh…”

“Don't worry about it,” Sarah said, grabbing the bag and marching out. “Ignorant pig,” she said under her breath. You're lucky my people don't eat you.”

Learn more about author Ona Russell

23 June 2015

Weddings in History: Royal Weddings in Fourteenth Century England

Today, in the 21st century, the world loves English royal weddings.  Rare, precious, full of pomp and tradition and ceremony (and fashion), the ceremony marking the union of Prince William and Kate Middleton drew millions, some say billions, of viewers from around the world.
The most recent English Royal Wedding.

Seven centuries ago, the 14th century English court also recognized the value of such a ceremony.  Edward III was famous for founding the Order of the Garter, with its references to the legendary court of King Arthur.  This was a ruler who understood the power of myth and spectacle.  So, when I embarked on my books centered on 14th century English royal weddings, I imagined, they would be similarly grand affairs, celebrated in the public eye and documented in detail for the ages.  After all, what could be more important than the union of royalty?  Usually, such unions united countries, not just humans.  So there should be a public and well observed commitment, witnessed far and wide.

The truth was somewhat different.

Technically, Edward III and his queen, Philippa, were married by proxy, before she even arrived in England from her native Hainault (now Belgium) late in 1327.  The ceremonial procession into London was a well-established ritual in these days, and the soon-to-be queen was welcomed with much “public celebration.”  The city of London even gave her a very expensive set of “plate,” which might have had as much to do with gratitude for their ongoing trading opportunities with her homeland as for their joy at welcoming her as queen. 

The formal wedding was held in York, nearly 200 miles to the north, an unusual place for such a
York, site of Edward III's wedding
ceremony.  But it seemed the archbishop of Canterbury, in the south, had recently died, so they decided to have the archbishop of York perform the service.  Perhaps it also presented the advantage of a royal journey to and from there, which might have helped to establish the position of the newly crowned king and his bride.

There are conflicting reports, however, of how ostentatious the actual ceremony was.  The English crown was cash strapped at that time and Edward’s mother had confiscated Philippa’s dowry and, by some reports, already spent it.  Others suggest that the wedding celebration was nearly as lavish as Edward’s coronation, the year before.  Silk cloth of gold draped the dais and the throne.  Jewels, silver, and gold were imported from France.  In addition to the ceremony and the feasting, the exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom was an important part of the pageant.  Philippa presented her husband with an illuminated manuscript.  More than a book, it reportedly contained copies of two pieces of music performed at their wedding.

Much of the information we have on these occasions comes not from the chroniclers or from eye-witness reports, but from royal records and account books, listing clothing and gifts ordered and received.  Indeed, in many cases, we have more detail on the gifts royal brides and grooms exchanged than we do on the exact festivities.

Edward and Philippa had twelve children, eight of whom lived to marry (some of those more than once).  While we cannot describe in detail the ceremony for every child, we do know enough to know that they were not all the same.

One, the unfortunate Joan, died on the way to her wedding to the son of the king of Castile.  But the wedding that had been planned was of the scale appropriate to the uniting of the children of kings.  Joan’s trousseau alone was rumored to have needed an entire ship to transport. 

We do have a record of the wedding dress that had been prepared for her, made of rakematiz, a thick silk shot with threads of gold.  Two other magnificent gowns, one green, one brown, both heavily embroidered, may have also been intended for wear on the wedding day, when a bride might be expected to change for various parts of the celebration.  (And you thought that was new?)

Edward, the Black Prince
In contrast, the wedding of her younger sister, Mary was not as extravagant, perhaps because of the rank of her husband.  She married John de Montfort, who claimed the title Duke of Brittany, but was actually raised in the household of the king of England, as he was unable to secure his position.  Wikipedia claims “no record of the wedding survives,” but, of course, the royal inventory does list the wedding dress, made of cloth of gold, lined and trimmed with ermine, and, based on the amount of material used, with a very long mantle.  While it sounds extravagant, the rest of the list indicates that her wedding was much more modest than her sister’s.  And, indeed, she and her husband simply continued to live in the English court after the ceremony and she died before her husband returned to Brittany.

You would expect the wedding of the oldest son and heir to one of the most lavish.  In reality, it was a much different affair.  Edward (the son), whom we know as the Black Prince, married Joan of Kent in a clandestine ceremony, not sanctioned by the church.  (See my post here:  http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2014/06/hea-or-not-edward-black-prince-and-joan.html)  Because their children had to be sanctioned as legitimate heirs to the throne, such an “unofficial” marriage could not stand and the Pope had to be called in for special dispensations to sort out the mess before they could be legally wed.  As a result, we have no information on the first ceremony and the second, official, one was also subdued.  The usual round of tournaments that marked such an affair was dispensed with.

The second wife of the third son, John of Gaunt, Duck of Lancaster, was Constance, who claimed the throne of Castile.  Because of her stature, and because John claimed to be king of Castile by marrying her, I
Constance of Castile
expected a lavish, public display.  Instead, the wedding took place “off-stage” in France, before he brought her across the Channel.  We have only a date and a place.  However, when they returned to England, an elaborate welcome procession into London was prepared and “Queen” and her delegation were escorted to John’s magnificent palace on the Thames.

So it seems that in Fourteenth Century England, a public procession served as a suitable substitute for an ostentatious ceremony.  After all, more people could witness the display, including many who would never be invited to the wedding itself. 

Think of it as a medieval substitute for CNN or the BBC coverage.

After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing
seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published eleven romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  WHISPERS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, was a June 2015 release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com

Author photo Jennifer Girard

Photo credits:  York Minster: "YorkMinsterWest" by Andy Barrett (User:Big Smooth) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:YorkMinsterWest.jpg#/media/File:YorkMinsterWest.jpg

"Constança de Castela, Duquesa de Lencastre - The Portuguese Genealogy (Genealogia dos Reis de Portugal)" by Creator:Antonio de Hollanda - Image taken from The Portuguese Genealogy / Genealogia dos Reis de Portugal.Originally published/produced in Portugal (Lisbon), 1530-1534.This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. Catalogue entry: Add MS 12531 - Online viewer (Info)Deutsch | English | Español | Français | Македонски | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Constan%C3%A7a_de_Castela,_Duquesa_de_Lencastre_-_The_Portuguese_Genealogy_(Genealogia_dos_Reis_de_Portugal).png#/media/File:Constan%C3%A7a_de_Castela,_Duquesa_de_Lencastre_-_The_Portuguese_Genealogy_(Genealogia_dos_Reis_de_Portugal).png

Royal Carriage By Robbie Dale (Flickr: Royal Carriage) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

21 June 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: DM Denton on TO A STRANGE SOMEWHERE FLED

This week, we're pleased to again welcome author DM Denton with her latest release, TO A STRANGE SOMEWHERE FLED, the sequel to A House Near Luccoli. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of To A Strange Somewhere Fled. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

After the sudden end to her collaboration with composer Alessandro Stradella, Donatella moves from Genoa to join her parents in a small village in Oxfordshire, England. The gift of a sonnet, 'stolen' music, inexpressible secrets, and an irrepressible spirit have stowed away on her journey. Haunted by whispers and visions, angels and demons, will she rise out of grief and aimlessness? Her father's friendship with the residents of Wroxton Abbey, who are important figures in the court of Charles II, offers new possibilities, especially as music and its masters ~ including the 'divine' Henry Purcell ~ have not finished with her yet.

Praise for To A Strange Somewhere Fled

While Donatella and her story, full as it is of such a legion of colorful characters, are vastly entertaining in their own right, often Denton’s descriptions of musical performances manage to swoop in and lift the reader up to even greater heights. Her passionate research and personal love of the art both shine through in the remarkable imagery her prose evokes, enrapturing her audience and taking them just a bit deeper into the intricacies of the 17th century setting. Irrevocable in its magic and intrepid in its storytelling, To a Strange Somewhere Fled is a fascinating and delectably original work that readers won’t soon forget.
Casee Marie Clow, Literary Inklings
DM Denton writes with a lyrical style, which swells, fades, and swells again. Her words pull her readers to the 17th century like music from that era.
Steve Lindahl, author of White Horse Regressions Motherless Soul.
That we can meet (the composer) Henry Purcell within these pages and find him totally believable as a living, breathing human being is a mark of the author’s imaginative powers and literary skill.
Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books
Denton’s style allows for flourishes, nuances, changes in pace, and variations on themes, as music does. With delicacy and sureness, the author works with her themes of memory, love, and loss.
 Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive Life

**Q&A with DM Denton**

How would you describe your writing style?

Reviewers have characterized my writing style as lyrical, descriptive, rule-breaking, meticulous, complex, yet also understated. My first two novels are driven by 17th century music and its makers, so the lyricism in them is especially pronounced. Certainly there is poetry in my prose. I’m an instinctual writer who works without an outline, sometimes has an idea of an ending and sometimes does not, is anti-formula, and tends to be creative with structure and genre. There is an observational and analytical side to me and my writing, so I’m not just about making pretty with words. I enjoy extensive research and the challenge of combining historical characters and events with fictional ones in—hopefully—a seamless weaving together. I liken my scene-orientated approach to a filmmaker using a zoom lens to get up close and personal. A reviewer recently wrote that I “executed freedom of narrative: some scenes that would traditionally be laid out in show-stopping dramatics may happen quietly, maybe even outside of the narrative completely.” Another said my writing was for readers who enjoy detours and the views along the way, who know reading like life it is as much about the journey as the destination.

Who designed the covers of your books?

I did the artwork and design for both of my novels, fortunate to have a publisher who allows me to be so involved in their presentation. I’ve also done illustrations for two Kindle Shorts I’ve had published and the cover of a friend’s poetry anthology. I’m always open to taking artwork commissions from other authors.

Is there an underrepresented group or idea that is featured in your books?

Perhaps, because of my own experience, I find myself writing about women who are unmarried and childless and need to chart a more unconventional course through life. Once referred to as spinsters—although the meaning of spinster gradually evolved from its reference to a respectable occupation for unmarried women to the perception of them as lonely, left behind, pointless, and even a threat to society—they live in the shadow of others and often in servitude to them. Of course, that is not the case in the 21st century – or is it? Well, perhaps, today there is the flip side: the assumption that if not to be pitied, a woman who is unattached and, especially, without children, is seen as selfish or ambitious or just afraid to risk for love (not so modern after all, considering the first Queen Elizabeth faced such opinions in the 16th century). My female protagonists aren’t necessarily averse to letting others into their thoughts, dreams, hearts, and even physical experience. It’s just that their situation, if they let it, will structure their lives in terms of what they are not rather than all they are and can be. I prefer to view them as singularly resilient and explore how they need not be limited by their unmarried, even unmarriageable, status, but can still be nourishing and nourished through their desires, talents, and purpose.

How do you approach developing the world of a historical novel fully in your mind?

It’s not unlike meeting a new lover, feeling the chance of the introduction, instinctively knowing this is someone you want to know better, even intimately; perhaps wondering if it’s a wise or mutual attraction, but in the end deciding—believing—the affair is meant to be. It’s as fortuitous, daunting and magical to encounter the possible subject of a next novel (or even a shorter story)—its characters, time period and setting—realizing how much you don’t know and need to, can’t visualize and will have to, how far you have to go and how long it will take; and then fearlessly embark on the adventure: discovering books, letters, websites, images, music, every significant and seemingly insignificant thing, and so much in the unknown, too. Well, the unknown is where the imagination comes in; and as the imagination comes in, so does the magic of suddenly being present in the past, of understanding a character implicitly, of finding myself able to describe a place because I’m lost in it, and knowing how the clothes feel because I’m wearing them and the food tastes because I’m eating it, how to read by the glow of a candle because I’m writing by the light of one—at least, I’ve pulled down the shades or put the lamp on low because I write better that way. Slowly and suddenly it’s happened: I’ve gone from being a stranger in an alluring place to belonging to its possibilities as if I was born there.

Did your research for both or either of your novels yield any surprises in terms of historical events or illuminate a character in a particular way?

The biggest surprise I’ve experienced so far was in discovering the multi-dimensions of the 17th – 18th century lawyer and biographer Roger North—a historical character I decided to include in my second novel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled. Unlike Alessandro Stradella in A House Near Luccoli, who was a celebrity in his time and naturally offered the drama of his legendary life and death, Roger North seemed, to quote a character in the novel, “clever but dull”, and probably not someone who would move plot or transform anyone’s life. Certainly, I couldn’t have imagined a male protagonist for A House Near Luccoli’s sequel more in contrast to the temperament and lifestyle of Stradella. But in contrast there often is similarity, subtle as it may be. I like to look for what isn’t obvious and might even seem contradictory: the ordinary in the extraordinary, the vulnerability behind swagger, the influence of even the most unobtrusive of people like Roger North with his reserved individualism and wide range of “practical diversions”—including writing, philosophy, architecture, mathematics, horticulture, sailing, and music. He was a quieter, plainer, more cautious, modest, and moralistic figure than Stradella, but no less remarkable, creative, or complex, which made him as satisfying to write about.

Why did you decide to write a sequel to A House Near Luccoli, why did you set it in England, and does To A Strange Somewhere Fled end the ‘series’?

Although a major character is lost, A House Near Luccoli’s ending is also about the continuing journey of its female protagonist Donatella, her relationship with the 17th composer Alessandro Stradella bound to affect her for a long time. When I began to consider a destination for her beyond Genoa, it seemed natural that her flight from grief would take her to the quaint but stately village of Wroxton in Oxfordshire, where her parents were living and I had myself for sixteen years. What came out of my memory and I feared might be limited by my experience and prejudice, slowly emerged from a more historically informed and imaginative perspective. I don’t plan on any more novels following Donatella’s story, but that isn’t saying she may never turn up again in someone else’s.

What writing projects are you presently working on?

I’ve begun the first novelette of three that will comprise a book featuring obscure women writers, including the often overlooked Brontë sister Anne, the poetess and sister of Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, and the late Victorian novelist Mary Webb. While working on a larger project, I try to write shorter pieces - essays, poetry, stories – for my blog or publication, and am about to embark on an illustrated book with stories about the cats I’ve known.

To A Strange Somewhere Fled Buying Links:

Learn more about author DM Denton

Writer and artist, DM Denton, a native of Western New York, is inspired by music, art, nature, and the contradictions of the human and creative spirit. Her educational journey took her to a dream-fulfilling semester at Wroxton College, Oxfordshire, England, and she remained in the UK for sixteen years surrounded by the quaint villages, beautiful hills, woods and fields of the Oxfordshire countryside. She returned to the US in 1990, to a rural area of Western New York State where she still resides in a cozy log cabin with her mother and a multitude of cats. Her day jobs have been in retail, manufacturing, media and career consulting, and as a volunteer coordinator for Western New York Public Broadcasting. She is currently secretary for the Zoning and Codes administration in the town where she lives. Her historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, which imagines an intimacy with the 17th charismatic composer Alessandro Stradella, and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, were published by All Things That Matter Press, as were her Kindle short stories, The Snow White Gift and The Library Next Door. She also shares her writing and illustrations on her blog.

To A Strange Somewhere Fled on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/toastrangesomewherefled?fref=ts
A House Near Luccoli on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ahousenearluccoli?fref=ts
Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/DM-Denton/e/B0093NWE4U/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1