23 July 2014

Unusual Journeys: Aleksandr Baranov and Russian America

The merchant adventurer who could have made California a Russian colony

In Stephen R Bown’s excellent history of the “Merchant Kings – When Companies Ruled The World”, one story stands out. Aleksandr Baranov of the Russian American Company was not a larger-than-life buccaneer, but a calm, organised man with the face of a bureaucrat who earned the loyalty and respect of his followers.

After nine tough years on Kodiak Island, extending Russia’s hold on Alaska despite his own fluctuating health, Baranov was appointed Governor of the Russian American Company, with a charter giving him powers over the Pacific coast of America.

Baranov was a careful man: he went as far south as he could without overextending his long supply lines from Irkutsk. He set up a fur-trading outpost on Sitka Sound, but after he departed, the Tlingit natives attacked it, killing many Russians and stealing a fortune in furs. He assembled one of the greatest invasion forces ever commissioned by a private company, with over 300 vessels, and retook “New Archangel”.

His most unusual voyages did not involve Russians at all. It was so unprofitable to ship his fur pelts all the way to China via Russia that he entered into a web of commercial relationships with American sea-captains and traders, making him one of the first “globalisers” in an age of protectionism.

Baranov dreamed of establishing a base on Hawaii, and of conquering Spanish California, but his empire was really a commercial one, not military. Unusually for a “Merchant King”, he died in his old age, his fortune already generously given away to dependents.

You wonder what California and Hawaii would be like had they been Russian colonies..!

Piers Alexander

Piers Alexander's novel of the Glorious Revolution, The Bitter Trade, is now available as an ebook and paperback (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bitter-Trade-Piers-Alexander-ebook/dp/B00JGN9GT8/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1)



20 July 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Piper Huguley on THE PREACHER'S PROMISE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Piper Huguley with her latest novel, THE PREACHER'S PROMISE. The author will offer a free copy of The Preacher's Promise to a lucky blog visitor.  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.

1866 – Oberlin, Ohio
Devastated by her father’s death days after her triumphant graduation from Oberlin College, Amanda Stewart is all alone in the world. Her father’s unscrupulous business partner offers her an indecent proposal to earn a living. Instead, to fulfill a promise she made to her father, she resolves to start a school to educate and uplift their race.  Sorting through her father’s papers, she discovers he had carried on a mysterious correspondence with a plantation in Milford, Georgia. She determines to start her teaching work with the formerly enslaved. However, when she arrives, the mayor tells her to leave. 

Virgil Smithson, Milford’s mayor, blacksmith and sometimes preacher man with a gift for fiery oratory, doesn’t want anything to do with a snobby schoolteacher from up North. On top of everything else, the schoolteacher lady has a will hard enough to match the iron he forges. He must organize his fellow formerly enslaved citizens into a new town and raise his young daughter alone. Still, his troubled past haunts him. He cannot forget the promise he made to his daughter’s mother as she died—that their child would learn to read and write.  If only he didn’t have secrets that the new schoolteacher seems determined to uncover.

To keep THE PREACHER’S PROMISE, Amanda and Virgil must put aside their enmity, unite for the sake of a newly-created community in a troubling age, and do things they never imagined. In the aftermath of the flood that was the Civil War, God set his bow upon the earth to show love and understanding for humankind. To reflect God’s promise, these combatants must put aside their differences and come together--somehow.

**Q&A with Piper Huguley**

Why did you decide to write about a college?

As many people know, I am a professor.  As a student, I attended large flagship schools.  I had no affinity with the history of the schools that I attended.  Even when the University of Pittsburgh turned 250 while I was there, it was meaningless to me.  However, when I began to teach at smaller schools and taught at an HBCU(Historically Black Colleges and Universities), I was required to attend a ceremony called “Founder’s Day.”  I had never been to such an occasion before where students performed in skits, showing the way the school came to be.  I never bore witness to such a phenomenon before.  After sitting through these required ceremonies for a few years, I began to think of how a similar school might have started.  To my way of thinking, as a complete history nerd, if I didn’t know these histories, most other people didn’t know them either.

This was confirmed for me when I attended a scholarly romance conference in Belgium where other attendees were appalled that Historically Black Colleges and Universities still existed in the United States. They took their existence as evidence of the continued racism of people in the United States. That’s when the idea to explain the origins of HBCUs started to come together for me in my mind.  The introduction of the new genre “New Adult” seemed to confirm that the public might not mind stories about a college as much.
I started working on the first book in 2012.  I called it The President Wants a Wife, which was a contemporary. I started to think about what was on the campus and why it was there. Milford College had certain traditions that had to be explained.  So, I thought to myself, I’ll just write up a quick history of the college, so I know…ha!  Ultimately, it will take me a few years to go through that history, but I’m enjoying it.  I hope others will as well.

Why write about the Reconstruction Era?

I’m a bit of a political junkie and whenever I would hear pundits talk about an African American being elected to congress from somewhere, they would always say something like “That’s the first time an African American has been elected to that seat since Reconstruction.” for a while, I would wonder what that meant. Once I started doing research, I found out that a number of these schools were formed at a particular “high point” during Reconstruction, where African Americans were actually in political power. This “high point” lasted for about five years and came to an end.  When the “high point” came to an end, it seems that those who gained power in the subsequent era saw to it that the gains of the Reconstruction period, and all of its potential outcomes were buried in history.  So people believe it has a sad outcome.  I have a different point of view, however.  The political power may have ended, but the dream of using education to improve lives had just gotten started.  People protected that fire over time.  That’s what the Milford College series is all about. 

But they lost their power.  Isn’t that sad?

It is so interesting to me how people want to keep telling stories from the Southern side of things after the Civil War.  Or keep telling Western. So weknow who lost the War and that technology and a different way of life came to the West that ended those times.  Why can’t Reconstruction stories be told? It was a rare era of attempts at  racial cooperation, a time of hope and inspiration.  To me, it’s a lot like present day.  Just as the formerly enslaved had to shift their way of thinking and being in the world, technology is doing the same thing for everyone today.  Yet, contemporaries are the hottest thing out there.  Why can’t stories about the Reconstruction era work in the same way?

Are the characters in the Milford College series based on real people?

Some are.  I’ve written about this on my blog (http://piperhuguley.com).  There are so many stories of real life people out there who were heroes. They insisted on creating and maintaining schools. Really, I’m almost half ashamed that my narratives are historical fiction and romance. They deserve the historical treatment as well, and are just beginning to get their due in non-fiction. Overall, in terms of history, we don’t discuss the “ordinary” people nearly enough.  I hope to put that to rights with my work—just a little bit. 

Learn more about Piper G Huguley, the author of the "Home to Milford College" series. The series traces the love stories at a small "Teachers and Preachers" college in Georgia over time, beginning with the love story of the founders. Book one in the series, The Preacher's Promise, was a semi-finalist in Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write contest, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The prequel novella, The Lawyer's Luck, and The Preacher's Promise will be independently published in July 2014. The Mayor's Mission will be independently published in the fall of 2014.

Huguley is also the author of "Migrations of the Heart," a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion's Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.

Piper Huguley blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

Twitter: @writerpiper
Facebook: Piper Huguley

18 July 2014

New & Noteworthy: July 18

Michelle Styles' latest novel, TAMING HIS VIKING WOMAN, was accepted by Harlequin last Monday. It is another Viking set romance, this time with a shield maiden as a heroine. Her upcoming novel SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR will be released in September.

Blythe Gifford will be at the Romance Writers of America "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in the 3rd floor ballroom. The signing is open to the public. Hundreds of authors will participate, with proceeds going to support literacy. She’ll be signing both THE WITCH FINDER, the Booksellers Best finalist Short Historical, and SECRETS AT COURT, her most recent Harlequin Historical release. For more information and a complete list of authors, visit the Romance Writers of America, www.rwa.org.

17 July 2014

Excerpt Thursday: THE PREACHER'S PROMISE by Piper Huguley

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Piper Huguley with her latest novel, THE PREACHER'S PROMISE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of The Preacher's Promise to a lucky blog visitor.  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.

1866 – Oberlin, Ohio
Devastated by her father’s death days after her triumphant graduation from Oberlin College, Amanda Stewart is all alone in the world. Her father’s unscrupulous business partner offers her an indecent proposal to earn a living. Instead, to fulfill a promise she made to her father, she resolves to start a school to educate and uplift their race.  Sorting through her father’s papers, she discovers he had carried on a mysterious correspondence with a plantation in Milford, Georgia. She determines to start her teaching work with the formerly enslaved. However, when she arrives, the mayor tells her to leave. 

Virgil Smithson, Milford’s mayor, blacksmith and sometimes preacher man with a gift for fiery oratory, doesn’t want anything to do with a snobby schoolteacher from up North. On top of everything else, the schoolteacher lady has a will hard enough to match the iron he forges. He must organize his fellow formerly enslaved citizens into a new town and raise his young daughter alone. Still, his troubled past haunts him. He cannot forget the promise he made to his daughter’s mother as she died—that their child would learn to read and write.  If only he didn’t have secrets that the new schoolteacher seems determined to uncover.

To keep THE PREACHER’S PROMISE, Amanda and Virgil must put aside their enmity, unite for the sake of a newly-created community in a troubling age, and do things they never imagined. In the aftermath of the flood that was the Civil War, God set his bow upon the earth to show love and understanding for humankind. To reflect God’s promise, these combatants must put aside their differences and come together--somehow.

**An Excerpt from The Preacher's Promise**

The school master would be the one to find out Virgil was the very last person in this hamlet of six hundred or so God-fearing souls who should be the mayor. Even as he approached the platform, his heart pounded at being found out.
            But when he and March rounded the corner to where the once-a-day train dropped off cargo and people and chugged on to Savannah, there was no schoolmaster waiting on the platform.
            Instead, on the train bench, sat the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.
            He would have been no less surprised if a colorful parrot or macaw from one of the Milford grandchildren’s picture books came and lit on the wooden bench.
            March took in a deep breath and he put his hand on her shoulder to steady her. His little daughter trembled at the sight of the lady.
            His own stomach pitched around like ash at the edge of the fire. The lady leaned forward to regard them both. Her skin was the medium brown color of cooked oatmeal, the kind someone else made and not him, since he tended to scorch it.
            And she flashed a smile to them with small, even teeth of the pearliest white.
            Her cheeks had dimples that sunk in so charmingly he would have sworn his heart flipped upside down inside of his chest.
            But almost as spectacular as she was in face, she was surrounded by yards and yards of black dress material, a dress so big and wide with hoopskirting, she tamed it down with small dainty hands as she stood to greet him.
            Her black bonnet bobbed in kind as she greeted them with a pleasantly voiced “Good Day to you.”
            “She’s so pretty.” March breathed in.
            She must be the schoolmaster’s wife. Such a beautiful lady must be married to a high-up man like a schoolmaster. Where was the schoolmaster? No one emerged and instantly, he was made a fool in front of this beauty. He would have to speak to confirm it.
            “Ma’am. We’re here to meet the schoolmaster. Is he ’round this way?”
            She regarded him with large eyes that resembled the candy chocolate drops Mrs. Milford kept in a big jar in the parlor. Her eyes were merry. “Are you Virgil Smithson?”
            “I am.”
            He did not put out his hand as it would not be appropriate to shake hands with another man’s wife. He had a daughter to raise and did not want to start trouble with the schoolmaster first off.
            “I’m Amanda Stewart.”
            Virgil nodded. A nice proper name. “And your husband is getting your trunks?” Although it made no sense, a trunk should have been unloaded with them, but he saw nothing.
            “I have no husband, sir. And I have no trunk.”
            “Your black dress?”
            “For my father. Lawrence Stewart. I’m his daughter, Amanda. I’ve come to be the schoolteacher.”
            A rush of blood came into Virgil’s ears and his heart threatened to beat right out of his chest.
            “You? A schoolteacher?”
            The lady, she said her name was Amanda? She rearranged her big skirt, big like how Mrs. Milford’s used to be, and put her gaze on him. Something about her eyes, made her look as hopeful a little girl as March. “Yes, thank you Mr. Smithson. I’ve just finished the course at Oberlin College in Ohio. I’ve been my father’s pupil for many years before that. Let me assure you, I’m well qualified.”
            “We wanted a man. Where is he?” Virgil blurted out and red heat blossomed onto his neck and face. She was sure to see it, no matter the deep brown of his skin tone. “Oh. So sorry for your loss.”
            The look on her delicate features etched deep pain. If she had been punched in the gut, she would have looked as hurt.
            He wanted to collect her up and tell her it would be all right. “I’m sorry for your loss, miss.” And he was sorry, but there was some terrible mistake.
            “Thank you.” She pulled a delicate white hanky out of a skirt pocket within the big skirt and wiped at her nose with it.
            The whiteness of her hanky contrasted sharply with the deep jet of her gown and Virgil almost forgot his daughter in his discomfort until March said, “Pretty lady teacher.”
            And before he could stop it, Amanda Stewart bent down to talk with March, her big wide skirt spreading out into the dusty wooden platform. “Hello, I’m Miss Stewart.”
            “Pleased to meet you, Miss Stewart.”
            She bestowed that smile of hers on his little daughter and a connection knit itself between the lady and his child. No. Time to cut this off. He took March’s hand in his. “The community sent for a male teacher, Miss.”
            Amanda stood and faced him again. This time he was surprised that the tip of her bonnet just about measured up to his chin. She carried herself much bigger than that. Or maybe it was her clothing. “You are mistaken, sir. The missive said you needed a teacher. I can provide that service.” 


Learn more about Piper G Huguley, the author of the "Home to Milford College" series. The series traces the love stories at a small "Teachers and Preachers" college in Georgia over time, beginning with the love story of the founders. Book one in the series, The Preacher's Promise, was a semi-finalist in Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write contest, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The prequel novella, The Lawyer's Luck, and The Preacher's Promise will be independently published in July 2014. The Mayor's Mission will be independently published in the fall of 2014.

Huguley is also the author of "Migrations of the Heart," a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion's Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.

Piper Huguley blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

Twitter: @writerpiper
Facebook: Piper Huguley

16 July 2014

Unusual Journeys: Miguel de Cervantes’s Unexpectedly Prolonged Mediterranean Adventure

Miguel de Cervantes’s extraordinary qualities extended far beyond his writing. His biography reads like an adventure novel. Born the middle son of an itinerant barber-surgeon, travel came into his blood with his mother’s milk. But his most unusual journey was a routine trip on the galley Sol in 1575.

Cervantes was nearly 28 years old when he embarked. He would live another 30 years before Don Quijote de la Mancha would meet the public. (Cervantes should stand as an inspiration to late bloomers everywhere.) In 1569, the story goes, a nobleman had insulted his sister and Cervantes wounded him in a duel in the royal palace. The penalty would have been to lose his right hand and be exiled from the kingdom for ten years. There is disagreement about whether or not the dueler was our Miguel de Cervantes. In any case, right around this time, Miguel joined the Spanish navy marines in Italy, perhaps waiting for the law to forget his offense.

His brother Rodrigo joined him and together they participated in the Battle of Lepanto, a naval victory against the Turks much celebrated at the time. On the day of the battle, Miguel was sick with a fever and ordered to stay below, but his sense of duty held sway. He seems to have fought on deck in the midst of the thickest action. Two bullets lodged in his chest; a third resulted in the loss of the use of his left hand. This wound, though debilitating, served as a badge of honor for the rest of his life.

Battle of Lepanto, Andrea Vicentino
WIkiMedia Commons
He convalesced in Italy for six months. The world must remain forever grateful for this down time, because he finally had leisure to do the reading that would so heavily influence his thoughts and work. He participated in at least two more battles before he and Rodrigo were sent home to Spain.

It was September, 1575. It was a totally unremarkable trip from Naples to Barcelona. Miguel carried letters of recommendation addressed to the king and had high hopes for stable employment with the State. But, especially in the sixteenth century, there is no sure thing in life. Just when it seemed Sol was about to pull into safe harbor, North African pirates captured the ship, killing the captain and many crew members.

Miguel and his brother Rodrigo were sold at the slave market in Algiers. Suddenly Miguel’s papers of commendation became a liability. The Algerians, who were in the habit of holding the important Christians they captured for ransom, thought Miguel was one such important Christian, and they set his price unattainably high.

Miguel’s sisters gave up their dowries and his mother begged the government in futile efforts to bring the brothers home. Conditions in captivity were harsh. Most prisoners were chained in dark rooms and required to perform physical tasks under strict guard. Miguel’s apparent status as well as his injury may have spared him too much labor, and some biographers have surmised that he served as a notary or an interpreter for his master.

The conditions, or the mere fact of captivity, were harsh enough for Miguel to attempt to escape four times. No one knows why he didn’t receive the official punishment for fugitives: death by torture. The Algerian officials were noted for their cruelty, often lashing, impaling, and hanging offenders such like Cervantes by the feet until dead. However, they let him off every time with only a short prison sentence. Biographers suggest that they were impressed with Miguel’s courage. When questioned about the accomplices to his escape plans, he never betrayed his collaborators, but asked to be punished alone.

When his family miraculously gathered enough money to ransom one, but only one, of the brothers, Miguel allowed that brother to be Rodrigo. In the end, the family enlisted the help of Nuestra Señora de la Merced, a Trinitarian order that specialized in rescuing Christian captives in Africa.

Cervantes returned to his home country in 1580, five years after Sol was to have delivered him, and five years of unknown torment. As he later expressed in the voice of Don Quijote, “no treasure the Earth contains nor the sea conceals can be compared to” freedom after captivity.

He had left a criminal in danger of losing his right hand and being exiled for ten years, and returned, after twelve years away, an unemployed hero without the use of his left hand. A routine sail to Barcelona became a defining moment and the most unusual journey of Cervantes’s life.

And the most surreal, most artistically fruitful part of his life was yet to come.


Some great resources on Cervantes’s life:

Cervantes by Jean Canavaggio, Joseph R. Jones (Translator), 1990.
Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive’s Tale by Maria Antonia Garcés, 2005.
Miguel de Cervantes (Modern Critical Views), ed. by Harold Bloom, 2005.
The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. by Anthony J Cascardi, 2002.
Critical Essays on Cervantes ed. by Ruth S. El Saffar, 1986.


A driven fiction writer, Jessica Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is currently a bilingual copyeditor at an educational publisher. Find out more about her historical novel, Seven Noble Knights, here, and her other writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too!

13 July 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Kelley Heckart on DAUGHTER OF NIGHT

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Kelley Heckart with her latest novel, DAUGHTER OF NIGHT. The author will offer a free copy of Daughter of Night to a lucky blog visitor.  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.

Their destiny began in the ancient land of Anatolia.

In 1326 BC, Crete is the last remaining sacred place for the Great Goddess, but changes began to threaten the old gods, the Titans. Forced to become an ally to the power hungry Olympian gods, Rhea hangs on to the secret of the star metal, the one key that would make Zeus and the other young gods invincible. When this secret is stolen, Rhea must find the Dactyl and the goddess who betrayed Her before Zeus does.

Becuille is a daughter of Night, a servant of the Great Goddess created to impart Her vengeance on mortal and immortal wrongdoers. Made mortal by Rhea, she is sent to find the ones who betrayed the Great Goddess. In the land of Hatti, she meets a proud and handsome prince. When love binds her to him, her loyalties are torn.

Callileon, a prince of the Hatti, has closed off his heart to love only to rediscover it in the arms of the mysterious and fiery slave girl he has purchased. He is caught up in a dangerous world of power hungry gods, jealous goddesses and potent magic, which even the Fates cannot steer him away from.

Can two mortals fight the will of the gods?

**Q&A with Kelley Heckart**

How do you pick your time periods for your books?

I like to write in time periods that interest me, ones that are steeped in myth and mystery. I look for time periods that have few, if any, records, like Dark Age Scotland or Bronze Age Greece because then I can fill in the blanks to create my stories. This doesn’t mean I slack off on research. I do a lot of research to gather whatever information I can find about the setting, the people, and customs. I rely on myths and early writings for my research. For Daughter of Night I relied on the Iliad, Greek and pre-Hellenic myths and writings by ancient Greeks.

What made you pick one of the Erinyes (similar to Roman Furies) as your heroine in Daughter of Night?

I think I like to punish myself. I’m kidding. Sort of. I picked a vengeance goddess because my heroine had to be able to have some control over the gods and goddesses under Rhea’s rule. She had to be close to the Great Goddess, so I made her a special vengeance goddess that enacted Rhea’s vengeance upon any Titan that angered the Great Goddess. She also acted as the goddess’ bodyguard. But I had a challenge because I had to make her likeable and had to find a way to give her feelings since a vengeance goddess has no remorse. Rhea needed her vengeance goddess to find the Titan that betrayed her and stole the secret of the star metal—and to do this, Becuille (the heroine) had to be made human. Now she had human feelings.

Daughter of Night is rich in historical detail. How much research did you have to do to make that possible?

Tons of research. Not only did I have to do extensive research on the older gods known as the Titans, and on the history of iron smelting, but I also had to research Crete and the Hittites that ruled Anatolia (modern Turkey) from 1600 BC to 1200 BC. While researching the Hittites, I found some fascinating information that worked with my story. Most of what is in Daughter of Night is recorded history. Here is what I discovered about the Hittites:
Very little is said about the Hittites (Hatti) of ancient Anatolia, but they rivaled the Egyptians and Babylonians in power and sophistication. They thrived from about 1600 BC to around 1200 BC and were the first people to smelt superior iron.

The Hittites (Hatti) also built large advanced cities with clay water pipe systems and grand temples for their gods. They worshipped a Storm god and a Sun goddess. Before someone could go before the king, they had to bathe. The same rules applied to the deities, and the people that had direct contact with the deities had to shave the hair from their bodies.

The Hittites (Hatti) came to a mysterious end, the once thriving civilization gone. There are accounts of a battle with the Egyptians where some Egyptians were taken prisoner—these prisoners carried a plague that wiped out the Hittite/Hatti people. I used this theory in my story. I also drew on their ability to smelt superior iron and how this knowledge was stolen from the Great Goddess (Rhea). In my story the iron was cursed and that contributed to the rise and fall of the Hittites.

What would you say is your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite part?

My favorite part of writing is definitely the creation part—deciding on my main characters and putting their backgrounds together. I also enjoy doing research. I’m a bit of a history geek. There are so many unknown gems out there, and I love uncovering things I didn’t know before—like about the Hittites and how sophisticated they were. I had no idea until I started doing the research on them. My least favorite part is self-editing. Yuck. For one thing, I’m terrible at seeing my own mistakes. It’s really frustrating for me. I would never publish without an editor, that’s for sure.

How about a fun question? Describe your ideal date.

Date? I haven’t dated in years. I don’t even remember how to date. But if I went on a date, my dream date would be to go horseback riding in Sedona, AZ in a remote spot—a sunset ride during a full moon—so we can stop, watch the sunset paint the rocks a fiery red, then build a fire and snuggle on a blanket in the moonlight. And feed each other smores.

****

Learn more about Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author
Captivating...Sensual...Otherworldly
Website: http://www.kelleyheckart.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/kheckart

Buy links:
Mundania Press (in ebook formats and trade paperback):

Buy links on author website: http://kelleyheckart.com/daughter_of_night.

11 July 2014

Unusual Journeys: Ibn Battuta, the Marco Polo of the Muslim world

By Lisa J. Yarde

Travel was not always a pastime for people, especially during Europe's Middle Ages. In the medieval period where intercultural exchange and the growth of international commerce flourished, the most frequent travel occurred among the mercantile class. Monarchs and nobles moved around often, with court being held at different castles or cities throughout the year. Pilgrims and missionaries too, as well as Crusaders, braved the perils of medieval travel. The average person did not; they might have needed permission to leave his or her village or town. The length of the trip, the state of roads, the threats of thieves or pirates along the route, or the possibility of shipwreck inhibited long journeys.         

The travels of Ibn Battuta
Few in the Middle Ages ever traveled so far from home, or visited so many places for such extraordinary lengths of time as the 14th-century Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta, whose journeys encompassed 29 years and constituted the territories of 44 modern-day countries. Ibn Battuta descended from a long line of Muslim legal scholars and he took up the family business. We would know little about him or the incredible expeditions he undertook if the Moroccan Sultan Abu Inan had not commissioned 35-year old Ibn Juzayy, a scholar from Moorish Spain, to record Ibn Battuta's travels throughout the Muslim world in 1356. The adventures began when he was 21 years old and would not end until he had almost reached the age of 50. 

As a devoted Muslim, Ibn Battuta made the pilgrimage to Mecca, a route taking him across North Africa into Palestine and Syria before he reached his goal 18 months later. Along the way, he survived a feverish illness, which had claimed the lives of two of his travel companions in Tunisia. After he completed the pilgrimage, he went into Persia for some time, admiring the city of Baghdad. A sea voyage two years later took him around the eastern coast of Africa to as far south as Tanzania. With the intention of arriving in India and serving the Sultanate of Delhi, in 1332 he decided to travel overland rather than by ship. At one point, he crossed from the Black Sea into central Asia, took a westward detour to the Byzantine city of Constantinople, and then resumed the trip east where he passed through Afghanistan. He reached India a year after setting out, where he would spend eight years, surviving the shipwreck of an official diplomatic mission to China, and visiting modern Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In those islands, queen Rehendi Kilege and her vizier-husband invited Ibn Battuta to become a judge, a task he undertook for seven months.

At the age of 41, Ibn Battuta embarked on another seaborne expedition to China, then under the rule of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. He stopped at modern-day Myanmar and Sumatra before reaching the southern coast of his destination. He recorded the use of paper money in China, at a time when the Muslim world relied on gold and silver dinars or dirhams. Ibn Battuta came home to Morocco in 1349 at the age of 45, but clear wanderlust would not allow him to remain settled there for long. Next he visited Moorish Spain, where he first met Ibn Juzayy, whose father would go on to write about the life of the then ruler of Granada, Yusuf I. Remarkably, the visit took place just as the Black Death had started rampaging through Spain. Ibn Battuta would have been familiar with its effects, having seen them firsthand as early as 1348 in Damascus, Syria and Cairo, Egypt on his return home to Morocco. Sultan Yusuf did not have the opportunity to meet with Ibn Battuta, but the monarch's mother Bahar apparently funded part of the traveler's stay in Moorish Spain. 

In 1353, the 49-year old Ibn Battuta undertook a final adventure, taking the route of camel caravans south across the Sahara to the empire of Mali, which had its own famous adventurer in the ruler Mansa Musa. Ibn Battuta did not particularly enjoy the trip; he derived some insult because a local governor spoke to him through an interpreter. Accustomed to gifts of fine robes and gold coins, the Malians' offering of 'three round loaves of bread, fried beef and curdled milk' did not impress their guest upon his arrival in the capital . Even worse, Ibn Battuta suffered from food poisoning on his visit. He must have been glad to reach Morocco again in early 1354. He died 15 years later at the age of 65.

Scholars have called Ibn Battuta the 'Marco Polo of the Muslim world' due to these expeditions, which began a year after Marco Polo died. When Ibn Juzayy composed Ibn Battuta's Rihla or book of travels, the work gave insight into the people and cultures of varied lands, but other scholars today have questioned whether Ibn Battuta could have made such journeys. For instance, he gives a scarce account of his time in China, which might have made for fascinating reading to his audience. Whether or not the details of his travels abroad can be verified, each undertaking must have made for an incredible, unusual journey, done most often for the simple enjoyment of the adventure. 

Sources:
The Longest Hajj: The Journeys of Ibn Battuta - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Saudi Aramco World

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta - A Muslim traveler of the 14th century by Ross E.Dunn


Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

10 July 2014

Excerpt Thursday: DAUGHTER OF NIGHT by Kelley Heckart

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Kelley Heckart with her latest novel, DAUGHTER OF NIGHT. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of Daughter of Night to a lucky blog visitor.  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.

Their destiny began in the ancient land of Anatolia.

In 1326 BC, Crete is the last remaining sacred place for the Great Goddess, but changes began to threaten the old gods, the Titans. Forced to become an ally to the power hungry Olympian gods, Rhea hangs on to the secret of the star metal, the one key that would make Zeus and the other young gods invincible. When this secret is stolen, Rhea must find the Dactyl and the goddess who betrayed Her before Zeus does.

Becuille is a daughter of Night, a servant of the Great Goddess created to impart Her vengeance on mortal and immortal wrongdoers. Made mortal by Rhea, she is sent to find the ones who betrayed the Great Goddess. In the land of Hatti, she meets a proud and handsome prince. When love binds her to him, her loyalties are torn.

Callileon, a prince of the Hatti, has closed off his heart to love only to rediscover it in the arms of the mysterious and fiery slave girl he has purchased. He is caught up in a dangerous world of power hungry gods, jealous goddesses and potent magic, which even the Fates cannot steer him away from.

Can two mortals fight the will of the gods?

**An Excerpt from Daughter of Night**

Another terrace lay below the Upper Courtyard. Curious, she walked down, inhaling the scents of straw and animal smells associated with stables. A sudden forceful wind almost knocked her down and large raindrops fell from low-bellied black clouds gathered above the palace. A loud crack of thunder caused her to jump and lightning danced from the sky, dangerously close.
With nowhere else to run for cover, she ducked into one of the stables just before another dangerous bolt landed nearby with a loud crack. Turning, she was surprised to find Callileon kneeling in the straw, stroking the head of a panting horse. Becuille jumped back, startled to be so close to one of the frightening beasts.
“Inaras, I need your help. She is having trouble giving birth.” His voice rang of desperation and Becuille thought she saw tears shining in his eyes.
That he would shed tears for a beast touched her in a strange way. “I...I will go for help.”
His hand shot out, gripping her forearm in a strong hold. “No, there is no time. Please, Inaras...” His pleading gaze bore into her.
“I do not have magic with the beasts. I cannot help you.” She was in fact terrified of horses, remembering how the northern invaders had ridden down from the mountains on the backs of the snorting beasts, their hooves stamping, their large teeth gnashing. She still had nightmares about them trampling people to death underneath their dangerous hooves. But this beast did not look so threatening now, writhing in pain on the ground.
The animal's soft nose touched Becuille's hand, her soft brown eyes pleading for help. She experienced a pang of compassion for the suffering beast. Callileon’s distressed expression revealed how much he needed her. The prince would never beg her for help unless he had no choice. By helping him, she could gain his trust. “Tell me what to do.”
“I will need you to keep her calm while I help the foal out,” he said. “Stroke her head and talk softly to her.”
She gazed down at the horse and tentatively reached out, stroking the animal’s head. “Does she have a name?”
He caressed the horse’s head. “Blaze, for the splash of white on her head that looks like flames.”
“Blaze, you will be healed soon. Callileon here will help you,” she whispered, stroking the splash of white on her head. The horse let out a strangled neigh and attempted to move.
“You need to keep her calm,” Callileon said, giving her a hard look.
“I told you I have no talent for the beasts and the storm is frightening her.” Another loud clap of thunder shook the stable and a fierce wind wailed through the row of stables.
“Sing to her, Inaras.” Shouting over the noise of the storm, his voice strained with frustration.
She felt like a fool for not thinking of singing as a way to calm the beast. Singing a lullaby in the Cretan language, she gently stroked Blaze's head as she would a small babe in a cradle. The horse relaxed under the spell of her voice, neighing softly.
“I almost have it.” Callileon's arm disappeared inside the mare, his face a mask of concentration and worry. The foal slid out in a coating of placenta and other slime from the birth. He pulled off his tunic shirt, leaving on only his kilt, and wiped the birthing gore from the foal's nose and mouth. “He is not breathing.” He furiously tried to clear the foal's passages so it could breathe.
Becuille watched with compassion for the prince who tried with all his might to save the poor little creature. She reached over, slapping the foal on the back with one hard slap.
Callileon grabbed her arm. “What are you doing?” His eyes flashed with anger.
“Look, he is breathing.” She pointed to the foal. “I saw a midwife slap a baby like that once to get it to breathe.”
The mare sat up and wiggled around so she could lick her newborn foal. Mother and baby made a beautiful sight that warmed her heart.
For the first time, Callileon looked into her eyes, his guard down, and gave her a warm smile. His expression looked to be one of gratitude and something akin to affection. He pulled her to his bare chest, encircling her in his strong arms, and they waited out the storm, content to watch mother and baby bond.
There was no need for any words between them. They were both wet from the rainstorm and smelling of lathered horse and birthing gore, but none of that mattered. It was an experience Becuille would never forget for it was the first time she experienced a connection to someone other than her goddess. Her feelings for Callileon confused her now. He was not the arrogant brute she first thought him to be, but a man capable of compassion. He wore his arrogance as a protective barrier and determination gripped her to find out what had hurt him so much.
****

Learn more about Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author
Captivating...Sensual...Otherworldly
Website: http://www.kelleyheckart.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/kheckart

Buy links:
Mundania Press (in ebook formats and trade paperback):