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DSC_0962Joan Schweighardt is the author of several novels. In addition to her own projects, she writes, ghostwrites and edits for private and corporate clients.

Website / Facebook

Twitter: @joanschwei

About the Book:

Two threads are woven together in The Last Wife of Attila the Hun. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission. Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue. Lovers of history and fantasy alike will find realism and legend at work in this tale.

Purchase on Amazon

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: The book is about a Burgundian noblewoman in 450 a.d. who goes to the City of Attila to give Attila what she believes to be a cursed sword. There are two threads throughout the book, one describing what happens to her in the City of Attila and one illuminating the reasons she went there in the first place.

Q: What do you think makes a good historical novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: My publisher is calling The Last Wife of Attila the Hun a “literary historical novel,” because every book that gets published has to have some genre classification and literary historical comes the closest. However, the book doesn’t fit neatly into that category. I researched two bodies of materials to write The Last Wife of Attila the Hun. I thoroughly researched Attila, not only regarding his life in his “city” but his relationship with the emperors of the eastern and western Roman empires during the very intriguing historical period in which the story is set. But I also researched Nordic legends that concerned the Burgundian tribes, some of whom seem to have had unfortunate dealings with Attila. I like to say the book is a “historical novel with a strong legendary component,” or “a novel based on legend within a solid historical setting.” I would say any book in this same unnamed genre should be well researched and should balance its influences so that the strands flow together and the world the writer creates feels believable.

JS_TLWATH_cover_thumb-1Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: Since I was drawing on legend and history, the main plot points were there for the taking. But it was still no piece of cake. I had to fill in lots of gaps. Also, when I wrote the first draft it was in chronological order, which meant that the legendary stuff was for the most part in the first half of the book and the historical stuff was in the second. That didn’t work at all. I had to find a way to weave the legendary and historical stuff together, and that took several more drafts.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: I got my protagonist from the legendary material, not the historical. Very little is known about the “personality” of the last wife of Attila. We only know that at some point near the end of his life Attila married a Germanic woman. I identified this Germanic woman as the Gudrun from the legends. The legends provided elements for the motivation and the plot I would develop to get her from A to B to C, but they still left me short when it came to her personality, who she was as a woman. That just kind of developed over time as I worked on each draft. The story is written in first person, which helps a lot with character development.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: The history books I researched had all kinds of interesting information about Attila. The Huns and Germanic people didn’t write back then, so most of the stories about Attila came from Roman historians. But, as ruler of half the known world and a man who felt his calling was to take over the other half, Attila was a hot topic among Roman historians, and I got some really juicy tidbits about his behavior, his relationships with his sons, his relationships with his various wives, his beliefs, his superstitions and of course his battles. A lot of this information found its way into the book. Even if a reader doesn’t care for the legendary stuff, they will walk away knowing a heck of a lot about the true historic Attila.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Unlike other novels, where I’ve had to really focus on plot, here I had to focus on what I should leave out of the plot so that the story would not become “congested.”

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Again, a lot of it was there for me. There are descriptions of the great City of Attila in history books, so I was able to draw on that. The other main setting in the book is a rather dilapidated castle in a rural area of Europe in 450 a.d. I did research to figure out what life would be like in such a place, how people would bathe, how they would eat, what the inside of their dwellings would look like, etc.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I knew what themes were of interest to me when I started, but the great thing about fiction is that when you get done you see that there are other themes that worked their way in, things you didn’t really intend. The writer Susan Sontag once said she wrote to find out what she was thinking. I think this is what she was talking about.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: If I never edited my work it would all be garbage. I can’t speak for other people, but for me craft is essential. Also, I have a few friends who are not only wonderful writers but also very honest in their critiques. I ask them to read early drafts of my work. When you get caught up in the day to day of writing a novel, you can take a wrong turn or get sidetracked by a really boring subplot. My three favorite fellow writers are all really different in their approach to writing. So once they each give me feedback, I feel I have the best possible picture of the weaknesses in my work and I can go back to the drawing board assured that the next draft will be better.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: I am always surprised by the number of writers who don’t want to go back and polish. Maybe some are geniuses and they don’t have to. But most writers will find that it is impossible to write a really good book without going back over it a number of times. During the first draft you may want to concern yourself mostly with plot. The next draft you may want to work more on character development. The next one you may want to just go through and make sure your characters motivations are clear and setting descriptions are solid. Sometimes in my work I make assumptions about motivation; I think because I know why a character is doing something other people will know too. This is one of those areas where the help of other writers/readers has been invaluable to me. So, the three things I believe most writers need to be successful are: draft one, draft two, draft three (and drafts four and five can’t

hurt either).

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Most people would agree that “homework” connotes a task that is given to you by someone other than yourself for the purpose of ascertaining that you’ve learned certain lessons. Writing a book, on the other hand, is a task you’ve generated for yourself, for the purpose of telling a story that is important to you for one reason or another.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Again, what I’ve found most helpful is insights from fellow writers. These days there are all kind of websites that provide help to writers too. Savvy Authors is one of my favorites, but there are plenty of others. There’s no shortage of ideas out there about how to do anything, whether it’s writing a book or changing out a toilet.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: A lot of young writers who start out writing short stories with the hope that they will write longer works in the future get bogged down by the idea of taking on a huge project. I would like to say to them, Why not try your hand at writing a novel based on history or legend? Maybe you have a time period that interests you, and you can develop it and then tell a story on top of it, so to speak. Or maybe there is a historical character that you’d like to develop a setting around. Or maybe there is a myth or legend that you’d like to bring into modern times. Jane Smiley took the story of King Lear, which is of course best known as a Shakespearian play, and made it her own in her novel A Thousand Acres. What’s really interesting to me is that Shakespeare borrowed his King Lear from a Celtic legend, and the legend likely had some foundation in history.

The other thing I’d like to say is, These are hard times to be a writer. It’s very hard to get published, and even if you do get published, it’s very hard to spread the word about your book, unless you are published by one of a handful of big publishers with money to throw at your work or you have zillions of followers on social media. But there are many other reasons to write besides the remote possibility of making a lot of money. Every book is a journey; it is an opportunity to explore another world, as well as your own mind. Every book will change you in some way.

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ImageA Russian love story.
Gerald Lombard, is on a mission, he is searching for Tanya Brodovskaya, he knows how to recognise her, and so he goes to Red Square, after all, he’s been told, she is always there ‘on any Wednesday.’ Then he sees her, just as she had been described to him, and she agrees to tell her story, and so the biography begins…
This is the story of the love between an older man, and a naive young girl whom he met, in 1931, when she worked at the offices of Pravda in Moscow.
Tanya Brodovskaya, had been infatuated with the poet Boris Petrovich Beretzkoy, for a long time, however, on that day, when he took her hands in his, their lives were about to change forever.
As they say, love is blind, and when one is in such a state, nothing else matters, barriers such as age and marital status are overcome in the bat of an eyelid. Thus began their love affair, one in which Boris shaped her life, and she accepted the restrictions, making sacrifices, and giving up on dreams, freely, as only a woman who is in love will do.
It is Russia, Lenin has just died, and Stalin has taken over the reins of this enormous, harsh country. It is a country which is in a state of political unrest and turmoil, its people living in fear for their lives never knowing when they are going to be dragged away and interrogated, or deported to Siberia, some never to return…
Life for the Russian people is hard. The country is suffering from terrible famine, and pandemics ravage the country’s population, who are already weak and living in terrible conditions.
As you read this book, you realise that not only are you following the lives of these two lovers, but you are also being given an insight into this turbulent period in Russian history.
The book I believe, is based on two real people, although the names have been changed. Through meticulous research, the author has written a very thought provoking and fascinating story, which lovers of modern history will enjoy.
I am informed by the author that a French translation is available.
Reviewed by Susan Keefe
Available on Amazon

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IMG_2453aaCatherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. She can recall writing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three, so she started finishing her books the day after her retirement became official. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of Canadian literary presses. Her story, “What Kelly Did”, won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in 2012.

In the fall of 2011, she was thrilled to be awarded a four-book contract by Imajin Books for her Emily Taylor Mystery series (previously self-published), and has never been happier with this burgeoning second career!

Catherine’s books are gritty, yet portray gorgeous surroundings; they deal with sensitive social issues, but always include love and hope. They’re not thrillers, but rather literary mysteries with loads of character and setting. And justice always prevails.

Website: www.catherineastolfo.com

FB: http://tinyurl.com/kc4n5xw

Twitter: www.twitter.com/cathyastolfo

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, SWEET KAROLINE. What was your inspiration for it?

A: Thank-you! Sweet Karoline explores the mindset of a psychologically fragile character throughout a journey of self-discovery that involves universal themes of beauty, racism, love, treachery, family history, and crime. There were several points of inspiration for Sweet Karoline. The first one is a theme that runs through all my books. I am fascinated by evil, by the psychopathology that leads people to harm others. How is a monster created? Are they born or developed? How can we recognize them? For Sweet Karoline, I explored that theme through the complicated relationship between two women. My second inspiration, which I have to admit also runs through my other books, is my children’s background. They are a combination of white, black and native ancestry. I find the history unique and intriguing, in particular the family’s undocumented connection to Joseph Brant. As for Anne, the main character, she was very strong and inserted her personality into the book right from the beginning.  In addition, one of my children and his wife live in Los Angeles, so I am somewhat familiar with that area and was inspired to place Anne in the film industry, as my children are filmmakers.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: In the first sentence of the book, my protagonist tells use that she killed her best friend. But did she physically murder her? Or is she just feeling guilty about Karoline’s suicide? Anne is a very beautiful woman. She’s part native, white and black. She’s so gorgeous that the attention is actually a problem for her. She builds protective walls around herself. Her world shrinks to two best friends whom she trusts implicitly. She’s very complicated. Sometimes she calls herself the “Ice Queen” because she has a mean side to her; sometimes she’s sweet and loving. I don’t think Anne’s much different from most of us, but she endures some traumatic events that threaten to send her far off course.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00070]A: The hardest part of writing Sweet Karoline was choosing a path for Anne, my main character. She kept resisting the storylines I gave her! Not surprising, since she’s a complicated, feisty, intelligent woman who is undergoing an enormous trauma. She has an emotional breakdown after the death of her best friend. Anne falls in love for the first time. She discovers a trail of manipulation and betrayal that would send anyone into shock. Naturally she was a little taciturn and resistant to her writer. As a result Sweet Karoline went through several permutations.

The creative process for this one taught me a lot about patience. The novel developed very slowly in comparison to my other four, taking almost three years to complete. It was like the taciturn child after giving birth to several placid babies. I learned to let go. Follow my subconscious muse that was directing me away from the ordinary. When I finally gave in to that mode, it was exhilarating. I believe it has changed my writing forever.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: Part of what I do is to give out sections of the novel to my daughter as it evolves. She’s a producer/casting director and has a terrific visual sensibility. If the narrative is not exciting, she’ll let me know, but she will also give me some suggestions on how to keep it going. As well, I read parts of it aloud, either to myself or to my critique groups. Reading aloud gives an entirely different dimension to the writing. You can hear the mistakes, as well as the cadence of words that are beautifully arranged.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: I don’t usually feel anxious until I’m part way through the novel. The anxiety sets in when I’m afraid it’s not good or I won’t have the inspiration to keep going. I try very hard to soothe my tension by rereading particularly good sections. Sometimes I even allow myself to edit. Lots of my writer colleagues tell me that editing causes their anxiety, but for me, the process often alleviates it.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I don’t have a set schedule, though I try to set a goal of 500 words a day. Some days I’ll get a lot more than 500 completed and the next day, maybe none. I write when and where I can, whether I’m sitting in a waiting room, out in my backyard or in my office. That’s why I love the freedom of the laptop! Bless you, little MAC. In some ways, I’m fortunate because I didn’t start writing until I retired from my career as an educator. My time is very much my own, so I can build in family and other work without too much trouble. I wasn’t able to write much when I was younger and juggled children and a job. But waiting ‘til now means I’m a little older than many authors.

Q: How do you define success?

A: I equate success with joy. To me, joy is a state of satisfaction, peace and love. In my writing career, success is having a reader like my books. Just one reader who really understands my vision can make my day a success.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: Oh my. I could cruelly say that you have the wrong partner. However, if someone is determined enough to keep the relationship as well as pursue the art, s/he must find a way to make compromises in order to fulfill both partners’ needs. Get up very early in the morning, when everyone else is asleep, to write. No one’s time is being intruded upon.  Or keep a diary in the bathroom.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: I don’t, actually. I’m a pretty selfish person and probably wouldn’t keep doing something that was horrible or like a painful illness. I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to sit down at my laptop and create. I miss it terribly if I’m unable to write for a while, so I’ll even cook scenes in my head. Now that I’m retired, I experience joy pretty much every day because I can imagine I’m standing on a mountain or cuddling a baby all while sitting at my desk.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Since one of the greatest joys for a writer is feedback, I encourage your readers to write reviews for their favorite authors. As a writer, I’m interested in your reaction to my novel. This is your opportunity to write two or three sentences giving your opinion. You are not bound by the old rules of book reviews that you might have learned in school. You are relieved of the summary task! You don’t have to prove any expert literary skill to anyone, although you may want to demonstrate correct spelling and grammar to be taken seriously. Your only goal is to tell other readers what you thought of, reacted to or how you felt about this particular book. I’d also love emails from my fans! My email address is cathy@catherineastolfo.com.

Catherine Astolfo’s Bibliography

The Emily Taylor Mystery Series:

The Bridgeman. Imajin Books, October, 2011

Victim. Imajin Books, November, 2011

Legacy. Imajin Books, April, 2012

Seventh Fire. Imajin Books, July 2012

Awards:

Winner, Arthur Ellis Best Crime Short Story Award, 2012

Winner, Derrick Murdoch Award, 2012

Winner, Bony Pete Short Story Award, First Prize, 2010

Winner, Bony Pete Short Story Award, Second Prize, 2009

Winner, Brampton Arts Acclaim Award, 2005

Winner, Dufferin-Peel Catholic Elementary Principal of the Year, 2002, the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario.

Winner, Elementary Dufferin-Peel OECTA Award for Outstanding Service, 1998

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I’ve been asked why I write about the darker side of life, involving subjects like drugs, personality disorders, abuse, neglect, and violence. My work is fiction but it’s based on a lot of things I have personally experienced, and the characters in “Vida Nocturna” come from vampires I have known.

I wrote “Vida Nocturna” in a two-year graduate workshop at the University of Chicago, where people from the industry sometimes visited to show us how publishing worked. It became clear to me that books weren’t getting published because they were good. They were getting published because they were predictable sales and the publishing companies could go back to their stockholders to report that they’d placed safe bets, which very often meant that they closely resembled earlier work. Books were chasing the market in a death spiral of creativity.

My daughter was reading “Twilight” at the time, and this, to me, was a prime example of what was happening in publishing. Vampires sell, and romances are half of the fiction market, so it wasn’t surprising that publishers were climbing all over each other trying to put out the next series about vampires in love. Meanwhile, the book my daughter was reading seemed to be telling her to date the spookiest, creepiest guy she could find.

My book, “Vida Nocturna,” is a response to that. Sara’s narcissistic father and borderline personality disordered mother left her helpless, drained and afraid, turning to horror and fantasy stories to escape her real life. In college she fantasizes that her spooky new boyfriend is a vampire because he’s pale and slender and stays up all night with a strange dark energy. By the time she realizes he’s a cocaine addict, she’s been “bitten” by the drug and become addicted, herself.

Sara has always escaped her real-world fears by reading fantasy and horror stories. Now, as a social-phobic college freshman, she enters a dark world where horror is not supernatural and fantasy is a trap.

Evil is contagious. Victims become predators, and every predator was once just like Sara. Imagining she’d be different was her first step toward them. Now, draped in the decadent ‘80s subculture, she’s rendered helpless by powers she never imagined.


Mark D. Diehl has lived and worked in five countries. He met his wife Jennifer in South Korea and was chased out of the country by her powerful family and the police, and together they were stranded in Hong Kong with no income and no way home. (Read about this in the “Our Story” section of his blog at http://www.markddiehl.com.) Eventually he became a trial lawyer at a multinational law firm in Chicago, escaped that pitiful existence by attending a fiction writing program at the University of Chicago, and now lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. 

http://www.markddiehl.com

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1463554060/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link

http://www.amazon.com/Vida-Nocturna-Mark-D-Diehl/dp/1463554060/ref=la_B008XKQ1NO_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346174233&sr=1-1

More videos of author reading in Freeport, ME, with 40 attending:
ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNsUP-MqehU&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWgboqL0KP0&feature=plcp

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ImageAlabaster Black is hiding from the United States Government. Over the past two years she’s had different identities. As a forensic accountant, she does forensic investigations of people’s finances in order to protect the country’s internal financial system and stop dangerous greed. But her latest report to secret organization Rendition ends badly and so now she’s on the run in Italy under yet another fictitious name: Bianca. 

In beautiful, historical Rome, she meets government investigator and amateur archaeologist Dante, member of Roma Underground, and soon their relationship takes her on an adventure underneath the city itself. Before long, however, she’s being followed, Italian artifacts start disappearing, and the two of them set out to trap the guilty parties. 

This was an enjoyable read! Conspiracy, double identities, car chases and espionage, all against the backdrop of magical Rome, with its great food and marvelous art history, make this an entertaining, intriguing read. Indeed, the setting is one of the most engaging aspects of the novel. The author describes the foods and locations in vivid detail, bringing the story to life. I liked the heroine. She’s strong, smart, and pragmatic, kind of like a female James Bond. At times the pace drags a bit but on the whole this in a well written and suspenseful novel with a strong heroine that will be enjoyed by fans of the genre. 

Website: http://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com/

Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Roma-Underground-Gabriel-Valjan/dp/0983676488/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Roma-Underground-ebook/dp/B007EF8XE4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1330448149&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble paperback and Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roma-underground-gabriel-valjan/1108929219?ean=9780983676485&itm=1&usri=roma%2c+underground

 

 

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ImageThe process Brandon and I have set up for ourselves is quite easy. We first come up with an idea for the story, the characters, their backgrounds, etc. Once the major details have been agreed upon, one of us writes the first chapter, let’s say it’s me. I then send it to Brandon so he can critique it. He then sends the chapter back to me filled with all his comments, to which I critique his critiques. Once we’re both happy with the chapter then he works on chapter 2. And the whole process repeats itself until we’ve finished the entire novel.

Though Brandon and I have developed a good working relationship, we also know co-authoring a story is not for everyone. The creative process is very personal, and some people have a hard time receiving negative feedback from someone else. But that is what needs to happen if they are to have any chance of finishing their novel.

For us, there have been the inevitable disagreements along the away, such as deciding on the structure of a particular scene, the way a sentence should be written, or the kinds of personality traits we want for a character in the novel.  In the end, the overall vision for the story is what mattered, to make it as exciting as we possibly could.  That always trumped the other’s feelings about the way a scene should be written or what to leave in or cut out of the story.  Usually, when one of us shared our reasons for why a certain part needed to be a certain way, especially when he felt pretty strongly about it, the other would usually defer to him, and then we would move on. In the end, the story always ends up being that much stronger because we both embrace the collaborative effort.

About the book: An 800-year-old letter discovered at an archeological site in Istanbul makes the astonishing claim the cross of Jesus still exists, and has been safely hidden away in an unknown location. Dr. Colton Foster and Dr. Mallory Windom, two leading archeologists, take on the hunt for the cross, but soon discover hired mercenaries are bent at stopping them at all costs. Their search eventually leads them to a small town in Israel, where they must choose between their growing love for one another and the future of the cross itself.

ImageAuthor’s bio: Mike Lynch’s first book, Dublin, came out in 2007, followed by When the Sky Fell, American Midnight, The Crystal Portal, and After the Cross. His next novel, Love’s Second Chance, will come out in 2013. He has also published numerous short stories in various magazines. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.

Link to author’s website or blog: www.mikelynchbooks.com

Link to excerpt: http://www.mikelynchbooks.com/PreviewChapters/tabid/66/Default.aspx

Link to purchase page: http://www.amazon.com/After-Cross-Brandon-Barr/dp/0982624204/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

 

 

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I recently had the opportunity to read Mathias B. Freese’s The i Tetralogy. You 41rg7zxwvsl_sl500_aa240_may read my review of this book at Today.com.

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Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel
by Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Women’s Fiction

They had their whole lives to look forward to – if only their husbands could survive Vietnam. In the spring of 1970 – right after the Kent State National Guard shootings and President Nixon’s two-month incursion into Cambodia – four newly married young women come together at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, when their husbands go on active duty as officers in the U.S. Army.

Different as these four women are, they have one thing in common: Their overwhelming fear that, right after these nine weeks of training, their husbands could be shipped out to Vietnam – and they could become war widows.

Sharon is a Northern Jewish anti-war protester who fell in love with an ROTC cadet; Kim is a Southern Baptist whose husband is intensely jealous; Donna is a Puerto Rican who grew up in an enlisted man’s family; and Wendy is a Southern black whose parents have sheltered her from the brutal reality of racism in America.

Read MRS. LIEUTENANT to discover what happens as these women overcome their prejudices, reveal their darkest secrets, and are initiated into their new lives as army officers’ wives during the turbulent Vietnam War period.

Purchase the book.

About the author…

Former Lieutenant Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the co-author of the Jewish holiday book Seasons for Celebration and the author of a success guide for teens. In this interview, Miller talks about her latest book, Mrs. Lieutenant, for which she's touring the blogopshere this month of June.

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The Book:

Under the orders of French Emperor Napoleon III, French troops arrive in Mexico in 1861 with a dual purpose: to conquer Mexico and to help the Confederacy win its war against the United States. As President Benito Juárez suspends payment of Mexico’s foreign debts, the French drop their façade of debt negotiations and head for Puebla, where they are soundly defeated in their attempt to capture the city.

The French withdraw from their stunning setback and spend the summer of 1862 nursing their wounds and awaiting reinforcements in Orizaba. This gives the Mexicans ample time to highly fortify Puebla against a future attack. During the spring of 1863, French troops head for Puebla and Mexico City in what they hope will be a pair of easy victories.

Juárez and his government flee Mexico City rather than trying to defend the capital against overwhelming odds. The French make their grand entrance and immediately encounter problems with the Catholic Church. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, asked by the French to become emperor of Mexico, will not accept the throne without a “popular” vote from the people.

When the American Civil War ends in 1865, generals and high-ranking officials from the former Confederate government drift into Mexico. General Ulysses S. Grant’s U.S. Army is now free to stage maneuvers along the border, setting off panic in Mexico City and Paris. Grant’s move prompts Napoleon III to cut his losses and pull his troops out. Now, it’s only a matter of time before Mexican forces retake the country …

The Author:

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Don Miles has been News Director for radio stations in New York City, (WPAT,) Connecticut, Florida, Nebraska and finally Texas. He has won “Best Newscast” award from the Nebraska A.P. Broadcasters and his news teams in Florida and Nebraska have won numerous statewide awards. Don has served on the Board of Directors for Florida’s AP Broadcasters and has judged broadcast news contests for UPI Rhode Island. Don has taught at the Universities of Florida and Nebraska, at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and at elementary schools in New York, Connecticut, and Texas.

He is the author of two books in the field of broadcast news, (Broadcast News Handbook and Broadcast Newswriting Stylebook.) He has a Bachelors in Education from State University of New York and a Masters in Journalism and Communications from the University of Florida.

Don’s inspiration for the book came mainly from his late wife, Dr. Minerva González-Angulo Miles. Minerva grew up in the neighborhood at the base of Chapultepec Hill in Mexico City, where the Emperor Maximilian’s castle still stands. She would often visit the castle and view the portrait of the emperor and empress whose story is featured in this book.

Don and Minerva traveled extensively throughout Mexico, and over the past few years visited many libraries and bookstores there in the research for this book. They also spent many hours in the stacks at the Benson Latin American Library at the University of Texas in Austin, which is widely recognized as the premier source for information on this topic. They also paid several visits to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to photocopy various U.S. government documents pertaining to the Mexican situation during the 1860’s.

Don has written and produced plays and slide shows about Cinco de Mayo for elementary students, teachers and parents.

Visit his website.

The Excerpt:

Excerpt From Cinco De Mayo
Chap. 14 – Foreign Legionnaires
Fight to the Death

The Legend of Camarón

Running out of ammunition at the wrong time had also raised General Forey’s anxiety level. Forey realized that his entire operation would be at risk if he couldn’t provide his troops with food and ammunition. The commander-in-chief had already detached extra troops from Puebla to guard the wagon trains, but now the bandidos and guerillas had dramatically stepped up their attacks on the convoys.

Forey called on the French Foreign Legion. They had just arrived in Veracruz.

They were approaching the little village of Camarón (which means shrimp in Spanish.) For a number of years it was called Villa Tejeda, but the name was changed again to “Camarón de Tejeda,” by which it is known today. The few authors who have written about it in English refer to it as “Camerone,” which is very close to how it’s pronounced in Spanish.

The legion had first seen action in the French conquest of Algeria in 1831. After serving during the Spanish Civil War in 1835, it was stationed in North Africa. Now, on the morning of April 30, 1863, the legion’s Third Company, under Captain Jean Danjou, was escorting a very important convoy from Veracruz. The wagons were bearing ammunition, artillery, food, provisions, and – most critically – three million French francs in gold to pay the troops at Puebla.

Danjou’s group consisted of sixty-four battle-hardened legion veterans: Germans, Swiss, Belgians, Danes, Italians, and Spaniards, in addition to the native Frenchmen. They feared nothing. They had taken the legion’s oath never to surrender.

Stalking the convoy was a Mexican force of somewhere between twelve hundred and eighteen hundred men, depending on whose account you choose to believe, led by a Colonel Francisco de P. Milán. Regular French troops were guarding the convoy itself, but Captain Danjou’s contingent was marching some distance ahead to search for possible assailants waiting in ambush. The legion officers normally in charge of this unit were hospitalized with yellow fever, so Danjou, along with second lieutenants Napoleón Vilain and Clement Maudet, had volunteered to lead this detail.

They had passed through Camarón at about 6:30 in the morning and were cooking breakfast near a location called Palo Verde at 7:00, when one of their sentinels spotted a dust cloud behind them. That could only mean one thing: a lot of people moving rapidly on horseback. They quickly put out their fires and raced toward Camarón, not stopping to retrieve their canteens of fresh water from the pack mules. At Camarón, they encountered several hundred Mexicans who were poised to attack the caravan, and the shooting began.

The convoy was alerted and reversed direction, successfully escaping the ambush, but the legionnaires’ pack mules also panicked and fled at the sound of gunfire, taking all the water and extra ammunition with them. By 8:00 in the morning, a few of the legionnaires had already been wounded.Danjou ordered his unit to take cover in a barn, but the Mexicans lost no time in taking over the huge farmhouse nearby, firing down at the besieged legionnaires from upper-story windows.

Mexican Colonel Milán realized that cavalry wouldn’t be of much help in taking the barn, so he started to surround it with infantry troops. After a few hours, nothing much had changed. The colonel found a Mexican officer of French heritage among his ranks, and he sent Captain Ramón Lainé with a white flag of truce to see if they could negotiate a surrender.

It didn’t work.

Captain Danjou said his legionnaires had plenty of ammunition, and that they’d keep on fighting.

By now, the Mexicans had surrounded the barn and were firing from all sides. It was a hot day, and the legionnaires inside were just discovering that the only canteens they had were filled with wine, not water, because the pack mules had run away with the water as the fighting started. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Although the Mexicans had obvious superiority in numbers, the legionnaires had the upper hand in training and firepower. Most of the Mexicans were of the “national guard” variety. They had left their farms and small businesses just days earlier to help defend their country, while the legionnaires were well accustomed to the sound of gunfire and highly experienced in the art of war. The Mexicans had ball-and-musket rifles, which gave off so much smoke that at times they couldn’t see what they were shooting at. The legionnaires were firing percussion-driven cylinders with pointed tips, known as “bullets,” and they could see exactly where they were aiming.

In spite of all their technical superiority, the legionnaires were fighting a losing battle. Captain Danjou and Lieutenant Vilain were both dead before noon, and the command fell to Lieutenant Maudet for the rest of the afternoon. Inside the barn, things were going from bad to worse. Ammunition was running out, and the extra supply had vanished with the pack mules. The Mexicans
kept charging the barn, and although they were driven back, they were killing another legionnaire or two each time. By 5:00 PM, the legionnaires had already stripped whatever ammunition was left from the bodies of their dead comrades.

The Mexicans knew they had won, but they also knew that the remaining legionnaires intended to fight to the death. They set fire to some straw and threw it into the barn, hoping to bring the matter to a close. The legionnaires just stamped out the burning straw and continued firing through the smoke.

By 6:00 PM, only Maudet and four of his legionnaires were still alive. Each man had only one round of ammunition left. The lieutenant had a decision to make.

“Reload,” he ordered. “Then fire on my command and follow me. We’ll finish this with our bayonets.”

It was going to be a suicide charge.

The Mexican commander, Colonel Milán, ordered his troops to cease fire. All five legionnaires were captured after some brief hand-to-hand fighting, but Lieutenant Maudet and one of his men died of their wounds within a short time. The remaining three were hospitalized, along with the Mexican wounded.

The French later returned to put up a monument at the scene of the battle. For many years, members of the French Foreign Legion have returned each April 30 to what is now called “Camarón de Tejeda” to honor the courage of their fallen heroes. The encounter still stands as the worst defeat in legion history.

CINCO DE MAYO is available from Amazon and B&N in both hardback and paperback.

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In this interview, author and former news director Don Miles talks about his latest book, Cinco de Mayo–a date most often misunderstood in the US. Don talks about his inspiration for the book and his struggle in finding the right publisher.

When did you decide to become an author?  Do you have another job besides writing? 

Believe it or not, I’m supposed to be “retired.”  I’ve written all my books so far because there was a  problem to be solved in each case and few or no books on how to solve them. As a news director in the late 1960’s I got tired of writing memos to my reporters and anchors in radio newsrooms, so I came out with a book called Broadcast News Handbook.  As a professor at the University of Florida in the 1970’s, I had 65 undergraduates in the newsroom and no style book, so I wrote one for them.

Tell us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story. 

Cinco de Mayo means “the fifth of May,” and this latest book was triggered when the principal at an elementary school where I was teaching in Texas told the whole school on the P.A. system that May fifth was Mexican Independence Day. Well, no it’s not – it’s September 16th – so I went to her office to say that, and her attitude was “We’ve always taught it that way, so don’t make trouble.” I looked in libraries, bookstores – all over the place – for a book that would prove her wrong, but there was nothing in print for adults. There are 56 children’s books on the market, and almost all of them have the French army show up and lose the battle, but then when you turn the page it says something like, “Now, here’s how to make a piñata for your classroom party!” That’s when I said to myself, “Somebody’s got to write this book.” So, here we are!

My real inspiration in this case was a smiling young señorita from Mexico City who came up to me in the cafeteria at college and said, “Hi, I’m one of the foreign students. May I sit here?” Well, sure, it’s the cafeteria, right? To make a long story short, we got married and we traveled all over Mexico for  more than 40 years. I didn’t have a book in mind for at least the first 35 years, but when I told her what the principal had said to me, we started scouring the stacks of libraries in Texas, Washington-DC, Mexico City, Veracruz, Orizaba, Puebla, – you name it. Yes, I had to write an outline. There was a lot of information in more than 100 books, some of them dating back to the late 18-hundreds, so an outline was the best way to sort it all out. It took me five years to write it.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity? 

Writer’s block?  Not really.  As I said, my motivation has always been, “Somebody’s gotta write this,” so when I commit to the topic, the whole project sort of gains a life of its own, like a runaway train. I’ll admit to you, though, that I wrote a complete novel about Cinco de Mayo before I wrote the non-fiction book that’s been published. As I resumed sending the manuscript for the novel around, a reviewer said that one of my characters was “flat,” meaning that she was just “there” in every scene but didn’t do much. After a few days, I had her kidnapped by a serial killer, but that’s as close as I’ve ever come to  writer’s block. Even then, the delay was because I was busy with other stuff and had deliberately set the manuscript aside.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one? 

My advice would be, “Keep your day job.”  I was rejected by 44 agents over more than a year of sending out queries for the novel, but when one of them wrote on the rejection slip, “I’d like to see a non-fiction version of this,” I immediately got in touch with him and he took me on. Even he couldn’t find me a traditional publisher, though, so I finally laid out my own money and went with a subsidy publisher. At least we were talking about a real book, not just an idea or a manuscript. I’m about ready to upgrade from there, and I’ll have two editions in Spanish coming out in ’09, with maps and charts and a lot of nice color graphics.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you? 

I have one of the best publicists in the business, and together we’ve spent the past year researching that very question. I told a panel at “Book Expo America” in New York last summer that my best responses were coming from libraries, museums and the field of education, but I said that Barnes & Noble, Borders and the other major book stores were not putting it on their shelves. One of the panel members told me how to solve the problem. He said, “Just change the title to The Secret Diary of Anna Nicole Smith!”  Oh, sure. On the other hand, I addressed a faculty gathering at the University of Texas     on May 4th, the night before Cinco de Mayo, and the very next day I sold 19 books at Book People, the state’s largest independent bookstore, a few blocks away. Unless you’re already famous, you’re going to be in a “learning process” when the book comes out. You have to be flexible and patient.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why? 

Oh, I’d have to say  Three Cups of Tea,  by Greg Mortenson.  He’s a mountain-climber, and when he failed to make it to the top of one of the world’s toughest peaks known as “K-2,” he wound up in a little village in Pakistan. They were extremely poor, but since they had treated him with such warmth and kindness, he promised that he would come back and build a school for them. Well, this is way up in the Karakoram mountains, where the Taliban got its start. This is the story of how he not only went back and built a school, but in the next ten years he built 55 of them. It’s a really fine example of      Americans at their best, and a relief from all the “negatives” we hear in the news lately.

Do you have a website or blog where readers may learn more about you and your work? 

I’m  so  glad you asked!   It’s only a website right now, but I hope to add a blog within the year. It’s simply  www.DonMiles.com.

Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects? 

I’m expecting to have the two Spanish editions out sometime next year – one for students taking Spanish and the other for Latin America. Then, there’s the novel which has been on the back burner for a few years, which will come out in both English and Spanish, and I’m going to be in Mexico a number of times before this year is out – recording some DVD’s – for a documentary, for some visuals that Spanish and History teachers can use, for promotional purposes, and some of my friends and family members are mulling over the possibility of a movie. We’ll see. It’s fun dreaming about it.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work? 

Oh, just that a very supportive family has been the foundation of everything I’ve achieved. My wife – that señorita I told you about – became a United States citizen and earned a bachelor's, a master's and a P-H-D, and taught at several universities. The book is dedicated to her. She died in 2006, but lived long enough not only to see both our daughter and son graduate from college and get married, but to see our daughter become a helicopter pilot and our son work at the White House.

Our daughter is now retired from the military, and our son is now the National Security Council Director for Canada and Mexico. I’m very proud of each of them, and very grateful for the enabling role that all of them have played in my life.  I might not have ever written a book without them.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here. 

You’re very welcome! Thanks for having me.

 

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