24 January 2017

Meet my protagonist: Robert and Lillian

Mayhem at the Mount Baker Lodge
Lillian and Robert

I know 1930 and the US might sound somewhat usual as a location and time, but when its a place that doesn't exist I figured it does after all.  A few years back I moved to Bellingham, WA.  Almost into Canada and almost in the Pacific, the fourth corner they call it locally. It's a beautiful locale, the Cascade Mountains running to the east, the San Juan islands to the west, across the water I can see the Olympics when its clear, the Canadian Coastal Range is to the North.  The climate is temperate with the ocean there to regulate it, most the time at least. Shortly after I moved here I started seeing photos and mentions of the Mount Baker Lodge, but it didn't exist.  With a bit of digging I found it was one of those lodges built in the heyday, not quite as big as the lodge at Yellowstone, but the same idea.  Mount Baker has in years been the snowiest place in the US if not the earth.  With all that warm ocean air hitting 11,000 feet of solid stone it regularly gets 75 feet of snow in a normal year.  In the mid 1920's a group of people decided to build a tourist facility up in Heather Meadows, a valley below the snow line on a mountain that never fully melts.  It didn't have a road to it, but they persisted and the road was finished in 1926.  By the summer of 1927 the lodge was completed and with much fanfare opened.  For 7 to 10 dollars a night meals included you could live in the lap of mountain luxury.  The rooms were not that fancy when it came down to it, but with the setting few went to sit in their rooms.  A 100 foot main room with a giant fireplace decorated in a Native American theme, an 80 foot dining room. Observation tower.  It was so popular that after only a year or two they built an annex adding another 40 rooms.  Ugly people called that part, just a box compared to the original building. 

But 4 years after it opened, in the summer of 1931 a fire broke out and in two hours the entire building was gone.  The annex remained to house Clark Gable and Loretta Young a few years later when they filmed Call of the Wild.  But even that didn't last much longer.  By the 1950's winter entertainment was the push, skiing namely.  The annex closed, Heather Inn closed, a small restaurant known for its pies, and ski runs opened.  To this day there is nowhere to stay when using the slopes. No sign of the lodge remains.  

The hotel had caught my imagination, I just had to bring it back to life so I could kill someone there.  It's taken me some time though to find characters that fit such a location.  The first that fell into place was the murder victim.  A friend, another writer and college professor declared he would consider it an honor to be killed off.  Then it took figuring out why a seemingly innocent man would get murdered in a hotel where he knew no one. Finally using local history the real professor and the real history of the area gave a reason. 

The protagonist still took some time though, but finally they formed.  Lillian Halliday is a struggling Hollywood starlet.  Not on contract though which would provide her with reliable income during the depression. Just as she's finished her first starring movie role she returns to dance in a less than reputable place she had worked at to keep money flowing.  Once she worked in a famous New York club, but when it had to shut down just a week or so before the Stock Market crash she had taken a chance in Hollywood, but wasn't finding it easy going. When her employer at the theater objects to her wanting to quit, he ends up shot and Lillian runs.  The first train leaving is north, the first train after that is to Bellingham, and a bag boy mistakes the well dressed actress on the run for a guest at Mount Baker. Lillian just says yes, anywhere to hide so she can think.  While waiting for the motor coach heading to the Lodge, some 60 miles from town, Lillian starts to meet other guests especially the Professor.  Having grown up an orphan Lillian picked up the skill of Tarot cards in the orphanage and bored she plays with them.  When the professor comes up, he starts pulling cards foretelling his death.  The coach departure is called leaving her a bad feeling as they head up the mountain. 

There is a romance of course, which comes in the form of a Newspaper man from New York.  Robert Magnusson fought in the great war, and settled into the crime desk by the time the story starts. Originally from Montana he ran from his horse ranching family as soon as he could.  A night with him distracts her from the predictions the cards make until the next morning when the professor is found dead.  In an early snow storm the road is blocked until the fallen tree can be removed, they're trapped with a killer.

I know Lillian and Robert are the main characters, but the Mount Baker Lodge has always seemed as much of a participant in the story as anyone else.  I just had to bring it to life once more.  I should have the second of my homages set in Bellingham finished soon, the city of subdued excitement. I figured we needed much more excitement so murder, spies, dames on the run have all livened things up.  Murder beside the Salish Sea set 15 years later at the end of WW2 was the first and the main character of that one makes a brief appearance in Mayhem.

Jennifer Mueller 
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya a few years back I traveled quite a bit and now I just wish I was. A lot of the places I've written about I've been to, a lot of them I haven't. Rafting on the Nile in Uganda, living in a Montana ghost town, Puerto Rican beaches, African safaris, Mayan ruins, European youth hostels, forts on the Ghana coast all fill my scrapbooks. I still travel in my head every time I write even if I don't get out as much as I wish. I currently live in the Pacific Northwest and look forward to filling many more pages.

More information can be found at www.jennifermuellerbooks.com

20 January 2017

New & Noteworthy: January 20

A beautiful cover has been released for Blythe Gifford’s RUMORS AT COURT, scheduled for release in print and e-versions in May 2017 from Harlequin Historical. The third Royal Wedding story, RUMORS AT COURT is set in Fourteenth Century England during the events surrounding the weddings of two of Edward III’s sons to two Castilian princesses.  For more on the story, see Blythe’s Unusual Historicals post of January 18.

Michelle Styles' latest book SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR was published in the US on 17 January and will be published in the UK and Australia on 1 February.
In her captor's bed! Women are not part of Sigurd Sigmundson's existence, and Eilidith should purely be a means to an end to gain access to a well-guarded Viking stronghold. He would have to be made of iron, though, not to be stirred by the warmly sensual woman beneath her ice-cold shield. Liddy has been made to feel ugly and insignificant because of her facial birthmark. Surely her captor couldn't physically desire her? But, oh, how the stifled, passionate Liddy yearns to experience unrestrained love in his arms… 

You can enter to win a copy of SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR at Goodreads from now until January 29.

In addition, two of Michelle's earlier books -- Hattie Wilkinson Meets Her Match and An Ideal Husband? -- have been reprinted in the UK as REGENCY BRIDES, available now. Congrats Michelle!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sold to the Viking Warrior by Michelle Styles

Sold to the Viking Warrior

by Michelle Styles

Giveaway ends January 29, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

18 January 2017

Meet My Protagonists...Forced to Wed in RUMORS AT COURT

In RUMORS AT COURT, scheduled for release in May, 2017, I did something I had never done before:  I had a heroine who had been previously married.

While in a romance novel, this created an additional character challenge, (one has to then explain her previous husband and their relationship) it did something more important.  It allowed Valerie of Florham to hope for a life other than that of a wife.  Widows had the potential for a kind of freedom available to no other medieval woman - on her own, without a husband constraining her every move.  (See http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2016/05/my-characters-lived-in-14th-century.html for my post on this subject.) 

Of course, that was not to be.

My main characters are fictional, but the story includes a number of real historical figures.  The book, the third Royal Wedding Story, is set in England, late in the Fourteenth Century.  The English king’s son has assumed the title of King of Castile, by virtue of his marriage to the previous king’s daughter.  Soon, he plans to seize Castile from the current ruler and establish his own court there.

My hero, Sir Gil Wolford, plans to go with him.  But before they sail, Castile’s “king” insists Gil marry the widow.

A medieval garden, similar to that of my heroine.
Gil is no more eager to wed than Valerie, but for very different reasons.  He has spent his life trying to prove himself worthy, despite his scandalous family background.  Before he marries and sires a son, he wants to sit at the right hand of the King of Castile, in the palace of Alhambra, as far away from his past as possible.

Valerie longs only to be left in peace in the garden she has created on land that her family has held in England for generations.

At this time, England’s earlier success against France in the Hundred Years War has slipped away and the once extensive English holdings on the continent are in danger.  There is unease in the country and rumors abound about the royal family, the intentions of the enemy, and about Valerie and Gil.  Neither is certain who can be trusted, including one another.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One, when the two first meet.  Gil, whose company included Lady Valerie’s late husband, has a final commander’s duty to perform.  One he wants completed quickly.

When Lady Valerie turned to meet his eyes, for a moment he could not speak.

Now he could see her plain.  Fair skin.  Dark eyes that changed expression when she knew him for who he was.  Was it his family history or his reputation in battle that erased both smile and sadness?  No matter.  Now, he faced a strong, impenetrable shield, through which he could glimpse no emotion at all.  Until then, he would have judged her a woman who needed protection.  Now, he thought she would have been an asset on the battlefield.  “Some have called me that,” he answered, finally.

A silence.  Awkward.  “What do you want of me?” she said, finally.

The time had come.  “Your husband served in my company.” 

She glanced down at the floor.  “I know.”  Had her sadness returned?  Would there be tears?

He hurried to speak.  “Then you know that the siege was broken by that attack.  That his death was not in vain.”

“That is a comfort, surely.”

Her tone suggested otherwise.  “He was a worthy fighter.  His death was a blow.”

Now her gaze met his again.  Her shield had not slipped.  “More so to me.”

Ah, then she blamed him for the man’s death.  She had the right.  “Men die in war, no matter what we do.”  War was not what those at home imagined.  It was not…glorious.

He pulled the stained, crumpled silk from his tunic.  “Your husband was carrying this when he died.  I thought to return it to you so you would know he treasured the thought of his wife.”  He waved it in her direction.  A poor, limp thing, even more wrinkled and dirty now than it had been when he took it from the man’s body.

She did not reach for it.  Instead, she recoiled, as if it were a live thing with teeth. 

He shook his outstretched hand, wishing to free himself of it.  “Do you not want it back?”

“Back?”  The word, barely a whisper.  Then, she lifted that hard, impenetrable gaze and met his eyes again.  “It was never mine.”


After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published eleven romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  RUMORS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, is a May, 2017 release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com

Author photo Jennifer Girard. Excerpt © 2017 by Blythe Gifford. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.  All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2017

16 January 2017

Meet My Protagonist: Aurelia Mitela - woman and warrior

Older Aurelia
Fifteen hundred years after the end of the Roman Empire, one last (imaginary) part still survives in the 20th century – Roma Nova. Its people are tough, uncompromising in defending their country and guard their Roman cultural values tightly. However, due to the grim times of their early history, women had to take up gladius and scutum (shield) and fight by the side of their menfolk. And they never lost the status this struggle gave them. In the late 1960s in this egalitarian yet still Roman society, Aurelia Mitela is the archetypal Roma Novan... 

Aurelia came to life when I was writing the first Roma Nova thriller, INCEPTIO. Then, she was the clever experienced grandmother of Carina, the book’s heroine. Let Carina tell you in her own words of her first impression of Aurelia:
She’d been so concerned for me, but not in a soppy way. Direct and ‘no-nonsense’ fitted her perfectly, but her smile had been warm. I couldn’t help speculating how it would have been to grow up with her instead of the Browns.

 I started tapping the keys, surfing for 'Roma Nova' while I was drinking and thinking. I couldn’t leave it alone. My grandmother’s name shot out at me. Fascinated, I loaded the English translation. The screen displayed a list of her business interests. Sketchy on detail, it gave some personal stuff at the end: head of the influential Mitela family, senator and government advisor, cousin to the current imperatrix. She really was a big hitter.”

In PERFIDITAS, we see Aurelia, the cool ex-Praetorian, holding the family together after they’d been falsely arrested:
“[Aurelia to Carina] ‘I’ve been through a great deal worse. I’m not a little old lady out of some genteel novel.’ 

 No, she truly wasn’t. She’d been Praetorian Guard Special Forces in her time, even led the attack to retake the city during the civil war. Although now in her mid-seventies, she definitely belonged to the“tough gals” league. She gave me a close description of the arresting party. What a difference it made when the victim was a trained professional and could give you precise, detailed information. She’d printed off her statement and signed it already.

Throughout the first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, set in the present we catch references to Aurelia’s early life, but more intriguingly, a whole range of questions are thrown up. What did she do in the Great Rebellion nearly twenty-three years before the time of INCEPTIO? Why is she so anxious when she compares the villain in SUCCESSIO to Caius Tellus, the brutal ‘First Consul’ who instigated the rebellion all those years ago? Who was the great love of Aurelia’s life that Carina only learns about in SUCCESSIO?

1960s Berlin
In AURELIA, the fourth book which takes us back to the late 1960s, we watch Aurelia as a young woman. She's 28 years old and is accused of murder during a mission to Berlin.While on remand in a Prussian prison, she has to undergo a hostile psychological assessment. Here’s the report on her:

Subject is highly rational, quick-minded and a natural leader. She sees nothing is impossible given enough time and resources. Subject has the confident personality and willpower to pursue and implement her goals, easily bringing others with her. A dominant personality.

Strategic thinker, curious, innovative, able to grasp and deal with problems with determination and precision. Energetic and excellent communication skills, happy to confront and negotiate with others. Intelligent enough to recognise other people’s talents, and work with them. Requires challenges and even failures, or her self-confidence could easily turn into arrogance and condescension.

Personalities of this type cannot tolerate inefficiency or those whom they perceive as lazy or incompetent. They can be chillingly cold and ruthless when the situation arises, operating purely on logic and rationality. 

They interact very well with others, often charming them to their cause, and paying attention to other people’s feelings – or at least pretending that they do. Most mature and successful personalities of this type are genuine in this aspect to some extent, even though their sensitivity may hide a cold and calculating mind.

This is a slant on the classic ENTJ personality  profile from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric test system popular in business to indicate psychological preferences about how people perceive the world and make decisions. I needed to make the report negative for the story, but positive aspects of this type of personality are that they are conceptual and global thinkers, able to see connections where others don’t, and to think ahead. Couple this with the intuition and sense of fair play many ENTJs possess, it  can make life frustrating for this personality when people around them don’t  grasp things the way they do. Of course, this conflict is a gift for a writer…

In essence, Aurelia is a blood-and-bone Roma Novan whose values are based on traditional ancient Roman ones; tough, loyal with a strong sense of duty and fully aware of her responsibilities as head of a great family. But her desire to keep all the balls juggling in the air with precise timing leads to her being riven by guilt if she doesn’t perform a hundred percent.

Aurelia has one vulnerability, her love for her frail daughter, Marina. But along with her determination to serve her country, Aurelia's willingness to sacrifice everything for Marina is also her greatest strength. It motivates her even when she's experiencing her darkest moments.

Is she sympathetic? Yes, because under all that resolution and toughness, she is still a human being who experiences fear, love, despair and grief. She bitterly misses the strong comradeship of her earlier military career and is exhilarated when going back into action. And then there is her devotion to her life-long love, elusive though he sometimes proves to be...


Discover more about AURELIA

Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Mikl√≥s, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles. She pursues him back home to Roma Nova desperate now he has struck at her most vulnerable point – her young daughter.

Available as
- eBook from Amazon,  iBooks,  Kobo,  B&N Nook
- audiobook from Audible
- paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers

HNS indie Editor’s Choice Autumn 2015 
Shortlisted for the 2016 HNS Indie prize, then Finalist (one of four)
B.R.A.G. Medallion, October 2015 
Discovered Diamond January 2016


Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and the latest, INSURRECTIO

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

11 January 2017

Meet My Protagonist: Thaddeus Dombrowski in The Gate of Dawn

By M.J. Neary

I am very thankful for this opportunity to share some obscure insights into the gender dynamic in the Polish-Lithuanian community as explored in my novel The Gate of Dawn. In light of the recent political developments, "patriarchy" and "male privilege" have been frequent buzz words. Any time we talk about any sort of privilege or -archy, it's implied that there is a flip side, an alternative. One particular group is presumed to be in a position of advantage, but there is a possibility that the roles will flip. My readers will find it refreshing that in today's post I will talk about an essentially matriarchal society and the awkward place men held in it. 

As an insider - my biological father being a Pole - I can ponder how Poland's history and geographic location affected the distribution of power and responsibilities between the genders. Sandwiched between two strong and menacing neighbors, Germany and Russia, Poland had been run over, occupied and partitioned. It went on and off the map, though the sense of Polish ethnic identity remained. Over the course of the centuries, certain gender-specific expectations developed. Boys grew up with the idea of being "little soldiers". They were either trying to stage a liberating rebellion, or they were being drafted to serve in the army of one of the occupiers. Either way, they were not expected to have long lives. And the women who loved and married them were assumed to keep it in the back of their collective mind. The odds of them becoming widows with small children were rather high, so they had to be equipped to carry on. Women who were not ready to embrace those risks were better off becoming nuns. Because there was such pressure on boys to be "brave little soldiers", they were to some extent excused from the burden of making decisions in times of relative peace. Men were not expected to become level-headed, practical, disciplined or good with money. Those responsibilities usually fell on women. Boys fight - girls do everything else. It is my personal belief, shared by many other people, that Poland as a nation owes its survival to the tenacity, resilience, and adaptability of its women. 

Here are some images depicting Polish manhood:


Thaddeus Dombrowski is one of the main characters in The Gate of Dawn. He is the demure, impractical, guilt-ridden husband of the female protagonist, a German heiress named Renate Lichtner. Their marriage is arranged by Renate's dying father and at first appears to benefit both sides, but as with many hasty arrangements, things go horribly awry. Aged thirty in the beginning of the novel, Thaddeus is exactly twice as old as his child bride. Those thirty years had been filled with sorrow and bereavement - he had buried his wife and four children. Despite the sorrow, he retains some juvenile naivete. Having spent his whole life on a remote rural estate called Raven's Bog, he is not a very worldly man. The novel takes place in the 1880s, twenty some years after the abolition of serfdom in Eastern Europe. Thaddeus, born into landed gentry, feels guilty about all the atrocities his peasants had suffered in the hands of his tyrannical father and believes it is his mission is to atone for the sins of his ancestors. He rejects social hierarchy and treats his servants as family members. His fifteen-year-old bride, on another hand, is very cosmopolitan and erudite. She is a German who was born and raised in the dynamic and diverse Vilnius. She is keenly aware of the socioeconomic and ethnic pyramid. The sight of her aristocratic Polish fiance eating and drinking with his Lithuanian servants appalls her. Renate certainly does not believe that all people are equal and deserve to sit at the same table and eat the same food. She endorses the notion of Russian and German supremacy over Poles and Lithuanians. All the more appalling she finds his impracticality and lack of business skills. After a string of crop failures, Raven's Bog is in danger of being confiscated by the Russians for failure to pay taxes. Russian imperialist agents kept a close eye on struggling properties. If the original owner proved to be incompetent, they would confiscate the land. And that's just the kind of mess young Renate walks into. The inheritance she brings into the marriage provides temporary relief but does not solve the underlying issue of her husband having no clue on how to cultivate the land and negotiate profitable prices. 

Thaddeus Dombrowski is a quintessential Polish man. The archetype is still relevant. He is deeply religious and exuberantly sexual, though his sexuality, as one can imagine, is confined to marriage and directed at procreation. He does not shy away from hard physical work or pain. He is quick to embraces self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In addition to impracticality, his flaws include a propensity for self-destruction and alcoholism. Polish men are known for being accident prone. It's an unflattering and darkly humorous stereotype, but it's rooted in reality. Because Polish men are taught that being able to withstand physical pain and grin through injuries is an attribute of masculinity, they often neglect safety measures. Throughout the novel, Thaddeus suffers several freak accidents that could have been easily prevented. His male servants are guilty of the same.  

This is how I envisioned my protagonist. This is a still from a film based on Adam Bernard Mickiewicz's novel that also has a protagonist named Thaddeus. 


In social situations, women clearly take the lead. When a woman speaks, her man must remain silent. Unless a man is talking about war or religion, he should sit quietly with his eyes downcast. Arguing with a woman is both disrespectful and demeaning. A real man must not engage in conversations of philistine nature. He must preserve his strength for a potential military engagement. He must be seen but not heard.