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Maria Alexander

(s)Word Slinger

Ashes of Angels: Writing an Historical YA Fantasy Based on the Real La Maupin

La Maupin, L’Heroine
Cover page of the French magazine “Le Matin,” 1910s

Today, after three and a half years of research, writing and rewriting, I’ve finally typed “la fin” on my historical YA fantasy based on the real-life 17th-century French duelist (and later opera star) known as Julie d’Aubigny aka La Maupin. The story starts when she’s 16 years old in 1689, just when she’s about to discover that she’s both bisexual and badass as she becomes entangled in a necromantic plot to bring the world to its knees.

This has been the writing challenge of my life.

How the Love Affair Began

As many of you know, I’ve been studying swordplay of one form or another since 2001. I truly fell in love with the European smallsword when I was taking private smallsword lessons from sword master and stuntman TJ Rotolo. The European smallsword is the weapon that La Maupin and other duelists used in her day. I loved how it fit my hand, its small movements almost came instinctively to me.

French smallsword

But I didn’t fall in love with La Maupin — maiden name Julie d’Aubigny — until 2006 when I was living in France. I found a website dedicated to her that completely captured my imagination. I considered writing a book about her, but I wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be so for years. I couldn’t believe how much I related to her with my historical crossdressing, my love of swordplay, my singing, and passion for life.

Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Beardsley. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A More Troubled Me

She seemed like a lost me from the past, albeit far more emotionally troubled: she was well known for her excessive promiscuity and threats of self-violence when her romantic affairs soured. Then again, she was a bisexual, gender-queer person living in an age when that was condemned. Her mental health was probably always at risk, as are youths today who are rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+.

As it turns out, there’s an even stronger reason for the promiscuity and threats of self-harm.

The Comte d’Armagnac

Louis de Lorraine, the Comte d’Armagnac

You see, one of the things I’ve wanted to reframe is the narrative around her childhood relationship to the Louis de Lorraine aka the Comte d’Armagnac, the Grand Écuyer or Master of the Horse. The patriarchal story around her has always been that at the age of 14 years, she became the Comte’s “mistress.” The Comte was more than 30 years her senior. He was also Monsieur d’Aubigny’s boss, who taught the king’s pages to fence; that fell squarely under the Master of the Horse’s purview. So, the Comte had total control over her father’s position and fortunes both at Versailles and beyond. Using a modern American lens, the Comte’s relationship with Julie would look a lot more like rape, wouldn’t it?

That’s because it was rape.

Source: Parfaict’s Dictionnaire & Anecdotes

For starters, I don’t for a minute believe his interest in her started at 14. I think it was earlier. Without laboring through a long discussion of the oft misunderstood statistics of life expectancy and marriage practices throughout the UK and Europe — not to mention the obvious power dynamics at play — I think the proof of the nature of the relationship is in how Julie reacted. Soon after she became the Comte’s “mistress,” he married her off to a gentleman named Sieur de Maupin who was in turn shipped off to a position in the south of France. The Comte arranged all of this to cover and legitimize any pregnancies because the Comte kept Julie with himself in Versailles.

But not for long. Julie then immediately ran away with a hot young fencing master. “Ran away” being the operative phrase.

Had the Comte been a young man a lot closer to her age, the voluntary nature of the relationship suggested by male historians would have been a tad more believable. It’s my personal belief that she was sexually abused by this much older man of authority until she found an opportunity — and help — to get as far away as possible.

Anyway, Ashes of Angels has helped me reframe this story from a female perspective. And it’s powerful.

Research

Just a few of the books I read as research.
Many more are somewhere here at home, back in the library or on my Kindle.

I read a lot of books. On France. French history. Dueling. Magic. Swords. Fencing. Louis XIV. France in the 17th century. Teens discovering their sexuality. Teens coming out as bisexual. And much more. Fiction such as The Three Muskateers (which I loved) and Scaramouche (which was meh).

In the middle of writing the book, I started suffering severe insomnia. The sleep doctor told me I had to get out of bed at night if I woke and couldn’t go back to sleep. She recommended reading in another room in dim light. That’s how I read a few books, during stolen minutes and hours when my body refused to cooperate.

But that’s only half of the research. So much of it was scrutinizing old maps. Researching villages. Old prisons. Torture methods. Transportation. (My equestrian-TV writer friend Erin Maher got asked a lot of questions about horses.) Food. Cooking. Clothing. Theatre. Music. (Loads of music.) Scouring blogs of other historical fiction writers to learn tips and tricks. Merci bien to Susanna Calkins, especially.

And then I chose bits and pieces of everything as I weaved it all together.

The Diva’s Voice

“Mademoiselle Maupin de l’Opéra”.
Anonymous print, ca. 1700

While that was a lot to mentally coordinate, the absolute hardest part of all this was creating Julie’s voice. In fact, I shied away from it so much that when my husband read the first draft (he’s often my first reader, especially for my YA fiction), he gave me a big note that made me realize voice was a huge problem.

I’d obviously focused so much on everything else that I hadn’t addressed my fears about giving an authentic voice to this very real teenager. You’d think that, since she was someone I’d vibed with, it would be easy, but it was the opposite. I’d never done anything like this before. My characters are 100% fictional (except for in one story). I went back to the basics of character development. Experiences. Beliefs. Wants. Dreams. Needs.

And then I pulled the ripcord on a page-one rewrite. It was painful but worth it.

Magic in France? Mais Non!

As many people would agree, historical YA is a tough sell without magic. But here’s the thing: France is culturally very anti-magic. At the time that Julie was alive, magic was illegal. While some may argue, “Hey, it’s fiction! Do what you want!” I don’t want to violate both historical AND cultural fact, especially not about a country that took me in and embraced me for a year. We talk a good game about diversity and sensitivity, but we don’t even bother half the time. We should practice sensitivity in our writing with all foreign cultures.

(Incidentally, one of my readers is a good friend of mine in France who also used to be a competitive fencer for many years. Her feedback was amazing.)

Anyway, when I was living there in 2006-2007, I tried to meet fellow pagans. It was really difficult. I eventually earned the trust of a young woman working at a goth bar called L’Elfike, who in turn then reached out to a couple of pagans she knew. Only one was willing to speak to me. The occult and witchcraft are frowned upon so much even to this day that these young people were afraid of being outed and suffering the consequences. From an American perspective, even though the French are 30% atheist, they’re still culturally 100% Catholic.

The had fantastic cocktails.

What about the popularity of Harry Potter? The French love those books, right? The French are fine with Englishmen casting spells and doing other silly Anglo-Saxon things. For example, they believe Halloween (a pagan holiday) is strictly an Anglo-Saxon holiday celebrated in the UK. The French shun it in favor of All Souls Day, the Catholic holiday. I don’t know how French readers felt when they read about the Beauxbatons, but I suspect they didn’t care because HP isn’t set in France.

Welcome to the Real Beauxbatons

Ashes of Angels, however, is set in France. Completely and utterly. So, as a savvy YA author, how did I deal with this dilemma? Extra difficulty level: as a writer, I don’t do Judeo-Christian mythology.

I can’t give anything away, but I found a way to be true to French culture, even though I had to bend my own writing rules. Because that’s the thing about becoming bicultural: it’s not that you give up who you are. Instead, you develop an empathy for the other culture and let it open you up to other ways of thinking.

Please wish me and Julie luck as we move to the next phase.

The Reasons Might Surprise You: A Follow Up

Planetary Symbol for Saturn

A lot of people are reading an old post of mine called, “I’m Leaving Astrology. The Reasons Might Surprise You.” In that post, I talked about why I’d decided to stop using astrology for awhile, something that had always been a superpower for me. I’d noticed some challenging Saturn transits were coming, which were pumping me full of dread. I couldn’t think of or see anything but negative events passing or coming up. To my credit, I realized that, for my emotional well being, I had to stop looking at the future and start living in the present.

I’ve noticed that a number of people are finding that article via Google searches related to ways to convince other people not to believe in astrology. Honestly, like I said in the previous post, I could care less if people studied astrology or not. I’ve found it to be reliable and (mostly) reassuring for my own purposes.

This post is for those who are curious about what ensued after the blog post of August 15, 2013, as life took a tragic turn two days after I stopped looking at my chart. I want to share with people an idea of how I dealt with those events.

First, Saturn Kinda Sucks

Let’s first talk a little more about Saturn itself. Most people would say that Saturn transits really pretty much suck Donkey Kong. Let’s look at what Saturn transits can mean:

  • Limitations
  • Cutting back (“winnowing”)
  • Delays
  • Death (and other endings)
  • Discipline
  • Responsibility/commitments
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Maturity
  • Solitude

You can see why this is the Debbie Downer planet, and why I’d be afraid of what it could do. In fact, it had twice accompanied devastating injuries. I figured it could happen again.

“Physical Dangers”

So, what about the “physical danger” transits I saw? Turns out, I had a scheduled surgery that September, but soon learned that another surgery I needed had been denied. It would be another year before I’d finally receive that approval. Everything eventually worked out, but at the time, it was tremendously frustrating. The two surgeries were connected. Delaying the second one played havoc with my life.

But there was little I could do about it at the time except take care of my health as best I could. I actually lost about 15 pounds working with a nutritionist, as well as beginning an exercise regime. Saturn’s hard work, discipline and “cutting back” all helped me improve my health while I was waiting for Surgery #2.

Deaths

Two days after I published that blog post, my father died. I wrote about it on September 1, 2013.

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”
The King of Shadows is dead.

Up until then, my dad had been sorta-kinda caring for Danielle, my severely disabled sister. My dad actually hadn’t been able to properly care for her since my mother died, and both of them had lied to keep her off the grid, as it were. Thanks to my dad’s epic lack of planning, we all suffered a lot of stress over the next few months until she’d been set up with the proper agencies.

As it turned out, my father’s death was a blessing to my sister. Before he died, she was virtually a shut-in except for when my dad would take her to the Senior Citizen Center. (She’s not a senior citizen, by the way.) She’s now living the life of Reilly, going to the movies, on excursions, to concerts, and more with her head caregiver. And at last she’s been getting proper medical attention (hallelujah). Also, with him gone, I was finally able to write about her injury and life. The piece that was a huge benefit to family, friends and others because many people were in the dark about what had happened to her after her injury.

Losing a parent like my dad was very difficult to process. The fallout of his death had many implications for me that unfolded over the next few months. His death has been echoing in my writing, in both short stories and books. But it definitely hit me hardest during those transits I’d seen.

In December 2013, during the time of the worst transits, my friend Christa Faust lost her father, George, who was my Dad #2. I felt George’s passing more keenly than my own father’s in many ways. A good man left this world when he died. I’ll never forget him and his great big heart. I still miss him, although not nearly as much as Christa does, for sure.

The “Disappearing” Goodness

Remember the “good” transits that I could no longer see? They were there, all right, with events that corresponded appropriately.

Winner of the 2014 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel

To start, I sold my debut novel, Mr. Wicker, to Raw Dog Screaming Press that fall. That book was my entrance into the realm of being a professional novelist, and it would be a beautiful entrance at that.

And then during Thanksgiving Weekend, my blog post “Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords” went viral. I even got a mention on The Mary Sue. It was a super crazy, exhilarating period. I was stressed out about my sister’s well being, but I was able to draw upon the good things happening for strength.

I look back on the “uplifting” transits at that time, and they’re super obvious. Why didn’t I see them coming? And why wasn’t I seeing anything positive happening when they did?

Depression, The Old Devil

So, yeah. I’d struggled with depression for awhile before 2013 without even realizing it. My view of everything was dimming fast. The bully in my head had a bullhorn. And the fatigue I felt was epic. It wasn’t until I started to get a handle on it in the last few years that I could identify what had been happening back then.

And here’s the thing about living with both depression and anxiety: focusing on the future — via astrology or any other means — makes both conditions worse. It’s too easy to start disasterbating. So, when disasterbating starts, it’s best to step back and focus on the moment.

Looking Inward Instead of Upward

9 of Wands

I’m in another phase of my life where I’m not paying as much attention to my transits because I feel information overload. Twitter, Facebook, sometimes even email…all of these platforms are a constant mudslide of anger about how we’re living in The Upside Down. These are far darker times than 2013 without even considering life’s usual slings and arrows. The onslaught of political horrors from the Idiocracy and unchecked corruption is no joke. (Well, maybe sometimes.) And I want to focus on parts of my life that need attention.

So, I don’t really need to look to the stars right now for hope. I need to look inside, to reckon with my personal demons, to enjoy the people in my life, to maintain my health, and to continue my calling as a writer and storyteller. This is the only way I’ll have the strength to be a good ally, responsible citizen, and resilient fighter for what’s right.

That, and snuggling. And I’ll end this post with a visual lesson.

My mantra: Snuggle often.

My LA Times Festival of Books Schedule

It’s that time of year again! Here’s where I’ll be tomorrow and Sunday.

Saturday

10:00am to 12:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

1:00pm to 2:00pm
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Booth 821

2:00pm to 4:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

4:00pm to 5:00pm
Mystery Writers of America
376

Sunday

10:00am to 12:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

On both days I’ll have copies of my latest from Cemetery Dance Publications — 12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True, as well as the first two books of my award-winning YA Bloodline of Yule trilogy, Snowed and Snowbound. I’ll have copies of my award-winning Mr. Wicker on Sunday.

The Lies — and Truth — are Loose!

12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True is out and generating some rave reviews!

“Maria is a highly recommended top writer. Do yourself a big favor,  snag this collection and every other piece of her writing you can find.”
—Gene O’Neill, The White Plague Chronicles

“…a 6 out of 5-star review; this collection seriously rocks!”
—A.E. Siraki, librarian and book reviewer

“…wildly glorious.”
—Goodreads review

“…visceral and heartfelt.”
—Eric Guinard, That Which Grows Wild

“A great collection of dark stories with bite.”
—Yvonne Navarro, Afterage

Get your copy today!

COMING SOON: Cemetery Dance to Publish 12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True

Coming out March 5, 2019
from Cemetery Dance Publications

WARNING: This is not your typical short story collection.

While twelve of the tales are fictitious, one is a creepy true story sure to amuse and alarm even die-hard horror fans. Guessing which one is half the skin-crawling fun. Is it the man who resurrects his abusive father for revenge that goes awry? The woman who brings home a birthday balloon inflated with hellion instead of helium? Or the couple that accidentally buys a home sitting at The Crossroads, where the “H” in “HOA” has a whole new meaning…? 

Read and decide for yourself!

Pre-Order Now



Bandersnatched: How Charlie Brooker Got the Last Laugh

If you’re one of the many people who were glued to Netflix this last week exploring the tentacled storytelling of “Bandersnatch,” you were probably either deeply disappointed or riveted by the bizarre way this “choose your own adventure” controlled your options.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

I was feeling under the weather after Christmas, which meant I had some serious couch time to devote to this show and to scanning Twitter for reactions. As someone who was a pioneer in interactive experiences back in the 1990s, I had some guesses about the show that proved correct. I was able to fairly quickly find the best possible ending, although I also messed around to see numerous iterations. Of course, the “best” ending wasn’t a “happy” one. In fact, I found it hilarious that folk on Twitter were lamenting they couldn’t get a “happy” ending. Do they know this is Black Mirror? A happy ending in this series is like when the guy in “I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream” gets his mouth back so he can scream.

Kill Dad

But just as interesting were the many people who complained bitterly about the lack of choice, that eventually the experience forced you to “Kill Dad.” (As you can see in this Visio flowchart someone on Reddit* created, your choices converge to killing dad if you want to survive.) It sounded like some viewers might have been too deep in the decision-making process, unaware of the bigger, more brilliant idea behind this show and the way it’s constructed.

The Bigger, More Brilliant Idea

And the idea is this: WE are the Program and Control Study. Brooker is controlling us, the people making choices in “Bandersnatch.” He’s PAX/P.A.C.S./the Thief of Destiny. (Incidentally, PAX is one of the biggest video gaming festivals of the year.) The “mirrors” Colin refers to that allow you to go back in time and change your decisions are “Black Mirror.” And every “ending” leads you to an all-too-familiar conclusion: that even if we were able to go back and make different choices in life, we don’t really have that many choices to start with. “It’s not a happy game. It’s a fucking nightmare world,” Colin says. A perfect Black Mirror message.

Humorist and horror lover, Charlie Brooker, got the last laugh. And I love him for it.

Five out of five stars.

Footnote

*Notice how whoever created this damned flowchart went to great pains to record every pathway, but couldn’t be fucking arsed to actually name the female game programmer, Pearl Ritman? As Stefan says when we make him chop up his father, “Seriously?”

Why Europe’s Christmas Monsters are Now Haunting America

Krampusmaske_KC3A4rnten

Naturpuur from Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Quartz published an article that purported to explain why European Christmas still featured a number of interesting “monsters” of folklore while American Christmas didn’t. The article did a great job of listing out all the European variations of the monsters that punish bad children at Christmas time. However, it completely failed to explain why America didn’t embrace these monsters. In fact, it misidentified the Austrian characters in the parades as “Krampuses” when they’re actually “perchten,” the companions of Perchta. (To be fair, even Salzburg tourism has given up trying to explain to Americans that there’s a difference.)

First, if you’re a fan of my books — especially Snowed — you know the main reason why America embraced the jolly old elf from Moore’s poem over any of his European versions. But if you’ve not read Snowed, read this excerpt from Chapter 9.

Chapter 9 Excerpt from Snowed

Mr. Reilly’s class rolls around. Without their leader, Darren’s followers fail to find a voice. Mr. Reilly appears more serious than usual, which is quite a feat.

“I’ve set aside the curriculum I’d planned for today in favor of something a little lighter.” He approaches the chalkboard and picks up a piece of chalk. “I realize it’s a cardinal sin to talk about Christmas before Thanksgiving, but since we have entered the Industrial Age in our reading, let’s talk about modern American cultural values and ideas that stem from that time period. A little history-lite, if you will. But I assure you it ties into what we’ve been studying.”

Snowed_2ndEd_Cover

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He writes: A Visit from Saint Nicholas

Oh, great. Another one of Mr. Reilly’s tangents. I’m pretty sure no one else talks about this stuff in their American history classes.

“The American poet Clement Clarke Moore published this poem anonymously in eighteen twenty-three. What else was happening that year? Anyone?”

No answer. He writes on the board: The Monroe Doctrine.

“In early December of that year, President James Monroe declares America’s neutrality in European conflicts. Step-by-step, America continues to distance itself from the UK and Europe, further establishing its independence. Meanwhile, this poem single-handedly established Christmas culture in America, distinguishing it from British and European customs and traditions. To this day, this depiction of Saint Nicholas remains the dominant iconography for the American celebration of the holiday.”

So, America was already trying to distance itself from both the UK and Europe. The tides of separation were hastened by both the Monroe Doctrine and American sentiment. While Moore’s poem captured that sentiment in a powerful way, it was by no means the catalyst of it. Since the war of independence, Americans had been forging their own identity, much of which is still founded on an idealism that has no room for whipping fathers and child kidnappers.

No More Epiphanies

Also, America is largely a Protestant country. We don’t celebrate Epiphany the way much of Europe does. And since much of the folklore around Perchta and other Christmas creatures focuses on Epiphany, we’ve shaken off that entire line of folklore. Which also means that we probably wouldn’t know the difference between Krampus and the perchten. The perchten proceeded Perchta on her rounds to drive out evil spirits. (The whole perchten thing is very pagan, as is Perchta herself. The Catholic church simply gave up trying to stamp out the pagan festivities in the Alps because they were too strong.)

The UK’s Separation from Europe

Despite Germany’s influence on English Christmas, you won’t see Krampus shaking his chains in the halls of Buckingham Palace, either. That’s because the UK never really embraced those characters in the first place. European ideas were foreign ideas, and that was that. Believe me, the rest of Europe does the same to the UK. For example, you won’t see many Frenchmen celebrating Halloween; they’re more than happy to explain it’s an “Anglo-Saxon” holiday.

America’s New Romance with an Old Devil

Perchtenlauf Gh Pröllhofer

 A perchtenlauf from katsch1969 via Wikimedia Commons

So, why is America now reaching for those same whippers and kidnappers?

Globalization has opened up access to other cultural traditions in ways we’ve never seen before, allowing outside influences to infiltrate our collective conscious in the U.S. But that’s just one part of the whole picture. The U.S. has been opening up more to European ideas — single-payer healthcare, gun control, and free education top the more progressive political tickets.

The Death of American Idealism

Meanwhile, American idealism is merely a ghost. Almost daily mass shootings by murderers slaughtering schoolchildren; the killing of unarmed black Americans at the hands of the police who are supposed to protect them; the death of Americans who can’t afford healthcare; rampant, baldface racism and sexism; tax cuts for the corporations at the expense of the poor; and our severely partisan, dysfunctional government — to say people are jaded is an understatement. We see more taken from us than given, our “freedoms” destroying us.

That’s why Krampus is supplanting St. Nicholas, because we feel the monster’s lash more heavily each day. Santa Claus is too saccharine; we yearn for something more authentic to our experiences.

Changing Climate

Climate change also plays a role. Recall that these “Christmas monsters” are primarily from the much colder Alpine regions and the Netherlands — places where winter is especially deadly. It’s no wonder as America’s weather turns more severe thanks to climate change that we feel the teeth of winter more keenly. Therefore, Alpine lore feels right to our frostbitten bodies.

Gruß von Krampus

So now you know why your Facebook feed is filling up with a devilish character wearing a wicker basket full of screaming children. Be good to one another or else you might find him dragging you from bed on the night of December 5th, to take you somewhere hotter than Los Angeles…

Christmas is coming…or is it Krampus? Find out today!

 

Book Blast: Carol Potenza’s New Thriller HEARTS OF THE MISSING

Hearts of the Missing is the mesmerizing debut from 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize recipient Carol Potenza. In a Starred Review, Library Journal says, “This action-packed mystery, which vividly evokes the beauty of the New Mexico landscape and its indigenous peoples, will attract fans of the Hillermans, leaving readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.”

Summary

Hearts of the MissingWhen a young woman linked to a list of missing Fire-Sky tribal members commits suicide, Pueblo Police Sergeant Nicky Matthews is assigned to the case. As the  investigation unfolds, she uncovers a threat that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Fire-Sky Native: victims chosen and murdered because of their genetic makeup. But these deaths are not just about a life taken. In a vengeful twist, the killer ensures the spirits of those targeted will wander forever, lost to their family, their People, and their ancestors. When those closest to Nicky are put in jeopardy, she must be willing to sacrifice everything—her career, her life, even her soul—to save the people she is sworn to protect.

About the AuthorCarol Potenza_credit Leah Grace Englehart

POTENZA is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University. She and her husband, Jose, live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. HEARTS OF THE MISSING, her debut novel, is the winner of the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize.

Find the Author Online

Buy It Now!

Chapter One Excerpt

Tsiba’ashi D’yini Indian Reservation New Mexico, USA

The harsh scrape, out of place in the quiet of predawn, penetrated the low buzz of the refrigeration motors. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, the sound made the hair on her neck and arms stand on end.

She wasn’t alone anymore.

Her eyes narrowed as she peered through the open door of the office and into the cavernous space on the other side. Other than a few emergency lights pooling eerily on the floor, the room was dark, its bulky shelves and racks rising out of the linoleum like misshapen boulders.

Sergeant Nicky Matthews was careful to make no sound as she placed her fingerprint brush on the metal shelf in front of her. She stripped off her latex gloves with quiet efficiency as she rose, dropping them on the floor by her feet. Head cocked to the side, she strained to hear any other sound that would indicate who—or how many—might be just outside the broken plate-glass window of the mini-mart.

She hadn’t heard a car pass by since she’d been here, and she’d sent the manager home after he’d let her inside.

Her police unit was parked in plain sight by the gas pumps, illuminated by the fluorescent lights in the metal canopy above it. Those lights formed a harsh bubble of white in the nighttime blackness that surrounded the building. The village store sat alone on a two-lane road, the only place to purchase food and gas for twenty miles in every direction. Porch lights from widely scattered trailers and small houses dotted the landscape, but she’d seen no one when she’d arrived. She’d been inside, processing the scene, for over an hour. If the perps had come back, they must know she was here.

Another stealthy rasp, outside and to the left of the window.

She stiffened, focus shifting, tightening. Her hand slipped to her holster, palm scraping the butt of her Glock 23. Whoever was out there was on the other side of the wall where she stood. She’d trained her phone’s camera on that area earlier. The perps had used a bat or crowbar to bash in the large windows, and glass was strewn over the front sidewalk. At least one of them had cut themselves when they climbed inside. There were drops and smears of blood throughout the interior. She’d already gathered some samples for DNA testing, but the bloody smears turned into distinct prints in the office. One of the burglars spent quite a bit of time here, and that was where she’d been concentrating her efforts. But no longer.

Whoever was skulking outside had her full attention.

Nicky stepped forward, avoiding the half dozen sunglasses knocked to the floor during the break-in. She turned her back to the wall, body coiled, and scanned the interior of the store for a change in the vague fluorescent light filtering into the room. Someone peering through the window would throw a shadow.

Her scalp prickled and a flash of heat swept over her skin. She swore she could feel a presence out there.

Waiting for her.

She drew in a slow breath, pulled her weapon, and pointed it down along her leg. Her finger rested across the trigger guard. She sidled closer to the window. Shards of glass littered the floor. The rubber soles of her boots muffled the crunch, but the sound was loud enough to make her wince. She paused, listening.

Seconds ticked by.

Nothing. No sound except the ever-present hum of the glass-doored coolers lining the back wall of the store.

She stayed in the shadows, her sharp gaze sweeping the gravel expanse of the parking lot. Tall, scraggly grass stood unmoving at the edge of the light. There was no wind, no scuttling leaves to explain away the noise.

Another minute passed. The feeling of a presence was fading. Nicky exhaled slowly. Her shoulders relaxed the tiniest bit, even as her expression twisted in faint confusion.

Had she been mistaken?

A movement caught her eye between the gas pumps, and she snapped her head to the right. Her body tensed. At a flash of color, Nicky stepped out of the shadows, not worried about the sound of scattering glass as she tracked the motion of . . .

A skinny brown rez dog wandered around the side of her unit, nose to the ground. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air. It trotted toward an overflowing trash can and rose up on its hind feet, one front paw positioned delicately against the side. Nicky’s lips pressed tight. You could count the ribs on that poor animal. Most likely it was a stray, but you never knew. It might belong to anyone in the village.

Relieved she had an answer to the sounds, Nicky holstered her pistol. Suddenly tired, she stretched, arching her back. Outside, the sky was beginning to gray. She checked the clock on the wall above the door. The sun would be up in a few minutes, and it would still take another hour to process the crime scene. Then she was going to canvass the nearest homes, to see if anyone had heard or seen anything. She probably wouldn’t be done until hours after her shift was officially over.

Her gaze focused closer, and she stared at the pale oval of her reflection in what was left of the glass window in front of her. Dark brown eyes stared back as she ran her hand over the top of her head and slid her fingers through the smooth, straight black hair of her ponytail. She was mistaken for Native all the time. Not by Indians—but by the non- Indians she encountered on the reservation and at the casino.

She sighed deeply, glanced at the dog one more time, and froze. A wave of unease washed over her, this time prickling up her back. The animal stared at the front of the store, fixated not on the place where she stood, but to the left of the window’s edge.

At the place where she’d first heard the noise.

Her hand dropped to her sidearm and Nicky jerked her head around.

An old Native woman stared at her through the glass.

No. Not through the glass. In the glass. The old woman’s face was in the glass.

Their eyes met, and every nerve in Nicky’s body stretched taut. The woman’s pupils glowed black, glittering and alive, sharp points embed- ded within a deeply wrinkled face. An ancient, disembodied face.

Nicky knew she was supposed to look away—had been told in no uncertain terms by her traditional friends on the rez—but she couldn’t move. She was transfixed.

The sun flashed over the horizon, blinding her.

But not before the woman smiled and turned away. Her long white hair whipped in the light—and she was gone.

Nicky yanked out her gun, hit the front door of the mini-mart hard, and ran outside into the brightness of dawn, skidding on the broken glass. The same scraping sound that had alerted her only a few minutes before grated along her skin.

A flash of white raced away and her arms swung up, the muzzle of her sidearm tracking a rabbit as it zigged and zagged out of the parking lot, across the road, and into the grass next to a trampled dirt path. She caught another movement out of the corner of her eye and her head swiveled to the dog. It cringed and shivered as it stared after the rabbit, before it backed up and loped away through the brush, tail tight between its legs.

Nicky’s flesh crawled with goose bumps. Heart thudding, she pointed her weapon to the ground, clutching its diamond-patterned grip so tightly it cut deep into the skin of her palm.

Dammit, dammit, dammit!

Scowling, she slammed her weapon back into its holster. The old woman was back.

That meant life was about to get complicated—and a lot more dangerous.

Book Blast: Nancy Bilyeau Hits Us from Out of THE BLUE

Nancy Bilyeau’s Latest Historical Thriller: THE BLUE

People are saying great things about Nancy Bilyeau’s latest Victorian thriller. Here’s the summary:

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities. Fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.

For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice.

When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain manufacture, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue…

The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage.

She also learns much about love.

With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue?

Buy the book now on:

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyleDuJourRolling StoneEntertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at City University of New York and a regular contributor to Town & CountryPurist, and The Vintage News.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown, her first novel and an Oprah pick, was published in 2012; the sequel, The Chalice, followed in 2013. The third in the trilogy, The Tapestry, was published by Touchstone in 2015. Her fourth novel, The Blue, launches December 3rd.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Contact the Author

Excerpt from Chapter One

Amiability has never been counted more important in a woman’s character than it is today. Which is why I’m twenty-four and unmarried and without friends or employer, only a grandfather for company. It doesn’t matter. Ambition consumes me, an impossible one. It’s what delivers me into the back of a hackney carriage on this December night, holding a party invitation that doesn’t bear my name as I make my way from Spitalfields to Leicester Fields.

My grandfather and I live on Fournier Street, one of the most respectable in Spitalfields, a street where, never mind the longing and greed and fear that nibble at the souls of a good many neighbors, all say their prayers after supper and snuff the candles. Not so along the route through London to Leicester Fields. From my swaying carriage, I see lights leaping in many windows and hear the shouts and the laughter. London is alive, and so am I.

After more than an hour, the carriage jerks to a stop as it is has many times. But on this occasion, it’s not in order to allow another to rumble forward. Thump, thump, thump. The driver pounds his stick. I’ve arrived.

The carriage door swings open to number thirty, Leicester Fields, the home of England’s greatest living painter, William Hogarth.

As I step down, I catch sight of handsome houses rising along each side of the square, illuminated by coal-lit street lamps that stand to attention like tireless soldiers. The largest by far is Leicester House, tucked behind a courtyard, containing whichever Prince of Wales is presently draining the country of gold with his peevish schemes. I know from the newspapers the names of some of the other residents, wealthy doctors and striving merchants and low-rung nobles. But now is not the time to gawk.

I’m not sure what I expected from Hogarth’s London home. The solid terraced building, third from the left on the southeast corner, gives no outward evidence of artistic genius. Yet I know I’ve come to the right place, by the lights bursting from the windows and the roar of many voices. This is the man’s Christmas party.

I fully expect the servant at the door to give me trouble. Raising my chin, I try to look as if I belong in the rarefied world of Leicester Fields. Unfortunately, a bitter cold wind envelops me, making my earrings, the only ones I possess, sputter against my neck. I shiver in my dress. I did not bring my winter cloak — how could I? It is too plain, the garment of a modest, God-fearing Huguenot woman of Spitalfields, not the West End. Sober manner and somber dress, such is our creed.

Without a word, I thrust the invitation into the gloved hand of the silver-wigged servant. He does not look down at the card.

“Have you no escort, Madame?”

“None is required.”

He peers at the writing and frowns. “This was sent to Pierre Billiou.”

“My name is Genevieve Planché and I am his family — his granddaughter,” I reply. My mother died of smallpox when I was eight. My father being dead of typhus three years before that, Pierre has long been my only family.

I say, as casually as I can manage, “Grandfather is ill, but he wished me to convey to Mr. William Hogarth in person his wishes for a merry Christmas.”

The servant purses his lips.

I take a step closer. “I’m sure Mr. Hogarth would be most angry to know that a member of the Billiou family was made to feel unwelcome.”

A smile crinkles the servant’s face. With a mocking flourish, he beckons for me to enter. I straighten my shoulders and follow him, determined to maintain the appearance of being accustomed to such occasions, when the truth is I’ve only attended two artists’ gatherings hosted by my grandfather and they consisted of three or four old friends grumbling about their commissions over goblets of cognac. I’ve never attended a party among London society in my life.

Interview: Author Loretta Goldberg Takes Us to the Elizabethan Age

Today we welcome debut author Loretta Goldberg whose novel, The Reversible Mask, is set during Elizabeth I’s reign. Let’s just jump right in…

What do you think modern readers will be able to relate to the most about Edward Latham, your story’s protagonist?

What a great question. His unmoored wanderings, as he struggles to find an effective place in a changing world. I hope readers will react in two ways: if their lives are stable, his vicissitudes will be all the more vivid; but if they have any discomfort about compromises they’ve made, if they’ve colored over the edges, hopefully they’ll recognize themselves in him, love him and root for him. I’ve heard both responses from readers.

If you could go back in time and ask Elizabeth I one question, what would it be, when would you ask it, and why?

Whatever I ask she wouldn’t answer, of course. I’d go back to 1593 and ask about her destruction of two documents. The first is the log book from Sir Francis Drake’s three-year circumnavigation of the world 1577-80. Historians pieced it together from other accounts. Her reason was obvious: to allow her to deny Spain’s true charges that Drake attacked their posts in the New World. The other document was one by the man on whom Edward Latham is based, Sir Anthony Standen. When Standen was blown as a double agent and returned to England, Elizabeth demanded an account of his actions abroad before he could be invited back to court. He wrote his account. Reportedly it was delivered but has disappeared. Despite his important service to her before the Armada attack, she was unfriendly toward him from then on. Now, that’s tantalizing! Elizabeth didn’t hide stuff, she got rid of it. But her thoroughness has robbed future generations.

Which research tools do you most recommend to other writers approaching historical fiction projects?

I’m a new writer, so I have much more to learn than to offer anyone else. There are great academic articles; primary documents; art, sport, and literature of the time; law trials. Public libraries with inter-library loan capacities did the most for me in this novel, but being in a community of writers like the Historical Novel Society also brings tremendous resources and ideas. What’s on the internet has to be checked out.

Any chance that you’ll someday indulge us in a tale starring Sir Francis Drake or one of the other Elizabethan sea dogs?

He does figure in my sequel, which revolves around a little known but important action of 1589, the year after the Spanish Armada. But so much has been done on Drake. He used to be a childhood fantasy companion of mine. When we were stuck in daily traffic jams, I imagined him scoffing at all those smoke-belching tail pipes, stuck even through green lights. What amused him was that we’d invented this thing that went 100 mph but didn’t make roads to accommodate them when the need was greatest, going to work and coming home.

Your discography is impressive, especially to someone like me who grew up listening to and performing classical music. What role does music play in your writing, if any?

Music affected my perception quite a bit. As I read about Elizabeth I, who was a good musician, I felt that she acted polyphonically, not linearly, in politics. I always saw three or more moving lines in her manipulations. That was my original fascination with her, what I thought other interpreters didn’t capture, at least for me. I try to convey that side of her in the novel. She saved polyphonic music for England, by adding a clause to The Religious Settlement of 1559 banning the dismantling of endowed choirs. Radical Protestants resented her for it, but composers like Byrd and Tallis wouldn’t have thrived without it. A lot of great music wouldn’t exist without that clause. There are also music-oriented scenes in my novel. Latham’s love for Barbara Blomberg was stimulated by music. Blomberg was the greatest singer of her age, her voice made her Emperor Charles V’s mistress. I make her an amalgam of Joan Sutherland’s voice with a temperament of composers I’ve worked with. And Latham learns about Edmund Campion’s execution, a pivot point in the novel, from church bells and a balladeer’s song.

Readers of my blog know that I’m notorious for my views of how swords and swordsmanship are portrayed in fiction and film. What are your biggest pet peeves about historical fiction and movies?

The sexualization of love. There are many kinds and shades of love; love objects can be ideas or institutions as well as people. I often long for these nuances.

Who are your favorite fiction authors and books? How have they influenced your writing?

Where to begin? We didn’t include a bibliography in The Reversible Mask, but I’d be happy to send it to any interested reader. I could pick out four of my favorite historical novels. The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally is about provincial Australian nurses who enlist in World War I, drawn from diaries in the military archives. The whole experience evolves through their unprepared eyes; no editorializing or explanations. I can’t say enough how much that impressed me. Other books I like are Bernard Cornwell’s second of the Arthurian trilogy, The Enemy of God, with its plausible first person narrator in the warrior/monk Derfel. I love his deconstruction of Lancelot. Then Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic series,where the eighteenth century language enfolds us completely. Coming to the present, Adrienne Dillard’s Cor Rotto, a novel of Catherine Carey, is a beautifully unsentimental portrayal of a noblewoman who survived sixteen childbirths.

Thank you so much, Loretta!

Synopsis

Summer 1566. A glittering royal progress approaches Oxford. A golden age of prosperity, scientific advances, exploration and artistic magnificence. Elizabeth I’s Protestant government has much to celebrate.

But one young Catholic courtier isn’t cheering.

Conflicting passions—patriotism and religion—wage war in his heart. On this day, religion wins. Sir Edward Latham throws away his title, kin, and country to serve Catholic monarchs abroad.

But his wandering doesn’t quiet his soul, and when Europe’s religious wars threaten his beloved England and his family, patriotism prevails. Latham switches sides and becomes a double agent for Queen Elizabeth. Life turns complicated and dangerous as he balances protecting country and queen, while entreating both sides for peace.

Intrigue, lust, and war combine in this thrilling debut historical novel from Loretta Goldberg.

Order now on Amazon!

About the Author

An Australian-American, Goldberg earned a BA in English Literature, Musicology and History at the University of Melbourne, Australia. After teaching English Literature at the Department of English for a year, she risked all, coming to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship to study piano with Claudio Arrau. Her discography consists of nine commercial recordings, now in over seven hundred libraries. She premiered an unknown work by Franz Liszt on an EMI HMV (Australian Division) album, and her edition of the score for G. Schirmer is in its third edition. Concurrently, she built a financial services practice, which she sold recently to focus on writing. Her published non-fiction pieces consist of articles on financial planning, arts reviews and political satire. She earned an MA (music performance) from Hunter College, New York; and a Chartered Life Underwriter degree from the American College, Pennsylvania. Member of the Historical Novel Society, New York Chapter, she started and runs their published writer public reading series at the landmark Jefferson Market Library.

Audio Links

http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/1_Aug_1566.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/3_July_1572.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/5_July_1572.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/9_Oct_1576.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/11_Dec_1577.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/11_June_1578.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/22_April_1585.mp3

Find Loretta Goldberg Online

Website: https://lorettagoldberg.com/
Blog: https://lorettagoldberg.com/blog/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/loretta.goldberg.906

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