Monday, February 19, 2007

We're Going Home!

*I apologize! I just realized that this post got buried because I didn't change the date. I hope you all can find us now at the address below!

Our old site is finally available to us again. We'll be going back there now where most of our archives are and where Tiff/Amber Miller designed a great look for us. So if you came here looking for us, please go here instead:

Feel free to come back here to visit the archives posted from Jan. 01, 2007 to Feb. 15, 2007.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And the winners are...

We have two winners for Cindy Vallar's book The Scottish Thistle - one print copy and one e-book copy. I'll let Cindy decide who gets which one.

And the winners are...

Donald Cameron and Shauna

Would both winners please contact me at jill at with your address and email address. I'll pass them on to Cindy.

Thanks so much - and Congratulations to both of you!


Friday, February 16, 2007

Review: The Longing Season

Today my buddy Michelle Sutton is reviewing The Longing Season by Christine Schaub, a member of my local writers’ group, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers.

The Longing Season

From the Publisher

In the 1740s, British culture allows few options for the son of a merchant ship captain. And in a time of war, a man with John Newton’s experience must serve the king. But Newton, a man who quotes Virgil and curses God with equal fervor, is interested in serving only himself.

Mary Catlett simply cannot believe her childhood friend sailed away on a British warship and vanished in Africa. In desperation, she takes a step that will change her life and call her lost love home. But will he arrive in time?

Newton’s odyssey takes him from the West Africa gold coast to the banks of Newfoundland to the heart of the Atlantic before he finds what he’s spent his entire life longing for: deliverance. In an account that challenges popular myth, Schaub continues the Music of the Heart series with one of the greatest redemption stories of all time...the story of "Amazing Grace."

My review

Bottom line ... I enjoyed this book. However, after getting to know Mary Catlett so well and then not seeing their relationship develop (because the book was essentially over by then) was a bit of a bummer. I understand the focus of the book was on "longing," but come on, us romance lovers want to see what happens when they finally get the person they've been longing for!

On the other hand, I was impressed with how well the author showed John Newton's life while he was still living as an infidel. Sometimes the content was PG rated (but I liked that point because it gave me—the reader—a better sense of the character's view of the world) so I wouldn't want a bit of that content changed. John Newton was truly wretched, and I think the author was very effective in communicating that point. The scene where he was in the midst of that horrible storm and he started to remember what people told him about God ... and how he thought he was going to die, was very effective.

But then he FINALLY sees Mary after all that time, and that's it! I wanted to scream "wahhhh" over that point. I really liked Mary and actually hoped she'd end up with the Viscount Alexander Todd because he was such a fabulous man who loved the Lord. It made me sad when the Viscount finally realized she would never love him until her affections toward the missing sailor John Newton were resolved. I wonder if Mary would've married the Viscount if she'd known what John had been doing in the Ivory Coast prior to returning to England. I wish the story would have either left out Mary altogether, or showed at least one chapter of their reunion after he returned to England. That would've made it a five star story, but since that didn't happen, I'm ranking it lower. It was an excellent read otherwise.

The Longing Season was published by Bethany House and released in July 2006.

Michelle Sutton (pen name)
"writing truth into fiction"
ACFW Volunteer Officer
writer/book reviewer - check out my latest reviews!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ask HF Blog

What an exciting week to debut this new "column" here at the HF (historical fiction) Blog. At least here in the Mid-Atlantic region. :) Ice storms, snow, sleet, freezing rain, power outages, 40 mph winds. You name it, we've had it the past couple of days.

However, something to warm your thoughts is this new feature. Every Thursday, we'll be answering questions that YOU have submitted regarding historical fiction. Anything and everything that has to do with the topic, we'll consider. For now, we'll limit to 3-5 questions, but we'll see how things go as we get further into the schedule.

So, be sure and tell your friends (authors, writers and readers) to come here for all their HF questions. Encourage them to submit a question of their own, or you can ask for them. Only your first name and state/country of residence will be featured to help maintain your anonymity. You can submit your question by sending an email here.

Now, on with today's questions:

1. What is historical fiction?

HF Blog: There are several answers to this, and only a few will be used here, as there are several interpretations of the genre.

* Fiction that attempts to present an accurate, often critical, portrayal or imitation of a historical event.
* A long narrative of past events and characters, partly historical but largely imaginative. Stories set in the past and try to recreate the auro of a time past, reconstruct characters, events, movements, ways of life and spirit of days gone by.
* Works in which the characters are fictional, but the setting and other details are rooted in actual history.
* A novel in which the story is set among historical events, or more generally, in which the time of the action predates the lifetime of the author. As such, the historical novel is distinguished from the alternate-history genre. The historical novel was popularized in the 19th century by artists classified as Romantics. Many regard Sir Walter Scott as the first to have used this technique, in his novels of Scottish history, but it has grown and expanded from its original form since then.

2. What is the best way to conduct historical research? Do you use the internet or libraries or books?

HFBlog: All of the above. It's best to use whatever resources you have available. The Internet can be a fantastic research tool, but depending upon what information you need, it might be better to rely on periodicals, diaries, journals and personal accountings from a specific time period. Older or out of print books can be located at a library or used bookshop, and they provide documented details that can be quite difficult to find online. Even community newsletters or letters to the editor can be extremely helpful with grasping the "mood" of a certain time or place or event. The biggest problem with Internet research is determining the veracity of the information you find.

3. What responsibility do historical fiction writers have with maintaining the accuracy of the period, the people, and the events?

HFBlog: The fiction writer has a great responsibility to represent the truth. Because these works are clearly labeled "fiction," one can alter the chronology of events here and there, invent characters and dialogue, speculate on motives, and dramatize important points. But the fiction label doesn't give one the right to seriously distort historical characters or events. As it's been proven, readers of fiction still can be influenced by what they read, and if the truth is distorted, it can negatively affect their perception of reality of that time. You owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible. If you don't feel that responsibility then you're not a historical novelist --- you're a fantasy writer. The story, of course, is paramount because a writer is a novelist before a historian, but also a historical novelist which suggests a certain love and respect for what actually happened. Sometimes, because the story demands it, a piece of history can be changed, but that is usually denoted by an author's note for clarification.

That's it for today. If you have burning questions you'd like to ask, don't forget email us. And don't forget to let your reader/writer friends who love historical fiction know about Ask HFBlog Thursdays.

See you next week!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Interview with Author Cindy Vallar - Part Two!

Happy Valentine's Day! And now...
CONTINUING THE INTERVIEW WITH NOVELIST CINDY VALLAR…(and don't forget to post a comment for either a print or e-book copy of Cindy's book - there will be two winners!)

You also have an interest in pirates. How did that come about?

While in college, I saw an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Disney always introduced the show and gave background, and this particular episode involved a gentleman pirate named Jean Laffite. Little was known about this man who played an instrumental role in helping the Americans win the Battle of New Orleans, and I’d never heard of him in any of my history classes. The unknown or mysterious always fascinated me, so I started researching Laffite and pirates. I had an idea for a novel, but needed more information. Many years later, I’m working to finish that story.

When I decided to pursue writing full time, I knew I needed some publishing credits. An online database was looking for people to write for them. I wanted to do a column on Scotland, but several other people were already doing that. The only other subject I knew about that allowed me to write for a long period of time was maritime piracy, so I became the editor of Pirates and Privateers. At the time I had no idea how popular a topic pirates were or that there was little reputable material available online about them. Six years ago, I moved Pirates and Privateers to my website for greater creative control without a lot of advertising. Since then, Pirates and Privateers has blossomed. I publish a monthly article on a piracy topic; I review the latest fiction and nonfiction books; I recommend the best pirate sites on the web; and I inform readers about places to visit that are tied to pirates. My readership is worldwide, and I’m asked to speak and teach about pirates to writers and readers throughout the U.S.

You also run an editing service. What advice do you have for writers?

I edit manuscripts for aspiring authors and authors already published. No matter how polished an author believes his/her work is, it usually needs an editor’s touch to make it the best it can be. When I look at a client’s manuscript, I do so through a variety of eyes – the editor’s, the writer’s, the reader’s, and the reviewer’s.

Active voice is essential in a story, but oftentimes authors aren’t aware that they write in passive voice until I point it out. A strong action verb is always preferable to a passive verb: “The horse galloped across the field.” versus “The horse was galloping across the field.” Which would you prefer to read?

Try to avoid head-hopping. This occurs when the point of view in a scene constantly switches between one character’s and another’s. It’s kind of like watching a ping pong ball during a match. For a reader, it’s disconcerting and annoying. Your writing is always stronger if you maintain a single point of view in a scene. If you must change that point of view, do so only once.

Always let someone else read your manuscript before you submit it to an agent or publisher. As a writer, you’re too familiar with the story and characters and even though a word may be missing, you tend to read that word into the sentence because it’s supposed to be there. A fresh pair of eyes sees what has become invisible to the writer’s eyes because of the number of times the writer has read the manuscript. Someone unfamiliar with the story will see things you won’t and that person can also point out where he/she doesn’t follow the storyline.

Any advice for aspiring novelists?

Never give up. No matter how rocky the road gets, if this is what your dream is, pursue it. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Develop a tough skin. All authors need to do this because you can’t take reviews and criticism personally.

So true. Any last words?

While you wait for your dream to come true, keep writing and do some research into the business side of writing. I learned this aspect after I got the contract and I wasn’t prepared for how much time marketing and business side of writing can take. Oftentimes writing takes a back seat once a book is published. If you know what to expect before it happens, you’re ahead of the curve and can budget your time and money accordingly.

Thanks Cindy! We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

(And don't forget to leave a comment to win a copy of Cindy's book!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Interview with Author Cindy Vallar!

Born and raised in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Cindy Vallar spent her formative years reading books and writing poetry. While in college, she saw a movie based on the life of Jean Laffite, a gentleman pirate who helped Andrew Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Intrigued by the mysterious, Vallar researched then started to write a novel about Laffite. Graduation, career, and marriage put that manuscript on a shelf where it remained until she began working as a school librarian for seriously emotionally challenged teenagers. She returned to writing to relieve the stress inherent in working in special education facilities.

Cindy Vallar holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Towson University and a Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of Maryland. She is a member of Clan Cameron, EPIC, The Historical Novel Society, The Laffite Society, Scottish Clans of North Texas, the Texas Coalition of Authors, Texas Author Speak, the Louisiana Historical Society, and the National Maritime Historical Society.

Welcome to PASTimes, Cindy Vallar. Let's start by hearing a little about you and your road to publication. Your experience may be a unique one for our readers. Can you tell us a little about your publisher? Are they royalty paying?

My mother instilled the love of books and reading in me as a young child. I also researched subjects, like the Holocaust, that interested me but were rarely covered in school. As a result, I chose to become a school librarian for twenty years. When my husband’s job took us to the Midwest, I became a full-time writer. This allowed me to finish polishing my manuscript, which I then submitted to a publisher and received a contract.

That sounds like getting published was easy, but it wasn’t. I submitted to an e-publisher that also published paperback books. In spite of all my research, that publisher broke my contract several times, so I pulled my book, The Scottish Thistle, from them. A friend suggested I submit to her publisher, which promised to be a reputable business with a lot of novel ideas. The acceptance call came while I was in Scotland attending the International Gathering of Clan Cameron. (The Camerons and MacGregors are the principal clans in The Scottish Thistle.) Circumstances beyond my control eventually resulted in the demise of that publisher. Rather than resubmit to another publisher, I set the manuscript aside to work on other projects.

Last year, I received a request from Amber Quill Press to submit a manuscript. Since The Scottish Thistle was the only one ready for publication, I sent them that novel and they sent me a contract. I knew the head editor there and a number of their authors, so I think this time around The Scottish Thistle has found a good home. They do pay royalties, but they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. AQP publishes the best in fiction, so they only consider novels from authors they invite to submit.

Do ebooks sell well? What do you have to do to promote them?

It doesn’t matter whether the novel is an e-book or a paperback. How well it sells depends on how much marketing and promotion the author does. The Scottish Thistle hasn’t been out long enough for me to answer how well it sells as an e-book, but I have sold quite a few paperback editions.

I make personal appearances at book festivals and organizations that invite me to speak. I maintain a website, Thistles & Pirates. I also take out ads and participate on mail lists. I conduct online workshops for RWA’s Hearts through History and Celtic Hearts Chapters, and I speak at conferences.

Tell us a little about your book.

In August 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie came to Scotland to stage an uprising against the British Crown. The English had tossed out his grandfather, King James II of Britain, because they didn’t want another Catholic king to rule them. This is how the House of Hanover came to rule Britain. Prince Charles wanted to regain the throne, which he believed belonged to his father and him.

He sought the aid of the Highland clans, some of which felt that the House of Stuart was the rightful ruler of Scotland. Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel brought out his clan and the Rising of 1745 began. His influence was such that had he not done so, historians believe the rising would never have happened.

I took this history and crafted The Scottish Thistle, a tale about loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief’s order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love.

What kind of research did you do?

I do a lot of research into all facets of the time and place where I set my story. In the case of The Scottish Thistle, which took twelve years to research, I studied Scottish history, the uprising, the clans, the Camerons and MacGregors, food, dress, superstitions and folklore, folk medicine, customs, daily life, animals, geography, and many other subjects, including a bit of Gaelic.

My husband took me to Scotland to see the places I wrote about. Doing so helped me set the time and place far better, and I learned that some of my assumptions weren’t correct. The mountains were different and insects didn’t make noise at night like they do in the States. I visited Achnacarry, the estate of the Cameron chief and saw the only part of the house that remains from the one that stood during the ’45. It was eerie to walk where my characters and the real people who populate my story walked, but it brought me closer to them and their way of life.

Twelve years! I admire your perseverance. How and why did you pick your setting, one of the most tumultuous times in Scottish history?

During one boring staff meeting, I wrote a scene about a stranger riding across a windswept moor in a thunderstorm. I started researching Scotland and its history because I knew little about either and didn’t know when in time to set my story. The more I learned about Scotland, the more I fell in love with the country. One day I borrowed Sir Iain Moncrieffe’s The Highland Clans. There I read about the tragic history of the MacGregors, a clan that was proscribed and forbidden to use their name, and Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who brought out his clan for the prince even though he didn’t think they could win.

You also have an interest in pirates. How did that come about?


(And if you leave a comment, you'll be entered to win one of two copies of Cindy's book The Scottish Thistle - Cindy is giving away one print copy and one e-book copy.)