December 09, 2011

Guest Post and Giveaway: Harem by Colin Falconer

You are young and you are beautiful. You have been captured by the Turks after your Balkan city succumbed to a long siege. Your father and brothers are dead. You are terrified you will now be raped and murdered.

But you are not harmed by your captors, fearsome as they look. Instead you are taken back to the Ottoman capital and introduced into a gloomy wooden palace the Turks call the Eski Saraya. 

You are put into the care of the Mistress of the Robes, where your flair for needlework is put to good use. You are taught Arabic and the Koran. But it is made clear to you that you are now a slave. Whatever high position in life you had before, now you are nothing; the Sultan's plaything. 

You accept that will never see your own country again. This is your home now and there are only two ways out of this dreary place. If you do not attract the Sultan's eye he may one day give you away as a wife to one of his senior officers or ministers. But that's if you're lucky. You might just as easily be neglected and forgotten.

Or you can turn the tables.

You soon realize that these other women who share your predicament are your competition. One of them is going to be the mother of the next Sultan and attain a position of pre-eminent power in the country that enslaved her. If you are beautiful enough and clever enough and cunning enough that woman could be you.

The first step is to become gözde - 'in the eye'; that is, you must catch the attention of the Lord of Life, the Sultan himself. An ambitious girl like yourself might find a way. It depends how devious you are. 

Or you may rely on kismet, fate. One day you will wait with a hundred other girls in the court of the harem, pearls and jewels glittering in the sun. As the Sultan passes among you, he will take a handkerchief from the sleeve of his robe and drape it over your shoulder. You have been chosen! This is your golden chance. 

You may have one night and be forgotten; or this could be the road to absolute power. It is entirely up to you.

You are taken first to the Keeper of the Baths, your entire body is shaved by slave girls and you are bathed in water scented with jasmine and orange. Your hair is shampooed with henna. Afterwards another slave coats your body with a mixture of warm rice flour and oil. 

You are then prepared and coiffed and primped down to the last eyelash and the last drop of balm, dressed elaborately in clothes of incredible richness. Finally the Chief Black Eunuch escorts you to the Sultan's bedchamber. 

If you can please the Lord of Life then he might invite you back to his bed again. If the invitations become more frequent then you become iqbal, a favourite, and you won't have to sleep with the rest of these girls.

You are given your own apartments, your own eunuch slaves, even an allowance of your own. You are on your way. But it will all count for nothing unless you get pregnant and bear the Sultran a son. If you do, then you become a kadin, one of the Sultan's wives. You are now playing this deadly game in earnest because there are only ever four kadins. After that, the abortionist is called in. 

As one of the select four you are just a breath away from power now. You are also in deadly danger.

Only one of you can become the mother of the next Sultan, the Sultan Valide. If you do, your power will be unquestioned, you will rule the entire Harem and your son will reign supreme in the country that made you a slave. 

If you fail? You will probably end up at the bottom of the Bosphorus, drowned in a sack. So you cannot afford to fail. You must be clever and you must be charming and you must be attractive and you must be utterly ruthless.

These are your choices. This is the game. 

This is the harem.

Colin Falconer has been published widely in the UK, US and Europe and his books have been translated into seventeen languages. You can find him at his blog at or his web page at 

Leave a comment for a chance to win an eBook copy of HAREM.  Giveaway will end on December 26, 2011 at 11:59pm CST.  Open worldwide.

December 03, 2011

International Giveaway! Guest Post from Paul Clayton, author of White Seed

Giveaway details can be found at the end of the post and author info.  Giveaway extended until January 15, 2012!!!

Publishers Weekly: White Seed… hews closely to the record of Sir Walter Raleigh's second doomed attempt to plant the British flag in Virginia… The depiction of the colony's physical and moral disintegration between 1587 and 1590… evokes a harrowing sense of human fallibility. Readers… will find this saga, which… soon achieves page-turner velocity, to be both a dandy diversion and an entertaining education.

I can’t remember exactly what triggered my determination to write a historical about the lost colony. It may have been the fact that there were no ‘big’ books about it, the way From Here to Eternity was the first big book about WWII, or Gone With the Wind was the first big book about the Civil War. So I set out to write that big book.

The historical record by itself is a riveting read: 1587. The colonists’ ships were crewed by riff raff more intent on seizing Spanish ships then getting their charges to the New World. When they spotted a ‘prize’ moving up the coast, the colonists were put ashore in a ‘bad neighborhood’ (Roanoke, where the local natives had been brutalized by the last group of English to live there; the actual destination of the colonists was Chesapeake.) Then, Governor White was sent back to England (I get into the why in White Seed). When he arrived, the Armada was threatening and no ships could be spared. He wouldn’t return until three years later.

In July of 1590, three ships anchored off Hatarask, one of the barrier islands. Governor White tells us in his writings, “… we let fall our grapnell neere the shore and sounded with a trumpet a call, and afterwards many familiar English tunes of songs, and called them friendly; but we had no answer…”

In White Seed I dramatized the event thus:

Captain Cocke and the others were silent as they sat in the boats and listened. “I think we had better spend the night in the boats,” said Cocke. We will go ashore at daybreak when it is safer.”

“Aye,” said White, relieved that the captain had not ordered the boats back to Hatarask.

Cocke called his orders over to the other boat and White heard their anchor splash into the sound. The men behind him dropped anchor. The rope thrummed as it ran out. As the anchor took hold, the boat swung about and came to rest in the currents, its stern to the island. The men shifted about as they lay claim to their spaces to lie down for the night.

White listened to the quiet of the island. The familiar smells of chamomile and dandelion reached his nose. He stood and hailed again. “Ananias Dare! Parson Lambert! Captain Stafford!”

Silence hung heavy in the air as everyone waited for a response. None came.

The men again began talking quietly among themselves.

“Governor White,” said Captain Cocke, “perhaps a round of song will do the trick.”

White said nothing.

“Men,” said Cocke, “let us sing a few verses. That is how we shall rouse them.”

“You mean that is how we shall roust them,” said Chandler.

The men laughed. Cocke started the song in the dark, “’Twas a lover and his lass...”

The others joined in, “with a hey and a ho, and a hey nonnino...”

Cocke's voice rang out, “That o'er the green cornfield did pass...”

White listened wordlessly, hoping those on shore would hear. He pictured again his tiny little granddaughter, Virginia. She would be three years of age now. Why had they not come out, he wondered. What in God's name had happened?

Paul Clayton is the author of a three-book historical series on the Spanish Conquest of the Floridas ― Calling Crow, Flight of the Crow, and Calling Crow Nation (Putnam/Berkley).

One of his books, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), was a finalist at the 2001 Frankfurt eBook Awards, along with works by David McCullough and Joyce Carol Oates.

Paul’s latest historical is White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Visit Paul:  Website | Facebook

White Seed is available for purchase at Amazon

I'd like to thank Paul for sharing the inspiration behind White Seed.  The lost colony of Roanoke is a very interesting topic to me.  I'd also like to thank Paul for offering this HUGE giveaway...and it's INTERNATIONAL! 

(5) signed paperbacks for U.S./Canada entrants and (25) eBook copies for U.S./Canada and International entrants are up for grabs! 

Entrants will receive one extra entry for each Facebook and tweeted link to this giveaway (come back and share the link in the comments each time you share).  Also, please leave a way to contact you in the comments.  Since this is such a huge giveaway, it will end on December 31, 2011 January 15, 2012 at 11:59pm CST.  Good luck!

Addendum:  If you are in the U.S., please indicate if you prefer the paperback or eBook version.  That way I'll know who to award the paperbacks too.  Thank you! And thanks to cyn209 for helping me to realize the necessity for this stipulation.

December 02, 2011

Quickie Book Giveaway! 'Queen Hereafter' by Susan Fraser King..2 WINNERS!

Available in paperback December 6, 2011:

A Novel of Margaret of Scotland
Read an Excerpt

Visit Scotland today and you will undoubtedly hear about the highly revered and very much adored Queen Margaret. Scotland ’s only royal saint, Margaret’s reign ended in the eleventh century and yet, to this day, legends and links to Margaret still flourish throughout the country. A Saxon princess, she was a refugee seeking shelter in Scotland when she married the warrior-king, Malcolm Canmore of Scotland . At first despised for her foreign ways, Margaret’s incredible acts of charity and kindness changed minds and the Scots who once resented her quickly grew to adore her. Shortly after her death, a contemporary biography of Margaret’s life was written by her personal confessor, Bishop Turgot of England , adding to the mystique of the good and saintly queen. Turgot praised Margaret as a devout woman and devoted monarch, painting a portrait of pure perfection—but for author Susan Fraser King, something was very much missing. In doing her own research into Queen Margaret’s life, King discovered Margaret had a fierce temper, a taste for adventure, and even a reckless side. For all her good qualities, Margaret was a real woman with real flaws, and in QUEEN HEREAFTER: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland (Crown; December 7, 2010), King set out to portray the very real and complex woman behind the legend, offering readers a glimpse into the life of a medieval queen as it might have been.

In QUEEN HEREAFTER we meet Margaret, a young Saxon princess forced into exile upon the death of her uncle, the English king. While fleeing the country from Norman invaders, she is shipwrecked with her family on the coast of Scotland where the recently widowed King Malcolm Canmore offers them sanctuary. Malcolm’s kindness, however, is not without motive. In Margaret he sees a political prize and so he promises to help her brother, the outlawed rebel Edgar of England, in return for his sister’s hand in marriage.

Despite their less than ideal beginnings, Margaret and Malcolm come to love and care for one another. Their marriage, a challenge at first, evolves, while Margaret steps wholeheartedly into the role of queen, immediately setting out to improve the lives of her people. However, tensions with the northern Scottish kingdom, ruled by the conniving Lady Macbeth, escalate and put Malcolm on edge. To ensure Lady Macbeth’s good behavior, the king brings Eva, a female bard and Macbeth’s granddaughter, to court as a hostage. While Eva expects to dislike and resent Margaret, the two discover an unlikely bond as outcasts of a sort—Eva as a wild Celtic spirit captive among her enemies and Margaret suppressing her passions as she endures increasing pressure as a queen and a mother of princes. Eva must betray the king and the new queen, however, in order to honor her devotion to her kinswoman and former monarch. Torn between loyalties, will Eva betray the queen she has always known—or the queen she has come to love?

King combines elegant, lyrical prose with detailed research conducted alongside prominent Celtic and medieval scholars to create an imaginative retelling of Queen Margaret’s life. QUEEN HEREAFTER offers a fresh, unique perspective on the remarkable young queen who would become a saint.