May 27, 2013

Guest Post: Helen Bryan's 'The Sisterhood' | Women in the Aftermath of the Reconquista

The Sisterhood; April 2013

Please welcome author Helen Bryan:

It was not until I began a biography of Martha Washington, intending to look at the American Revolution from her perspective and that of other women of the time, that I had something of a Damascene moment about how wide the gaps in history are. Among accounts of battles, military strategy and the views of the Founding Fathers, I had to search long and hard to find information about women’s experiences. “The ladies, God bless ‘em” were mostly invisible. As ever. Too often, we have no idea of history’s impact on women because the record is silent. In this scenario writers of historical fiction become archaeologists, piecing together clues from their research, to reconstruct in fiction something of the reality of women’s lives in the past.

My latest book “The Sisterhood” is a woman’s eye view of Spain in the sixteenth century in the aftermath of the reconquista in 1492. This was a watershed in history, marking the defeat of the Moors who had ruled Spain for nearly seven hundred years by the Reyes Catholicos, Isabella and Ferdinand, who united Spain vowing to establish God’s kingdom on earth. The rise of Spain as a world power and the expansion of the Spanish empire overseas in the Americas followed, while Spain itself became a religious police state, instituting a policy of ethnic cleansing. Muslims and Jews, who had previously co- existed with Christians under the Moors were persecuted, forcibly converted, exiled, and killed. No one was safe from suspicion and denunciation as a heretic or secret Jew or Muslim, and the Inquisition had sweeping powers to investigate individuals, with the help of a network of informers and torture. It must have been terrifying.

And where did women fit into the picture? For women in the higher echelons of society with the necessary dowry, it was often as nuns. A cloistered existence of religious discipline, confinement and celibacy may appear an unnatural choice today, but then it offered intelligent women the possibility of intellectual pursuits, a chance to exercise financial control over the convent’s assets and make a real contribution to the general welfare. Convents ran hospitals, orphanages, school, and nuns enjoyed status in society. In addition, given the high mortality rates of women in childbirth, a nun might well outlive her married sisters. Whether women entered convents willingly or unwillingly, life there offered undeniable benefits, especially as a woman was unlikely to marry where she liked but as her male relatives dictated. Convents proliferated. And it was a visit to a Spanish convent dating from the reconquista that inspired “The Sisterhood.” The unusual feature of this convent was its orphanage for illegitimate daughters of the Spanish aristocracy. After growing up in the convent, the girls progressed from the orphanage to novitiate to the veil. To prepare them for their religious lives, their playthings were a bizarre selection of toys on display: nun dolls, a miniature convent, doll size altars and tiny altar fittings. The presence of these children whose cloistered fate had been fixed at birth, lingered in the old, low-ceilinged rooms with their smell of beeswax, incense and age. The atmosphere was irresistible for a writer.

Beginning with the fictional “What if…”, I first imagined a romance featuring a plucky orphan girl who ran away from the convent, made her way to Spanish America and found love. Once I began to research the necessary background to the story- the lives and orders of sixteenth century nuns, religious diaries of the time, accounts of Inquisition excesses, the Spanish conquest in America, the Incas, the story changed. One orphan girl became five, each in danger of persecution by the authorities. And to explain why the nuns gave them refuge, I drew on one of many early Christian legends, the three Marys of the New Testament who are said to have made their way to the coast of France, where their supposed relics are venerated to this day. I gave the nuns of “The Sisterhood” an equally ancient spiritual tradition dating back to Roman Spain, which explained their courage and determination to uphold humanitarian values at the risk of their lives. Suddenly there was a much bigger story to tell, connecting the past with the present. Staring me in the face was the fact that religious oppression given a political dimension in sixteenth century Spain had a resonance in modern times with the political tensions that exist between Muslims, Jews and Christians across the world. The sixteenth century orphan girls in fear of their lives have their counterparts in young women who are victims of human trafficking and abuse now.

The romantic theme I once imagined was the focus became woven throughout into the individual stories of different characters, stories forgotten until they are recovered and told centuries later by a young woman who makes the unexpected discovery that she herself is a link in a long chain of Sisterhood.

Book summary of The Sisterhood:
With THE SISTERHOOD, Bryan weaves two stories separated by centuries about the resilience of the female spirit. Set in Spain during the sixteenth century and present-day, Bryan tells the story of Los Golondrinas Convent—a place of refuge for women and girls during the Spanish Inquisition regardless of faith or sin, many of whom had desperate reasons to hide from the church and state authorities.

Each girl and woman’s story was recorded in the Convent’s chronicle to bear witness of the cruelty and inhumanity they suffered. The Chronicle helped bind the sisterhood across generations.

Centuries later, Menina Walker, a 19-year-old adopted daughter of a small-town American couple, finds her life in shambles. A despicable incident causes her to call off her wedding, and she finds herself alone and depressed. Her best friend arranges a trip to Spain for her to get away, and Menina takes with her the only links to her birth family: an ancient book and a medal from the convent from which her parents adopted her.

In the process of unlocking the stories of the Chronicle, she learns that nothing less than destiny brought her to the birthplace of her ancestors, and the power to find peace and love had been burning in her blood all along.

Helen Bryan is an American-born writer living in London for many years. Previous books include War Brides and Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty.

May 21, 2013

{3 book giveaway!} Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

Excerpt and Giveaway spotlight special!
Jack Absolute: A Novel A Sourcebooks reissue available May 7th 2013

Reimagined as the title character in C.C. Humphreys’ first novel in a three-book series set during the American Revolution Humphreys has long had a love affair with the character of Jack Absolute. The actor played the dashing leading man in a British tour of The Rivals early in his career, and decided to bring him from the stage to the page when he began writing novels. A bit about the book…

It’s 1777 when Captain Jack Absolute becomes a sensation throughout London. This news comes as a shock to the real Jack Absolute when he arrives in England after four months at sea. But there’s little time for outrage before he finds himself dueling for his life. Right when he thinks he’s finally won, he is forced to flee London by the quickest means possible, becoming a spy in the American Revolution. From the streets of London, to the pivotal battle of Saratoga, to a hunt for a double agent in Philadelphia, Jack Absolute marks the exhilarating beginning of an epic historical series and a character you won’t soon forget.

The following is an excerpt from Jack Absolute: A Novel by C.C. Humphreys

Chapter Three: The Duel
 (please forgive the formatting, not indicative of the finished novel)

Read more at the Sourcebooks site! 

Follow the author's blog at his website and learn more about his works here.

Sourcebooks is offering  giveaway to three lucky readers! Simply follow the prompts via the Rafflecopter form to enter! Open to US residents only. Good luck!

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May 13, 2013

Chronicle of the Mound Builders by Elle Marie

Please welcome Elle Marie as part of her virtual tour while promoting her novel, Chronicle of the Mound Builders.

I had a lot of fun creating symbols to use in Chronicle of the Mound Builders. As Angela Hunter deciphers the title page of each section of the mysterious chronicle, she reveals another clue to the mystery. Each chapter title contains Aztec pictographs, spelling out the title.

In Aztec writing, symbols can be used for an actual word (such as drawing an eagle to mean literally ‘eagle’) or they can represent sounds instead that can be combined to form other words and phrases.

Putting together real Aztec symbols to form meaningful snippets was sometimes a challenge. First, I had to decide what message should be told to foreshadow the next chapter of the modern-day timeline. It had to provide just enough information to give the reader a hint of what was to come, without giving away too much. And once I had formulated a message, I needed to find symbols to approximate that message.

The next challenge was having Angela figure out the puzzle. Actually, this was the easy part. I just reversed the process I had used to develop the message in the first place.

Here's an example:

In this chapter, I wanted to hint at the curse that was going to be placed on my Aztec characters. I found the Aztec word teochihua, meaning ‘he blesses it’, and amocualli, meaning ‘evil’. I figured that together, the phrase could be taken to mean a person bestowing a curse, or ‘evil blessing’.

Combining the words for stone (tetl) and dog (chichi) produced tetl-chichi, which has a very similar pronunciation as teochihua. So I found the pictographs for stone and dog and placed them together.

To form a word that sounded like amocualli, I put together the sounds for book (amox) and house (calli). The simple square symbol represents a sheet of paper or book, so I put that above the Aztec pictograph for house. And there you have it - he curses them!

I've been asked if the symbols in Chronicle were real Aztec symbols. The answer is yes - well, mostly. In a few cases I had to get creative to come up with a pictograph to meet my need. I challenge you to try to tell the difference!

About the book:
Publication Date: October 29, 2012
Paperback; 416p
ISBN-10: 1479206652

Archaeologist Dr. Angela Hunter discovers an ancient codex at a Mississippian Indian dig site in the St. Louis area. Knowing the Mississippians, or Mound Builders, had no written language, she is determined to solve the mystery of the 700-year-old, perfectly preserved codex.

In the early 1300’s, an Aztec family is torn apart. A judge rebelling against the Aztec tradition of human sacrifice is cursed and escapes his enemies with his 12-year-old son. They travel from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River to settle in the thriving community of Migaduha, modern-day Cahokia Mounds, Illinois.

Angela recognizes the symbols as Aztec pictograms and begins to translate the story. However, other forces also want the codex and will do anything to get it. Can she learn the secrets of the chronicle before the tragic events of the past are repeated today?

Praise for Chronicle of the Mound Builders

Good Blend of Fact and Fiction
"I really enjoyed reading the Chronicle of the Mound Builders. The author artfully wove the timelines, dropping hints as the story unfolded. I also enjoyed trying to figure out the geographic locations since I live in the St. Louis area. The author's descriptions were so accurate that I was able to pinpoint exactly where the action was occurring.

I was so engrossed in the storyline that I read the book in two sittings during one weekend. My husband said that he had never seen me read a book that quickly. I was sorry when I had finished but realized that the author left the story open for a sequel. I look forward to reading that book, too." - Archeology Enthusiast, Amazon Reviewer

Exciting and Informative
"This is an exciting read, a real page-turner. The story travels between the past and present such that the events of the past parallel the discoveries in the present in a timely manner. The story is filled with adventure and mystery. It was written with some intelligence as the author displays in-depth knowledge of ancient Aztec cultures, the Mississippians, and modern day archeological techniques. These are combined into a thrilling adventure. I look forward to the author's next book." - JayCee, Amazon Reviewer

About the author:
Coming from a large family of readers, Elle Marie grew up with a love of reading. Her passion for reading led to a desire to write. After first publishing a nonfiction book, Living the Thin Life, she turned to fiction. 

A visit to Cahokia Mounds sparked a fascination with the mysterious Mound Builders, about whom so little is known. What was their culture like? How did ordinary people live in the 14th century? What caused the civilization to vanish, seemingly overnight? She put her imagination to work and came up with a story line that put it all together. Extensive research enabled her to create a believable, engrossing world. 

By day, she works in the information technology field at a large financial services firm. She is a graduate of the Missouri University of Science & Technology and lives in the St. Louis area with her husband. Chronicle of the Mound Builders is her first novel.

For more information, please visit the OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

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May 07, 2013

(Giveaway) Doc Holliday, the legendary adventurer: INHERITANCE by Victoria Wilcox

Gone With the Wind Goes West

Inheritance (Book One)
Victoria Wilcox

The name Doc Holliday conjures images of the Wild West and the shootout at the OK Corral, but before he was a Western legend, John Henry Holliday was a Southern son, born in the last days of the Old South with family ties to author Margaret Mitchell – and a rumored romance with a cousin who became the model for Melanie in Gone With the Wind.

That was the untold story I had discovered in my work as founding director of the Circa 1855 Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum, the antebellum home of the Holliday family in Georgia. The house was a classic Southern beauty, a Greek Revival-style mansion standing on a tree-shaded street just off the courthouse square in Fayetteville, forty miles south of Atlanta. It was right in the middle of Gone With the Wind country – and in the book itself, as the Holliday’s House was once used to board students from the local private school, the Fayetteville Academy. As Margaret Mitchell writes in the first chapter of Gone With the Wind: “Scarlett had not willingly opened a book since leaving the Fayetteville Academy...”

The Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum, Fayetteville, Georgia
Of course, there were other Southern Belles who attended the Fayetteville Academy in those last days before the war, as Scarlett O’Hara did, including a girl named Annie who was a lot like Scarlett: her family lived on a big cotton plantation in neighboring Clayton County, her father was a feisty Irishman named Gerald, her mother had green velvet drapes hanging in her parlor windows, she went to Atlanta during the Civil War and survived on a little grace and whole lot of gumption. But unlike Scarlett, who was fictional, Annie was real. Her father wasn’t Gerald O’Hara but Phillip FitzGerald, her mother who owned those green velvet drapes wasn’t Ellen but Eleanor, and she was Margaret Mitchell’s grandmother!

Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind 
Although Mitchell, cautioned by her attorney father, always insisted that none of her characters were based on real people, some of them were very clearly inspired by real people. But there was one family member who was more than just inspiration – she actually gave her name to a character in the book. She was Annie FitzGerald’s cousin, which made her Margaret Mitchell’s cousin-twice-removed, an elderly nun living in Atlanta when Mitchell was writing Gone With the Wind. Mitchell went to visit her while she was working on the novel and asked if she might name a character in the book after her. The nun’s answer was a sweet, “Just make her a good person.” The nun’s name was Sister Melanie, and the character named after her was Melanie Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes’ wife.

Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, as portrayed by Olivia deHavilland 
And here’s the most intriguing information of all. Before Sister Melanie became a nun, she was a girl named Mattie Holliday, and she too had a connection to the Holliday’s house in Fayetteville, as the owner was her uncle and she was one of the cousins who used to play there. And her favorite of those cousins was a boy who also came to visit from his hometown in nearby Griffin – young John Henry, who would one day be known as “Doc” Holliday. They were close as children and sweethearts when they were older, and though we’ll never know for certain until their rumored love letters reappear, some say it was their ill-starred love affair that sent her to a convent and him running West into a life of legendary adventures. And what a love affair it would have been: Melanie from Gone With the Wind in love with Doc Holliday from the OK Corral, the Old South meeting up with the Wild West, or literature and legend falling in love!

John Henry “Doc” Holliday
That was the story I had stumbled across as we turned the Holliday’s antebellum home into the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum – a story only hinted at in movies like “Tombstone” where a dying Doc Holliday confesses that his one true love was a cousin who entered a convent over the affair. But living (and dying) years before author Margaret Mitchell was born, the movie Doc couldn't mention that his lost love was also the model for Melanie in Gone With the Wind.

But I could, in a saga that starts in Georgia during the Civil War and follows young John Henry Holliday as he goes from Southern son to Texas outlaw to Western legend. Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday spreads over three historical novels, sweeping from the Old South to the Wild West in a story of heroes and villains, dreams lost and found, families broken and reconciled, of sin and recompense and the redeeming power of love. It’s the best history I could find in eighteen years of research (during which I became a nationally known expert and speaker on the life of Doc Holliday) and a real-life love story almost too good to be true. I like to think of it as Gone With the Wind meets Lonesome Dove!

The first book in the Southern Son trilogy is Inheritance, published by Knox Robinson Publishing, London. Release date is May 8th in hardcover and eBook at, Barnes and Noble and selected bookstores everywhere. The paperback follows December 4th. My book tour for Inheritance began with an appearance in Tombstone, Arizona, site of the OK Corral shootout, and takes me across ten states to all the places Holliday knew in his adventurous life. The US Book Launch is June 1 at the Margaret Mitchell House Museum in Atlanta, where Gone With the Wind was written – a fitting start for a book that stars the real people behind Mitchell’s classic epic. For information on the Book Launch, contact the Margaret Mitchell House at 404-814-4114.

 For more information on Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday, please visit my author website at

About the Author

Victoria Wilcox is founding director of the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum, the antebellum home of the family of Doc Holliday. Her work with the house led to eighteen years of original research and inspired her novel trilogy, Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday. She has been advisor and contributor to other authors, has lectured extensively and appeared on various television programs relating to her work. A member of the Western Writers of America, Wilcox’s writing on the Old South and Wild West has been featured in such publications as TrueWest Magazine and North Georgia Journal. Drawing on her lifelong love of music and theater, she has written songs for Nashville recording artists and authored the musical Goin’ to Zion! along with numerous smaller theatrical works.

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May 8, 2013 Knox Robinson Publishing, London

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