August 27, 2013

Guest Post: R.W. Peake's Marching with Caesar

Please welcome R.W. Peake as part of the virtual tour for his novel, Marching with Caesar: Antony and Cleopatra, Part II-Cleopatra.

Cleopatra: Heroine or "Ho"?

Before I begin, I want to ask forgiveness for this title, but ever since I first saw Eddie Murphy's skit on Saturday Night Live as Velvet Jones, hawking his Velvet Jones School of Technology and its course, "I Wanna Be a Ho", I've always wanted to use that term in some way. And of all the female figures in history, I think that Cleopatra VII has generated more debate about which characterization suits her best than any other. Considering that during a period of history where women were little more than reference points used to determine bloodlines and were relegated to the shadows, Cleopatra is one of the few women of her, or any era up until recently for that matter, who excited commentary from a number of different sources.

But, like with anything that falls under the auspices of "history", it behooves us to look askance at those contemporary chroniclers, and at the very least, try to understand the context under which they operated. And I would argue that, more than just about any other figure from history, Cleopatra is a victim of the adage that talks about history being written by the winners. 

I will be the first to acknowledge that I am not a scholar whose focus was Cleopatra, or the Ptolemaic dynasties; my knowledge of the woman who would be the last in the dynasty established by Alexander's general that ruled Egypt is based on the research I did to support the part of Titus Pullus' story that was begun in Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, and continues with the recent release of Marching With Caesar-Rise of Augustus. However, from the outset I have wanted to maintain a high fidelity to the historical record, such as it is, for the 42 years that the Marching With Caesar series covers. Because Cleopatra figures prominently in two books; Marching With Caesar-Civil War, where we first meet the young monarch during Caesar's sojourn and ordeal in Alexandria in the immediate aftermath of Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus, while the second book, and the one that is the subject of this online tour, Marching With Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra: Part II-Cleopatra, covers an older, wiser and more ambitious Cleopatra, I had to become more familiar with the Macedonian queen than I might otherwise would have, left to my own devices.

And what I found, even after devouring the obligatory primary sources and going on to more contemporary authors, including Stacy Schiff's book, Cleopatra-A Life, still left me with no true grasp on who the woman was. As I plowed through Plutarch, Caesar, Appian, Suetonius, et. al., I was always cognizant of one thing; this was a woman who was personally hated by the man who would become the most powerful and important figure of his age in Augustus. And considering that, with the exception of Caesar's account of his time in Alexandria, which was probably written by someone else and not him personally, all of the writers only knew the queen secondhand, and then it was through a filter. A filter provided by the ultimate victor in the titanic struggle that took place in the last century of the B.C. era, that saw the final death throes of the Roman Republic and established an Empire. In other words, by someone with a vested interest in how not only he himself is portrayed, but his adversaries as well. How better to paint oneself as the ultimate good guy by making sure that your enemy is painted in the darkest shade of black? And in that, I have to acknowledge that I think Augustus' demonization of Cleopatra is the best example of successfully defining one's adversary that has ever taken place throughout history. Neither Saddam Hussein nor Osama bin-Laden were so thoroughly defined by their enemies as was Cleopatra. 

So, who was Cleopatra, really? I would say that your guess is as good as mine, but what I hope is that the Cleopatra who walks through the pages of Marching With Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra is more than just the cardboard cutout villain. Considering the fact that she was in the very unique and dangerous position of being a sovereign of a country that couldn't hope to hold its own with the ranking superpower of the day, I for one understand that she had to be willing to do everything imaginable, to and for others, just to keep her position. I don't think it's a stretch to say that, because of the Ptolemaic practice of keeping things in the family, the babe Cleopatra probably had a basic understanding of the need for planning and scheming, even before she could talk. In her treatment of her siblings, she wasn't doing anything that hadn't been done before by those of her own blood. It's a tribute to that ability to plot that she survived to rise to the accession of the throne of Sedge and Bee, and to her ruthless focus and willingness to use every tactic available to her to stay there. 

Much has been made of Cleopatra The Temptress, the Eastern harlot that seduced not one, but two of the most powerful men, not just in Rome but in the entire known world. What is less well known by the casual reader, at least until the HBO series Rome, is that Cleopatra only went two for three in her attempts to bring the mover and shaker of the moment under her sway. And while every pro baseball player alive would kill to have that kind of batting average, I would argue that Cleopatra's last "batting attempt" was the most important. The fact that she failed in her attempt to seduce Octavian (even now I am loath to call him Augustus; of all the characters I've written about in this series, he is my least favorite or admirable) I think had less to do with her womanly charms and more to do with the fact that of all the men she could attempt to dazzle, Octavian was last on the list to be susceptible. While this tactic of seduction may seem unseemly, particularly to people of our age, what I realized as I thought about it was that, simply put, Cleopatra's options were pretty much limited to one move, and one move only. Egypt's army, such as it was, had been soundly defeated by a motley collection of Cohorts from the 6th Ferrata, a green 28th Legion, and a Legion consisting of the remnants of Pompey's defeated army, some sixteen years before. Granted, it was a Roman army led by the greatest general Rome, and the world, had ever seen, but it had to be an important lesson for the monarch. By the time she and Octavian faced off, the other arm of her military might, which on papyrus at least, was the greatest naval force in the world, had also been crushed at Actium. Out of options militarily, what did she have left? As I see it, she had two, of which one of them was money, and it was true that she had a LOT of money. But as it would turn out, Octavian already held the keys to the treasury; how he knew the location of Egypt's wealth has been attributed to his adoptive father's astonishing memory, but the truth is, nobody really knows how he knew. I think it's just as likely that one of the keepers of what was the biggest state secret in the world succumbed to persuasion of one sort or another. But it makes a better story to have the location relayed to Octavian from Caesar, and I for one am content with that. 

So no military or naval action was available to her, and money wasn't the answer either. Which leaves, what, exactly? What else could she have done, as a woman in the ancient world, no matter how powerful she may have been, other than what she tried? No matter what she attempted, one thing is certain; Octavian and his massive propaganda machine was going to paint it in the worst possible light, and it's the remnants of that smear campaign that come down to us now. Like all good propaganda, there was a grain of truth to Octavian's accusations; I think it strains credulity to think that Cleopatra decided to have an affair with Caesar, particularly when in all likelihood she was a virgin at the time, just because she liked the color of his eyes. There was undoubtedly more than a grain of calculation in her decision, and self-interest for that matter. But again, what I came away with after my research was the question; what other options did she have to retain at least a semblance of her autonomy? Enter Marcus Antonius, and while the man was different, the essential underlying issue, and her answer, was the same. Cleopatra simply did what she had to do in order to protect herself. 

However, where I think the biggest mystery lies is not in what she did to look after herself, and by extension, Egypt. What intrigues me is, once she had established herself as Mark Antony's paramour and partner, what were her ambitions concerning Rome? In her maneuvering, was she just doing what she thought she needed to do in order to keep Rome out of Egypt's business, at least as much as possible? Or did her ambitions extend to re-establishing Egypt as the predominant power in the Mediterranean, and the only way to do that was to bring down Rome? That is the real mystery of Cleopatra, at least to me, and is what makes her one of the most fascinating characters of her age. No matter what Octavian says!

About the book
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
Paperback; 598p
ISBN-10: 0985703083

In the fourth book of the critically acclaimed Marching With Caesar series, Titus Pullus and his 10th Legion are still in the thick of the maelstrom that follows after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar. With the disastrous campaign in Parthia behind them, Mark Antony continues his struggle with Octavian, both men vying for ultimate control of Rome. Enter Cleopatra VII, the Pharaoh of Egypt and mother of Julius Caesar's son, who harbors ambitions and dreams of her own. Through her son Caesarion, Cleopatra is a powerful player in her own right in the continuing drama being played out for control of the most powerful society on Earth. With Cleopatra combining forces with Mark Antony, Octavian, the legitimate heir to Caesar's fortune is facing the most formidable barrier to his ascendancy yet. Through it all, Titus Pullus and his men must tread a very careful path as the two forces head for an inevitable showdown at a place called Actium.

About the author
I am a retired Marine, with a primary MOS of 0311, although over the years I picked up a few other designators, but I guess I will always think of myself as a grunt. I was born and raised in Houston, and have only recently relocated to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. After my medical retirement from the Marines and realizing that my experience at locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver was not exactly going to have employers knocking down my door, I decided to earn a Bachelor's degree, majoring in History, with a goal of teaching. Then my daughter came to live with me full-time, and while thrilled, I learned very quickly that a teacher's salary would not support her in the style in which she was accustomed.

So I went into the software business, starting at a small startup that I stayed at for 10 years, clawing my way to middle management, to echo a commercial of that era. My company went public, and I had these things called stock options, so for a brief period of time I was one of those tech paper millionaires. Then the great NASDAQ crash of 2000 happened, and I was a working stiff again. When my company got bought in 2006 by one of the largest software companies in the world, I very quickly learned that working for a big company was not for me, so I took the lure of the (relatively) big bucks as a VP of a much smaller company. It was the worst professional mistake of my life, but the one good thing that did come out of it is that my dissatisfaction drove me to consider taking a risk on something that those who know me had pushed me to do as long as I can remember, and that was to write.

I must admit that I have always enjoyed writing; in fact; I wrote my first novel at 10ish, featuring myself and all of my friends from the street where I lived who almost singlehandedly fought off a Soviet invasion. I was heavily influenced by WWII history at that time, it being my second historical passion after the Civil War, so our stockpile of weapons consisted almost exclusively of Tommy guns, M1's, etc. Why the Russians chose my particular street to focus their invasion I didn't really go into, but after a series of savage, bloody battles, my friends and I were forced to make a strategic withdrawal to the only other part of the world I was familiar with at that time, the Silverton area of Colorado. I recently re-read this magnus opus, and it is interesting to track the course of my friendships with the core group that were the main characters of my novel. Some sort of argument or disagreement would result in the inevitable serious wounding of the friend with whom I quarreled, and depending on how serious it was, they might linger for days, clinging to life before they recovered, but not after suffering excruciating pain.

From that beginning, through my adult life, I was always told that I showed talent as a writer, but it wasn't until I hit the age of 50 that I decided it was time to find out if that were true. And the result is Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, the first in a completed trilogy that is the story of one of the lucky few men who managed to survive and retire, after rising through the ranks of the 10th Legion. I hope that you enjoy following Titus Pullus' exploits as much as I enjoyed bringing him to life.

For more information, please visit R.W. Peake's website.

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August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Babette Hughes' The Red Scarf

Please welcome Babette Hughes in celebration of the release of her new novel, The Red Scarf

My novels, THE RED SCARF, it’s prequel THE RED HAT and THE LOCKET, soon to be published, follow Kate Brady from the age of eighteen to eighty, reflecting my fascination with the way historical events affect lives, like Prohibition and The Great Depression. 

I was two years old when my bootlegging father and innocent uncle (who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time) were ambushed and murdered by the Mafia in a turf war. When I was old enough to ask my mother how my father died, she said he died of pneumonia.

So at the age of 18 I began a search for the truth. I read old newspapers in the Cleveland Public Library that described the murders in screaming headlines. I asked questions of surviving relatives. I researched a book about the Jewish Orphan Home in Cleveland, Ohio where my mother lived from 1900 to 1915 from the time she was three years old. 

She met my father in 1912 at the age of fifteen, after graduating from the orphanage. He was considered a catch for an orphan girl—good-looking with money in his pocket and a shiny Winton automobile. They were married in 1915 and when Prohibition became law in 1919 he found the career he was born to.

Then, as if my mother hadn’t had enough bad luck with orphanhood and her husband’s violent life and death, unemployment went from 3% in 1929 to 25% in 1930. Fully half of Cleveland workers were jobless. There were long soup lines. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 90% of its value. Scores of people were killing themselves. And my mother found herself a single parent trying to support two children in the midst of The Great Depression when she was paid in her job at City Hall with worthless paper money called script by the bankrupt City of Cleveland. 

But back then we Americans were like family looking out for each other, united in mutual struggles and shared experiences. There was not the bitter personal and political polarization that exists today or the abyss between the rich and poor or Washington’s political paralysis. Even Al Capone opened a soup kitchen.

My family emerged from the challenges made stronger by its ordeals, more compassionate to the unlucky, and the tools earned from adversity for an enriched life. And not the least, animating my imagination for the characters who live in my novels.

About the book
The Red Scarf opens with Kate Brady, aka, Mrs. Ben Gold trying to find a normal life as the widow of the Godfather of the Jewish mafia, Ben Gold. Ben Gold is dead and the file is closed as far as law enforcement is concerned. The angry remaining Sarsini brother is the killer, or at least that’s what the FBI believes. Good riddance is what they and everyone who knew Ben Gold think, and Kate agrees wholeheartedly. Ben had treated her badly, was not a good man, and frankly deserved exactly what he got.

And, so, as The Red Scarf picks up her story she is attending college, living on the millions of dollars of ill-gotten gain that Ben had left her, and trying to put the life of a moll behind her. But once again, even from beyond the grave, Ben Gold drags her back into the dangerous world of gangster and guns. 

When handsome FBI agent Adam Fairfield is introduced as a guest lecturer, she feels immediately drawn to him, and he to her. A torrid love affair ensues and soon, she is risking her life by revealing her darkest secret to him, trusting that he won’t put her away for life, or worse.

For Kate, this story is about more than the thrill of bringing down another bad man who is intimidating her community and abusing his wife. This is about redemption. It’s about getting on with her life and leaving behind as best she can the lengthy laundry list of mistakes she had made as a young and impressionable woman. 

Once again, Babette Hughes brings all the moving parts of this story to what is becoming her signature, a climactic finish that leaves the reader breathless and yet still thinking about all the twists and turns and the characters we met in The Red Scarf days later, long after the last page is turned.

About the author
Babette Hughes, author of The Red Scarf, The Hat (winner of the Texas Association of Authors’ Historical Fiction Award 2011-2012), Lost and Found, and co-author of Why College Students Fail, is also a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post. She has also been published in theSaturday Review; been contributing editor of Cleveland Magazine; a twice-weekly columnist for the Cleveland Press; and has published articles and book reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Sunday Magazine. She has also written, produced and appeared in television documentaries and news and feature stories for Cleveland television stations WKYC-NBC and WNBK-UHF.

In addition to her writing career she has been been National Director of Women’s Political Action for Hubert Humphrey in his 1972 Presidential campaign, as well as founder and President of Discover Yourself, Inc., a motivation and self realization program for women. She has also been Director of Public Relations for Revco D.S., Inc. in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Account Executive with Frazier Associates, in Washington, DC. She and her husband live in Austin, Texas, and are the parents and step-parents of eight children.


Pre-Order a Special Edition, signed hardcover copy of The Red Scarf. They are signed, numbered and contain a special Author's Note exclusive to this edition. There are only 200 Special Editions in print.
Buy at Babette's website (if still available).

August 13, 2013

Guest Post: Jo-Ann Costa's The Bequest of Big Daddy

Please welcome Jo-Ann Costa as part of the virtual tour for her novel, The Bequest of Big Daddy.


First, I wish to express my appreciation to my hosts for having me as a guest on Historical Fiction Connection. Thank you, ladies, you provide a wonderful service to authors and readers alike.

And now for Big Daddy.

As the name implies, a name such as this should belong to a large man, if not in actual stature, then in reputation. In the South, however, grandfathers of all sizes and personalities are often called Big Daddy. It’s just a Southern thing.

The man I write about is formidable. Some might even say ruthless. Big Daddy begins his life as Horatio Gage Janson, called Ratio for short. His beautiful mother never wanted him, so as a child, he is left to his own devices. The result is catastrophic and Ratio Janson is shaped into something more monstrous than he could ever have imagined.

On his wedding day, as seen in the old photograph, Ratio is already the product of a lifetime of being unloved and unwanted. By now he is feared and on the run from a terrible past. His marriage is simply one of economic expedience.

So what is a bequest and why is it important to the story I tell in The Bequest of Big Daddy?

To set the scene, I’m interested in family history and how certain patterns of behavior and beliefs are handed down from generation to generation – “bequests” of sorts. I was always fascinated with the tales I’d heard about my own family’s “Big Daddy” and I studied my family history looking for similarities. Our family’s Big Daddy was a rascal I once met as a small child, a hard man who scratched from nothing, a legacy to leave his children. Along the way, a man was killed, children were born out of wedlock, women were used up and back alley deals were sealed. And along the way, this man’s great-granddaughter, who is me, was inspired to write a book about a much worse man, with an incredibly sordid past.

History. What we make of history comes from what we read, what has been documented and what we imagine might have happened. Since I am a daughter of the Deep South, my particular interest springs from my heritage. In The Bequest of Big Daddy, I explore the people from Appalachia, people who came down from the mountains into Alabama and Georgia, bringing with them customs and beliefs from their native lands of Scotland, England and Ireland. Some of these people eventually became planter-class, slave-holding families, but most were poor people who worked the land along side of the slaves. My main character, Big Daddy, is from the planter class and his is the story of how the American Civil War wiped out his entire family and the feudal system they controlled. It is, above all else, a commentary in story form that touches upon the social, political and racial issues of the mid-eighteen hundreds as told through the life of one man, who lived until the mid-twentieth century.

You might wonder: Is Jo-Ann telling a story about her own family? Is the little girl character shown in the photo, who is named Jo-Dee Janson, really the author Jo-Ann Costa? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide. But I will tell you this much. I took a few facts inspired by my great-grandfather’s life and sprinkled them among a whole lot of fiction. But wondering is part of the fun, isn’t it?

Let me share a “pitch” I once used at a Writers’ Conference when I discovered that a popular agent from New York was riding in the same elevator with me.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Jo-Ann Costa. I’ve written a book of historical fiction spanning over one-hundred years. The Bequest of Big Daddy is about a big, nasty secret kept for generations until a descendant of my main character discovers the truth about her legendary kin.”

The agent smiled an insincere smile. “Thank you for that,” she muttered before hurrying out at the next stop.

This was but one of my first rejections. There were many more to come. And so, as I refined my pitch, I also learned to pick my shots.

When my book won a Paul Gillette Award in a national writing contest, agents and editors were suddenly interested in The Bequest of Big Daddy. To shorten this part of the story, my book was released in April of this year to critical acclaim. Now I say critical acclaim as though I expected the praise, but that is not the way I felt. What really happened to me was this: I had a Sally Field moment, when she said in disbelief, “You like me, you really like me,” while accepting her Academy Award. When the long-awaited praise finally arrived for my work, I was just as relieved and grateful as Ms. Field. I still am, for we writers are unsung artists who labor alone, with little or no encouragement until…God smiles.

You see, no matter how good our writing may be, when an author “debuts” it’s a nerve-wracking time. Her/his heart and soul have gone into the work and hundreds of hours have been dedicated to its birth and readiness for the public. Much like a painting, a beautiful quilt, a sculpture or any other work of art, a book is a creation. Books have supporters and detractors. Still, we write, paint, sew and sculpt because we must. To date, I have been honored with kind accolades for my writing, but these are gifts from generous others; not my birthright.

On an author tour in April, I could easily have started another book about my experiences while touring the South. As I drove from venue to venue, promoting The Bequest of Big Daddy, I spent hours on the road with myself and the radio as my only companions. As I often do, I thought about the past more than I did the present.

In the land of my forebears, the land from which that wellspring of inspiration erupts in my head for most of my waking hours and as often comes to me in dreams, I felt as though I’d come home. And although I was a woman on a mission facing a forced-march schedule, powerful feelings materialized along the way…lessons learned, dénouements, memories, and a longing for what was.

In Memphis, the ghosts of the past were palatable in the old buildings along the river’s waterfront and in Birmingham, Alabama, the emblematic Sloss Furnace Company reminded me of past trips into BHM Airport to visit my people further south.

When I arrived in a driving thunderstorm in Nashville, Tennessee for an interview with the celebrated John Seigenthaler on NPR’s “A Word on Words,” lightning arced across the darkening sky, frightening and seemingly predatory. A confession: I have always been terrified of lightning. As a child, I was lost in such a storm and took shelter in the stairwell of a massive brick church. Since then, for me, lightning has always been the devil in disguise.

Safe inside the television studios on this new day, I was greeted by a receptionist, who soon assured me that I was blessed by God during that long-ago event and because of this, I need not fear anything, least of all, lightning. And yes, there were Scriptural references woven into the woman’s declaration, which made her revelations all the more intriguing. We shared a cup of strong coffee as she went about her work, continuing to talk to me in that soft, entrancing voice of hers, soothing, yet firm in its convictions. I listened and exchanged opinions until the fabled Mr. Seigenthaler arrived. The interview, which aired on Nashville’s Public Television the end of July, is an opportunity to showcase my work that only John Seigenthaler could accomplish on my behalf. But the receptionist? She exorcized the lightning.

Another ghost of the past appeared in Montgomery, Alabama. As I returned from my television appearance, a small group of African-American women were waiting in the lobby. One of them was wearing a plastic gold crown and a banner across her chest. The women gathered around me, congratulating me on my interview, making me feel like a minor celebrity. I turned to the woman wearing the crown and asked if I was in the presence of Royalty. “Yes,” the woman answered. She had been crowned queen of an event to raise money for underprivileged children. As I left for another city, I thought how proud the ladies were of their accomplishments in the name of helping others and how far the city of Montgomery had come since the setting and time of my book.

This close to my people, and to my father’s grave, I could not steal time to drive to Selma for a short visit. This saddened me for other ghosts of good times dwelt there. Drinking Margaritas on Daddy’s back porch while listening to the night sounds from his swamp, watching Daddy’s foxes come up from the swamp for their evening feeding, sitting at Daddy’s dinner table eating biscuits and sausage, hearing his tales about dead folks, listening to his steady snore coming from the other bedroom, getting ready for the Fourth of July family reunion…all lovely ghosts of the past I deeply miss.

Coming full circle back to Memphis, I stopped in Oxford, Mississippi for a stage reading to kick off the Double Decker Festival on Thacker Mountain Radio and sign books at the famous Square Books. Driving along the Natchez Trace in spring time one would not guess that bloody Civil War battles had once been fought in the area. The countryside seemed so peaceful, so Southern—so at home with both history and the present. The land never changes.

It’s America. Still the best land I know. And in America, people can write what they need to write and speak what’s on their minds. Perhaps this is the most precious “bequest” of all. Thank you for reading my post and I hope you will enjoy reading The Bequest of Big Daddy.

About the book
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
Koehler Books
Paperback; 280p
ISBN: 978-1-938467-27-1

Ratio Janson is the crusty patriarch with an infamous background and a hair-trigger temper, reverently referred to as Big Daddy by his family clan. His feisty great-granddaughter, Jo-Dee, overhears shocking gossip at Big Daddy's funeral and is determined to plumb his murky past, spanning the Civil War, Reconstruction and forging head-on into the twentieth century.

From a vast turpentine industry to the ruins of a decaying plantation with its feudal order a memory, Jo-Dee explores the complex nature of family and self, only to make a startling discovery. Will she betray her great-grandfather and disgrace the family name, or will she preserve his shameful secret? And on the ancient grounds of the family mansion destroyed in the Civil War, will Big Daddy's spirit claim her even from the grave?

“Costa’s expressive voice effortlessly guides the compelling story… Costa’s debut novel tells the engaging story of a man whose tumultuous life provides an even greater tale than the grand myths that surround him.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Anyone who enjoys Southern fiction or picaresque novels will love this one!” — Lisa Alther, Author of four New York Times bestsellers

“All families have secrets, some darker than others. In her richly imagined debut novel, Jo-Ann Costa explores the impact of one family’s secret down through the decades and generations. The Bequest of Big Daddy marks the arrival of a fresh new voice in Southern literature.” — Will Allison, Author of the New York Times bestseller Long Drive Home.

“Ms. Costa writes like she was born to the craft. Wonderful storytelling and memorable characters you won’t soon forget. Big Daddy is not just any character—he gets into your head and refuses to budge.” — Hillel Black, former Publishing Executive and Editor of twenty New York Times bestsellers

Jo-Ann Costa’s Bequest is part gothic, part adventure, part mystery and wholly satisfying. Move over Tennessee Williams, there is a new Big Daddy in town.” — Claire Matturro, Award-winning author of three bestsellers

“Costa is a skilled storyteller who draws the reader into the Southern world.” — The Durango Herald

“On a scale of one to five I would easily give this one a six, because it’s just that good!” — WV Stitcher, Blogger

About the author
Jo-Ann Costa studied her craft at the knees of her clannish Alabama kin, who are among the most accomplished at fabricating outlandish tales. Thus trained as a storyteller, Ms. Costa honed her compelling voice while serving in executive roles for a mega-corporation founded by the late Howard Hughes.

Along with the wildlife, Ms. Costa now makes her home at the edge of Colorado's Weminuche wilderness, where she writes historical fiction and mysteries. She is a graduate of California State University, the University of Southern California's Managerial Policy Institute, Leadership Southern California and the Public Affairs Institute. She also studied at the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program.

The Bequest of Big Daddy is the first book in her epic saga, Longleaf Legacy.

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August 07, 2013

Guest Post: Sue Harrison's Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River

Please welcome Sue Harrison as part of her virtual tour while promoting the re-issue of her novels, Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River.

With Gratitude for Curses and Blessings
In my twenty-eighth winter, I experienced a spark of inspiration that generated the inception of my first novel, Mother Earth Father Sky. I was looking out a window at the cold Upper Michigan forest that surrounded our house, and I realized that I knew the species of every tree simply by the way the limbs branched from their trunks. I began to consider the outdoor survival skills I had accumulated under the tutelage of my husband and my father, and I fell in love with the idea of writing about the people who best understand how to live in natural environments—North American natives.

I culled my personal stash of books and begged and borrowed from the bookshelves of my friends and relatives. I spent days and hours at libraries, and I interviewed native people. I studied native languages.

Eventually, I found the book that would change my life, Aleuts: Survivors of the Bering Land Bridge, by William S. Laughlin. Laughlin’s research introduced me to the people who settled on those islands that divide the Bering Sea from the North Pacific. The Aleuts’ ancestors came to North America from Asia more than nine thousand years ago, and, although they have faced earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and many incursions of inhospitable peoples, they have survived. Their descendants still live on those islands today. 

You’ve probably heard the ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Few of us want to live in interesting times with the resulting loss and destruction. However, most readers welcome protagonists who survive interesting times. In the Aleut people, I discovered a multitude of courageous survivors.
As I researched and wrote Mother Earth Father Sky and my five subsequent Alaska novels, I found myself in the heady company of those writers who build the foundations for their stories upon the rugged landscape of that ancient curse. They count their efforts worthwhile when their words morph curses into blessings and send readers on wondrous journeys that can calm the winds and waters of ordinary lives. While I don’t claim to have achieved that goal, each morning when I sit down to write, my heart sings for the possibilities of ancient curses and storied blessings.

About Mother Earth Father Sky
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Open Road Media
ISBN: 0380715929

A young woman fights for survival amid the brutality of the last Ice Age

It’s 7056 BC, a time before history. On the first day that Chagak’s womanhood is acknowledged within her Aleut tribe, she unexpectedly finds herself betrothed to Seal Stalker, the most promising young hunter in the village. A bright future lies ahead of Chagak—but in one violent moment, she loses her entire way of life. Left with her infant brother, Pup, and only a birdskin parka for warmth, Chagak sets out across the icy waters on a quest for survival and revenge.

Mother Earth Father Sky is the first book of the Ivory Carver Trilogy, which also includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind.

Praise for Mother Earth Father Sky
“Mythic storytelling.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Sue Harrison joins the ranks of Jean Auel and Linda Lay Shuler.” —The Houston Post

“Memorably great . . . in between the satisfying details of an ancient culture, you smell the sweet heather, taste the wind, hear the roaring surf and sense the joy of primeval love.” —Ruth Beebe Hill, author of Hanta Yo

“A book of haunting beauty and emotional power. I became the Aleut girl-woman in Ice Age Alaska, and the carver, the seal hunter, the shaman . . . A remarkable book of passion, tenderness, and the indomitable human spirit, masterfully researched and beautifully written.” —Linda Lay Shuler, author of She Who Remembers

“A moving and credible story . . . Harrison expertly frames dramatic events with depictions of prehistoric life in the Aleutian Islands.” —The New York Times Book Review

About Song of the River
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Open Road Media
ISBN: 0380726033

Two ancient tribes on the verge of making peace become foes once more when a double murder jeopardizes a storyteller’s mission

Eighty centuries ago, in the frozen land that is now Alaska, a clubfooted male child had been left to die, when a woman named K’os rescued him. Twenty years later and no longer a child, Chakliux occupies the revered role as his tribe’s storyteller. In the neighboring village of the Near River people, where Chakliux will attempt to make peace by wedding the shaman’s daughter, a double murder occurs that sends him on a harsh, enthralling journey in search of the truth about the tragic losses his people have suffered, and into the arms of a woman he was never meant to love.

Song of the River is the first book of the Storyteller Trilogy, which also includes Cry of the Wind and Call Down the Stars.

Praise for Song of the River
“Harrison once again displays her first-rate storytelling talents, here in a rousing tale of murder, revenge, and internecine warfare . . . A warm yarn from the frozen North as authentic as all get-out.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Sue Harrison joins the ranks of Jean Auel and Linda Lay Shuler.” —The Houston Post

“A remarkable storyteller.” —Detroit Free Press

“Lyrical . . . compelling . . . a timeless tale of the best and the worst of humankind in a land where the mundane mixes naturally with the mystical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

About the author
Sue Harrison grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and graduated summa cum laude from Lake Superior State University with a bachelor of arts degree in English language and literature. At age twenty-seven, inspired by the cold Upper Michigan forest that surrounded her home, and the outdoor survival skills she had learned from her father and her husband, Harrison began researching the people who understood best how to live in a harsh environment: the North American native peoples. She studied six Native American languages and completed extensive research on culture, geography, archaeology, and anthropology during the nine years she spent writing her first novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, the extraordinary story of a woman’s struggle for survival in the last Ice Age. A national and international bestseller, and selected by the American Library Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 1991, Mother Earth Father Sky is the first novel in Harrison’s critically acclaimed Ivory Carver Trilogy, which includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind. She is also the author of Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, and Call Down the Stars, which comprise the Storyteller Trilogy, also set in prehistoric North America. Her novels have been translated into thirteen languages and published in more than twenty countries. Harrison lives with her family in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula.

For more information please visit Sue Harrison's website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Meet Sue Harrison

Visit the other tours for more guest posts, reviews and giveaways - HFVBT TOUR SCHEDULE
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A note from your host...

I read Mother Earth Father Sky many years ago and even after all these years, I remember loving it. I recommend it. 


August 02, 2013

The Hat by Babette Hughes

99 cents on Amazon Kindle this weekend!
(see below)

About the author and the book, The Hat
2012 Historical Author of the Year, Babette Hughes, is the daughter of a Jewish bootlegger who was murdered by mobsters during the Prohibition.

Now 90, she has published four books and is a regular columnist for The Huffington Post. She writes daily with the fluidity and grace of a woman half her age; walks her dog, Polly, two miles a day; and lives in Austin, TX with her husband, JD.

Babette published, The Hat, the first acclaimed crime novel in the Kate Brady series in 2011, and the second novel in the series, The Red Scarf, will be on bookshelves around the country on August 15, 2013.

The third novel in the Kate Brady series is scheduled to release spring 2014. The Hat has its roots in personal history. What lends this novel its authenticity is that its author, Babette Hughes, is the daughter of a bootlegger who was murdered by the Mafia when she was an infant. Hughes (née Rosen) spent years piecing together her father’s bootlegging career and murder, despite her mother’s attempt to hide the truth. The Hat draws directly on the drama of Hughes’ search for the truth, as told in her acclaimed memoir, Lost And Found. The novel begins in 1931 with the brief, chilling murder of the godfather of the Jewish bootlegging world, Ben Gold. The killer disappears without a trace and Chapter Two, in flashback, introduces Kate Brady, who has just been fired from her Depression-era job working at Shapiro’s Bakery. She has little hope of a future until she meets the magnetic, wealthy Ben Gold, who immediately identifies her as his future wife. They marry in a brilliantly described wedding. The charged love affair between Kate and Gold’s employee, Bobby Keane, and their struggle to escape the dangerous Gold, is revealed later in the book. Ultimately, The Hat is the story of Kate’s struggle for lost innocence, selfhood, and freedom. Of courage in the struggle with evil. Of bravery in the face of danger. And of being led into daylight by the restoring power of love.

April 14, 1932
BEN GOLD’S KILLER knew that he was a man of regular habits. His bedroom light went on exactly at seven, the bathroom light at 7:10, and he was always nattily dressed in suit and fedora at 7:40 when he left for his morning walk to Jake’s newsstand to pick up the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The killer also knew that Gold took a short cut through a nearby alley and had waited, hidden in the ally’s doorway of an indented and closed shoe repair shop. Sometimes, if a headline happened to interest Gold as he walked back with the newspaper, he would stop and read the article, which worried the assassin because it could dangerously throw the timing off. But in exactly five minutes, Gold’s footsteps were heard. As he approached, the executioner removed the safety of the Smith & Wesson .38, stepped out and pointed the gun. Small, dressed in knickers, a shirt and cap, the murderer looked to be no more than fifteen or sixteen years old.

Gold opened his mouth in puzzlement then in shocked recognition.

The bullet shattered Ben Gold’s face.

Upcoming release...The Red Scarf
The Red Scarf opens with Kate Brady, aka, Mrs. Ben Gold trying to find a normal life as the widow of the Godfather of the Jewish mafia, Ben Gold. Ben Gold is dead and the file is closed as far as law enforcement is concerned. The angry remaining Sarsini brother is the killer, or at least that’s what the FBI believes. Good riddance is what they and everyone who knew Ben Gold think, and Kate agrees wholeheartedly. Ben had treated her badly, was not a good man, and frankly deserved exactly what he got.

And, so, as The Red Scarf picks up her story she is attending college, living on the millions of dollars of ill-gotten gain that Ben had left her, and trying to put the life of a moll behind her. But once again, even from beyond the grave, Ben Gold drags her back into the dangerous world of gangster and guns.

When handsome FBI agent Adam Fairfield is introduced as a guest lecturer, she feels immediately drawn to him, and he to her. A torrid love affair ensues and soon, she is risking her life by revealing her darkest secret to him, trusting that he won’t put her away for life, or worse.

For Kate, this story is about more than the thrill of bringing down another bad man who is intimidating her community and abusing his wife. This is about redemption. It’s about getting on with her life and leaving behind as best she can the lengthy laundry list of mistakes she had made as a young and impressionable woman.

Once again, Babette Hughes brings all the moving parts of this story to what is becoming her signature, a climactic finish that leaves the reader breathless and yet still thinking about all the twists and turns and the characters we met in The Red Scarf days later, long after the last page is turned.

September 6, 1933

It is the first day of my criminal justice class at Cleveland College. Waiting with the other students for the professor to arrive, I try to look innocent. I have taken the precaution of sitting in the back row between a boy with acne and a chubby girl with a pretty face and too much makeup. I wish I were like them. I wish acne and weight were all I have to worry about. I wish I could shake the plump girl until her teeth rattle. I want her green life.

The room smells of paper and the cologne on the girl sitting next to me. Someone has carved initials in the wood of my desk. Does “H. R.” belong to the wood carver? Or to the wood-carver’s spouse? But that’s silly—most eighteen-year-olds aren’t married. As I was. To my regret. And surely to my former husband’s, who is now safely buried with the other dead Jews in Mayfield Cemetery.

The door opens and the dean arrives with a man so handsome there is a collective intake of breath from the girls in the room. Who is he? I knew Dean Conway from his boring speech to the freshman assembled last week in the auditorium. But the other? I would have remembered if I had seen him before. You don’t forget a face like that.

“Good morning, students,” Dean Conway says, with a pasted-on smile. “I have a swell surprise for you. The instructor for this class will be a real-life F.B.I. agent. This,” he says, gesturing to him grandly, “is Adam Fairchild. “Before joining the Bureau, he taught law and criminal justice at Ohio State University. How about those credentials? How lucky can you get?” Someone starts to clap, the dean joins in and then the rest of the class.

Fairfield is standing a bit to the side, his hands in his pockets, looking like Tyrone Power or maybe Douglas Fairbanks without the mustache.

I slide my eyes over to the door. Too far away.

“I leave you now in the capable hands of Special Agent Fairfield,” Dean Conway says, pausing and lifting his chin as if posing for a photograph.

“Thank you, Dean. I only hope I don’t disappoint after that introduction,” he says, grinning as if he knows better.

He takes a sheet of paper from the desk. “Please stand as I read your name so I can get a look at you.”

As he reads the names, each student stands, saying, “Here.” As I wait for him to call my name, I start to sweat. When he does, I rise, manage a mumbled “Here,” and slide back down into my chair. His eyes linger on me. Or am I imagining it? No. I am not imagining it. He knows who I am. I thought I could disappear among hundreds of college students. I thought by using my maiden name I could erase the time when I was Mrs. Ben Gold. I was wrong. I should have packed up and gone as far from Cleveland as I could get—California. Oregon. Anywhere but here. Well, it isn’t too late—this is my first day in Mr. F.B.I’s class. It’s a big country.

I see that he’s dressed for the part of charming professor in one of those tweed jackets with leather on the elbows, a blue shirt and neatly knotted brown tie. Even though his hair is cropped short, I can see the grey starting. Still, it’s hard to tell his age—30’s? 40’s?

After the roll call, he looks at me again. I make myself return his stare as if that will make him drop his. It does not. I drop mine.

He looks at his watch. “There’s still time for me to tell you a bit about the F.B.I,” he says, sitting down on the edge of the desk. “Before J. Edgar Hoover became Director it was just the Bureau of Investigation. But Hoover got it federalized so we could cross state lines to chase the bad guys. How many of you have heard of Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly?”

A bunch of hands shoot up.

“Okay, I can tell you that we know Nelson’s in San Francisco, a source has Machine Gun Kelly in Chicago, and we’ve spotted Bonnie and Clyde in Des Moines. Believe me, their days of robbing banks and killing people are numbered.” There is a sudden gravity about him with that grim look you see on the faces of F.B.I. agents in the newsreels.

The boy with acne raises his hand.

“Mr. Arlington,” Fairfield says, nodding.

“So how does a person get in?” the boy asks.

“You want to be an F.B.I. agent?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, son, you’ve got some years to go—you have to be twenty-five. And before that, you have to have gone to law school. You have to be a lawyer. And come from a good family.”

Good family. That lets me out.

The boy sits down.

A skinny girl in a navy blue dress raises her hand.

“Miss Sawyer,” Fairfield says. But he is looking at me again.

I feel my face heat up and look down at my white schoolgirls’ blouse to check on buttons.

“Does the F.B.I. take women?” she asks.

“Not any I know of,” he says. “Although there were a few. Emma Jentzer back some twenty years or so.
Also, Alaska Davidson and Lenore Houston in the old bureau.” He stops, as if searching his memory.

“And oh, yes, Jessie Duckson.” He lets go of his charming smile. “Maybe by the time you’re twenty-five Hoover will let women in. So go to law school, just in case. That way, if you can’t be an agent, you’ll have a back up. You can be a lawyer.”

“I don’t know any women lawyers, do you?” There was a nice edge to her voice. I liked her.

“Well, no. A great injustice. But perhaps you’ll change that and be the first woman agent in modern times.”

The girl looks doubtful.

Another hand is raised.

“Mr. Linsky,” Fairfield says.

I am impressed with his memory of names after only one hearing. More to worry about.

“So how come Mr. Hoover can’t catch Dillinger?”

“Well, Mr. Linsky, we have it on good authority he’s in Dayton, Ohio. As we speak. He moves around a lot but we’ll get him. Sooner or later we’ll get him.” He narrows his eyes. You can imagine him wearing sun glasses, a fedora, and that serious expression, moving silent as a cat, stalking Dillinger, ready; you can imagine him shooting. No questions asked. Just the Springfield Armory Model M 14 machine gun with 20 round USGI—like the gun that laid under my husband’s side of the bed. Or the Smith & Wesson 22, with a clip that holds 12 rounds. Small enough to fit in a pocket or hide in a hat. Small enough to fit in a woman’s hand. I feel a small thrill.

The boy sits down.

Fairfield looks at his watch again, opens a notebook, and recites the course agenda: Intro to Criminal Justice; Criminal Law; Criminal Investigation; Intro to Forensic Chemistry; Human Relations. I dutifully write the list in my notebook with a shaking hand, now convinced that he knows who I am.

“Class, please read chapters one through four in your textbook, ‘Intro to Forensic Chemistry’ by the next class,” he’s saying. My classmates begin noisily scraping chairs, murmuring, moving toward the door. A couple of girls almost trip as they turn for one more look at Fairfield.

I close my notebook and gather up my books.

I am almost at the door when he calls from the front of the room, “Miss Brady.”

Pretending not to hear him, I put my head down and keep on walking.

“Miss Brady!” he calls. “My office, please! Room 321.”

The Hat is 99 cents on Amazon Kindle through this weekend! (Click the Amazon link below--be sure to double check the price before clicking purchase)

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