October 30, 2013

Trini Amador's Gracianna--Guest Post and {Giveaway}

Why Gratitude?

Gracianna was my great-grandmother and when I was a child she used to talk a lot about being thankful. “Grateful?” Who talks to a four year old about that concept? Later in life I began linking shreds of stories I had been told with my own my beliefs to a jolting incident of being found walking around her house at four years old with a loaded German Luger. As a brand marketing executive that owns his own business I travel a lot. In the last few years I have put in over 750,000 miles worldwide and took advantage of that flying time by writing.

I live in Sonoma County, California where my family owns the lauded Gracianna Winery in the Russian River Valley but nearly all of my marketing work is outside the US. I wrote Gracianna in over thirteen countries. Gracianna took eight months to write but nearly two years in editing with the talented Hillel Black, who has edited over 20 New York Times bestsellers, and who gave Gracianna its wonderful tempo and grace notes.

After reflecting on the legacy of powerful values and a powerful woman, we arrive here.

Gracianna is the story I pieced together from bits I picked up from my family, some of my own memories, and memories of memories, and well-known family stories and interviews.

The rest is how I imagined my great-grandmother would have acted, based on my observations of her worried mind; controlling tendency; and pensive inward-looking gaze; and also of my perceptions of her joy, sadness, and beliefs.

But this will not be forgotten. Gracianna’s sister miraculously did live through Birkenau, where it is estimated that between 700,000 and 1 million people were gassed, hanged, or shot.

I needed to tell the story about my lifelong belief of how that gun had gotten into my grandmother’s nightstand and into my boy-hand.

I wanted to convey my understanding of her values and what they meant to her, and what they took from her and what she gave us. I believe these values were always on her mind, never far from her always-moist, pursed lips and French-accented thoughts. I wanted to understand her values and convictions and compare them to now-values, and I wondered, “What might this generation believe in so strongly that it would cause them to act so desperately….What is it that is so important that each of us would act upon it, based on our values, beliefs, and attitudes today?”

But gratitude stuck with me throughout the years, from “Grandma Lasaga.” I did not understand what gratitude was until I was in my forties. When I was young, she used the word “thankful” in a powerful way.

She spoke to me as an adult, I think, hoping that this message would stay with me; maybe reasserting itself when I was able to understand. And it did.

So, I wanted to bring Gracianna and her values to life, while revealing their meaning in mine. Now, modern research tells us that living a “grateful” life calms us, allows us a bit more peace and happiness and that those of us considering the things we should be thankful for live longer. Think about it.

All these years later, my family, the Amadors of Sonoma County, started our winery as a way to express the hand-me-down gratitude of Gracianna. And now folks from all over the world share our Sonoma County wine with their friends and family and appreciate that Gracianna wines are for those with something to be grateful for.If you have any questions or want to know more inside stories about the book just contact me—I would enjoy hearing from you. Trini.Amador3@Gracianna.net

About the book
Publication Date: July 23, 2013
Greenleaf Book Group Press
Hardcover; 296p
ISBN-10: 1608325709

The gripping story of Gracianna–a French-Basque girl forced to make impossible decisions after being recruited into the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador’s great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.

Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna’s past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother’s story.

Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s–on her way to America, she hopes–but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it–even if it means using lethal force.

As Amador tells the imagined story of how his great-grandmother risked it all, he delivers richly drawn characters and a heart-wrenching page-turner that readers won’t soon forget.

Praise for Gracianna

“Gracianna is a riveting and remarkable narrative. The characters come alive through their unassuming but compelling stories, as Nazi-occupied Paris unfolds before our eyes. We come to care deeply about the characters, which makes putting down the book almost impossible. Highly recommended.” – Stacey Katz Bourns, Director of Language Programs, Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

“While wine is obviously a significant part of life’s enjoyment, the story behind the wine can be even more gratifying. You will be fixated on this thrilling story written by Trini Amador which was inspired by Gracianna, his great-grandmother, the French Basque namesake of his family’s award-winning winery in Sonoma County.” – Bob Cabral, Director of Winemaking & General Manager, Williams Selyem Winery

“Gracianna is a gripping story about human courage and determination. This book truly deserves a movie because of the action and emotions in it. Trini Amador has done a fantastic job in bringing the story of his amazing grandmother to life. A must read for fiction and non-fiction lovers alike.” —Felipe Korzenny, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication, Florida State University.

About the author
Trini Amador vividly remembers the day he found a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering through his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun. This experience sparked a journey towards Gracianna, Amador’s debut novel, inspired by true events and weaving reality with imagination. It’s a tale drawing from real-life family experiences.

Mr. Amador is a traveled global marketing “insighter.” He is a sought-after guru teaching multinational brand marketers to understand how customer and consumer segments behave based on their needs, values, motivations, feeling and values. He has trained over five thousand brand marketers on how to grow brands in over 20 countries in the last 15 years. His counseling has been valued at global brands including General Electric, Microsoft, AT&T, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, Google, Jack Daniel’s, The J.M. Smucker Co., DuPont, Mattel, and Rodale, Inc..

Amador is also a founding partner with his wife and children of Gracianna Winery, an award-winning winery located in Healdsburg, California. The winery also pays tribute to the Amador Family’s maternal grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. Her message of being thankful lives on through them. The Gracianna winery strives to keep Gracianna’s gratitude alive through their wine. Learn more at: www.gracianna.com, like Gracianna Winery on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @GraciannaWinery.

Amador resides in Sonoma County with his family.

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October 23, 2013

Guest Post: David Blixt's Colossus: The Four Emperors

Please welcome David Blixt as part of the virtual tour for his novel, Colossus: The Four Emperors.
Memory v. Imagination

Before the advent of certain small persons into my life, I had the good fortune to be rather well-traveled. I made it a point to visit all the major locales in my stories – London, Paris, Verona, Florence, Rome, Delphi, Masada, Jerusalem, and more. It’s so useful to walk the streets, breathe the air, literally see the light. Towns have flavors, colors, all their own.

Yet I’m convinced that travel is actually second to research and imagination. Why? Because cities change. Because experience, while powerful, can be misleading. Because of the trickiness of memory.

Here’s what I mean: Rome is a city built upon itself. You can see this if you visit the Forum Romanum – you have to descend from the modern street above to reach the excavation. But in my memory, it’s hard to remember that it was not that way in 69 AD. I mean, Rome is the City of the Seven Hills, right? So it’s natural to think of the area as hilly. And it was. But the hills were on the other side.

Yet, as I wrote the climax of The Four Emperors, which all takes place on the Capitoline Hill that overlooks the Forum, I kept envisioning the Forum as I had experienced it – not as it had been 2000 years ago. To rectify that, I started poring over maps, reimagining the Forum from both a bird’s eye view and from the ground up. I had to mentally reconfigure the site as something quite different than what I had seen, construct monuments, invent ornaments. And I had to re-orient myself entirely to what had been there then, not now. The result is pretty accurate and, I’m told, quite vivid.

So being there helped for flavor, but I couldn’t rely on my memory to guide me. I had to create – or rather re-create – the place anew.

This same tale holds very, very true for Jerusalem, which appeared in the first Colossus book and is the central locale for the next one. Being there was fantastic. But to rely on my memory of a place would be to cheat the reader of the experience of traveling through time, seeing it as it was, not as it is.

Another example, from another series: I first visited Verona in 1998, up from Florence where I was visiting my girlfriend. I was about to direct Romeo & Juliet back in the states, and I thought it would be great fun to see the city where it all went down.

Emerging from the seemingly all-glass train station, the streets were slick with rain, the sky grey. Determined to see as much of the city as possible, I decided to walk. It was a steep, slick climb from the train station to the Arena, battling wind all the way.

Later, when it came time to write Pietro Alaghieri’s entrance to the city, I recreated that breathless climb up the hill, the Arena bursting upon him from the horizon. It was a dramatic introduction to the city, and I was quite proud of that bit of writing. Until 2002, that is, when I returned to Verona on my honeymoon. I had warned my wife of the hill. As we walked I kept wondering when the hill started. “Any second now!” Naturally, we reached the Arena having experienced barely any incline at all. Jan has mocked me mercilessly for it ever since.

Thus the danger of memory.

I love travel. Beyond cultural cues and local sensations, it sparks ideas. There are details in cities that are not visible in photos that are irreplaceable, wonderful. I would never have known about death doors or seen Verona’s underground Roman ruins without taking the time to go.

Yet, knowing of excavations in Rome, I imagined them in Verona long before I ever saw them. The best journey for an author is the imaginary one, recreating each city, brick by brick. Imagination can conjure up just as much detail, and is less fallible than memory.

About the book
Publication Date: April 7, 2013
Sordelet Ink
Paperback; 406p
ISBN-10: 061578318X

Rome under Nero is a dangerous place. His cruel artistic whims border on madness, and any man who dares rise too high has his wings clipped, with fatal results.

For one family, Nero means either promotion or destruction. While his uncle Vespasian goes off to put down a rebellion in Judea, Titus Flavius Sabinus struggles to walk the perilous line between success and notoriety as he climbs Rome's ladder. When Nero is impaled on his own artistry, the whole world is thrown into chaos and Sabinus must navigate shifting allegiances and murderous alliances as his family tries to survive the year of the Four Emperors.

The second novel in the Colossus series.

 About the author

Author and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE'S FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it." Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

For more about David and his novels, visit www.davidblixt.com.

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October 08, 2013

Rebecca Hazell's The Grip of God--Guest Post and {Giveaway}

Please welcome today, Rebecca Hazell, author of The Grip of God.

The Magic and Mystery of Writing Historical Fiction

What happens when a plot grips a writer and won't let go? This happened to me many years ago, but it took many more to give in and write the novel--in my case three! Meanwhile, among other things, I wrote and illustrated educational materials and award winning nonfiction books for young readers. Little did I realize that I was honing the skills I'd need to write an epic saga set in a vanished time, covering about ten different conflicting cultures. It took seventeen years just to do the research, but what an adventure!

The first mystery is why I waited so long to get going, because writing these novels, The Grip of God, Solomon's Bride, and Consolamentum, was such a magical experience.

I loved my young heroine, for one thing. Despite living seven hundred years ago, she is much like you or me but for the fact that she is swept along in the the Mongol invasion of Europe, flees at last to what she thinks will be safety, falls into the hands of the Assassins, is thrust into the conflicts between Crusader and Muslim, falls in love--and lots more.

Back to magic and mystery, what also happened was that I would put in a made-up detail and then discover it was true. Here are a few examples. As a child, I had imaginary friends, a tiny old man and woman, though the old woman had a bird bill instead of a mouth. I put them into the story as a way of linking my heroine with another character who appears much later. But then, researching my story, I discovered that there actually is a Slavic house spirit from ancient times, an old woman with a bird bill for a mouth!

Another example: I put a blue vial of rose water into the story as a nice detail, then traveled to Paris and found that exact vial in a museum I had never visited before.

Even taking our children to Disney World was magical and mysterious: it was hosting a huge traveling exhibit about traditional Mongol culture, including attire, saddles, weapons, and personal items like chopsticks and hankies, all of which went straight into my story.

Perhaps the biggest element of magic was discovering that I am related to my heroine. Technically this is impossible, since I made her up. Or did I? In researching my family tree, I traced my ancestry all the way back to medieval Kiev, and when I visited it a couple of years ago, it felt like coming home. Several new friends even commented on how I could easily be Ukrainian. So who knows? Maybe she really did exist, and maybe ...

So in writing this trilogy, I learned just how magical and mysterious our world really is as I sought to recreate a lost era and make it real to you, dear reader.

About the book
Duncan, BC Canada: Award Winning Writer Rebecca Hazell Releases First Book in Trilogy of Historical Fiction Novels

Rebecca Hazell has just released The Grip of God, the first novel in an epic historical trilogy. It is available on amazon.com and its affiliates and by special order through your local bookstore. The saga’s heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. Clear eyed and intelligent, she recounts her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol hordes that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is haunted by a prophecy that catalyzes bitter rivalries in her new master's powerful family. She must learn to survive in a world of total war, always seeking the love she once took for granted.

Sofia's story is based on actual historical events that determine her destiny. Readers will delight in this very personal and engaging tale from a time that set the stage for many of the conflicts of today's world.

Praise for the trilogy 

“How deftly and compellingly Hazell takes the reader with her into that mysterious and exotic world, and makes it all seem so very close to hand!” – Peter Conradi, Fellow of Britain's Royal Society of Literature and author of Iris Murdoch: A Life, and of A Very English Hero.

"I enjoyed watching her morph from a spoiled sheltered princess with slaves of her own, into a tough, savvy survivor, with a new awareness of social injustice. The book is action packed. I couldn't put it down." -- from a review on Amazon.com.

"I got completely caught up in the characters and story and always looked forward to getting back to them. What a fully fleshed and fascinating world you developed and it was wondrous to learn so much about that time and the Mongol culture. Your gifts come out in your lush descriptions of place and objects. All very vivid and colorful." --author Dede Crane Gaston

The novel is available both in paperback and Kindle versions and through your local bookstore by special order. The subsequent two novels in the trilogy are scheduled for publication later this year.

About the author

Rebecca Hazell is a an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.

She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:

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October 04, 2013

Colin Falconer's Isabella: Braveheart of France--Guest Post and {Giveaway}

Please welcome Colin Falconer in celebration of the release of his new novel, Isabella: Braveheart of France

It’s a thin line between love and hate
The story of Edward and Isabella
Colin Falconer

There’s a song originally recorded by The Persuaders in 1971 and covered many times since, most famously by Annie Lennox. It’s called ‘There’s a thin line between love and hate.’

It kept going round in my head when I first read the story of Edward and Isabella.

Isabella was the queen of Edward II of England. Their marriage had been arranged when she was just three years old to try and cement the truce between France and England over disputed territories in Gascony. 

Edward was a fine strapping fellow, by all accounts. She was only twelve years old when she married him but was destined to grow into a beautiful young woman. They were the glamour couple of the early fourteenth century, a Brangelina in the making. 


But two things stood in the way of their happiness and future success; Edward didn’t particularly want to be king of England and wasn’t really suited to the job; and he had fallen in love at first sight. 

But not with her.

The love of Edward’s life was a former squire named Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was murdered by some of Edward’s disaffected barons when she was seventeen and just growing into woman hood, so it may be that she thought that afterwards their marriage had a chance.

And it seemed that way for a short while. Edward performed his conjugal duties by England if not by her; they had four children over the course of the next decade. 

But it seems she never really won his love. She was replaced in his trust, if not his bed, by another of his court favourites, Hugh Despenser, and after the birth of her last child she became an increasingly lonely figure. He sent away her French retainers, separated her from her children and spent little time with her.

But finally, with the aid of her lover, Mortimer, she deposed him and he died at the hands of his captors in Berkeley Castle. Did she know about the planned murder beforehand? That we cannot know.

Did she come to hate him that much? It is an intriguing question.

More intriguingly - did she love him in the first place?

Isabella was an enigma. After Edward’s funeral at Gloucester Cathedral, she was given his heart in a silver casket. She had never had it in life; she owned it in death. When she herself died in 1358 she was buried, at her own insistence, in her wedding dress, holding the casket to her breast.

Edward’s cell at Berkeley castle
Photograph: David Stowell
How do we interpret such gestures? 

Did she wish him dead for spurning her, and when it was done did it trouble her conscience for the rest of her life?

Or was she, as history has painted her, a she-wolf, cold as the alabaster of her tomb, and everything done all for show.

It’s a thin line between love and hate. The heart in the casket. The wedding dress.

What did it mean? 

If it was all done for love, it would make their story one of the most poignant in English history.

If it was hate, it was the perfect revenge.

But we can never know, we can only guess. And historical novelists love to guess ...

About the book
ISABELLA, Braveheart of France, available now from Amazon US
And also available as POD from Cool Gus publishing.

"She was taught to obey. But will she learn to rebel?
Princess Isabella of France arrives at the English court to find her husband the king.
She is just 12 years old.
He is one of Europe's most handsome princes, tall young, athletic.
And deeply in love with another.
... another man.
She fights to win her husband's love as his reign descends into crisis after crisis.
To finally create her own destiny she must defy all England.
She must even defy God.
Will she do it?
And what will be the cost?"

About the author
Colin Falconer was born in North London, and spent most of his formative years at school playing football or looking out of the window wishing he was somewhere else.

After failing to make the grade as a professional football player, he spent much of his early years traveling, hitch-hiking around Europe and North Africa and then heading to Asia.

His experiences in Bangkok and India later inspired his thriller VENOM, and his adventures in the jungles of the Golden Triangle of Burma and Laos were also filed away for later, the basis of his OPIUM series about the underworld drug trade.

He later moved to Australia and worked in advertising, before moving to Sydney where he freelanced for most of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines, as well as working in radio and television.

He started publishing in 1984, mostly humor and young adult fiction, but with the publication of VENOM in 1990, he became a full time novelist.

He has published over 40 books in print. HAREM was an enormous bestseller in Germany and THE NAKED HUSBAND was ranked #9 in Australia on its release.AZTEC stayed on the bestseller lists in Mexico for four months. He is a bestseller in Europe and his work has sold into translation in 23 countries: Brazil, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech republic, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Indonesia, Korea, Macedonia, Montenegro, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey.

He lived for many years in the beautiful Margaret River region in WA, and helped raise two beautiful daughters with his late wife, Helen. While writing, he also worked in the volunteer ambulance service for over 13 years His marriage ended in tragic circumstances, a story he has told in ‘The Naked Husband,’ and its non-fiction sequel, ‘The Year We Seized the Day,’ written with a writing partner, Elizabeth Best.

He travels regularly to research his novels and his quest for authenticity has led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz. He also completed a nine hundred kilometre walk of the camino in Spain.

He did not write for over five years but returned to publishing in 2010 with the release of SILK ROAD, and then STIGMATA the following year. ISABELLA is due to be published in 2013.

His likens his fiction most closely to Ken Follett – books with romance and high adventure, drawn from many periods of history.

Visit Colin at his WEBSITE.

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