November 27, 2013

Eliza Graham's Blitz Kid: Guest Post and {Giveaway}

The teenage voice in historical fiction

I’ve just published my novel for young adults: in this case, people of roughly 12 to 15. My protagonist, Rachel, 14, lives in London in autumn 1940. Primary and secondary sources galore exist on the effects of the Blitz on London: books, archives, websites, libraries and museums. What’s been more challenging is knowing how Rachel would have viewed her particular time of life. She would not have used the word ‘teenager’ to describe herself, but would almost certainly have regarded herself as different from both younger children and adults, inhabiting a kind of mid-ground.

Writing a 1940s young adult character has been challenge enough, but what of those writers painting characters from earlier times? Suppose your protagonist is a 17-year-old medieval nun? Or a 17th century 15-year-old farm worker? Would they view themselves as young women or men, or still as children, or as somehow inhabiting a separate group?

During the Middle Ages, groups of young men were given the ‘right’ to form their own groups, perhaps based on shared apprenticeships. Apparently drinking and staying out late featured in the social lives of these groups, as it still does, in Britain at least. Young women do not appear to have been afforded the same rights of rowdy association. But the big move towards regarding young people as a distinct group started in the nineteenth century within industrialized nation-states. At this point, societies began to acknowledge adolescence as a particular life stage: a time of vulnerability because of the many changes – physical and emotional – it brought with it.

As populations moved into cities and young people were released from labour in fields, schools became more important, often mandatory. For the first time there were large numbers of young people clustered together in schools and colleges. Commercial popular culture was not slow to appreciate the opportunities presented by these concentrated groups of youngsters, and, as the twentieth century progressed, film in particular became a form of popular culture explicitly targeted at young people.

So what was happening in the world of books while this shift took place?

The novels of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century certainly have their share of teenage protagonists: Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland, Jane Eyre, Jo March in Little Women and Pip in Great Expectations among them. But these characters are not all necessarily intended for a teenage audience.

Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey grasps towards a more adult and knowing way of viewing life. But while sympathetically viewing Catherine and her often cack-handed attempts to grasp reality, the novel points to Catherine’s need to grow up and stop seeing her life as a Gothic novel: to become ‘rational’. Poor Catherine. Fast-forward her two hundred years and she could have starred in her own vampire young adult novel and had lots of fun.

Although many young people read Great Expectations – it’s one of the shorter and ostensibly more straightforward of Dickens’ novels – Dickens is perhaps really writing the novel for those experienced enough in life to see the tragedy and irony in Pip’s young adult life, to know that he is chasing false gods in his pursuit of fashion and Estella’s heart. The older Pip interjects into the younger Pip’s accounts, thus young Pip does not entirely inhabit the first part of the book in his own right. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, a novel of development from innocence to experience, while YA, by contrast, revels in the young adult stage of life. In the same way Jane Eyre’s years at Lowood School, gripping as they are, form but one part of her life, to be read in the context of her overall development into mature womanhood.

Louisa Alcott, by contrast, intended her book for a young female readership. The girls may be called ‘little women’, but they are portrayed with their own distinct interests and entertainments: the Pickwick Club, for instance. Jo and Meg work, so they are obviously no longer children, but they are not yet expected to take on the full mantel of adult womanhood, even if they do (for better and worse) help out with domestic and charitable chores. Indeed, Meg’s parents worry that she wants to marry Brooke and take on an inevitable maternal role at too young an age.

But there’s a limit to how much we see of the teenage psyche in nineteenth century novels, no matter how masterful the author. Writers then were without some of the vocabulary we take for granted to explain people. No Freud. No psychology. No modern understanding of neurology and hormones. The modern meaning of the latter word wasn’t in use until early C20th, even if doctors had long regarded the womb as a source of trouble: hysteria, for instance.

Nor was there much understanding of how greatly the brain changes between childhood and adulthood. We now know that teenagers literally use different parts of their brains to carry out tasks than do adults, and this process goes on for longer than was once recognized. Moreover, certain areas of teenage brains undergo profound alteration during adolescence. One of these changes in brain wiring is that which ultimately enables an individual to take into account another’s perspective before making decisions or drawing conclusions. Empathy, in short, is an attribute that takes longer to develop in adolescents than we once thought.

This slow-developing empathy sounds like a negative, and may well be in private and social life, but there may be an upside for the author writing a young adult novel. Think of the passion the protagonists of young adult novels display – they sometimes feel and act without fully understanding the consequences on other people. Many of us can remember something we did as a teenager that had, to us, completely unforeseen, negative consequences for others. But in fiction this lack of mature empathy perhaps allows characters a kind of freedom: dangerous and even selfish as it may be.

If you choose to write about a young adult character inhabiting an earlier century, you have to both know about and unknow these neurological and hormonal discoveries. A sixteenth-century teenage girl would not have understood that her brain was undergoing profound ‘wiring’ changes, and that was why things that had once seemed straightforward were now complicated. She would not have understood that hormones were flooding her body, changing her physically and emotionally, even if she could see the external effects of their activity on her body. Of course, she may also have been a few years older than her modern equivalent, as puberty and menarche occurred later on centuries ago.

In trying to explain herself to herself, this girl of hundreds of years ago and her family might instead have used religious beliefs or the theory of the humours affecting health and mental state. She wouldn’t be a hormonal teenager; she’d be a young woman expected to behave like an adult. Nobody would have been targeting her with music, books, clothes and goods aimed at her demographic. She would not have had access to the internet or social media to discuss the things that worried her. What a challenge it is to accurately paint characters whose social mind-set is so unlike ours, and whose normal (to us), hormonally driven sexual impulses are regarded as sinful.

I had to wait until I read Cassandra in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, written in the 1950s but set in the 1930s, to find a real relish for the young adult stage of life in its own right, no matter how difficult and painful it might be. By the end of the book Cassandra hasn’t ‘fixed’ everything: there will still be heartbreak, misunderstanding and difficulty, but she knows more, and knowing means everything to this questing protagonist.

The period starting roughly at twelve and continuing until about eighteen is rich creative territory, full of emotional resonance. Authors are certainly showing eagerness to mine its possibilities, even if, or perhaps because, the challenges of writing young adults from earlier periods are so great.

About the book

London 1940. Rachel is alone and adrift in a stricken city as the Blitz reaches its most deadly stage and thousands die in nightly air raids. Her father is under arrest as a suspected spy, her mother seriously ill in hospital. Can she survive in the murky blackout alongside London’s criminals and unearth the real traitors?

Blitz Kid is on a special 99-cent promotion this week at Amazon,, Kobo, and iBooks.

About the author 
Eliza Graham is a British author living near Oxford. Her adult novels blend historical threads with contemporary issues of grief, loss and the aftermath of war, and include Playing with the Moon, Restitution and Jubilee. The History Room, was published by Macmillan in 2012. In 2007 Playing with the Moon was longlisted for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club, and shortlisted for the World Book Day Book to Talk About. Her novels have been translated into German and Norwegian.

Eliza’s new book Blitz Kid is the first in a new series of young adult novels for readers of 12-plus.

Find out more about Eliza at her website and blog.

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter form below to enter for a chance at a digital copy of Blitz Kid by Eliza Graham, open internationally!

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November 12, 2013

Rich DiSilvio's A Blazing Gilded Age--Guest Post and {Giveaway}


Please welcome today, Rich DiSilvio, author of A Blazing Gilded Age.

The Blazing Inspiration to Write A Blazing Gilded Age

I was first drawn to this story due to the many books I had read about this era. The Gilded Age was jam-packed with bold iconic figures that seemed larger than life. And while the Civil War era or later Roaring Twenties have been sources for popular novels and silver screen films, the Gilded Age, quite inexplicably, has had no standout novel or movie about it, thus heightening my obsession with this fascinating era.

Having studied history for well over twenty years and penning “The Winds of Time,” a nonfictional tome on Western civilization, I naturally had a great deal of insight under my belt, but not enough about this robust and volatile era. As such, as I delved deeper, it brought to light many impressive and crucial developments of the time, but also the plight of the common laborer. Worse yet, the abominations of child labor. Some of the harrowing events I had read burned in my mind, thus turning a passive obsession into a fervent necessity. As such, my focus switched abruptly, thus devising this poor, fictional immigrant family from Poland, named the Wozniaks. This family of coal miners would serve as the rock-solid foundation, while erecting the huge superstructure that would include a vast assortment of steely iconic figures, like Teddy Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain and others, along with lesser knowns, such as Albert Bierstadt, Robert Lincoln and others.

While devising the Wozniak family, I realized that I wanted to have two main brothers acting as opposites, while the addition of a third and oldest brother would add to the dynamics of family life. Having grown up in a house with brothers, I had some very good firsthand knowledge to draw from. No family is without conflict, yet how they deal with conflict becomes the key to success or failure.

As such, I quickly decided to reject the traditional roles of a Cain and Able or Romulus and Remus, where one brother kills the other or severe conflict ends up destroying their blood bond or love. Real life can often times produce such unfortunate results, but instead, I decided to have the one “good” brother help his “wayward” brother to overcome his rebellious nature. That isn’t always an easy task, yet it is this dynamic of unyielding brotherly love that I found to be an uplifting quality about this particular family, which evidently proved endearing to readers, as I had hoped.

Marcus is the main character, Tasso is his wayward brother, and Stanislaw is the eldest. However, they all Anglicize their names at their father’s request in order to blend into their new American home, thus becoming Marc, Ted and Stan. The story begins with the boys being child laborers and quickly shifts into a fast-paced rollercoaster ride, as the family endures one tragic event after another. The villain (every gripping tale needs a villain!) happens to be their rich and ruthless boss, the infamous coal tycoon Archibald Desmond Huxley.

Here again, I made a concerted effort to paint Huxley as a real man of flesh and blood, not some cardboard villain that is pure evil and receives little to no development. Therefore, Archie is allotted a fair share of the story. He is intelligence and savvy, yet coupled with a crude inner core that is as evil as evil gets.

As the tale unfolds, historic figures and major events are woven into the storyline, such as the Columbian Exposition, Spanish-American War, Pan-American Expo, and two presidential assassinations, not to mention a great deal of sordid political, social and economic antics that had a direct impact on issues that still haunt us today. Therefore, many American readers will be intrigued by these revelations. Moreover, my love for art, architecture and classical music blends beautifully with this time period, so I had plenty of opportunities to include tidbits of culture that will please those interested in the arts or at least pique the interest of others. As such, I believe this saga is a full-blooded American story that has something for everyone.

Praise for “A Blazing Gilded Age”

Exciting Read

I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, with an open mouth. What a great story, keeping me on the edge of my seat. 
-- Mary Yoder, Amazon review

An Exceptionally Written Novel that is Deeply Affecting!

What a magnificent book!!! As soon as I started it, Rich DiSilvio's prose immediately grabbed me. The opening scene in the coal mine is so very touching and disturbing. When one thinks of the Gilded Age, one thinks of the Morgans or the Vanderbilts—yet this brilliantly written historical novel shows the other side—the millions of people—many of them children—who labored in horrific and dangerous situations, many dying, so that the tycoons could live like kings and the Industrial Revolution could transform America. …These figures burst to life thanks to the narrative skills of a terrific writer. A very important book to read. 
-- Rick Friedman, JMC Book Club


This novel is terrific. I didn't want to put it down…I absolutely love how the family's story is intertwined with historical events and people. Very entertaining and factual. I learned so much while I was reading this and it amazes me how much of history has repeated itself in this day and age. Our current leaders really could learn
some lessons by looking back. 
-- Debra S. McGuiness, Amazon and Goodreads review

About the author
Rich DiSilvio’s passion for art, literature, music, history and architecture has yielded contributions in each discipline in his professional career. Noted as a world-class artist and new media developer, DiSilvio’s work has adorned the projects of star celebrities, such as Cher, Pink Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues and many others, as well as cable TV shows and documentaries, including “Killing Hitler,” James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” “Celebrity Mole” and many others.

For a full biography and more info on his books, please visit his website



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November 06, 2013

Guest Post: J. Boyce Gleason's Anvil of God

Please welcome J. Boyce Gleason as part of the virtual tour for his novel, Anvil of God.

I always had a passion for history, but writing? It scares the hell out of me. I’m not sure why. There is something about a blank page that assaults the ego. “You think you have something to say? Why, how self-important of you!” In college, I even tailored my classes based on the length of the papers required. (Twenty-five pages? Flip on to the next course). For the most part, during those four years, I got away with it. And as a history major, that’s saying something.

Even so, every once in a while I’d surprise myself on an assignment. I’d like the way a sentence hung together or how a paragraph seemed to flow. I’d find myself spending twenty minutes over a single sentence wanting the consonants to match up, sure that it wasn’t quite right.

When I graduated, I set off for Washington to work on Capitol Hill as a legislative aid. It took two years – starving as an intern, working on campaigns and freelancing – before I finally landed a job there. Yet when the offer came, I almost didn’t take it. It was working as a press secretary. All they do is write.

The first day, I was told I had to compose an op/ed column for the Congressman by 3:00 p.m. I didn’t even know what an op/ed column was. I called a friend who supplied me with a couple of samples and so armed I sat down to type. (Back then it was at a typewriter). I stared at the page for over an hour as the clock raced toward my deadline. I knew this was a test and that if I wanted to keep the job, I would have to deliver.

From the samples I had, I could see that the first line set up the argument. It had to be catchy and relevant. (Later I would learn this is called the “lead).” If I could come up with a good one, at least I’d have a chance.

Another hour went by. Still, I stared at the page. Then it hit me. With a thrill of possibility, I typed out a line then raced to frame out the arguments for and against the issue at hand (I think it was something exciting like tax-indexing). To be honest, I don’t remember much of the next ninety minutes. What I do remember was coming to the end and thinking, “done.” I went back to reread the copy. To my surprise, all I edited were a few typos, a sentence or two, and then cleaned up the grammar. It was done. I had time to spare. Best of all, I could keep my job.

Twenty years later, when I sat down to write Anvil of God, I suffered from the same doubts I had in college. I could write for the news media, but creative writing? I didn’t think I had the stuff. But there was story running around in my head based on an epic poem about Charlemagne’s greatest knight. I had to try.

I sat down and stared at the blank screen. I couldn’t find a place to start. I decided to write a scene between Charlemagne’s father and the last of the Merovingian Kings…just to create some character interaction. Four hours later, I shut down the computer. I was shaking. The characters had run amok and the scene I had written was so disturbing that I couldn’t look at it for three days. I had written that? (It still scares me).

I understood then what writers talk about when referring to their “muse.” (Okay, mine is a dark muse, but it’s still a muse). When I had recovered from the shock, I knew there was no going back. Although I still consult about the news media, my world has refocused on the writing. I spend a few hours a day bending sentences to my will, waiting for the next gush of words to kick in.

It is still scary. I still worry that I have nothing new to say. And there are days when I have to talk myself into sitting down before the screen. But, thankfully, I do a better job of keeping my characters in check so it isn’t quite so frightening.

About the book
Publication Date: July 26, 2013
Paperback; 440p
ISBN-10: 1475990197

It is 741. After subduing the pagan religions in the east, halting the march of Islam in the west, and conquering the continent for the Merovingian kings, mayor of the palace Charles the Hammer has one final ambition-the throne. Only one thing stands in his way-he is dying.

Charles cobbles together a plan to divide the kingdom among his three sons, betroth his daughter to a Lombard prince to secure his southern border, and keep the Church unified behind them through his friend Bishop Boniface. Despite his best efforts, the only thing to reign after Charles's death is chaos. His daughter has no intention of marrying anyone, let alone a Lombard prince. His two eldest sons question the rights of their younger pagan stepbrother, and the Church demands a steep price for their support. Son battles son, Christianity battles paganism, and Charles's daughter flees his court for an enemy's love.

Based on a true story, Anvil of God is a whirlwind of love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal that follows a bereaved family's relentless quest for power and destiny. 

About the author
After a 25-year career in crisis management and public affairs, J. Boyce Gleason began writing historical fiction and is publishing his first novel ANVIL OF GOD, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles. With an AB in history from Dartmouth College, Gleason brings a strong understanding of the past to his historical fiction. He is married, has three sons and lives in Virginia.

For more information please visit

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Stop by for my review and a giveaway of Anvil of God at The True Book Addict on November 25.