Trick or Treat!

Guest Blog Post by author Suzy Witten

witch photo

I’m excited to announce that for the next three days authors Suzy Witten, Erika Mailman, and Mary Sharratt will be guest bloggers here, sharing stories of how witches became affiliated with Halloween! All three of these authors have written novels delving deeply into the world of the “witch”. Looking for a good Halloween read? Or wanting to know more about this subject matter?

Read their novels:  The Afflicted Girls by Suzy Witten, The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman, and Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt.

Now, I’d like to introduce author Suzy Witten and her fascinating post on the multicultural history of how witches became connected with Halloween…

“Ask a child:  who rides a broom on Halloween night? Of course, she’ll know.

Then ask: but why are witches associated with Halloween? You’ll get a shrug.

Because she’d have to look back thousands of years… to when on Yule night in Norway, goddess Reisarova and her witch hordes mounted their black steeds with eyes of shining ember, and during the wild ride would cast down saddles onto roofs, foretelling death for the occupant.

Or when the troll witch giantess Hyrrokin rode through her Swedish skies on a wolf bridled with snakes.

400 Hyrrokkin_by_Pietsch

Or when on Lithuania’s midsummer night, all magicians and witches flew to the top of Mt. Szatria to revel with their mighty sorceress Jauterita.

flying witch

Or when in the Scottish highlands at summer’s end, with a wand of power in her hand, grey-cloaked crone Nicnevin led her witch fairies and goblins astride animal spirits in a great celebratory Parade. Or when in Ireland, the beings and souls of the Otherworld—some of them human who’d been turned into cats for evil deeds—assembled at the sacrificial bonfire of the Druids among the people to honor the dying natural world in the presence of the aged Crone, the Hag, the Cailleach… all knew would re-emerge in spring as a beautiful, powerful maiden. For it was on Samhain night that the barrier between the worlds was so thin, spirits who were homesick could re-enter this mortal world and commune with and visit their loved ones.

In the German-speaking countries of Eastern Europe, the Old Goddess might appear at harvest’s end as an ugly, long-nosed spinster. On this Ember Night, she’d bring treats or play tricks: spindles of finished thread for industrious girls, dirtying or tangling the unspun flax of lazy spinners. Sometimes she’d sport a tooth or nose of iron, or carry live coals in her pitcher for burning their distaffs. Her job was to reward and punish children. Often she took the form of a pig.

In time, she became a myth… as did  her namesakes.

“At the end of the middle ages an international myth of the Old Goddess stretched from the Slavic east to the Celtic west and from Italy to Scandanavia. People said that a vibrant, powerful crone flew in the midst of a cavalcade of spirits dead and unborn, joined by witches of all lands. On the eves of pagan holy days the spirit hosts set out for high mountaintops or other sacred places. At these animist sanctuaries the witches dance, play music and games, feast and celebrate their mysteries. The divine “Mistress of the Night” presides over the gathering, giving cures and revealing the future. Often she miraculously revives the animals the witches have been feasting on.” (The Tregenda of the Old Goddess, Witches, and Spirits; Max Dashu (2000))

witceh photo

In these seemingly unrelated populations of pre-Roman, pre-Christian times, the Old Goddess’ names and manifestations were many. She was secure in her recurring reverence… until in the 1st Century B.C, the Romans invaded Northern Europe and brought their own festivals and goddesses with them.

Over the next four centuries, old and new customs merged, until by the 4th Century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity everyone’s lawful religion and launched a holy war against Paganism and its symbols. The old practices were “Christianized,” and the old names, rites, meanings, symbols were recast.

By the 8th Century A.D., the Pagan holy day of Samhaim was celebrated as Hallowmas: a triple Christian holiday comprised of All Hallow’s Eve or Hallowe’en (October 31), All Saints Day or All Hallows Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). This was still the time of year to remember the dead… but now the dead included martyrs and saints, and all faithful departed Christians.

As for the rest of us, it is the night when witches ride brooms, ghosts come a’haunting, and skeletons rise from graves… to shout in every doorway: “Trick or treat!”

EXCERPT from THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem by Suzy Witten


“Abigail sailed up and set her hand upon the Good Book (which her uncle held) swearing to speak the truth (while gazing into his proud eyes). And then she looked visage to visage at the jurymen, memorizing each of their expressions for a future accounting. She knew their names, although not in the current sitting order—she’d memorized a list left out on her uncle’s desk: Fisk, Fisk, Batcheler, Fisk Jr., Dane, Evelith, Perly Sr., Peabody, Perkins, Sayer, Eliot, and Herrick Sr. She’d wondered then if any were bachelors. Now she didn’t care, since not a handsome face sat among them. She also looked about the room to make certain all were attentive. Especially that Boston minister Cotton Mather, who was scribbling in his book and thus failed to see her smile. Disappointed, she began with a pout:

“I saw Bridget Bishop administer the sacrament on the Witches’ Sabbath. Midnight of the last new moon, I was awakened by the sound of a great horn blowing—“

By now the courtroom had dissolved into the supernal light and in her mind’s eye she beheld her uncle’s pasture, but greener and vaster and brighter than it ever was. Brim full with cowslips, a frothy brook, pretty blue and white violets, fragrant lilies, and of course no screeching crickets, biting bugs or grunting frogs, only golden billowy butterflies—no, NO! ‘Twas midnight when the witches consorted! She blinked and now saw a hint of a slivered moon, her ally, dangling not above the crabapple tree, but a tree abundantly adorned with crisp red succulent apples, bigger and rounder than were Eve’s.

“I ran to my window and saw from all directions the damned mounted on their broomsticks. A great whirlwind had arisen. Then those three-score witches swirled down and landed in my uncle’s pasture like a flock of cackling caw-birds. They grounded their sticks and, one by one, renounced their Baptisms. The witches took out red bread and cake from their pockets, while the wizards built a great bonfire. Then all shed their clothes and danced naked around it. Bridget Bishop walked amongst them giving them blood to drink: ‘Consecrated wine of newborn .”

400 Suzy Witten author photoSuzy Witten’s career spans twenty years in the entertainment industry: as a filmmaker, screenwriter, story analyst, and editor for film and television. A graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, she was nominated for a Women In Film filmmaking award, and was a Walt Disney Studios Fellowship finalist for her screenplay about the Salem witch hunt of 1692. Her new Young Adult coming of age action-adventure novel 10/10ths will be published in 2014. She is also a Media Relations specialist during disasters for FEMA (U. S. Federal Emergency Management Agency). She resides in Los Angeles. Her debut novel, The Afflicted Girls, won the 2010 Independent Publisher (IPPY) silver medal for historical fiction.

Thank you Suzy for sharing this informative and intriguing article!


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7 Favorite Historical Novels with Art/Artists

I love to read fiction with art and artists. Do you? Do you have some favorite titles to share here? Recently, author Susan Vreelend, preeminent writer of novels focusing and drawing from the visual arts, asked on Facebook for readers to submit titles of books that have what she calls: “art tie-ins”. After some weeks she amassed more than 100 titles! Art in fiction is a growing niche. I’ve been voraciously reading these art-based novels as this is also my passion in writing and reading.

My current top 7 favorites (and these are not in any particular order — I love them all equally but for different reasons, the numbering is for organisation only):

The Forest Lover Cover1. The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

“She sat very still, listening to a stream gurgling, the breeze soughing through upper branches, the melodious kloo-klack of ravens, the nyeep-nyeep of nuthatches – all sounds chokingly beautiful. She felt she could hear the cool clean breath of growing things – fern fronds, maple leaves, white trillium petals, tree trunks, each in its rightful place.”
― Susan VreelandThe Forest Lover

This one of my all-time favorite novels. The writing is gorgeous and evocative of the majestic Pacific Northwest of North America and 19th century Canadian painter/writer, Emily Carr — her painting, her struggle, her love of this special place — its native people and culture.

Cascade cover2. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

“She knew better: when artistry seems most elusive is when you must focus, dig deep, and force yourself to think about how to give form to an idea that seems too vague to express.”
― Maryanne O’Hara

I really loved this story: tension on every page as you are plunged into the plight of the female painter. I could relate profoundly to the protagonist being a working visual artist for the last 20 years.



The Passion of Artemisia cover3. The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

“I remember being disappointed when Papa had shown me Caravaggio’s Judith. She was completely passive while she was sawing through a man’s neck. Caravaggio gave all the feeling to the man. Apparently, he couldn’t imagine a woman to have a single thought. I wanted to paint her thoughts, if such a thing were possible — determination and concentration and belief in the absolute necessity of the act. The fate of her people resting on her shoulders…” ― Susan VreelandThe Passion of Artemisia

This is an important and fascinating story about Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I wish for everyone  to read it and learn about her story and incredible paintings.

Portraits of an Artist cover4. Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns

“I want to paint something that no one has ever painted before,” he was saying. I almost laughed at that — doesn’t every artist? We are all touched, however lightly, by the finger of god, and long to be gods ourselves, bringing forth new creations, and yet, so very few achieve it. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian. We stumble in their footsteps, and wait at the closed door.” ― Mary F. BurnsPortraits of an Artist

I loved the writing and voices in this book, along with poignant and insightful reflections of what the artist thinks and cares about.

The Agony and the Ecstasy cover5. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” ― Irving StoneThe Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

I read this novel way back in 1993, while I was studying oil painting, ceramics and Italian art history — living in the blessed city of Florence, Italy. This is a classic and moving tale.


Claude & Camille cover6. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

“Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”
― Stephanie CowellClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

I cried at one point in this read. It is a touching and beautifully wrought story. The writing is exquisite and vivid: irresistible. I highly recommend this novel.

7. I’m currently reading The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro and loving it, but I’m not yet finished, so I will wait to comment!

My to read list: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen, The Miracles of Prato by Laurie Lico Albanese, Lydia Cassett Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman, The Painted Kiss  and The Wayward Muse by Elizabeth Hickey, The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

Please leave a comment and your favorite Art in Fiction titles!

For more highly recommended books visit my blog page “Recommended Reading: Fiction with Art/Artist”

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“Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction” Series debuts at the Historical Novel Society!

cascade_tpb coverFor the next seven weeks I will post each Sunday on the Historical Novel Society website a serendipitous story. Sharing an author’s magical tale of serendipity while writing, researching, and publishing historical fiction, along with their speculations as to possible reasons behind such phenomena.

This week’s post features author Maryanne O’Hara and her bewildering accounts while writing and publishing her recent novel Cascade, read on, you’ll be amazed!

Click Here to Read Story!

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Prose poem “Haiku Hijiri” to be published in literary journal Lalitamba

This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma reads “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”. It was created by Hakuin Ekaku (1685 to 1768)

This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma reads: “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”. It was created by poet, artist, sage Hakuin Ekaku (1685 to 1768).

I am pleased to announce that “Haiku Hijiri”, my prose poem about the acceptance of what is — to welcome all that comes, enjoy the now, enjoy aloneness — will debut in the 2014 issue of Lalitamba.

It is the story of an eccentric wandering Japanese priest whose existence serves as an example to the common people — how to live — what is important in life. The piece reminds us to have reverence for our sages, and that we don’t know when our last moment will arrive, so live in such a way as to elevate others, knowing all things pass, and offer the world what you have to give.

Hijiri: (Japanese: “holy man”), in Japanese religions, a person of great magnetism and spiritual power, as distinct from a leader of an institutionalized religion. Historically, hijiri has been used to refer to sages of various traditions, such as the shaman, Taoist magician, Shintō mountain ascetic or Buddhist reciter. Most characteristically hijiri describes the wandering priest who operates outside the orthodox Buddhist tradition to meet the religious needs of the lay people.

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Interview with Historical Novelist Nancy Rawles

350 Nancy RawlesThis 2013 Independence Day I would like to celebrate writer Nancy Rawles and her historical novel, My Jim. A beautiful book, an important story, this novel is written in the voice reminiscent of oral history of an eighteenth century slave wife, Sadie, whose husband, Jim, flees captivity when confronted with the prospect of being sold; and sails down the Mississippi River with Huck Finn from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

This book will open and pierce your heart, leave you awed.

Q: Will you share with us where the inspiration for your novel MY JIM came from?

I didn’t learn anything meaningful about the history of slavery until I was in college. In grade school and in high school, the whole subject was treated as a tragic, embarrassing episode that need not be explained. Or it was presented in satire, ala Huck Finn. I wasn’t introduced to slave narratives until I was an adult. I still find them to be the most breathtaking and beautiful books I have ever read. But unlike the narratives, which tell the stories of people who escaped, I wanted to tell the far more common story of someone who didn’t, someone who didn’t triumph in the end but who did survive. Her survival was largely due to the fact that she had loved and been loved, so she had experienced a glimmer of freedom that allowed her to keep going after she’d lost everyone and everything.

Q: I love the style of writing you wrote the novel in, it reads like oral history.  How did you come to decide to write in this voice? What challenges, if any, did you encounter when writing it this way?

I wanted My Jim to read like oral history, so I’m glad you’ve found it to be so. I read and listened to many oral histories before My Jim 2beginning to write. I studied the oral histories of former slaves, mostly for the emotional content of what they were saying. I found that they rarely spoke in terms of their feelings, so when they did, it was especially powerful. Mostly, they just reported what happened to them. The language was spare and clipped, as though they didn’t wish to recall a past that was so painful. When I started to write, I paid attention to how the book would sound if it were read aloud. I wanted there to be a rhythm and beat that is more associated with storytelling than with writing. That’s why the only punctuation I used was the full stop, the period. In My Jim, the period serves the same function as a line break serves in poetry.

Q: Also the structuring of the novel is unique, how did you come to organize the book by starting each chapter with a pertinent object? Or what inspired it?

I became very taken with the idea of what possessions must have meant to people who were themselves treated as possessions, people who had been stolen and sold and kept and discarded. I imagined that the few things they could hold onto and carry with them must have become enormously important. In the story, the central character is Jim’s wife Sadie. She carries with her – from slavery to freedom – a small piece of his hat, a fruit knife her mother gave her as a child, a shard of clay from a sacred bowl that her master broke to punish her, and the tooth of her youngest child, which she pulled just before he was taken away. These items, along with a few others, she keeps in a jar. They are her secrets, of no importance to anyone but her, until she shares them with her granddaughter to whom she tells her story.

Q: It is a heart touching story. Were there parts difficult to write? If so, will you share with us those parts and why they were so hard to write?

Much of My Jim was very difficult to write. In fact, there are a few segments that I am loathe to even read. Certainly anything that involved the daily torment of working as a slave and the suffering that comes with not being able to protect your family or keep your children close, all of those sections were extremely difficult to write.

Q: Will you share with us your writing process?

Invariably, any book I write involves research, so I research for about six months, just enough to get going, and I use that initial research to develop characters, story, style, and structure. Once I’ve decided these basics, I delve in, working straight through until I’ve got a first draft. If I come to a place in the writing where I don’t quite know what to do, I leave it blank and keep going. The first draft is generally about half as long as the final draft. When I’ve completed the first draft, I know how the book will end. So, I work backwards now, making sure all the proceeding chapters lead to the last one. Then, I identify all of the problems with the story, most of which are structural, some of which involve the plot or the characters. I go back to the beginning. I believe that problems arise because the beginning is not all it needs to be. I rewrite the beginning many times. After that, I spend some more time researching, to fill in the places I left blank and to correct whatever isn’t accurate. Then, I ask a trusted few to read what I have. This usually leads to many additions (where I’ve been too cryptic) and subtractions (where I’ve become attached to words that aren’t necessary to the telling of the story. I do another draft or two, then call it quits. I think it’s important to come to the end of things.

Q: Do you have any mementos or rituals you do before/while writing?

I love to swim, and when I’m trying to solve a problem with a piece of writing, I sometimes swim laps. I let my mind wander as I move through the water. I go places I can’t go when I’m sitting at my desk.

Q: Can you share with us what you are currently working on?

I recently published a rather quirky novel about a public school teacher who’s losing her mind due to the madness that passes for educational reform. It’s called Miz Sparks Is on Fire and This Ain’t No Drill. Teachers thoroughly relate to Miz Sparks, who has to navigate the emotionally-treacherous waters of an urban elementary school. At the same time, she’s facing her own personal crisis, which (as every teacher knows) must be put aside to deal with the struggles of her students. The book is written in emails and text messages and PTA minutes and school assemblies and student newspapers and bad poetry, all the styles of communication you’ll find in a school. So, right now, I’m just enjoying talking to readers about Miz Sparks and about education in general.

 Thank you Nancy for the interview! 

Buy MY JIM !


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Call for Submissions: Stories of Serendipity

images (1)Open/closing dates for submissions:  June 13-July 13, 2013

Description: Open to all writers of historical fiction. Submit stories of serendipitous experiences while writing and publishing historical fiction. I am looking for coincidental tales to be included in a forthcoming online article for the Historical Novel Society: “Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction”. The interactive column will post on the HNS main website sometime late summer/early fall 2013.  The article will showcase a collection of authors’ stories, while exploring possible reasons behind such wondrous occurrences.

For good story examples please visit these links:

  1. Maryanne O’Hara’s novel: CASCADE
  2. Erika Mailman’s novel: THE WITCHES TRINITY
  3. Essie Fox’s novel:  THE SOMMAMBULIST

To Submit:  Answer the two prompts below. Open word count, but 400 words or less is suggested. Email your stories/explanations to  and specify your name, novel, and return email contact address.

  1. Please share your story of serendipity related to a historical novel you are writing or have written.
  2. How do you explain such coincidences?

Note: I will contact all writers who submit stories, letting you know if your story will be included or otherwise.  I will contact each person by email no later than July 18th, 2013.

Further questions please contact me/Stephanie Renée dos Santos: .

Thank you for submitting and sharing your magical writing moments!


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Writing & Yoga Workshops: Summer 2013 – Spring/Summer 2014

Goddess of Creativity

Goddess of Creativity

Relax. Expand. Write.

Summer 2013 

USA:  Writing & Yoga Workshops  July 13-14, 2013 in Fairhaven, Washington at Fairhaven Park led by writer/yoga guide Stephanie Renee dos Santos .

USA:  Registration is now closed for this workshop! Astoria, Oregon July 27-28, 2013

Spring & Summer 2014

Brazil: Writing & Yoga Week-Long Workshop Intensive April 7-14, 2014 at Enchanted Mountain Yoga Center, in Garopaba, Brazil with bestselling author Barbara Kyle and yogini Stephanie Renee dos Santos.

USA:  Writing & Yoga 3-day Intensive Workshop  July 11-13, 2014 in Fairhaven, Washington in the heart of downtown Fairhaven with bestselling author Barbara Kyle and yogini Stephanie Renee dos Santos.

Writer/Yogi Gandhi

Writer/Yogi Gandhi

To sign up and for more information visit blog page “Saraswati Writing & Yoga Workshops” to find the workshops that will grow your writing, facilitate health, and access your authentic voice.

And please share this workshop information with folks with whom you think might benefit or have interest in these workshops! Thank you and Namaste!

The name Saraswati comes from “saras” meaning “flow” and “wati” meaning “she who has flow”.

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Interview with author Nancy Bilyeau: Writing About Spirit & Workshopping Novels to Completion

nancyI’ve been awaiting this interview, and I am delighted to present author Nancy Bilyeau, writer of the historical thrillers: The Crown, The Chalice, along with a third novel in- the-works The Covenat.  The series follows the life of an aristocratic young Dominican nun, Joanna Stafford, and her quest to save a legendary crown and to survive the tumultuous Tudor times of King Henry VIII in England.  These are engaging and fast-paced reads.

And The Chalice is currently on e-book promotion for the month of June, don’t miss this amazing deal:  $2.99!

Q: Where did your inspiration for The Crown and The Chalice come from?

Crown cover

1st book in the series

My passion for Tudor history. I’ve been reading about the 16th century since I was 11 years old. When I decided to take the plunge and try to write a novel, I thought it made the most sense to set my story in the Tudor era. I love mysteries and thrillers, so I fused the two genres: historical fiction and thriller. It was important to me to write a female protagonist. Who would be at the center of my thriller? I didn’t want to write about a royal or lady of the court; I was eager to create my own fictional character and for her to be someone original to readers familiar with these types of books. So I came up with the idea of writing about the life of a Dominican novice at the point of dissolution of the Catholic Church. I thought it would yield intense drama, that she is coping with this cataclysmic change at the same time that she is thrust into .I thought it would yield intense drama, that she is coping with this cataclysmic change at the same time that she is thrust into a mystery with a dangerous mission.

Q: While writing The Crown and The Chalice do you feel like you gained any new spiritual insights from researching and creating these books, and if so, how? 

That’s an interesting question. I did not set out to write these books with a religious agenda. For one thing, I don’t have an agenda. I was brought up by agnostic parents and with little sense of a spiritual life. However, it’s more complicated than that. My mother’s family is Irish American; she attended Catholic schools but left the church in her twenties. However, my grandparents babysat me when we lived in Chicago, and when I was an infant, they had me secretly baptized. My grandmother told my mother about it when I was 19. My grandfather had just died, and she was ill—she wanted us to know. Ever since then, I’ve been intrigued by the Catholic Church. When I set out to write The Crown, I had never met a nun. I plunged into years of research, and the more I learned about the women who entered religious life in the Plantagenet and early Tudor era, the more they fascinated me. I met a modern-day Dominican sister; she read The Chalice in manuscript form and gave me some corrections. She’s a very nice, smart person—and funny—and knowing her is wonderful. I have a great deal of respect for nuns, past and present. And I feel protective of them.

Q: Could you tell us more about your protagonist nun Joanna’s Dominican Order during mid-16th century England and the mysticism of the seers you write about in your new novel The Chalice  — are there interesting tidbits you know now but couldn’t include in the novel? 

The Dominican priory in Dartford was a very interesting place. Edward III put time and thought and money into establishing it in the 14th century. I should back up and add that his father, Edward II, made the first initiatives to creating a convent for the women of the Dominican order. He set up endowments and obtained the papal license but was deposed before the sisters could travel from France to England. Perhaps Edward III–who in turn deposed his mother Queen Isabella and her lover and took power when he reached the age of 17 –felt some link to his father and that is what motivated him? I am speculating. Certainly there were other matters of importance in the kingdom, such as invading France and surviving the Bubonic Plague.

2nd book in the series but can be read as a stand alone novel too!

2nd book in the series but can be read as a stand alone novel too!

But the priory was established in the 1350s. Edward III had a goal of reaching a convent of 40 nuns, but it never quite reached that number. For the next 180 years it attracted women from the gentry and the aristocracy and even the royal family–the youngest child of Edward IV, Princess Bridget, took vows. Dartford earned a reputation for “strict discipline and plain living.” Much of a nun’s day and night was taken up by prayer and service to God. There was a small library there with beautiful illuminated manuscripts. In the larger community of Dartford, the priory played an important role: the sisters taught local girls to read, they gave alms to the poor, and they sponsored an almshouse for those who had no other place to live.

That all came to an end in 1538, when the priory was “surrendered” to Henry VIII and demolished. Everyone was ejected. It was a painful and confusing time. The following year, The Act of Six Articles became law, which forbade anyone who had ever taken a vow of chastity from marrying. Nuns could no longer carry out their vocations, but they couldn’t get married and start families either. There was no place for them in society.

Dominican mysticism was so interesting in this period. I wish I could have found a way to talk about Savonarola in my books. The Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola preached about his prophetic visions to growing crowds in late 15th century Florence—that the corruption of society would be wiped away by the coming of a scourge. When the French king invaded Italy, this was widely seen as fulfillment of Savonarola’s prophecy.

Q: What challenges, if any, did you encounter while writing these books with spiritual foundations? 

I was determined to create characters whose spiritual values were true to the 16th century. I did worry that readers would not be able to relate to Joanna Stafford, especially since I write the books in this series in the first person and you have no choice but to get into Joanna’s head. Not every author goes this route. I have read other novels set in medieval England and the 16th century with characters who are cynical about religion, even agnostic. That is common now, of course, but it really wasn’t a mindset that would have been possible then. Read the letters of the time, or books by the religious such as “The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena.”

I am happy to say that no one has emailed or otherwise contacted me to say that the books are “too religious.” It’s the opposite, I think readers want to experience a different way of looking at life than we have now.

Q:  Author Stephanie Cowell recently wrote a blog post for English Historic Fiction Authors blog called “Nuns, monks, priests and believers: writing about spiritual matters in English historical fiction,” she wrote: “It is difficult to write about spiritual matters.  They are the most intimate of our feelings and more difficult to express in words than physics…”. What are your thoughts about writing about spiritual matters?

I try to weave it into my characters’ daily lives: going to Mass, making Confession, praying. It frames their worldview. I don’t stop the story for my protagonist to overtly discuss how she feels about God.

Q:  I recently read an interview with you where you mentioned that you wrote The Chalice “workshopping it.” Would you please share with us the process of writing a novel, “workshopping it” to completion.  I was very intrigued when I read this!

I share my work with small groups of other writers, either reading it out loud or sending chapters back and forth online. To me, this is essential. I sometimes feel as if something is coming across a certain way in my story and the reality is—not quite. I need that sounding board to know what is unclear or not paced right or lacking emotion. I revise a great deal, maybe that’s part of being a magazine writer or editor—I like feedback. I can’t imagine writing an entire book in a vacuum and sending it to my agent or book editor.

Q: Do you have any particular workshops you’d like to recommend to writers?

I’ve taken classes at Gotham Writer’s Workshop, there were several great online fiction courses (an advanced one taught by novelist Russell Rowland) and a mystery-writing special class taught by Greg Fallis.

Q: Please tell us about the success process of the Amazon Daily $1.99 special, how did it all go down? Soaring THE CROWN to 1 # status in all literary categories!

That was exciting. In the United States my books are published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Amazon decided to make The Crown the Kindle Daily Deal for one day, which means not only that the e-book price is lowered to $1.99 but there is plenty of promotion. I will never forget the experience of watching the number go lower and lower and lower, until it reached No. 1 in America. Not all Kindle Daily Deals make it to No 1, so I am really honored and grateful. To be honest, it overwhelmed me, and the next day I had something of a headache and found it hard to get out of bed. My children were outraged.

The Chalice is part of a different promotion for the month of June: on Amazon in the United States, the e-book costs $2.99. I am happy to be able to deliver this savings. 

Thank you Nancy for this interview and looking forward to your next release of the series! 


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Interview with Historical Novel Society presenter and author Susan Higginbotham

susan_portraitIt is my pleasure to introduce historical novelist Susan Higginbotham, author of 5 novels set in medieval England or the Tudor era. At present she is completing a novel about historical figure Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, in addition to a non-fiction book about the Woodenville family.  She will be co-presenting at the Historical Novel Society Conference this June 21-13 in St. Petersburg, FL:  “The Feisty Heroine Sold into Marriage Who Hates Bear Baiting: Clichés in HF and How to Avoid Them”.

Clichés the bane of every novelist, sounds like a good session!

Q: How do you find the people and topics of your books?

Sometimes a person’s story will intrigue me, like that of Eleanor de Clare
in “The Traitor’s Wife,” my first novel. In other cases, I’ve been drawn
to people who have been misjudged or misrepresented, such as Margaret of
Anjou or Frances Grey. My last novel, “Her Highness, the Traitor,” was
originally supposed to have a single heroine, Frances Grey, but when I
began doing the research, I was so moved by some writings of Jane Dudley,
Duchess of Northumberland, that I ended up giving half of the novel to

Usually, when person’s story keeps nagging at me, I know it’s a sign that
he or she belongs in one of my novels.

Q: Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?


Susan’s latest release!

I do a lot of my basic research before starting my novel, but I never
really  stop researching as I’m writing. A question will arise, such as
where a person was staying at a particular time, that requires
investigation, or I’ll stumble across something that make me rethink an
aspect of my novel. In my last novel, I ended up having to adjust the
ending in order to accommodate a record I found about Frances Grey’s
marriage date.

In research, I use as many primary sources as possible, and I’ve learned
never to take what I read in a secondary source for granted! I also make
extensive use of articles in scholarly journals–I’ve found that they
often contain nuggets of information that can’t be found in books. They’re
also an excellent source for finding information about lesser known
historical characters.

Like many historical novelists, I enjoy research as much or more than
writing, so it’s sometimes a matter of telling myself that it’s time to
stop researching and get to writing!

Q: What book was the most fun for you to write?

Probably “The Stolen Crown,” where Richard III is a major character. The
Richard who appears in my novel isn’t Shakespeare’s villain, but he’s
definitely not the nice guy who’s fashionable in current historical
fiction, so he was a fun character to write.

Q: For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

While readers shouldn’t get their history solely from historical fiction,
the fact is that many of them do. With that in mind, I believe very
strongly in sticking to the facts as closely as possible, and in a
novelist informing the reader in an author’s note when known facts have
been altered. Because there’s so much we don’t know or have to guess
about, being faithful to history doesn’t cage an author’s imagination.

I also believe that authors should avoid tarnishing a historical figure’s
reputation without a sound factual basis for doing so. I’ve read several
novels where various male characters are portrayed as being rapists, for
instance, without any historical basis for such a depiction. It’s usually
a way of making a bad guy even more unsympathetic, and as such is a cheap
and lazy device. We can still have our heroes and villains, of course–but
I think we owe some respect and fidelity to historical figures who can no
longer defend themselves.

Thank you Susan for the interview and see you at the HNS Conference!


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Visit my guest post at author Mary Sharratt’s blog Viriditas

A page from one of Saint Hildegard of Bingen books of visions.

A page from one of Saint Hildegard of Bingen books of visions.

I contacted novelist Mary Sharratt after reading her wondrous book ILLUMINATIONS to see about interviewing her, to which she agreed (see interview below), and then to my pleasant surprise she took some time to investigate my blog, and in turn asked if I would be interested in writing a guest blog post about writing and yoga for her blog Viriditas.

Here is the post that followed…

Yoga & Writing: How Yoga Can Help Your Writing

 Thank you Mary!

“Viriditas”  is a Latin word meaning greenness, vitality,  fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. It is particularly associated with Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who used it to refer to or symbolize spiritual and physical health as aspects of the divine nature.

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