Thursday, November 15, 2018

Buried letters, buried bombshells perhaps?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Jack Woodville London to my blog. He's touring the internet with his novel, French Letters: Children of a Good War, and the title intrigued me enough to encourage a "yes" when asked if he could drop in here. I hope you'll agree.

So, find some good coffee, and maybe a gluten free snack, then sit and enjoy our conversation:

  • So, first of all, I'd like to know where you're from (my accent gives you an unfair advantage otherwise)?
I grew up in Groom, Texas, a town near Amarillo.  I live in Austin with my wife, Alice, and Junebug the writing cat.
  • Ah, a cat. And a writing cat too. So, did you and/or your cat always want to be a writer?
I wanted to race sports cars until I was about 14, then wanted to be a basketball player. Then I wanted to be a history professor.  I always wanted to be a writer.

  • Always? That's the same answer I'd give. So what first inspired you to write seriously?
8th grade.  I was enrolled in a ‘Ready Writing’ competition and won a prize of some kind for a story about someone very like me who somehow fixed up a wrecked sports car, then had lots of adventures in places whose names I misspelled. I was taken by the craft of writing when I read a number of books in which the word choices the authors made were extraordinary.  Examples were the romance poem ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (“The hound?  The hound did nothing.” “Exactly.”)

  • Oh, great examples. What inspired your story?
    1. I thought that there should be a story that reflects three conditions of the cycle (cyclone?) of life:  being taken for granted (and attempting revenge); being utterly alone in the world, no matter how many people are around you; and, learning that you really don’t know who you are, then setting out to find out. 
    2. I found the meanness of the Biblical story of the brothers Jacob and Esau and the things they did to their father to also be timeless.  I build a family saga around parents who were not always completely blameless, their friends, their enemies, and their children, creating a story in which there are individual bits that all of us will recognize from our family, friends, or, shudder, ourselves.  And, as Jacob and Esau feuded and lied, so do brothers feud and lie today, with lasting consequences.  Finally, one of the great narratives of sibling rivalries is the accusation that one of them is not really a sibling at all, but a foundling, a child dug up under a cabbage patch, or a bastard that someone brought home to raise. 
  • Wow! How does a story idea like this come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you? 
Characters are wonderful devices.  You can create them, then drop them into nearly any period or event and they will act as such characters would act at any time in history, whether it is ancient Greece, Tudor England, baby boomers in the 1980s, or Trump America.
  • Is there a message/theme in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I hope that the notion comes through that finding out who we are is something each of us must find out for himself or herself; while we may or may not know who our parents are, we almost never know who they were.
  • What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
When drawing complex characters with richly detailed individual lives, it takes a great deal of focus to keep their individual story lines arranged so that they become a part of the real story.  There are clues buried in most of the characters’ roles that readers often breeze through as minor details of daily life, then realize some time downstream that they are important pieces of the story.
  • What do you like to do when you are not writing?
My wife and I really like each other; we take long walks together, go to summer school together, I accompany her on her photography classes and shoots.  And, beyond my control, nearly everything I do becomes a seed of an idea or research for a project.  I once rode with two friends for 3700 miles over six days through the Texas desert, New Mexico and Colorado mountains, the plains of Wyoming, back to Colorado, into Kansas, down to Oklahoma, and finally back to Texas.  I went to keep them from driving off a mountain or into the Rio Grande; it ended when I discovered that no one, absolutely no one, not Lewis and Clark or Kit Carson or Zebulon Pike or Sam Houston, had done anything close to it.  What if we had been spies?
  • Sounds an amazing trip! And I can see how stories might be seeded there. So... now you've made me jealous of your travels, I suppose I should ask you to make me jealous of your writing life too. Have you won any awards or honors (not just for writing of course)?
a.    Author of the Year for 2011-2012; Indie Excellence Award; e-Lit gold award,
b.    Trial lawyer of the year, SuperLawyer.

  • Trial lawyer. Wow! (And yes, I'm seriously jealous of your Indie Excellence Award!) Thank you so much for visiting here, and I'll wish you many good readers for your book (which I also plan to read as soon as I can.)

About the Author:
Honored as Author of the Year, Military Writers Society of America 2011-2012, and winner, Indie Excellence Award, 2013, Jack Woodville London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book, 2014, a cheeky and thoughtful book on the craft of writing for authors tackling their first novel. He also is the author of the award-winning French Letters fiction series. His World War II-era novel Virginia's War was a Finalist for Best Novel of the South and the Dear Author Novel with a Romantic Element contest. His 'parallel-quel' novel Engaged in War won the silver medal in General Fiction at the London Book Festival and the Silver prize in the Stars and Flags Historical Fiction competition. It was the Book of the Month by both Good Reads and Military Writers Society of America and reached Number One on Amazon. He has published some thirty literary articles and sixty book reviews, all in addition to a lengthy career as a courtroom lawyer and a forty year writing career as the author of technical legal articles, and as editor during law school of the University of Texas International Law Journal. His fiction work in progress includes French Letters: Children of a Good War.

He grew up in small-town Texas before earning degrees at the University of Texas and West Texas State University and earning certificates at the Fiction Academy, St. Céré, France and Ecole Francaise, Trois Ponts, France, and at Oxford University, England, UK.

Ha! The "other place!"

Find him at:

and Children of a Good War is available at:

About the book:
Eleanor Hastings knew from experience that some bombs lie buried for decades before blowing up to hurt someone. Now, forty years after World War II, a cache of faded wartime letters is discovered in a cellar, causing Eleanor's husband, Frank, to understand that he really was a bastard and sending him on a quest to find out who he really is — and to uncover his family's long-buried secrets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Lace, the Asylum, and Pets...?

Love Under Fire comes out today, and every sale helps a veteran get a pet! How can you resist - lots of great reads, lots of great people, and lots of great pets.

Of course, looking at the graphic, I find myself trying to figure out which authors I've already read, but I'm looking forward to all the tales. I know they'll be good because I've already enjoyed two of them:

Virtually Lace by Uvi Poznansky

Michael has been working on a virtual reality model in his garage. The military might be interested of course, but Michael’s interest lies more in the question of beauty—“Could beauty be taken apart… Would its data be synthesized, somehow, into a lifelike experience?” And how many different angles and points of view would one need to create that simulation? Then he sees real beauty and ugliness, life and death alongside the Pacific Coast Highway.

The police are investigating of course, but the tale is told from Michael’s point of view, with beautiful scenery, complex mystery, fascinating art, and a touch of romance. The artist’s hand of the author is readily apparent in the character’s creations, both real and virtual. Suspicions grow. Reality intersects with the virtual. And a well-sculpted plot tells it all. A fast, fun and enticing read.

... and...

The Asylum by Aaron Paul Lazar

From gripping first sentence to final resolution, Aaron Paul Lazar’s The Asylum is a mystery filled with warm characters and great sense of Maine coast locations. The story grows from the author’s mystery series, giving life to side characters in a very pleasing way as a young Mexican-American woman loses her job and starts to work at an… asylum. Of course, this is not the old-style asylum. Patients are treated and cared for here, in luxury and safety… But Carmen’s soon convinced there’s something hidden behind the scenes.

Warm family life, honest emotions, great dialog, and some thoroughly scary scenes all add together to make an enticing mystery that feels like being invite to the home of friends. Sitting around the fire, comfortable with the assurance of good writing, which has to mean a good ending, learning what happened, how and why… it’s a dark cozy mystery or a warm dark mystery or… just a seriously good read.

Intrigued yet? Here's where to find the book:

And a list of titles in the collection. Enjoy!

Judith Lucci - RUN for your life
"Besieged by threats and haunted by memories, can Alex and Jacob survive another fiery attack?"

Stephany Tullis - Blue Lady's MISSION UNDER FIRE
"The mission changed. Her cover is blown. With no where to run and nowhere to hide, what can she do to survive?"

Fiona Quinn - Cold Red
"Undercover, under fire, under arrest, it's hard to save a special agent's life while handcuffed."

Anna Celeste Burke - Lily's Homecoming Under Fire
"When Lily returns home to California's wine country, sparks fly amid a hail of bullets as she and US Marshal Austin Jennings take cover. Who wants Lily dead?"

Margaret A. Daly- Monsters in my Closet
"No one knows her secrets, not even her best friend. Can she keep her secrets and her monsters at bay long enough to give love a chance again?"

Linda Watkins - The Witches of Storm Island, Book I: The Turning
"In 1685, a forbidden love catapults young Maude Prichard into a life fraught with danger...."

Tamara Ferguson - Two Hearts Under Fire
"Will Two Wounded Hearts Under Fire Survive LOVE?"

Suzanne Jenkins - Running with Horses
"Moving horses to the high country comes just in time when Mindy and her coffee date witness murder at a Mojave Desert cafe."

Inge-Lise Goss - Diamonds and Lies
"When murder upends a diamond heist, can the jewel thief trust the mark who vows to protect her?"

S.R. Mallery - Tender Enemies
"When Lily sets up a spy trap, she faces great danger--of falling in love."

Jinx Schwartz - Baja Get Away
"Sometimes love is... Murder."

Uvi Poznansky - Virtually Lace
"Michael creates a virtual reality simulation of the murder. Can he solve it in time, before the killer turns on the woman he loves?"

Kathryn Knight - The Haunting of Hillwood Farm
"A dangerous ghost brings them together...but will they survive long enough to find happiness?"

Stephanie Queen - Ace Under Fire 
"Can this bad boy make a come back to save an old flame?"

Casi McLean - Reign Of Fire
"Lies, Corruption, and Murder... exposing the truth leads to love--and a ghostly encounter. "

Valerie J. Clarizio -The Code Enforcer
"Can they overcome their painful pasts--and a murder investigation--to find happiness together?"

Chris Patchell - Deception Bay
"She's armed. He's dangerous. Together, can they stop a killer from tearing a small island community apart?"

Aaron Paul Lazar - The Asylum: A Carmen Garcia romantic suspense novel
"Carmen has a secret, and his name is Dr. Micah Worthy."

Alyssa Richards - Chasing Secrets
"Her husband's secret is priceless, her attempts to retrieve it could be deadly."

K.M. Hodge - Summer of '78
"Susan Evenbright, pledges to make her last summer in Texas a killer one."

Pamela Fagan Hutchins - Buckle Bunny
"The last guy to call Maggie a buckle bunny didn't make his eight seconds."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Winter is Coming?

It's cold outside. I love the blue skies, gold sunshine, and red leaves of fall. But I'm not so sure about the ice-cold mornings, tomato plants frost-bit (I bought in the last of the green...), and the "snow" of falling shapes across the window-pane. I need to rake them into piles or else they'll block the drains (and after last year's flood, I've no desire to see any drains start blocking). I need to wear an extra sweater. I need to drink hot cocoa... Okay, now that's a serious advantage of winter's approach; I do like hot cocoa.

Anyway, the sky's blue, the sunshine's gold, the leaves are red, and everywhere is cold. But what's life at the beach like when winter winds come in?

I was given a copy of Sheila Roberts' "Winter at the Beach" to read, and it certainly got me into the mood for Christmas, family warmth, and cold winds of adversity turned around to peace. Here's my review:

Winter at the Beach by Sheila Roberts

Christmas is approaching in Sheila Roberts’ Winter at the Beach, making it a perfect read for the season, with its enticing blend of sand and sea with winter snow. If you haven’t always wondered what happens at the seaside when the season’s done, you’ll still be delighted to learn. Though whether you’ll want to visit Santa on a snowy beach may still be in doubt.

Characters from this and other series’ weave naturally into this tale, and their very human concerns blend smoothly with the community spirit of a Christmas vacation. Life is not perfect here, or in any of the families involved. But life is never perfectly broken either, and the author, through her characters, offers haunting touches of wisdom, the gentle persuasion of situation and need, and the promise of true love.

Not quite romance, not quite adventure, not quite road-trip, Winter at the Beach weaves several stories into one warm tapestry, the perfect reading blanket for a cold winter’s day. It leaves me wanting to read more, but perfectly satisfied with a conclusion well reached. Like a vacation at a good seaside B&B, it introduces me to strangers, lets me share their lives, and promises all will be okay, even if all might never quite be well. Heartwarming, honestly soul-searching, and vividly real.

Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.

WINTER AT THE BEACH by Sheila Roberts, Women's Fiction, 384pp., $5.98 (paperback) $6.99 (kindle)

Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin/Mira
Pages: 384
Genre: Women’s Fiction

Jenna Jones, manager of the Driftwood Inn, a vintage motel in the Washington beach town of Moonlight Harbor, is convinced that a winter festival would be a great way to draw visitors (and tourist business) to town during those off-season months. Everyone in the local chamber of commerce is on board with her Seaside with Santa festival idea except one naysayer, local sour lemon, Susan Frank, who owns a women’s clothing boutique in town. The beach gets hit with storms in the winter, no one will come, too close to Christmas. Blah, blah. What does Susan know?
It turns out that Susan knows a lot. A big storm hits during the weekend of the festival, wreaking havoc with the parade and producing power outages all over town. Including at the Driftwood Inn.
Jenna finds herself with a motel filled with people, all with no power. What to do? Enlist the help of friends, of course. Her friends take in many of the stranded visitors, and Jenna and her Aunt Edie take in the others, stuffing them into Aunt Edie’s house next door to the Driftwood.

All the guests come with their own unique stories. The last thing Taylor Marsh wanted was a getaway with her husband. His refusal to give up on his dying business is taking them down financially and killing their marriage. But her sister Sarah (she who has her financial act together and never lets her sister forget it) insists this will be fun for both their families. It will only be fun for Taylor if her husband gets eaten by a giant squid. Then there’s Darrel Wilson, who planned the perfect anniversary getaway for his wife, who’s been undergoing chemo. So much for the perfect anniversary. And the sisters, Lisa and Karen, who can’t seem to go on a sister outing without it turning into a Lucy and Ethel adventure. Unlikely roommates, all of them. But perhaps each one has a valuable lesson to share with the others. And perhaps, what looked like a disaster will prove to be the best holiday adventure of all.



Jenna Jones, who manages a vintage motel, the Driftwood Inn, is sure her idea for a holiday festival will bring business to her Washington coast beach town of Moonlight Harbor. Let’s see how her proposal goes over with the Moonlight Harbor Chamber of Commerce…
 “Okay, that takes care of old business,” Brody said. “Now, I think Jenna has some new business.”
Oh, boy. She could hardly wait to see what Susan would have to say about this.
She cleared her throat. “Actually, I have a suggestion for a way to bring down more visitors during our slow time.”
“We’re all for that,” said Patricia Whiteside.
Susan clamped her thin lips together and gave Jenna a look that dared her, the newbie, to come up with something.
Jenna’s nervous twitch put in an appearance. Don’t blink. She blinked one last time and cleared her throat again. “Well, I was just thinking about other towns I’ve visited in the past and one that came to mind was Icicle Falls.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “The cheesy German town.”
“A lot of people find it charming,” Jenna said. “It’s awfully pretty, and they’ve done a great job of making themselves as authentic as possible. They always have something going to get people up there. In fact, I did some research online. They have festivals all year long, including a chocolate festival. Their tree-lighting ceremonies on the weekends in December bring in thou- sands of people.”
“So, are you proposing we have a tree-lighting ceremony?” Susan mocked.
“No, but I am proposing we have a holiday festival.”
“We just had a festival in August in case you forgot,” Susan said snidely.
What was with this woman anyway? The town had done a good deed by putting on a festival to help Jenna raise money to restore the Driftwood after she experienced a financial setback. It had been such a success that the chamber had decided to make the Blue Moon Festival a tradition, with proceeds going to help other businesses in town in need of assistance. Jenna had benefited and other local businesses would as well, and Susan resented it? She was a crab in the pot. If she couldn’t succeed, she didn’t want anyone else to, either. And everyone knew her shop wasn’t doing that well, especially now that Courtney was selling her own designs over at the Oyster Inn.
Well, pooh on her. Jenna handed papers to both Tyrella and Brody to start passing around the table.
 “People love festivals. Remember how many came down for the Blue Moon one?”
“That was in the summer,” Susan reminded her.
“I know. But people also love holiday festivals. We’re looking for ways to get visitors down here in the winter. Why not put together a giant holiday party in Moonlight Harbor?”
Patricia Whiteside was reading Jenna’s handout. “Seaside with Santa, that’s cute. And I like all the suggestions you’ve made for activities. I really like the idea of making use of the pier.”
“The weekend before Christmas?” Susan objected, frowning at her handout. “Who’s going to want to come to something then? People will be getting ready to go see family, and they’ll be finishing up their shopping.”
“Why shouldn’t they finish it here?” Jenna argued. “We have all kinds of cute shops. We have great places for them to stay while they shop and plenty of restau- rants where they can eat. They may even want to stay here for the holidays. All we need is an event to lure them down. A festival could do it. And who doesn’t like a parade? Look how many people turn out for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”
“Look at the floats they have in that parade,” Susan countered. “What sort of floats would we be able to put together down here?”
“Okay, maybe not the most impressive parade ever,” Jenna admitted, “but I bet we could come up with some- thing.”
“I could get some of my employees to dress up as mermaids,” said Kiki, “and stick ’em on a flatbed truck strung with fake seaweed.” She grinned, clearly taken with her idea.
“We need more for our Moonlight Harbor Queen and her princesses to do,” put in Nora. “They love riding in those old convertibles. You’ll let us use your vintage Caddy, right, Ellis?”
“Well...” Ellis hesitated. “If it rains...”
“Which it probably will,” said Susan. “Come on, people, be practical. You know what it’s like down here in the winter, all wind and rain.”
Patricia pooh-poohed that objection. “We’ve survived plenty of storms.”
“Well, I think it’s a bad idea,” Susan said, scowling across the table at Jenna.
Maybe it was. Jenna’s left eye began to twitch.
“I think it sounds great,” said Elizabeth MacDowell. She and her twin sister, K.J., were new members of the chamber. They’d opened their arts and crafts store, Crafty Just Cuz, in September, and it was already one of Jenna’s favorite places to hang out.
“We do need more business in the winter,” said Cindy Redmond. “There’s no getting around it. And doing something for the holidays could be fun. I say we give it a try,” she added, and Jenna’s eye stopped twitching.
“We’d have to get moving right away,” Nora said, pulling another sheet of paper from her yellow tablet. “Who can help?”
“I can,” said Ellis.
“Me, too,” Brody said, smiling at Jenna. “Jenna, it’s your idea. You’ll have to chair the committee.”
“Me?” she squeaked. Not that she couldn’t take charge. She was a firstborn, and Responsibility was her middle name. (Although her sister, Celeste, would probably argue that her middle name was Bossy.) She didn’t have a problem with rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, but she also didn’t want to offend old- timers like Susan Frank. “I’m sure someone else...” she began.
“Your idea, you have to do it,” Susan goaded.
Jenna raised her chin. “I can do it.” She’d survived rehabbing the Driftwood Inn. How much harder could it be to organize a festival?
In three months. Blink. Blink, blink, blink.
“Do I have a motion that we sponsor a Seaside with Santa Festival for the weekend before Christmas?” Brody asked.
“So moved,” said Ellis. “I’m with you, kid,” he told Jenna.
“I’ll second,” Nora said and reached across the back of Tyrella’s chair to give Jenna’s shoulder an encouraging pat.
“All in favor?” Brody asked.
“Aye,” chorused almost everyone.
“Nay,” Susan Frank said. “I’m telling you all, this is a bad idea. Make sure you put that in the minutes,” she told Cindy.
“Motion carries,” said Brody. He smiled down at Jenna. “Looks like we’re going to be putting on a holiday bash.”
“Holiday disaster,” Susan grumbled from her side of the table.
What did Susan know? Blink, blink, blink.

USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen over fifty books, both fiction and non-fiction in print. Her novels have appeared in many different languages and been made into movies for both the Lifetime and Hallmark Channels. She writes about things near and dear to women’s hearts – love, friendship, family and chocolate.

Her latest book is the women’s fiction, Winter at the Beach.

Website Link:
Twitter Link:
Facebook Link:


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What happens when music, history and mystery coincide?

I've loved historical fiction set in Scotland, ever since I was a child (when I was hooked on Nigel Trantner), so I could hardly resist when I was offered the chance to interview Laura Vosike, author of the Water is Wide. Join me as I learn more about Scotland, the book and the author.

Laura, I'll just go pour some coffee while readers find out about you and your book.

Laura Vosika is a writer, poet, and musician. Her time travel series, The Blue Bells Chronicles, set in modern and medieval Scotland, has garnered praise and comparisons to writers as diverse as Diana Gabaldon and Dostoevsky. Her poetry has been published in The Moccasin and The Martin Lake Journal 2017.
She has been featured in newspapers, on radio, and TV, has spoken for regional book events, and hosted the radio program Books and Brews. She currently teaches writing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
As a musician, Laura has performed as on trombone, flute, and harp, in orchestras, and big bands. She lives in Brooklyn park with 5 of her 9 children, 3 cats, and an Irish Wolfhound.
Her latest book is the time travel/historical fiction, The Water is Wide.



After his failure to escape back to his own time, Shawn is sent with Niall on the Bruce’s business. They criss-cross Scotland and northern England, working for the Bruce and James Douglas, as they seek ways to get Shawn home to Amy and his own time.

Returning from the Bruce’s business, to Glenmirril, Shawn finally meets the mysterious Christina. Despite his vow to finally be faithful to Amy, his feelings for Christina grow.

In modern Scotland, having already told Angus she’s pregnant, Amy must now tell him Shawn is alive and well—in medieval Scotland. Together, they seek a way to bring him back across time.

They are pursued by Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward, has also passed between times. Having learned that Amy’s son will kill him—he seeks to kill the infant James first.

The book concludes with MacDougall’s attack on Glenmirril, Amy and Angus’s race to be there and Shawn’s attempt to reach the mysterious tower through the battling armies.

Ah, here's the coffee, and what was it you wanted Laura...? Here we go. And now...

Which came first for you: poetry, music or stories?

Technically, poetry came first--but didn't really last long. I remember sitting outside when I was 8, writing a poem. At ten, I was working on a novel about a boy who is kidnapped for ransom, but such trouble his captors try to return him and are charged ransom by his parents to do so. Sound familiar? Then I discovered Ransom of Red Chief on my mother's book shelf, decided it had been done, and turned to other stories.

Career-wise, however, music came first. I started playing trombone freelance in high school and college, where I majored in music. I've spent the last 29 years performing and teaching.

Which musical instrument came first: trombone, flute or harp?

Actually--organ came first!


I got kicked out of lessons when I was 7, thank goodness! Mrs. Knecht and I were both much happier after that! But when I decided I wanted to play trombone, I had a big head start in being able to read music. So trombone was second. then came clarinet, saxophone, and flute must have been fifth or sixth. I bought one and taught myself to play in tenth grade, which was also the year I borrowed a school bassoon to play in the lower level band. 

I started harp in my 30s, when my pastor asked the choir director what else I played. She brazenly bragged, "Whatever you want her to!" The next day there was a harp on my door step, as she informed me I'd be playing on the altar in front of hundreds of people, in two months! I was quite happy with the situation, as I'd always wanted to play harp.

Which instrument best matches your book, The Water is Wide? Or which best matches the characters?

Definitely trombone! Shawn Kleiner, modern musician, plays trombone, while Niall, the medieval Highland warrior, plays harp. (Actually, Shawn plays a bit of everything, Amy plays violin, Angus plays bagpipes, and the cast consists of Amy's friends and colleagues in her orchestra.) 

But the book is set largely in the years 1315 to 1317, in the wake of Bannockburn, when Scotland was still fighting England, trying to lead the Irish in revolt against English rule. The Welsh were rising under the leadership of Llywelyn Bren. I love harp--but when you have Valkyrie, Darth Vader, and great battles, musically speaking, you call in the trombones!

There is another meaning, though, to the title of the series and the first book: Blue Bells of Scotland. It is a showcase theme and variations on the folk song, to show that a trombone could be far more than people thought. This is an analogy for Shawn himself. In the first book of the series, we see him as a hard-drinking, arrogant womanizer. His girlfriend, Amy, has always believed there's more to him than the obnoxious party animal he shows the world. In The Water is Wide, we see him live ever more up to her faith in him, as he grows ever more into the good parts of himself that he was always capable of.

Okay, you've almost convinced me. Trombone as an analogy for a man sounds cool, and you're making me believe there's more to the instrument than I'd thought. So... Where do music and time-travel intersect?

What an interesting question! I'd say they intersect in the sense that people of every time and place are drawn to music. It is a human instinct, a need, even, to sing, to play music, to listen to music. 

In The Blue Bells Chronicles, and especially in The Water is Wide, where Shawn and Niall spend much more time together, the shared love of, and talent for, music is a tool that first loosens the original animosity between these very different men, and then helps forge a deepening friendship. It's a tool they use throughout the series--to comfort, to boost morale, to hide in plain sight as minstrels, to win over people in their attempt to help the Bruce and Scotland.

And, of course, you're musical. But is that all that draws you to time travel? And what do you think draws readers to it?

I have always loved time travel, starting with In the Keep of Time, a children's novel about four siblings in the 1970s who go into Smailholm Tower in Scotland and come out in the 1500s. (Readers of The Blue Bells Chronicles will recognize this means of switching times!) 

I suppose I'm drawn to it because I spent my earliest years in Germany, surrounded by medieval castles and towns, by great history, both in Germany and on trips to England, the Mediterranean, and Spain. I later lived on the East Coast, visiting Monitcello, historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry, Kitty Hawk and no doubt more I've forgotten--many of them places where history comes to life with historic actors. 

History has very much been a backdrop of my life and it opens a window to see how different these people seem from us because of their clothing, speech, tools, and more. And yet they are like us in their hopes, fears, love, heartbreak, joy, and grief; in their choices to act with nobility or with cowardice, to support another even if it cost them their lives or to betray a friend to save themselves. 

By reading about their lives and choices--whether historical or fictional--we learn a lot about life and what we want our own choices to be, what we want a reader to look back on our lives and say about us. Were we the inept Edward II or were we the Bruce, fighting with all he had for his people?

I think readers (and I myself) love to think about what it was like to live in another time. Ours can seem dull and full of drudgery because it's familiar and common to us. We're curious about these exotic times and people. We romanticize other eras--the graceful elegance of the antebellum, castle and knights, the courage and determination of the men who stormed Normandy, the strength and adventurous seafaring spirit of the Vikings. 

I think deep down we wonder--would we still be the same person if we lived in that era and deeper still--we want to believe we would have been the hero, the one who stood courageously, risked all. We want to believe we would have been the William Wallace. 

Time travel puts a modern person into these situations, lets us fulfill our curiosity and live vicariously in these worlds as we follow the modern character encountering the foreign and exotic and think what we would do, if we were that protagonist.

Cool! What a great answer; thank you. It sounds like you must do a lot of historical research do you do?

 An extreme amount!

And how many real characters do you use in your novels?

 I try to be as historically accurate as current knowledge allows. I've studied the Gaelic language that Niall and the people of Glenmirril would have spoken. I've traveled to Scotland five times to visit most of the places in the books. I've climbed the Eildon Hills where Shawn and Niall, running out of ideas, hope for a magical way home for Shawn via the Fairy Queen who met Thomas the Rhymer there. I've gone to Carlisle, where they are sent by the Bruce to spy on the English, visited the castle there that was commanded by Harclay at the time, and seen the dungeons Amy learns about, where prisoners licked the walls to try to get any sort of water. I've stood in the place where the orchard stood, where Emaline and Duraina and all the girls romanced by 'Brom' the minstrel (who is really both Shawn and Niall), gather to confront 'Brom' as Shawn/Brom desperately tries to escape the incoming MacDougall who would dearly like a second chance at hanging Niall.

The means by which Shawn and Niall escape Carlisle exists exactly where I have placed it! It is my dumb luck that archaeologists discovered it not long before I started researching for a way to get them out of a walled and sealed city with English soldiers hunting every house for them. I'll leave it to the reader to read the book and find out what that means is!

Even with characters, I keep it as historically accurate as possible. In the pages of The Water is Wide,  and the series, the reader meets Robert the Bruce, the greatest King of Scots, his hot-headed younger brother, Edward, and his greatest friend and right hand man, the gentle giant, the military genius and ferocious fighter, James Douglas. We meet Harclay. Lame John of Lorne, Lennox, Angus Og, Christina MacRuari, the Earl of Dunbar--all lived and were in the places I have put them exactly as it happens in the story. 

Thomas the Rhymer--aka Thomas Laird of Erceldoune, aka True Thomas--because one moniker is never enough!--is, amazingly enough, a historical figure and his story, as relayed in The Water is Wide, is exactly what history tells us.

Even 'the Butcher of Berwick' is a historical figure. I made the name up, but history tells us there was an English soldier at Berwick who did exactly the deed I have assigned to the evil Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward.

Okay, so coffee time's almost up. What's the most important thing you'd like to tell readers about The Water is Wide?

There are many scenes I especially love in The Water is Wide. In some ways, it's my favorite 'child.' I think each book can be enjoyed on its own, and the reader can get a good feel for what has come before, but The Water is Wide is the third book in a five book trilogy (there really is a three part arc to the story) that tells the story of Shawn Kleiner, drinking, gambling, womanizing, self-centered modern musician, who gets caught in the medieval world and battles of Robert the Bruce, who lives side by side with his medieval look-alike, Niall Campbell, who is all that Shawn is not--loyal, self-sacrificing, dutiful, honorable, and more. It is a story of time travel, mysteries and miracles, adventure, romance, and, ultimately, redemption, that begins with Book One, Blue Bells of Scotland. So if you'd like to jump in to The Water, you can, and if you want to start from the beginning, grab Blue Bells of Scotland and The Minstrel Boy.

Thank you so much, Laura. The Water is Wide sounds a great read; I love the idea of a five-book trilogy! And I love the blend of modern musician and ancient world... and... well, all the other things you're blending here.

Readers can find a link to a trailer below, and to where they can purchase the book on Amazon. Enjoy! Meanwhile, I'll wish you luck with sales and with writing Laura.

Watch the Trailer:



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Who is the other thief?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Frank McKinney to my blog. His book, The Other Thief, has just come out and took 6 months to design and finalize. Each of his last three book covers were painstakingly designed to look like a coming-attractions movie poster. The novel took  over a year to write because the author went back and rewrote much of the middle and ending after receiving valuable input from his editor, her 24 year-old intern, and from an acclaimed filmmaker. So it should be seriously good! In his other life he says he’s a real estate “artist” where he creates multi-million dollar oceanfront homes on speculation on the sun-drenched canvas of the Atlantic. It’s a life he’s lived 10 years longer than that as an author. And he's here to tell us something about the hows and whys of the wise things he does. Over to you Frank...

On the first night when I arrived in Florida from Indiana as an 18 year-old without the hope of education beyond graduating high school with a 1.8 GPA, I slept under a pier because I didn’t have a place to stay. I chose the soft sand under the pier over the hard concrete of sleeping under a bridge.
The next day I began work as a golf course maintenance worker, waking at 4am to take a taxi from the pier to meet my coworkers. I was scared to death, and when I arrived I realized I was the only white person who would be working on that Deerfield Beach golf course. I worked amongst Haitians, and quickly earned the nickname “the white Haitian” because of my strong work ethic. I may believe in the welfare system, but I don’t believe in an entitlement mentality. I’ve never been afraid to work hard.

Fast forward to today, where, through our Caring House Project Foundation (, we’ve built 28 self-sufficient villages in 25 Haitian cities over the last 16 years. We’ve provided a self-sustaining existence to 12,000+ children and their families who were living in mud or tin shacks covered in palm fronds for a roof with rodents the size of cats running across their dirt floors.

Our Haiti villages contain 40-50 brightly pastel colored concrete homes for families of eight, a community center that houses a school, church and clinic, clean drinking water, renewable food and some form of free enterprise so the village can be self-reliant. In addition, we provide meals in our schools and orphanages (2 part protein, 1 part carbohydrate).
Knowing that for each copy of The Other Thief we sell we’ll be able to provide nearly 200 meals to the hungry children in our Haiti villages and orphanages made me anticipate the 70,000 words I would write with joy and purpose. As I was writing I often thought back to my Haitian coworkers on that golf course, and the deep love I still have for them and the place they came from.

So... not just a well-edited and fascinating story, but a well-grounded and life-giving one as well. Here's a few details, and then an excerpt, perhaps...
Francis Rose, lead singer for a meteorically popular Christian rock band, has it all—fame, fortune, family, and deep faith. With the support of his loving wife, young daughter, and Down-syndrome blessed son, he’s gone from performing for an audience of 20 at his tiny Lutheran church in Keeler, Indiana, to selling out 20,000-seat arenas. His impact is global, soulful, and seemingly unstoppable.

The seven deadly sins don’t stand a chance against a man of Francis’ character, morality, and faith. Or do they? Their alluring assault is relentless as Francis encounters each of them along his ascending path to superstardom.

Author bio:
Frank McKinney is a true Renaissance man: a five-time bestselling author (in 4 genres), real estate “artist” (creates multi-million dollar oceanfront homes on speculation on the sun-drenched canvas of the Atlantic), actor, ultramarathoner, aspirational speaker.

The mediagenic author has been featured in countless TV & print articles, including Oprah (twice), 20/20, and the cover of USA Today.  Frank’s other books include: The Tap, Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle, Burst This! Frank McKinney’s Bubble-Proof Real Estate Strategies, Frank McKinney’s Maverick Approach to Real Estate and Make it Big! 49 Secrets for Building a Life of Extreme Success.

A “philanthro-capitalist,” Frank has made an enormous humanitarian impact in Haiti through his Caring House Project, where he has created 27 self-sufficient villages in 24 cities in the last 16 years, impacting the lives of 11,000+ children and their families. Frank, his wife, Nilsa, and their daughter, Laura make their home in Delray Beach, Florida, where Frank wrote The Other Thief in his oceanfront treehouse office.

Purchase Link:

Social Media:

Chapter 13 – The Other Thief
Sleep eluded me, in spite of having gotten plenty of exercise in the blazing Arizona sun with the kids, riding ride after ride and slide after slide at the water park. They’d been so happy all day, yet seeing their joy at spending time together as a family only served to drive a dagger of shame through my heart. Mary had looked so happy, too. It was hard enough to watch her play with the kids with such love in her eyes and in her soul. But each time she turned those love-eyes on me, I had to force my return gaze or look away. It was becoming more and more painful to receive her loving attention. Thank God for dark sunglasses.

Tired of staring through the black of our bedroom toward the ceiling, I got up around 4:30 a.m. again and retreated to my home studio. It felt good to put some physical distance between me and the angelic presence sleeping so soundly beside me. I didn’t deserve to share her bed. I needed to get alone with my thoughts, alone with God, and plan my course of action—my confession. I wanted to rehearse the words so thoroughly that I couldn’t second-guess myself. Even though I continued to pray for strength and courage, each time I tried to gather my thoughts, I was consumed with the memory of how horrifically my first confession had gone.

I could still back out—at least partially. I could still just tell her about Paulina. That would probably be easier. After all, according to Dr. Shapiro, she seemed about to regain her memory anyway. Or I could just tell her about Cindy, which seemed the worse of the two options. Either of those options would be easier than making a double confession! But as I thought about what Pastor John had taught me, I realized that in order to cut both ungodly soul ties, I would need to confess to both sins. Yes, it would have to be done that way, I resolved. I would do it as soon as Mary woke up.

I went into the kitchen and brewed her a strong cup of coffee, hoping the aroma would wake her. Killing time by opening messages in my office, I read another reminder from Stephanie to meet her in the studio to sign off on Forgiven. I started rationalizing my plan to talk with Mary first thing when she woke up. Surely, I couldn’t drop a bomb like that and then leave her alone while I was at the studio all day. I decided I’d better meet with Stephanie first, so that the rest of my day would be clear for consoling Mary. I took care of mundane office tasks until after sunrise, left Mary’s coffee in the microwave with a note on the kitchen counter, let Stephanie know I could meet her, and headed out for the studio.

I got to the studio before Stephanie. It was just after sunrise and the early rays of sunshine splashed across the lobby walls, highlighting Justus’ framed photos, awards, and our platinum record for Sanctified. The rays reflected off that album back into my eyes, making me wonder how I had strayed so far from the path that had gotten me here. It was as if God was sending me a message. His light was what had gotten me this far, and I longed for it again. In my mind, I begged God to allow Philippians 3:13 to bear fruit: “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” I so desperately wanted to leave this unfamiliar Francis in my past.

When Stephanie arrived, I was grateful to find her in all-business mode, anxious to get the final listen-through taken care of. As she fired up the equipment, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I glanced just long enough to see that it was a call coming in from Cindy. Really! This early? Anger surged through me as I sent the call to voicemail and turned off my phone. The last thing I needed was for Stephanie to see Cindy calling me, giving her an opportunity to reopen that line of interrogation with me.

“I’m so excited!” Stephanie said. It felt great to see her smiling in my direction again. That hadn’t happened much lately. “The press conference for Forgiven is all set up for next week, followed by a spectacular release party at the Beverly Hills Hotel! And the week after that, you’re off to Haiti to collect your medal of honor. God is so good!”

“Wow, that’s fantastic!” I said. “We sure have come a long way, haven’t we Steph?”

“I was just thinking about that,” said Stephanie, wistfully. “Do you remember when we recorded our first song, ‘Justus,’ about the 14th disciple? We didn’t even have a record contract yet. We begged our way into that tiny, makeshift studio in the back of the Sam Goody Music store at 2:00 a.m. when no one was around.”

“I remember,” I said. “Our only plan then was to sell the song after each mass at church and at church festivals, to anyone who would buy it! And even though we barely made any money, we had all agreed from the start to split the proceeds with the church’s soup kitchen that fed Keeler’s homeless. We went all over town stapling flyers onto telephone poles!” My heart melted a bit, thinking about our humble origins and how simple things were back then.

“Do you remember how we celebrated the wrap-up of that first recording?” she asked, the twinkle in her eyes telling me she remembered it well.

“I do!” I said. “We scraped together just enough money to take the band, families, and Pastor John out to a celebratory dinner at Applebee’s!” I beamed at Stephanie, noticing her moist eyes and realizing how much our work together had meant to her all these years.

“I’ll always remember that dinner,” she said. “No matter how over-the-top amazing this Beverly Hills Hotel party turns out to be—and believe me, it will be amazing!—nothing will ever beat the excitement and innocence of that first celebration. I hope you don’t mind that I told the catering staff at the hotel to have the same Buffalo wings and nachos that we had that night.”

“Not at all! Great idea! Can you imagine if we’d had a crystal ball at that first celebration, and could see what we were destined for?” Right after the words left my mouth, their full implications hit me. All the fame, all the money, all the good I’d been able to do in the world—that’s what I was initially thinking about when I imagined my younger self looking into that crystal ball. But what if the crystal ball had also revealed the shitpile I’d made of my personal life? It would have shattered young Francis’ heart.

We put on our headsets to begin the final listen. The rest of the band had already signed off, and it was always me and Steph who had the final say. The tracks sounded fantastic—even better than I’d remembered them. I turned up the volume to really feel their impact. At the end of each song, Stephanie and I gave one another nods and high-fives to indicate our approval.

But when the very last song came on—the title song—my insides began to churn. It was the most powerful song Justus had ever recorded, and the most impactful lyrics the Holy Spirit had ever moved me to write. But something just didn’t feel right. Somehow the song just didn’t feel like it had felt when I’d written it. It felt sharp. Painful, even. I listened to myself sing, “All I need is you to love. For you to set me free. All I need is your breath inside of me. To give me life. Bring me back to my knees.” Unable to bear it any longer, I pulled the headset off.

Seeing that Stephanie had noticed my discomfort and wanting to avoid a conversation with her, I quickly said, “Yep! That’s a wrap. Everything sounds great. Thanks for meeting me here today and getting this over to the label.” I grabbed my keys and tried to make a beeline for the door.

“I understand why that song upset you, Francis.”

Stopped by her words, I quickly turned around to face her. “I’m fine. All’s good. This album is going to sell millions. Let’s get it to the record label right away.” I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
I got the sense Stephanie wanted to question me. She wanted a status update on Cindy. I could feel it in her. But she must have also been able to feel me. My emotional exhaustion. My soul’s ache. My remorse and my shame. She walked over to me and put her hands on my shoulders.

Softly, she said, “You are stronger than you feel. You’re a better man than it seems right now. And you will come through this season of your life.”

She hugged me for a long time, allowing her friendship and her belief in me to sink deep into my soul. Unable to articulate my immense gratitude, I gave her a quick, “thank you” squeeze and left the studio. Blinking into the bright midday sun, I pulled out my phone to text Mary. I steeled myself, gathered my nerve, and typed, “Hi, sweetheart. Meet me at the Sanctuary for lunch?”

Mary’s reply came back immediately. “So Forgiven is a wrap? That does call for a celebration! I’ll be there as soon as I pick Heather up from swimming and drop her off with Eddie and Delia.”

Driving to the Sanctuary, I tried to rehearse my confession. But imagining Mary’s face upon hearing what I’d done was too painful. I decided the confession would have to just come out naturally in the moment. If I kept trying to plan it, I was afraid I’d back out. It was like making a plan to saw off your own leg. The more you thought about it in advance, the less likely you’d be to actually go through with it.

I asked the hostess for a quiet table in the corner and ordered a root beer.

“You’re in Justus, aren’t you?” asked the shy waitress as she set a basket of chips on my table.

“I am,” I said, extending my hand. “Francis Rose. Good to meet you.”

“I’m sure people ask you all the time—so you don’t have to say yes—but do you think we could take a picture together? My boyfriend will never believe this.”

“Of course,” I said, leaning into her photo. “Would you like an autograph?”

“Thank you! Could I have two?”

I fulfilled the waitress’s requests, sending her happily off her shift. I nervously scanned the room. It was taking Mary much longer to arrive than I expected. My mind ambled down dark pathways of possibility. Mary had said she’d be going by the house first. What if Cindy had been there, waiting to talk to her? Or what if Cindy had called her? Maybe Cindy was angry with me for ignoring her call and took revenge by spilling our secret to Mary. God, I would be glad when all of this shit was over. Just a few more minutes and I wouldn’t have to be tortured by this anymore—at least not the secrets part.

Sensing commotion at the restaurant entrance, I looked up to see Mary barreling toward me with a terrified expression I’d never seen on her before. Eyes wide, hair frazzled, she accidentally knocked over a chair as she rushed across the crowded restaurant. Adrenaline shot through my bloodstream. Oh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit. It had happened! She’d found out!

Two valets came running after her, calling “Ma’am! Ma’am!” One put his hand on her arm and she twirled to face him, looking disoriented, as though she couldn’t imagine why he’d stopped her.

“I need your car key, Ma’am,” he said—apologetically, because her distress was palpable. Mary gave him the keys in her hand, and angrily took the stub offered by the other valet.

My heart stiff with fear, unable to breathe, I stood up, utterly unready for whatever was about to take place.

Mary lurched to the table like a zombie and leaned against it, staring at me.

“Honey . . . honey, say something,” I said, bracing for the worst. When she didn’t respond, I started rambling. “Mary, it’s terrible, I know. God help me, I can explain. I talked to Pastor–”

Mary grabbed me around the neck and sobbed, “It’s the worst thing, Francis! Why? Why?”

Shaking, I rested my forehead on her shoulder. How could I answer that question? It was the same question I’d been asking myself, but I’d never gotten any kind of answer that made sense. Why? Why? Why had I done this to her? My mouth dry, I pulled her away from me to look into her eyes. “Mary, please know how much I love you. I made a terrible, terrible mistake.”

“Why did it happen? Why did it happen, again?” she sobbed.

Her question stunned me. She was finally remembering my first confession after all this time, and now she was asking how it could happen again with Cindy!

I struggled to get my response right. I opened my mouth to speak, but there was no air to even push out of my lungs. Before I could formulate an answer, she sobbed, “I guess I should have known better than to drive that route, but I wasn’t even thinking about it. And then, just as I passed that spot on East Camelback where we crashed . . . Oh God, I saw her again!” Mary fell into my arms, dissolving into tears, unable to continue.

Slowly, it dawned on me. Mary didn’t know. She. Didn’t. Know. Mary still didn’t know my shameful secrets. She’d had one of her visions, and that was what all this was about. The rollercoaster ride of my emotions was making me too dizzy to support her so I led her to a chair at the table and scooted my chair right up next to hers.

“It was just a vision, sweetheart,” I said, my hands shaking.

“But Francis, it wasn’t the same! It was awful! It was the clearest one I’ve ever had, and you were in it this time! You were lying on the side of the road. It was so terrible; it looked like you were dead! It was you and that same woman I’ve seen before. Oh, how I’ve come to hate her, Francis! That woman with the skin-tight black clothing and the red lipstick and that long, shiny, black hair. Only . . . only this time, the hair started to change, Francis! It seemed to be turning from black to blonde! It was like the woman herself was changing into a different woman, starting with the hair, but then it all disappeared before I could see any more. Why? Why does this keep happening to me? Make it stop!”
My thoughts formed a tornado in my mind as I took my sobbing, trembling wife into my arms. “It’s going to be okay, sweetheart. It’s over now,” I said.

Wiping her eyes and dabbing at her nose with a napkin, Mary asked, “Francis, why did you say you made a terrible mistake?”

I froze.

Mary continued, “It wasn’t your mistake, honey. I know you don’t like to drive. It was my mistake that we crashed that night.”

Awash with more emotions than I knew how to process, I needed to step away to get my bearings. I said, “Let me get you a drink, sweetheart,” and headed for the bar. What if this newest vision brought flashes of memory with it? What if she were about to remember the conversation in the car that preceded the crash? I had to tell her before she remembered it on her own! But how could I tell her when she was in such a disoriented frenzy?

“Hey, look who it is!” said the bartender. It was Dave, the one I’d met the night I’d been here with Cindy.

“Just a glass of Chardonnay,” I said, hoping to let him know, with my tone, that I wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

“That blonde you came in with the other night, Mr. Rose—wow, what a hottie! I bet women throw themselves at you like crazy! That Christian rock thing must really melt the chicks’ hearts—and panties!” He winked at me, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Can you just get me the wine?”

“Sure, sure, I’m getting it. I bet it’s for that other beauty you have lined up over there in the corner. I gotta hand it to you, man, it’s a great gig! What an act!”

I threw money on the bar and took Mary’s wine. “Cindy is a longtime family friend,” I said, “and that beauty over there is my wife.”

Dave smiled broadly. “Okay, Mr. Christian rock star! Your secret is safe with me! Rock on!”

Mary was still visibly shaken when I returned with her wine. Frustrated and at the end of my rope, I said, “Damn it, sweetheart, I’m so goddamn sorry this keeps happening. What can I do to help you?”

“Just please help me make it stop, Francis. With all of Eddie’s issues lately, and with you being gone so much working on Forgiven, I’ve really been struggling. I need you now more than ever.”

Mary brought my hand up and gently laid it to the side of her cheek, searching my face for reassurance that I would be her hero and protector, just as I’d always been. Over her shoulder, I saw Bartender Dave watching us. Catching my eye, he made the zipper-across-the-lips gesture, insinuating that his lips were sealed.

I slouched back in my chair, leaning my head on the headrest, dead and empty inside. All my hopefulness at being near the end of my self-inflicted torture, all my resolutions and pure intentions—I watched it all melt away like the ice in my root beer. The confession wasn’t going to happen—not now, and probably not ever. I would never be unburdened of my sin. I had done the deliverance with Pastor John and that would just have to be the extent of my repentance. Whatever weak, pathetic, sinful creature I’d become, it was time for me to accept the truth of it and move on.