Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking a Christmas Break!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and very Happy Holiday Season! I'm taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks, but I'll be back January 7th!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Real Anna Karenina

Kiera Knightley as Anna
A new version of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is in theaters now, starring the stunning Keira Knightley in the title role. According to NPR, this  story has been adapted for the large and small screens at least 25 times. Although a succession of beautiful actresses have played the role of Anna, including Greta Garbo (1935), Vivien Leigh (1948) and Jaqueline Bisset (1997), just who was the real Anna Karenina?

Many believe that the character Anna Karenina was inspired, at least in part, by Maria Gartung (1832 – 1919), the eldest daughter of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin...Apparently Tolstoy was transfixed by Maria, instantly taken with her beauty and intelligence, as well as her…elbows. Soon after meeting her, Tolstoy returned home and, out of curiosity, began reading some of Alexander Pushkin’s writings. While reading he slipped into a daydream, in which he saw a fleeting image of "a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow.” This ultimately proved to be the first intimation of Anna's character.
Greta Garbo as Anna
More fascinating information is found here at a site specifically about Maria Gartung. It's translated from Russian, but perhaps not by a professional translator, so it's a bit difficult to follow.  I've included some highlights below and tried to fix the translation.

All who met Maria Alexandrovna noted the unusual delicacy of her manners, her wit and her excellent knowledge of the Russian and French languages.

She was very friendly and easy to know, and also very beautiful.  She was said to possess the rare beauty of her mother and the exotic look of her father.  Her face, though a bit large for a woman, was striking.  She had a perpetual peace about her, as well as an unusual attachment to her mother, who expressed touching and affectionate care for her daughter.

At a provincial ball in 1861 Maria met the writer Leo Tolstoy.  Maria attracted his attention immediately as soon as she entered the ballroom. When he was told who she was, he said admiringly, "Yes, now I understand where she gets her pedigree, those curls at the back!" (A reference to Pushkin's African ancestry.)

Tolstoy wanted to be immediately introduced to the daughter of the Russian poet. They talked animatedly all evening. At Tolstoy's request, Maria told him about her father (probably from her mother's words, since he died when she was five) and shared her impressions of literature and art.

Maria Gartung, Anna's inspiration
Tolstoy genuinely admired the subtlety of her taste, her uniqueness, and the boldness of her opinion.  He later said that Maria not only resembled her father externally, but was probably similar to him internally as well. The poet's daughter so struck Tolstoy's imagination, that she became the inspiration of his famous heroine, Anna Karenina.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new movie; unfortunately I've never seen any of the older versions, and I haven't read the book.

Have you seen the new movie or any of the older versions? If so, who's your favorite Anna Karenina? Have you read the book? Had you ever heard of Maria Gartung?

Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Black Count

I must apologize for being a day late with my blog.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy today's thoughts!

I knew that Alexandre Dumas was of mixed race heritage, but only recently learned about his father.  He's profiled in the new release (that's currently on my reading list) entitled The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss.

It's always fun to see what inspires a writer, and here we learn who inspired one of the greatest.  Through historical sleuthing, Tom Reiss has uncovered the life a forgotten hero who was the inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, is General Alex Dumas.  Though almost unknown today, his story is familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of literature's best loved heroes.

Not only does this book tell of swashbuckling adventures, it reveals a secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave.  He rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our current time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris. There, he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. After enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution.

This is a fascinating story that I can't wait to read!  Too many books, too little time...

Are you familiar with The Black Count?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Big Country: A Western for Everyone

I'm not a fan of westerns, however, one of my favorite movies of all time is The Big Country, starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, and Chuck Connors.

This is a great film, with an amazing cast and an unforgettably awesome musical score!  I fell in love with this motion picture when I was in middle school--back in the days of the CBS late night movie.  Anybody out there remember those, or am I the only one?

I enjoyed The Big Country so much, that as an adult I purchased it on video--as you can tell, that was quite a few years ago.  I haven't gotten around to ordering it on DVD yet.

The setting of the story helped to inspire part of my upcoming novel, Masquerade: Book Two of the Unchained TrilogyMasquerade is not a western, but the hero and heroine of part one, Escape, eventually end up in California where they raise their family on a huge ranch.

The Big Country actually takes place in Texas (though filmed in California), as an easterner, the honorable Jim McKay (Gregory Peck), moves there to be with his fiance, Pat Terrill (Carroll Baker), whose family owns an enormous ranch.  In Masquerade, a New Yorker ventures to California in search of answers.

Although the plots aren't similar, (The Big Country focuses on two clans fighting over water rights, while Masquerade revolves around the revelation of true identities), I love the feel of the West portrayed in The Big Country.  Watching it inspired my writing, and Chuck Connors's bad guy, Buck Hannassey, inspired one of my characters.  And yes, I admit, I re-crafted a little of his dialogue for one of my scenes!

My kids love Chuck Connors in reruns of the Rifleman television show, but they'll probably hate him after watching The Big Country--he plays such an excellent dirt-bag. They'll hate Burl Ives too, the jovial grandfatherly folksinger of "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Frosty the Snowman."  He plays Connors's father, a senior dirt-bag, and he did it so well, he won a best supporting actor Oscar!

Here's a great article at the Bijou Blog for some fun behind the scenes facts!

If you haven't seen The Big Country, it's worth renting--even if you don't like westerns!  It's actually based on on the serialized magazine novel Ambush at Blanco Canyon by Donald Hamilton.

Do you like westerns? Have you ever seen The Big Country?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Pie with a Nut Crust

I can't believe Thanksgiving is Thursday--three days from now! I made this dessert last year and it was a hit. It's also all natural, and I'm making it again this year. 

Now, in addition to the chocolate cream pie (from my son's school fund raiser) and the store bought pecan pie (from the grocer's freezer), I'll have something for the health conscious among us.

This pie recipe is adapted from a very old magazine, although I'm not sure which one.  It uses a variety of spices that gives the pumpkin filling a fantastic flavor!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and Happy Eating!

Pumpkin Pie

3 eggs
1 lb. canned pumpkin
1/2 cup honey
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t cloves
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
Nut crust (recipe follows)

Spray a 9" pie plate with cooking spray. Line with with nut crust (see below).

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl beat eggs slightly.  Add pumpkin, honey, spices and salt.  Beat until well blended.  Slowly stir in coconut milk.

Pour into nut crust. Bake 60-70 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Nut Crust

1 cup pecans
2 T honey
1/4 t salt
4 oz. dates
1/2 t vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in food processor.  Spray a 9" pie plate with cooking spray.  Press nut crust mixture along bottom and sides.

I grew up eating sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving, instead of pumpkin, but I love both! Which do you prefer? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Romance University

Today is the last stop of my blog tour for Escape! I'll be at Romance University discussing how to write realistic dialogue. Please stop by and say hello!

If you're not familiar with Romance University, it's dedicated to helping writers establish and advance their careers, it introduces readers to a variety of authors, and it delves into the ever-inscrutable male mind.

So if you're a reader or a writer, Romance University is a great place to hang out--hope to see you over there!

For reading and writing, what are some of your favorite sites?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Great Political Movies

Before starting today's post, please be sure to visit me for a giveaway of Escape over Romance Book Haven on Wednesday, November 7th, where I'll be discussing some of my favorite movie lines!

Now, speaking of movies, in honor of the elections, I'm listing some of my favorite political motion pictures:

Citizen Kane
The Manchurian Candidate
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Meet John Doe
The Ides of March
All the President's Men
His Girl Friday
Seven Days in May
All the King's Men

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of radio and television ads for all the candidates, but I never tire of a good movie!  What are some of your favorite political movies? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Blog Touring

I've been doing a blog tour for my novel Escape this month, and today, I've stretched myself thin! Please visit me over at Karen Jones Gowen's blog, Coming Down the Mountain, where I'll be discussing dialogue and character, using Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine from Casablanca, one of my favorite movies!

Also, catch me at Nas Deen's blog, Romance Book Paradise, discussing Escape and Masquerade, parts one and two of my Unchained Trilogy series! Please visit both sites and leave a comment!

This is my first blog tour and I've found it a great way to connect with readers worldwide! What are your thoughts on blog tours?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Turkey Drumsticks with Plum Sauce

'Tis approaching the season for turkey, so here's something easy for your crock pot from Betty Crocker's  Slow Cooker Cookbook--enjoy!  Great with rice or noodles.

Turkey Drumsticks with Plum Sauce

4 turkey drumsticks (3lbs), skin removed
1/2 salt
1/4 t pepper
2/3 cup plum sauce
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1 T soy sauce
1 T cornstarch
1 T cold water

Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper.  Place turkey in 5-6 qt. slow cooker.  Mix plum sauce, onion and soy sauce. Pour over turkey.

Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours, or until juice of turkey is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut.

Remove turkey from cooker. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Remove any fat from sauce.  Mix cornstarch and water; stir into sauce.

Cover and cook on high 15-20 minutes, or until sauce has thickened.  Cut turkey from drumsticks.  Serve with rice or noodles, and sauce.  Makes 4 servings.

I love turkey, but usually only cook it during late October and up through New Year's, while whole turkeys are plentiful.  But what about you? Do you cook turkey all year long (turkey breasts are always available), or only during the holidays?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

Today, you can catch me over at Romantic Friday Writers guest posting on some of the most important tips for indie writers. Please visit and leave a comment!

The first tip I mention is to write a great story, and one of the best tools available to help you achieve this is Debra Dixon's outstanding book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend her GMC workshop! I was absolutely blown away, it was so amazing!

If you're not familiar with this book or would like to own it, order it here for 19.95 from Gryphon Books For Writers.

If you're indie published, what's the most important thing you've learned about independent publishing? If you're a reader, what annoys you most about indie published book?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Research: You Never Know What Might Turn Up

Isn't it amazing to find something you're not even looking for? Research can be like that at times. As a former reference librarian, I enjoy searching for information and finding answers.

But sometimes, authors make unexpected discoveries that actually help them in crafting their stories.  This is especially true for those who write historical fiction!

Maybe you've been trying to determine just the right expression for a 1930's character to use when you hear Johnny Depp say "like nobody's business" in the movie Public Enemies.

Or maybe you want some in depth information on thespians in turn of the century New York, and then you stumble upon just the right book at a flea market--for $2.00!

Perhaps you're trying to envision a dinner party from the 1940's, and when flipping through channels, find an old movie depicting just that. Or while visiting the museum, you see a furniture exhibit that can help you develop a description for a bedroom in 1889.

Could be that writers are more attuned to what's around them when creating their narratives. However, finding something that helps when least expected it, is the most fun and unexpected part of research!

If you're a writer, what have you stumbled upon that helped you develop your story? If you're a reader, what's the most helpful information that you just happened to stumble upon?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Julia Sand: Encouragement in a Time of Crisis

So just who was Julia Sand? I'd never heard of her until I read Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, an amazing account of James A. Garfield's life and the assassination attempt on him while serving as president.

Garfield, an extraordinary man, was actually nominated for president against his will.  However, four months after his inauguration, he was shot in the back by the deranged Charles Guiteau, who'd sought a political office in Garfield's administration.

It wasn't the would-be assassin's bullet that killed the president, but rather the medical treatment Garfield received.  As Garfield suffered for nearly two months, the nation was thrown into turmoil, and during this time, Vice President Chester A. Arthur ( a not so extraordinary man) stayed in seclusion. When Guiteau was apprehended he announced his wish for Arthur to become president.  Because of this, there was a brief investigation into whether Guiteau had been hired by Garfield’s enemies.

Although no proof was found to support this, there were threats made on Arthur’s life and he feared making public appearances. Arthur’s past was linked to some scandals involving the New York Customhouse and many thought Arthur as president would mean disaster for the country.

Here's where Julia Sand fits into the equation.  She corresponded with Arthur beginning in late August of 1881, before Garfield's death.  Her last surviving letter is dated September 15, 1883. Sand referred to herself as the President’s “little dwarf”, alluding to the idea that in a royal court, the dwarf is the only one with courage enough to tell the truth.

Sand was an educated woman who lived in New York, yet when she began writing Arthur at age 31, she was bedridden due to spinal trouble, lameness and deafness.  What I'm posting below is a portion of Sand's first letter to the would-be president:

The day [Garfield] was shot, the thought rose in a thousand minds that you might be the instigator of the foul act. Is not that a humiliation which cuts deeper then any bullet can pierce?

Your kindest opponents say "Arthur will try to do right"– adding gloomily –"He won’t succeed though making a man President cannot change him."

…But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave. Reform!
It is not proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong, but it is proof of it, sometimes in ones career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to
recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it…. Once in awhile there comes a
crisis which renders miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has
rolled over the country has swept you loose from your old moorings & set you on
a mountaintop, alone.

Disappoint our fears. Force the nation to have faith in you. Show from the first
that you have none but the purest of aims.

You cannot slink back into obscurity, if you would. A hundred years hence,
school boys will recite you name in the list of Presidents & tell of your
administration. And what shall posterity say? It is for you to choose….

Apparently, her words of encouragement inspired and changed him. At the end of his presidency, Arthur earned praise from his contemporaries for his solid performance in office. In 1886, the New York World wrote: "No duty was  neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation." And according to Mark Twain, "[I]t would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Had you ever heard of Julia Sand? Also, can you think of anyone you can encourage today? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Alexander Pushkin: Little Known Facts

Portrait of A. Pushkin by Konstantin Somov
I posted a little about Alexander Pushkin's African ancestry last week, and promised more today.  I've learned quite a bit about this fascinating man, and although he lived a short life, it was one of great accomplishment!

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 –1837) was a Russian author of the Romantic era, and is considered the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.  Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow and published his first poem at age fifteen.  He was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time he graduated from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum.

On June 6, 1999, Russia celebrated the 200th anniversary of Pushkin's birth. A London Times headline read, "Pushkin Mania rages: Russians cash in on bicentenary of their poet's birth". Reporting from Moscow, Anna Blundy noted: "Russia has been swept by Puskhinmania in preparation for tomorrow's bicentenary of the poet's birth...Russians all know long tracts of Pushkin's work by heart, and Sunday's festival is the dominant theme of most television, and radio broadcasts, newspaper articles and advertising campaigns."

In Russia, Pushkin seems to be a combination of Shakespeare and Mozart rolled into one. As Shakespeare is to the English language, Pushkin is to Russian literature.  

But, regardless of Pushkin's greatness, according to Selwyn Cudjoe, "at the beginning of the 19th century, Pushkin's Africanness was an issue. Throughout his life, his pronounced African features-thick lips, dark skin and kinky hair-remained an issue and Pushkin was acutely aware of them. Yet, he always took pride in his African ancestry."

Pushkin's great-grandfather was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), a Black African page raised by Peter the Great (see more on him in last week's post, or check out the link that follows). This information is from Cudjoe's article Pushkin: Russian African Genius:

...Pushkin suffered from a sense of his own "ugliness" and the taunts of his classmates. At the lycee where he studied when he was 12, he was nicknamed "monkey". However some of his school friends called him "the Frenchman" because they thought he was a "mixture of a monkey and a tiger".

This "stain" of his blackness remained with him. In 1827, he returned to his family mansion in Mikhaylovskoe where he began his unfinished novel, The Negro of Peter the Great, based on the life of his great grandfather. In this highly fictionalized account of his ancestor Grannibal, Pushkin centered his story on "a Negro's wife, who is unfaithful to her husband, gives birth to a white child and is punished by being shut up in a convent". Even as he tells this gripping story, the sexual prowess of the black man in a white world assumes much importance.

Perhaps, it is wise that Pushkin did not finish telling this story. It would have had to come up against the scurrilous attacks of those who preferred to believe that he came from a slave background. In fact, he was forced to defend Abram's honor against the calumny of Fruddy Bulgarin, a crusading journalist. Putting the question in verse, Pushkin said: "Filyarin says he understands/That my black granddad, Gannibal/ Bought for a bottle of rum, once fell/Into a drunk sea captain's hands." To this, he responded: "My grandfather, so cheaply bought,/ The Tsar himself treated with trust/And gave him welcome at his court./ Black, but never again a slave."
Pushkin died young.  Notorious about defending his honor, he fought a total of twenty-nine duels.  Though rumored to be a womanizer, when it was reported that his wife's brother-in-law, Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès had made attempts to seduce Pushkin's wife, Pushkin challenged d'Anthès to a duel.  Pushkin died two days later, having been shot through the spleen.  He was 37.

Are any of these facts new to you? Also, have you read any Pushkin? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pushkin and Stroganoff

Today I thought it was about time to post another recipe. What follows is a very easy and delicious beef stroganoff for the slow cooker. However, since I'm posting a Russian recipe, I thought it fitting to share a little something about Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.

The first installment (Escape) of my trilogy, Unchained, is now available. It's a family saga that involves an average white guy learning of his African-American ancestry.  Near death, his one hundred year old grandmother reveals the secret that her grandmother was a black woman, born a slave.

Now what does Alexander Pushkin have to do with any of this?  Seems he was in a similar situation, though his ancestry wasn't a secret. Here's some interesting information from the blog Race and History posted by Selwyn Cudjoe.

...Abram Petrovich Gannibal, Pushkin's great-grandfather, born in Northern Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the 1690s, was of royal stock. Pushkin claimed that his great grandfather was a prince who lived a luxurious life. He was abducted from Ethiopia when he was eight years old by a "Frenchman collecting animals and other curiosities for Louis XIV" of France. Shipped to Istanbul, he was placed in the Sultan's seraglio where the Russian ambassador found him and sent him back to Russia as a present to Peter the Great.

In the Russian court, Abram became a great favourite of Peter the Great. The Tsar became so attached to this precocious and intelligent child that he had him baptised into the Orthodox Church at Vilno where the Tsar himself became his godfather and the queen of Poland his godmother.
As he grew up, Pushkin took great pride in his great-grandfather and his Africanness which he  openly embraced and celebrated in Eugene Onegin.
Pushkin led a fascinating life, so I'll post more on him next week, but now on to stroganoff! This recipe is from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery, one of my favorite cookbooks! Hope you enjoy it.

Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs round steak
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1 onion sliced
1/4 t garlic salt
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t paprika
1 (10 1/2-oz.) can condensed beef broth
1 T ketchup
2 T dry red wine
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 T cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 cup sour cream
Cooked rice or noodles

Cut steak into 1/4 inch strips.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place steak and onion in slow cooker.  Mix garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, broth and ketchup in a bowl.  Pour mixture over steak. cover and cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours or until steak is tender.  Turn control to HIGH.  Add wine and mushrooms.  Dissolve cornstarch in water in a small bowl.  Add to meat mixture, stirring until blended.  Cover and cook on HIGH 15 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Stir in sour cream; turn off heat. Serve with rice or noodles.

Happy eating! Do you have a favorite version of beef stroganoff? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so over the weekend when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

So this morning, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harriett Beecher Stowe: Her Impact on the Nation

Legend has it that upon meeting Harriett Beecher Stowe at the White House, Abraham Lincoln said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."  We'll never know if that's what Lincoln really said, because not much is known about that conversation. According to sources at Wikipedia:

Stowe's daughter Hattie reported, "It was a very droll time that we had at the White House I assure you... I will only say now that it was all very funny—and we were ready to explode with laughter all the while." Stowe's own letter to her husband is equally ambiguous: "I had a real funny interview with the President."

Regardless of whether or not Lincoln made that remark, it's a fascinating piece of folklore.  Harriett Beecher Stowe probably never realized the impact Uncle Tom's Cabin would have on the United States. On March 9, 1850, Stowe wrote to the editor of a weekly antislavery journal called National Era.  She explained that she planned on writing a story about the problem of slavery.

In her letter she said: "I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak... I hope every woman who can write will not be silent."

In June of 1851, National Era published the first installment of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Installments were published weekly from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. In March of 1852, the story was published in book form with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. In less than a year, the book sold three hundred thousand copies!

Stowe's work presented an emotional portrayal of slavery that caught the nation's attention.  At a volatile time in history, Uncle Tom's Cabin added to the heated debate about abolition and slavery, arousing opposition to it in the South. Her story inspired and impacted many.
Have you ever read Uncle Tom's Cabin?  In my new release Escape (yes, it's time for a little shameless self-promotion), my protagonist, Daniel Taylor, is an abolitionist inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin.  What story or person has inspired you lately?

Thanks for visiting! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alexander Hamilton's Family Tree

Nowadays, what most people know about Alexander Hamilton is that his portrait appears on the ten dollar bill.  Some may have learned that he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.  Others might even be aware that Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury.

Here's some more detailed information from Wikipedia:
Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.
As Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the primary author of the economic policies of the George Washington administration, especially the funding of the state debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. He became the leader of the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views, and was opposed by the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
 Hamilton served in the American Revolutionary War. At the start of the war, he organized an artillery company and was chosen as its captain. He later became the senior aide-de-camp and confidant to General George Washington, the American commander-in-chief.
Born out of wedlock and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton was effectively orphaned at about the age of 11. Recognized for his abilities and talent, he was sponsored by people from his community to go to the North American mainland for his education. He attended King's College (now Columbia University), in New York City. After the American Revolutionary War, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from New York. He resigned to practice law and founded the Bank of New York.

A 20th century artistic rendering of the July 11, 1804 duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton by J. Mund
What most of us don't know, is that Alexander Hamilton was of African Ancestry!  According to Julie Carter over at RootsWeb:

The first mothers of Nevis were African slave women who lived on the
island with the mulatto offspring of their white slave masters.
Rachel Fawcett Lavain, a woman said to be of "mixed blood" and the
daugther of a Nevisian doctor, was the mother the First Secretary of
the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton's father, James
Hamilton, Sr., the 4th son of a Scottish Duke (History Writer NOTE: I
believe this is incorrect, and Alexander Hamilton's actual grandfather
has been identified as an untitled Scot. End NOTE.) did not marry his
mother. Their relationship lasted 15 years. John Fawcett, Rachel's
grandfather, was listed in an early census as having 4 black females.
The surest proof that Alexander Hamilton was of African ancestry was
that Alexander's older brother, James, by the same mother and father,
was of dark complexion with dark hair. James Hamilton, Jr. migrated
to the United States and was treated like a Negro once being refused a
seat on a Broadway coach because of his color.

Alexander Hamilton also migrated to the United States to be educated.
He got involved in the American revolution and later appointed the
chief military aide to George Washington then Secretary of the
Treasury. Alexander's father was invited to come to the United States
but not his mother because "her presence would have ruined his
prospects. Her features were too pronounced. She was too typically
Negro. Her dark skin would create as much trouble as a colored
delegate at a white convention." (History Writer NOTE: Rachel
Fawcett died when Alexander Hamilton was 13, before Hamilton ever
moved to what became the United States, so I am not sure where the
author got this quote. End NOTE.)

Alexander Hamilton's papers of ancestry were burned after his death in
order to hide his alleged African strain. When harassed about his
birth Hamilton stated, "My blood is as good as those who plume
themselves on their ancestry." The real truth regarding Hamilton's
ancestry can be found in the earliest and least known portrait of him
drawn from life by Peale which reflects Hamilton's skin color, nose
and wooly hair. The portraits that we know today have been
caucasianized revealing Hamilton with a more European nose, thinner
lips, light complexion and straight hair. Both pictures are found the
New York Public Library Collection. Information on the life of
Alexander Hamilton can be found in Charlestown, Nevis at the Museum of Nevis History.
Just a little fascinating food for thought! Had you ever heard about Alexander Hamilton's family tree?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Celebrate August with California Tamale Pie

California Tamale Pie
August is the only month without a holiday or other celebration of sorts.  So if you have a birthday in August (like me), appreciate that your special day isn't overshadowed by something else!

Okay, in August, what can you think of to celebrate with an easy, tasty tamale pie?  How about the Michigan Powerball winner?  I'm sure that person is getting his/her financial ducks in a row before coming forward to claim all $337,000,000!!  Happy winnings to you, Powerball winner, whoever you are!  And with that amount of money, you'll never have to cook for yourself again--please pass this recipe on to your new cook.

Now for a bit of shameless self promotion--I'm celebrating the release of my new novel, Escape, tomorrow!  Read last week's post to find out more. 

And now, on to food! This California Tamale Pie is for the crock pot.   It's simple and delicious, which in itself  is worth celebrating, and it tastes like a million!

This recipe is from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery. If there are four or more in your home, I strongly recommend doubling the recipe.  The first time I made it, I sampled some before dinner, but ended up eating nearly half--it's that good! Enjoy!

California Tamale Pie

3/4 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup milk
1 egg slightly beaten
1 lb lean ground beef
1 t chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t seasoned salt
1 (14 oz.) can chunky salsa
1 (16 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (2.25 oz.) can sliced ripe olives, drained
1 cup cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, milk and egg.  Stir in meat, chili powder, cumin, salt, salsa, corn and olives.  Pour mixture into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH 3 to 4 hours.  Sprinkle cheese over top; cover and cook another 5 minutes.  Makes 6-8 servings.

I'd never heard of tamale pie until I found this recipe.  Have you ever had it?  Also, do you celebrate anything in August? Thanks for visiting!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Release Date of Escape, August 21

I finally have a release date for my new novel, Escape: Book One of the Unchained Trilogy!  Look for it next Tuesday, August 21!

The Unchained Trilogy is an explosive three book series of love, deceit, emotional destruction and in the end, forgiveness. 

In Escape (Book One) Daniel and Lori love each other, yet to live as one in 1856, they must escape from the unyielding society that imprisons them.

Lori was born a slave in North Carolina, yet by chance was raised alongside Daniel in a wealthy abolitionist household. The sudden death of Daniel’s mother catapults Lori back into bondage.

Relegated to chattel on a rice plantation, Lori lives in constant fear under the tormenting scrutiny of Daniel’s wretched Aunt Lucinda.

After Daniel fails to convince his relatives to free Lori, he is compelled to devise a daring escape. Although a life threatening endeavor for both of them, Lori’s freedom is priceless to Daniel, and he’s willing to pay such a price for her love.

Escape will be available through Amazon (Kindle version 2.99 and paperback 12.99) and Barnes and Noble (Nook version 2.99).

A brief excerpt follows:

Chapter 1
Wilmington, North Carolina

I can do this...I can do this...Lori repeated the words to herself as if willing them to be true.  Under a brightly shining moon, she stood on the back porch of Rebecca Taylor’s home and slipped the strap of a filled canteen around her neck.  Lori tucked it to one side, then reached for the worn leather satchel at her feet and did the same. The cornbread and salt pork wrapped inside would last for about three days.
Miss Rebecca was dead now, leaving Lori with no alternative but to run.
You’d be a fool to try!  Don’t even think about setting off on your own, you’ll never make it!  Lori forced Daniel’s protests from her mind, instead hearing the cicadas and crickets chirp around her.  Daniel couldn’t stop her because she refused to be dragged off to Dancing Oaks!
This was her one chance at freedom.  Don’t can’t...Again, Daniel’s words played through her head—and this time, also her heart.  For a moment, Lori hesitated.  Her feelings for Daniel were silly.  He was Miss Rebecca’s son, yet why had he been so adamant about her not trying to escape?  He’d tried to convince his uncle to free her—but that hadn’t worked, so now Lori was taking matters into her own hands.

If you like historical fiction, please consider adding Escape to your reading list! By the way, what are you reading now? I just started Nancy Taylor Rosenberg's Buried Evidence and Jane Smiley's Private Life.  Thanks for visiting! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Writers Aid

If you’re  a new writer just starting out, be sure to visit my new “Help For Writers” page.  About two years ago, I decided to try my hand at getting a novel traditionally published.  Now, after multiple rejections, but with no regrets, I’ve moved on to self–publishing!

  My kids said I'd never write my novel--ha! I'll show them! I just needed a little help.

However, along my journey down both paths, I’ve found lots of links worth sharing! Venturing into writing is an overwhelming endeavor, but there really is a great deal of free information available to help!

Maybe you’re wondering, how do I find an agent, or how do I write a query letter and synopsis?  Perhaps you’re trying to improve your writing style and asking, what are some of the best books on craft? If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you’ll want to be aware of the common mistakes made by self-published authors and how you can avoid them.

Click the link, or on the “Help For Writers” page above and see what you think.  Hope you find it useful!

Are you a new writer?  If you’re a seasoned author, please share some sites/sources you’ve found beneficial in your writing career!  Thanks for visiting!

Monday, July 30, 2012

An Interview with Jennette Marie Powell

I am pleased to have talented author Jennette Marie Powell with me today!  She’ll be sharing what inspires her work, as well as some great advice about self-publishing.
Jennette Marie Powell

Jennette has written the exciting time travel adventures Time’s Enemy and Time’s Fugitive.  These are books one and two of her Saturn Society Series, and they’ll appeal to anyone who loves science fiction, romance and history!

Jennette is an awesome storyteller and meticulous researcher. As I read Time's Enemy, I was thoroughly entertained by the story, and fascinated by the history!  

I met Jennette through OVRWA and had the opportunity to listen to her present some great information as part of a self-publishing panel. I thought what I learned from her would be well worth sharing!

1. Before jumping into your recent works and info on self-publishing, I’d like to know how long you’ve been writing. 
I wrote my first story when I was seven, about my best friend and her family! I think it filled maybe half of one of those note card-sized spiral notebooks. :)  I also wrote in high school and in college – I earned a minor in Creative Writing – but started really writing – as in, for publication, in 1999.

2. Time’s Enemy is a sci-fi romance with historical elements.  It takes place in Dayton, Ohio and you’ve incorporated some very interesting Dayton history.  Are you a native of Dayton, and is that why you placed the story there?
I’ve lived in the Dayton area all my life, so yes, that had something to do with it! I originally was going to set it elsewhere – maybe Columbus – because I didn’t think I could sell a story set in Dayton. But my characters had other ideas, so I figured what the heck! Doing the research was what brought about my love of local history.

An unwilling initiate in a secret society of time travelers breaks its highest law by changing the past, risking death and betrayal by the woman he loves.

3. Unwilling time traveler Tony Solomon is back in Time’s Fugitive. Can we expect more volumes in the Saturn Society Series?
I’m currently working on a short story that’s a prequel to the series. As for more novels – maybe! Right now, I have so many ideas clamoring to be written, and already planned for 2013. But I do love the SS novels, and can certainly see another one – maybe more – down the road. I left a few doors open just so I could do that!

4. Your premise of the protagonist being a reluctant time traveler, who then becomes willing, only in order to manipulate the past for love, is a fascinating one! What inspired that idea?
It pretty much developed organically from the characters. Time’s Enemy was the novel where I learned my process—what works for me, and what doesn’t. I tried writing without an outline at first, and while I basically ended up with 600 pages of mostly rambling with no end in sight, I did learn a lot about my characters and had fun. Reining it in with a plan saved it and gave me a place to end the first book, and ended up working out for the best. My characters still surprise me, but mostly do it in the outlining stage now.

 Framed for murder, an unwilling time traveler will do anything to protect the woman he doesn’t want to love and their unborn child.  But when they escape much farther into the past than planned, their troubles are only beginning—and secrets can get them killed.

5. Do you have another series in the works?
I actually have a couple others, both with just one book. This is because in traditional publishing, we never know if we’ll sell the series, so the common wisdom says to write one book that can stand alone, and if it sells and the publisher asks for others, then write the others. One is a historical science fiction romance book set in Dayton in 1905, the other is my next release.

6. What is your next release and when is it due out?
My next release is Hangar 18: Legacy, a contemporary science fiction military romance with a suspense element. It’s set on Wright Patterson Air Force Base – where according to legend, alien bodies and spacecraft from the Roswell incident was taken. It’s about a psychic AF researcher and the skeptical developer of mind-control software who must team up to rescue an imprisoned extraterrestrial thought dead for decades. I haven’t set a specific date for release, but I’m planning to have it out sometime this fall.

7. Tell us about your self-publishing journey. What motivated you to take that leap?
Once self-publishing became a viable means of distribution and reaching readers, it seemed the perfect choice. After years of rejection—most of which were on the lines of “your writing’s good, but I can’t sell this—I realized that what I was writing was too niche for a big publishing company to take a chance on. But with self-publishing, a book has all the time it needs to find an  audience, and the author can still earn a nice bit of money over the long haul—while offering great stories to readers for reasonable prices.

8. Tell us about your background, and how that’s helped you in self publishing.
My college degree, and the first ten years of my professional life, were spent in graphic design. When the Internet started to really take off, I knew that was the future, so I transitioned into web design, and eventually programming. Both have served me well, as I design my own book covers and book interiors, and format my ebooks! This was another reason why self-publishing was a no-brainer for me. :)

9. For self-published print copies, would you share your opinion on Lightning Source and Createspace, and let us know what’s the most advantageous choice for techies and non-techies.
There’s potential for more money with Lightning Source, as they allow authors to set the retailer’s cut as low as 20%. CreateSpace’s retailer cuts are fixed at 40% for sales through Amazon, and 60% for sales through other retailers. But Lightning Source’s pricing advantage comes at a cost: $75 in setup fees, you must supply your own ISBN, and their technical specifications are more exacting, which can cost $40 each time a change (or a mistake) is made. I typically recommend Lightning Source if you are a graphic designer experienced in print, or are working with a cover artist who is. Otherwise, CreateSpace is much easier, much cheaper, and the quality and print fees for author copies are comparable.

10. What advice do you have for anyone thinking about self-publishing?
Learn your craft first! Odds are, your first book won’t be ready for publication, even if you think it is. I know mine wasn’t, even though it was contracted by an e-publisher! I wrote six books before I published myself. The sixth was actually a complete rewrite of that first book, so even though the first one may not be publishable when you first write it, that’s not to say it isn’t later. But either way, always keep learning and improving your craft!

Jennette, thanks so much for joining me today and sharing some great information with us! To visit Jennette, go to Time’s Enemy and Time’s Fugitive are now available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Click here to order and read more about Jennette’s books!

Now it's your turn, what inspires your writing? Also, are you self published or considering self-publishing? If so, are you technical or non-technical? What's been your experience?

Thanks for visiting!