She’s back! One of my favorite authors and a dear colleague and friend, Lori Crane (click here for previous interview) visits Author Wednesday to tell us about her new release, I, John Culpepper. Lori is quite popular and famous for her works of historical fiction, and this book is no exception. Here she is to tell us all about it.Culpepper_1

Hello, Lori! I’m so happy to have you return as a guest on Author Wednesday. Let’s get right to it. Give us the one sentence pitch for I, John Culpepper.

I, John Culpepper is a work of historical fiction based on the life of the 17th-century man historians refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant who was forced to rise against his father to achieve his childhood dream.

I know you usually write about your ancestors, so give us the scoop. Are you related to this fascinating man? 

John Culpepper is the progenitor of the modern-day American Culpeppers. He was my 10th great-grandfather.

I’m always amazed at how far you’ve been able to reach back in your ancestry to pull out these characters worthy of a novel. I’m very envious, but mostly I’m in awe. How long did it take you to finish the book, from idea to publishing?

I first had the idea to write his story in August of 2014, but the more I researched, the more interesting tidbits I found and it became four books with four distinct stories: his childhood, his life during the English Civil War, his rise to family patriarch, and finally, his coming to terms with his past, his family, and his beliefs. His story became the Culpepper Saga with “I, John Culpepper” being the first of the four books. From idea to publish, since I ended up writing four books at the same time, took nine months.

So we have more to look forward to. That’s amazing that you wrote four books in nine months. Is there a message in I, John Culpepper for us?

As a young man, John had to stand up to his father. For those of us who have stood up to a parent, we understand the pain involved in that process. At the end, John realized that, perhaps, his father wasn’t the bad guy after all. I think that’s a lesson we all learn when we finally realize our parents are only human.

I can relate as I’m sure many others can as well. I’ve been both the parent and child on that process! What is the best thing someone could say about I, John Culpepper?

I love it when readers tell me how interesting my family is, not realizing these stories are of our collective past. We are all the products of the survivors, the heroes, the brave men and women. I hope they see John as the hero he was. He was a bit of a rebel, but his rebellion is what eventually saves his family…on more than one occasion.

Thank you for saying that. Yes, it’s our collective history. What kind of research did you do to pull off this work of historical fiction?

I started with my family tree. I initially wondered how the Culpeppers of 16th-century England, with their stately manors and vast land holdings, ended up being the modest people I knew in my childhood in Mississippi. Why would they give up that kind of prestige to move to an inhospitable land filled with savage Indians and probable starvation? I also researched the school John attended, the ships of the time, the colonial records of 1630s Jamestown, and I spent a lot of time on the Culpepper family website called Culpepper Connections. In the second book, the English Civil War breaks out, so I researched everything from the timeline of the battles, to the generals and the king, to the transcribed minutes of the House of Commons. I spent three days reading those minutes. Even though I knew I had family serving in Parliament at the time, to read their names on the actual roll call was exciting.

I’m sure it was–history coming to life right before your eyes. Tell us about your favorite scene.

I have a couple. The first is at the wharf the day John is born. John’s father is quite a formidable character. The second is when John sees the product of his prank on his headmaster. I laughed out loud when I wrote it. The third is when John takes his brother aboard his ship for the first time. I can just picture the pride and excitement on John’s face.

When you become that invested in the writing, magic is sure to follow! Is there anything else we should know about the book or about John Culpepper?

John Culpepper was a very, very popular name in English history, and each John had a brother named Thomas. All of those Johns and Thomases had sons also named John and Thomas. Deciphering which John was which from English and Colonial records was difficult, but after reading other theories and putting all of the different names and birth and death dates to paper, I believe I got the family history figured out. I took great freedoms in giving some of the men nicknames, just to keep them straight, but be assured, in historical records they are all named John and Thomas. The nicknames are mine and mine alone. I didn’t take them from any records.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Lori. I look forward to reading your I, John Culpepper. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much or even more than your other books.

1394868_10201454031930551_434799525_nAbout Lori Crane:  BESTSELLING AND AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR LORI CRANE IS A WRITER OF SOUTHERN HISTORICAL FICTION AND THE OCCASIONAL THRILLER. Her books have climbed to the Kindle Top 100 lists many times, including her book Elly Hays, which debuted at #1 in Native American stories. She has also enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She is a native Mississippi belle currently residing in greater Nashville. She is a professional musician by night – an Indie Author by day.

Click here to read my review of Elly Hays.

Click on the links below to purchase and connect with the author 

I, John Culpepper Amazon US 

Amazon UK




Culpepper Saga fan page

Book Review Friday – Unexpected Gifts

UG_Smallery61912Unexpected Gifts by S.R. Mallery lives up to its name. And the wrapping on that gift peels off layer after layer until the final beautiful gift reveals itself.

The book takes the reader on a journey through one young woman’s legacy left by her ancestors. Sonia feels adrift in her life as she continues her relationship with an up and coming rock star and pursues her degree in psychology.

Starting with her parents’ lives in the 1960s, she goes back through the years of the twentieth century as she “unwraps” the gifts left her. It’s not always a glittering and shiny gift, but there’s always a secret revealed as Sonia applies the lessons from her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to her own life.

The book revisits some of the most significant events of the 1900s going back to its earliest years. Immigrants and Ellis Island; Detroit and the assembly line; the Great Depression and the climb out of it; women’s suffrage; the rumblings of race relations prior to the Civil Rights Movement; Woodstock and Vietnam—it’s all in this gem of a book.

Ms. Mallery shows the connection to our family ties and the lessons that should be learned from the painful experiences of those who went before.

I felt the scenes with Sonia’s great aunt Adriana were the strongest ones—or at least the ones that held an important meaning for me. Adriana is caught up unwittingly—or so it seems—in so many important causes in the first half of the century. Yet, Adriana’s sensibilities are all there in the movements, but not finely tuned until she experiences firsthand what it meant to be black in the United States. She relates through the prejudice she witnesses and through her own experiences as a woman as she fights for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The most compelling part of Unexpected Gifts comes from the perspectives presented. We are shown the worst side of the characters through the eyes of another. Then a short while later the perspective switches as the author changes point of view. Then we begin to understand, if not wholly condone, the behaviors and thoughts behind some of the worst characters. Sam, Tony, and Andrei, the fathers in each of the decades portrayed, are human, fallible, and often times cruel. But when the telescope delves into their minds, the reader is shown that judging others without living their lives, does a great disservice to us all as humans. Ms. Mallery shows us that the ones to suffer the most are the ones inflicting the most harm on others.

If you love history, particularly of the twentieth century in the United States, and if you love family sagas that connect the generations, then Unexpected Gifts is the perfect read, and the perfect gift to give someone unexpectedly.

Author Wednesday – David Lawlor

typewriterWelcome to Author Wednesday. Today I interview David Lawlor, the author of two historical novels published as eBooks. Tan is set during the Irish War of Independence, and its sequel, The Golden Grave,  is set in the old battlefields of WWI.


Welcome to Author Wednesday, David. I love something I read about the writer and scientist Rachel Carson (Silent Spring). She said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Describe a time when a subject chose you.

When I started out as a journalist I heard the story of how the Choctaw Indians in Oklahoma had raised money for the Irish famine relief fund in the 1840s. Their generosity always stayed with me, and I knew that someday I would write about that story. It took ten years or so before I got round to it, but that became my first book.

That’s a subject that clearly chose you. Do all your books have a common theme or thread?

My first published book, Tan, told the story of Liam Mannion, an Irishman who served as a Black and Tan during the Irish War of Independence. The Tans were ex-WWI servicemen brought to Ireland as Temporary Constables. They became notorious for their cruelty.  It was a time of great violence and brutality on all sides.

My grandfather was heavily involved in the War and the subsequent Civil War. He was actually tortured by the Tans and had a finger nail pulled out during interrogation. He was also a member of a firing squad during the Civil War so this period is close to my heart. I felt Liam had a much larger story to tell than just the one in Tan so I have now written about him again, in The Golden Grave, returning to the battlefields of France in search of lost treasure. I am working on a third book involving Liam, which is set during the treaty talks with the British in 1922. After that, I think Liam is bound to see more action in the Civil War that followed the treaty.

How incredible that you could take the seeds of your own family’s history and create several novels. You must have a great affinity for Liam. Explain how this book was conceived in your imagination.

A documentary about the excavation of a WWI bunker set the ball rolling. I wondered what you might find down there. From that, I developed the story of five war-scarred veterans returning to the crucible of the battlefield to dig for lost treasure and of how the ghosts of their wartime experiences haunt them.

What other type of research did you do?

The documentary was a great help. I researched tunneling techniques and bunker building and read  accounts of what life was like in the trenches. I also studied photographs of the battlefields as well as maps of  France and Switzerland, which is where the finale takes place.

The documentary served as your starting point for the rest. Who or what is the antagonist in your book? Did you enjoy creating this character?

There’s a femme fatale in The Golden Grave called Sabine. She runs a soldiers’ bar near the frontline. She is beautiful, sexy, and knows how to wrap a man around her finger. She is also extremely devious and will do anything to further her own ends. She was great fun to write.

I understand. I love creating devious characters. Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.

I liked writing the opening scene, in which a train hurtles through Flanders at night. The scene focuses on the driver and his coalman as they try to outrun a German artillery barrage. I wanted to convey the fear and tension of their predicament. They are on a steam locomotive so it was fun trying to capture the workings of the train and placing it in the ruined backdrop of war.

Where do you write?

On my fifty-minute commute into work, during my lunch break, and on the journey home. I aim for one thousand words a day – sometimes I reach that figure, sometimes not.

That’s amazing, David. Your goal is ambitious. How does your immediate family feel about your writing life?

My wife is resigned to it by now. I think that after I wrote my first novel she felt I had  it out of my system. It was quite the opposite – I had been bitten by the bug! We have four young children, who are unaware of their dad’s pastime. I published my first book in April 2012, as my mum lay dying in hospital. She got to see press clippings about it, which.was nice. I dedicated Tan to her and my dad.

That’s wonderful, David. I’m sure one day your children will be well aware of their father’s other passion. Thank you for stopping by today. I enjoyed getting to know you a little bit better, and I look forward to reading your books.

DavidAbout David: I’m no historian, but I do like the subject (I even managed to get an Honors degree in it after much sweat and tears). I also like to write historical fiction. The idea is to collate interesting snippets from the past, things which spark an interest and maybe even a story or two. My day job is as an editor with a national newspaper.

In the course of my research, I have come across what I think are interesting facts, which you might like to read.

Twitter: @LawlorDavid
The Golden Grave:

Book Review Friday – In the Time of the Butterflies

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Book Description from Amazon: It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters—Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé—speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression.

My Review: Julia Alvarez weaves fact with fiction to create a novel that offers one view of life under a cruel leader, and she shows the courage it takes to stand up in the face of dictatorship. In the Time of the Butterflies mesmerized me from the first chapter, as told through the fictional voice of the only surviving sister, Dede. Each chapter takes on the voice of all four sisters in a way imagined by Alvarez as she researched the lives of the Mirabel sisters, known as the butterflies.

I was unaware of the history of the Dominican Republic until I read this novel. Of course, I’d heard of Trujillo and his regime, but I’m not sure I even knew which country he ruled. The period portrayed in the novel, 1938-1960, follows the life of the Mirabal sisters. Alvarez creates a fictional life for the characters that she says took her over the more she researched. Alvarez, born in New York City in 1950, was raised in the Dominican Republic for the first ten years of her life as her family supported the overthrow of the Trujillo regime. Four months before the death of the sisters, her family fled back to the United States. She knows of what she writes, and it’s not surprising a ten-year-old girl would romanticize and fantasize about the lives of female heroes in a cause supported by her own parents.

The result is the novel In the Time of the Butterflies, published in 1994. How did I miss reading this? I read her first and probably more widely known novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, published in 1991.

I’m glad I found it. I bought it last year from a bargain bin at Barnes and Noble, simply because I recognized the author’s name. It remained on my bookshelves for almost a year. Once I picked it up, I seldom put in down in the two or three days it took to read.

As a writer, I found the concept of taking real people and real events and giving them fictional dialogue, emotions, and actions, intriguing. Alvarez tells Dede’s story in third person. Dede, the second-born Mirabel sister, is the only to survive because she didn’t travel with her sisters on that November day in 1960. It’s a good choice, even though I questioned it at first. As the novel evolves, it becomes clear that Dede remained removed from the sisters in ideology and character, so it’s appropriate her story is told from a more detached point of view. Dede never really entered into the activities of the butterflies, and often objected to her sisters’ participation in the revolutionary activities, despite her love and loyalty to her family. It is Dede who’s left to raise the children of her siblings after Patria, Minerva, and Mate are found murdered on the side of a road.

Minerva’s story is told in the form of a diary, which is helpful in understanding how she became the first sister to begin to question the government. Throughout the story, she’s also the most radical of the four. Patria, the eldest sister, attempts to cling to her religion through personal tragedies and outside forces through her first-person narrative. The entries of Mate show the brilliance of the author when she begins with Mate’s chapters with immature, girlish diary entries written as a nine-year old. The entries show the maturing of a young woman, and perhaps Alvarez relates to this character the most since she begins her entry into the story near the same age Alvarez was when she and her family fled the country.

Patria’s story touched me the most. She struggled with her faith as she faced the loss of a baby and faced the fear of losing her first-born, a son determined to join the fight against Trujillo. One chapter, “January to March 1960” in particular, struck me. It begins, “I don’t know how it happened that my cross became bearable.” Her husband was imprisoned; her home had been taken over by the government, yet she found hope in that setting by praying to the mandated photo of Trujillo in the hallway of her mother’s home. She didn’t pray to him because “he was worthy or anything like that. I wanted something from him and prayer was the only way I knew to ask.” Patria says she learned the trick from raising children. “You dress them in their best clothes, and they behave their best to match them.” She hoped to turn the regime around by praying to his “better nature.” Through this simple prayer, created in the fictional lives of the women, Alvarez gives the reader a lesson on life.

Even though I knew how the novel would end because of the real historical facts, I was still mesmerized by the story as I read the account of the final days and moments in the lives of Patria, Minerva, and Mate.

It’s the same reason the ancient Greeks attended the same plays over and over again by the few playwrights of the day. They knew the story; they knew the ending; but they didn’t know how the elements within each production would be presented. A classic story withstands its retelling only if the artistic rendering is unique and suspenseful in the hands of a talented writer.

Alvarez qualifies with this rendering of the story of the las mariposas (the butterflies) of the Dominican Republic.

Next, I’ll watch the movie of the same name, starring Selma Hayek as Minerva.

See my post Weaving Real Events into Fiction.


Weaving Real Events into Fiction

Macondo well gushes oil after Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns and falls

Macondo well gushes oil after Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns and falls

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When I began the early scribbles for what eventually became Trails in the Sand, I was writing about current events. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill still led the headlines as oil gushed unabated into the Gulf of Mexico. Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine explosion made headlines in few months after the explosion when investigators finally entered the mind shaft after the fumes subsided. The CEOs of both BP and Massey continued in their positions, but only for a few months longer.

I used both events in my novel as the main characters are connected to both disasters.

By the time, I published Trails in the Sand in January 2013, the horror of both events faded from the public consciousness as the media turned to more pressing issues, such as the demise of yet another pop idol with little talent, except a beautiful face and body.

BP plays its commercials extolling the beauty of the Gulf beaches it nearly destroyed forever because of their negligence in following safety procedures. Massey Energy changed names, and the face of the company, Don Blankenship, faded into obscurity except for his website supporting certain political entities.

So my novel went from the category of current events to historical fiction in less than three years.

Even though I used real events in the novel, my characters are figments of my imagination. I used actual news accounts and placed my fictional characters into the scenes. It’s reminiscent of the movie Forest Gump, except our dear Forest goes to the top and interacts with very real presidents during very real events. My characters do more mundane things.

Some authors use actual events in history with real people. They invent conversations, emotions, and action within the context of the history. Paula McLain did that very well in The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley. Using Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, McLain creates conversations and events between the characters. She read Hadley’s letters to Ernest to find the woman’s voice. “I invented what I couldn’t know,” McLain said.

Another novel that skillfully invents the lives of real characters and real historical events is Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of Butterflies. It takes place in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. Four sisters – the Butterflies – are the main characters of the novel and the real Butterflies during that violent time. On November 25, 1960, three of the sisters are found dead next to their jeep. The other sister, Dede, remained at home. Alverez tells the story from the viewpoint of all four sisters capturing their voice and personality through very adept storytelling.

Even though authors may choose different ways to include historical events within the confines of a story, some things remain constant.

  • Research – If you decide to include real historical events or real places within your fiction, accuracy is crucial. In Trails in the Sand, I used real news releases, news articles and reports, and books on the events. For the mine explosion, I added a fictional miner, but I kept to the real details of lawsuits and monetary settlements offered by the company to the victims’ families based on news reports. McLean used the Hemingways’ real accounts of their lives together in Paris. Her descriptions of Paris in the 1920s is historically correct.
  • Always Avoid Libeling a Real Person – There’s a standard for libel, which includes making defamatory statements of fact that are false. If you decide to use real people in your fiction, use common sense and only write what you can prove. For instance, if I quoted a real person in Trails in the Sand, the quote came from an interview using that person’s real words. My best advice to you, if writing about a real person and making them a character in a novel, is not to defame them and stick to actual historical accounts. In addition, make sure you publish a disclaimer at the front of your book. Here’s a sample used by many authors and publishers:

This is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and dialogues portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

  • Keep track of current events – As authors, we never know when a story in the newspaper might end up in a book. If something tickles your fancy, bookmark it, save a copy of the article, and/or scribble some notes about it. Soon it will be history and might be stranger and wilder than anything you could ever imagine. Something I read years ago has stuck with me. A man in Florida, shot his pit bull when the dog showed signs of homosexuality. His neighbors reported the gunshots, and the man claimed he couldn’t stand to have a “gay dog” on his property. I’ve weaved that into my next novel – I just knew it would come in handy one day.

Have you ever used real events in a novel? Do you like reading novels that do?