A Chat with Raina from Finding Lady Enderly by Joanna Davidson Politano

Name: Raina Bretton      

Parents: Poor working class, and now deceased.

Siblings: None living

Places lived: Spitalfields, London; Rothburne Abbey in Somerset

Jobs: Restorer and seller of rags

Friends: Sullivan McKenna, fiddle-playing Irish transplant who’s the son of the local vicar in Spitalfields.

Enemies: Victor Prendergast, solicitor and lady’s maid, Simone (although I’m not sure why we’re enemies)

Dating, marriage: Secretly in love with childhood best friend Sully, Sullivan McKenna

Children: None yet

What person do you most admire? The little old widow who shares my flat. She has more spunk than ten men.  

Overall outlook on life: it’s tough, but I’m tougher. Yet there’s a lot of beauty to be found outside these crowded slums, and plenty to appreciate right here, too, if you’ve an eye for it.

Do you like yourself? I’m a restorer of rags, and I cringe at that part of myself, but I’m also a restorer of castoff people. That alone makes a soul worth keeping on this earth, in my opinion. 

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? Anyone could stand to have a bit more coin in her hand. Yet more than that, I secretly wish to be rid of these terrible rags that are a label and a barrier to people seeing the true me. I’d never admit it out loud, but I’d love to be swathed in vibrant colors and lush fabrics that match my artistic heart.

How are you viewed by others? I’m a thief if I’m hanging about too close, a schemer if I stand too long staring at a gent, and a dirty, common woman to be avoided if I’m anywhere near respectable folk. I’m as much an outcast as the rags I peddle, but one day that’ll all change. Maybe not this side of eternity, but it will.

Physical appearance: People always look twice at my face when I’m not in rags, and that’s the best mirror I have. I’m the rag woman, but a young one with a fresh face. With a good wash and fresh clothing, you’d think me a lady. Spending hours trapped indoors has left me as pale as the rich, and my aristocratic bloodlines have given me high cheekbones, delicate features, and soft, thick hair that begs to be piled high.

Eyes: Blue

Hair: Long, thick waves

Voice: Low and firm, with an edge when it’s needed.

Right- or left-handed? Right

How would you describe yourself? I’m loyal to a fault—count me a friend once, and you’ll find it hard to be rid of my help. I gravitate toward the abandoned, the castoff and the broken, drawn to repair as much as I can. I wear nothing of beauty on the outside, but do all I can to shore it up inside.

Characteristics: Made strong by adversity, plucky and independent, wary of everyone yet childishly eager to trust.

Strongest/weakest character traits: Natural ability to see the good in people—whether or not I actually should.

How much self-control do you have? A great deal—mostly because I set few limits on myself. I obey the rules that make sense and focus on people over laws. I obey my own set of rules quite nicely.

Fears: Becoming as worthless as society at large thinks I am.

Collections, talents: Rags find their way into my hands and no matter their condition, I can make something useful of them. I am the giver of second chances, of renewed life.

What people like best about you: Sully once told me I had the oddest combination of pluck and delicate beauty, and that I always stand out among the rich and the poor. I liked that. Those who have come to know me have experienced firsthand the restoring influence I bring to both rags and people.

Interests and favorites: A lifetime of restoring rags has given me a great variety of opinions on fabrics, embellishments, flounces, and ribbons. I love color and rich fabrics, and a well-done trim.

Food, drink: I’d be in heaven if you gave me a bowl of raisin pudding.

Books: I’ve devoured every written page I’ve ever come across in my life. I’m never above losing myself in a good story, be it ha’penny novels or rich scholarly work.

Best way to spend a weekend: Lying on the roof of my tenement with Sully, staring up at the stars and giving them names. The only words between us are the ones Dickens has penned that we’ll read together.

What would a great gift for you be? A luscious, vividly colorful gown with no trimmings, so I may adorn it with all the embellishments I’ve enjoyed creating on gowns that are not mine.

When are you happy? When I am with Sully—that’s when I most know who I am.

What makes you angry? Total disregard for any human on this earth.

What makes you sad? Knowing that no matter what I accomplish or know or do, I will always be simply, “the rag woman.”

What makes you laugh? The songs Sully creates on his fiddle. With the right words and a silly little grin, he never fails to make me laugh.

Hopes and dreams: A life outside of Spitalfields, where I can see the sky beyond the buildings and walk through the streets with the respect of a normal woman.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? I gave the Vicar a tongue-lashing once—the vicar! Near as bad as saying it to the Almighty himself. 

Greatest success: Bringing something cast away back to life—once it was a lovely red gown, another time a widow who’d lost all hope.

Biggest trauma: I’ll never forget the day I received word that my Sully’s ship had been lost. I’d sent my heart out on that boat, and it sank with him. I never had the courage to tell him of my love for him.

What do you care about most in the world? Finding life everywhere—in little hidden pockets throughout the slums, in the rags that are cast aside, in the people whose spark has gone.

Do you have a secret? Everything I am is about to become a secret, if I choose to accept the new life offered to me. No one can know I was ever Raina Bretton the rag woman.

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book? Victor is charming and so different than the rough Spitalfields men I know, even if he scares me a little. Sully—dear Sully—there’s no one more dear to me than my fiddle-playing, star-gazing, best friend who taught me to read.

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book? I don’t feel I know them thoroughly, but neither do they know me. In Spitalfields, everyone sees me as “merely the rag vendor.” In Rothburne, I’m something entirely false.

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be? Rescue Sully the way he’s rescued me from a lifetime of scrapes. That’s what best friends do.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: I was arrested once. I never like to talk about it, and I’m ashamed it happened. Everyone assumes, when you’re the rag woman, and no one stops to ask why you carted off with the clothing left on the curb. Even if you had perfectly good intentions, those bobbies will assume and drag your hide off to prison anyway. I never want anyone to know about the night I spent there.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears and A Rumored Fortune. She freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.

Interview with Victoria from Dragonfly by Leila Meacham

Victoria, thank you for sitting down to this interview.  Since you are in constant danger, I promise I will not publish this until after the war. I hope we can meet up again if you survive the war. It is very brave of you and your four counterparts to be willing to be sent by the OSS into Nazi occupied Paris. Dragonfly is an interesting code name for the group since they are almost impossible to snare and have no blind spots with the ability to escape.Collectively each of you are smart, capable, innovative, honest, resourceful, and of course you are all loyal patriots.

Elise Cooper: How would you describe yourself?

Victoria Grayson: “Put-offing” because of my natural reserve and the assumption that outwardly beautiful people of wealth and education are unapproachable.  To my great regret, I do not possess the nature by which to convince them otherwise. 

EC: Why the code name Liverwort?

VG: It’s a plant that people do not give just due because of its ugliness. It is similar to how beautiful people are often denied appreciation for their inner qualities because of being blinded by outward appearances.

EC: Do you consider yourself a non-conformist?

VG: No. I would consider myself a traditionalist.

EC: Why did you take up the hobby of fencing?

VG: Because of a natural skill and my attraction to the grace, discipline, and civility of the sport.

EC: Did you ever think your beauty can be used to your advantage?

VG: Of course! 

EC: Did you ever truly love someone?

VG: Ralph DuPont, my fiancé who was MIA, with all my heart.

EC: Besides wanting to find your fiancé was there another reason you joined the OSS?

VG: I wouldn’t have gone to France had it not been for my fiancé, so I doubt that I would have joined the OSS.  I would have sought another way to serve my country to do my part as my fiancé and brother were doing theirs. 

EC: Do you think good people can be caught up doing bad things?

VG: Yes.  I’d like to think that the Nazi SS Colonel Albrecht was essentially a good man misled beyond escape by a corrupt leader he believed in.  Lots of people make bad choices for what they believe to be the right reasons, but eventually, we pay for those mistakes.  

EC: Do you think Colonel Derrick Albrecht was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

VG: Oh no, because Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had dual personalities resulting from some erratic brain disorder.  Colonel Albrecht was a rational man in control of his thoughts and actions.  His deeds were deliberate and calculated, not generated by dysfunctional urges.

EC: What happened in your youth?-Has it influenced you?

VG: I had a perfect childhood, not only because it was one of great privilege but because I was loved by my family.  There was, however, the “Grayson code” that my brother and I were expected to live up to, a set of principles.  We were to live with the honor and courage set forth by our ancestors.  Sometimes that type of set rules results in a rigid exterior which perhaps explains mine.

EC: What did you learn about the French culture?

VG: That is a difficult question to answer since I was only in Paris, at a time when the pleasures, gaiety, and delight thought of as part of French culture had been snuffed by the German occupation.  The French could not “be themselves.”  Their city has become dark. 

EC: Of your other four co-patriots who did you feel closest to?

VG: Well, of course, being a woman, I was closest to Bridgette who became the sister I never had. I adored her.  But the boys . . . such fine men.  Who could not love them, treasure their goodness and kindness, enjoy their humor and fun-loving natures.  As we came to know one another, I was protective of them as if they were my siblings. 

EC: If you could make a wish what would it be?

VG: That the world would learn to live in peace, that the money to wage war and outfit armies would be converted to feed the hungry, care for the sick and elderly and poor, provide shelter for the homeless, and educate people to love thy neighbor.  Think what a wonderful world that would be.

EC: Do you still have hopes and dreams or do you consider yourself a cynic?

VG: I certainly do not consider myself a cynic.  Cynics are people who are ungrateful for the blessings they have, especially the blessing of living in the United States.  Living in Paris and seeing what I have seen, has made me grateful that I am an American.

THANK YOU!!

Photo: Marie Langmore_Langmore Photography.

Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans.  She started her writing career in her 60s, publishing her bestseller “Roses” at 70.

Meet Madeleine from Wolves at Our Door by Soren Paul Petrek

We’re thrilled to be talking to Madeleine Toche from Soren Paul Petrek’s Wolves at Our Door.  It is a pleasure to have her with us today!

Thank you for your interview, Madeleine.   How old are you and what do you do for a living?

I’m 22 years old and I am an agent for the British Special Operations Executive.  I am French and therefore work under cover in my home country. I target high ranking Nazi Gestapo and SS officers and I kill them.  I may be called an assassin, but like my deceased brother, I am a soldier.  If captured, I would be shot like so many of my brothers and sisters in the French military and Resistance.

Can you tell us about one of your most distinguishable features?

Like my mother, I’m considered attractive with dark features and dark brown eyes.  My heritage is a mixture of Algerian and French Provencal. I love to wear my hair long.  It’s so curly that I can’t do much with it anyway.

What would I love the most about you?

If you’re my friend, I will do anything for you.  I am a loving and loyal person.

What would I hate the most about you?

I can come across as cold. It takes me a while to warm up to new people.  I am also stubborn.

Where do you go when you are angry?

To a dark place inside me. I first experienced it when I was raped by a Nazi SS officer.  I waited for the right time and killed him.

What makes you laugh out loud?

Simple things.  My family runs a restaurant, nothing fancy but good food and local wine.  When my brother and I were young we begged our parents to let us keep a stray dog. To our surprise they agreed, but the dog jumped on the counter in the kitchen and stole scraps.  Eventually, he got so fat he couldn’t jump up to steal food anymore.  I think my father expected that to happen.  I can still see his face watching our dog try.  That silly grin makes me laugh out loud.

What is in your refrigerator right now?

I like to work with fresh meats and produce.  The best dishes are simple ones.  I always have onions and garlic, tomatoes and stock.  We eat what we serve at our restaurant and grow our own herbs.  I grew up by the sea, fish is essential.

What is your most treasured possession?

The crucifix that hung around my brother, Yves neck when he was killed during the Nazi invasion of France.

What is your greatest fear?

The death and torture of people that I love.

What is the trait you most not like about yourself?

That killing has become so easy for me.  I’m not the same person that I was.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

Yes, he provides a balance between my light and dark sides.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

A picnic in our back garden, with family friends and a bit of shade from the fierce Provencal sun.

What are three must haves when shopping at the grocery store?

Wine, cheese and fresh baguettes.

I’m opening up your cabinet.  What foods do I see?

I like to pickle things from our garden.  I love dill pickles and beets.  I could eat them all day.

If you could change one physical thing about yourself, what would that be?

I’m petite.  I think that I’d like to be an inch or two taller.

Are you a loner or do you prefer to surround yourself with friends?

I’ve spent so much time alone that I treasure being among the people I love.

Who is your best friend?

She was Gabrielle. She and her toddler, Antoinette were burned alive by the Nazi SS during the mass murder of civilians at the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Do you have children?

Not now, but I love children. Before I became an assassin, I helped Jewish children escape from the Nazis as part of a local Resistance group.

What is your favorite weather?

Blue skies at the beach with a cooling breeze.

What’s your idea of a perfect meal?

Daube, a simple French beef stew, a hearty burgundy, and a crisp salad to finish.  I’d sneak in a big piece of chocolate torte too.

Someone is secretly in love with you.  Who is it and how do you feel about that?

Men look at me all of the time as a sex object.  The real me might terrify them.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to stay and grow old at Chex Toche, our family restaurant.  It’s been open for more than two-hundred years.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring. It is very expensive and a gift from my husband’s father, a feared gangster who runs the London docks.  He refused to allow his son to follow in his footsteps.

Do you like to cook? If so, what is your favorite thing to cook?

I am a professional cook. Anything lamb is a treat and so easy to prepare.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

My mission is so dangerous that I expect to die every day.  In preparation I would destroy the largest Nazi headquarters that I could locate.  Nazis are evil.  Never forget that.

Soren Petrek is a practicing criminal trial attorney, admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1991.  Married with two adult children, Soren continues to live and work in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Educated in the U.S., England and France Soren sat his O-level examinations at the Heathland School in Hounslow, London in 1981.  His undergraduate degree in Forestry is from the University of Minnesota, 1986.  His law degree is from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota 1991.

Soren’s novel, Cold Lonely Couragewon Fade In Magazine’s2009 Award for Fiction.  Fade Inwas voted the nation’s favorite movie magazine by the Washington Postand the L.A. Timesin 2011 and 2012.

The French edition of Cold Lonely CourageCourage was published January 2019, by Encre Rouge Editions, distributed by Hachette Livre in 60 countries.  Soren’s contemporary novel,Tim will be released along with the rest of the books in the Madeleine Toche series of historical thrillers.

His latest book is the historical action adventure novel, Wolves at Our Door. Website: https://www.sorenpetrek.com/

Interview with Milady from Laura L. Sullivan’s Latest Novel

Milady thank you for sitting down and doing this interview. You are no longer a teenager, but now a woman who has seen and been through so very much. Some claim you are a devil, but others see you as a heroine fighting for justice. You have overcome life’s challenges against incredible odds, especially by those who call themselves The Three Musketeers.  Hopefully anyone reading this they can see the true you.

Elise Cooper: How would you describe yourself?

Milady De Winter: I think I’m a pragmatist who hides a tender heart. I think I see the world for what it is even as I hope for better. In my person I am in the later stages of my prime. (At least, in this age, where a woman is ripe at 16 and stale merchandise by 29.) 

EC: Describe Milady versus Clarice.

MDW: When you read my tale, you will meet me both as an ingenue and as a mature spy and assassin. Clarice – my younger self – knew a great deal about everything except herself. That kind of knowledge can only come from years of hard experience. As Milady I have learned bitter lessons, but I am a more complete person for that. The world sees me as hard and impenetrable, but in truth I’m like a porcupine, my devilish spikes protecting a soft belly. Young Clarice had yet to grow her spikes.

EC: Do you consider yourself a non-conformist?

MDW: In many ways I conformed perfectly to what was expected of me. It’s only that the expectations were much different than they are for most girls. I freely conformed to Maman’s expectations that I grow wise and strong. I did my best to conform to my father’s expectations that I become his beautiful tool and weapon. And when I served Cardinal Richelieu, I conformed to his idea of a perfect spy. But conformation is a mask, and when at last I ripped it off I discovered the woman beneath. 

EC: Do you resent the laws that do not give any power to women?

MDW: How could one not resent such inequality? I will tell you how: rote and survival. Although I’ve seen great goodness and great evil in humanity, I’m left with one overwhelming impression of human nature: it is lazy. We tend to stick unquestioningly on the path our ancestors and circumstance set us on. We accept. Women are told to marry, to serve, to bear, and most do. Peasants are told to labor and obey, and they do. A rut is a comfortable place to be – the going is easy. That’s why the rut is there. Then too, most of the population is too concerned with surviving to concern themselves much with changing the system. Bellies cry louder than brains.

EC: You seem almost philosophical? 

MDW: Well, you need only give a cake to the eldest of four children and see what portion the younger ones ever get. What a rare thing for a noble to say “I will share my money” or a magistrate to say “I will dole out justice equally to rich and poor” or a priest to say honestly “my every action is God’s will and not my own.” 

EC: Have you ever regretted anything you have done?

MDW: No one who has even a modicum of happiness in their present lives should ever suffer with regret. I would not change a moment of my life even if I could. Any alteration and I might not have the threefold happiness I have now – my lover, my son, and my darling friend. I have done great wrongs and I have suffered great sorrows, but I would not undo them. Each moment in a life, good or bad, leads to the present moment. If I changed my past I would be another person.

EC: Did you ever truly love someone?

MDW: I love Denys deeply and truly, as a friend, an equal, and a constant in my life. His love is like rawhide, only growing stronger and tighter when battered by the elements. But I think you are really asking whether I loved George, or Olivier. The man falling off a cliff may truly believe he is flying… for a time. But oh, how glorious it feels before the laws of nature reassert themselves and the imminent ground proves one a fool! Of course I loved them. My love was a currency ill-spent, and it did not buy me what I hoped it would. But much as I would like with the cleverness of hindsight to say I never loved either of those two flawed men, it would be a lie. 

EC: Describe Denys versus George versus Olivier

MDW: Despite any good characteristics, George and Olivier are fundamentally selfish. They lack the imagination or compassion or humanity or desire to envision anything beyond the compass of their own selves. Denys, however, sees himself as part of a greater whole, and is the better man for it.

EC: What happened in your youth-has it influenced you?

MDW: When a bone is broken, it is weak and useless for a while, no? But properly tended, when it heals it knits together more strongly than ever. The trauma of my youth crushed and rendered me. I lost the ability to trust. I lost the ability to love. But I found that when at last I healed enough to regain those precious gifts, I felt them that much more strongly for the people who were actually worthy of them. I could not love Denys half so well had my heart not first been twice shattered. Only when something has been broken do you understand its value. 

EC: You were overheard saying that you have faced a life of “betrayal and vengeance, of hate and murder, of darkest peril.” Please explain.

MDW: The first two men I trusted not only let me down but turned on me completely. One ruined my life, the other tried to take it. But I’ve learned (though it took a very long time) that I don’t want to be defined by the wrongs done to me. I’m not saint enough to forgive the most serious slights, so I got revenge on both of those men. Now, they are behind me, and I hope all of those things are merely the story of my past, not the story of my life. 

EC: Having been beaten in the convent-did it turn you off to religion?

MDW: I don’t think I know my own mind on the subject well enough to speak with any conviction on religion as a whole, but of one thing I am absolutely convinced: men are men and not god. The Church can be a bastion of charity and kindness. Or it can be a place of abuse and cupidity. Humans are flawed and faulty, and if the church is plagued with cruelty or greed, well, then, so too is every profession. I would not cease eating carrots because a farmer struck me. 

EC:  And you gave a “carrot” to those women in need?

MDW: As soon as I had the means I established my own convent as an example of what faith, hope, and charity can do for a woman. There, women of all classes work and enjoy the fruits of their labors. They learn, they help each other. For now, this freedom and equality are only possible in the cloister, guarded, as it were, by God. Perhaps one day women can live like this everywhere.

EC: If you could make a wish what would it be?

MDW: Once one is a mother one never gets personal wishes anymore! Every wish is for my son, that he grow up happy and strong and safe, that he find or create a world where no one need fear, and where those who stumble are lifted up. There is a tender place in my heart that holds out the most ludicrous hopes for myself and all of humanity.

EC: Anything else you would like to add that I have not asked?

MDW: At that rate the world would never change for the better. I can bear slander, but what example does that set for other women who read my tale as told by the Musketeers? They’ll feel hopeless and helpless. They’ll feel like no one will ever believe them when they tell their own stories. It is for them that I tell my true tale. So that they can tell theirs in turn. 

If my tale accomplishes anything, I hope it gives readers the courage to find their own voices and tell their own stories – no matter how much time has passed. Don’t allow the story of YOU to be told by anyone else!

THANK YOU!!

Laura L. Sullivan is the author of five books for middle grade and young adult audiences. Milady is her adult debut. She lives in Florida with her son.

Character Interview with Cassie Kendrick from Where Dandelions Bloom by Tara Johnson

I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. I’m not sure what to call you. Your situation is so unique . . . a woman dressed as a man to serve in the Union Army. Would you like me to call you Cassie?

Cassie is fine. I enlisted as Thomas Turner, but we’re alone at the moment. You’re the only one who knows my secret. If another soldier walks in on us, just refer to me as Thomas.

All right, Cassie, who is your role model, and why?

My granny Ardie. She always believed in me when no one else did. It was like she saw me, the realme, for exactly who I was and loved me all the more for it.

Tell me about your family. Do you have siblings?

I have four sisters. All of them are married except me.

It must have been hard on your parents when you chose to enlist, especially since it entailed playing the part of a young man.

They didn’t know. I left in the middle of the night. I’m sure they assumed I ran away.

Why didn’t you tell them?

My father was attempting to arrange my marriage to a horrible man. He was well-known in the community for his philandering, as well as his foul temper and abusive ways. Much like my own father. When I couldn’t convince him to change his mind, I fled.

What is your earliest memory?

I don’t know if it is my earliest memory, but one of the first was the Christmas Granny Ardie gave me a doll. I named her Elizabeth. She had a beautiful pink dress with lace trim and a porcelain face. She went with me everywhere. One day I was playing in the kitchen and my father arrived home in a drunken rage. He picked up Elizabeth and threw her into the wall. Her face was shattered. I was inconsolable.

What a horrible memory!

There were many others similar to that one but something about that moment replays over and over in my mind. And I was so upset because my mother watched it happen and said nothing. Did nothing.

Let’s talk about your work in the Michigan Second. It must be so taxing. Have you found any friends that make the strain easier to bear?

I try to keep to myself. You know, the less investment in relationships, the less likely my identity will be discovered. But there are two fellows I consider my chums. One is a young errand boy named Jonah. Talk about precocious! I’ve never seen a child who can talk so much. Half of the soldiers shoo him away like a pesky fly and the rest find him an endless source of amusement. 

And the other soldier you’ve befriended?

He’s not a soldier. He’s a photographer, sent by Mathew Brady to capture war images. His name is Gabriel. At first, I found his chatter vexing, but he’s proven himself to be a loyal friend. Easy to converse with, intelligent and kind.

Does Gabriel know your true identity?

No! I’m afraid if he knew, it would ruin everything.

What is it you fear the most?

Captivity. And perhaps a life wasted. I only have one life to live. I need to make each day count. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than a life of insignificance.

What is your dream?

To be free, truly free. Able to go where I want, do what I want without looking over my shoulder. Prisons are everywhere. I left one when I ran away from home, but I’m finding emotional prisons follow wherever I go.

That’s what I’m doing. Fighting for freedom . . . for the nation’s as well as my own.

What a thrilling adventure. Thank you for chatting today, Cassie!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tara Johnsonis an author, speaker, and passionate lover of stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladies’ retreats, and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.

From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind with her mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who make up its vibrant past. 

She says, “History is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of history. I suppose that’s why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. That’s what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to turn to for healing.”

Tara has written articles for Plain Truth magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus. 

Visit her website at www.TaraJohnsonStories.com and connect with her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TaraLynnJohnsonAuthor) and Twitter (@TaraMinistry).

Introducing From Yours Truly, Thomas by by Rachel Fordham

Name: Penelope Ercanbeck but please call me Penny. Only my mother calls me Penelope. 

Places lived: I live in Washington D.C. I used to live in one of the biggest houses in the area but that was years ago. Now I live in a small rented apartment. It’s all we can afford but I’m grateful we’ve a roof over our heads.

Jobs: I work at the Dead Letter Office. Most postal workers aren’t allowed to open mail but we’re allowed to if it helps us figure out where the mail should go. You should see some of the letters people mail. My goodness! Some are so boring and others are downright devilish.

Friends: Dinah’s my best friend. She’s a clerk too. Other than that we don’t have a lot in common. She’s so serious and I’m a little more prone to imagination and daydreaming. But she’s a good friend and she’s there for me when I need her. 

Dating, marriage: I dream of marriage. Especially when I open a romantic letter. In my mind I like pretending the words are meant for me. In real life though I don’t even know who I would court. I’m not a wealthy woman any longer and yet my roots keep me from feeling completely comfortable in the working class. 

Overall outlook on life: I try to be practical but sometimes I still dream of something more ahead. Something romantic and meant just for me. No matter how bad life gets I seem to just keep hoping and wishing for brighter days ahead.

What people like best about you: I’m honest and hard working. Those attributes pay the bills. But I like to think there’s someone out there that will like me for all of who I am.

What would a great gift for you be? That’s an easy one. I’d love a letter written to me. Something sincere and full of heart. I want my name on it. I’m tired of reading other people’s mail. I want my own. 

When are you happy? I have a dog name Honey that had shaggy long hair and a troublesome disposition. My mother hates her but I am always happiest when I am with my dog. She seems to understand me better than most of the people in my life.

Biggest trauma: Losing my father. He was the backbone of our family. The world had been better when he was alive. With him gone our lives have fallen apart. Our money was lost and our house. Now we barely manage to get by. But mostly I miss his smile and his laugh and all of his wisdom.

Do you have a secret? I read people’s mail. I know many secrets but part of my job description is to keep those secrets, secret. 

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book? I’ve always though letters could contain windows to the author’s soul. I suppose what I like best about the other main characters is their heart and soul. I feel I know them very deeply even though we’ve never met in person. 

About the Author

Rachel Fordham is the author of The Hope of Azure Springs. She started writing when her children began begging her for stories at night. She’d pull a book from the shelf, but they’d insist she make one up. Finally, she paired her love of good stories with her love of writing and hasn’t stopped since. She lives with her husband and children on an island in the state of Washington.

Follow her online at facebook.com/rachelfordhamfans

Character Interview with Sophia Kumiega from The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke

:

Thank you for agreeing to answer our questions, Mrs. Kumiega. As I submit these questions to you it is August 1939, and we in America know that tension is mounting in Poland and across Europe as Adolf Hitler threatens one country after another.  Do you mind if I use your Christian name? Sophia, I understand that you’re British. Are you planning to return to England before things get worse? Do you believe Germany will invade?  

When your questions first came, I still held out hope for Poland. Surely someone would stop Hitler. Surely Germany would come to its senses. But neither has happened. Last week, the German army plowed across Polish borders. I expected any moment that England and France would declare war on Germany and fly to our aid as promised. But that hasn’t happened, and this week bombs began falling in a blitzkrieg on Warsaw. To keep my sanity and to provide a record of these early days of invasion, I’m writing my responses to your questions from a half-exploded room inside the public library where I work, though I don’t know how or when I’ll be able to mail this to you. I can’t imagine a way out of Poland now or how I’d ever get to England, British by birth or not.

Your husband is in the Polish military, is he not? Is he on alert?

Yes, Janek is a pilot. His squadron was deployed months ago in anticipation of German invasion. I know this sounds unpatriotic and disloyal, but the truth is that Polish planes are antiquated compared to Germany’s modern machines of warfare. Our pilots fight valiantly, but what can proverbial bows and arrows do against tanks? There’s already talk of Poland’s retreat and that our military may regroup in Romania to launch a counterattack. I’ve no idea if Janek is alive, how he’ll be able to get word to me, or what will happen next. Sometimes I feel as if my insides will burst through my skin. Before, being a military wife sounded so fine. Now it’s simply terrifying, and I wonder if our child will ever know their father.

Poland is a world apart from England. What do you think of it?

Poland is beautiful—a bounteous, fertile land that excels in music and poetry and great literature. I’ve often teased Janek that it is the “old-world land of flowers and finger kissing.” Fine manners and courtly behavior are still prized here. But now, with the war and our best and bravest gone to fight, I have no idea what will become of this culture. Hitler’s attitude toward Poles is that they don’t count—that they’re inferior to Germans, who, under Mr. Hitler, consider themselves a superior race. What that will mean for Poland I can’t tell, but I do fear—especially for the many Jewish citizens here, knowing what Jewish people have endured at the hands of the Nazis in Germany. 

Do you and your husband expect to raise a family in Poland?

I shake my head at how much has changed in these few short weeks and how little we know of the future. When Janek left, I was pregnant. We held such hope. I’ve lost two babies in the few years we’ve been married and desperately hope I will carry this child full-term. We had every expectation of living our lives out in Poland. That has long been our deepest desire.

What will you do if you are unable to leave Poland and return to England?

What would youdo? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude. Like anyone, I’ll do what I must. If we are fully, truly occupied by the Germans for the duration of the war, there will be resistance and rescue work. I’ve already heard it spoken of in hushed whispers between the library stacks—the need for secret rooms, hiding places, ways to stash food and water and develop escape routes for those at risk, and partisans to fight. There will be—there already are—orphans who need taking in, families in desperate straits now that their homes have been blown to bits. We’ve no running water or electricity. I’ll do whatever I can—for as long as I can. I’ll do everything possible to protect my unborn child, but it’s all so uncertain. How can we tell when we’ll be hit by a bomb or a stray piece of shrapnel, or be strafed in the street by a low-flying plane? I want my life to count for something, for someone, for more than myself.

Do you and your husband have family or friends where you live, people you can turn to during this time of national unrest?

It was through Janek’s godfather, Pan Gadomski, that I obtained my position at the library—a real coup for a woman and a foreigner. I know that I can go to him with every concern. He seems to have unusual connections inside and outside Poland—ones I don’t really understand, but have learned to value and respect. My best and dearest friend is Pan Bukowski, an older Jewish man living in our apartment building. My faith tends to waver, especially since the terrible loss of my babies, but Pan Bukowski constantly reminds me that God can make a way when there seems no way forward—just as He did when parting the Red Sea for the Israelites. The sea ahead and the Egyptians behind—what could they do but look up? In my mind I see him shrug and smile, lifting an eyebrow to make certain I’ve taken his meaning to heart. I remember the words of my friend as I face each day.

If things go badly in Poland, what can we in America do for you?

Pray. Pray that God will make a way where there seems no way. For your own good, my friends, carefully observe the reasons we’ve been overcome so that America can avoid the patterns of Germany’s aggression and/or Poland’s coming capitulation. Know that belief in one’s superiority to others fosters a myth, and that anti-Semitism or any form of hatred is vile and a portent of evil to come. Pray that God gives you the courage to take a stand where one is needed before it’s too late. And, please, don’t forget us. Come to our aid.

Thank you, Sophia Kumiega. We look forward to receiving your answers to our questions and pray that the world will come to its senses in time to avert Hitler’s threatened invasion of Poland.

Note to readers: The crumpled paper of this interview was found in the weeks after V-E Day—Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945—amid the rubble of the Warsaw library where Sophia Kumiega had worked until the war in Poland began. We apologize for its delay in publication.

About the Author

Three-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning and bestselling author Cathy Gohlkewrites novels steeped with inspirational lessons, speaking of world and life events through the lens of history. She champions the battle against oppression, celebrating the freedom found only in Christ. Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at www.cathygohlke.comand find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks. 

The Medallionby Cathy Gohlke releases in June

ISBN: 978-1-4964-2966-7 | Hardcover: $24.99

ISBN: 978-1-4964-2967-4 | Softcover: $15.99

400 Pages

June 2019

Tyndale.com

All about Joelle from Beth White’s A Reluctant Belle

Name:           Joelle Daughtry

Parents:       Jonathan and Penelope Daughtry. Both my parents are deceased. Mama died as a result of injuries inflicted by renegade Union soldiers during the War Between the States. Papa was killed in a fall from the cupola of the Big House. He was not in his right mind.

Siblings:       My elder sister Selah (my best friend) married the Yankee Pinkerton agent Levi Riggins, who turned out to be a nice man after all. My younger sister Aurora, raised by my grandparents in Memphis, has come home to help run the hotel and try to turn me into a belle.

Places lived:           I spent most of my life at Ithaca Plantation, Tupelo Mississippi. Briefly, after my mother’s death near the end of the War, I lived with my grandparents in Memphis.

Jobs:             Anonymous op-ed columnist for The Tupelo Journal; publicist and co-manager of Daughtry House Resort Hotel.

Friends:       Besides my sister Selah, who has always been my closest companion, I’ve come to love and appreciate my former slave, Charmion Vincent.

Enemies:     Schuyler Beaumont. Just—I have no words for the emotions Schuyler brings out in me.

Dating, marriage: Gil Reese has been pestering me to marry him for over a year, though I’ve known him longer than that. I do not want to be a minister’s wife. Besides, he has fallen in love with my face, but he has no idea who I really am.

Children:     I think I might want children someday. I enjoy teaching. But having children would involve getting married, and I’d have to give up my independence (see the above question). No, on second thought….

What person do you most admire?    I truly admire my sister Selah. She doesn’t let circumstances control her, but she prays and seeks wise counsel before she takes action. That is a tricky balance that I’m still trying to negotiate.

Overall outlook on life:  I believe God put each of us on earth for a purpose. Sometimes I think I know what that purpose is; sometimes I feel like I’m looking at the world through a confused fog. Ultimately, though, I trust God to give me direction and courage at the time it’s needed.

Do you like yourself?      What an odd and fascinating question! Why does it matter whether I like myself? I’m stuck with this façade that others consider beautiful, when I know I’m just as weak and sinful as anyone else on the inside. And every time I open up to communicate, I wind up feeling like a giant freak! On the other hand, I appreciate that I was given a good mind and sisters who love me. They may laugh at my “giant vocabulary,” but they accept my tendency to daydream and make sure I get enough to eat.

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life?  I suppose I’d like to look “normal” for one day. People stare at me because I’m extremely tall, and I hatethat! And I would love to have the ability to talk to other people at a party without getting tongue-tied.

How are you viewed by others?          You know, I think people are entirely too aware of what others think. That’s one of the things I’m most impatient with myself about. Why should I assume that people are looking at me with anything but indifference? It’s just that I hate being laughed at. Schuyler laughs at me, which is the main reason he gets under my skin. And I’ve heard people talk behind my back, saying that I’m “stuck up” about my looks. What if they knew how terrified I am of talking in crowds—of producing those “what language is she speaking” looks???

Physical appearance:      Oh, dear. Here we go. A couple of inches shy of six feet tall. Curly red-blonde hair, fair skin that flushes easily under embarrassment, tendency to dress in whatever is most comfortable and closest to hand. Big feet and large hands.

Eyes:             Bright blue.

Hair:             Strawberry. Generally worn in a messy knot on top of my head.

Voice:            Soprano, but a bit throaty. I like to sing.

How would you describe yourself?    Quiet, introverted, creative. I like to read, write, sing, paint and play the piano. I don’t much like people in general.

Fears:            Crowds.

What people like best about you:       I have a strong sense of justice, and I try not to judge people on first meeting. I’m a loyal friend.

Interests and favorites:

Food, drink:           I’m very fond of cat-head biscuits with fig preserves.

Books:          Oh, mercy. Mrs. Alcott’s work is so much fun! I also love Jane Austen’s comedies. But honestly, I’ve hardly met a book I didn’t like in some respect.

Best way to spend a weekend: In the cupola. With a book and a cup of tea. Alone.

What would a  great gift for you be? A book!

What makes you angry?            There is much injustice in the world, especially here in the South, where freedpeople are struggling to negotiate their new lives. There is growing bitterness and violence. It makes me both angry and scared.

When are you happy?     I’m happy when I’m reading, and when I’m teaching someone to read. And when I’m hearing a fine pianist like my brother-in-law.

What makes you sad?     I’m sad when people who call themselves Christians fail to see past skin color, when they hold themselves aloof and fail to show love in tangible ways. What iswrongwith people???

What makes you laugh?             Oddly enough, Schuyler Beaumont—as maddening as he is—is one person who never fails to make me laugh. For a shallow person, he is wickedly brilliant, and his sense of humor so absurdly droll. I can make obscure references to classical literature and ancient history and mythology, and he gets it every time.

Hopes and dreams:         I dream of moving my Negro school to a bigger, more central location and drawing students from all over the state of Mississippi. I want to train teachers who can bring education into all corners of the South. Don’t tell anyone, but I’d also like to write and publish a novel one day.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why?    I got my favorite teacher dismissed from the boarding school Selah and I attended. I blurted out to a classmate that this teacher had been teaching us scientific facts about the human brain—facts that contradicted accepted social beliefs about the races.

Greatest success:  I’m proud of the fact that I’ve published several scholarly articles in our local newspaper, even if no one knows it was me.

Biggest trauma:    The day my mother died. During the War, Selah and I were forced to hide under the porch for hours, listening to the ransacking of our house and the violation of our mother and two house slaves. Mama didn’t survive the attack.

What do you care about most in the world?           I love my two sisters and my cousin ThomasAnne with an indescribable depth of devotion. I would do anything to protect them and provide for them.

Do you have a secret?     My identity as T. M. Hanson is a closely-guarded secret—although, I suppose it’s bound to come out at some point…

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you:    It involves Schuyler and a bullfrog and the Ithaca bath house, and I’d just as soon not talk about it.

Beth White’s day job is teaching music at an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. A native Mississippian, she writes historical romance with a Southern drawl and is the author of The Pelican BrideThe Creole PrincessThe Magnolia Duchess, and A Rebel Heart. Her novels have won the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, the RT Book Club Reviewers’ Choice Award, and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. Learn more at www.bethwhite.net.

Meet Percy from Wish Me Home West Virginia by Valerie Banfield

Introducing Percy Bigler, a homespun boy who lives within the pages of Wish Me Home West Virginia, by Valerie Banfield

Novel PASTimes: With me this morning is Percy Bigler, a native of Elizabeth, West Virginia and a participant of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s highly acclaimed, yet widely controversial, Civilian Conservation Corps. Good morning, Percy. 

PERCY: Morning, ma’am.

Novel PASTimes: I know the purpose of the CCC is to take young men off public assistance, to provide for their families financially, and to build or improve the country’s infrastructure, among other things. How did you come to enroll in the program?

PERCY: When the stock market crashed back in 1929, it took a while for its effects to trickle into West Virginia. During the five years since, that trickle’s washed away livelihoods, swept food off the tables, and drenched folks with fear. My family managed to tread water until 1934, but when the incessant flow hit flood stage, it was time for me to man the lifeboat and get them out of harm’s way. It was President Roosevelt who tossed the ropes to me, and it was in the form of the CCC.

Novel PASTimes: That’s an unusual way to frame the consequences of the Great Depression. 

PERCY: Flooding is all too common in the hills and hollows, so I reckon that’s why it seems a fitting comparison. Truth of the matter is that some counties in West Virginia have unemployment as high as eighty percent.

Novel PASTimes: Oh my. In that case, flood stage may be an understatement. Tell me about your experience with the president’s program.

PERCY: Some people are downright scornful when it comes to the CCC, but I’m proud of the work we’re doing. Sure, it takes a heap of money to set up a work force like President Roosevelt designed, but we’re saving forests, preventing fires, building roads and dams, and employing conservation techniques that protect our land. A hundred years from now, when someone snags a fish out of a lake in a national forest, or a father takes his family camping at a state park, evidence of our work will remain, and I hope those folks know that it was the men of the CCC who prepared the way.

Novel PASTimes: Is it true that you have been the subject of disciplinary action?

PERCY: Yes, ma’am. I’m embarrassed to say that the sergeant overseeing my training at the conditioning camp and the camp commander in Nevada both took me to task.

Novel PASTimes: Would you mind sharing what happened?

PERCY: I’d rather you got to know me a mite better before I spill the story, especially since my defense won’t sound credible without retelling the events that led up to each indiscretion. I will say that I’m a peaceable person who practices compromise, but in both situations, I ended up on my backside before I could offer another remedy. It’s funny how fast things can go downhill—not that either occasion was laughable. That’s not what I mean.

Novel PASTimes: My notes indicate your education ended after the eighth grade. How do you account for your vocabulary?

PERCY: I may not be schoolhouse smart, but I’m what the folks in the hollow call book learned. They pronounce that ler-ned. When I saw the hundreds of books at the CCC camp library, it set my mouth watering. Shelves overflow with books about history and science, and good reads by authors like Mark Twain. A good story can take you anywhere, don’t you know?

Novel PASTimes: Did you ever imagine your real life travels would take you to Nevada?

PERCY: No, ma’am. It’s as hot out here as the tin roof on Bigler’s General Store, but this is where the CCC sent me, and I aim to make the best of it.

Novel PASTimes: What about your personal life, Percy? Do you have a sweetheart waiting for you to come home?

PERCY: No, ma’am. I will say that I met a nice looking gal who lives here in Hawthorne, but she’s nothing like those from back home. Pretty and smart as she is, I think she scares me more than she entices me. I reckon I’d be better off with one from my own neck of the woods, one who delights in the simple things in life. One like . . .

Novel PASTimes: Why, Mr. Bigler, I think you’re blushing. Would you care to enlighten our readers?

PERCY: No, ma’am. That’s all I have to say on that subject.

Novel PASTimes: Then, let me ask one more question. What do you fear, and what to you hope to find, when you finish your work with the CCC and go back to West Virginia?

PERCY: First off, I try not to worry. It takes more effort than living the day that’s set before me. That said, I hope the Depression ends before I go home, because I’ll need a job once I get there. I hope that when I return, I’m just a grown-up version of the country boy who left. I have faith that regardless of what I find when I walk into the only place I’ve called home, the Good Father will determine my next steps. 

VALERIE BANFIELD is a talespinner to the lost, the loved, and the found. She is the author of eleven novels, co-author of three West Virginia-themed tales, and recipient of the Cascade Award for Historical Fiction. In the course of writing about West Virginia, the hills and hollows beckoned her, so she uprooted her tent stakes and planted them in the Mountain State’s red clay soil. Right now, she’s pretty sure she’s home. 

www.valeriebanfield.com

www.amazon.com/dp/1091036616

Meet Violet Channing in Beside Still Waters by AnnaLee Conti

My name is Violet Channing.  Orphaned at a young age, I found myself tossed about by life’s turbulent waters when my Aunt Mabel who raised me died. 

I always wanted to be a teacher, but my education was cut short by the untimely death of my Uncle Chester. He made poor business decisions, and as a result, at his death my aunt lost their large Victorian house in a wealthy neighborhood to the creditors. 

In order to support us, I had to quit normal school at the age of 18 and take the only job I could find for an unskilled woman in 1915 Boston as a seamstress in a ramshackle wooden garment factory. With its accumulated dust and lint, it was a tinderbox. Fire was my greatest fear. 

My wages only afforded Aunt Mabel and me a cold-water flat in a dirty tenement with stark chimneys that belched soot-ladened air. When Aunt Mabel got sick, we couldn’t afford a doctor. 

“It’s just a cold,” she said. 

But when she began to cough up blood, I quit taking a lunch to work so we could pay his fee. “Consumption,” he told Aunt Mabel. “Keep warm and rest.”

Then, he called me aside. “There’s nothing I can do for her. Her lungs are too far gone. She probably only has a few weeks.”

Heartsick, I quit my job to take care of her. 

Now, she’s gone, and I have to figure out what to do with my future. I can’t bear to go back to that firetrap of a factory. At the corner grocery, I bought a few necessities and a copy of the Boston Globe with the last of my money. On the Classifieds page, an ad caught my eye: “WANTED: a young lady to be a companion and tutor to a sick child.”

I read the fine print. No teaching credentials required. Room and board provided. Could this be the answer?

Before I could grow fainthearted, I penned an application and mailed it off to the address.

A week later, I received a cream-colored envelope addressed to me in a feminine hand. Excitement pulsed through me as I withdrew the note which requested that I come for an interview on Saturday at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Laying aside my mourning clothes, I dressed carefully in my best, though slightly out of fashion, outfit. At the address, a three-story brick house in Cambridge, a gracious lady invited me in. Over tea and snickerdoodles, a treat I hadn’t enjoyed since my uncle died, Mrs. Henderson described the job.

Her granddaughter, Jenny, was recovering from rheumatic fever. Her mother had died, and the girl’s father needed a nanny and tutor for her as he has to be away frequently on his job as a railroad engineer.

The job offer sounded too good to be true until she told me where they live—in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory!

Uncle Chester had regaled Aunt Mabel and me with his reading of Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” All I knew about the Yukon was that it is wild and frigid. Did I have the courage to go there?

I thought of my shabby apartment. I had nothing to keep me here, but would I be jumping from a city firetrap into frozen wilderness icebox?

I decided to take the leap. Sailing up the Inside Passage of Alaska on my way to Whitehorse, I fell in love with a dashing Yukon riverboat captain. But do we live happily ever after? That’s a secret revealed only in Beside Still Waters.

About the Author 

ANNALEE CONTI’s experiences growing up in a missionary family in Alaska in the fifties and sixties provide inspiration for her writing. She has published numerous short stories, devotionals, articles, and church school curriculum on assignment for Gospel Publishing House, as well as four books. Beside Still Waters is the third novel in her Alaskan Waters Trilogy that tells the life and death saga of a Norwegian immigrant family who battles the beautiful but often treacherous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska to find love and happiness in the midst of tragedies.

AnnaLee is also a teacher and ordained minister, who resides with her husband in the Mid-Hudson River Valley. Together, they have pastored churches in New York State for more than 35 years and are now retired. Learn more about AnnaLee and her books at www.annaleeconti.comand sign up for her inspirational blog at http://annaleeconti.blogspot.com/.