An Interview with Marcelle Marchand from Midnight on the Marne by Sarah Adlakha

Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Marchand. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I know you do so at great risk to your safety.

Of course. People need to know what is happening here in France so close to the front. Four years of German occupation is too long. And thank you for meeting me after dark. This city has eyes everywhere.

I haven’t seen many women in the streets this close to the front. Is there a reason you haven’t fled to Paris with the rest of the refugees?

My duty is with the Croix-Rouge française as a nurse. And I already fled to Paris in 1914 with my family – my maman and papa and my twin sister Rosalie – after the Germans bombed my hometown of Soissons four years ago. Paris had no use for me. Or my sister. We have been here with the troops for the past two years, and we will not abandon the men now in their hour of need. The Germans will be making a move to cross the Marne River soon, they’ll be pushing toward Paris within the week. I am certain of it.

Is this common knowledge or is this information you gleaned from your other line of work?

I believe this is common knowledge. But…well…let’s just say I have my sources to verify the accuracy of this information.

Can you share with us some specifics about the work you do with a certain British unit stationed here at the front? And the nickname – or is it a codename – that they’ve given to you?

I have been working with British Intelligence for about a year now. I am fluent in German which has been particularly useful with prisoner interrogations. I cannot share my codename with you, but I imagine it is the nickname that the Germans have given to me that is of more interest to you. Even my sister has heard about la sorcière de la rivière, although she has no idea that I am that woman. She would not approve of my espionage work, and I imagine she would have me packing and returning to our parents in Paris if she found out about it.

I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French. Could you translate la sorcière de la rivière for me?

Of course. In German, La sorcière de la rivière is die Hexe des Flusses. But in English, I would be known as The Witch of the River. I guess you could say that my interrogation tactics are effective. I have been told that German officers are to take their own lives if capture is imminent so they will not have to face me. And they all assume I am a witch since…well, how could a woman so small and unassuming as myself possibly outsmart a man? Especially the brilliant and courageous men of the Kaiser Reich?

You are a very brave woman indeed, Mademoiselle Marchand. I’m not sure I could stand up under the pressure of interrogating a German officer.

They bleed just like us, monsieur. They fear for their lives and tremble at the inevitability of death. When their uniforms are removed, they are no different than the men on our side of the river. Most of them just want to go home. And speaking of going home, I must get a message delivered so I can get home to my sister before she starts wondering where I am. Take care of yourself, monsieur. The Germans will be occupying these streets by this time next week, so you would be wise to follow the rest of the refugees to Paris.

And what about you? When will you be retreating?

That is a complicated question. There are other forces keeping me here besides my sister and the troops. There is a man…well, let’s just say that sometimes the past wraps itself around your life and snakes its way into the present sending you on a course you never imagined possible.


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Sarah Adlakha is a native of Chicago who now lives along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with her husband, three daughters, two horses, and one dog. She started writing fiction shortly after retiring from her psychiatry practice. Her debut novel, She Wouldn’t Change a Thing, was a CNN most anticipated book of 2021. Midnight on the Marne is her second novel.

Introducing Laura di Petrocelli from Rebecca of Salerno: A Novel of a Rogue Crusader, a Jewish Female Physician, and a Murder, by Esther Erma

Welcome to Novel PAST Times, Laura. Am I pronouncing your name correctly?

Laura: (She smiles.) I like the English pronunciation. It reminds me so much of my dear teacher and friend, Rebecca. Though she speaks our local dialect, Salernitan, excellently, she pronounces my name in the manner of England. She often says that she enjoys those reminders of “home”. No matter how long she lives elsewhere, England is always her idea of home. We are fortunate that she came to Salerno when she did.Though, as a refugee from England, that part of her life always left her with some sadness.

Yes. We still have many people today who are refugees. That sadness doesn’t go away, even when people make good lives in their new homes.

Laura: I agree. There is nothing quite like one’s first home. But, of course, Rebecca did not come to Salerno right away when she first left England. She came to Salerno from Barcelona, only after she learned of the medical school and made up her mind to study here. I was fortunate to be born in Salerno and to know about the medical school all my life. Though attending the school is difficult for any woman, at least I had the idea from my youngest days. Rebecca was a student for many years without knowing that all she was learning would help her be admitted to the school. I always loved learning, but I also always knew the reason for my hard work at studies. 

Even in Salerno, which has always been famed as a center of important learning, it was a challenge for me as a woman to prepare. And, I have to admit, the path forward seemed easier when I was a child. Life here in Salerno was easier for us all, before our Kingdom of Sicily was conquered by the Hohenstaufens. Until they came, everyone here in Salerno got along well. The Jews and Christians and Moslems—we all lived in harmony. That changed after the conquest. And then came the crusaders, returning to Europe after the failed Crusade. Though they are supposed to be holy men, many of them are rough warriors. Roberto and my parents have warned me not to be out alone, especially at night. There has been talk that crusaders have attacked young women, ruining them. (She shivers.) I do not like having to be careful, but such talk makes me nervous.

I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you stay safe. But I’d like to go back to another topic, if I may. You say you prepared from your youngest days. How did you do that?

Laura: Well, as you might imagine, academic and scientific studies are not usually what most girls in traditional Christian families like my own are encouraged to spend their time on. I was the only girl and the youngest child in a family with five brothers. My dear mama was so happy finally to have a daughter! My mother and my aunts, indeed also all my male relatives, tried to convince me to devote myself to only the womanly arts. But I latched on to the brother who was closest to my age, Luigi, and studied with him whenever I could. He was far from an enthusiastic student, so he was glad to have me as his companion and, yes, helper. I caught on to science and mathematics, even Latin and Greek, far more easily than did dear Luigi. He wanted only to paint and draw—which he did with much more talent and grace than he dealt with Latin conjugations and mathematical formulas. But, far from rejecting the feminine arts, I learned and practiced them also with my lovely cousin Benedetta. She does not understand my desire to become a physician, but she encourages me to follow my own path. As I do for her. But the most important point to keep in mind, as my dear teacher and brilliant physician Rebecca always says, is “Balance. One must always try to find balance in life.” And an important part of that is moderation of habits.

You mention that Rebecca is your teacher at the medical school?

As a woman who successfully completed the medical school program and then, further, qualified as a teacher, she is an inspiration and a model for us all. I attend all of her lectures. At the school, in addition to the lectures and the work we do learning about anatomy from studying animals, we carefully scrutinize texts with tutors—individual work. I am especially fortunate that the Magistra tutors me. She always insists on the highest level of work, making sure I come away from each meeting with a clear understanding of the texts and the reasons for what we do. Being that I am Christian and she Jewish, sometimes we have different ideas about topics. For example,I have been taught that women have pain in childbirth as our punishment because of Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. But Rebecca believes that, no matter the origin, we should find ways to reduce that pain. Being able to discuss these ideas is of great value to both of us and will help us help our patients. And I’m especially fortunate that she has also become my friend – something I cherish deeply.

Your family must be so proud of you for this great accomplishment.

(She makes a sour face.) Not really. My family was proud when I became betrothed to Roberto. He is handsome, which, of course, I like. He is from a good and wealthy family, which is what my family cares most about. But my going to medical school is something that my family and also Roberto barely tolerate. They treat it like a mild disorder of my senses—one I will get over once I marry Roberto and settle down to my life as a wife and mother.

Have you achieved that balance between what your family wants and what you are doing?

Not yet. Let’s just say, I shall never give up on trying to achieve that balance—even though at times, getting to that place on my journey appears more impossible than a voyage to the moon. Such balance is especially important at times like this, when we all face increased danger.

Good luck going for that balance! Thank you so much for spending time with us today!


Like her heroine, Rebecca, Esther Erman was a refugee. A naturalized citizen, she early developed a passion for language, which led to her earning a doctorate in language education, writing her dissertation about the Yiddish language, and working with international students on many levels. A multi-published author, Esther now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband. When they’re not traveling—especially to be with family in other parts of the US and in England—she loves to bake, quilt, and add to her monumental book collection. Find out more about them at www.EstherErman.com.


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Meet Rolin Bose from Lonesome Flight by Dipak K. Gupta

Tell us something about where you live: 

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Hello! My name is Rolin Bose, the son of a rich business executive. I go by the nickname “Kokil” and live in the most fashionable part of Calcutta. My story is set in the turbulent mid-1960s when the entire world was pulsating with riots, student protests, political assassinations, and an overarching fear of global annihilation resulting from a nuclear exchange between the Superpowers. The Vietnam War raged on adding fuel to the fire of discontent. Violence touched all major cities of the world, including my hometown, Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name? 

I am glad you asked me that. Yes, I hated the name Kokil. 

It means a cuckoo in Bengali; an ugly black bird with a long-drawn forlorn call. There is something comical about the bird. It was a cruel gift from my father. I still recall him introducing me to my classmates on my first day at school. I fervently hoped that I would outgrow it someday, but no such luck. The name stuck like an ugly wart in front of my nose for everyone to see and make fun of.

I’m so sorry to hear that. Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?  

I am an undergraduate student of science at an elite college in Calcutta, run by the Jesuits. I love everything about my carefree life. What I don’t like is attending useless lectures, such as reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest in English literature class. Why do we have to study this medieval play, when there are so many exciting new authors from all over the world, talking about things that are relevant to the rapidly changing time? 

I don’t think I’ll try to answer that. Who are the special people in your life?  

I love my mother. She is my best friend. But I have fallen in love with Riza, a smart, beautiful, passionate, and a bit headstrong Muslim girl from an extremely wealthy family. Being a teenager, I was prone to falling in love with a different girl every other week. Most of the time, like a sniffle, it lasted only a few days, without my love interests even becoming aware of my affliction. But Riza causes my heart to palpitate whenever I am with her. I hope our love will endure.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?   

I love my life; my golf game, spending time with my friends and eating my favorite food prepared by my family cook. But my biggest desire is to spend alone time with Riza. May I tell you that I experienced my first kiss with her? It jolted every nerve ending in my body.

How wonderful! What are you most afraid of? 

I hate the fact that my father is so cruel to my mother and me. I am not sure how to handle it.  

I am also deeply concerned about the world around us; street protests are everywhere; burning and looting are becoming an everyday affair. I made a new friend in Ari, a brilliant boy from the “other side of the track.” He is so different from the affluent kids with whom I grew up. Ari took me inside the slums of Calcutta. There, I came to know people like Didi, a resolute woman who tries to earn money for her family, despite the torturous relationship with her abusive husband; a master pickpocket, who loves his son; an erudite call girl; a slum don; a street fighter. I am also worried that the new political movement, inspired by the Maoist communists, known as the Naxalites, would plunge my world into violence and mayhem. With Ari, I join the movement to organize the poor against the oppressive society. I go to a remote tribal village in the vast forest area of India to start a revolutionary base. As I come to know the members of my host family, the village money lender, the old shaman, and an alluring young woman, my confusion deepens. I want to change their society, but do they want to change? 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?  

I am deeply conflicted about my future. My mother wants me to go abroad for higher studies. I know I can start a new life with Riza. But I feel guilty about leaving my new friends to their miserable lives. Dispossessed and marginalized, their daily sufferings trouble me. How can I build my own fortune in the United States ignoring their plight? I want to join the Naxalite movement and help usher in a new just and verdant society. At the same time, I fear, if we are successful in bringing about a revolution, will we have the wisdom to create such a world? What if, like the story of the Animal Farm, I morph into Napoleon the pig and start cannibalizing the hapless multitude? 

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?  

Throughout my privileged life, I felt like a boat without a radar, floating aimlessly down the river of time, pushed by the vagaries of wind and tide. However, at the end of my story, when I lose everything – faith in politics, love, and even my own identity – on my lonesome flight to a new world, in an epiphany I find a strange feeling of inner strength. Like the German philosopher Nietzsche’s “Super Man,” I want to write my own story, shape my own destiny, and create my own identity on a clean slate.  

Why should I care about your story?

You would be right to ask, why should you read a story about a teenager getting involved in an obscure rebellion, in a faraway place, more than half a century ago? Since the dawn of humanity, men and women have sacrificed everything to recreate their societies according to their own belief in a perfect order. While we have come a long way in terms of technological progress, we still fight along our sectarian, racial, religious, and ideological divides. From this perspective, my story is never ending and remains as relevant today as it was when I was a young man.


Dipak K. Gupta is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at San Diego State University. He served as the Founding Director of the undergraduate program in International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR). In 1997, he was awarded Albert W. Johnson Distinguished Lecturer, the highest research award for the university, and was the “Professor of the Year” in 1994. His primary research interest involves the causes of terrorism, ethnic conflict, and the impact of political instability on national economic development. For 11 years, Gupta served as the Fred J. Hansen Professor of World Peace at SDSU.

Born in India, Gupta received master’s degrees in Economics from Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, India, and the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his Ph.D. in the area of Economic and Social Development from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been a visiting scholar at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, Leiden University in the Netherlands, Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and the Terrorism Prevention Branch at the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria. He was also awarded a summer fellowship in the International Studies Program at the Hoover Institution for War, Peace, and Revolution, at Stanford University. He received a post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute for International Politics and Economics in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In 2010 Gupta received a Fulbright Expert Fellowship at Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey.

Professor Gupta has authored ten academic books and over 150 articles in scholarly journals, research monographs, chapters in edited volumes, and newspapers. Gupta is a regular contributor to San Diego Union Tribune’s Opinion section. He has been a frequent guest at the local National Public Radio station and contributed on foreign policy and terrorism matters in numerous newspapers and television stations.

Gupta has been invited to talk about the causes of terrorism from all over the world. In 2005, he was invited to a terrorism conference convened by the King of Spain in Madrid. He has also been invited by the Prime Minister of Norway, the foreign ministry of Sweden, and the Turkish Ministry of Interior. In 2021, he was a keynote speaker at the 32nd International Congress of Psychology in Prague.

Gupta is also an artist. He shows his art at San Dieguito Art Guild in Encinitas. 

Lonesome Flight is his debut novel.  Visit him online at: https://dipakgupta.com

Meet Rani Jindan from Chitra Divakaruni’s novel The Last Queen

Tell us something about where you live.

I live in the kingdom of Punjab in India, in the capital city of Lahore, where my husband Maharaja Ranjit Singh has his royal court. Lahore is a fascinating city, filled with the most amazing markets, fortresses and places of worship, as well as the beautiful Shalimar gardens filled with thousands of roses. My favorite place is the Sheesh Mahal, the palace of mirrors, where the king and I live.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? 

You can’t really call it an occupation, though I am certainly very busy. As a queen, I feel it is my duty to pray for the good of the nation and give alms to the poor. I do this on all our holy days. I also spend a lot of time learning statecraft from my husband—he says I am sharper than most of his courtiers.

Who are the special people in your life?  

My husband the Maharajah is very important to me. I fell in love with him when I was sixteen, and he married me soon after, although I was the daughter of the palace’s dog trainer. Equally important to me is my infant son Dalip Singh. I would do anything to protect him. And oh yes, my maid Mangla. She is my confidante and also an excellent advisor. I trust her with my life.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?   

To live a quiet life with my husband and son. There are so many intrigues in the palace—I wish I could get away from them. Courtiers are always vying for the Maharajah’s favors. The other queens are always plotting against me. And of course, the British are waiting for a chance to attack our kingdom. I just want some peace and quiet.

What are you most afraid of? 

That my husband will die all of a sudden. He has not been in good health, and he drives himself too hard, trying to keep his kingdom safe. 

If he dies, I don’t know what will become of Dalip and me. 

Do you have a cherished possession? 

I don’t know if you can call her a possession, but I do love my horse, Laila. She is the most expensive horse in the entire land, the most beautiful, and the fastest. She does not like most people—she tends to bite them if they get too close! But somehow we became friends from the moment we met. 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?  

Who can tell? It is a turbulent time I live in. The British grow stronger each day. Punjab is the only large kingdom left in India that dares to resist them. But I know this much: if a day comes when the British attack us, I will resist them even with my last breath. 

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?  

I confess that I am very stubborn. And sometimes I make sudden, hotheaded decisions. I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me. But if someone turns against me, I will not forget. Nor will I forgive. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!



WINNER of the 2022 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WORKING WOMEN AWARD for BEST FICTION OF THE YEAR!

LONGLISTED for 2022 DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD!

She rose from commoner to become the last reigning queen of India’s Sikh Empire. In this dazzling novel, based on true-life events, bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni presents the unforgettable story of Jindan, who transformed herself from daughter of the royal kennel keeper to powerful monarch. 

Sharp-eyed, stubborn, and passionate, Jindan was known for her beauty. When she caught the eye of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, she was elevated to royalty, becoming his youngest and last queen—and his favorite. And when her son, barely six years old, unexpectedly inherited the throne, Jindan assumed the regency. She transformed herself from pampered wife to warrior ruler, determined to protect her people and her son’s birthright from the encroaching British Empire.

Defying tradition, she stepped out of the zenana, cast aside the veil, and conducted state business in public, inspiring her subjects in two wars. Her power and influence were so formidable that the British, fearing an uprising, robbed the rebel queen of everything she had, but nothing crushed her indomitable will.

An exquisite love story of a king and a commoner, a cautionary tale about loyalty and betrayal, a powerful parable of the indestructible bond between mother and child, and an inspiration for our times, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel brings alive one of the most fearless women of the nineteenth century, one whose story cries out to be told. 


Chitra Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, activist and teacher, and the author of 20 books such as Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Before We Visit the Goddess, Palace of IllusionsThe Forest of Enchantments, and most recently, The Last Queen. 

Her work has been published in over 100 magazines and anthologies and translated into 30 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Hungarian, Turkish, Hindi and Japanese. 

Her awards include an American Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles award, a Premio Scanno,  a Light of India award, and a Times of India Award for Best Fiction. In 2015 The Economic Times included her in their List of 20 Most Influential Global Indian Women. She is the McDavid professor of Creative Writing in the internationally acclaimed Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. 

Meet Isabella Garcia from Tracie Peterson’s Beyond the Desert Sands

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Tell us something about where you live. 

I live in the high desert area of the San Mateo Mountains south of Albuquerque, when I’m not sharing a home with my great aunt in California. That’s where I really want to be more than any other place. I grew up in California before my father forced us to move to New Mexico.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?

My author tells me that my name was given as a reward to one of her faithful readers whose name is Isabella Garcia Bailey.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? 

Oh, dear no. I am the daughter of wealthy landowners. My family can be traced back to the old families of Spain, so I do not hold an occupation, but rather have learned to manage a rancho.

Who are the special people in your life? 

Until recently my Aunt Josephina (my father’s sister) was the focus of my life, along with Diego Morales whom I plan to marry. However, that irritating Aaron Bailey won’t seem to let well enough alone.  My mother and father are of course dear to me, but they do not understand my desires for life.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?  

To live in California on the family’s rancho and throw wonderful parties as we did in the old days. I want to step back in time to have what we once had.

What are you most afraid of?  

That my heart’s desire will never be available to me.

Do you have a cherished possession?  

 I once had a horse I cherished. However, I’ve learned over the years that things are temporal and the land is what remains. 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?  

I hope to be married to Diego Morales and have a family together in California.  But again, that pesky Aaron Bailey doesn’t think Diego is an honest man.  He thinks it’s his place to guard and protect me from Diego.  Foolish man.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? 

That I’m quite opinionated and headstrong. I’m a woman of means and intelligence and I know that I can figure out all the answers if I’m given a chance. This makes some people believe me to be uncaring or harsh, but that isn’t the truth. I care very much about seeing the world set in a way that will make sense to me and bring happiness to those around me.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? 

Well, I don’t know that I want people to know that I’m also a very broken woman—girl really. There has been a lot of pain in my life, and now as I learn the secrets that have taken me beyond the desert sands, I realize that more heart break is headed my way.  Aaron says that only God will get me through. My mother says the same.  I wish I knew for sure that was true. I suppose in time I will.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


Twenty-five-year-old Isabella Garcia has spent the last seven years
living in opulence at her aunt’s California home. The last thing she
wants to do is celebrate Christmas with her parents in the small
silver-mining town of Silver Veil. Not only will she have to leave
her handsome beau, Diego Morales, but she has to travel with her
old rival, Aaron Bailey—a Santa Fe Railroad businessman who
considers her both childish and selfish.

When Isabella finally arrives in Silver Veil, she is surprised by how
much the town has grown in her absence. But she is also shocked to
see how much her father’s health has declined. When Diego shows
up unexpectedly with news of her aunt’s death, Isabella is faced
with some-life changing decisions. But trouble is brewing.
Isabella must determine who she can truly rely on as well as
reconcile who she’s become with who she’s meant to be—even if it
costs her everything.


Tracie Peterson is the award-winning author of over 100 novels, both historical and contemporary. Her avid research resonates in her many bestselling series. Tracie and her family make their home in
Montana. Visit traciepeterson.com to learn more.

A Candid Talk with Gisela Wolff and Peggy Serrano from Lynn Austin’s Novel Long Way Home

About the book:

Peggy Serrano couldn’t wait for her best friend to come home from the war. But the Jimmy Barnett who returns is much different from the Jimmy who left, changed so drastically by his experience as a medic in Europe that he can barely function. When he attempts the unthinkable, his parents check him into the VA hospital. Peggy determines to help the Barnetts unravel what might have happened to send their son over the edge. She starts by contacting Jimmy’s war buddies, trying to identify the mysterious woman in the photo they find in Jimmy’s belongings.

Seven years earlier, sensing the rising tide against their people, Gisela Wolff and her family flee Germany aboard the passenger ship St. Louis, bound for Havana, Cuba. Gisela meets Sam Shapiro on board and the two fall quickly in love. But the ship is denied safe harbor and sent back to Europe. Thus begins Gisela’s perilous journey of exile and survival, made possible only by the kindness and courage of a series of strangers she meets along the way, including one man who will change the course of her life.


Gisela, tell us a little about your life before the events of the story begin.

Gisela: I lived in Berlin with Mutti and Vati (my parents) and my younger sister, Ruthie. We’re Jewish, and we had a happy life in our Jewish neighborhood with our large extended family. Then Hitler came to power and Vati was forbidden to practice law. Ruthie and I were no longer allowed to attend our school. As the persecution grew worse and worse, we knew we had to get out of Germany. Vati began the difficult task of applying for visas and landing permits, searching for a country that would allow us in as refugees.

Your story begins in November 1938 on Kristallnacht. Tell us how that night changed your life.

Gisela: Kristallnacht was a night of widespread Nazi persecution, violence, and terror. Synagogues were set on fire; Jewish businesses and even hospitals were ransacked and demolished. When Vati rushed over to our synagogue to save the Torah scrolls, the Nazis arrested him and sent him to Buchenwald prison camp. Mutti was so overwhelmed with fear and grief that it was up to me to finish Vati’s work and try to get us all out of Germany.

Did you manage to escape?

Gisela: Yes! Miraculously, we were able to get landing permits for Havana, Cuba, where my uncle was waiting for us. We booked passage on a ship called the SS St. Louis and set sail from Hamburg, Germany.

It must have been a huge relief for you. Were you able to relax and enjoy the voyage?

Gisela: Not at first. Nearly all of the passengers were Jewish, like us, but the ship flew the Nazi flag and most of the sailors were Nazis. The portrait of Hitler that hung in the dining hall reminded us that we weren’t free yet. But I met Sam Shapiro on board and we soon became inseparable.

I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, but the voyage of the St. Louis was only the beginning of your long, wartime journey, wasn’t it?

Gisela: That’s true. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time how very far I would end up traveling and what my family and I were about endure as we tried to survive.

Thank you, Gisela. It will be interesting to read about those journeys. Peggy, it’s your turn now. Tell us a little about your life before the events of the story.

Peggy: My mother died when I was eleven years old, so I was raised by my father in our apartment above his auto repair shop. I was different from all of the other kids at school, and they bullied me mercilessly. My only friends were my dog, Buster, and Jimmy Barnett, who lived across the street from me. Jimmy is four years older than I am and he watched out for me like a big brother.

Your story begins after World War II ends and Jimmy Barnett and the other soldiers have just returned home. Tell us about that.

Peggy: The Jimmy who came home isn’t the same man who went away to war. He is sad all the time and barely speaks to anyone, even to me and his parents. Then the unthinkable happened, and he tried to kill himself. He’s in a veterans’ hospital now, and the doctors say he’s suffering from battle fatigue. Their treatments aren’t helping, so I came up with the idea of writing letters to all of his buddies from the war so we can try to figure out what happened that made him want to die. I’m desperate to find a way to help my best friend.

Are there any other changes for you now that the war is over?

Peggy: Oh, there are plenty! I worked in a factory during the war, building aircraft cannons, but that job came to an end when the war did. Then my father’s girlfriend, Donna, decided to take over the office work that I’ve always done for my father’s garage. She says I need to find another job and another place for my dog and me to live. And all of this while I’m trying to help Jimmy!

It sounds like a difficult time for you.

Peggy: It is. The only bright spot for me is working with Jimmy’s father in his veterinary clinic. I love animals and I’ve worked for Mr. Barnett part-time after school since I was eleven years old. But now I’ll need to find a full-time job and someplace else to live.

Thank you, Peggy. I’m sure readers will want to read the rest of your story to see how things turn out for you and Jimmy.


Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Visit her online at lynnaustin.org.

Introducing Queen Judith from Queen of Ophir by Hannah Ross

Tell us something about where you live

I am a descendant of Israelite tribes who have migrated south to settle in Ethiopia. Our mountain kingdom stretches across the breathtaking Mountains of Simien and around Lake Tana. The Ethiopian Highlands are beautiful, fertile, and comfortable to live in thanks to their temperate climate.

My royal seat is in the City of Simien, where I preside over my kingdom in a large airy palace. Twelve gilded-gold steps lead to my throne, one for each tribe of Israel.

What is it like to be a queen of Simien?

I was only seventeen years old when I became a queen after my father, King Gideon, was treacherously murdered by Aksum agents. I wasn’t prepared to assume this role, but I’m doing my best.

I spend every morning in my audience chamber, listening to petitions and making decisions. After audience time is over, I take a quick midday meal and spend the afternoon with my military strategists and advisors, planning a war on Aksum. 

If I’m lucky enough to have some free time, I go for a stroll in the palace gardens or ride out to survey the country. I also enjoy browsing through old books and scrolls in my father’s library.

Overall, being a queen takes up almost all of my time. At least I get to rest on the day of Shabbat!

Who are the special people in your life?

My mother died when I was very young, and I had developed a very special relationship with my father. I was his right hand and sat on his councils since I was twelve. As the eldest child, I was my father’s heir and had to prepare for my future duties. 

I loved and admired my father, who was wise, kind, caring, and generous. His death came as a harsh blow.

Shortly after my father’s murder, I became engaged to Prince Sahama. Since it is mainly a political alliance, I am still unsure what I think about my future husband. Can I trust him? Is he really on my side? It’s lucky I have my military advisor, Gedalya, to give me solid counsel.

What is your heart’s deepest desire? 

I live for the day when we smash the gates of Aksum and raze that vile city to the ground. I swore to avenge my father’s murder, which means I’m going to kill the King of Aksum and his entire court. Destroying Aksum will also protect my people from physical and spiritual warfare – Aksum’s Christian priests are trying to make us give up the Hebrew faith, and I know they won’t rest until they conquer our kingdom.

What are you most afraid of?

I fear that our mission will fail. If we don’t bring Aksum down, they will take over our domain, force us to convert to Christianity, and sell my people into slavery. I can’t let this happen!

What do you expect the future will hold for you?  

When Aksum falls, I will rule most of Ethiopia. I will have access to Red Sea ports and will be able to trade with far-off lands, instead of being isolated in my landlocked kingdom. One day, maybe I will get to sail to Israel and see the land where my ancestors had once lived.

As my kingdom grows, so will my responsibility. That’s where I will need Prince Sahama. He will rule by my side and help me subdue Aksum nobility which will surely resist my rule. It will also be my duty to provide the kingdom with heirs. When I have children, I hope our relationship will be as close and trusting as mine was with my father.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?  

That being a queen is hard. I never imagined how tough it would be to put someone to death, to question the loyalty of everyone around me, or to agree to a marriage just because I believe it will be useful to my kingdom. 

I also learned that I’m not always right. Sometimes, I should listen to my councilors rather than pushing ahead with risky ventures.

What are you most proud of?

I do my best to be just. I never condemn or justify someone without listening to all sides of the case. My audience chamber is open to all, noblemen and simple folk alike. Nobody is below my notice, and I believe my people feel comfortable to come to me and share their concerns or ask for help. That was how my father ruled – he was a king of all his people, and I’m upholding this tradition.

***

Author Bio

Hannah Ross wrote her first story at the age of six and hasn’t stopped since. She is a multi-genre author who loves to escape into different worlds, whether it takes the form of fantasy, sci-fi, or historical tales.

Hannah’s fascination with Jewish history led her to explore the stories and legends of the Ethiopian diaspora, which led to the birth of two novels set in Ethiopia during the Aksumite era: Land of the Lost Tribe and her newest release, Queen of Ophir

Hannah enjoys a quiet life with her husband, four children, two cats and a flock of chickens.

An Interview with Edward John Trelawny from Forever Past by Marty Ambrose

We are going to talk today with Edward John Trelawny at the Palazzo Marciano in Livorno, Italy.  An adventurer, writer, and raconteur, he is known mostly as the most dashing member of the Byron/Shelley circle in historic Pisa; but, he is a complicated and brilliant man in his own right, whom Lord Byron referred to as the “personification of my Corsair.”  Welcome, Trelawny!

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  • Firstly, I want to ask you about Byron’s reference to you as the “personification of his Corsair”—a poem he wrote about a pirate.  Do you think that’s true?

Edward Trelawny:  [laughing]  Not exactly.  I was never a pirate but, as a boy, I did read about the French corsair, Robert Surcouf, and I went to sea because I was a rebellious sort of boy.  I ran away at the age of thirteen to join the Royal Navy as a volunteer (I was too young to actually take on a commission) and traveled on ships from Bombay to the Cape of Good Hope.  The rough lifestyle aboard a sailing vessel made a man of me.  But . . . I did not like the discipline of the Navy and was often sent to the masthead as punishment for some kind of minor infraction.  Perhaps I would have been better off becoming a pirate after all.

  • Before we talk about your relationship with Claire Clairmont, maybe you could tell us a little more about yourself.  I’m sure our readers would find your own history quite interesting.

Edward Trelawny:  Certainly.  As you can tell from my surname, I am Cornish.  My family had modest means but an extensive ancestral lineage and my father, though a baronet, had a fiery temper.  A tyrant really.  Hence, the reason I left home at such a young age.  And, of course, I always had a wanderlust to see the world.  After I left the Navy in my twenties, I lived in Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and then back to England.  I even visited America and thought about starting a Utopian community there, but something always drew me back to Europe.

  • Was that “something” Claire Clairmont?

Edward Trelawny:  Well, she has been at the center of my life for over fifty years.  My dearest friend.  My closest ally.  My one and only true love.  I will not deny that I have known other women and even married three times.  But my heart always, always belonged to Claire from the moment I met her in Pisa in 1822.   She was breathtaking with her exotic beauty and sparkling personality.  And, while she has grown more advanced in years (as I have), she has lost none of her spirted nature.  We have been separated by great distance at times during our lives, yet we never lost contact—and her witty letters have been such a comfort to me.  To be sure, I asked her to marry me more than once, but she preferred her independence, much to my dismay and disappointment . . . At least now I have the opportunity to be with her again on the quest to find Allegra.

  • Do you think other people have come between the two of you?

Edward Trelawny:  I assume you mean Lord Byron.  I will not deny that Claire has been haunted by his ghost, and I cannot blame her.  We all were caught up in his orbit.  He was like a comet in our lives, lighting up the world and then plunging it into darkness again when he died. There has been no one like him—before or afterward.  And it is difficult to describe what it was like to know him:  there was the famous poet, brilliant and erratic; the revolutionary who inspired us to follow him to fight for the Greek Independence; and there was the man whom I came to call my friend—amusing, loyal, and generous.  He had many different sides—a chameleon, as he called himself.  Certainly, he could be outrageous, even petty, at times, but who is perfect?  As Claire said, he was an easy man to love and admire but not an easy one to know, even though we all tried.

  • After Byron perished in Greece in 1824, you stayed in Greece and continued to fight for their cause.  How did that turn out?

Edward Trelawny:  Well, Greece declared its independence when the Treaty of Edirne was signed in 1829, so you may judge for yourself.  After Byron died in Missolonghi, I stayed and fought side-by-side with Odysseus, a warlord leader who was almost like a brother and, at one point, we commanded five thousand troops.  It was a long and arduous war, but it had a glorious conclusion.  Sadly, as is often the case, the men who risked their lives in battle are no longer needed when peace is declared.  Odysseus was executed, and I was a victim of an attempted assassination; the bullet is still lodged in my back.

  • Did you not marry Odysseus’s sister?

Edward Trelawny:  That is another story [he clears his throat].  But enough of an old soldier’s reminiscences.  I grow tedious . . .

  • Not at all.  Actually, I was going to ask if there was one incident that stood out as the most horrific for you?

Edward Trelawny:  Yes, though it did not occur during battle.  It happened when Shelley drowned in Italy during the summer of 1822.  I still recall it as if it were only yesterday.  He had gone out sailing with his friend, Edward Williams, and they ran into a squall near the Bay of Spezia which caused the boat to go down, killing the two of them.  We did not know for days what had happened, even though I met constantly with the Italian Coast Guard.  Eventually, their bodies washed ashore near Livorno, and I had to oversee their cremation on the beach.  Never will I forget that awful scene of seeing my dear friend consumed by fire into ashes.  Byron was there, but could not stand it and began to swim off shore, but I remained until the task was finished.  

  • What a tragic story.  

Edward Trelawny:  Indeed.  One of my greatest regrets is that I introduced Shelley to sailing.  If I had not done so, perhaps he would not have perished at sea.  Who can say for certain?  Life is full of these twists and turns.

  • Do you have any other regrets?

Edward Trelawny:  I will never stop reproaching myself for not telling Claire that her daughter, Allegra, might still be alive.  Byron swore me to secrecy, and I know that revealing the truth might have placed Allegra at risk, yet it was still a deception.  I am only grateful that Claire has forgiven me.

  • Do you think she might also reconsider sharing her life with you?

Edward Trelawny:  We shall see.

  • I can only hope!  Any final comments?

Edward Trelawny:  In spite of being friends with Byron and Shelley, I never wanted to be a great poet, but I wanted to have a great life.  And I did.

Thank you for speaking with us today.


Marty Ambrose is the author of a historical mystery trilogy: Claire’s Last SecretA Shadowed Fate, and Forever Past, all set around the Byron/Shelley circle in nineteenth-century ItalyHer novels have been published by Severn House (U.K. and U.S.) and Thomas Schluck (Germany), earning starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, as well as finalist status in the Florida Writers Association’s Literary Palm Award. Her work has been featured internationally in blogs, journals, and websites.

Marty teaches English at Florida Southwestern State College and has been a faculty member in the SNHU Creative Writing MFA program; she was a NISOD winner for faculty excellence, grant award recipient, and Master Teacher. She completed her M.Phil. at the University of York (England) and teaches nineteenth-century British literature, composition, and fiction writing. She has also given numerous workshops in the U.S. and abroad on all aspects of creating/publishing a novel.

She has edited the FSW literary journal, served on student scholarship boards, and is a member of The Byron Society, Historical Novel Society, and Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

A Chat with Norah King from Rachel Fordham’s Where the Road Bends 

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Tell us something about where you live.

I grew up on the most beautiful stretch of Iowa land known as King Land. It’s got a creek running through it and isn’t far from the railroad tracks. I don’t think there is a more beautiful place in the entire world. But now, with my parents dead, I don’t know how I’ll keep the farm going. I plan to marry, not for love, but to keep my land. I suppose then it will be Granger land, but in my heart it will always be King land. 

Can you tell us more about your pending marriage?

It all happened real fast. When the bank started talking about taking my land back and refusing to loan me more money Jake came out of no where ready to marry me and save my land. I don’t know him well, he’s older than me and even though he seems kind enough, he’s not easy for me to talk to. I suppose that can come with time. But now I have a secret that I have to tell him, and I don’t know how. 

A secret? 

A couple days ago, I found a man on my land. He was hurt real bad and I knew I couldn’t leave him to die in the heat and with the birds buzzing above him. It took all my strength to get him to the house and cleaned up. He’s improving, but isn’t well enough to go on his way. I meant to tell Jake about him, and I will when I see him next, but I’m afraid Jake will send him off before he’s well enough to go. 

What is this man you’ve found like? 

He’s…well, he’s a little gruff, but he’s also kind and he listens. It’s been so nice having someone in the house. It’s been so quiet here since my parents died. I’ve enjoyed his company. 

If things were different, well, they’re not. 

What do you mean if things were different?

I was simply thinking that my injured man is easier to talk to than Jake…but, he is penniless and could not save my farm. It’s best he heals and then goes on his way. I will be praying for him though and hoping he gets the fresh start he yearns for. 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

I expect it will hold children and days spent on the farm. I don’t expect much else to change in my life. I am content with simple dreams and being safe at home. When you’ve struggled to put bread on the table, you stop dreaming of more than your safety. Although, in the couple days I have felt the old inkling for more. I suppose my thoughts are simply addled from lack of sleep. 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

I would like to say that if you see my injured man to please be kind to him. He needs a second chance in life, help him have that and tell him that I will always be cheering him on, even if it is from very far away. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


For Norah King, her family land is all she has left—and she can’t
lose it, even if it means marrying someone she doesn’t love. Days
before the wedding, she discovers a badly injured man on her
property and chooses to take him in—a decision she could live to
regret.
Norah’s nursing does more than aid Quincy Barnes’s recovery; it also
awakens his heart. But as a penniless man with no home of his own,
Quincy has nothing to offer her. The honorable choice is to leave and
let her marry her intended. The only problem is that when he leaves,
he inadvertently takes something that doesn’t belong to him—
something that will change both their lives forever.
When their paths cross next, Quincy sees firsthand the consequences
of his actions and will go to great lengths to set things right, but will
it be enough?
Can Quincy come clean to Norah and make amends? Or will
their future together be ruined before it has even begun?


Rachel Fordham is the author of The Hope of Azure Springs, Yours
Truly, Thomas
, and A Life Once Dreamed. Fans expect stories with
heart and she delivers, diving deep into the human experience and
tugging at reader emotions. She loves connecting with people,
traveling to new places, and daydreaming about future projects that
will have sigh-worthy endings and memorable characters. She is a
busy mom, raising both biological and foster children (a cause she
feels passionate about). She lives with her husband and children on
an island in the state of Washington.

An Interview with Thomas Bartlett from Sean Crose’s Novel Lexington

Question: It must be difficult to be a citizen of Boston in 1775.

Thomas: Everyone knows war is coming. The British government has shut down our port, troops are everywhere, and the Patriots essentially control the entire Massachusetts colony outside the city. 

Question: And who are these Patriots?

Thomas: They’re colonists who feel the government in Britain is treating its subjects here across the Atlantic unfairly. For instance, colonists can’t be represented by one of their own in Parliament. Why is that? Is it because the British government feels the colonists are second class citizens? I would argue it is.

Question:  Are you a Patriot yourself?

Thomas: No. My new wife, Mary – who I adore – is from a family loyal to the crown. She went against their wishes by marrying me, so to save her from further discomfort, I’ve promised I won’t take part in these dangerous events plaguing our time.

Question: That seems rather honorable, but you look uncomfortable discussing the matter.

Thomas: My brother, James, is a member of the Patriots. He lives outside of Boston, in the town of Lexington, where Patriots engage in military drills quite regularly. 

Question: And naturally you’re worried about him and feel somewhat disloyal.

Thomas: Very much so.

Question: What does James feel about you’re not joining his cause?

Thomas: He’d love for me to become a Patriot myself, of course, but James and I see the world differently.

Question: Could you explain?

Thomas: James is an angry man. Indeed, he’s long had a deep anger in him, why I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with our mother passing on at an early age from consumption. At any rate, I fear James sees these troubles before us as an outlet through which he can vent his rage through.

 Question: Have you addressed this matter with him?

Thomas: Most certainly…though I broach the subject gently and in offhanded ways. James must be dealt with delicately most times. For instance, if he finds himself angry at one of his sons – something he often does – I attempt to calm him down. He can be quite ferocious, James.

Question: Is he violent with his children?

Thomas: He’s not violent with anyone. At least not yet. What I mean by this is I suspect James will become physically cruel once war breaks out, that he’ll feel he has an acceptable outlet for his range. 

Question: That’s understandable. Some with anti-British settlements have been known to act in a violent and atrocious manner.

Thomas: Most certainly. And I fear James will soon engage in a violent and atrocious manner himself. There is honorable combat and there is wanton brutality. What will become of James if he acts brutally once war breaks out? What if he harms a prisoner, or worse, kills one? What will that say of his character? What will it say of his soul?

Question: You worry about his soul, then.

Thomas: I do.

Question: You’re a religious man?

Thomas:  A lifelong Congregationalist. 

Question: But not James?

Thomas: He feels he has no use for faith. In truth, it’s one of the reasons I keep nudging him to try to alter his ways, to not let his anger continue to consume him. I worry he’ll die in combat with his soul in an unclean state.

Question: That’s quite a heavy burden to carry around. 

Thomas: To be sure! My new wife, Mary, says that I’m now more concerned with James’ soul than I have any obligation to be.

Question: And why is that?

Thomas: Although my bookstore on Cornhill is, like all businesses in Boston, doing meagre business, Mary feels my place is there. She supports my going to see James, but feels I take such trips too frequently, and with no productive results to show for them. Plus, the colony is dangerous outside of Boston. Lastly, Mary simply feels like too much of my time and effort is focused on James rather than on matters at home. 

Question: Is she right?

Thomas: I shall be blunt. If James should die in the war without having changed his ways, I shall personally feel responsible.

Question: Does Mary know this?

Thomas: She seems to suspect. 

Question:  You say you’re a Congregationalist, yet your thinking concerning James doesn’t adhere to any Christian doctrine. James has free will, after all.

Thomas: As do I…and I’m willfully dedicating myself to saving James.

Question: Even at the expense of something as valuable to you as your new marriage? 

Thomas: …

Question: Do you feel that’s a righteous way to go about things, Thomas? 

Thomas: …

Question: Thomas?

Thomas: 


Sean Crose is the Writing/ESL Specialist for Post University, where he also teaches such subjects as literature, poetry, creative writing, and composition. On top of that, Crose is a Senior Writer for “Boxing Insider,” and a contributor to “The Berkshire Edge.” He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jen, and Charlie the Cat.