Getting to Know Captain Ben Coleridge from Regina Scott’s A Distance Too Grand

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! It’s a pleasure to meet the man who will be the first to survey the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. How did you manage that assignment?

I’m proud to be a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, ma’am.

So that means you must be a graduate of West Point. What class?

The class of 1866. Since then I’ve completed surveys in the field, helping Wheeler out west, and then worked on monuments in our nation’s capital.

From the Wild West to Washington D.C. Which did you like better?

The frontier, hands down. I couldn’t wait to get back into the field. Although this wasn’t exactly the assignment I had been hoping for.

Oh? Why do you say that?

For one thing, my father the Colonel disappeared in that area two months ago, and no one knows what happened to him. For another, the moment I arrived at Fort Wilverton to meet my team, I discovered Meg Pero was going to be my photographer.

A lady photographer? I didn’t know the Army allowed such things.

Normally we wouldn’t, but there’s another lady along, our cook and the wife of our cartographer. And Meg’s good at what she does. I’ll give her that. But she was the last person I wanted along on this expedition. We’re running late in the season, it’s critical our survey align with another going on down in the canyon proper, and it may be dangerous. No reason to bring along the woman I once thought I was going to marry.

Did you just say you were going to marry Meg Pero?

I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor, ma’am.

You mentioned danger. What concerns you about the North Rim?

It’s said to be a most stunning display of natural beauty, but we’ll be facing wildly fluctuating temperatures, scant water, predators like mountain lion, vermin like rattlesnake.  We might meet flashfloods, wildfire, and lightning storms. Meg would be safer heading back east.

So, are you going to turn her away?

No. I can’t leave without a photographer, and she’s the only one available. Like it or not, I have to take her with us. 

What did she say when you told her?

She just smiled in that way she has and claimed her photographer father had always said nature would kill him if man didn’t do it first. 

“I’m not afraid, Ben,” she told me. “This is a grand adventure. Think of the vistas we could capture.”

All I could think about was how easily she could recapture my heart.

Sounds like you have your work cut out for you.

Yes, ma’am, and I better get to it. You’ll be able to learn how Meg and I, and the survey, came out in A Distance Too Grand, by Regina Scott.

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

Regina Scott is the author of more than 45 works of warm, witty historical romance. Her writing has won praise from Booklist and Library Journal, and she was twice awarded the prestigious RT Books Reviews best book of the year in her category. A devotee of history, she has learned to fence, driven four-in-hand, and sailed on a tall ship, all in the name of research. She and her husband of 30 years live south of Tacoma, Washington, on the way to Mt. Rainier.

A Chat with Ruby Weaver from The Roll of the Drums by Jan Drexler

Gideon Fischer’s only desire is to get his family far away from the disastrous effects of the Civil War, find a peaceful place to live, and mourn the death of his wife. However, he has grown to enjoy Ruby’s company and appreciates her help with the housework and the children. But is she the right person to spend the rest of his life with? 

Ruby Weaver is content being single in her 1863 conservative Amish community. However, Ruby’s ailing friend Lovinia has other ideas. Lovinia makes her husband, Gideon, promise to marry Ruby and has Ruby make a similar promise. With both Ruby and Gideon reluctant to keep their promises, a compromise must be reached. Ruby agrees to be a housekeeper and nanny to the children. Unfortunately, this arrangement raises eyebrows in the community. It soon becomes clear that Ruby must make a decision—marry Gideon or break her promise to her friend. Will Ruby accept Gideon’s proposal or turn her back on the family she has grown to love?

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

Help us get to know you – What do people notice about you when they first meet you?

It has to be my red hair. Not just red, but wiry and curly. It never lies flat and never does what I want it to. Especially on humid days! Most Amish women have straight brown hair that lies smoothly under their kapps. My hair is always in my way.

What would someone notice about you after they learn to know you?

That I’m not the typical Amish woman. I don’t like to do quiet things like quilting or sewing. I’d rather be working outside. I like the open sky, and the wind blowing, and the smells of the earth. I enjoy spending a day in the woods hunting for a bee tree or an evening watching the stars come out.

Tell us about your family and where you live.

I don’t think my family is anything special. After all, we’re much like the other families in our community. My grandparents settled along Weaver’s Creek here in Holmes County, Ohio in the early 1800’s. They were the first Amish settlers here. I remember Grossmutti’s stories of bears and other wild animals in the forest, but now, sixty years later, this is a peaceful and settled area.

In my family I have two brothers, one older and one younger, and three sisters. Two of my sisters are married and live away in Berlin Township. My younger sister is my best friend. We’re having fun keeping house together while her husband is away fighting in the War Between the States.

You said your sister is your best friend. Who are your other friends?

I didn’t have any other close friends until recently. The girls I grew up with have all married and are busy with their husbands and children. Since I don’t plan to marry, we have even less in common than we did when we were growing up.

But when Gideon and Lovinia Fischer came to Weaver’s Creek, I found a kindred spirit in Lovinia. I long for the day when she finally recovers from her illness and we can do more than sit in her sickroom and visit. She is a true friend and I love her dearly.

You made an interesting comment earlier, that you don’t plan to marry. I thought all Amish girls wanted to get married.

That’s probably true. Every girl I know wants to marry and have a family. But in my experience, most men – except for my Datt and my brothers, and maybe Lovinia’s husband Gideon – are selfish pigs who only think about themselves. I had a bad experience with a boy when I was younger, and then I see my sister Elizabeth’s unhappy marriage. I’m not going to take a chance on any man when things can turn out so badly. 

There I go, being too outspoken. It’s a good thing I don’t plan to marry because I can’t think of any man who would put up with my temper and my opinions. Mamm says that both of those things go with my red hair!

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

I would be careful to think before I speak. Mamm is so wise and good. Everyone comes to her for advice and help. I’ve never heard her say anything unkind and she is always patient, even when Salome Beiler is visiting.

There I go again! I should never have said that about Salome, and yet I can’t seem to stop myself. Forget I said anything, please.

But back to your question, if I could change anything about myself, I would want to be more like my mother. She is as strong-willed and opinionated as I am, but she tempers it with a gentle spirit. I can’t seem to learn to do that.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

Even though I say I will never marry, I would marry the right man if I could find him. All I want is to meet a man who will love me for who I am and not try to change me. Is that too much to ask? 

What are you most afraid of?

I did something very stupid when I was younger, and because of me, Elizabeth married the wrong man. I didn’t realize how much influence my actions and my words would have on her. My greatest fear is that another younger girl would follow my stupid, sinful life. I don’t fit in with the others at church, and that’s all right. I’m used to it. But I fear that someday one of my nieces or another girl will think that kicking the goads is a good thing to do. I fear that I will unknowingly influence one of those girls to be like me.

What do you think your future holds?

I hope I will spend the rest of my life surrounded by my family and friends. I would like to watch Lovinia’s children grow, and to reach the end of my days being useful to them and to my nieces and nephews.

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

Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband, where she enjoys hiking and spending time with her expanding family. She is the author The Sound of Distant ThunderHannah’s ChoiceMattie’s Pledge (a 2017 Holt Medallion finalist), and Naomi’s Hope, as well as several Love Inspiredhistorical novels.

A Chat with Clarissa Kliest from Denise Weimer’s The Witness Tress

Past betrayal has turned John Kliest’s passion to his work as a builder and surveyor in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. Now, to satisfy the elders’ edict and fulfill his mission in Cherokee Territory, he needs a bride. But the one woman qualified to record the Cherokee language longs for a future with his younger brother.

Clarissa Vogler’s dream of a life with Daniel Kliest is shattered when she is chosen by lot to marry his older brother and venture into the uncharted frontier. Can she learn to love this stoic man who is now her husband? Her survival hinges on being able to trust him—but they both harbor secrets.

Novel PASTimes: It’s autumn 1805, and the fields are lined with corn and dotted with pumpkins here at the Springplace Moravian mission in Cherokee Territory, located on the plantation of Chief James Vann. We’re sitting down to tea with Clarissa Vogler Kliest, heroine of The Witness Tree. We’re gratified for this moment to catch up with her, since so much has changed in her life since August. Do you feel comfortable to tell us about what happened in August, Sister Kliest?

Clarissa: Please, call me Clarissa. *nervous giggle* I’m afraid I’m not quite used to my new last name. I’m married, but, well, my husband and I … that is to say, we’re taking our time to get to know each other.

Novel PASTimes: That is because your marriage was an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience, is that not correct?

Clarissa: We prefer to call it marriage by the lot, but yes. Would you like a ginger cookie? They are delicious with this autumn spice tea, made in the paper-thin Moravian style from the bakery back home in Salem, North Carolina.

Novel PASTimes: They sound wonderful, but I’m most interested in this marriage by the lot. What does that mean?

Clarissa: Well, we Moravians believe that for major church and life decisions, we can seek confirmation of God’s will through the lot. This is based on Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. After we pray for guidance, our church elders will draw a piece of paper out of a bowl or tube. The paper will read either “yes,” “no,” or “wait.”

Novel PASTimes: And that is what happened with your marriage?

Clarissa: Yes. John Kliest was the builder and surveyor for our town of Salem, but he always wanted to work at the Cherokee mission here at Springplace. Our church was founded and expanded from Germany to America with the focus on missions. But the elders said he must have a wife first.

Novel PASTimes: My, that seems unusual to those who are not familiar with Moravians. Did the elders pick you, or did John?

Clarissa: *blushing* John mentioned my name as a possibility. The elders agreed, and then the lot confirmed. You see, before the Revolutionary War, my father shared the Gospel with the Cherokees. He had told me what he knew of their language and customs.

Novel PASTimes: From what I understand, language is an important part of what you are to do here at the mission.

Clarissa: True. I am uniquely qualified because not only am I to help the other brothers and sisters here teach the children of the chiefs, but the church hopes I will be able to record their language. So far, there is no Cherokee alphabet. 

Novel PASTimes: Despite all that, did you have any say at all in marrying John?

Clarissa: Oh, women can refuse the lot, but to do so would be to refuse the will of God. Although, when my choir helper came to tell me of the proposal, I thought it was from John’s younger brother, Daniel.

Novel PASTimes: You had an understanding with Daniel?

Clarissa: *ducking her head* Please forget I mentioned it. We not to have understandings with members of the opposite sex.

Novel PASTimes: As you wish. Do you find that the lot was correct? You are a good match for John?

Clarissa: John and I are … very different. He is not the most expressive person, and he longs for adventure. In fact, I sometimes wonder how long he will be content here at Springplace. The Vann family is mixed-blood, wealthy, and has learned European ways.

Novel PASTimes: And you?

Clarissa: I loved my comfortable life as a teacher in the girls’ boarding school in Salem. I am not a good Moravian. I like beautiful things. Traveling. I must admit, I pictured traveling to Philadelphia, though, not to the frontier. 

Novel PASTimes: Why Philadelphia?

Clarissa: There is a Moravian painter there, a master, who was to have taught me and D—. *shakes her head* I am an artist, you see. I once thought that using my talent was part of God’s plan, but apparently, it was not. Instead, I am here. I must apply myself to my new purpose. And my marriage.

Novel PASTimes: What challenges do you see before you, Clarissa?

Clarissa: Besides Rosina?

Novel PASTimes: Who is Rosina?

Clarissa: *covers mouth* Did I say that aloud? A fellow missionary who came here with us. She is so very … perfect. I am afraid John would like me better if I were more like her. 

Novel PASTimes: I’m sure that isn’t true. You seem like a lovely woman.

Clarissa: Thank you. In all seriousness, we are not sure how the Cherokees will respond to our teaching. And to my assignment of setting down their language. Some are very progressive and embrace European ways, while others feel their society is being corrupted by outside influences. It was not very many years ago that their warriors scalped settlers in the Cherokee-American Wars.

Novel PASTimes: Well, Clarissa, we pray that God will bless your time here in Cherokee Territory and your new marriage as well. We look forward to a report of how it all turns out.

Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense set in her home state of Georgia. She’s authored over nine novels (including her contemporary story, Fall Flip, new with Candlelight Romance in September 2019!) and a number of novellas. As a managing editor at Smitten Romance, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, she also helps others reach their publishing dreams. A wife and mother of two daughters, Denise always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.

Interview with Jozefien van Rees from Melanie Dobson’s Memories of Glass

Welcome to Novel Pastimes, Jozefien.

Please call me Josie. The other name brings back some hard memories.

Thank you for sharing with us today, Josie. It must be very difficult for you to talk about the past.

I’m glad to be here, especially after all that’s happened. I’m—

We don’t want to give away too much of your story right now. Just a glimpse.

Life is just a glimpse, isn’t it? A few lines to remember the beginning, middle, and end.

We’re glad to learn more than just a few lines about your journey. Could you tell us where you grew up?

In a beautiful village called Giethoorn. Idyllic, really. Do you know where that is?

I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the Netherlands.

We called it Holland back then, but yes, it’s on the east side of the country. Near Kamp Westerbork and the German border. Klaas and my brother, Samuel, and I would play for hours along the canals. The houses in our village were built on little islands, separated by the waterways. We’d have to cross over on bridges or with our canoes or, my personal favorite, swimming. And the flowers—I forget some things, but I could never forget the gardens of Giethoorn.

Now you had a relationship with Klaas . . .

We were friends, nothing more.

But he seemed to think there was more.

I suppose, in hindsight. If only he hadn’t chosen to . . .

That’s part of the ending, isn’t it?

I only want readers to forgive him. They didn’t know him like I did.

Did he know you were helping the Dutch resistance during the war?

I’m not certain when he found out, but I don’t think he knew when I was delivering money. Only when Samuel and I started to help the children.

You lost a lot as a result of your choice to help those kids.

I only wish I could have rescued more. We had no idea at the beginning of the war where the Jewish children were taken when they left Amsterdam. When we found out, we had no choice except to help.

You were a hero.

I was terrified! We all were. None of us thought of ourselves as heroes, but God’s call was quite clear on our lives.

Do you have any regrets?

I don’t think about regrets anymore. Once Samuel and I and all the others stepped into the horror, we had to press right through it. I don’t want to forget what happened, but I want to embrace all that is good now, not focus on what I should have done so long ago.

I can understand that. How do you recommend that our readers remember the Holocaust?

The Dutch lost more than a hundred thousand of their Jewish citizens during World War II. It’s impossible to remember all the names, but I pray we can honor their collective legacy by remembering their stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of nineteen historical romance, suspense, and time-slip novels, including Hidden Among the StarsCatching the WindChateau of Secrets, and Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. Four of her novels have won Carol Awards, Catching the Wind won the Audie Award for inspirational fiction, and The Black Cloister won the Foreword magazine Religious Fiction Book of the Year.

Melanie is the former corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and owner of the publicity firm Dobson Media Group. When she isn’t writing, Melanie enjoys teaching both writing and public relations classes.

Melanie and her husband, Jon, have two daughters. After moving numerous times with work, the Dobson family has settled near Portland, Oregon, and they love to hike and camp in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and along the Pacific Coast. Melanie also enjoys exploring ghost towns and abandoned homes, helping care for kids in her community, and reading stories with her girls.

Visit Melanie online at www.melaniedobson.com.

Meet Mary Sullivan from Jane Kirkpatrick’s One More River to Cross

In 1844, the Stevens-Murphy company left Missouri hoping to be the first wagons into California. Mostly Irish Catholic, they sought religious freedom and education. All went well—until October when a heavy snowstorm forced the party to separate in four directions. Each group risked losing those they loved as they planned their escapes, waited for rescue . . . or even their own deaths.

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

Thank you!  The men and women in this story chose me to be the main speaker today. I’m Mary Sullivan, but you should know that there are nine other women who are a part of this amazing story based on real people and a real incident in 1844-45.

Tell us something about where you live.

So, where do I live?  I lived in Canada before heading west and I spent a grueling winter in the Sierra Nevadas. Now I live in California but getting there wasn’t easy! This story is set mostly, though, in the mountains. Now the pass where we wintered is known as Donner Pass. A couple of years later that disastrous party had a terrible time. We were there before them in an equally terrible winter near Lake Tahoe but we had a very different outcome.

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

Many in my family were named Mary or derivatives of Mary like Maolisa. One of my fellow travelers bore that name. It has an Irish connection which most of us on this Stephens-Murphy-Townsend wagon train have. Many, like Maolisa Murphy, came from Ireland to Canada then to Missouri and finally to those incredible mountains in the west. We all wanted a new life and an opportunity to worship freely in what was known as Alta California.

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

 Like most women of my time, I am a homemaker and had to make adjustments in being my mother’s helper after she and my father died of dysentery just days before we headed west from Iowa. My brother John and two little brothers and I were left orphans.  John, however, wanted me to be sure I behaved like a proper lady. But my real skills are not in knitting or cooking but in working with the oxen and in solving problems and using my physical strength like walking long miles in snowshoes to reach help.  Women can do those things and still be a lady. And I love to read and I helped another young woman — a wife — learn to read. Very gratifying. So is making sure my little brothers have night time stories of encouragement and faith

Who are the special people in your life? 

My brother John who is two years older than me and my two little brothers ages eight and ten. I’m a little shy but because of this journey I’d made new friends including Sarah and Ailbe and Ellen and Mrs. Patterson and…and then I also met Peter. That’s a whole new story!

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

I want to make my mother proud even though she isn’t on this earth anymore. And I want to do that by being true to myself, by speaking up and offering ideas even when others might say a woman should be silent. I also want to keep my brothers and the other children who are waiting for rescue to trust that they are not alone. I want to keep their spirits up.

What are you most afraid of? 

That we will die here in these mountains before I have a chance to live.

Do you have a cherished possession? 

The Aron wool sweater that Sarah showed me how to knit. I took apart the sweater my mother made for me to learn how to do this “womanly” thing, to make my mother pleased that I did learn a woman’s art.

What do you expect the future will hold for you? 

I may not be able to wait for rescue but rather will start out to bring a rescue team to us. The risk is great but I will do what I must for my brothers and my friends.

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

Oh my goodness!  I’ve learned that friendships are the fuel that keep us warm in time of trials. I’ve discovered that leadership involves listening more than talking. I’ve witnessed the power of faith in struggle and how helping others in a challenging time is a way to help oneself. I’ve also come to accept that I can be different from other women — liking the outdoors more than cooking and sewing, being physically strong and still be a lady. I also realize that tending and befriending is a better response to stress than fight or flight!

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

I was in the background when this story began. Ellen Murphy, a real beauty, was important in this story of One More River to Cross  but she chose a different route out of this winter deluge. Then Maolisa was pretty important because she didn’t realize that she was about to deliver a baby. Now there’s a story! She thought she had another two months! Then Sarah Montgomery’s story took front stage as she came to terms with being abandoned by her husband who stayed behind to guard his weapons. At one point, all the women had moments of abandonment. I came to love each of these women (and a couple more I haven’t even told you about). When we shared things like where our feet had taken us or how we prepared a memorable meal, all ways to help us deal with starvation and the cold and the eight feet of snow, and our fears, I realized how tragedy had brought me into a family of women whom I didn’t know I needed. Now, when things get difficult I pray and I reach out to friends who help to support and sustain me until I can hear God calling me to a new direction. 

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

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of more than 30 books, including Everything She Didn’t SayAll She Left BehindA Light in the Wilderness,The Memory WeaverThis Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award. Jane lives in Central Oregonwith her husband, Jerry. Learn more at www.jkbooks.com.

Talking with Harriet Sutton from Don’t Put the Boats Away by Ames Sheldon

Novel PASTimes: Thank you for agreeing to be here, Harriet.

Harriet: You know, I’m not really comfortable talking about myself.

Novel PASTimes: Well, we’ll make this quick.

Harriet: Good.

Novel PASTimes: What impression do people get when they first meet you?

Harriet: I come off as very serious and intense but I have to be—as a woman aiming to become a professional chemist in the late 1940s, I must prove I’m just as capable as the men around me, and actually I need to work harder and be even more capable than the men. I just hope I’m smart enough to succeed. 

Novel PASTimes: What makes you angry?

Harriet: Being condescended to by male professors and bosses and colleagues infuriates me.

Novel PASTimes: What person do you most admire?

Harriet: I admire my mother for her bravery driving an ambulance in France during the Great War and then nursing soldiers at an Army hospital during the Second World War.

Novel PASTimes: What do you want?

Harriet: I want a career creating new antibiotics that save people’s lives. 

Novel PASTimes: How would you describe your relationship with your father? 

Harriet: My father is very important to me. I have spent my whole life trying to please my father George, who raised me, even though he isn’t my biological father. George is very demanding and critical. Ever since my brother Eddie died in WWII, I have been trying to fill Eddie’s shoes for my father since our younger brother Nat has no interest in taking over the family business.

Novel PASTimes: What’s the worst thing George could do to you?

Harriet: He could fire me for not being good enough at my job.

Novel PASTimes: What’s the worst thing you could do to your father?

Harriet: Eventually I will probably have to fire him once Nat and I agree that he is becoming too forgetful and credulous to continue in his role as president.

Novel PASTimes: Why would he deserve it?

Harriet: Because he did the same thing to me, he essentially fired me, though I know he wasn’t acting out of malice, and neither was I.

Novel PASTimes: What do people like best about you?

Harriet: I’m direct and honest, unselfish, practical, hard-working. I do what I say I’ll do. People can count on me to get the job done—whatever it is.

Novel PASTimes: What do you look like? What is your physical appearance? 

Harriet: Why do you ask me this question? You wouldn’t ask a man you were interviewing what they look like! It doesn’t matter what I look like!! 

Novel PASTimes: What about your personal life? Do you have a boyfriend?

Harriet: I only recently found a boyfriend for the first time and I’m 26 years old. He has been pressuring me to get married but I hope he can wait because I want to go to graduate school and to see what I can accomplish on my own before I get married.

Novel PASTimes: What’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? 

Harriet: Losing my brother Eddie was the worst.

Novel PASTimes: When are you happy?  

Harriet: I’m happiest when all the members of my family are together at our summerhouse playing games and making music. 

Novel PASTimes: What makes you sad?

Harriet:People who are ill, depressed, or hopeless.

Novel PASTimesWhat are your hopes and dreams?

Harriet: I hope to do my bit to make this world a better place.

Thanks for joining us today, Harriet!

Ames Sheldon is an award-winning historical novelist who loves delving into the history of American women during the 20thcentury. She enjoys creating characters who are inspiring women. Her first novel Eleanor’s Wars won the 2016 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Best New Voice: Fiction.

Ames Sheldon worked as a reporter for two small-town newspapers in Minnesota before becoming lead author and editor of Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States, which ignited her passion for studying and writing about the history of women in America. After that, Sheldon ventured into the world of creative nonfiction, writing grant proposals and raising funds for the Sierra Club in San Francisco, the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, the Minneapolis Public Library, and a variety of other nonprofits. She lives with her husband in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

See her website www.amessheldon.com

facebook.com/amessheldonauthor

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.