Sally Carpenter Interviews Noelle McNabb of the Psychedelic Spy Mystery Series

Welcome to Novel PASTimes. We’re glad you dropped by. What’s special about your name?

Hi, I’m Noelle McNabb, 25 years old. My parents named me Noelle—the feminine version of Noel—because I was born on Christmas Day. Rather appropriate, because my town is Christmas-crazy.

What’s unique about where you live?

I reside on Ornament Lane in the small rural town of Yuletide, in the southwest corner of Indiana. The biggest industry in town, besides the electronics plant, is the Christmas Cozy Family Fun theme park, which draws visitors from across the country. Our town mayor plays Santa Claus because he looks the part, with his white beard and chubby belly.

The school kids work at the park as well, loading the rides and singing in the shows. The park has rides, carnival games, a petting zoo, music, fun house and naturally, tykes can talk with Santa all year round. Artists and craftsmen sell their wares. Of course, all of the merchandise is Christmas-related.

What’s special about the time you live in?

It’s 1967, and the times, they are a changin’. I love rock music, new movies, pop art, hair styles, the big shopping mall and the groovy miniskirts. But my parents are a drag, ‘cause they’re stuck in the 1950s. Mom wants me to get married and raise kids like she did. Maybe someday, but not now—I have big career plans. My parents and I have what they call the “generation gap.” My parents also frown when I hang out with the hippies, Rambler and Moonbaby, who are pretty far out once you look past the tie-dye and their counterculture lifestyle.

But beneath our quiet, small-town life, it’s a volatile era: war protests, draft dodgers, women’s liberation, space race, Cold War and the civil rights movement.

I heard that you have an avocation along with your regular job

I work as an actress at the theme park, which means I play the Winter Witch—complete with long black robe and green makeup—in a silly musical revue. During the school year when the park is only open weekends, I supplement my income with a few weekday shifts at the Groovy Vinyl record shop.

I have another job, if you can call it that, but I can’t talk about it because it’s a secret. I can’t even tell my family and friends, which drives me crazy because I share everything with mom. All right, I’ll tell if you promise not to spread it around: I do occasional undercover work with a super-secret spy agency. Not even the CIA knows about SIAMESE (Special Intelligence Apparatus for Midwest Enemy Surveillance and Espionage). They have a fantastic underground headquarters, but don’t ask me where it is because whenever I go there, I’m driven in a car with tinted windows.

Who are the people you work with at SIAMESE?

Dash Hanover is the senior control operative in charge of everything. He knows his stuff, but he’s demanding and unyielding. I was shocked to discover he and I are related, although I’m not supposed to know that. His mother is an aunt I’ve never met and never knew existed. I want to find her, but Dash doesn’t—he feels my aunt’s safety would be compromised if the enemies of SIAMESE find her.

My spy partner is Destiny King, a fab gear black operative. She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Chicago. She’s had some hard knocks, but she’s super to work with. I’m still getting to know her, as she refuses to open up and share her feelings.

Can you tell us about your missions?

Sorry, that’s classified information. All I can say is my first mission concerned missing microdots and the second was tracking down an enemy spy. I can say no more.

I’ve heard you’ve also solved a couple of murders

That’s right. My friends at SIAMESE helped as well, but I was the one who put the clues together. Yuletide is a sleepy town, and we usually don’t get crimes like murder, so the (overweight and lazy) police chief was out of his league and needed all the help he could get. 

Did anyone aid you in your crime solving?

Trevor Spellman is a reporter with the Yuletide Herald, the local newspaper. He’s great at finding information and just being there for support. We’ve known each other since high school, but we’re just good friends.

Since you’re unmarried and childless, do you have any siblings? Pets?

Yeah, a brother and a sister. They’re twins. They’re much younger than I am (they were an unexpected “oops!”). I babysit them when mom and dad go out, which can be a bummer when I’m needed on a spy mission. Dolly and Donny are 8 years old, so I can’t pal around with them, and they can be bratty.

I have a big fat black cat, Ceebee, which is short for car burglar. He likes to steal things and hide them under my sofa. I have to clean out his “treasures” periodically. I have a little cottage in the country, and Ceebee is good at keeping the mice cleaned out of the woods.

Ceebee helped out on my second mission. SIAMESE fitted him with an ear implant and a microphone in a collar. He slipped up on some spies, and Destiny and I could hear the conversation transmitted through the collar from a safe distance away.

What’s the religious life like in your town?

People go to church. It’s what we do, along with going to work or to school. You’d have to go to Riverbend, the big town a few miles away, to find a synagogue. My family and I attend Bethlehem Community Church, the largest Protestant church in town. Holy Nativity is the Catholic parish, and they hold folk Masses.

On Sunday morning I go to Sunday School and the service along with my friends. On Wednesday nights, the church hosts a potluck dinner followed by different activities. The kids have crafts and games. The teens sing the new “Jesus music” and rap. My parents attend the couples class, and I go to the social issues discussion. 

My faith sometimes clashes with my spy work. I refuse to carry a gun. I won’t kill. It’s wrong. My spy partner, however, had killed and feels no remorse. She said it was either the other guy’s life or hers.

Spies also lie a lot. I have trouble with that, as I was raised to always speak the truth. Destiny has the moral line that “the means justify the end.” I’m not comfortable with that if it conflicts with my ethics.

What are your dreams for the future?

I want to move to Hollywood and star in movies or TV, although working with SIAMESE has given me plenty of real-life drama. Do I want to work in spy craft full time? I couldn’t handle the endless danger, secrecy and deception. But sometimes, performing in a TV sitcom seems trivial compared to the life and death stakes in spy work. I can make a difference in the world whenever I stop evil men and bring murderers to justice.

Thanks for letting us get to know you better, Noelle. Good luck with your future missions!


Sally Carpenter writes two clean read, cozy mystery series: Sandy Fairfax (five books) and the Psychedelic Spy (two books). She also pens the Roots of Faith column for a community newspaper. Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was a finalist for the 2012 Eureka! Award for best first mystery novel. She also has short stories published in three anthologies. She holds a master’s degree in theater and a Master of Divinity. She’s previously worked as an actress, movie studio tour guide and college composition instructor. Sally grew up in Indiana but now lives in California. Her website is sandyfairfaxauthor.com.  

A Chat with Olive Alexander from Come Down Somewhere by Jennifer L. Wright

Welcome to NovelPASTimes! Today we’re joined by Miss Olive Alexander of Alamogordo, New Mexico—

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Olive: I’m not from Alamogordo.

I’m sorry?

Olive: I’m not from Alamogordo. I’m living there with my grandma—for now—but I’m not from there. I’m from my family’s ranch on the Jornada, near the Chupadera Mesa.

I beg your pardon. Sorry about that.

Olive: It’s alright.

Well, how about we start with you telling us a little about yourself?

Olive: Okay. Well, I’m fifteen years old. Lived in New Mexico all my life on the ranch built by my grandfather after he emigrated from Russia. My dad died a few years ago, so my uncle Hershel—his brother—moved in to help out. Not that I’d call what he does “help.” He mainly drinks and sulks, complaining about how the world is going to pot. My mom and I ignore him for the most part, and so did my brother, Avery. But now . . . I don’t know . . . Avery follows him around like some kind of puppy.

Why do you think that is?

Olive: I don’t know. Maybe it’s got something to do with the war? Avery tried to enlist but couldn’t on account of color blindness. I think that put a chip on his shoulder. Made him feel like less of a man somehow or like he didn’t matter. Maybe joining in on Hershel’s blustering and ranting makes Avery feel important again.

You say “the war” like it puts a bad taste in your mouth. Why is that?

Olive: Now look, I’m not anti-war. I think Hitler’s evil, and there weren’t no excuse for what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor. I’m behind our troops 110 percent. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m just . . . well, I guess frustrated is the right word. Everyone keeps telling us that we need to do our part for the war effort but what is my part? Seems like nobody nowhere had need of me. Not even here at home.

What do you mean?

Olive: You said it yourself right there at the beginning of the interview. Sayin’ I was from Alamogordo and all. Why did you believe I was from Alamogordo?

Because that’s what your information sheet said. Your address was listed as a house on Delaware Avenue, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Olive: Exactly. I’m not from Alamogordo but I’m living there now because my mom shipped me off. Wouldn’t let me live on the ranch anymore, even though Avery’s leaving and they need the help. They don’t need my help anymore. 

What do you mean she wouldn’t let you live on the ranch anymore?

Olive: Well, on accounts of the Army moving in.

The Army?

Olive: Yeah, the Army. They enacted something called “eminent domain,” which gave them the right to take over our ranch for the war effort. There’s some sort of project they’re working on nearby, and they need the space to house construction workers. It’s top secret. Hush-hush. 

The Army is working on a top secret military project here? In the middle of nowhere?

Olive: Why you gotta say it like that? Is there something wrong with southern New Mexico?

Not at all. It’s just so . . . isolated. And desolate.

Olive: I know. I like it that way. But I sure don’t understand why the Army picked this place out of the entire United States to do . . . well, whatever it is they’re doing. Especially since it means I’ve been kicked out of my home. And with it being so top secret, no one can even really tell me why.

Well, can’t you just view this as your part of the war effort? Everyone is sacrificing, right? This is just your particular brand of sacrificing.

Olive: I don’t mind sacrificing for the war effort. We’ve been rationing and going without plenty of things, just like everyone else. What’s hard about sacrificing my home is that, out of my entire family, I’m the only one doing it. Avery’s leaving—finally got accepted into the Army after all—but both Ma and Uncle Hershel get to stay on the ranch. I’m the only one who has to leave. Why is that?

I . . . I don’t know.

Olive: Exactly.

Well, even if it’s not your preferred location, surely there must be something good about living in Alamogordo. Something that perhaps eases your burden a little bit?

Olive: Well, my grandma’s here. Out on the ranch, I don’t get to see her much, so it’s nice to be able to get to know her a little better, even with all her silly notions about God and church and all. And I like the soda fountains downtown. Can’t get that out in the country. But the best thing?

Go on.

Olive: *smiles sheepishly* I don’t want to talk about it.

You’re smiling though. It must be something really good if you’re smiling. It’s the first one I’ve seen all day.

Olive: Oh, it is good. A tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed kind of good. But I still don’t want to talk about it.

*Grins* Fair enough. Well, thank you for talking to me, Olive. I wish you the best of luck in Alamogordo and pray this war ends quickly so you can get back home as soon as possible.

Olive: You sound like my grandma. You can keep your prayers, but I thank you all the same.


Jennifer L. Wright has been writing since middle school, eventually earning a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University. However, it took only a few short months of covering the local news to realize that writing fiction is much better for the soul and definitely way more fun. A born and bred Hoosier, she was plucked from the Heartland after being swept off her feet by an Air Force pilot and has spent the past decade traveling the world and, every few years, attempting to make old curtains fit in the windows of a new home.

She currently resides in New Mexico with her husband, two children, one grumpy old dachshund, and her newest obsession—a guinea pig named Peanut Butter Cup.

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Introducing Mollie Sheehan Ronan from Jane Kirkpatrick’s Beneath the Bending Skies

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

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us more about your talents and what you love to do? 

Thank you for the invitation to tell you about myself, Mollie Sheehan Ronan. I’m a shy person though some would dispute that because I do love to recite moving pieces like Chief Black Hawk’s 1832 surrender speech or a Shakespeare sonnet. When a piano is around, I can play it – and the organ too – and I love to sing. But recitation is my favorite. I’d do that after supper at our establishment that my step-mother ran while my dear father worked as a freighter in the Montana mines and was sometimes gone for a year at a time. I suppose I enjoyed the praise and the compliments about my very long auburn hair, so long I could sit on it. Best was getting to see stage performances that my father would take me to. Such plays were a great pastime in the mining camps when winter snows kept miners from panning or sluicing for gold. I loved reading fairy tales from Ireland especially and dreamed of falling in love with my own prince charming. And I did!  

You mentioned that you met your prince charming. What happened?

Sadly, my father didn’t approve even though my fiancé had been my father’s best friend! My father was so adamant that we break off our engagement, that he moved our entire family (step-mother, sister Kate and brother Jimmy) out of Montana to San Juan Capistrano in California. Quite a different landscape, I can tell you. Beautiful, bougainvillea blooming, eternal summer, but I did miss the mountains. I thought my life with Peter would be no more. I considered joining the convent in Los Angeles but one of the Sisters counseled me that service to God was not to be an escape from the world but a way to enter more deeply into service to all God’s children. Well, God had other things in store and through a series of twists and turns, Peter and I found each other again. I think you’ll like that story, but I won’t go into it here. My life then did become a kind of fairy tale, living happily ever after with my husband who was involved in the newspaper industry, mining, politics and, of course, he was very active with our growing family.

You mentioned that “Family is everything” to you. But going against your father’s will led to some conflicts within your own family. 

Family is indeed everything to me and I hated hurting my father, who still didn’t approve of my husband despite his being a fine provider and loving husband and father, one who encouraged rather than controlled his children. He felt Peter being 10 years older than me was too old but I don’t think my father would ever have approved of anyone who might fall in love with his “little girl.”

How did your language skills and your desire to make everyone feel welcome aid you in being the wife of the Indian Agent among the Flathead People? 

Peter and I had some disappointments but then when we were the most discouraged, a new door opened and I entered a world of the Flathead People, — the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend D’Oreille tribes in Montana. We lived among them for the next seventeen years. Every day I learned that the way I saw the world was not the only way to see it. My best friend after Peter is a Salish woman, Shows No Anger. How I love her! I learned so much from her about the land and family and that honoring one’s father meant listening to my heart and focusing on my own family. I do love words and kept a journal and wrote my memoir. One word I especially love is hearth. It comes from the second century and can be translated as focus.The hearth was the center of the home. It’s where people were fed, stories told, comfort offered. It was where the heat was. The farther one moves from the heat, the more easily one can lose focus. I focused on the hearth of my family and always had an open door to strangers too. Imagine a table that could seat sixteen. My husband sat across from me in the middle, never at the ends. We always wanted to keep the focus on our guests and family to be sure they were well fed. And thus, we were well fed too, with family, friends and faith. 

I hope you like my story of living Beneath the Bending Skies.  


About the Book:

Bestselling and award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick has brought
the West to life in her inspiring novels based upon true events. Each
tale looks at the hidden lives of women whose universal struggles,
bravery, indominable spirit, and ingenuity helped form the American
West. In Beneath the Bending Skies, Kirkpatrick uses her signature style
to delve into the life of Mollie Sheehan, who had to forgo her father’s
blessing in order to seek her happily ever after. Her life-altering
decision became the catalyst for her movement to aid the Nez Perce
tribe during the mid-1800s.


Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-
winning author of 40 books, including The Healing of Natalie Curtis,

Something Worth Doing, One More River to Cross, Everything She Didn’t Say,
All Together in One Place, A Light in the Wilderness, The Memory Weaver,
This 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 Gold Medallion Award.
Jane divides her time between Central Oregon and California with her
husband, Jerry, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Caesar. Learn more
at www.jkbooks.com.

Meet Ittai the Gittite from Barbara M. Britton’s Defending David: Ittai’s Journey

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Ittai, why are you traveling so fast, I can barely keep up?

We have no time to waste on our trek to Jerusalem. My warriors and I must seek King David and receive a grant of exile in Israel. We cannot return to Philistia, or King Achish will end our lives. We would not bow down to his idols.

You know that they only serve one God in Israel, right?

The One True God. I know of Him because of King David’s teachings. I was a boy when King David found refuge in Ziklag. I heard hhttps://amzn.to/3AkE8GKim speak about his God. That is why I wouldn’t bow down to the King of Philistia or an idol. I was ready to face death, but God spared the lives of me and my men. It would have been an epic battle had the king of Philistia tried to take our lives. Exile was the easiest option.

Life should be easier in Israel for you?

Hah! I saw Prince Absalom in his chariot as I was traveling to Jerusalem. He set my skin to prickling. Why does a son of David need to honor a vow in Hebron when Jerusalem is a fine city with a tabernacle and priests? I think the prince has other things on his mind besides a vow.

I did not like the way the prince looked at Rimona. She is an orphaned young woman, and the prince has a wife. I feel something is brewing.

Brewing, like a stew of camel meat and squash?

No, like a rebellion. King David is not a brash, virile warrior anymore. He has aged as have I. But in my thirties, I am still able to fight a battle. The king, not as much. Time has slowed his steps. The king is sixty years old, maybe older. Can he unsheathe a sword in seconds? I think not. I will lay down my life for David. He took pity on me as a boy and gave me food. My mother and I would have perished without David’s generosity.

It sounds like you are ready to fight for King David?

The six-hundred warriors that I have with me will follow me into battle for David. If Absalom is seeking his father’s throne, then he will not take it by foul means. The Lord has given us safe passage through Israel, and he watches over us even now. Excuse me. I must go straightaway to the king.

Where can you find Ittai the Gittite in Scripture?

His arrival and allegiance to David can be found in II Samuel 15:15-22

Ittai is placed over one-third of the Israelite army. This is a BIG deal. II Samuel 18:2.

The story covers II Samuel, chapters 15-19:8.


“Defending David” book blurb:

When a quiet journey to Jerusalem turns tragic, newly orphaned Rimona must flee a kinsman set on selling her as a slave. Racing into the rocky hills outside of Hebron, Rimona is rescued by a Philistine commander journeying to Jerusalem with six-hundred warriors.

Exiled commander, Ittai the Gittite, is seeking refuge in the City of David. Protecting a frantic Hebrew woman is not in his leadership plan. Although, having a nobleman’s niece in his caravan might prove useful for finding shelter in a foreign land.

Rimona and Ittai arrive in Jerusalem on the eve of a rebellion. In the chaos of an heir’s betrayal, will they be separated forever, or can they defend King David and help the aging monarch control his rebellious son?


Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast, Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She writes Christian Fiction from Bible Times to present day USA. Her Tribes of Israel series brings little-known Bible characters to light. Her novel “Christmas at Whispering Creek,” is a compelling, yet fun story, shining a light on breast cancer. Barbara has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. You can find out more about Barbara and her books on her website www.barbarambritton.com.

You can find “Defending David” wherever books are sold. Libraries can order the book, too.

Amazon and B&N Links.

Meet Verna from Yesterday’s Gone by Cindy & Erin Woodsmall

For this character interview, you’ll hear from Verna Bontrager Ebersol, a minor character in Yesterday’s Gone with an important role in the story. She is the great-aunt to main characters Eliza and Ruth. Verna left the Amish in the 1950s after a devastating turn of events that caused serious issues in her marriage. Ruth hadn’t met her great-aunt until recently, but she hopes to write down Verna’s oral history. 

I steady my hands as I walk from the stove to my kitchen table and set a cup of hot tea in front of my great-niece. “You want to interview me?” Butterflies flutter in my chest, a clear reminder how comfortable I am staying in the shadows, even though I run the well-known Phoebe’s House. 

Ruth nods while twirling an ink pen in her fingers. Oh, how I love when she comes for a visit. But an interview? Despite that I’m in my mid-eighties and she’s in her early twenties, we have a lot in common, and I find that a little scary. Ruth interviews Amish folks for her local Amish paper, but she could get in a lot of trouble if someone from her community found out about her coming to see me. Her rebellious streak is part of what we have in common. Still, since she learned of my existence a year ago, she’s hired a driver from time to time and traveled the three hours to come to my neck of the woods. 

“Verna, written words hold the power to linger, long after we’re gone.” 

I run my fingers over the edge of the hand-sewn cushion I’m sitting on as sunlight dances on the small table. I’ve made improvements to the kitchen during my years of living here, but it’s still simple. Part of me will always be Amish, even though I left so long ago. I’ll always be most comfortable with simple, even though I use colorful decorations now.

I sit in a chair across from her and take a sip of my tea. “Ruth . . . honey. Don’t get yourself in trouble on my account over some fervent desire to tell my side of the story.”  

“Ach, I’m so sorry. It’s not that kind of an interview. I forget sometimes you don’t know me like my family and community does.” 

Relief eases across my achy shoulders, and I take another sip of my tea. “What kind of interview it is?” 

“For years, I’ve interviewed Amish, mostly family, and I write down their oral history as a way to archive important stories for our family. I mean, I could do an interview for the local Amish paper if—” 

“No, dear. I’d rather not do that. I prefer to keep my life’s story a quiet one, at least until I pass away. Then you can do as you wish.” 

I study Ruth. Such a smart, pretty young woman. She and her sister Eliza are Amish from deep within their core beliefs. Oh, they stand their ground and push back as needed, but they believe in the Amish way. As a young woman, I was much the same until I dabbled in what some call an answer to prayer and others call a curse. Now . . . and for what seems like a lifetime . . . I’m not Amish anymore, but if the interview were posted in a newspaper, even a small Amish one, it could stir a lot of questions and bring fresh pain to people I love—Amish and Englisch. 

“What is your first question, Ruth?” 

“In your own words, what is Phoebe’s House? How did you come up with its name?” 

I chuckle. “I started Phoebe’s House over thirty years ago. It’s a welcoming place for people who are down on their luck. They can stay for weeks—longer if need be—at no charge. It’s a place to wash their clothes, get haircuts, and find leads on jobs. Years ago, as a young Amish woman, I found myself in need of such a place and couldn’t find one. But even though I’d been gone from the Amish a long time by then, I used a name no one would recognize. I came up with the name Phoebe. My initials are VB for Verna Bontrager, and that sounded like Phoebe to me.”  

Ruth’s pen flits over the paper. “Let’s talk about something more personal to you. When was the first time you fell in love?”

I eye her. She blinks, looking innocent. Her question makes me feel nostalgic and grateful, although love seems to give as much pain as it does joy. 

“Omar Ebersol. Omar and I were from two families in Calico Creek in the Appalachian Mountains where we grew up. You have to remember that back in my day, in the 1940s and 50s, some people in the Appalachians were very superstitious. There was a spoken and unspoken rule in Calico Creek: No one from the Ebersol and Bontrager families were to date, certainly never, ever to marry. Well, some with those who had those surnames could marry. The taboo was very specific: Any Ebersols or Bontragers who were direct descendants from the original families who crossed the ocean on the same ship and settled in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1740s . . . those were forbidden to marry.”

“Since I live in Calico Creek, I know some still believe strongly in that curse. For those who will read this journal later, can you elaborate on what curse means?”

“Hoo, boy. I’ve mulled that over a lot during my many years of life. I think when people hear the word curse, they often think of evil, scary things. But the Word makes it clearer. It means that a person or family isn’t under the full blessings of God. Looked at that way, I think a curse seems like a very common occurrence for mankind. Isn’t that what the Bible is all about—how to be under His blessings?” Was her great-niece trying to understand the curse as it was told to her coming down through the generations—the one Ruth had been told she and her sister Eliza were under? Verna had no desire to speak of that out loud. 

“The community, your family, everyone wanted you and Omar to stay away from each other. What drew you to him despite what everyone warned?”

“His smile. His humor.” I think of my goofy husband, now bald as a cue ball. He still brings me flowers from the farmer’s market in town, hiding them behind his back until he gets through the door. He brings roses when he can get them, sunflowers, and daisies. After so much separation from him in life, I take no days with him for granted, not after all we went through to get back together. 

“Ruth, how about your sister? She married a forbidden Ebersol too. What drew Eliza to Jesse?”

Ruth laughs. “I’m the one interviewing you! And Eliza’d be embarrassed. But, off the record, she was drawn to his imagination. Jesse and Eliza would sit by the river and dream of building their future cabin. His imagination is what led him to start his business—what brought money to our poor community and gave people jobs when they would’ve been working at that awful feed mill factory.”

I nod. That factory had ruined so many people’s health and lives.

“Back to you, Verna.” She winks. “Why did you leave the Amish?”

“Well, that answer is very sad. Omar and I had messed up everything, including our marriage. I divorced that wonderful, funny man.” It was simple enough, but I couldn’t allow it to be written anywhere. “While aiming to make things better, Omar and I used the quilt that had crossed the ocean in the 1700s to change time, and in using it, we broke our relationship apart, along with the rest of our lives. We both had so many regrets, and I’d hoped that no one else in my family would use the quilt, but I was wrong on that front. Eliza . . .”

“I can see that you’re getting tired. One last question: What are your hopes for the future?”

“Well, in my eyes, the future is now. Every day brings beauty, and I’m thankful for every single moment, even the trying ones. I have my Omar in my life again. We picked up the pieces of our brokenness and began anew. My hope would be that young people like you and Andrew and Jesse and Eliza can learn to live in the day and appreciate the moment and give back to others wherever you can.” 

Thoughts of Eliza cling to me. Young people easily think the grass is greener, and they rip apart everything that matters to get to it, only to then realize the grass on the other side isn’t even green. I know that all too well. All too well.   

Ruth reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. “Denki, Verna.” 

My eyes well with tears over things I can’t voice. “God be with you and your sister, Ruth.” 


CINDY WOODSMALL is a New York Times and CBA bestselling author of twenty-five works of fiction and one nonfiction book. Coverage of Cindy’s writing has been featured on ABC’s Nightline and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. She lives in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains with her husband, just a short distance from two of her three sons and her six grandchildren.
ERIN WOODSMALL is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of four. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. More recently she and Cindy have coauthored five books, one of which was a winner of the prestigious Christy Award.

Meet Rosaleen Bonnard from Roll Back the Clouds by Terri Vanguard

Our guest today is Rosaleen Bonnard, a survivor of the tragic sinking of the Lusitania last May. She was traveling with her husband, Geoff, who was badly injured in the disaster. Tell us, Mrs. Bonnard, how is he doing?

He is so much better, thank you. Every day we walk, sometimes for as long as an hour. We’re frequently interrupted though. Since Geoff collaborated with our neighbor Peter Bloch, a reporter for the Sentinel, he’s well recognized and folks seem to think that having touched the war, he’s now an expert on the fighting in Europe and they’re always asking for his insights.

How did you meet your husband?

We were classmates at school and he invited me to attend an ice cream social at church. When I told my mother he’d asked, she quizzed me about him. I told her it was just ice cream, and she said, “Yes, and your father and I met at a church ice cream social.” After that night, I knew I would marry him.

The Cunard Line upgraded you from second class to first, is that right? [Rosaleen nods.] What was that like for you?

At first, I was thrilled. We had a beautiful stateroom with a window. Oh, excuse me, a porthole. That was special. And we had access to the Saloon Writing Room and Library and the Saloon Lounge and Music Room. They were exquisite. The two-tiered first-class dining room was a gorgeous setting to eat in, but I must admit, I would have been more at ease in second class. I didn’t feel comfortable with the first-class passengers. Even the food was unfamiliar. I had two new dresses for the journey, all so pretty, but I definitely didn’t have the elegant wardrobe possessed by the other first-class ladies.

Did you go shopping specifically for your voyage?

Oh, yes. My oldest and youngest sisters went shopping with me at Gimbels. I found two beautiful gowns. My grandmother gave me $10, and that made it possible to buy both fancy dresses. Plus a traveling outfit, a couple of new skirts and blouses, shoes, hats. Had I known we’d be in first class, goodness, I don’t know what I would have done. The ladies in first class wear a different gown to dinner every night. I couldn’t have afforded so many gowns. And now my lovely new wardrobe is on the bottom of the ocean.

Did you note much panic after the ship was torpedoed?

At first, everyone was stunned. After hearing all week about the likelihood of being attacked, when it actually happened, it was hard to believe. The sudden listing to starboard was alarming. It made walking difficult, especially on the stairs. When the power failed and people were trapped in the fancy grillwork elevator, they started screaming. We knew they’d drown. The scene at the lifeboats was so chaotic, watching some spill out their passengers or drop down on other lifeboats. It was scary. The ship sank in eighteen minutes, less time than it takes to bake a cake. So many people were still aboard when it sank. I suspect they thought they’d have more time, or that help would come from Ireland. We could see Ireland; it was that close.

What was it like in the lifeboat?

Numbing. We sat on hard wooden benches. The emergency rations were inadequate and too old. We dearly wanted more water, fresh water. We pulled in as many survivors from the sea as possible, and they were so cold. This happened in May, you know. Here daffodils and tulips are blooming; the days are warming. But in Milwaukee, of course, it’s cooler by the lake. There, we were out on the ocean. It was cold. Many people, if they hadn’t drowned, died from hypothermia. We saw them lose their grip on whatever they clung to and slip under the water. And all this time, I didn’t know what had happened to Geoff.

You didn’t make it to England, but Ireland. With an Irish mother, wasn’t that a treat?

Definitely. Mum’s family lived not far from Queenstown. I traveled by train to meet them. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. I couldn’t keep all the names straight. I thought about Mum the whole time, how she would love to be there. Two cousins took me to see the Cliffs of Moher. And then, Granda decided he and Nana would come visit after the war. I couldn’t wait to tell Mum.

As 1916 dawns, what are you looking forward to?

The war continues in what seems like a stalemate. We hope it doesn’t pull in the United States. Geoff and I both have brothers who would be affected. In our own home, we’re busy decorating a nursery.

Congratulations! And thank you for joining us today.


Terri Wangard grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the Lombardi Glory Years. Her first Girl Scout badge was the Writer. These days she is writing historical fiction, and won the 2013 historical First Impressions, as well as being a 2012 Genesis finalist. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in library science, she lives in Wisconsin. For twenty years, she globe-trotted during annual vacations to four continents. Her day job is with Classic Boating Magazine, a family business since 1984.

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.