A Chat with Erik and Meg from Cheryl Mahoney’s Nocturne (The Guardian of the Opera, Book One)

Welcome to Novel PASTimes. Please tell us a little about yourselves as an introduction.

Meg: I’m so happy to be here talking with you!  My name’s Meg Giry, and I live in Paris with my mother.  We came to Paris six years ago when I was twelve. The city was confusing at first, but I love it now.  I’m a dancer in the corps de ballet at the Opera Garnier.

Erik: I don’t like talking to strangers.  Or anyone, actually.  So I’m not that happy about being here, but…I don’t know, sometimes I think maybe I need people.  Mostly, though, I’m certain they’re not going to be friendly to a man in a mask.  This may be why I live alone under an opera house and make people believe I’m a phantom.  Maybe that’s why.  I’m admitting nothing.

I’m hearing a connection with the opera house.  How do you two know each other?

Meg: We don’t, actually—not yet, at least, but I keep hoping we will.  We met once by chance when I first arrived at the Opera Garnier, and he was kinder than all the spooky stories about the Phantom of the Opera claimed.  I haven’t believed those stories ever since, and I’ve been looking out for a chance to bump into him again.

Erik: I don’t exactly remember meeting, but if she says so, I guess it’s true.  Mostly I just know she’s the daughter of my boxkeeper, Madame Giry.

Meg: Oh, we have a mutual friend too!  Christine Daaé is my closest friend, and lately she’s claimed an Angel of Music is teaching her to sing.  I’m fairly sure I know who’s behind that.

Erik: I’m still admitting nothing.

You both seem to be involved with the arts.  Meg, you mentioned the ballet, and that your friend is a singer. Erik, are you a singer?

Erik: I sing, yes.  Not for anyone to hear but yes, I can sing.  I identify more as a composer, possibly the greatest there’s ever been.

You think well of yourself.

Erik: I really don’t.

So what other interests do you each have?

Meg: I love the ballet, but it’s not my only focus in life, like many of the women I dance with.  I’m so interested in everything else going on at the Opera Garnier – the singing, the productions, and everything happening in the lives of the people there.  I also like exploring Paris, walking by the Seine or attending Easter mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.  I’d love to be able to travel and visit more of the world, but that’s not easy to do in the 1880s!

Erik: I never leave the Opera.  Almost never.  Sometimes I have to buy food, but then I go out in the twilight when there are plenty of shadows.  Haunting the opera house keeps me very busy anyway: spreading frightening stories, giving advice on the productions, dripping fake blood down the walls.  I spend much of my time composing music too. Sometimes I enjoy a good book; two of my favorites are The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein. It’s possible I identify too closely with certain characters in those books.

Are there things you’d like to change in your lives?

Erik: Most things.  But I doubt very much that’s possible.  I have my music and my opera house and that should be enough.  If I’m tangled up with Christine Daaé—and I’m still not confirming whether I am—I’m sure it can only end badly.

Meg: I’d like people to stop thinking of me as just my mother’s daughter or Christine’s friend.  I want to have a role that matters in something important.  I want to be the heroine of my own life, because I often don’t feel that way.

Erik: I’d like to stop feeling like the villain in my life.

I hope the story will bring you each what you’re looking for.  Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Cheryl Mahoney lives in California and dreams of other worlds. She is the author of the Guardian of the Opera trilogy, exploring the Phantom of the Opera story from a new perspective.  The first book, Nocturne, was published June 5, 2020, and can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.  Cheryl also wrote the Beyond the Tales quartet, retelling familiar fairy tales, but subverting expectations with new twists to the tales. She loves exploring new worlds in the past, the future or fairyland, and builds her stories around characters finding their way through those worlds – especially characters overlooked or underestimated by the people around them.  Cheryl has been blogging since 2010 at Tales of the Marvelous (http://marveloustales.com).

An Interview with Lord Byron from A Shadowed Fate by Marty Ambrose

We are going to speak today with British poet, Lord Byron, at the Palazzo Guiccioli in Ravenna, Italy.  He is handsome, brilliant, pop-star famous and, most interestingly, a member of an Italian revolutionary movement.  Welcome, Lord Byron!

Q:  First of all, I want to ask you about your connection to Claire Clairmont.  Was she one of the great loves of your life?

Lord Byron:  That is a complicated question since I am not the type of man who talks about his lovers.  All I can say is I connected with Claire in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816, during a dark period of my life.  I had left England under a scandalous cloud—bruised and battered, without hope of gaining any sense of redemption.  She was seventeen and like a balm on my soul.  And she introduced me to my fellow poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Shelley—who became great friends.  I confess that I have had more than one great love in my life, but Claire was like no other woman:  passionate, stubborn, maddening.  Sadly, there were forces that drove us apart . . . I must keep that part secret since it involves our daughter, Allegra. 

Q:  Do you mind telling us about Allegra?

Lord Byron:  I named her Allegra, meaning “cheerful and brisk”—she is all of that and more.  Pretty. Intelligent.  And a devil of a spirit, like both of her parents.  I must admit that she wants her own way in everything, and I indulge her.  My love child.  Claire wanted her to live with me, so I could raise her with all the advantages of wealth and rank, but I also wanted my child to know the true affection of her own father.  Unfortunately, I did not realize how tenuous the situation would become in Ravenna and that I would need all of my resources to protect her.  My most trusted bodyguard, Tita, watches over her in the day, and I keep her close in the evenings, reading poetry to her in both English and Italian. But things are deteriorating quickly, and I may have to make other arrangements for my Allegrina—much as I cannot bear to part from her.   

Q:  Speaking of Ravenna, Italy, could you tell us why you chose to live in such a small town?

Lord Byron:  Ah, Ravenna.  I wrote about it in my poem, Don Juan:

                  SWEET hour of twilight! in the solitude

                  Of the pine forest, and the silent shore

                  Which bounds Ravenna’s immemorial wood, . . . 

I settled here in 1820, because my Italian inamorata, Teresa Guiccioli, lives in the city with her husband, Count Guiccioli.  It sounds shocking I know, but I became her cavaliere servant—a professed lover with her husband’s permission, of course.  The whole arrangement is accepted in Italy.  And I am not the type of man who wishes to live without love.  Claire and I can never be together again so, when I met Teresa in Venice, I knew love had come into my life once more.  And I bonded with her father and brother, becoming part of a family—something I never had when I was a boy.  They not only accepted me, but introduced me to the Carbonari, a secret society that is plotting against the Austrian oppressors. I cannot give too many details on this development, except that my interests have expanded beyond poetry to include rebellion.  It might be a lost cause, but I am committed to it.

Q:  Are you still writing poetry?

Lord Byron:  Oh, yes . . . “The Prophecy of Dante” in honor of the great Italian poet and in support of a free Italy.

Q:  Can you at least explain what the Carbonariare trying to accomplish?

Lord Byron:  Not at this time, except to say that it is a loosely-organized secret society based on the Freemasons, and the clusters are organized all around Italy.  I was inducted into the Ravenna lodge shortly after I became acquainted with Teresa’s brother, Pietro.  We believe in revolutionary idealism and will do anything to see a free and united Italy. I cannot reveal any more . . .

Q:  I’m intrigued, especially because of your fame and status.  Did you find being a well-known poet created a sense of respect for you among the Carbonari?

Lord Bryon:  Well, I have access to certain diplomatic channels that the Italians do not, and they know I would share any intelligence that I acquire.  I am not sure being a poet garners me respect more than my singular belief in the cause of liberty.  At least, I hope so.

Q:  You document everything in your memoir.  Did you ever think of publishing it?

Lord Byron:  Memoirs are a tricky thing.  They can be a recording of daily activities like my Ravenna Journal, but they can also contain a certain amount of detail which  could destroy reputations, maybe even end lives.  I would never want to see that happen.  There are events in my memoir that few people are aware of and a wider audience does not need to know, so I intend to keep the memoir hidden among only two of my closest friends:  Angelo Mengaldo and Edward Trelawny.  I trust them with my life.

Q:  Back to your fame:  Did it make it possible for you to “bend the rules” as an exile living in Italy?

Lord Byron:  I can bend the rules because I am known mostly as the “mad English lord,” which I use to my advantage.  I can come and go without being watched too closely—and my “fame” provides me cover as a man of words, not action.  I keep a large, chaotic household and travel with an entourage—but that is all pretense for my role in the Italian rebellion.  Nevertheless, I know not to “bend” the rules too far since flyers have circulated around Ravenna with my picture and a single word: Traditore!  Traitor.  So,  I am being more careful about my movements not only to protect myself but also Allegra.  She must not be harmed because of my allegiances in Ravenna.

Q:  You do everything in your power to shield your daughter, Allegra.  Can you tell us about her fate?  

Lord Byron:  I would sacrifice my life to keep her safe from harm, and I may have to remove her from Ravenna to a place where she can be sheltered from the insanity that has descended on the city.  A man was actually shot in front of my palazzo; he died in my study. After that I would not allow Allegra to outside these walls without Tita—and now I seek to shelter her far from this place.  It seems to be the only way, but my heart breaks at sending her away.  As her Papa,  I must think of her wellbeing first.  And I know Claire will not like it.

Q:  So you still think about Claire?

Lord Byron:  Every day.

Thank you for speaking to us today.

About the author:

Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College, Southern New Hampshire University or creating her own fiction.  Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House. 

A few years ago, Marty had the opportunity to take a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets: historical fiction.  Her first book in a trilogy, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group.  Her second novel, A Shadowed Fate, begins where the first novel ends with Claire on an “odyssey” through Italy to find the fate of her daughter, Allegra, whom she now believes might have survived; her narrative plays out with Byron’s memoir from 1821, and Allegra’s own story.   It will be published by Severn House on 3/3/2020 in the U.S.

Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin, where they tend their mango grove.  They are planning a two-week trip to Italy to research the third book, Forever Past.  Luckily, Jim is fluent in Italian and shares her love of history, literature, and travel. 

Meet Geoffrey Hunter from Rosemary Simpson’s Death Brings a Shadow

Geoffrey, thank you for sitting down to this interview.  I am glad I could catch up with you as you travel with Prudence MacKenzie from New York City to the Georgia coast. You must have many mixed feelings since you are originally from the South and saw how the Civil War devastated the area.  But, Prudence, your partner in the Investigative firm has tried to keep you on level ground.   Unfortunately, once the murder took place feelings began to unravel, especially with the death of the bride to be.

Elise Cooper: How would you describe yourself?

Geoffrey Hunter: Physically I’m tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed. My brief career as a Pinkerton sent me into dangerous situations and I learned early that in order to extricate myself I needed to be in the best physical shape possible. I took up amateur boxing and I’m an expert rider, dating back to when I was put on horseback as a child. We were also taught how to move silently, how to hide in a crowd, and how to disguise ourselves. I’m a gentleman.

EC: How has your Southern background influenced who you are today?

GH: It’s both who I am and who I am not. I have found it difficult to condemn everything Southern, as some would like me do, because I cannot entirely renounce family ties. But at the same time, I condemn a way of life that depended on the enslavement of an entire people based solely on the color of their skin. Slavery was wrong, no matter how hard or how often our Southern preachers tried to justify it. 

EC:  Do you ever feel conflicted between loyalties to your family, your culture, and the wrongness of certain customs?

GH: All the time. The only way I can deal with these loyalties is to compartmentalize them. In my heart and in my thoughts, I separate my family from the culture in which most of my relatives still live. I have to see them as individuals, not as representatives of a way of life I have renounced. Distance makes that easier. I have no wish to spend time in the South and my family has no desire to travel north.

EC: How would you describe Prudence?

GH: She is the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met, and certainly among the most challenging. I think she tries to be as honest and open as her upbringing will allow. She has a warm, generous heart and a terrible addiction she has to battle every day of her life. She’s also very beautiful.

EC: How would you describe your relationship with Prudence?

GH: I don’t know the exact moment when I fell in love with her, but I do know that what I feel is deep, sincere, and will endure for the rest of our lives. But Prudence is like a skittish horse who has to be won over without breaking its spirit. I dare not make demands on her that she cannot meet or that frighten her with their intensity. I proceed as slowly as I can bear. I respect her immensely.

EC:  Why did you choose Prudence as a partner in an investigative firm?

GH: I think we chose one another. Circumstance brought us together, chemistry binds us. On the practical side, having her as my partner means I have good excuses to be by her side for as many hours of the day as I can manage.

EC: Do you think the Bennetts who were the groom’s family, represent the best and the worst of the Southern culture?

GH: They may have some of the best and some of the worst characteristics, but taken all together I find them rather typical of their class. There was really almost nothing about them that surprised me.

EC: How would you describe them?

GH: Aurora Lee and Maggie Jane, the sisters of the unfortunate groom-to-be, represent a certain type of woman who was found everywhere in the South for as far back as I can remember. These women play games in order to fulfill the only destiny they deem worthy of them—to marry well. They have little or no interest in anything else and if they do not marry, they consider themselves failures. So does everyone else.

The father, Elijah Bennett lives in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. His entire life was defined by a war his side lost. He doesn’t accept defeat but he also doesn’t know how to live in a new era without slaves and inherited wealth.

The groom-to-be, Teddy, and his brother, Lawrence, are two sides of a coin, the one epitomizing acceptance of change and generosity of spirit, the other a younger version of their father.

EC: You were the second for a duel-don’t you think that is an archaic tradition?

GH: Archaic only because it is against the law to duel. But it was once the only way a gentleman could preserve his honor in a dispute or after an insult had been dealt him. When I was growing up, it was made clear to me that every gentleman had to be prepared to defend his good name and reputation. Even though dueling may not have been as common then as it once was, it was nevertheless held up as the ultimate test of courage. So when Teddy decided it was the only way to resolve the wrong of Eleanor’s death, it seemed utterly right and fitting that he should choose to do it through a duel. Perhaps that’s difficult for you to understand, but it was so ingrained in me that I never doubted it was the right thing to do.

EC: Did you ever know someone like Aunt Jessa or Queen Lula?

GH: Mama Flore was our home plantation’s voodoo woman. I grew up around her incantations and I believed in them. Nobody dared challenge her powers.

EC: How would you describe them?

GH: Aunt Jessa and Queen Lula were spirit sisters. Their main purpose in life was to link the world of the dead and the world of the living. They believed utterly that some people could cross back and forth between the two worlds, and that their curses, juju dolls, and spells were what made those passages possible.

EC: How would you describe Wildacre and did it bring back memories?

GH: Wildacre was very like my home plantation of Sandyhill in eastern North Carolina, in that it was the beating heart of a miniature society. Large, isolated, requiring the upkeep of at least a dozen house slaves. By the time Prudence and I went to Bradford Island, Wildacre was showing the effects of years of declining fortunes and neglect, but seeing it as it was then made it easy to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. Whitewashed brick, tall pillars, acres of green grass, a long alleyway of soaring trees. And the screech of peacocks. I’ll always associate that noise with how we used to live in the South.

EC: How would you compare New York where you currently live to the South?

GH: There is no comparison. It’s a different world entirely. One in which I now feel completely comfortable. It’s only if I meet a fellow Southerner and slip accidentally into the accent of where I was born that I am momentarily jarred into nostalgia.

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

GH: To live the rest of my life with Prudence beside me as my wife.

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

GH: Cynicism is just another word that tries to justify giving up. Not working for constructive change because you doubt it’s possible or lasting. I’m not a cynic. I’m not a pessimist. As a Pinkerton, I saw some of the worst in humankind. Choosing the life of a lawyer and private inquiry agent also brings me into close contact with the criminal element. I knew that when I chose it. I still have confidence that most men and women strive to be something better. 

THANK YOU!!

The fourth Gilded Age Mystery, “Death Brings a Shadow,” was published in November 2019, and the fifth book in the series will be out in late 2020. Rosemary is also the author of two stand-alone historical novels, “The Seven Hills of Paradise” and “Dreams and Shadows.”.”


She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.

Dr. Elizabeth Carlisle from Diagnosis Love by Martha Rogers

Dr. Carlisle, would you prefer I call you “Doctor” or something else?

Oh, I’m Dr. Carlisle in the office, but I’m Libby to my friends, and Cactus Creek is so friendly that I have a number of friends after only a week.

If you don’t mind, I will call you Libby then. Libby, what made you decide to leave your father’s thriving practice in Indiana?

My father is a well-known physician in Muncy, Indiana, and when I tried going into practice with him like he wanted, most of the patients preferred a man and asked for my father. Then my mother decided I should be married and have a family instead of trying to be like my father. She even had an older friend of the family picked out for me to marry. When I saw the ad in our city newspaper, I hopped all over it like the frogs in our garden pond. I wanted to prove to my parents that I am a good doctor and can make it on my own.

 How was your journey?

I came by train and had to stop over for several hours in St. Louis. The trip gave me the opportunity to meet people and see parts of the country I’d never see otherwise. Even though I traveled in the middle of July, and it took me nearly five days, I loved every minute of the adventure. My clothes suffered a little as did my energy, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

 Well, I must say, I’m glad you arrived safely at your destination after such a trip. What do you think of Cactus Creek and its people?

 At first the town utterly dismayed me by its size, but the hills in distance and the groves of trees gave it a beautiful backdrop. I had to laugh because the good people of Cactus Creek called them mountains, but they were nothing like the mountains I’d ever seen. I expected a lot of cactus and dry land with that name, but very few cactus plants grow anywhere. I learned that the people who settled here came expecting a desert and lots of cacti. That’s the name they decided to give it. My hometown isn’t that large, but we have electricity and motor cars, and many more people, so I’m adjusting to small town life, and I think I like it.

 Cactus Creek is a prickly sounding name for sure. I think I would definitely miss electricity and motor cars if I were in your shoes. How have you settled in there? 

 After the wonderful people of the town helped me clean up the clinic and get it ready, I moved into the upstairs rooms where the former doctor lived. I will say this. Dr. Forrest must have been an excellent doctor because the equipment left behind after he died is some of the best I’ve seen. He was up to date with everything. I thought I might have a little problem with the town accepting me as both the new doctor and a woman, but it hasn’t been like that. They all wanted a doctor after being without one for five months.

That must have been a relief for you!

 You seem like an eligible young lady. Are you looking for a husband any time soon? Why? Or why not?

I didn’t come to Texas to get married. I came to be a doctor, and until I find a man who is willing to let me be both a wife and a doctor, I prefer to remain single. Of course, I would love a home and a family, but I see that as far down the line in my future.

 I heard that Deputy Sheriff Garrett Lofton may have taken a shine to you. How do you feel about that?   

Oh mercy, my cheeks are getting warm. That is the most handsome man I’ve ever met, but he’s a little ornery and stubborn, and he teases me something terrible. However, he’s been very nice and showed me the way out to some of the people who live on ranches and farms outside the town. He even arranged for me to have a buggy available at the livery for when I needed to make those trips. I suppose if I were looking for a man right now, Garrett Lofton might be the one to interest me.  I fooled him one time. He thought he was going to teach me to ride, but I already knew how. I took lessons when I was a young girl and rode with my father a lot. I learned side saddle, but it didn’t take long for me to catch onto riding astride, and I must say I do love it.

About the Author:

Martha Rogers is a multi-published author and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston, Texas where they are active members of First Baptist Church. They are the parents of three sons and grandparents to eleven grandchildren and great-grandparents to five. Martha is a retired teacher with twenty-eight years teaching Home Economics and English at the secondary level and eight years at the college level supervising student teachers and teaching freshman English. She is the Director of the Texas Christian Writers Conference held in Houston in August each year, a member of ACFW, ACFW WOTS chapter in Houston, and a member of the writers’ group, Inspirational Writers Alive.

Find Martha at:  www.marthawrogers.com, http://www.hhhistory.com                           Twitter:  @martharogers2                             Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarthaRogersAuthor

 

Book Review: Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick

Everything She Didn’t Say

by Jane Kirkpatrick
Revell, 978-0-8007-2701-7
September 2018

Reviewed by Cindy Thomson
Everything She Didn't Say-Book Cover
Jane Kirkpatrick’s newest novel is based on the diaries of Carrie Strahorn, a woman who during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century accompanied her railroad employee husband as he wrote promotion for westward settlers and later helped him build several new towns when he became an investor. Carrie wrote her own published pieces for magazines along with her account of their adventures in the American West.

It’s hard to imagine how pioneers grappled with establishing settlements in deserts, and the accounts of how they rode on stage coaches in Indian territory very much exposed with little to defend themselves with gave me shivers. Carrie’s longing for a family and how she resolved issues in her marriage made her a character readers will root for, even though modern readers can’t truly relate to the magnitude of her struggles.

Kirkpatrick takes the view that Strahorn probably gave a tidy version of her experiences in her memoir and in letters to her family, so she imagined what life had really been like for her based on historical accounts. There were parts of Carrie’s actual writings that do give the reader the idea that she’s not telling the whole story. These appear at the end of the chapters and are what Kirkpatrick built upon. The author is a master at this kind of storytelling. I’m a Jane Kirkpatrick fan. I love how she brings life to real historical figures, people that I probably never would have learned about if I hadn’t read her novels. The historical notes at the end of the book are not to be missed.

It did take me awhile to get into this story. If that’s the case for you, I recommend you keep reading. For me the pace really picked up in the last third of the book. The problem sometimes with telling the story of a real-life person is that there any many things that occur during a lifetime, and some of those things don’t move the story along at a pace fiction readers expect, and yet they really happened so the author wants to include them. Overall, I enjoyed the story. If you are a historical fiction fan, and it’s likely the readers of this blog are, I think you will enjoy Everything She Didn’t Say.

I was given a review copy by the publisher with no obligation to post a review. I have given my honest opinion.

An Interview with Claire Clairmont from Claire’s Last Secret By Marty Ambrose

Claire Last Secret CoverWe are going to speak today with Claire Clairmont at the Palazzo Cruciato in Florence, Italy.  She is a nineteenth-century woman of “a certain age” and, most interestingly, the last living survivor of the Byron/Shelley “Haunted Summer” of 1816!  Welcome, Claire!

Q:  First of all, I want to ask about your connection to Mary Shelley.  Wasn’t she your stepsister?

Claire:  Yes, her father, William Godwin, married my mother when I was a young girl.  We grew up together, along with my brother, Charles, and her stepsister, Fanny.  It was an unusual “blended” family for the time, but we loved each other.  I miss them all very much.

Q:  Do you mind telling us about your relationship with Mary?

Claire:  It was . . . complicated.  We had so much in common, especially our love of books; and, when she fell in love with Shelley, I accompanied them on their elopement to Europe.  Mary and I were both barely seventeen when we traveled together with him through France, Switzerland, and Italy—rarely spending any time apart, sharing the good times and the bad.  But, later, I think Mary grew tired of always having me around; she wanted Shelley to herself.  I suppose that I cannot blame her.  Eventually, we grew quite distant—especially after Shelley drowned near Le Spezia. She returned to England with her sole surviving son and achieved fame with her novel, Frankenstein, while I stayed in Europe.  But we were always sisters in our hearts.

Q:  Speaking of hearts, you were involved with a famous poet yourself:  Lord Byron.  Do you want to tell us about him?

Claire:  It was such a long time ago . . . but he is not the type of man you could ever forget. Handsome, magnetic, brilliant—he was all of those things, but he could also be cruel.  What can I say, except that I loved him, body and soul?  We first met in London and, then, connected in Switzerland when he, Mary, Shelley and I spent the summer of 1816 on the shores of Lake Geneva.  It was truly a magical time.  Because of the violent thunderstorms, we were driven indoors to Byron’s Villa Diodati and would tell ghost stories at night.  One evening, Byron even proposed we all write a tale to frighten each other—and that’s how Mary came to write Frankenstein. When not trying to scare each other, we sailed the lake and read poetry together.  Unfortunately, our idyll did not last beyond the summer—and there were consequences: Byron and I had a daughter, Allegra. She was the greatest joy of my life.

Q: I know this part is a little difficult, but what happened to your daughter?

Claire:  Well . . . Byron and I could never marry since his wife would not grant him a divorce, so I sent Allegra to live with him in Ravenna, Italy.  It was a dark time politically, and Byron became involved with the Carbonari—Italian revolutionaries who fought to free their country from the Austrians.  Byron thought it was unsafe for Allegra to be there, so he sent her to a convent school at Bagnacavallo.  I wanted her to live with me, but he stubbornly refused my request.  After less than two years at the convent, Allegra caught typhus, and supposedly died in 1822.  It was the greatest tragedy in my life . . .

Q: Supposedly?  So, there’s a mystery surrounding her fate?

Claire:  Oh, yes . . . which I learned only recently!

Q: I am intrigued, especially since you spent many years believing she had not survived.  It must have taken a lot of fortitude to go on.  What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Claire:  My strongest trait is my ability to survive.  I had to live by my own wits for most of my life, yet I always tried to rebound quickly from even the most difficult of circumstances.  I had a child on my own, traveled the world, and always believed that a woman could have the same freedom as a man.  I embraced life wholeheartedly, even when my choices didn’t always produce the effects for which I hoped.   I lived life on my own terms.

Q:  Worst trait?

Claire:  Impulsiveness—but this quality has been tempered over the years.  I risked everything when I was young and I do not regret it, but now that I am the sole support my dear niece and her daughter, I find that their welfare must be considered first.  But I would not mind one more big adventure . . .

Q:  Really? At your age?

Claire:  Please.

Q:  All right. I hope you find the answers about your daughter, Allegra.

Claire:  Thank you . . . sometimes life takes one in a most unexpected direction; to know about Allegra’s fate has been one of my most cherished dreams. I know I will find the truth.

Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College or creating her own fiction.  Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House.

Two years ago, Marty had the opportunity to apply for a grant that took her to Geneva and Florence to research a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets:  historical fiction.  Her new book, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group.  The novel spans two eras played out against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Italy and is the first of a trilogy.

Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin.  They are planning a three-week trip to Italy this fall to attend a book festival and research the second book, A Shadowed Fate

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