Friday, February 26, 2010

Contest Winner - Fairest Portion of the Globe


Congratulations to Kitty!  You're the winner of the set of lovely novels by Frances Hunter!  The team of Frances Hunter will contact you directly to arrange shipping!  

On behalf of Frances Hunter and the members of the Historical Novel Review Blog, we sincerely thank all our guests and readers for stopping by and leaving all those fabulous comments and spending time with us.  

A big thank you to Frances Hunter for her generosity and enthusiasm throughout the entire week.  We wish you continued success!

 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Fairest Portion of the Globe Excerpt


By late afternoon, they had reached the great Ohio. The fort was almost in view. Lewis’s heart began to race a little, and he straightened his uniform and checked the brass buttons to make sure they had the required shine. He was starting a new chapter now, the one that would bring him fame and glory. He would endeavor to earn the trust of his new commanding officer, whoever it turned out to be. He would strive to hold his tongue, to learn, to seek wisdom instead of notoriety. He would prove himself to be a top-notch soldier—

Fort Washington squatted on the riverbank, smoke curling lazily out of its chimneys. On its right lay the red-painted log homes of Cincinnati, dotting two bluffs that cascaded down to the Ohio. Captain Harrison grinned, no doubt thinking about his bride-to-be, and spurred his horse forward.

Lewis saw Harrison suddenly yank on the reins as a sound ripped through the air: a wrenching, awful scream, a death-cry soaring skyward, a howl torn from a dozen throats. For a terrible moment, Lewis sat frozen in the saddle. He hadn’t heard that sound since his childhood in Georgia. A doused fire, his mother’s fearful eyes, men running, the ground soaked with blood—

He stared at Harrison, his eyes wide. “Indian attack!”

Harrison frowned and shook his head. “Can’t be—”

“That’s the Miami war cry! The blasted devils are inside the fort!” Lewis grabbed his rifle off the saddle and flung himself to the ground. “Come on!”

He took off, racing towards the sound of battle. Men who had been on fatigue duty in the gardens outside the fort were running back to the stockade, yelling in confusion, scrambling for their weapons.

Harrison dismounted and raced after him, shouting. The damn fool had forgotten his rifle. A bucktoothed private rushed past them, his hands and knees black with dirt, his face waxy with panic. Lewis tried to grab the boy and spin him around, get him ready to face the enemy.

“Damn you, let go!” The man kicked himself free and kept on running.

So much for Anthony Wayne’s peace, and the preparedness of the great United States Army! Well, he’d make the savages pay dearly for his life. He had lead balls and priming powder in his pockets. He’d take a few of the red devils with him before they got his scalp!

The Miamis, in full war paint, rode screaming down on the soldiers of Fort Washington. The horses kicked up a haze of mud and dust, and their red-and-black painted riders looked like avenging demons in the approaching twilight. Squinting, Lewis thought he spotted some Army-issue rifles among them. Goddamn thieves must’ve taken the arsenal!

Up ahead, he saw General Wayne and General Wilkinson, the army’s second-in-command, standing calmly on a mudflat beside an overturned wagon. Some men had turned it into a breastwork and were cowering behind it. Wayne and Wilkinson were making no attempt to rally the men or defend themselves from the horde of Indians bearing down on them. Were they impossibly brave, or just plain insane?

Harrison screamed behind him. “Ensign Lewis, stop! For God’s sake, I order you to halt!”

Lewis ignored him, racing on. Leave it to somebody like Harrison to quiver like a little girl when it came time to fight. He dove behind the wagon, worked a lead ball free from his pocket, and rammed it home. A striking warrior was coming right at the commanding general, his horse breaking into a gallop, his tomahawk swinging through the air as he sang out his haunting war cry. Lewis tightened his finger on the trigger, no longer breathing, praying for the strength to be brave enough to do what he had to do—

Lewis raised himself up in a crouch behind the wagon bed, lifted the rifle to his shoulder, and took aim. The brave’s eyes widened when he realized he faced more than cringing unarmed men. Lewis tightened his finger on the trigger, aiming at the center of the Indian’s broad chest. A single ball, right through the heart—

“Lewis, for God’s sake, no! ” Harrison was at his side. For reasons he could not comprehend, Harrison grabbed the barrel of the rifle and wrenched it upwards. Big hands tore at the back of his coat. Jesus, no, they were about to be scalped—

He struggled to level the rifle at the mounted Indian and yanked the trigger. The brave flattened himself across the horse’s neck as the muzzle boomed in an explosion of powder. God help me, I missed. Lewis howled with rage as Harrison twisted the still-smoking rifle out of his hands. He pawed at his belt, clutching for his knife—

“You God-rotten, miserable caitiff idiot ! ” a voice roared. Someone shook him so hard his teeth banged together. “You egregious arse-wipe—you pathetic excuse for a soldier—”

Then he went flying, his tailbone thudding hard on the ground as he skidded into the mud and came to rest against an upturned wagon wheel. He stared around in panic and confusion. The person who had knocked him down was General Wayne. Around him, he noticed that the running and screaming had ground to a halt. Soldiers and Indians alike were standing there open-mouthed, listening to General Wayne shout profanities. He turned his wondering eyes back to the Miami warrior and noticed for the first time that the brave had blue eyes and red hair.

“Damn me for a fool,” Lewis gasped. He glanced around at the other Indian faces. They were all white men, soldiers, painted up to look like Indian warriors. It was nothing but a training exercise.

“This is the most appalling excuse for an Army I ever saw!” Wayne ranted. “No defense at all—everybody standing around with their thumbs up their arses—good thing it wasn’t a real attack, we’d be finished!”

He turned to a man on the garden detail. “Do you need a map to point you in the direction of your company, private? And you! Did no one ever show you how to form a redoubt? Seems everybody needs instructions on how to shoot a rifle—except this wretch, who nearly took out one of our own officers. A devil of a job getting the men prepared, Captain Harrison.”

Harrison withered under Wayne’s contemptuous gaze. “Where the hell have you been, anyway? What in God’s name were you thinking, being away from the fort during an important training maneuver? Or did you think it wasn’t important?”

“Uh, of course, sir,” Harrison stammered. Sweat poured down his pale face. “It’s just that you told me to finish the courts martial at Fort Greeneville, and to report back with Ensign Lewis—”

“Ensign Lewis?” Wayne frowned. “Who the hell is Ensign Lewis?”

Harrison pointed a thin finger in Lewis’s direction. Wayne curled his lip. “Oh, right. Him. The screw-up.”

Lewis bowed his head, a burning hole where his stomach had been. Why the hell couldn’t he ever get it right? Wayne would have him drummed out of camp this time for sure. He imagined Wayne ripping off his shoulder straps and making him walk through a double line of men right out the gate, their eyes turned away, not wanting to look upon his shame. It had been a mistake, that’s all. A terrible mistake...

“Harrison, get this mess sorted out. I want every man back on fatigue duty—yes, I know it’s getting dark. They’ll work until they can’t see their hands in front of their faces. There’ll be half rations issued for supper tonight. Each company will report for drill early tomorrow morning.”

The men groaned in dismay and began to shuffle around. Wayne turned to Lewis. “As for you, my lovely trigger-happy friend, Captain Harrison will escort you to the yellow-house. Wait for me there.”

“Sir...” The red-headed savage cleared his throat. Lewis dared to raise his eyes to the man he almost shot. To his surprise, the officer was looking at him with sympathy.

“Sir, I’d ask for leniency for Ensign Lewis. Being he’s new here, how was he supposed to know what was goin’ on? It was a bad mistake, General, but an honest one, and no harm done.” The man wiped sweat from his face, smearing war paint across his cheeks. “I don’t want any man cashiered on account of me, sir.”

“Cashiered? No such luck, Clark. Not with that shortage of junior officers you’re always complaining about. This army needs clerks. You’ve said so yourself, sir!” Wayne grinned fiercely. “Ensign Lewis, meet Lieutenant William Clark, of the Chosen Rifles. Your new commanding officer.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Featured Author Interview - Frances Hunter

 
Welcome to the duo who comprises the nom de plume "Frances Hunter"
 
I'm delighted today to host the Frances Hunter team.  Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

Liz: The Fairest Portion of the Globe is, we hope, an exciting rip-roaring ride through a portion of early American history that isn’t very well-known—but should be. George Washington is president, and the U.S. Army is occupying “the West” – that is, Ohio—and fighting Indians. But the country is weak, and European powers are swarming all over the continent, looking to destabilize the new nation and grab off huge portions of the continent.

Amidst this international intrigue is an adventure and a coming of age story. Meriwether Lewis, a hot-headed young Virginia officer, wants nothing more than to prove himself. All he’s proved is that he’s a troublemaker until he meets his match in another tough young rifleman, William Clark. But even as they match wits with each other—not to mention obtuse Army brass—they find themselves swept up in the violence, intrigue, and perils of the early frontier.

You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

Liz: The book’s title describes the Louisiana Territory, an epic and unexplored territory that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico north to Canada, from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. It’s a land of beauty and riches beyond imagining—the soil, the rivers, the minerals, and of course, the furs.

But don’t take my word for it. “This immense river waters one of the fairest portions of the globe. Nor do I believe that there is in the universe a similar extent of country. As we passed on, it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.” Meriwether Lewis wrote that—years later, when he and William Clark had become famous explorers.

Mary: Because it was so desirable, the Louisiana territory was a magnet for intrigue and adventure. Remember, this was ten years before the Louisiana Purchase. The United States was brand new. Nobody knew if we would survive, let alone prosper and grow. It was a time of enormous uncertainty—not unlike now.

Liz: At the time of our story, the world teeters on the brink of global war over Louisiana. That’s because whoever controls it will govern an empire. France wants it. That’s a problem, because Spain owns it. And a certain United States politico by the name of Thomas Jefferson will stop at nothing to get it for his new nation.

What makes this book special to you?

Liz: One reason this book is special to me is that it is our second novel. Writing a book is an almost unimaginable amount of work, and you have to be very self-motivated. It’s not as if the world is clamoring for more of your work, not with all of the great books that are published every week. I’m proud that we pulled it off a second time. And we faced a lot of adversity during the writing of this book. Our mom, whom we loved very much and who was our biggest fan, had a heart-breaking decline from Parkinson’s disease, and died a year ago this week. And our dad, who is in his 80s, broke his hip just three weeks after Mom died. A lot of last year was spent helping him with his rehab and getting him settled again. Sometimes I look at our book and I don’t know how we kept writing. I think that some days it was the only link to sanity that we had.

What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

Liz: Do you like action? Do you like adventure? Do you like history? Do you like “bromance” (as they say in Hollywood)? Did you swoon for Sharpe? Go mad for Master and Commander?

The Fairest Portion of the Globe was a hell of a lot of fun to write, and our goal was to make it a lot of fun to read too. This period of the early American west is generally passed up in schools—I think because it’s so rich and complex, and so full of outlandish happenings that it can’t be reduced to the level of the 4th grade mind. So join us on a guided tour of the early American frontier, from its sordid international conspiracies to its squalid, filthy army forts. I promise you outrageous humor, suspense, and tremendous adventure, in a time and place that hasn’t been done to death.

Mary: We think of it as “Lewis & Clark meets M*A*S*H.” You won’t take “manifest destiny” for granted ever again.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Mary: The best historians can make history come alive. Novelists can do that, too. I love the challenge of turning a stuffy portrait in a history book into a real, flesh and blood human being that comes alive on the page. Our characters dream, curse, joke around, make mistakes. Sometimes they’re lonely. Sometimes they get angry. I think one of the best ways to be creative is to quit thinking of historical figures as sacred heroes. They were as yearning, flawed, and fallible as you and me.

Liz: For me, the biggest creative spark seems to come from the blank pages in the history book. I adore reading history and biography as well as historical fiction. I love to learn. But the work of historians isn’t the received word of God. If I notice a passage that says, “Nothing is known of Joe Blow’s life prior to age 21,” then my creative juices start flowing. Take Lewis & Clark. No one knows why, how, or when they became such good friends. That’s the story historians can’t tell, but historical fiction authors can. My tip is read, read all the time, and think creatively about what you have read.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

Mary: I think one of the things that can be most daunting to a writer is reconciling what you want to write with the preconceived notions of what people want to read. Notions like, “America doesn’t have a rich enough history to make a good novel,” or “nobody reads historical fiction about men.” At the end of the day, you have to ignore the conventional wisdom and follow your passion. It’s your time, your book, and your sweat that’s going into it.

Though I have to admit, for a while we considered making Lewis & Clark vampires.

Liz: I think the biggest stumbling block for me and for a lot of people is time and energy. Mary and I both work full-time. If you work full-time or have young children, you will need to find some time you can carve out at least several days a week to write. You have to give up what you would normally be doing during those times – sleeping, reading, watching TV. We started working together on our first book back in 2003, and I don’t know any of the TV shows or stars that have come on the scene since then! I’m completely out of it about Lost.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

Liz: We do a lot of the usual things, but maybe the most unusual thing I can think of is that we left a dozen copies of our first book at different locations along the Lewis & Clark Trail as part of the Book Crossing “catch-and-release” book giveaway program. I still don’t know who “caught” our books. It was fun and I felt like an outlaw.

Mary: Speaking of outlaws, we also sent out a “Wanted” poster to bookstores with Lewis and Clark’s picture on it. “Lewis and Clark: Wanted for Treason.” I don’t know if it sold any books, but we sure enjoyed making it!

Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

Mary: We are fortunate in that our writing styles are very simpatico. We are best friends as well as sisters. It makes the collaboration fun, instead of painful. I really can’t imagine writing that way with anyone else.

Liz: First we do tons of reading and research. We read some of the same books, and we also specialize in certain areas and then just summarize the findings for the other person. At first we just read to learn about the era and get ideas.

Then we brainstorm out ideas for scenes. This just starts to happen naturally. As more and more scenes take place, we work on an outline, character sketches, timelines, etc. I know some others don’t like to do these things, but I don’t know how you could do collaborative writing without them. You have to agree on what the story’s going to be and who the characters are. It’s also a good way to find giant holes in your plot. I don’t know how you could keep the history straight without doing a lot of work up front.

After we do all that, we just assign ourselves chapters. We work on each chapter (or sometimes just larger scenes) as individuals, and then trade them off for editing, rewriting, more ideas, etc. The actual writing part can sometimes go pretty quickly if you have thought a lot of it through up front.

Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

Mary: I try to visualize a scene in its entirety before I start writing, almost like I’m watching a movie. I try to be very cinematic in my style. First I make notes on the scene—the setting, what people are wearing, important things I want to remember about what the characters see, hear, smell, and taste. From my notes, I then start to flesh out the scene with description, action, and dialogue. Sometimes when I’m “in the zone” I can write all day, with the pages just flowing out effortlessly. Other times, it feels like pulling teeth. That’s when I know I don’t yet have a clear mental and emotional picture of what’s going on in the scene.

Liz: When I get ready to write, I usually spend a little time reading over what I last wrote. I sometimes look at pictures of Lewis and Clark or whatever I’m writing about, or listen to a piece of music that reminds me of what the scene is going to be about. We write from limited third-person perspective, and I try to “become” the person I’m going to be writing about. It’s almost like acting. You can’t write or talk about anything that person wouldn’t know about, can’t think anything they wouldn’t think.

What is your current work in progress?

Liz: Our next book will be called Bloody Island. In 1838, the Mississippi River is moving away from St. Louis, leaving the town high and dry. The engineering challenge of saving St. Louis could make or break the career of young Army engineer Robert E. Lee. But he soon learns that powerful men on both sides of the river have their own agendas, and that the flow of corruption, conspiracy, and deception run even deeper than the mighty Mississippi. We’re hoping for a blend of historical mystery, romance, and suspense.

Mary: We’re especially looking forward to creating the character of Lee’s wife, Mary Lee. Mary was headstrong and smart as a whip. She was one of Virginia’s elite and a descendant of Martha Washington, and she did exactly as she pleased. You can imagine she’d stick out like a sore thumb in a rough-and-tumble river town.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

Mary: Yes, please visit our website, Frances Hunter’s American Heroes Blog, at http://franceshunter.wordpress.com. You can contact us through the button at the top of the page or leave a comment in any of the posts. We love to chat with readers.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

Liz: We are just readers like yourself who somehow lost our senses and decided to write books. A book that it may take you a few hours or days to read took years to research and write. We love America and its history. It’s a privilege to write historical fiction and share the story of the fabulous, flawed human beings who rose above their limitations and lived largely. Thanks for letting us share it with you.

Mary: We love American history, but if we wanted to be deadly serious about history, we’d be academic historians. Instead, we decided to be novelists. Our goal is to tell a good story—rich, authentic, exciting, emotionally real. And above all, fun to read.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Fairest Portion Of The Globe Book Review

Written by a sister team, Mary and Liz Clare, who write under the name of Frances Hunter, this meticulously researched book is set in a United States where Spain still owns a great deal of the south western territory. Citizen Genet, diplomat and revolutionary fresh from the bloodbath of France, arrives in Philadelphia in 1793 to convince George Washington that he must fund an expedition to claim Louisiana from the Spanish and expand the territories of the United States, to the benefit of France of course.

Genet begins his search for soldiers by blackmailing Andre Michaux, a fellow Frenchman and botanist to act as his spy, and impatient with what he regards as Washington’s anti-revolutionary feelings, he finds an ally in Thomas Jefferson, who warns him that if his mission fails, the US Government will deny all knowledge of their endorsement. Nothing changes much does it?

George Rogers Clark, the washed-up hero of the Revolution, is the commander of Genet’s renegade force, and General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who discovers his enemies are a little too close for comfort. There are also two young soldiers; Meriwether Lewis, who comes through unscathed from a courts martial, and William Clark, who dreams of claiming the Western territory for the United States. Both men are faced with the awful truth that they are the instruments of those who want to destroy it.

I am unfamiliar with this early US history, so there was a lot to take in regarding the politics and the disparate sides fighting for supremacy. [Not to mention sorting out the two Clarks]. This novel is intricate, detailed and written with a masterly command of the historically famous partnership between Lewis and Clark, showing and yet not condemning both their strengths and fatal flaws.

An exciting and colourful read about a very raw time in America's history.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Fairest Portion of the Globe by Frances Hunter


A PRIZE BEYOND PRICELa Louisiane—a land of riches beyond imagining. Whoever controls the vast domain along the Mississippi River will decide the fate of the North American continent. When young French diplomat Citizen Genet arrives in America, he’s determined to wrest Louisiana away from Spain and win it back for France—even if it means global war.

A GAMBLE BEYOND MEASURE

Caught up this astonishing scheme are George Rogers Clark, the washed-up hero of the Revolution and unlikely commander of Genet’s renegade force; his beautiful sister Fanny, who risks her own sanity to save her brother’s soul; General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who never imagined he’d find the country’s deadliest enemy inside his own army; and two young soldiers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who dream of claiming the Western territory in the name of the United States—only to become the pawns of those who seek to destroy it.

THE FAIREST PORTION OF THE GLOBE

From the frontier forts of Ohio to the elegant halls of Philadelphia, the virgin forests of Kentucky to the mansions of Natchez, Frances Hunter has written a page-turning tale of ambition, intrigue, and the birth of a legendary American friendship—in a time when America was fighting to survive.

Win a set of Frances Hunter's Books - Contest Details


Enter to win a set of Frances Hunter's novels: The Fairest Portion of the Globe and her previous novel, To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis & Clark.

There are two ways to enter:

1. Leave a comment this week with a fun fact about Lewis and Clark that you learned from "Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog." (http://franceshunter.wordpress.com/). It must be a unique fact, so read all the entries before you post your own.

2. Blog about this giveaway, post it on your Facebook page, or tweet it on Twitter. Leave a separate comment with a link to your post or your twitter user name.

Congratulations and good luck!

Monday, February 8, 2010

May 1812 by M.M. Bennetts

May 1812, by M.M Bennetts, is a sweeping story of love amidst the great Napoleonic war between England and France. The story begins in London with the Earl of Myddleton, a clever cryptographer who is struggling to break France’s most challenging code, Le Grand Chiffre, while leading a devil-may-care lifestyle of carousing in bars and trysting with various women. His bachelorhood comes skidding to a halt, however, when he receives a final summons from his lawyer informing him that under his father’s will, Myddleton must marry the daughter of a family friend or forego his inheritance. To make matters worse, the marriage must take place before the girl’s eighteenth birthday, which is in only days.

Myddleton does his duty and marries the lovely Miss Jane Heron but what he doesn’t expect is that he actually falls in love with her. And, although his new wife may have to bear his presence, she is all but put off by his crude comments and loose customs. Before Myddleton can woo his young bride over, the central conflict of the story occurs: the Prime Minister of England is assassinated on May 11, 1812. Myddleton is sent off to France on a perilous mission, one he will need all his wits for if he is ever to return home to his fortune, fame, and of course, true love.

Although the novel is quite long and passages of the book are dense with information that might have been better summarized, historical fiction aficionados will appreciate the research and detail that has clearly gone into this work. The characters are compelling, the time and place are rendered vividly, and the colorful dialogue puts the reader smack in the middle of the scene.

For me, the historical backdrop was immediately gripping; however, it was the evolution of Myddleton’s character from a callow cad to a seasoned adult that brought the story to life.

There is a lot to keep track of here, between the tapestry of characters and the various plot threads, and it does take some time to get your bearings as to who is related to whom, and knows what about which matter. But once the story is set in motion, the tale grows to be a gripping one, and all of the book’s elements converge nicely in a conclusion that is sure to satisfy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ransom by David Malouf


This book is like a prose poem written with emotive quicksilver instead of words. Meanings are hidden and sometimes changeable, but always inspiring sorrow, compassion and awe.

David Malouf pulls the reader through first Achilles', then Priam's grief after the deaths of Patrocles and Hector. Then with a cartload of treasure as ransom for Hector's body, the carter Somax drives King Priam of Troy through battlefields both real and metaphorical before returning with Hector and hope shrouded in the cart.

Malouf never gets sappy or sentimental and never suggests that the stories of Achilles and Priam will end well. We're shown how Priam dies in a somewhat invasive scene and Malouf suggests Achilles' end. But Somax does survive the sacking of Troy and his survival ensures, as much as Ulysses' tale, that the names of Patrocles, Hector, Achilles and Priam live on.

"Ransom" has a few oddities: Priam launches into a retelling of his personal history to his wife after acknowledging that she knows most of what he will tell her. In other words, the scene is entirely for the benefit of Malouf's presumably ignorant readers and annoyed me. However, with this much skill, Malouf could have woven in a recipe for Moussaka and I would have kept reading.

It's a short literary novel at just over 200 pages, but it is not a light-weight, "popcorn" read. If you're into easy action-oriented books, "Ransom" isn't for you. But if you love emotive, historical literature with gorgeous writing and introspective scenes, you won't be disappointed. You may well find yourself looking for more of Mr. Malouf's books at the local bookstore. I intend to.