Tuesday, April 24, 2018
With my next MEET THE AUTHOR post, I’m pleased to introduce John D. Cressler, as this week's guest author and share his newest novel. John’s stopping by to share an excerpt of Fortune's Lament, part of his Anthems of al-Andalus series set in Moorish Spain and to offer insight on his writing. Given my own obsession with the place and time he's written about, John's work has been of particular interest to me, so expect to hear more about him on this blog. As a bonus, John has generously offered to give away up to TEN Kindle versions to those who leave a comment on this post! So, please do comment and INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS in the comment.
Here's an excerpt from the novel:
Interview with John D. Cressler
Welcome John, thanks for being my guest at The Brooklyn Scribbler. Please share some insight on your Anthems of al-Andalus series and the latest installment, Fortune's Lament.
Thanks for inviting me, Lisa! Let me give some background on this amazing period of history, and then zoom-in on each of my three novels in the Anthems of al-Andalus Series.
As you know, much of modern Spain was under Muslim control for nearly 800 years (from 711 to 1492 C.E.). Medieval Islamic Spain was deeply influential in world history, for a multitude of reasons, including the rediscovery, translation, and dissemination of the lost works of medicine, science, and philosophy of the ancient Greeks. The Muslim Umayyads (with roots tracing back to Syria) were lovers of books and learning, and helped launch a cultural revolution in Córdoba, which transformed the western world. An exceptional 200-plus-year period of peaceful coexistence occurred between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam under Muslim Umayyad rule, providing a powerful lesson in the practice of multiculturalism for our twenty-first-century world. This time period was both deeply influential in world history and riveting, and I have fallen in love with all-things-al-Andalus! All three of my novels are love stories interwoven into this rich history.
Emeralds of the Alhambra, my first release, is a love story set in the resplendent Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, during the Castilian Civil War (1367-1369 C.E.), a time when Muslims took up their swords to fight alongside Christians. Emeralds tells the story of William Chandon, a Christian knight captured and brought to the Alhambra to be used by the Muslim sultan as a political pawn, and the Sufi Muslim princess Layla, daughter of the sultan’s chief counsellor. As Chandon’s influence at court grows, he becomes trapped between his forbidden love for Layla and his Christian heritage, the demands of chivalry and political expediency. Chandon and Layla must make choices between love and honor, war and peace, life and death, choices which ultimately will seal Granada’s fate as the last surviving stronghold of Islamic Spain.
Shadows in the Shining City, my second release, is a prequel to Emeralds of the Alhambra, and immerses the reader in Islamic Spain’s Golden Age. Shadows tells the story of the forbidden love between Rayhana, a Muslim princess of the royal court, and Zafir, a freed slave. Young love blossoms in 975 C.E. in Madinat al-Zahra, the Shining City, Caliph al-Hakam II’s magnificent royal palace located just outside of Córdoba. Their love story is set against the backdrop of the epic rise to power of Rayhana’s ruthless father, Ibn Abi Amir, a man history will come to both celebrate and revile for the role he plays in the collapse of Islamic Spain.
Fortune’s Lament, my latest, is again set in Granada, 120 years after Emeralds of the Alhambra, and sets the stage for the final collapse of Muslim Spain. It tells the story of Danah, a young Muslim woman who aspires to be the first female physician in the city. Love unexpectedly blossoms between Danah and Yusef, a valiant prince of court from a rival clan, during the bloody final conquest of Granada by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Christian Spain. As the light of Islamic Spain dims, the Inquisition looms large on the horizon, as does the coming voyage of Columbus to discover the Americas.
When you first began writing, did you have a series in mind? If not, what changed your thoughts?
Yes, I intended to write a series from the very beginning. There is just too much fascinating history to be told. I envision the series stretching to at least 4 books, maybe more.
The women of Al-Andalus exhibit surprising behavior in your novels, moving beyond the traditional roles readers may expect of women in the medieval period. Where you surprised by the role of medieval Muslim women as you researched the period?
That is true, yes. I discovered many surprising elements to this history, including the strong role women often played in decisions that influenced pivotal outcomes (by a variety of means; some good, some bad), as well as the unusual social mobility women sometimes enjoyed. I wanted to highlight this nuanced piece of the history. Actually, there are three deeper themes present in all of my novels, themes that greatly interest me: 1) How strong young women cross the artificial boundaries society imposes. 2) The nature of love and its power to transform us. Yes, these are love stories! And 3) The importance of religious tolerance, and the beauty of multiculturalism. All of these themes firmly anchored to a riveting historical context, but are also highly relevant to our modern world.
Do you have favorite characters from each of your novels in the series? If so, tell us why you prefer that character above others.
Well, definitely my young female protagonists! Layla, in Emeralds, Rayhana in Shadows, and Danah in Fortune’s Lament. All are bright, all are strong-willed, all are determined to break out of the traditional roles and expectations assigned to them. AND…..all unexpectedly encounter love along their journeys… which changes everything (as love is wont to do!).
Do you plan to write more novels set in Al-Andalus? If not, where will your writing adventures take you?
Definitely! Novel # 4 in the series has already commenced, and it will be a sequel to Fortune’s Lament, telling the story of the final collapse of Granada in 1492. Beyond that, time will tell―but one thing is certain: there are plenty of stories left in the 800 years of al-Andalus that still beg to be told! Stay tuned.
Thanks again, John!
Thursday, April 12, 2018
With MEET THE AUTHOR, I’m pleased to introduce guest authors and share their newest novels with visitors. This week, meet Kristen Taber! She’s stopping by to share an excerpt of her newest novel, The Shadow Guard, part of the Æerenden series.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1:
ÆRENDEN’S RENAISSANCE had been one of beauty, full of art and discovery, friendship and kindness. Many in the kingdom spoke of it as if they had lived through each colorful moment and some had. It had only been decades since the renaissance had ended. War had a way of making years feel like an eternity.
In the height of that era, music had swelled within the castle’s great hall, bouncing from the windows, muffled by tapestries, echoing with joy. Bodies had danced and swayed. Laughter had resounded from the ceiling. Founders’ juice had flowed from carafes, drained from cups, and loosened lips. Meaghan imagined gossip had served as currency in this place, traded without regard for truth or belief in its details. Throughout Ærenden’s history, storytelling had blended with everyday life, entertainment valued the same as rare powers. When the revelers had left the castle’s parties, they would have paid no more heed to the tales they had heard than they did the king’s joking antics—the bets he had wagered with his Guardians or the contests he had arranged to see who among his people did not mind displaying their foolishness.
Queen Adelina’s father had been jubilant, by all accounts. Her mother had subjected him to frequent eye rolls, while hiding her own mirth behind an elegant hand.
Life had been carefree within these rose quartz walls, until the Zeiihbu War had become something more than distant skirmishes on the border. In its final years, everyone had lost someone they loved, battles had replaced jokes in conversation, and the people’s loyalties had become divided. Some wanted to annihilate the Zeiihbuans. Some wanted to assimilate them. And no one wanted to share Founders’ juice with those who had opposing views.
The parties stopped. The king died, the queen soon after, and their daughter closed the doors to the hall, and to her grief, using the space only for formal ceremonies.
After the war, Queen Adelina had wed King Édaire, affectionately known as Ed to those who had loved him, and they had conceived a child.
Meaghan had never had the chance to know her parents, beyond the fractured memories of toddlerhood. Ed had been murdered in this room, Adelina in their apartment, and Meaghan had been spirited to Earth soon after.
Now she walked the length of her grandfather’s beloved great hall, each footfall masked by graceful steps she had not realized she could muster. She kept her eyes focused on one point at the front of the room—a single throne representing so much history and pain.
Two amethyst-encrusted finials on top of the throne glistened in the noonday sun. Golden flowers curled around the throne’s arms and legs, symbols of growth and her family’s connection to the past. Their beauty would have brought a smile to her face, if she had not known her father had bled to death on the floor below them.
Or if she had not remembered the smaller throne that had filled the empty space on the left side of the dais before Garon destroyed it. Her father had used it in his duties as king. Her mother had ruled from the larger one.
Interview with Kristen Taber
Welcome Kristen, thanks for being my guest at The Brooklyn Scribbler. Please share some insight on your five-part YA series, Æerenden and the final installment, The Shadow Guard.
The Ærenden series starts on Earth and transitions to Ærenden, a kingdom on a world parallel to ours yet wholly different. Where we have medicine and science, they have magic---Healers, people who control electricity and the weather, Telekines, and Firestarters. Each person has a personal power, including Meaghan, a young woman raised on Earth but born within the kingdom she remembers only in nightmares. The series follows Meaghan and Nick—her personal guard and love-interest—as they fight to take back the kingdom from the man who assassinated the former king and queen. Along the way, what seems to be a straightforward black-and-white war turns into a complex puzzle of gray areas. Nick and Meaghan must navigate the secrets left behind by the royal family to uncover the truth and save the kingdom.
The final installment in the series, The Shadow Guard, brings Nick and Meaghan to a land outside of the kingdom thought to be uninhabited. What they discover leaves Meaghan with a choice that could turn her from a long-awaited hero into a villain with the power to destroy everything.
When you first began writing, when did you know that only a series of novels would allow you to fully realize the journey on which your characters were about to embark?
In the beginning, I thought the whole story would only consume about 300 pages, and it would be a neat and tidy standalone. Halfway through writing The Child Returns (book 1), I realized my characters had a greater story to tell. I hashed out a basic outline for five books at that point (not including background stories, historical stories, and potential spinoffs that currently reside in my head). Eventually those expected 300 pages turned into over 2,000 published pages.
Is there any secondary character in the novel who could have “run away” with the story and turned attention from your lead characters?
Yes, and she still may get her own book if the muses keep pestering. In The Shadow Guard, a shapeshifter named Faughn becomes integral to the storyline and assists Meaghan in her final battle with her nemesis. Faughn grew up in a harsh desert region with enemies constantly on the fringes of her awareness. One enemy killed her mother and kidnapped her brother. Despite her hardships—and because of them—she’s become a warrior who is capable of fighting and handling herself in precarious situations. She also knows how to trust, love, and have fun when time allows. Her self-confidence and composure as a result of growing up in a combat environment is a contrast to Meaghan, who has been thrown into a situation beyond her control and struggles to come to terms with it and become the hero required of her. After writing Meaghan’s type of character for nearly ten years, Faughn intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about her and the inner-psyche she doesn’t show, that I know has to have stemmed from the trauma in her life. So many times, I had to fight the urge to deviate, to show Faughn’s building relationship with her love interest or her reactions with her brother-in-law or father, but I managed to curb that impulse. She did, however, earn a place of honor on the cover.
Any writing quirks? E.g. requiring music to read, favorite place, etc.
I have to have background noise, usually music or coffee shop chatter. For music, I bounce between classic rock, blues, metal, classical, and film scores, depending on my mood. When I need the coffee shop murmur but can’t get out of the house, I use a website called Coffitivity that recreates café noises. I wrote almost all of The Shadow Guard using that site or listening to the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack.
If your novels ever became films, who would play your lead characters and why?
Oh goodness. Fans always ask me this, and I have so much trouble deciding. Meaghan has always been most difficult for me. I love the idea of an unknown playing her, like Emma Watson was before she starred in Harry Potter, so I don’t like to picture current Hollywood stars in the role. If I had to choose, Auli'i Cravalho looks similar to how I picture her so maybe I’d go for her. For Nick, I picture a blonde Logan Lerman. And Faughn? Totally Yara Shahidi.
Thanks again, Kristen!
Learn more about Kristen Taber
Buy The Shadow Guard, Æerenden series #5
Kindle - http://amzn.to/2ttiz7N
Amazon Paperback - https://amzn.to/2pEgYI0
B&N Paperback - http://bit.ly/2pDNcTB
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Five years ago this month, I had the privilege of participating in the HerStory anthology with a group of more than twenty female authors. Each of us submitted stories of women with extraordinary courage during varying periods of history. My contribution was The Legend Rises, a story of Gwenllian of Gwynedd, who fought against twelfth-century Norman invaders alongside her husband Gruffydd. She was a remarkable woman with the strength to face nearly insurmountable odds and her final stand at Kidwelly Castle inspired generations of Welsh freedom fighters and earned her nickname, the female Braveheart.
Since the anthology was not continued, I'm pleased to share this story for free with visitors to my website. A sample follows here. For readers who want to know more of Gwenllian and Gruffydd, the full novel detailing their lives will be available in March 2020, Lady of Legend; my HerStory contribution will NOT be included in the book so here's a chance to read that missing chapter.
About The Legend Rises:
Gwenllian, a Welsh princess of Gwynedd and the wife of the dispossessed lord of Deheubarth faces the greatest trial she has ever known. Brutal English invaders have ravaged her beloved country and forced her into a meager existence, hidden in the forests of her husband’s homeland. While he seeks a new, strong alliance against the enemy, Gwenllian prepares herself and her children for the fight of their lives. Strength and honor alone cannot win the battle. Her family must unite for their survival.
The Legend Rises
Parting: Winter 1136 AD
At Caeo, Cantref Mawr, within the old kingdom of Deheubarth
As the morning of Gruffydd’s departure from Caeo dawned, no tears tainted the exchange between brothers, a father and his sons, or a mother divided from a portion of her brood. If Gwenllian held the little lord Rhys for too long, at least her youngest son did not wriggle away. She buried her face in his pale-yellow curls, kissed his ruddy cheeks, and released him. On pudgy legs with mud-splotched shoes, the child scrambled to join Rhain Llwyd in the rearguard. Gruffydd’s best archer hoisted the boy into the saddle. At five years old, was Rhys ready for his own mount?
Rhain met Gwenllian’s pertinent stare. She sighed and offered him a resigned nod. Her simple gesture conveyed more than trust. She offered thanks for his stalwart loyalty and bloodied sacrifices of the past. Rhain would never allow any harm to come to the boy.
Anarawd approached and extended his hand to her. When she clasped his arm, her ragged fingernails dug into the leather tunic. Wiry muscles tensed beneath the sleeve. A man stood in place of the squalling, red-faced infant Gruffydd had deposited in her arms over twenty years before. In the absence of their eldest brother, Maelgwn and Morgan would resume their lessons in weaponry under their mother’s tutelage. She looked forward to a demonstration of Anarawd’s tactics later.
She whispered to him, “Have a care for Rhys.”
His brow furrowed beneath a dark forelock of hair, so like his father’s own. “I always do and even if I didn’t, Rhain would. You can rely on us both. Why do you even ask?”
She ignored the slight irritation in his gruff tone. “Don’t let your brother become a nuisance at Aberffraw. My father and mother may delight in the frolicking of my youngest, but Rhys can be a trial for his aged grandparents.”
“He is for everyone else here. Why should he behave otherwise at court in Gwynedd?” He met her sudden scowl with a wink and a final kiss on her cheek.a “Be well. Don’t worry for Rhys. I know how much you love him, Mam.”
Didn’t Anarawd know she felt the same for him? She would have hugged him as close as she did Rhys if her maudlin state would not cause the young man some distress. Instead, she swallowed the ache in her throat. “Have a care for yourself and your father too.”
He made no promises, only bowed and turned away. Was he so eager for his part in the adventures to come? If Gruffydd succeeded in forging a new alliance against the English, Anarawd would take up the battle cry beside his father, uncles, and grandfathers. She would not be able to stop him or keep all of her or Gruffydd’s children safe. She scoffed at the idea. Security, freedom, and a life without worry had never existed for any of them, would not be theirs until they rid their homeland of the interlopers.
Mist cloaked the frost-covered earth, the dragon’s breath of her former nurse’s tales from childhood. Gruffydd coughed while he took deliberate steps, lingering with various members of his teulu gathered in the clearing. Dawn’s golden-pink glow revealed the weather-beaten faces of each man. The retainers numbered three hundred strong, with a third on the surefooted ponies taken in last summer’s raids. A few among the riders even donned the chainmail of their fallen adversaries, worn over threadbare tunics and trews, with swords at the waist and shields at their backs. The rest of the men, each bearing a sheaf of arrows and longbows of elm, would follow the cavalry on the long trek north to Aberffraw with her husband. Another two hundred would protect Gwenllian in his absence.
Gruffydd neared the end of the line, where Rhain ensured Rhys maintained his balance. The boy’s father distracted him, rumpling his hair until Rhys giggled. Rhain kept a firm grip on his charge before he and Gruffydd clapped each other’s shoulders. The ageless bond between them reflected in mutual, silent stares.
Behind them, burly Arthfael Llwyd awaited Gruffydd’s withdrawal. Hanks of unwashed hair fell over the aged warrior’s furrowed brow. He supported his ruined right side on the crutch Anarawd had carved for him from a yew tree. His gray beard almost concealed the thin line of his mouth. For the first time in their lives, only one of the twins would ride out under their lord’s banner. Since Arthfael and Rhain first escorted Gruffydd to Aberffraw, Gwenllian had never seen the brothers apart from each other. This morning would encompass more poignant farewells than those shared between Gruffydd’s children.
Huddled in the doorway, Gwenllian leaned on the rough oak post. Wood scraped her cheek. Bledri snuffled and nosed into her open hand. She spared a smile for the aging wolfhound and scratched behind his ears. Three generations of the breed had lived and died since her father’s wolfhounds first trailed her across the fens teaming with peat, east of Aberffraw, or through gorse-covered moorlands. The dog’s muzzle pressed alongside her thigh. He sat on his hindquarters and kept a watchful though rheumy-eyed gaze on the activity in the clearing.
A breeze ruffled Gruffydd’s graying hair and swept his mantle off his massive shoulders, exposing the tunic and trews beneath. No outsider would have distinguished him from his men. His footfalls lacked their usual vigor. Stiff movements warned of the dull ache in his muscles, for which he would never complain. He also did not need to speak of the battle raging inside him. Only a swift need to counter the English urged him from the comfort of their family. He dreaded this undertaking more than she did. The selfish core of her heart, which still found its refuge in Gruffydd’s care, thrummed with a fervent wish to keep him at her side. Her mind pleaded for the host from Gwynedd to ride out with Gruffydd and confront this latest English threat. Only her husband could convince her father and her remaining brothers Owain and Cadwaladr of the need to unite....
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Saturday, March 24, 2018
Women's History Month is always a special time of observation for me. Not just as a Black woman or an author who writes about women, one of the group's HIStory has long marginalized. One of my favorite pastimes is to read about or research the lives of strong females. From Malala Yousafzai back to my favorite medieval queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This year, I've especially admired the #MeToo movement and the demand for accountability by male abusers that’s been so vital. Being introspective, I've always thought, what makes a strong woman?
Strength is a beneficial attribute, granting the possessor an elevated level of ability, capacity, capability, and competence. Unfortunately, I think a woman's strength has come, for some, to mean that she has taken on male attributes. Meaning she can "kick ass" as the saying goes. Or, that suddenly, she can open her mouth, being unafraid to break "norms" and "traditional rules" and speak out, in what others may confuse with speaking out of turn. When did women EVER truly need anyone's permission to use our voices, decide for ourselves and be who we are at heart? Throughout history, society has called us the weaker sex. Weak? Please. Anyone who refers to someone as weak by calling them a 'pussy' automatically gets the stare of death from me. VAGINAS HAVE PUSHED OUT BABIES FROM THE DAWN OF TIME! If that ability is not one of the most elemental definitions of strength, I don't know what is....
For me, strength is endurance. The hallmark of every strong woman. Even the females who have yet to discover that wellspring within themselves. The ability to withstand the tide, stand our ground, and not let physical pain, humiliation, hurt, and disappointment sweep away all that makes us who we are as women.
Endurance has given me the inspiration to tell the stories of historical women who have or find the power within themselves to make changes in the male-dominated world of the past and define their own sources of happiness and security. For every woman that I've written about, if being at the side of a man has given her access to power or a certain level in society, my female character also determined her fate. Left a memorable legacy.
But throughout history, strong women have always faced backlashes, too, whenever we've asserted the natural power within us. When society deemed us too strong. At heart, we were just rejecting the labels assigned to us. You know them. Witch! Harpy! Harridan (my personal favorite)! Vixen! Trollop! Wench! Bitch! Slut! Feminist! Behind these labels has always been male and society’s fear of a woman's capacity for self-determination.
Strong women know we best influence our lives and futures, and for those of us who are religious, God guides us. We must never let others, be they cherished fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, or strangers in society at large take that ability from us. I won't. Why? A strong woman loved and raised me and my sister. I grew up in a family of strong women. They taught me to fight when necessary, but most of all, to survive and endure. From them, I've learned valuable lessons that have taken me through some of the darkest moments of my life. So far. By their wisdom and preparation, I know I will endure much more. Thus, I can admire strong women. I can write about strong women. I can speak with other women and encourage them to find the strength within themselves, the willpower.
Today and every day, not just at Women's History Month, I salute every strong woman out there. Our mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and ancestors have brought us to this time, this moment of history. We owe it to our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, friends, and descendants to support and teach the next generation of strong women who will inherit this world. May they have an ever more hopeful and brighter vision of the future.
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