When Supernatural is Believable and Vice Versa

Last week I read two books: Crimson Frost, a Christmas novella by JP Mclean, and Adèle by Leila Slimani. No common denominators between them (fortunately!), except that they were both short reads.

For those who like Christmas stories with a supernatural touch, Crimson Frost will be a perfect choice: fast-paced, with a solid plot, interesting characters and the atmosphere of sadness and joy, loss and hope. I’m a big fan of JP McLean’s Gift Legacy, and I wrote about her excellent newest novel, Blood Mark, in my previous post, so no wonder I enjoyed this novella as well. She has the ability to make supernatural natural and fantastic believable – a rare talent. Five stars for Crimson Frost!

Adèle, on the other hand, is “literary fiction”, a critically acclaimed translation from French, that somehow managed to do just the opposite: to turn something real into the unbelievable.

I read lots and lots of classical literature in high school and in my university days. I often go back to it, re-reading my favourite authors and their works. Now I prefer popular fiction–from romances and mysteries to fantasies, general fiction and historical fiction.

I give “literary fiction” a go once in a while, but it seems that I can’t pick a satisfying piece. (“Literary fiction” is a controversial label (hence the quotation marks); a vague, undefined space between established classics and genre fiction, populated with everything from most of the Nobel Prize laureates to the above-mentioned Slimani or, in the extreme representations of literary insanity, works like Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.

Now, Adèle. Inspired by Luis Bunuel’s 1967 masterpiece Belle de Jour (my observation) and Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (the author’s declaration), Adèle is supposedly a contemporary story of a woman in a search for herself. In the movie Belle de Jour, Severine is unable to share physical intimacy with her husband. She starts her journey of self-discovery and healing by working as a high-class prostitute during the day. It’s not without danger, of course, but depending on how you perceive Bunuel’s ambiguous ending, you might believe Severine’s therapeutic approach was successful. In any case, it’s a great movie and Catherine Deneuve was beyond beautiful as Belle de Jour. Emma Bovary’s romanticized view of life filled with passion and wealth is in a clash with her dull reality. Seeking–and finding–sensation, she’ll have several affairs, accrue a sizeable debt, and finally, kill herself, in the process destroying her husband and ruining her daughter’s future.

Adèle, a young Parisian woman, appears to be a sex addict. Her husband is a successful surgeon, with very different physical needs, or rather, the absence of them: for him, sex is a laborious task that must be endured in order to procreate. He assumes she feels the same because he really doesn’t know her, nor does he care to know her until it’s too late. In constant search for her next “fix”, Adèle lives a double life, weaving a cobweb of deceits and lies, swinging between excitement and regret, loathing herself and everyone else, causing endless pain and sorrow, awaking the worst in herself and others. She requires to be physically punished and emotionally humiliated, over and over again by her lovers; no level of indignity, disgrace or degradation is low enough for her. She doesn’t have any moral compass. I wouldn’t have a problem with that — after all, the abyss of addiction is, if not a new, then certainly an interesting topic to explore. But, there is not a hint of explanation of what caused her to become an addict. (The author states it doesn’t matter, but I, as a reader, feel something is missing.) Traumatic childhood? Adèle’s relationship with her mother was cold and complex, but not enough to warrant such a drastic outcome. On the other side, Adèle’s father was devoted to her, balancing her mother’s self-centeredness. Her childhood and youth experiences were not presented as bad enough to cause emotional damage of this magnitude. The most prominent part of Emma Bovary in Adèle is her sense of entitlement, paradoxical, given Adèle’s non-existent self esteem. Slimani wants us to believe that Adèle tries to find her confidence and female power in her sexual exploits (although not overly graphic, some of them are quite nauseous), painting her at the same time (and I think quite accurately) as a sex addict dancing on the razor’s edge and feeding an unknown, devastating hunger inside her. The ending of the novel also appears to be influenced by Belle de Jour, but clearly, Slimani isn’t Bunuel, and it left me annoyed that she tried to mimic him.

This tiny novel, this praised “literary fiction” is all over the place, a colossal mess of several irreconcilable concepts. Each one would work on its own; together they are dizzying. Unfortunately, it looks like sometimes modern novels have to include a few strange components to be declared “literary fiction” — like taking liberties with logic and common sense, unsatisfying endings and odd angles to examine human conditions. The most inaccurate and non-sensical description is in the blurb: “Suspenseful, erotic, and electrically charged, Adèle is a captivating exploration of addiction, sexuality, and one woman’s quest to feel alive.” (Emphasis in bold is mine.)

Erotic? Yeah. As much as an addiction can be.

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A Heart-pounding Tale with Urban Rhythm

Being a great admirer of JP McLean’s Gift Legacy, I was eager to read her newest book, Blood Mark. She didn’t disappoint: once again, I was impressed with her rich imagination, her storytelling skills and her ability to build tension. I was quickly immersed in her world.

Blood Mark is a fast-paced suspense with a heart-pounding plot and a compelling set of characters, highlighted by supernatural elements and a love story happening in the background. Wrapped in the bleak atmosphere of a rugged urban milieu, the novel features a streetwise, tough-and-cynical-from-the-outside, compassionate-and-kind-from-the-inside heroine, a fighter and a survivor with a moral center and a will made of steel. Moreover, it’s a framework to put friendship and loyalty to the test, to show courage and resilience, and to overcome fears and insecurities. Short chapters, the author’s choice of third-person point of view and multiple narrators to move the story forward, as well as strategically interjected Visiting Dreams, only add to the fast pulse and urban rhythm of this book.

I read Blood Mark in three sittings, a fact that speaks for itself. It was way after midnight when I finished it, tired and sleepy but unwilling to leave the last few chapters for the following day. It’s fascinating how stories sometimes work: although I suspected that the ending would be satisfying, I needed reassurance from the book itself. I guess it happens when you and your read ‘click’.

A few words about the Gift Legacy series, while I’m here: if you like urban fantasies (or supernatural fiction, or contemporary fantasies; I’m not sure which one of these categories fits it best), I highly recommend it. If you don’t like this genre, the Gift Legacy may just change your mind. The six books of the series, in addition to the Gift Legacy companion, stand high on the list of my favourite fantasies, with its imaginative and original plot and characters you wish you could be friends with.

JP McLean is a Canadian author based in British Columbia.

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From NaNo to Ninny: Downsizing Expectations

I made quite a strong statement a while ago saying that participating in NaNoWriMo was my worst writing decision.

It was four or five years ago. At the end of that agonizing November, I had the required number of words. It was a Pyrrhic victory, though: the story was useless, and I felt so drained with producing a certain amount of words every day, day after day, and so frustrated with my inability to do anything with that material that I stopped writing altogether. From the start, the NaNo concept was on a collision course with my writing self: I don’t structure my stories, I have no firm plans, only the simplest (mental) outline, my ideas develop and change as I write. I finish a story and then I apply the structure to it. I couldn’t go back and change things nor had I time to read what I had written the previous day. Add to the mix my full-time job and regular, several-times-per-month migraine attacks, and you’ll get the picture. Moreover, schedules, routine, habits — these are not categories I’m comfortable with when I write or paint. They’re useful in many other aspects of my life, like my very structured job, but not for the right-side brain activities.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining, but it seemed to me that nothing positive came out of my NaNo nightmare. I was cringing every time I heard that clumsy abbreviation.

Until a few days ago, when I got an idea of how to forgive NaNoWriMo for the torture I endured and myself for trying to be something I was not.

I got inspired while reading a post by my fellow blogger and author, Priscilla Bettis: I’ll try to do NaNoWriMo on a small, Ninnywrimo scale (love the word!), to challenge myself with something manageable, and with visible and positive outcomes.

My backward-written novella, I’ll be Waiting for You at the End of the Story, is done. It’s the first draft, so my NinnyWriMo dare will be to go through it and make it ready for my editor. It has about 22K, so I should be able to do it, even though one-third of the month is gone.

Meanwhile, I finished Naomi Novik’s first standalone novel, Uprooted, written and published after her Temeraire books. Similar to Spinning Silver, this story is also deeply embedded in Slavic folklore, legends and mythology. Uprooted won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2016 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and the 2016 Mythopoeic Award in the category Adult Literature. It was also nominated for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It’s an impressive and well-deserved list of trophies.

Interestingly, her capital work, the unforgettable Temeraire series, didn’t collect many rewards. I liked both her standalones, but I don’t think I will read them again. (I did read the first two Temeraire books for the second time, right after I finished book 9, and ordered the entire set from Amazon today.) Nothing compares to the magic of her famous series, not even her own work. Some authors become better writers with more experience, but apparently this is not always the case. To be fair, to come up for the second time with something so original and captivating would be next to impossible.

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How to Fall in Love With a Dragon

You’ve probably heard about this series. Perhaps you read it. It’s been around for a while; the first book was published back in 2006, the final instalment ten years later. At one point Peter Jackson had obtained the movie rights from the author. Regretfully, he changed his mind and went ahead and made The Hobbit trilogy.

I know why I ignored it all those years ago–it was categorized as science fiction, a genre I almost never read, and the blurb mentioned an alternative history focused on the Napoleonic wars, not a period I’m particularly drawn to.

I don’t know why I decided to finally give His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in Naomi Novik’s fabulous Temeraire series, a try. It was the end of August, I was having a sale of my paintings in front of my house. It was still early for potential customers, it was a sunny but very smoky morning, so I grabbed the first book from a pile of boxes (where we’d been keeping them for the last year or so due to endless house renovations) and started reading. Years ago, I’d bought it in a second hand book store, and never touched it since then.

There is something magical in the moment when you realize you’re falling in love with a book–it’s not unlike falling in love with a person. And as with a person, it can happen for many reasons–because of the book’s deeper meaning, because it’s beautifully written, because you like the atmosphere, or more often, the characters. This time it was a combination of several factors–once I decided to go out of my reading comfort zone, I saw the huge potential in the story premise, which felt more authentic than I expected. Novik’s writing is beautiful, with seemingly excessive use of colons, semicolons and long sentences, which only gave her style so much rhythm and substance, evoking the time period without making reading dense and laborious. I’m thankful that she hadn’t sent her story to one of those numerous editors and other writing professionals who ‘expertly’ advise us to never use semicolons in fiction.

Mostly, however, it was one of the two protagonists that did the job.

I’ve experienced many literary crushes, but never before had I loved a non-human character so much as I loved Temeraire. I remembered my then six-year-old son after watching How to Train Your Dragon, and his words, full of longing, “I wish I could have a dragon.” That’s how I’ve been feeling since Book 1.

Six weeks and eight sequels later, after reading one book after another, on the bus, on my breaks, before sleep, I was on the last chapter of the story–League of Dragons–experiencing the strong symptoms of withdrawal. And like many times before, I wished I could erase my reading memory and start from the beginning.

What’s so wonderful about this dragon? The list is long: his personality, his humanity or perhaps “dragonity”, his intelligence, his loyalty, his courage–he’s a combat dragon, of course–his joys, his small vices and imperfections, his devotion to his dragon brethren, his crew and most of all, his captain, William Laurence, a former Navy officer who found himself bound to a little black dragonet and had to move to the less glamorous Arial Forces. His sense of humour, his pure heart, his heartbreaking naivety, his sometimes deep some other times black and white perceptions, his love for poetry, philosophy and mathematics, his endless fascination with precious metal gem stones, pearls and shiny objects in general.

It’s evident that the author did thorough research of the Napoleonic era. She captured the complex and multilayered character of Napoleon Bonaparte, the man whose ideas were as magnificent as the terrific price of their implementing was. Using wide brush strokes that still reveal many accurate details, she was able to paint not only the physical world but also the flavour of the times and the essence of the mentality of different nations, following her unforgettable heroes from England to China, from China to the south of Africa, from there to the Ottoman Empire and to Prussia, then to France, Australia, Imperial Russia, and back to England. I would bet my best pair of shoes that she’s a great admirer of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Her portrait of the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army, Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, the man who defeated Napoleon, was influenced, in the best way, by one of Russia’s greatest literary giants.

A less talented writer would’ve thrown in a bit of romance, not that there was a lack of opportunity, but Novik has chosen to spin us a love story–or better– a story of love, friendship and loyalty between a man and a dragon, that transform them both into amazing beings.

After all, if Stephen King says His Majesty’s Dragon is “terrifically entertaining,” we should trust him.

I’m now reading one of her standalone novels, Spinning Silver, a story that digs deep into the richness of Slavic fairy tales and folklore and weaves a story that enchants you from the very first page.

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Writing Backwards

My contemporary love story collection has an unusual history, and I’m not talking here about three covers and two republishings. The writing order was mixed up a bit: I wrote the second story first, then the first, then the third.

Now I’m writing backwards again–I’m working on story #5. The fourth story is still taking shape in my mind. It will be longer and more complex, a novella rather than a novelette. I found this way of writing practical–once #5 is done, I’ll feel obligated to write story #4 since I’ve already made its characters alive.

I have the title for #5: I’ll Be Waiting for You at the End of the Story. It’s long, but I love it. As an indie author with no expectations or literary ambitions, I think I can afford not to care about the rules.

A visual souvenir form Tulum, Mexico, 2012

I guess what I wanted to say is that I’m writing again, doesn’t matter if it’s backwards. Although, I have to admit that my biggest road block now seems to be my job. During my week long vacation, I wrote about 12,000 words. I was in a different mental and emotional state, in other words, happy in my own world. Since then, I’ve managed to do only a few pages. As I’m getting older, it’s becoming more difficult to switch, or find balance, between my creative and my analytical self.

On a completely different note, a few days ago, someone posted an interesting question on FB:

“You’re on the first date with someone and he/she tells you the name of his/her favourite book. You immediately leave. What is the book?

My answer was The Alchemist.

What would be yours?

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The Bridge over the Drina

In my last post I mentioned devşirme, or “blood tax”, the practice the Ottomans used for centuries to recruit future soldiers — janissaries — and bureaucrats from their Christian subjects.

For two centuries, from the 1400s to 1600s, the blood tax produced all the grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire. (Grand vizier was the highest ranking and most powerful position after the Sultan.)

One of the Great viziers from that period was Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who was born in 1506 near a small town of Rudo, in Bosnia and Hercegovina, in an Orthodox Christian family. His real name is not know. The young slave started his meteoric ascent as a janissary, raising through the Ottoman ranks with astonishing speed: he was the High Admiral of the Fleet, the Governor of Rumelia, the Third Vizier, the Second Vizier and finally, in 1567, the Grand Vizier, the position he would keep for 17 years, until his death. He served under three sultans, a testimony not only to his competence but also his ability to navigate the complex, ever-changing and often dangerous political currents of the Ottoman Empire.

By Branevgd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83944113

Like many of the high Ottomans officials, he left a vast architectural legacy throughout the Empire. In 1571 he commissioned his most renowned endowment — the bridge over the Drina River, as a tribute to his native region. The 11-arch, 589 feet long stone bridge was a masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect and engineer of the classical Ottoman period, who designed at least 374 buildings in his century long life — mosques, schools, bridges, palaces, mansions — including the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Türbe (tomb, or mausoleum) in Istanbul.

UNESCO added the Mehmed Pasha Bridge in its World Heritage List in 2007, but it was famous even before that, at least in the literary world. In 1961, Ivo Andric received the Nobel Prize for his historical novel The Bridge on the Drina.

On the small photo is so called Kapija (gate). It is said that the bridge is the heart of the town, but that the kapija is the heart of the bridge.

The Turkish word for ‘bridge’ is köprü, or ćuprija, in its Slavicized form. We have another, Slavic, word – môst — but it’s amazing how much more meaning the Turkish word carries.

By JankoSam – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51007524

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Wings of Courage

I’ve always been drawn to fictional battles, brave fighters, heroic deeds, swords, banners, armors, horses… The Battle of Helm’s Deep from the LOTR trilogy never ceases to give me goosebumps (“Theoden king stands alone.” “Not Alone! Rohirrim! To the king!”), but the silent battle scene in the middle of Kurosawa’s 1985 movie Ran has to be seen to be believed. If you haven’t watched Kurosawa’s astonishing vision of King Lear, I highly recommend it.

I like history, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the past sometimes finds its way into my books in the form of battles. I found inspiration for one such titbit in the stories of some of the braves warriors in post-medieval Europe – the Polish Winged Hussars and the Janissaries.

In 1621, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth clashed with the invading Ottoman army in Khotyn in Bessarabia, today’s Ukraine. (They’ll meet once more, some fifty years later, on the same battlefield.) Both armies employed their elite units — the Winged Hussars and the Janissaries. The former were light cavalry, the latter infantry, both well-trained and fireless, and perhaps because of that, the battle ended in a stalemate.

By bazylek100 - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bazylek/5181870933/sizes/l/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17489513

At first, the Winged Hussars were forged of the exiled Balkan warriors, who ended up in Poland as mercenaries in early sixteenth century. In the following decades, however, they were transformed into a heavily armored shock cavalry.

By Lambert Wyts - https://digital.onb.ac.at/RepViewer/viewer.faces?doc=DTL_3844671, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106527410

The Hussars were famous for their huge “wings”, a wooden frames filled with eagle feathers. The wings made a loud, clattering noise, making the cavalry appear much larger than in reality and frightening the enemy’s horses. The wings also protected the back of the rider from swords.

Interestingly enough, the Janissaries too were recruited from (but not exclusively) the Balkans. Thought devşirme system or “blood tax”, the young, healthy boys were taken from their families and sent to Istanbul to be incorporated into the army or educated for the Ottoman administration. Cruel as it was, this practice produced many great military leaders and high ranking officials, including numerous grand viziers.

Janissaries, the first modern standing army in Europe, were famous for their bravery and loyalty.

My character, Ahmed Demir, fought for the Ottoman army. He wasn’t a janissary; he was a member of Turkish aristocracy. Ahmed was — now you can learn a few Turkish words — a yüzbaşı (captain) as well as a heķim (doctor) — the modern day equivalent to an army physician. He had sihirbaz (wizard) blood in his veins; it would help him to survive Khotyn and, many years later, share his story with us.

Attributions: bazylek100 & Lambert Wyts

P. S.

I have a question.

Do you dislike the WordPress block editor as much as I do?

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Book Release – Guardian of the Realm

Guardian of the Realm, the second book of the Red Cliffs Chronicles, has been released on KISS.

Out of my three books, this one is my favourite. At first, I didn’t plan to do two Red Cliffs sagas, but as I was writing the final chapters of The Two-Blood Legacy, a new story started to emerge. I changed a detail or two in The Legacy, left a couple of hints and clues that things might not be as they appeared to be, and Guardian was born. The biggest problem was that the hero of the future book (along with his best friend) was dead (well, presumably). It’s not easy to resurrect a character, let alone two, without being ‘soup-operatic’, but I think I didn’t fall into that trap. The best thing was, Guardian solidified its predecessor, making The Legacy more credible and convincing.

Writing the second book before completing the first allowed me to have my own version of intertextuality. My characters walk between the stories, and some of them have cameo-appearances in my contemporary collection of stories, connecting my two imaginary words. Those who read my earlier blogs may remember that I’ve been fascinated with the interconnections between works of literature.

Here is Guardian’s opening chapter.

The situation was slipping out of control.

“Mrs. Fontaine, please don’t make this more difficult than it has to be,” Sam Wakefield, Rosenthal’s sheriff, said. “I don’t want to handcuff you, but I will if I have to.”

Charlotte Fontaine squared her delicate shoulders and braced her hands on her hips. “Cuff me? How dare you, Samuel Wakefield? I’ve known you ever since you were knee-high to a duck.”

The formidable sheriff pulled on his best law-enforcement expression. “I’m really sorry, ma’am, but you have to come with us. You’re under arrest.”

That day’s public protest to save a historic city block from destruction, including the popular Cosmopolitan Hotel, seemed to me like a carefully staged event. Nonetheless, I had my own professional and personal reasons for supporting the demonstrations.

It was time to intervene.

“Oh, for chrissake, Sheriff,” I said, “you can’t throw one of Rosenthal’s most popular citizens in jail. This will backfire, you know.”

Sheriff Sam Wakefield (under normal circumstances, my friend), turned to me with a sly grin. “You, on the other hand, are certainly not a prominent Rosenthal citizen. Now please turn around.”

Before I could blink, cold metal closed around my wrists with a click.

The sheriff turned to his deputy. “Officer, escort Mrs. Fontaine to the car. And you, Elizabeth Chatwin,” here he gave me a little push, “you are under arrest for trespassing, creating a public disturbance, disorderly conduct, and reckless endangerment. So far. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you …”

“Great job, Sheriff, arresting two women!” Dr. Ned Prentice shouted as he maneuvered a big sign that read Save the Cosmo! “The city government, including the police, should’ve been on this side of the barricades, helping us save the Cosmo from those urban wreckers!”

Dr. Prentice was Rosenthal’s beloved physician as well as the vice president of the Save the Cosmo! Committee, the group of heritage-passionate Rosenthalers, who’d organized the protest. The president of the committee was my fellow arrestee, Charlotte Fontaine.

The sheriff rubbed his neck. “Give me a break, Doc! The owner wants to sell it; you know that.”

“Then the City could’ve bought it out!” someone else yelled.

“Yeah. It’s common practice for a city government to be in the hotel business. Move over, folks, let me pass.”

A young cameraman from the local TV station was recording the entire interaction, including our arrests. I jerked and kicked a little bit for the sake of some additional publicity for our noble cause.

“We want to save a building that is one of Rosenthal’s landmarks and should be protected as a historic site!” I said, looking straight into the camera. “And now they’re arresting a sixty-two-year-old woman with fragile health! Help us save the—”

Before I could say another word, the sheriff had me in the back of his car.

“I’m sixty, dear,” I heard Mrs. Fontaine say before the young deputy opened the back door of his cruiser and, holding her hand, helped her in.

The flashing lights on, both cars pulled away and toward the police station, a few blocks south.

Looking at me in his rearview mirror, Sam said, “That was low, Elizabeth. Fragile health, my ass. Look at her; she doesn’t look a day over fifty and she’s as healthy as a horse.”

“Ned Prentice’s brother is the judge. Mrs. Fontaine will be at home for her afternoon tea.”

“Yes, she will; you’re right. But you will not, hon.”

“I don’t care. I bet there’s a nice little room in your station where I can camp overnight.” I pressed my forehead against the bars between the front and rear seats. “Sam, you’re not going to charge me with all those offenses, are you?”

“Now, sweetheart, I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Sam said with a suppressed laugh. “You and your mob blocked the busiest street in town during rush hour—”

“Rush hour in Rosenthal? You must be kidding!”

“And placed the city in a virtual state of lockdown.”

“For about twelve minutes, until you and your forces crushed—”

“Forces? It was only me and my deputy.”

“Until you and your deputy crushed our peaceful protest,” I said. “There.”

“For which you never got permission from the city.”

“And why didn’t we?”

Sam signaled and turned left. “Because Lottie was advised not to apply for permission. Elizabeth, nobody in Rosenthal wants to see the Cosmo knocked down, but you can’t expect the city officials or the police to join the demonstrators. Lottie needed some media attention, and she got it. Her arrest was the cherry on top.”

“I was arrested, too,” I reminded him.

Sam winked. “You’re collateral damage.”

Just great.

He pulled into the police parking lot, cut the engine and turned to me. “The City would buy out the hotel if there was money for that. It’s a historic building. Alas, our budget is smaller every year. Lottie and her committee know that, so they’re determined to find an investor who will restore the Cosmo before it’s too late.”

“The entire Baker Block is in danger,” I said. “It’s not only the Cosmo.” The historic block, which included the Cosmopolitan Hotel, was the heart of the city.

“Lottie’s clever. If she saves the hotel, the block block may be saved as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if she already has an investor in mind.”

“The whole of Rosenthal is helping her, in one way or another.”

“Including you and me. See, I risked the reputation of the police department by ‘crushing’ her protest, and you will get a criminal record.”

Oh my god! Criminal record! “Sam, you’re joking, aren’t you?”

“I have to charge you, for the sake of authenticity. But don’t worry; I bet Lottie’s lawyer’s already in the station waiting for us. He’ll bail you both out. Now let me uncuff you, honey. You must be uncomfortable. By the way, are you free on Thursday night? I need someone to stay with Jacob.”

Sam was the single father of a four-year-old boy. I loved Jacob and always looked forward to spending time with him. “I’ll make sure I am,” I said with a wide smile.

***

Most of the charges against us were dropped, except for causing a public disturbance. Which would’ve also been dismissed if Mrs. Fontaine, against her lawyer’s advice, hadn’t insisted we’d intended to cause it.

I’d had no such intentions, of course, but since I was the Save the Cosmo!’s professional consultant and Charlotte Fontaine’s friend, it was a matter of loyalty to support her statement.

The lawyer assured us we’d end up with some light community service.

“I’ll give you a ride, and then I’m going home,” I said to Mrs. Fontaine as we left the police station and walked toward my car. “All I need now is a cup of tea and a hot bath.”

“What you need is a glass of wine,” she said and slid her arm through mine. “I’m throwing a party tonight, to celebrate our success, and you’re coming with me.”

This could be a perfect chance to learn more about Mrs. Fontaine’s grand plan. I was part of it, after all.

“Sure,” I said. “But can we stop by my house, just for fifteen minutes? I need to change into something more party-appropriate.”

“No, you don’t,” Mrs. Fontaine said and took a step back, her eyes scanning over my attire: a light beige coat, a knee-length turquoise dress and three-inch-heel pumps in the same color. “You’re already dressed for a party, darling. You were overdressed for the protest.”

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Book Release on KISS – The Two-Blood Legacy

Back in February, I was contacted by Crazy Maple Studio (CMS), the creator of Chapters Interactive Stories (an interactive story game and visual novel app). They recently launched a novel platform called KISS and offered to market my books through it.

I asked them to send me a sample of the distribution contact. My sister, a copyright and trademark agent, didn’t find anything alarming in it, so I singed a one year non-exclusive contract allowing CMS (KISS) to market my books to their reading community.

The Two-blood Legacy was released today. I’m not thinking about possible profit, I’m just curious to see whether or not my books will finally meet their readers.

Hopefully they will. Last night, while I was going through the entire book in search for the best lines CMS would need to do more personalized graphics for me, I realized something big: If someone else wrote The Legacy, I would truly enjoy reading it.

P.S.

JP McLean, thank you for the title and your help with the blurb!

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The Emperor and I – Facts and fiction in my stories

Do historical figures inhabit your fiction work?

Some past events and long-dead people crop up in The Red Cliffs Chronicles—the 1621 Battle of Khotyn, the 1588 Battle of Gravelines, the 1793-1794 Reign of Terror; the fifteenth-century Turkish cartographer Piri Reis, Voltaire, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and so on. I like throwing bits and pieces of history into my novels and then tweaking them to fit my narrative purposes.

Holy Roman Emperor Josef II, man ahead of his time

One particular man has his cameo appearance in all my stories—Holy Roman Emperor Josef II, a statesman I deeply admire.

Along with Catherine the Great and Frederic the Great, Josef II has been considered one of the three most important Enlightenment rulers.

History doesn’t call him “Josef the Great”, but to me—and I’m not alone–he is the greatest among the three of them. His vision was broader, more modern, more humane. More idealistic. He didn’t possess the ruthlessness of the other two and, unlike Catherine and Frederick, didn’t eradicate his powerful opponents to enforce his reforms and thus give them a chance to consolidate.

As someone said, he wanted too much, too fast, too early.

There isn’t better proof of this statement than Josef II’s reformation of the legal system: in 1787, he abolished brutal punishment and death sentence.

The radical changes Josef II initiated didn’t take root during his lifetime. His triumph, however, although postponed, was ultimate—his reforms became the bedrock for modernization of the Austrian Monarchy and its pathway to democracy.

According to many accounts, the emperor was a contemplative, lonely man with melancholic blue eyes. He died relatively young, without children — his only daughter didn’t survive childhood. His first wife, whom he adored, didn’t love him in return; just the opposite happened in his second marriage. Reading and learning about him, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question that often pops into a writer’s mind  – what if things were different?

And this is how Josef II ended up with an alternative biography, much happier than his official, imperial life story had even been. But then, when I took over telling it, he wasn’t an emperor anymore. Just a man, free to dream and love.

In this a small excerpt from Chapter 35 of Guardian of the Realm, in which our heroine meets an interesting man.

“… Dr. Gerhard Falkenstein bore an astonishing likeness to Josef II, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and one of my favorite historical figures. I tried hard to ignore the fact that Falkenstein had been the alias the Emperor had used for his travels as a commoner since I didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t find even a remotely reasonable explanation. Dr. Falkenstein was a pleasant, quiet man and had light blue, somewhat melancholic eyes, like the man whom he resembled. His Midwest American accent was a welcoming reality check. The Emperor had liked to travel, but no history book mentioned that he’d reached Colorado. The solemn Dr. Falkenstein couldn’t be his relative either. It was well known that the Emperor’s only child was a daughter who had died very young…”

Image (public domain): Anton Von Maron (1733-1808) Kaiser Joseph II. (1741-1790) mit der Statue des Mars 1775 , 242 x 172.5 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatebank
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