Tag Archives: historical fiction

Author Interview: Shauna Roberts

Although Author Shauna Roberts writes in several genres, readers can expect a similar experience from all her books and novellas: “Unusual times, remarkable places.” Readers can rest assured that whatever the genre, her works are well researched and anthropologically and/or archeologically plausible, and the setting will be accurate, detailed, and a character in the story. Please welcome Shauna to No Wasted Ink.

Author Shauna RobertsHello, “No Wasted Ink” readers! Thanks for visiting today. I’m Shauna Roberts, a retired medical and science writer and editor who is now writing fiction—fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and romance. I love to read all kinds of books: the genres I write and also mystery, history, science, biography, gardening, and cookbooks. I enjoy gardening; playing and listening to Medieval, Renaissance, and folk music; and doing yoga and bellydance. I grew up in Ohio and am currently living in Southern California, but my home is New Orleans.

When and why did you begin writing?

I think I wrote my first short story in second grade. Over the following years I volunteered for various club newsletters, and I sold my first short story in 1986. That one was a fluke; I didn’t sell another story for ~15 years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I took a job at the (now-defunct) Journal of NIH Research as a production person in 1989. It was a start-up magazine, and everyone did a little of everything. One of my responsibilities was writing the column on biotechnology techniques and methods. When my first column passed muster with the editors, that’s when I felt myself a real writer.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Ice Magic, Fire Magic is an epic fantasy with romantic elements. It’s about a woman who has a genetic defect that prevents her from doing wrong. She lives in a sentient land, which chooses her to be its next liaison—the Servant—with the two species of humans in the land. She doesn’t want to be Servant, and she doesn’t think she’s qualified for the job. Still, she sets out for the capital, because it’s the right thing to do, only to find that people are trying to kill her.

I stuffed the book full of the tropes and themes I like best—an ancient prophecy, women’s magic vs. men’s magic, the nature of love, the nature of duty, secret passages. There are also magical creatures and an ancient spirit of pure evil.

What inspired you to write this book?

Over the decades, I often thought about the good Kirk/bad Kirk episode of Star Trek. I was never satisfied with the conclusions. My original idea was to explore whether a good person was at a disadvantage as a leader. Then I wondered whether “a servant of the people” could actually act as a Servant to the people she led.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try for different effects in different works, and I adjust the style (particularly in nonfiction) to the audience. Even so, I believe there are some constants that people might notice in every work.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

When I was thinking about titles, I stumbled across a diagram showing the most popular words in fantasy book titles for the previous year. Wanting to choose a title that would attract readers and signify that my book was a fantasy, I studied the diagram. “Ice,” “fire,” and “magic” were among the most common words in fantasy titles. My novel includes a lot of magic, has a predominant theme of complementarity, and includes magical creatures called firehounds and icedragons. I tried out other combinations of popular words, but came back to Ice Magic, Fire Magic—short, sweet, and evocative.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

There are several messages. One is that people of integrity can be leaders. Another is that one can’t stereotype handicapped people; people react in different ways to being physically different from the norm. A third is that it’s important to know the past. And a major one message: society benefits when people are not all alike. For example, in Ice Magic, Fire Magic, women’s magic and men’s magic complement each other, and the two species of humans complement each other.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Probably everyone knows people who treat their loved ones disrespectfully or thoughtlessly. I drew on various relationships I’d witnessed for insight into the characters who betray someone they genuinely love.

More specific to my own life is that I was born with birth defects that made me stand out when I started school. (As an aside, that helped me develop a tough skin early, which has served me well as a writer.) Also, my mother’s family was Pennsylvania Dutch; they dressed differently from everyone else I ever saw and had different customs. I was aware of differences and thinking about the meaning of them from a very young age.

I started Ice Magic, Fire Magic in a “Book in Two Weeks” challenge, and to write faster I used the generic and grossly overused faux–Medieval England. Through many, many drafts, I fumbled about trying to choose a better setting. Then it struck me: I had based the forest and the waterfall on the Glen Helen preserve near Antioch, Ohio. I realized that setting the story in southwestern Ohio as it might have been with a different history would be cool. I did tweak several things; for example, I moved the volcano from the Indiana-Ohio border and made it much younger (and thus not only visible but very tall).

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

My aunt, Janet Louise Roberts, demonstrated both that it takes a long time to become established as a writer and that one can make a good living writing popular fiction. As a result, I grew up with an accurate perception of how one becomes a fiction writer, expecting neither instant success nor guaranteed poverty.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Many members of the Southern Louisiana and Orange County chapters of the Romance Writers of America have helped me over the years. Almost everything I know about the nuts and bolts of writing I learned from the RWA and its members.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Tom Vandenberg did the art for the cover. He had done previous covers for my publisher, Hadley Rille Books, and we thought he would do a good job for Ice Magic, Fire Magic. (And he did!)

Do you have any advice for other writers?

When a story comes back with a rejection letter, send it out again the same day. Keep writing new things, read many books about the craft and structure of novels, and join a critique group or get feedback some other way. My Aunt Janet said, “The first million words are just practice.” Be patient during the years it takes to write those million words.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I encourage you to sign up for my new newsletter. There will be contests to win bookstore gift cards, news about my newest publications, and brief mentions of recent reads I’ve enjoyed.

Ice Magic Fire Magic Book CoverShauna Roberts
Riverside, California


Ice Magic, Fire Magic

Cover Artist: Tom Vandenberg
Publisher: Hadley Rille Books


Book Review: The Crystal Cave

Book Name: The Crystal Cave
Author: Mary Stewart
First Published: 1970

Lady Mary Stewart was born in Sunderland, England, the daughter of a vicar. She graduated from Durham University in 1938 with full honors in English. While she hoped to become a university professor, due to World War II, jobs were very scarce and she shifted gears, got a teaching certificate and taught primary school instead. After the war ended, she went on to earn a master’s degree and was hired as a lecturer of English Language and Literature at the Durham University.

It was during her years lecturing at Durham where she met a fellow lecturer, a young Scot who spoke of Geology, by the name of Frederick Stewart. They married within three months of their meeting at a VE Day dance in 1945. When she was 30, Lady Stewart had an ectopic pregnancy that was undiscovered for many weeks and damaged her. She lost the child and was not able to have any further children.

In 1956, her husband became a professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Instead of continuing to teach, Mary Stewart decided to submit a novel to publisher Hodder & Stoughton. They accepted her book and it was an immediate success. She continued to write in many genres such as romantic suspense, poetry, and her famous Merlin Series which is a mix of fantasy and historical fiction.

Mary Stewart was a popular best-selling author throughout the 1950s through the 1980s. Her novel The Moonspiners was made into a Disney movie. After T.H. White produced his book The Sword in the Stone, Arthurian legends became popular. Mary Stewart soon after published The Crystal Cave and it was a huge hit. In the 1990’s it was adapted into a BBC TV series called Merlin of the Crystal Cave and starred Robert Powell as Ambrosius.

In 1974, Frederick Stewart was knighted and Mary became Lady Stewart, although she did not often use the title. She and her husband lived happily in both Edinburgh and Loch Awe, Scotland and were avid gardeners and shared a love for nature. He passed on in 2001. Mary followed him in 2014.

“The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage.”
― Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave

Arthurian legends normally are told via the perspective of King Arthur. The Crystal Cave takes a departure from this trend by following the life of Merlin the Wizard or as he is called in this tale, Myrddin Emrys.

Myrddin begins his story when he is six years old and follows him until he is a young man. The Romans have departed Britain and it is now divided into many smaller kingdoms, loosely united under a High King. Myrddin is the son of a Welsh princess who declines to name his sire. He is small for his age and often neglected. He also has clairvoyant visions. This second sight causes him to be called as “the son of a devil”. He is educated by a hermit named Galapas who teaches him how to use his psychic talents and creates in him a young man of many intellectual talents in a age when brawn and fighting with a sword is more prized. Eventually, Myrddin finds his way to the court of Ambrosius Aurelianus of Brittany. Ambrosius wishes to invade Britain and become its High King. With him is his brother and heir, Uther.

When it is revealed that Myrddin is Ambrosius bastard son, he must leave the court. He returns to his home, only to discover that his teacher Galapas has been killed. He is captured by Vortigern, the usurper king of Britain. The usurper is building a fort, but the land is unstable at the chosen location and the walls tumble on a regular basis. Due to his education, Myrddin realizes that the walls fall because of a series of caves that are directly beneath the fort, but he informs Vortigern that the problem is due to dragons living in the ground. Soon after this, Amrosius invades and defeats Vortigern.

Myrddin uses his engineering talents to rebuild Stonehenge, but while doing so, he has visions of his father’s death. When a comet appears and Ambrosius dies, his half brother Uther Pendragon takes the throne.

The Crystal Cave Book CoverI stumbled onto Mary Stewart’s Merlin books in college. I loved Sword in the Stone and later Mists of Avalon, so another series of books about King Arthur and his knights was very welcome. I was surprised to learn that The Crystal Cave followed the original story of Merlin instead of Arthur. Stewart did an amazing amount of historical research to bring her novels into line with the original legends. She created a more organic and natural Merlin, an educated man, than wizard. The bringing in of psychic arts and druid religion gave the stories just enough of a fantasy touch to set them apart. It is a classic tale that has stood the test of time. If you love Arthurian legend, this is a series for you.

The Merlin Series

The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
The Last Enchantment (1979)
The Wicked Day (1983)
The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon

Book Name: His Majesty’s Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
First Published: 2006

Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973 and raised on Long Island. Novik learned to read at an early age and her favorite books were by J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University. She became involved in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, but soon realized that she enjoyed writing books more than creating video games.

Novik’s first novel is His Majesty’s Dragon which is the beginning of the Temeraire series. She has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Several of the Temeraire novels have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers and the books are options by Peter Jackson to be turned into a movie or television series in the future.

She is a member of the board for the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), an organization dedicated to the promotion of fan fiction, fan videos, and real-person fiction.

Novik is currently a resident of Manhatten and is married to entrepreneur and author Charles Ardai. They have one child.

“And we must still try or we would be leaving our friends to fight without us. I think this is what you have meant by duty, all along; I do understand, at least this much of it.”
― Naomi Novik, His Majesty’s Dragon

His Majesty’s Dragon begins in the year four (1804) during Britain’s struggles in the Napoleonic war with France. This is a tale of alternate history where dragons are alive and well and an accepted part of the landscape. They come in many sizes and breeds. Some spit fire or acid, others can turn on a dime in the air. When a dragon hatches, humans “put it in harness” in order to control the creature and use it for the war. Each dragon imprints on a human who becomes it companion and Captain.

The HMS Reliant captures a 36-gun frigate during battle and the crew discovers that a dragon egg was being ferried within. Captain William Laurence declares the dragon egg a prize. The egg is about to hatch and Laurence gathers his officers together in the hope that the hatchling will imprint on one of them. The small black dragon with unusual six spines on his wings chooses Captain Laurence, much to his chagrin. Laurence names his new charge “Temeraire” after a second-rate French ship that was also captured and brought into service for England. The name means “reckless”.

Laurence and Temeraire are inducted into Britain’s Aerial Corps. Laurence is used to the Royal Navy where the world is spit and polish formal and he is much respected as a ship’s Captain. He is in for a shock by the change of his status when he joins the Corps. The Captains who do battle with their dragons are an informal lot and the Corps itself is looked down upon as the least of all the branches of service. Still, despite the hardship to his character and career, Laurence develops an affection for the young dragon. He learns that Temeraire is a Chinese Imperial dragon, one that is meant to bond with an emperor and is the second most rare type of dragon in the world. Only a Chinese Celestial, known for its powerful breath of “divine wind”, is more rare.

Life in the Corps takes adjustment, but Laurence and Temeraire train together to become a battle unit. He and his dragon adopt a flight and ground crew that supports Temeraire in his care and during battle. Laurence also meets the mother of one of his crew, Jane Roland, with whom he develops a relationship.

During the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Napoleon’s navy and aerial strength is diminished. The moral of the Captains and their dragons is high during this victory for England, but during their celebrations, a Captain and his mortally wounded dragon arrive at Dover with important intelligence. Napoleon does not plan to send his troops by sea as expected, instead he will send them by air using transports hauled by dragons. This news ends the celebrations as the Captains prepare their dragons for combat, knowing that they will be outgunned and outnumbered.

Laurence and Temeraire fly out with their formation to meet the French aerial armada, their mission is to destroy the transports. It is the final test of their team: The young dragon who is deemed unlikely to develop a breath weapon and the former seaman transformed into a flight captain. Can they meet the challenge ahead and save Britain from Napoleon’s armada? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

His Majestey's Dragon Book CoverI’ve been a fan of books about dragons starting with McCaffery’s creations on the planet of Pern. I am also a huge fan of Jane Austen and Tolkien, so when His Majesty’s Dragon came on the bookshelves in 2006, I purchased a book immediately. I was transported into a “flinklock” world of the battles between Britain and France due to Napoleon’s rise to power in the early 1800’s. There was one little change in the history of this book, dragons were real and a part of the art of war, much like elephants were used in battle in India and other South Asian countries throughout history, but these giant creatures have wings.

Novik has a way of blending the fantasy elements into the details of her alternate history story that make these ideas seem natural and believable. The tale is mainly about the relationship between Captain Laurence and the dragon Temeraire and how they become comrades in arms and close friends, but the world building that surrounds these two characters is what makes the book shine. There is somewhat uneven pacing in places. I found the training section to be slower than the progressive battle scenes with the dragons and their onboard crews shooting with powder guns at the enemy. The romance between Laurence and Jane Roland was less than to be desired and perhaps could have even been cut out.

My favorite parts of the book is when Temeraire is a dragonet onboard the HMS Reliant and the budding relationship he has with the Captain of the ship. The antics of the young dragon are incredibly cute, rather reminding one of training a new puppy. I enjoyed the Aerial Corps where the conduct is casual and more modern than Laurence is used to and WOMEN are also Captains of the fighting dragons since one of the breeds will only accept a female as its bondmate. It gives a modern edge to this 19th century tale that is a breath of fresh air. (Forgive the pun.)

His Majesty’s Dragon is the first of a series, the final book coming out in 2016. Novik is an excellent author and sure to please fans who would not mind a little fantasy and dragons mixed in with their historical regency era fiction.

The Temeraire Series:

His Majesty’s Dragon (2006) / Temeraire (UK)
Throne of Jade (2006)
Black Powder War (2006)
Empire of Ivory (2007)
Victory of Eagles (2008)
Tongues of Serpents (2010)
Crucible of Gold (2012)
Blood of Tyrants (2013)
League of Dragons (forthcoming, 2016)

Guest Post: Bonesaws and Bloodletting by Catherine Curzon

Old Time Medicine

Bonesaws and Bloodletting: Medicine and Folk Remedy in the Eighteenth Century

Many years ago I put the final full stop to a timeslip novel that catapulted its characters back from twenty first century Yorkshire the the 1950s. The novel was quite unlike anything I had written before and remains so to this day, fantasy not a genre that I would usually find working in. Fantasy, however, is not so easily defined as one might think and even in a work grounded firmly in the real world, we might find an element of everyday magic among the mundane.

My timeslip novel was a departure for me in more ways than one and, as some people may already know, I can usually be found settled squarely in the coffeehouses and gin salons of the long eighteenth century. On my daily blog, I share true stories of the Georgian and Regency era, whilst my fiction is set in that same period and is rooted firmly in the sometimes seedy underbelly of the eighteenth century world. My fictional companions are decadent playwrights and flamboyant whores, debauched hellfire patrons and, just occasionally, the Prince of Wales and his illustrious family. There might not seem to be much room for fantasy there and yet, in a world where the furies of the guillotine sell sleeping drafts by the banks of the Seine and an erstwhile Edinburgh physician mixes mysterious powders and tinctures in his St Andrew Square home, the line between medicine and folk remedy is perilously and, on occasion deliberately, blurred.

I strive for reality and accuracy in my fiction as much as I do on my blog yet, as a person who has always had an interest in the esoteric and those things that exist slightly outside of our comprehension and belief, the chance to mix in some folk remedies is irresistible. The question is, of course, where does the line between magic and remedy begin? In the world my characters inhabit, explicitly magical happenings would be jarring and unconvincing, let alone utterly out of place. Instead, it was important to me to take the folk remedies that I have known of since my childhood and place them in a milieu where their use and success was neither noteworthy nor unlikely. In fact, in the long eighteenth century, it could even be the physicians themselves who were viewed suspiciously by some of the populace, with doctors and surgeons in particular on occasion believed to be playing God. In the Age of Enlightenment, science and belief were constantly vying for the upper hand and for an author, this opens wonderfully dramatic possibilities!

Happily, this means I am able to show the dichotomy between the old and new ways and reflect the truth that both folk remedies and those taught in the medical schools of London and Edinburgh had their benefits and followers. it is a world where people are just as likely to follow their parents and grandparents in turning to the local healer, with the people of Paris turning to Madame Girard as she pedalled foul smelling bottles and mysterious powders from her single room on the banks of the river just as those well-helped Edinburgh souls put on their finery and take a trip to see Doctor Dillingham in his Edinburgh consulting rooms. Indeed, Dillingham’s own repertoire includes many a folk remedy cleverly repackaged to look like the latest in modern medicine. To Dillingham more than any other character, the latter is simply the next step in the former, in an evolution that has been ongoing for centuries. It is particularly fitting that he should embody this dichotomy most of all because he is a character whose public face is very much at odds with that he presents to those who know him personally.

The line between medicine and folk remedy is one that my characters tread carefully and allows me the chance to explore the best of both worlds. Because I honestly believe that approaches have their benefits, it’s a pleasure for me to delve into scenes of gruesome surgery and esoteric remedies and give both the reader and the thankfully fictional patients one or two surprises. It might not all be leeches, bloodletting and bonesaws, nor is it all cauldrons, herbs and muttered incantations but, where there’s a healthy mix of the two, I’m happy and my characters are, hopefully, healthy and well!

Madame Gilflurt aka Catherine CurzonGlorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog at www.madamegilflurt.com, Madame G can also be spotted on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, will be published by Pen and Sword Books.

Interview with Wendy Van Camp: The Write Stuff

The Curate's Brother on Amazon

I am always delighted when someone asks to interview me and it is particularly pleasant when an author of Raymond Bolton’s caliber does so. I hope you’ll stop by his website, The Write Stuff, and not only take a look at my latest interview featuring The Curate’s Brother, but read the other fine interviews and information he has there.

Interview With Wendy Van Camp