Advance Promotion from AOBibliosphere for A Hostage to Heritage

A Hostage to Heritage book cover

Advance promotion for A Hostage to Heritage. What a nice gesture on the part of this book reviewer. Thanks!

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Cover Reveal for A Hostage to Heritage

A Hostage to Heritage, second title in the Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thrillers series, is scheduled for a 17 April 2013 release. Here are the cover image and book jacket description:

A Hostage to Heritage book cover

A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn’t bargain on Michael Stoddard’s tenacity.

Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis’s army arrives for supplies. But his quarries’ trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael’s efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.

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The Winner of Blood Lance

Warren Bull has won a copy of Blood Lance by Jeri Westerson. Congrats to Warren Bull!

Thanks to Jeri Westerson for showing us the fate of a man who lost knighthood status during the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History last week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Degradation of Knighthood

Jeri Westerson author photo

Relevant History welcomes Los Angeles native and award-winning author Jeri Westerson, who writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels. Her brooding protagonist is Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London, running into thieves, kings, poets, and religious relics. When not writing, Jeri dabbles in gourmet cooking, drinks fine wines, eats cheap chocolate, and swoons over anything British. You can read more about Jeri’s books, watch a series book trailer, find discussion guides, and read Crispin’s blog on Jeri’s website.

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Once you’re knighted it’s permanent, right? Not necessarily so.

Under what circumstances would someone lose their knighthood? By the time my fifth book, Blood Lance, is set, my protagonist Crispin Guest had been degraded for about ten years and living with the consequences. He did commit a fairly heinous offense, that of treason, but for a very good cause.

Most often, when a knight or lord was handed the treason card, the lords didn’t bother degrading him. The knight in question would simply be executed in a most foul manner. In the words of the Scarecrow in the movie The Wizard of Oz, “They tore off my arms and threw them over there! And then they tore off my legs and threw them over there!” You get the picture. Crispin was lucky
enough to have a person in a pretty high place speak up for him and so he didn’t lose his life; only his wealth, lands, title and a smidgeon of his self-respect.

Because degradation of knighthood is such a rare event, there are only two recorded cases. The first was during the English War of the Roses where the Lancastrians went up against the Yorkists. In a rebellion against the Yorkist King Edward IV, Sir Ralph Grey allowed the Lancastrians to hold several fortresses in Scotland. Even when many other castles were taken, Grey held Bamborough. But after a siege, they surrendered it in June 1464. Grey was sentenced by the Constable of England to be degraded. His coat of arms was torn from his back and another with his arms reversed was put in its place. And then the Constable declared, “Then, Sir Ralph Grey, this shall be thy penance—thou shalt go upon thy feet to the town’s end, and there thou shalt be laid down and drawn to a scaffold made for thee, and thou shalt have thy head smitten off they body; thy body to be buried in the friary, thy head where it may please the king.”

As the Tinman would say, “That’s you all over.”

It was a little different in 1621. This time, it wasn’t a case of treason, but one of old-fashioned graft. Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Francis Mitchell were tried before the House of Lords for the political offence of “exercising harsh monopolies over the licensing of inns and the manufacture of gold and silver thread.” Doesn’t sound horrible when put that way, but essentially, Mompesson dishonored the very notion of knighthood with his activities. Apparently, he was the go-to person for licensing inns, and he was supposed to be overseeing the manufacture of gold and silver thread and imprison those manufacturing said thread without a license. Instead, he ran a good trade in extortion on the goldsmiths of London and pulled a few fast ones conning taverns into putting up guests overnight and then fining them for running an inn without a license!

Mompesson was tried by the House of Commons, which referred it to the House of Lords where he was sentenced to quite a unique punishment. Not only was he to pay a £10,000 fine and lose his knighthood, but to show his full degradation, he was to be secured behind a horse and walk down the Strand in London with his face in the horse’s anus. And then be imprisoned for life. And in case that wasn’t enough, a few days later they came back with banishment for life.

This is what happened to Mitchell, as reported by the College of Arms: “Sir Francis’s sword and gilt spurs, being the ornaments of Knighthood, were taken from him, broken and defaced, thus indicating that the reputation he held thereby, together with the honourable title of Knight, should be no more used. One of the Knight Marshal’s men…cut the belt whereby the culprit’s sword hung, and so let it fall to the ground. Next the spurs were hewn off his heels and thrown, one one way, the other the other. After that, the Marshal’s attendant drew Mitchell’s sword from the scabbard and broke it over his head, doing with the fragments as with the spurs.” (Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms.)

Mompesson was banished and allowed to return to get his affairs in order and then banished again, but the slippery Mompesson managed to get back into the country and stay, retiring in Wiltshire till his death. Mitchell was imprisoned.

Crispin took his degradation very hard, and he still has a tough time reconciling his life on the Shambles of London to the resplendent life he used to have at court. But, of course, this only makes him a better detective, for unlike Mompesson, he took his honor very seriously and never more so than in the latest novel Blood Lance, where he is obliged to uphold the honor of an old friend, find a religious relic, and bring a murderer to justice.

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Jeri Westerson book cover

A big thanks to Jeri Westerson. She’ll give away the audiobook version of Blood Lance or a signed hardcover copy of Blood Lance (winner’s choice) to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available within the U.S. only.

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Book ‘Em North Carolina 2013

On Saturday 23 February, I’ll be an author guest at the Book ‘Em North Carolina annual event held at Robeson Community College in Lumberton, North Carolina. Book ‘Em is a partnership between authors and law enforcement. Its mission is to raise public awareness of the correlation between high illiteracy rates and high crime rates.

The event brings together dozens of authors to speak on a variety of subjects and to sell their books. A portion of the proceeds raised from the event is given to the community for the purpose of increasing literacy and reducing crime.

The event is free and open to the public. All ages are encouraged to attend. There will be authors with children’s books as well as authors from a large variety of genres: mystery/suspense, romance, historical, science fiction, non-fiction, and much more.

I’m on the “Settings in North Carolina” panel at 10 a.m. with Libby Bagby, Sandra Balzo, Stephanie Tyson, and Susan Whitfield.

The 2012 event was terrific fun and full of energy. We raised a whopping $9,000 for literacy campaigns and anti-crime efforts. The money was split between the following organizations:

  • >> Communities In Schools of Robeson County
  • >> The Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Robeson County (provides books to children ages 1 through 5)
  • >> The Friends of the Robeson County Public Library
  • >> Lumberton Police Department

What a great feeling, being part of a cause like this! If you’re in the Lumberton area on 23 February, please stop by and look me up.

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The Winner of Murder Manhattan Style

Norma Huss has won a copy of Murder Manhattan Style by Warren Bull. Congrats to Norma!

Thanks to Warren for an inspiring message about recognizing and seizing opportunity. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History last week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Interview on Mysteristas Blog

I’m sending out Michael Stoddard #2,A Hostage to Heritage, to beta reviewers this weekend and continuing to schedule promotion for the book’s release at the end of April. Meanwhile, I’m talking
Michael Stoddard, masseurs, and dark chocolate in an interview on the Mysteristas blog. Stop by and check it out!

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Seizing History: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Warren Bull author photo

Relevant History welcomes back Warren Bull, award-winning author of two novels on Kindle about Abraham Lincoln as an attorney (Abraham Lincoln for the Defense and Death in the Moonlight), plus a collection of historically-themed short stories, Murder Manhattan Style. His Young Adult novel, Heartland, about a family living in “Bleeding Kansas,” is available on Kindle and, in paperback, from Avignon Press. His short stories have been published in several anthologies and other venues including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sniplits, The Back Alley, and Mysterical-E. For more information, check his web site and group blog.

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Some people argue history happens when the right person shows up at the right time and place under conditions, which facilitate change. To some extent I agree with this idea. On the other hand, I contend that an individual can take steps to change history even when time, place and conditions are less than ideal.

Not Part of the Plan

In Bloomington, Illinois on May 29, 1856 the new Republican Party had an organizational meeting. A coalition was emerging from a political party known as the Whigs, which had both conservative and liberal members, men in the Know-Nothing movement, former Democrats and current abolitionists.
Members had a single idea in common, i.e., opposition to the spread of slavery to new territories and states of the United States.

The main organizer, Paul Selby, could not attend. He had been severely beaten by a pro-slavery mob on the streets of his hometown and was left too injured to travel. The night before the organizing convention, Orville Browning met with leaders of the different factions and after considerable discussion and debate, they came up with a compromise agenda and a list of speakers for the convention. It did not include a circuit-riding attorney and former United States Representative whose opposition to the Mexican-America war eight years earlier left him very unpopular with voters. In other words, Abraham Lincoln was among the hopeful, ambitious men left off the agenda.

Lincoln Monument

The convention agreed on a candidate for Governor. Lincoln was appointed chair of a committee to select candidates for lesser state offices, a necessary but secondary position within the party. The day wore on with others making speeches and positioning themselves for notice within the new Republican Party of Illinois. About 5:30 PM, the time scheduled to adjourn, friends of Lincoln in the crowd began to call his name and ask him to speak. It may well be that his reputation for delivering jokes and telling tall tales encouraged some in the audience to hope he would help end the day with a touch of levity and good feeling.

Sitting in the audience with time ticking away, ambitious consummate politician Abraham Lincoln realized he now had a chance, perhaps the only chance he would ever have, to elevate his status within the new state Republican Party. If he did nothing, Lincoln would very likely remain someone
asked to nominate and support other men for state and national offices.

Lincoln rose and said, “I believe I will say a few words from here.” Delegates shouted, asking him to speak from the podium. Lincoln ambled to the front clutching a few notes he had scribbled over the last two days.

And then…

Lincoln delivered what has come to be known as “the lost speech.” He spoke for what was then a short time—ninety minutes. He talked with such eloquence that reporters (and even his law partner) assigned to transcribe the words got so caught up in the speech they stopped taking notes. With the
rest of the audience, they listened and cheered. It’s impossible to know exactly what Lincoln said. Observers agree that early in the speech he calmly countered angry calls from a earlier speaker for invading Kansas with Sharps rifles with something like, “No, my friends, I’ll tell you want we’ll do. We’ll wait until November [the 1856 presidential election] and then we’ll shoot paper ballots at them.”

Observers also agree that after the calm opening Lincoln started to rouse the emotions of the crowd. Although we do not know the details of what he said, Lincoln had spent much of the prior two years speaking in opposition to an act of Congress, which allowed the extension of slavery into new territories and states. He constantly sharpened his arguments and learned from audiences what phrasing best elicited emotional responses. There is general agreement that close to the end of his speech he said something like, “We say to our Southern brethren, ‘We won’t go out of the union and you shan’t.'” At the end of the speech delegates surrounded him cheering, clapping pounding him on the back and pumping his hand.

It’s likely the speech was highly partisan. Lincoln made no effort to produce a version of the speech for publication as he did with many of his speeches. He may well have discouraged others from doing so. I suspect, having accomplished his goal, Lincoln did not lose the speech; he abandoned it. I believe Lincoln was aware, even then, of the importance of avoiding inflammatory language on the national stage.

Barely On The Agenda

On August 28, 1963, the one hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, D. C. Planned by the head of the march, A. Philip Randolf, and organized by Bayard Rustin, the event coordinated efforts by six civil rights organizations, labor and religious groups, singers and artists. Between 200,000 and 300,000 protestors attended. There were speeches by leaders of the various sponsoring groups, and a speech written by James Baldwin was read by actor Charlton Heston. Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Josh White, and Peter, Paul and Mary performed songs.

MLK Jr.'s tombstone

Late in the afternoon as the event was winding down, Martin Luther King, Jr. rose at the not-quite-prime time he had been allotted by the better-known organizers and gave a seventeen minute speech he had carefully written out before. His remarks were scheduled sixteenth out of eighteen events on the day’s schedule. He was to be followed by a pledge by the organizer, A. Philip Randolf, and the benediction. King softened some of the earlier rhetoric by arguing against protest degenerating into violence.

And then…

According to what may be a modern legend, Mahalia Jackson, called out, “Tell them about your dream, Martin.”

Without notes, speaking on themes he had used many times before, King delivered an eloquent oration incorporating the American Dream and scriptural reference beginning, “I have a dream.”

King took the risk of speaking from his heart on an occasion when little was expected from him. He went from one of the civil rights leaders in the United States to the preeminent civil rights leader. He gave voice to generations of oppressed and provided a vocabulary for all human rights for all time.

Lincoln and King each seized a moment when little was expected from him to capture and ignite the hearts and souls of an audience, thereby creating an immediate stir and, more importantly, setting up future opportunities that each man would use on the way to becoming a major influence in determining the direction of American history.

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Murder Manhattan Style book cover

A big thanks to Warren Bull. He’ll give away a signed paperback copy of Murder Manhattan Style to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available within the U.S. only.

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Judging a Book by its Cover

Early books
The earliest books with some form of paper for pages most often had no cover images. If you were fortunate enough to own books, the front cover was usually dark leather. In the twentieth century, paper jackets became common over the covers of books. Soon, publishers discovered that they could include an image on the jacket to make it more interesting. These images were printed on the front covers of paperback versions, too. Sometimes the images gave an accurate representation of the book’s content. Often they did not.

Advantages of physical books
In the good old days of publishing, when books were made of paper, authors groused over bad cover images for their books. However, prospective readers might overlook a poor book cover because there was a tactile connection. Consumers could hold a book and thumb through the pages, reading at leisure, perhaps even enjoying that “new book” smell.

Challenges of ebooks
No tactile (or olfactory) connection exists for consumers who purchase electronic books. Thus an ebook’s cover image pulls a great deal more weight in the consumer’s decision-making process. It must capture the attention of the ebook’s target audience; accurately convey the ebook’s concept, tone, and setting; and lure the audience inside. Yet many writers who self-publish, and even a few publishers, either fail to understand these crucial functions of the cover image or ignore them in favor of just getting the ebook out there with some cover image.

Finding cover art that reaches the right readers
For my “Mysteries of the American Revolution” trilogy, my original publisher used artwork from the public domain as the basis for each cover image. When the press ceased operation, and my rights reverted to me, one of my first tasks was to seek out cover artists to create new covers. I’d been listening to what my readers liked about my books, and why. I knew those first covers weren’t appropriate for the books.

Here’s a before-and-after comparison of the cover art for each book in the trilogy.

Paper Woman: A Mystery of the American Revolution

Paper Woman book cover comparison

The Blacksmith’s Daughter: A Mystery of the American Revolution

The Blacksmith's Daughter book cover comparison

Camp Follower: A Mystery of the American Revolution

Camp Follower book cover comparison

The Mysteries of the American Revolution Trilogy

Book covers for the Mysteries of the American Revolution Trilogy

Good cover art becomes even more important if an ebook series is involved. When executed correctly for each title of the series, the cover images create a unified appearance that identifies the ebooks and author for the target audience. The images also promise the reading experience that will be found in the series. It’s a covenant of satisfaction and security for readers, the knowledge that if they enjoyed book 1, they can find more of the same in other books of the series. If you love your readers, you’ll give them all that.

How important is a book’s front cover image in influencing your decision to buy the book?

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Reenacting and Gratitude

Many years ago, encumbered by the point of view of someone dwelling in the twentieth century, I joined a group that depicted a unit of the Thirty-Third Light Company of Foot during living history events in the American South. My desire was to immerse myself in the activities and sensory impressions an eighteenth-century woman living during the Southern theater of the American Revolution would have experienced, so I could more accurately depict the world of Sophie Barton, protagonist in my first book, Paper Woman: A Mystery of the American Revolution.

33rd Light Company of Foot reenactors

Reenacting is an enlightening research tool. It helps me create the world of the Southern theater in my fiction. Reenacting is the ultimate hands-on history. By immersing myself in the military world of the late eighteenth century for entire weekends at a time, I cannot escape brushes with some of the hardships that plagued our ancestors. Sudden downpours and windstorms with no shelter. Sudden freezing rain, even with shelter. Heat indices of 120 degrees. Mosquito swarms without screens. No plumbing. No refrigeration. No electricity. No phone service. You get the idea.

Cooking at a Revolutionary War reenactment

My first reenacting event, I didn’t know to expect primitive conditions. After more events, I settled in with the understanding that at the end of the weekend, I’d be reunited with the technological comforts of my time. That’s when I comprehended how tough, persevering, and remarkable my ancestors must have been—and how fortunate I was to live in a country where I had access to wonders such as running water, electricity, refrigeration, and plumbing.

In the United States, we take our twenty-first century standard of living for granted. We forget that comforts such as running water are truly wonders, luxuries to many people in the world, people who start each day by walking several miles, burdened by buckets or jugs, to the nearest source of water (likely not clean). Survival is foremost in the minds of these people when they awaken each day, just as it was for people—patriot, loyalist, and neutral—during the American Revolution.

Thanksgiving turkey

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers and friends. When you gather with family and friends to celebrate this holiday, consider the hardships endured by courageous people who lived more than two centuries ago during the time of the American Revolution. Today, people throughout the world endure those same hardships. Remember those people in your thoughts and hearts for a moment. And don’t take for granted your luxuries or your liberty.

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