Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Sheila Currie, author of The Banshee of Castle Muirn.
Hi, Sheila. I thoroughly enjoyed your debut novel, The Banshee of Castle Muirn. What a beautiful story. It has some surprising elements in it. I know, from taking several of your online workshops, that you are particularly well-equipped to write about medieval Scotland. Won’t you tell us readers a little about your education and background? Why did you choose to study medieval history and languages?
I wanted to find out about my ancestors who came from Scotland and Ireland. Also I’ve studied and taught the medieval and early modern periods, and find it very interesting to find out why things are as they are.
Before I get carried away with my many questions, won’t you please tell us a little about the book?
The book is about a Highland girl, who understands it is her duty to marry a Campbell gentleman. Not unusual in the Highlands. It keeps the dowry in the clan. But she finds out that her prospective suitor has a need for her dowry and a taste for cruelty. She could become a banshee, a powerful fairy, or she could ask a MacDonald for help. But he is a member of a clan who are their traditional enemies. What to do? Should she choose magic or love?
I was fascinated by the many historical details and the generous sprinkling of Gaelic throughout the book. From my experience with Scottish romances and stories, the amount of Gaelic you incorporate into yours is fairly astounding. Along with the scenic descriptions, it helps immerse the reader in the story. I could see myself there, in that place and time. What made you decide to use so much of the ancient language?
Gaelic or Gàidhlig is the language of my ancestors. In fact I’m not sure how much English my father’s family spoke when they came to Canada. I made the effort to learn more about the language and have a degree in Scottish history and Celtic Studies. So I have some idea of how my ancestors lived and why they emigrated.
I love to read Gaelic poetry. I just bought The Highest Apple / An ubhal as àirde which is a excellent book for learning about Gaelic Scotland: history, poetry, the Gaelic church from 600 to the present.
I'm going to have to look for that book! While on the subject of history – I think this question belongs here -- why did you make brave, handsome Alasdair a drover? I’ve never read a Scottish romance with a drover as the hero. Why didn’t you make him a laird?
The hero is a MacDonald, whose territories were confiscated by King James IV. He wants to earn money to buy land. For now these MacDonalds are tenants although he is a duine uasal, a gentleman or nobleman. In Gaelic terms there is no difference between a noble and a gentleman. If you’re descended from kings and chiefs, you’re noble. An Englishman in the 18th century was horrified that ‘a creature of the name of MacDonald’ considered himself the equal of an English gentleman worth several thousand pounds per annum.
In the Lowlands and England nobility is conferred by feudal titles: baron, earl, marquis or duke. When a title is granted, you can assume the grantee is wealthy and possesses land. No land, no feudal title.
Shona is, of course, a heroine through and through. Did you know she would be a banshee from the beginning, when you first started writing the story? Why or why not? Did medieval Scots really believe that banshees were magical? Were they loved, feared, considered evil?
I had thought of a short story where the heroine pretends to be a banshee by sitting on a rock in the moonlight calmly combing her hair. Any man, who finds a woman like that at night, won’t touch or molest her because he’ll think she is a banshee.
Banshee comes from Gàidhlig ban-sìth meaning woman fairy, a powerful fairy.
Banshees protect women. Scots, especially those in the Highlands, the Gaelic-speaking regions, or those on the periphery believed in fairies of all kinds. They weren’t considered evil, but fairies were believed to possess magical powers and they were tricky. They were treated with respect, but they weren’t loved. Some were feared. My heroine doesn’t care to become a banshee because she is a social being and wants to be liked. Banshees don’t cause death, but they foretell it because they can see into the future.
The element of magic in the story really took me by surprise. I love it. It makes the story all the more interesting without overwhelming it. But why would a historian use magic as a literary device? In your opinion, do the writers of history books give magic and/or the belief in magic enough attention?
I think I’ve used magic as means of making a comment about society. The banshee stands for a woman with a ‘job’ outside the home. Potentially a position of power. Can she be a banshee and a wife? Can she only save friends and clan with magic?
Now, we’re waiting for the sequel, which promises even more drama, history, and magic. Can you tell us a little about The Banshee of Ben Caledon?
The Banshee of Ben Caledon is the story of a cattle drove from Castle Muirn in the Highlands to Edinburgh in the Lowlands. My heroine pretends to be a herd boy and has to learn to manage cattle quickly. She must reach Edinburgh to warn her father about a conspiracy against the king. The climax takes place on Ben Caledon, that is, the mountain of Caledonia. An old and spooky place in my novel.
That sounds fascinating. I can hardly wait to read it. Thank you for sharing an excerpt, which follows this interview.
Before we go, I’d like to mention your online courses. They are so good. You are generous with your time throughout each course and you offer many excellent resources. Are there any upcoming classes we should know about?
I’m preparing to teach Ancient Celts in April and Medieval Castles in July 2020. The courses are sponsored by Hearts through History Romance Writers.
Thank you, Sheila, for sharing your time with us. I look forward to your future novels.
The Banshee of Castle Muirn is available on Amazon.
More information is available on Sheila's website.
Excerpt: The Banshee of Ben Caledon
Scottish Highlands September 1638
Thomas Connington, the man who murdered her uncle, was only a few miles away in Gleann Muirn. Already he might be in the hills searching for her. Shona Campbell’s breath quickened and she wanted to bound away as though he pursued her like a wolf after the red deer.
Every leap over a stream. Every stride through tall grasses. Every step took her farther from marriage to the murdering man. Ahead was Edinburgh, where her father was in danger from plots against the king. Plots formed with Conninton’s guiding hand in the Lowlands, his home.
Light glinted off the grey loch in the weak sun of late autumn. She tramped after the MacDonald cattle, the herd boys round her matching her pace as if they walked from guardhouse door to castle keep. They barely glanced at the hillsides. Their faces showed no concern for raiders. No wolves prowled their dreams.
The cattle before her swayed like moored galleys, bumping and parting. And getting nowhere. One of the boys had cut her a withy, a switch from a willow tree, and she flicked it above the cattle. Come on, come on, hurry up. But neither boy or beast sped down the drove road to Edinburgh.
The cattle slowed at a wide expanse of frosty grass by a river. A drover turned his pony toward the boys at the back of the herd. Alasdair perhaps. A light feeling bubbled up into her chest. Surely he’d find a way for the two of them to talk.
They had almost become lovers at the beginning of the drove. She hoped for more at the end. However, a condition of taking her on the drove was that she go disguised as a boy, not as a gentlewoman of Clan Campbell. She was safer hidden among the MacDonald herd boys.
The drover came straight to them.
Not Alasdair. The lightness in her heart turned heavy.
He spoke to the newest herd boys, Finlay and herself. “Stop pushing the animals forward. We stay here long enough for water and grazing. As short a time as possible. Alasdair wants us to travel fifteen miles again today.” His voice suggested he thought it a bad idea.
Alasdair must be forcing the cattle to go farther to put distance between her and Connington. To protect her. On a good horse Connington could catch up to the slow-moving herd in two days.
“You watch that none head back up the road home. Or the cattle won’t be the only ones to feel my withy.” His eyes pinned her like a rabbit in a snare. A prickling crept up her back and lifted the hair on her neck. Surely he didn’t know this herd boy was a woman. He was making sure she did the job.
She breathed faster. Calm yourself. Speak to the drover as if you had a right to be here. But her throat tightened. “We’re not stopping yet surely. We’ve hardly gone any distance at all.”
Annoyance flickered in his eyes. “You mind yourself. Push the cattle to the water. Now. You’ll soon change your tune about moving on quickly.” Then he said with a cocked head, a hand on his hip and all the disdain of a lord before his tenantry. “What was your name again?”
"I am Sheathan.” She still wasn’t used to the boy’s name she had chosen for herself. Still not a part of her. Still as foreign as these MacDonalds with whom she walked.
“You need not say it. We all know who you are. A Campbell.”
Ah, but you don’t know me. You don’t know what injury I could cause you. But she would not use her banshee powers because she could not control them. Never again would she use that power. Never.
Instead she’d tolerate slights from the MacDonalds. Her safety depended on their behaving as they usually did--bored on a journey they had taken many times before. She was well-disguised. So she hoped.
“I have to get out of here.”
“I can’t stay.”
“Let me go.”
Taken against her will, forced to work under threat of death, and frantic over her sister’s failing health, Dr. Nina Evans is determined to escape. Her kidnappers have explained their reasons and she’s being treated well --very well -- under the circumstances. And she’s making progress with her DNA research. And then there’s the little matter of her conflicting emotions every time Boaz Masters is near.
But she doesn’t like her options, if they can even be called that. Through no fault of her own, she knows about The People. Therefore, she has to accept a mate or die.
She can’t die. Her sister needs her.
And while Boaz is undeniably handsome and gentle and kind and her insides go all mushy around him, she can’t possibly stay with him. He’s not even human. She can’t mate with a monster.
Only it’s really hard to think of Boaz like that.
Boaz wants the beautiful doctor. He wanted her before he even met her, from the moment he got a whiff of her sexy, ambrosial scent. It drives him crazy. And the better he knows Nina, the more he wants to be with her, the more he needs to protect her. But he won’t force her. Can he restrain himself long enough to woo her? Hold out long enough to save her life?
Because without his protection, without the bond, she will die.
A Mating of Convenience, fourth book of the Rabbit River Series, reunites us with characters we love and plunges us into the passionate struggle between Nina and Boaz. Does romance stand a chance when so many outside forces threaten? Maybe a bond can be forced. But can love?
What do you think? Spend time with Nina and Boaz as raw emotion and honesty strip both of them bare.
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Love. Empathy. Are they the same? Today, I’m excited to welcome Anise Eden, author of The Healing Edge trilogy. When I think of the it, superlatives just roll through my mind. It’s heart-gripping on so many levels.
Hi, Anise. I just finished reading All the Light There Is. It’s a wonderful conclusion to an amazing, emotional, thrill of a series. Thank you so much for joining us so that I can ask you some burning questions. But before I get ahead of myself, what would you like to tell us about the series and especially about your latest book?
Hi, Anastasia! Thank you so much for your interest in my writing, and for so graciously inviting me to participate in your blog. I am honored and grateful to be here!
The Healing Edge Series is so special to me, and very close to my heart. Book One, All the Broken Places, was not only my publishing debut, but the first novel I’ve written. It has been a great blessing and a tremendous journey, becoming a novelist while telling Cate and Ben’s story.
Cate Duncan is a talented young therapist struggling with her own mental health issues in the wake of her mother’s suicide. For help, she turns to psychiatrist Angeline MacGregor and her son Ben, a psychologist and Marine Corps veteran. While Cate believes she’s signing up for a conventional treatment program, she soon finds herself among a group of paranormally gifted alternative healers who understand her empathic gifts in ways she never imagined. They want to teach Cate how to use her gifts without sacrificing her own wellbeing. But in spite of her attraction to Ben, Cate finds him bullheaded and infuriating, and when she learns what he wants her to sacrifice, she can’t get away fast enough. It isn’t long, though, before Cate realizes that the members of the MacGregor Group are her allies, not her enemies, and that she needs them just as much as they need her.
Thus begins Cate’s journey into a world she never imagined existed—a world of psychics and telepaths, precogs and aura readers. A world where her own empathic gifts make her sought after while also putting her in danger. A world of conspiracies, intrigue, and murder. But for Cate, the most amazing discovery of all is the romance of a lifetime with Ben, a real-life hero struggling mightily with his own demons.
The Healing Edge Series spans three consecutive weeks, with my most recent release, All the Light There Is, covering the final week. Ben and Cate think they are headed for a week-long working vacation on the waterfront of Mercier Lodge, a luxury sporting facility on the beautiful Delmarva Peninsula. But Mercier Lodge harbors deadly secrets that will strike at the heart of Cate’s family and could even threaten Ben’s life. The MacGregor Group is called into action to solve the mysteries of Mercier Lodge before they become deadly—again. In the process, they uncover an even more profound danger, linked to a greater destiny that awaits them all.
It’s a nerve-wracking, thrilling, spectacular finale to the series. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading the whole series a second time – in a calmer manner, not actually sitting straight up or on the edge of my seat. Of course, I’m not sure if it will be possible – the calm part, that is.
I know my favorite thing about the series, which I’ll share after you tell us yours. What’s your favorite aspect of this series? I suppose we can allow for more than one favorite thing if you can’t name just one.
Well, I’m glad we can allow for more than one, because there are many aspects I would call “favorites!” I thoroughly enjoyed exploring paranormal gifts from various angles, delving into the many meanings of healing, writing about how our connections with others transcend death, among others. But I would have to say that my favorite part to write was the relationship between Cate and Ben.
It was such a luxury to be able to follow the arc of their story over three books, allowing me room to thoroughly explore a love story that is both authentic and inspirational. The differences between them and the challenges they face could easily pull Cate and Ben apart, but they keep choosing each other, and choosing to grow however they must to make the relationship work. I’ve been so gratified to hear from readers that they fell in love with Ben and Cate, and were rooting for them right from the start.
The romantic scenes, while deeply emotional, also have awkward moments, humor, misunderstandings, and some jarring surprises. I wrote and rewrote those scenes until they truly made me swoon; I figured that was the best way to make readers swoon, as well. Cate and Ben are both strong and capable people in complementary ways, but they are also complex, with weaknesses and limitations. I think that’s why readers find them so relatable. And I must say, it was really fun writing the “steam” between Ben and Cate—both their “clean-with-steam” passionate scenes, and their “steam-coming-out-of-their-ears” conflicts!
Oh, you definitely succeeded with the swoon-worthy scenes. Okay, so I have two favorites (maybe ten). The way in which everything between Cate and Ben is infused and wrapped with emotion – such undeniable passion – is breathtaking.
What I also appreciate is the emphasis on empathy – a direct, pronounced emphasis on the good that it can do, the impact that it can have on individuals and situations, and the very real pain a sincerely empathetic person can suffer. I can relate to Cate, how much she feels, how much others’ pain hurts her. I respect her for being willing to do whatever it takes to help others, even if it endangers her health and her life. She really cares. Certainly, the positive energy and caring of one person can make a bad situation better. In your opinion, how much can one empathetic person do?
How much can one empathetic person do, who is seeking to do good and to help others? I don’t think there are any limits in the realms of love and healing. Empathy is miraculous. It allows us to truly see, hear, and understand another person, even if we don’t agree with them or condone their choices. I believe that each one of us has a deep need to be truly seen. There are no words to describe how profound it is to have that need met, or to meet that need for others. But as you note, using your empathy to help others can come with certain costs. Everyone has their own limits in that regard, and it’s important to learn and respect those limits—something Ben and the other members of the MacGregor Group try to impress upon Cate throughout The Healing Edge Series—not that she always listens!
I noted from your bio that you’re a former psychotherapist and a certified Reiki practitioner. Would you please tell us a little about Reiki and your experience as a practitioner?
For those who might be unfamiliar, Reiki is a complementary therapy of Japanese origin with the goal of transferring universal energy from the practitioner to the client to encourage physical or spiritual healing. Many Reiki practitioners use a hands-on technique, but I prefer to hold my hands a few inches above the client’s body, or to use distance healing techniques.
I was a complete skeptic when I attended my first Reiki class. I went because I was searching for better ways to cope with my own difficult emotions, and I was told by several people that Reiki was worth a try. During my classes, though, I had experiences that were powerful, undeniable, and could not be explained away, even by psychology (and believe me, I tried!). Later, when I gave Reiki to others—some of them also skeptics—their responses were quite powerful. Ultimately, I had to acknowledge that Reiki was like so many other things in life—a reality for which we don’t yet have a scientific explanation.
Having said that, the field of quantum physics is making amazing new discoveries about how energy behaves, and I don’t think the day is far off when we’ll be able to explain from a scientific standpoint why Reiki and other such techniques can be effective. For now, though, the understanding I have reached is that Reiki is different only in form from other ways in which we try to direct healing energy to one another—including prayer, which is also something I also do regularly. To me, prayer and energy healing techniques are like a piano. All of us pianists draw upon the same creative source, and we all create music. But because we use different techniques, our sounds and melodies may vary.
Thank you for that very interesting and beautiful way of explaining it.
In writing The Healing Edge series, from which did you draw more – your formal training or your personal, “untrained” feelings and experiences? Or none of the above?
I definitely drew more from my personal, “untrained” feelings and experiences. I sometimes joke that The Healing Edge Series is autobiographical, but that is actually true in many ways. The series was very challenging to write in part because it involved diving into myself and reliving my own experiences of depression, anxiety, grief, empathy, loving people with addictions, overcoming challenges in relationships, and struggling to choose a path in life. I have also either lived in or spent a lot of time in the geographical locations where the books are set and used those experiences while creating the settings. The methods described in the Reiki and acupuncture scenes were also drawn from personal experience, as were some of the other descriptions of parapsychological phenomenon. I used my formal training as a psychotherapist, too, but in abstract ways—for example, while structuring Dr. MacGregor’s initial psychiatric interview with Cate, and while incorporating standard procedures for dealing with mental health emergencies into the plot. For the rest, I relied on research and imagination.
So, I loooove Ben. And Cate, of course. What a beautiful romance! One would think that a paranormal thriller that touches deeply on sensitive topics and healing would have quite enough gong on. But you give us more, a romantic relationship that prevails and grows stronger despite tough and often scary circumstances. And then, there’s more than just romantic love. You write great, believable characters. Do you, as author, feel closest to Cate? Or Angeline? Another character? Share with us your feelings about your main characters.
I’m delighted that you love Ben and Cate and their romance! So do I, as you might have guessed! (In case you’re interested, I have dream-cast Theo James and Riley Keough in those roles for the inevitable future movie. J) It’s wonderful to hear that you find the characters believable, as well. They certainly are to me. Each one was fully formed in my mind while I was writing the series, and they live with me to this day. While I probably identify most with Cate, I feel close to all of my characters in different ways.
In an article about dream interpretation, Dr. Carder Stout said, “All of the figures in our dreams represent aspects of ourselves.” (https://goop.com/wellness/spirituality/what-dreams-mean/) For me, the same is true for my main and secondary characters. They all reflect parts of me, although each one also has distinguishing qualities that are theirs alone.
You asked if I feel close to Cate and Angeline specifically. I probably share the most qualities with Cate, both positive and negative. But sometimes, I am also Angeline, driven, determined, and making things happen out in the world. At other times, I’m Ben, finding security in my areas of competence while avoiding things about myself that need work. As an Aquarius, I’m often like Kai, fiercely true to myself and forging my own path, even if it flies in the face of convention. I’ve been known to use dry, understated humor and to keep my own counsel, as Pete does. Vani represents a goal character for me, in that I’d love to be more like her, so well pulled-together and accomplished in multiple areas. Asa and Eve share my basic joy and enthusiasm for life and learning. While Simone didn’t get much screen-time in the final edits, she is the friend I hope to be, unconditionally loving and supportive. And all of these characters have qualities I hold in high esteem and hope to embody: love, loyalty, integrity, and a desire to help others.
I could talk to you all day. But I guess I’d better get on with sharing an excerpt from All the Light There Is. It’s just below, along with links to your books and social media. But before we go, is there anything new in the works?
I could talk to you all day, as well! If you’re ever in Ireland, let’s make it happen! Thanks so much for asking if there is anything new in the works. The answer is yes! I recently finished writing a new romantic suspense novel, Dead Sound, the first book in the Things Unseen Series. Just last month, Dead Sound was a winner in the IRWA Golden Opportunity writing contest, which was very exciting, and it has also placed in two other Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter contests this year. Right now I’m in the process of finding a publisher to help me put Dead Sound into readers’ hands. Here is a glimpse:
In Washington, D.C., even the hospitals are political—and politics can be deadly. When young psychotherapist Neve and Irish doctor Cornelius are pulled into a tortuous conspiracy that leads from their hospital straight to the White House, the pair must decide if falling in love is worth risking their friendship—provided Neve can survive the week with a target on her back.
I’m currently working on the sequel, Banjaxed, which follows Neve and Con to Ireland to unravel yet another suspenseful and mind-bending mystery. To fans of The Healing Edge Series who love the paranormal aspects, without giving too much away, I can say that there will be plenty of things to interest you in The Things Unseen Series, as well!
No doubt! I’m looking forward to reading The Things Unseen Series with positively avid anticipation. I’ll be sure to let my readers know when it’s available, too – share the love.
One last question, Anise, if you please. Love, empathy – are they the same?
For many of us, the concepts of love and empathy are inextricably intertwined, and we can’t imagine one existing without the other. However, I don’t believe that is true for everyone. For example, there are those for whom empathizing comes easily, but they use their ability as a tool to manipulate or take advantage of others. There are also people who love intensely but find empathizing with others to be very difficult. So I would say that while love and empathy may seem the same to some of us, not only are they two different things, but they don’t necessarily coexist. Your question touches upon the definition of love, as well, and there are probably as many different definitions of love as there are people. This question is a great window, then, into exploring the fascinating and infinite variety of human experience.
Well said. Thank you again, Anise, for sharing your time with us.
Excerpt from ALL THE LIGHT THERE IS, by Anise Eden.
With an hour before dinner, I was ready to head back, but Owen wanted to show us more of the hunting amenities. Ben was clearly interested, so I went along. Owen took us out to some deer stands, duck blinds, and what turned out to be my favorite stop—the kennel, which was home to the hunting dogs. The “kennel” turned out to be a small cottage with a loft and a few dog runs built inside the front door. The hunting guides were a young married couple, the Selbys. The dogs, who lived as the Selbys’ pets, appeared to be models of good health, happy and content. There had been four dogs—two black Labradors and two Brittany spaniels—until about six weeks prior, when Stella, one of the elegant brown-and-white spaniels, had given birth to two puppies.
Fortunately, the puppies were awake when we arrived. I could have spent the rest of the
week right there, absorbing their playful, sweet energy. Owen handed us one each—I got the girl, and Ben the boy. As though she’d intuited exactly what I needed, my puppy just curled up in my arms and snuggled, letting me pet her and tell her how beautiful she was, and what fun she was going to have with Stella and the other dogs.
Meanwhile, before my eyes, Ben transformed. Every tense muscle relaxed and every
worry line was erased as Ben rolled around in a pile of shredded newspaper, play-wrestling his delighted puppy and letting it beat him time after time. With a permanent grin on his face, Ben let the puppy bite his fingers, then wailed softly when the puppy made little threatening growling noises. The puppy looked so proud of itself, its tail wagging nonstop.
Every time I thought I couldn’t fall any harder for Ben… My heart felt as light as the
beams of sun coming in through the window blinds. I thought about how much Ben had loved Tank, the Rottweiler his Marine Corps unit had worked with for a time. Ben’s Marine nickname, "Rottie,” came from their apparent similarities, and Ben was so fond of Tank that he’d gotten a big tattoo of the dog’s likeness on his hip. I wondered if Tank was still in active duty. If so, I
hoped he was living a happy life with other Marines who loved him as much as Ben had.
On the ride back to the lodge, Owen chatted away about Mercier’s history, but all I
wanted was to be close to Ben. I leaned over and pressed my head against his chest, twining his fingers in mine and listening to his heartbeat. Ben wrapped his arm around my shoulders and held me close as we drove over the rough ground. I closed my eyes and pictured him playing with the puppy, and for a few moments, all was right with the world.
Sir Roark will do anything to gain land, even beguile an unwilling lady into marriage. He knows she's much better off with a man to take control of her besieged castle, to say nothing of her desirable person. But it isn't long before he discovers that, although her eyes sparkle like sunlight on sea waves, her stubbornness alone could have defeated Saladin.
Lady Alyss is determined to hold her family's castle, protect her people, and preserve her freedom— until her brother's dying wish binds her to a stranger. Still, she'll allow no rugged, over-confident, appealing knight to usurp her authority, even if she must wed him. Especially since he thinks a lady's duties begin and end with directing servants. Alyss has a few surprises for her new all-too-tempting lord.
But when a common enemy threatens everything, Roark and Alyss face a startling revelation: Without love, neither land nor freedom matters.
Wow. Such a great book.
Hi, Barbara. Thanks so much for joining us today. I just finished reading For This Knight Only and absolutely loved it. The characters are wonderful, especially the heroine and hero, and that siege! I have to ask, have you personally experienced one? I felt like I was right there with Lady Alyss and Sir Roark! Can you tell us about writing this story? Did you have to do a lot of extra research or were you already familiar with the history of medieval warfare?
Hi Anastasia. I’m so glad you like the book! To answer your question, because I love history and had read a good deal about the Middle Ages in my college studies, I did know something about the era. However, I wanted to be sure everything was as accurate as possible, so I did a lot of research—on Richard I, life in the 12th century, on castle design and construction of chain mail, the armor of that period, food, etc. (Did you know cinnamon once was used as a seasoning for meat?) Like a lot of history researchers, I found that differing sources often contain differing accounts of the same event or incident, so I tried to find at least two sources in agreement. Except in the area of Richard’s release from captivity and return to England. Roger of Hoveden’s (Howden) description of Richard’s daily itinerary, which I followed. As far as I know, though, the attack I described didn’t take place. Oh, my, I’m wandering on and on about research. Which just goes to show how much I really like it!!
I'm glad you enjoy the research. We readers reap the benefits, I assure you.
Sir Roark and Lady Alyss are both likeable from the beginning, but the way in which the depth of their personalities is revealed is beautiful. It’s gradual, natural, like a door slowly opening to reveal what’s inside. Lady Alyss’ determination and sheer stubbornness are impressive. But like Sir Roark, it took me a while to comprehend the strength of her character, the rightness of it. Books with strong heroines aren’t unusual, but I’ve read plenty of medieval romances featuring damsels in distress. Certainly, there are always exceptions to the rule, but in your opinion, what’s the more accurate depiction of a medieval lady of the manor? Will you tell us more about Lady Alyss?
That’s a challenging question. Let me roll the two into one. I don’t know if Lady Alyss is an absolutely accurate portrayal of a 12th C. lady of the manor. But she could very well be awfully close. Damsels in distress are reasonable because high born women (in England) at that time were very protected, faced stringent rules from the church, had very few rights, were not expected to have much strength, and often were exchanged in marriage for land, financial or other political power. However, ladies who were wed or who managed their households for fathers/brothers/etc., had many responsibilities. Unless there was someone else in charge, the lady was responsible for all the household duties including for weaving cloth, for providing garments for the household, arranging meals, and the like Ladies also were often left at home while their men were off fighting and although many castles had stewards, in many others, the women held everything down, so to speak. There are historical examples of ladies who held castles from invaders while their men were off fighting somewhere else. I like to think Alyss was an example of this last kind of lady.
I love Sir Roark. He’s strong, caring, and more open-minded than even he realizes. I couldn’t help but feel for him. At first, I was a little shocked by his plan to take the castle, but it was understandable under the circumstances. And then I found myself laughing because Lady Alyss kept surprising him. Did you laugh while you were writing? How do you feel about Sir Roark?
I love Sir Roark too! He was my very first hero—and I’ll always have a soft spot for him. In fact, I did laugh while I was writing the story.
Awww, well, that makes me smile. Barbara, I really enjoyed For This Knight Only, which is part of your Knights of Destiny series. Is there anything you’d like to tell us about this series? Will there be another book to follow? Are the stories connected?
The series grew from my speculation on the problems faced by landless knights who were forced to find creative ways to gain position—and land—in that time. So far, all four books are connected through Alyss’s family and friends. So is my Christmas novella, which focuses on one of Roark’s friends who followed him to Chauvere. I plan to do more of them.
Thank you for spending some time with us and for the excerpt from For This Knight Only, which follows.
Thank you for the lovely review comments about Alyss, Roark, and the book in general. And thank you for having me today. It’s been such fun answering your questions.
For This Knight Only
“Pardon?” Alyss’s voice came in a whisper, but he seemed to hear well enough.
“I said your brother wished us to wed.”
The sound of a million crickets chirruped in her ears. His lips continued to move, but she heard nothing. Of a sudden, her bottom hit stone as she collapsed onto a step, but her eyes saw only him.
He loomed over her, hands propped on hips, dark hair brushing those broad shoulders. She raised her brows in a level gaze—and inhaled sharply. Hazel eyes, sprinkled with green and gold chips, gleamed back. With effort, she recalled his recent words and her thoughts focused.
She shot to her feet. “You must be mad. I have no intention of wedding a stranger who appears at my gate with some imaginary story of my brother’s last commands. I remind you, sir, you are a guest. In fact, I must ask you to leave. Your behavior is intolerable.”
His big hands closed around her shoulders. They were warm. Firm but gentle. She shook them off. He leaned in.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, my lady,” he murmured.
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Award-winning author Barbara Bettis has always loved history and English. As a college freshman, she considered becoming an archeologist until she realized there likely would be bugs and snakes involved. And math. Through careers as a newspaper reporter and editor, then a college journalism and English professor, she’s retained her fascination with history. Give her a research book and a pot of tea, and she’s happy for hours. But what really makes her smile is working on a new story. Now retired, she lives in Missouri where she spins tales of heroines to die for—and heroes to live for.
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McKenna Dean, author of the Redclaw Security Series, writes shifter romance with flair and an interesting twist I’ve not run across in other shifter romances. She has a new book coming out this month, Bishop Takes Knight, which is first in the Redclaw Origin Series. Before we talk about the new book, I want to know more about Redclaw.
Hi, McKenna. Thanks for taking time out to talk about Bishop Takes Knight. Since it’s the first book in your new series, Redclaw Origins, I’m hoping to learn more about how in the world you came up with your ideas for Redclaw. Right now, I’m enjoying the first book in the Redclaw Security Series, The Panther’s Lost Princess. I must say, the shifter world you’ve created is different from any I’ve read about before. Would you like to tell us more about it?
Thank you, Anastasia, those are very kind words! And thank you for hosting me here. I guess I got part of my inspiration for the Redclaw Universe from Agents of Shield—there was a storyline where everyone got exposed to something (I don’t remember what) and it brought out latent mutant abilities. I love the idea of having secret powers locked in our DNA and we just haven’t accessed it yet, so when I created the Redclaw universe, I had two elements that were important to me: the presence of alien artifacts that only certain members of the population could activate, and the triggering of dormant shifter genes with the detonation of nuclear weapons during WW2.
For the purposes of the universe, I envision the older, mythological beasts we know about, such as dragons and griffons, as belonging to a small sect of powerful families that rule the shifter community due to their wealth and longevity. However, the explosion of newer shifters, like lions, tigers, and bears J, mean there is a power shift within the community.
Then there’s the added issue of the alien tech. What is its purpose? How did it come to be on Earth? And what should the shifter community do with it? During Redclaw Origins, we learn the Shifter Council has determined these artifacts should be collected, examined and cataloged until such time it can be determined how best to use or not use them. There are many who disagree with this decision, and wish to claim the power this tech provides for themselves.
Would you say that your shifter world has benefitted from your experience as a vet tech and biologist?
Absolutely! The time spent in the woods performing biological surveys or observing animals during my work definitely comes into play when I describe the majesty of a Great Horned Owl coasting through the forest on soundless wings, or the way a cat’s tongue curls and its whiskers bend forward when it yawns. The animal shifter scenes are the easiest ones for me to write!
Bishop and Knight has such a cool premise. Will it surprise fans of the Redclaw Security Series? Please tell us about it.
A little bit, I think, yes. Redclaw Security features a different couple each story, and since fated mates are a big part of that world, these stories include steamy sex scenes. The Redclaw Origin books are set in the 1950s and written from the heroine’s POV. I adore Rhett Bishop—she’s a practical, no-nonsense heroine with a dry sense of humor, but she’s somewhat reticent about sharing her sex life with me. That’s not to say she’s not a passionate woman—at least with the right man—but much of that activity is off-screen. Her relationship with Peter Knight is a bit antagonistic at first, but in a world were Rhett is often underappreciated and underutilized, Knight is one of the few people who believes in her. As such, Rhett easily falls for most of Knight’s crazier schemes, especially if it gives her the chance to prove herself.
The beauty of a series like Redclaw Origins is that it gives me a recurring couple to work with during the course of the series—and we’ll get to watch Bishop and Knight’s relationship develop as they seek out alien artifacts, battle competing forces for the technology, and banter their way into love.
The vibe I get from Bishop and Knight — a man and woman investigating alien activity — brings to (my) mind the X-Files — only much cooler and sexier. It’s not my imagination, is it?
Hah! There is definitely a bit of Mulder and Scully vibe between the two--in fact, at one time I described Bishop Takes Knight as the X Files meets Leave it to Beaver, though these days I think it would be more accurate to say Warehouse 13 meets Bringing up Baby. There's the paranormal/investigative aspect but also the combative-yet-complementary vibe as well. I love bantering couples, so give me Castle and Beckett, Nick and Nora, Mulder and Scully, Laura Holt and Remington Steele...
Great banter notwithstanding, from what I’ve read, the main characters in your books are deep, likeable, and down to earth, which brings me to themes. Is there a particular theme or focus you’d like to share with us?
Aw, thank you! I guess one of the things I like to explore is characters finding out what they’re made of. I jokingly say I like to put my characters in hot water to find out how strong they are—like tea bags, only sexier. That’s because I love exploring characters coming into their strengths—usually with the help of someone who loves them and believes in them. I’m fortunate to have someone like that in my life after many years of being told I wasn’t enough: not smart enough, pretty enough, ‘good’ enough. Sometimes it can be hard to overcome lifelong lessons to the contrary, but the love of a good person helps a lot.
Oh, I agree. It’s been nice talking with you, McKenna. I’m looking forward to Bishop Takes Knight. Thanks for sharing an excerpt, which follows this interview. I wish you all the best.
Thank you for having me! I love being interviewed—as long as it’s on paper and I have time to consider my answers. :) This has been great fun!
Bishop Takes Knight will be available September 18.
Excerpt from Bishop Takes Knight
I couldn’t decide if he’d insulted or flattered me, so I said nothing, but took two bowls down from the cabinet. Regardless of my earlier snack, the soup smelled good as he ladled it into the bowls.
He just shook his head when I added crumbled saltine crackers to my portion as we sat at the table. “Why don’t you just open the shaker and pour salt directly into your mouth?”
“I like crackers with my soup.”
He stabbed at my bowl with his spoon. “That’s more like you enjoy a little soup with your crackers. It looks revolting. Like chicken-flavored porridge.”
Put that way, it did sound disgusting. As I eyed the sodden mess, I changed the subject.
“You never said how it is you’re able to leave Redclaw with no one being the wiser.”
Especially in view of the added security.
He must not have been all that hungry, for he pushed the bowl of soup aside and fished something out of one of his pockets. After placing it on the table in front of him, he gave it a gentle push in my direction.
I didn’t reach for it. Much like the previous devices I’d seen, this one had that same dull metallic casing, with odd markings carved on the sides. Unlike anything else I’d seen before, however, it had a raised ring in the center that cast a warm yellow glow. “What’s that?”
An infectious grin lit up his face. “I call it an image-projector. I think about what I want to look like in great detail, and it projects that image over me. I’m still wearing the same clothes and everything, but if I can imagine it, I can look like it.” He swept the device back toward him when I would have picked it up. “Few people question the boss when he’s leaving the building.”
“What if you run into the boss? That could be awkward.”
He didn’t seem concerned. “The odds are low. Besides, I can just as easily be an anonymous lab tech. Have you been downstairs? There’s a lot going on, and as I said the other day, they’re more worried about unauthorized people getting in than paying attention to who’s getting out.”
“But to what purpose?” His attitude made little sense. “You’re safer inside Redclaw. Why leave?”
“Boredom.” He shrugged when I raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Okay, then. The desire for decent food.”
My eyebrow went even higher as I stared pointedly at the cooling soup in front of him.
“Fine. I don’t like being caged. Is that answer enough for you?”
I could see his point. And since I had him here, I asked about something that had been on my mind since the day of the mechanical spider. “What do you think is the purpose behind these artifacts?”
He leaned back in his chair to the point he risked toppling it over backward. The front legs lifted until he settled the chair back in place with a thump. “That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?” His raised eyebrow implied both curiosity and concern. The combination was frankly compelling. “Where do they come from? Who or what is behind the technology? It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve worked on some top-secret projects. My guess? It’s not from this planet.”
My mouth dropped open. “You mean… alien?” I sputtered.
He nodded in all seriousness.
“You seriously believe Martians or Moon Men or something like that is seeding our plant with their gizmos?” The shock of his statement having worn off, scorn now laced my voice.
His shrug was eloquent. “Maybe. I think it more likely an advanced race implanted these devices millennia ago, knowing at some point we’d develop nuclear technology, hence the activation of said devices now.”
He shook his head. “A test? A trap? Who knows? Maybe the awakening tech triggered some kind of signal to the developers and even now, they’re on their way to greet us.”
I wondered if we would disappoint them. It was a distinctly disturbing thought. “Is this a working theory or are you just blowing smoke?”
His devilish smile made an appearance. The way it peeped out of hiding, combined with the fall of that rebellious lock of hair over his intense eyes when he leaned forward, would have charmed the pants off most women I know.
I don’t charm that easily.
“My dear, I just tinker with the gizmos.” He leaned back in his seat once more, his clever fingers toying with his spoon as he spoke. “I’ll leave winkling out the motives of the artifact-builders to the scary people, like you and Ryker.”
I straightened. “Me? Scary? What on earth have I done to give you that impression?” Ryker, I could understand. We knew so little about the shifters, how they lived, and what they could do. The way Ryker had tossed Billy around that day in the office was a fair indication he was stronger than most men, and of course, there was the rapid healing thing as well. More than that, I didn’t know.
I wrinkled my nose. “Am I supposed to thank you? That makes me sound like every other woman in the workplace. Standing behind the boss and making him look good.”
His laugh caught me off guard. “No, you have it all wrong. The smart man stands behind the girl with the ray gun.”
Okay. Perhaps I could be charmed a little.
McKenna Dean has been an actress, a vet tech, a singer, a teacher, a biologist, and a dog trainer. She’s worked in a genetics lab, at the stockyard, behind the scenes as a props manager, and at a pizza parlor slinging dough. Finally she realized all these jobs were just a preparation for what she really wanted to be: a writer.
She lives on a small farm in North Carolina with her family, as well as the assorted dogs, cats, and various livestock.
She likes putting her characters in hot water to see how strong they are. Like tea bags, only sexier.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/McKenna-Dean-Author-262328784224302/
I’m a strange one when it comes to reading. My genre preferences are both limited and diverse. A casual glance at my kindle library might suggest that several people share it. Or, perhaps, that a schizophrenic owns it. The same would go for my audio library, I suppose, although it’s not as diverse and not nearly as large.
But even with a casual glance, one thing would become very clear. My favorite fiction genre is romance.
I enjoy literary fiction, historical fiction, and cozies now and then. But I always return to my HEAs. I used to think I only liked historical romances. But now, with Audible Escape, I’m finding that there are all sorts of wonderful, imaginative, romantic stories out there. Touching, deeply inspiring romances. Fun stories. Exciting, edge of your seat stories. Laugh-out-loud, hilarious rom-coms.
The romance genre has an astonishing variety of subgenres. My criteria is simple: the story has to be what I consider sweet and beautiful. I absolutely do not mind steam so long as it meets that criteria and flows naturally within the story. Sometimes, if I love the characters but it’s uncomfortably explicit for me, I’ll skip those scenes. But that doesn’t happen often. There’s a definite line. By the same token, I enjoy inspirational romances, but I don’t appreciate those that suggest that good Christians hardly share a kiss before marriage.
I listen a lot, at least every evening while I’m cooking, practicing needlework, taking care of household chores. And when I tire of one subgenre, I dive right into another. I take advantage of Audible’s romance package, Audible Escape, and I purchase plenty, too. And that is to say nothing of my kindle library, which I enjoy at bedtime and, of course, when an audio version isn’t available.
In the past few weeks, I listened to Charlotte Hubbard’s entire “Seasons of the Heart”, Amish romance series. I also listened to Molly Harper’s newest Mystic Bayou romance, Selkies are a Girl’s Best Friend. And I just started listening to Heidi’s Guide to Four Letter Words, by Tara Silvec and Andi Arndt, narrated, of course, by Andi Arndt. I don’t know how close it will get to that line of mine, but so far, it’s had me alternately grinning, shaking my head and chuckling, and bursting out laughing. It’s very funny.
I’m also listening to the Great Course’s Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement and reading Michael Crichton’s Timeline. There’s something to be said about balance. Like I said, my library is diverse.
But we’re all entitled to have favorites.
Romance, fantasy, suspense… I love a good story, something that relaxes me, takes me out of myself and my own head for a while. The Rabbit River Saga, by Elyce deReefe, has it all. Her character-driven plots involve intense, emotional characters you just can’t help but love, and a paranormal aspect that lifts you right out of the here and now.
But why wolf shifters? I asked Elyce.
Hi, Elyce. I absolutely loved Moonrise, Book 1 of your new wolf shifter romance series, The Rabbit River Saga. The characters are irresistible. Would you like to tell us a little about the series? What inspired you to write about shifters?
I’ve always loved nature and natural things, so when I discovered shifter romance, I thought – how cool! Half man, half wild animal and still one hundred percent sexy male. But I found that a lot of the books tended to portray the shifters as if there was a creature inside of them trying to take over. And that didn’t really make sense to me.
Either they are natural creatures who can switch back and forth but are still fully themselves, or some alien has taken them over. It can’t be both. At least for me.
And I have to admit I didn’t like how they often depicted the wolves as bloodthirsty monsters unable to restrain their beastly nature. Now I can totally see the appeal of such a character, tortured and forced to battle his baser instincts, but having a special love of wolves in particular, it just didn’t work for me. I thought, “you know, if there is one half of the man/wolf combination that turns them into a crazy maniac, it wouldn’t be the wolf side.” ;)
Wolves are naturally caring and nurturing. Yes, they might battle for dominance and territory, but within the pack they really watch out for each other. But the whole idea intrigued me. I loved the idea of scent being a major part of what attracted them to a mate. I saw it as sort of an intangible quality that embodies the inner person. I started wondering– well what if there were such creatures in the world? What would they really be like? And the Rabbit River Saga is the result of my musings. I fell in love with the characters I created and had to give them voice.
I did notice that none of the shifters are vile, rabid monsters in Moonrise. These guys are beautiful. How about giving us a little more information about the most important males in the first novel of the series?
Oh, thank you. It makes my author’s heart glad to hear my characters described as beautiful. I think they are. I love the idea of Pack, a sort of a band of ‘brothers’ working together to achieve their goals. We often see this type of dynamic in military romance too, and I found it really satisfying to explore their relationships with each other within the pack. I wanted to bring out that nurturing quality found in natural wolf packs, and have it mirrored in my romances. But of course, there are certain tensions and disputes that arise. Especially with the shortage of mates…
So let’s see, the important males in the series so far:
Of course we meet Lucas first, our reluctant Alpha, and I kind of think of him as the main character for the whole series. Lucas’s story will develop over the course of the entire series, which is six books long (plus two novellas which will be coming out soon). The first three books are completed, with Checkmate - Book 3, being released on June 26th.
As you’ve noticed, each book also has another main male character, and its own love story. So for Moonrise, that was Cray and Elizabeth. Cray is of Native American heritage and is sort of broody and little hot tempered. In a sexy way, of course. Shivers up the back of your neck sexy, I like to think. He and Elizabeth have a tumultuous courtship. I have to admit, it was really fun to write.
Book 2, Wolf’s Promise, features Aaron, Lucas’s second in command. He’s from the Midwest, big, blond and sort of all American. He’s thoughtful, careful and self contained. Aaron doesn’t really like to give much away. But he’s very, very thorough. And in control. Did I mention his last name is Masters?
Book three, Checkmate, has actually two male characters that we begin to know better. I’m not going to give away which one eventually ends up with the girl, but the two candidates are Dean, my wolf shifter equivalent to the hot nerd, and Jesse, our resident outlaw. Dean is French Canadian, and like Lucas and his brother Gage, has a lot of European influence in his heritage. And smoky green eyes. Oh, yes, and he’s made a very careful study on just what ‘pleases’ a lady.
Jesse is a bit of a loner, but he’s very charismatic. He likes to play the part of a lady’s man. He’s tall and lanky, with the loose limbed gait of a cowboy. He has shoulder-length dirty blond hair, a sharp jaw, high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes. Super sexy. And a bit of a mystery. We know he was thrown out of his birth-pack as a young man, but we don’t know why.
And then we have Aaron’s three younger brothers, and Lucas’s brother Gage, not to mention young Jeff… I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop now. J
In the book, there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether wolf shifters and werewolves are the same. I found it interesting that the characters don’t consider themselves werewolves. Would you elaborate?
Well, I’m glad you picked up on that, because it is an important distinction. It will become clearer as the series progresses. Suffice it to say none of the guys will let any of the girls refer to them as ‘werewolves.’ It’s considered a grave insult. I can’t say more about it now; I don’t want to give it away. I will say that the answer is hinted at throughout the series, and will become clear in “My Captive Valentine,” which will be coming out in early February 2020.
The two women, Elizabeth and Mari are very different, but both have survived dangerous situations. I admire how these strong, unique women stand ready to support each other, women supporting women. Is this by design?
I can’t say it was really by design. It’s my experience that women will generally stick together and support each other. Especially in a strange situation. I think it’s only natural. But both Mari and Elizabeth are survivors. They are both determined to take control of their lives, even though they go about it in different ways. I’m pleased to see you recognize Mari’s strength. Not everyone does. But to me, for a woman to break away from a destructive relationship the way Mari has takes true strength of character. Especially since she’s so young.
I also noticed that while Mari is in her twenties, Elizabeth, who ranks easily amongst my favorite heroines, is nearly forty. Why did you have your main heroine for Moonrise approaching middle age?
One of the things that really surprised me when I started reading romance was the absence of older main characters, especially female characters. I felt like– wait? Where are all the people my age? We don’t have romances anymore? I mean, that’s nonsense. Life doesn’t always turn out as expected. Sometimes, unfortunately, people get divorced or a spouse dies or maybe they just never found that perfect (enough) someone. But a fulfilling romantic relationship is just as central to a person’s happiness at forty or fifty as it is was when we were twenty. We just know a lot more about love.
The same way younger characters need to harness a lot more courage to take control of their lives and face a challenge preserving who they truly are with a relationship, older characters face a completely different set of complications when it comes to love. I think the dynamics can be much more complex with slightly older characters. They can show us more clearly that it’s never too late to take back control of your life, redesign it, so to speak, if things aren’t quite what they had hoped. They are more aware of when compromise is essential, but also where they need to draw the line. I think Elizabeth is actually great at this. The lessons she learns about herself and the true nature of love are things we can all take to heart. In my humble opinion.
Elyce, thank you for taking time out for this interview. I wish you all the best with Rabbit River.
Thank you for having me and for your interest in the Rabbit River Saga. And thank you for these insightful questions. As a writer, it’s hard to know if your points are coming across, and from these questions, I can see that they are. So thank you for that!