Guest Blog by Kathleen Marple Kalb

NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S DIVA

(Well, depends on your grandma!)

Your mental picture of an opera singer probably isn’t a slim woman in breeches fencing a bad guy…and that’s just the first expectation Ella Shane shatters on any given day.

            Ella, the main character in my Gilded Age mystery series, is used to being different. She grew up poor on the Lower East Side as Ellen O’Shaughnessy, the daughter of an Irish father and Jewish mother at a time when interfaith marriages were a ticket to the social abyss. She sings “trouser roles,” male parts like Romeo played by women because of the vocal range. And she insists – sometimes at the point of her sword — upon being treated as a respectable lady in a time when singers were still often considered women of questionable virtue.

            All pretty different from a standard diva.

            Not to mention an absolutely unique character.

            She’s a lot of fun to write, because I grew up watching those old movies with the swashbuckling heroes and wondering why the women always had to just stand there. Years later, I read a book on young singers at the Met, and a mezzo-soprano who sings “witches and britches.” Trouser roles. 

            It all clicked.

A woman whose job requires her to dress like a man and fence will be able to credibly do all kinds of exciting things. It’s a great plot device. But Ella is far more than a plot device. She’s a woman who takes male prerogatives, pushing boundaries in a very sexist time. Plus, because she challenges limits onstage, she behaves with iron propriety offstage, which sets up a lot of interesting dynamics. 

            Equally interesting, Ella is a woman in her thirties who’s slowly deciding that she might want to have a child. But that child would come at price of her freedom; a woman legally becomes a man’s property when they marry. As the owner of her own opera company, and an independent woman, she isn’t willing or able to make that sacrifice. Which sounds a lot like a modern woman’s work-life balance battle…from a whole different angle.

Ella’s not my only unusual character. At her side is her cousin Tommy Hurley, former boxing champ and co-owner and manager of the opera company. Described obliquely as “not the marrying kind,” he’s as out and proud as it’s possible to be in 1899, and has a happy and fulfilling life with his friends and family. It works because nobody suspects it from The Champ, and nobody asks too many questions of a good standup guy…with a hefty right cross.

            They’re surrounded by a fun and interesting cast, including several more trailblazing women: a doctor, a reporter and a fellow opera singer who’s curtailed her career just enough to fit in a family. More, we see all of them, male and female, doing their jobs. This is not one of those series where characters have fabulous careers on paper but nobody ever seems to work.

            Of course, I can’t leave out the love interest. If very respectable Ella’s thinking of having a child, she must be thinking of marrying…and until now, there’s been no remotely suitable contender. That all changes when Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, walks into her rehearsal studio. He assumes “theatre people” aren’t respectable, and our veryrespectable Ella schools him on that — over crossed swords. He’s hooked. She’s interested, but it’s going to take him a long time to earn her trust.

Their first adventure, A FATAL FINALE, features our cast looking into the death of Ella’s most recent Juliet, who drank real poison and died onstage. Turns out she’s the Duke’s cousin, and he’s come to New York to find out what happened to her. The mystery builds slowly, with Ella helping at first only because of her ethical obligation to her late employee, and her kind hope to ease the Duke’s grief. But as we get to know our cast, and they dig deeper into the girl’s life, it becomes clear that this was no accident…and focus their efforts on tracking a killer. 

            It all culminates in a classic Errol Flynn-style catwalk duel, with Ella handling the swordplay and the Duke waiting in the wings. After it’s all sorted out, it’s clear that Ella will be seeing more of the Duke…and we’ll be seeing more of Ella and the crew.

            Speaking of which, book two comes next April. A FATAL FIRST NIGHT features the same loveable characters, backstage drama and slow-burn romance, with a fast-paced interlocking mystery plot – starting with a dressing-room death. More duels – and murders – ahead!

Buy A FATAL FINALEhttps://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781496727237/

Kathleen Marple Kalb grew up in front of a microphone, and a keyboard. She’s now a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS New York, capping a career begun as a teenage DJ in Brookville, Pennsylvania. She worked her way up through newsrooms in Pittsburgh, Vermont and Connecticut, developing her skills and a deep and abiding distaste for snowstorms. While she wrote her first (thankfully unpublished) historical novel at age sixteen, fiction was firmly in the past until her son started school. She, her husband and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.

SOCIAL LINKS: 

Website: https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathleen-Marple-Kalb-1082949845220373/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KalbMarple

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathleenmarplekalb/


Note from Anna Bushi:

I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla”, a story of a princess fighting her battles without wielding a sword or a wand.

I am currently writing my second book “War of the Three Kings“.

I feature authors in my blog regularly. You can view all the authors I have featured here. If you are an author and you would like to be featured in my blog, please contact me.

Guest Blog by Penmancy

Penmancy is a coven of creative characters who are fascinated with the magic of the pen to weave new worlds with words. One of our main goals is to create a virtual space where writers and readers support each other and build a wholesome community that cherishes literature.After the massive success of our first anniversary collection of short stories, ‘a fallen leaf’, we give you our second anniversary collection as ‘SHATTERED’. We hope that you have enjoyed the stories as much as we have enjoyed putting them together for your reading pleasure.

Introduction to ‘Shattered’

Life is beautiful yet filled with pain and suffering. Many people in the world, young or old, regardless of their gender, endure excruciating experiences throughout their life. The smiles that people wear on their faces are not proof of happiness. Deep inside, they may be hurting; their hearts broken; their hopes and dreams shattered; and probably, even the life that they so treasure hangs in the balance. It is in this very premise that this anthology, titled Shattered, was born. 

Believe it or not, we do love to read stories that are sad or make us angry and shed tears; tales where vengeance is sought and justice served. And the reason for this is simple- they make us realize the fragility of our own lives and see our own shortcomings; they remind us of the flawed society that we live in and wish we could do something about it. Most often, it is a realization that wakes us up from our deep slumber, urging us to be appreciative of our advantageous situation and forcing us to evaluate how fortunate we are to have not gone through the pain and suffering that others have experienced.

As the title of this collection suggests, this anthology offers a wide range of interpretations of the word ‘shattered’–stories of broken lives, unfulfilled promises, cracked beliefs, fractured egos, crushed hopes that are weaved tugging our heartstrings. While some of these are not shattered pieces beyond repair, others are smashed to smithereens, and the only way to handle the misery is to confront it and try to heal and rise above it or face death.

Shattered contains nineteen incredible stories in varied genres from eighteen talented writers. It is a product of Penmancy’s second-year anniversary celebration and its attempt to showcase the brilliant minds behind these stories to the world.

Stories and their authors

  1. Collateral Fractures – Sanjukta Ghoshal
  2. Sundarpur Chronicles – Nilutpal Gohain
  3. Him – Pai
  4. Splintered Souls – Supriya Bansal
  5. The Road to Hell – Aradhna Shukla
  6. Scarlet Skies – Chandra Sundeep
  7. The Best Man – Fabienne Meyers
  8. Beneath the Golden Seams – Sanjukta Ghoshal
  9. 1947- an Imprecation – Sonal Singh
  10. My Journey Beyond Life – Shweta Mathur Lall
  11. Dialogues Across the Realm – Sreemati Sen
  12. The Shattered Souls – Kokila Gupta
  13. The Unheard – Rasya Krishnan
  14. The Street Without Cherries – Trixiah Ann Gumba
  15. Wings – Archie Iyer
  16. Hrishikesha – Ravi Valluri
  17. Her Place on Earth – Preethi Warrier
  18. Anastasis – Alpna Das Sharma
  19. Pietra Angolare Dell’Universo – Olinda Braganza

Note from Anna Bushi:

I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla” that is available on Kindle Unlimited.

I feature authors in my blog regularly. You can view all the authors I have featured here. If you are an author and you would like to be featured in my blog, please contact me.

Guest Blog by Wendy Waters

Wendy Waters is an author, composer, lyricist and librettist. Born in Australia, she grew up in Sydney, lived in the USA for six years and now divides her time between London, Sydney and Paris. In 2011 Waters volunteered to work with OASIS Salvation Army Crisis Centre in Sydney, helping musically gifted young people. Waters has written three musicals: FRED, ALEXANDER and THE LAST TALE (with composer Shanon Whitelock) and two books, Catch the Moon, Mary and Fields of Grace. Music is a constant theme in Waters’ work.

Set against a backdrop of war in 30s Europe, Grace Fieldergill, a starry-eyed young actress from Devon moves to London to pursue her dream of becoming a star. The lovable boarders of Wyncote House, a ladies-only establishment, take her under their collective wing and share her triumph when she is accepted into the brilliant young John Gielgud’s Company as Peggy Ashcroft’s understudy. When Peggy misses a show one night Grace gets her chance. Watching her performance that evening are two people who will change her life forever, London’s most famous actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and a man whose love she never thought she could win. 

Fields of Grace is a searingly beautiful love letter to the performing arts, based loosely on my grandmother’s life as a virtuoso violinist whose stellar career in London was cut short by the burgeoning war in 1936. Even though I have made my leading lady a theatrical ingenue her rise and fall echo my grandmother’s experiences, which she told to me in the last few months of her life. She loved passionately – her music, her family, my grandfather and the mysterious man who rocked her world in Europe in the 30s. 

Excerpt from review by Sarah Sansom @theBookWhiskers: Fields of Grace is a story about every kind of love silhouetted against the evils of persecution and envy.  The narrative carries the reader from the flirtatious bright lights of 1930s London, to the grand romance of Paris, before mercilessly setting down in the hostile streets of Hitler’s Berlin where life takes an ugly twist. Grace is the story’s leading lady, and its main narrator.  We first meet her in Sydney in the autumn of 2009, the winter of her life.  An ethereal tawny fog has settled over the city, and its portentous arrival lets Grace know that this will be her last earthbound day; the day when she can finally set herself free from the secrets of her past, and heal old wounds. “Time has a way of sorting out most things, but I have no more time, so today I will unlock the trunk pass John’s legacy on to Sam [Grace’s granddaughter], and tell my son the truth about his father.  Then the amberglow may claim my soul.” Standing in the corner of Grace’s bedroom is an old trunk that has remained locked for over seventy-four years. It holds little of monetary value, but its contents are the precious mementoes of an unparalleled life.  A faded program from a production of Hamlet staged in Berlin in 1936 still holds the bloom of a lilac rose frozen in time between the pages.  A scroll of handwritten notes remains tied with a lilac ribbon. The intoxicating scent of fresh roses. With the tenderest of prompts the scenery changes, and Grace is recounting her breathtaking story of theatre, friends, love and war…Overall, this is a breathtaking story about every kind of love:  the uplifting love of friends, the anchoring love of family, the romantic love of partners.  It’s about true love, passionate love, unrequited love, forbidden love, illicit love, failed love, infatuation and forgiveness. By Sarah Sansom @theBookWhiskers 

When I was fifteen, I moved in with my grandmother, ostensibly to help her during the period of her mourning after my grandfather passed away. During that time, she told me stories about her early life that even my father had never heard. She spoke of her music and the years of training that turned her into a virtuoso performer. I was studying drama at the time and my love for the theatre chimed with her passion for music and that acceptance of the yoke we all bow to when we aspire to artistic excellence. She recounted an extraordinary life playing for the famous and infamous in London and Europe. Such was her reception that she fully expected a stellar career culminating in an appearance at Covent Garden and one day, Carnegie Hall. Her talent merited such an arrival. But alas, her family summoned her home in 1936, fearing she would get caught up in the war that was looming. She returned and as the war dragged on and there seemed to be no end in sight, she accepted a marriage proposal from my grandfather who had loved her for over a decade. He had fallen in love with her when he was fourteen and she was twenty-two. They were neighbours. My grandmother was the love of his life and she adored him but during the revelations I was privy to in her final months I realised there had been another great unfulfilled love for her – the career she had left behind in Europe and London. Australia was far from welcoming in 1936 – the most she was offered was second fiddle in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, hugely insulting for a consummate musician who had studied with Ysayë, a master violinist in Belgium and played in some of the most salubrious salons in London and Paris. 

I felt her heartache so keenly and her story stayed with me for years, long after she had gone. Every so often I would examine aspects of it and wonder if there was a turn she missed along the way.

In writing Fields of Grace, I am both reconciling myself to the loss of my grandmother and her dream and also hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams no matter how steep the climb, how inhospitable the terrain.


Note from Anna Bushi:

I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla” that is available on Kindle Unlimited.

I feature authors in my blog regularly. You can view all the authors I have featured here. If you are an author and you would like to be featured in my blog, please contact me.

Guest Blog by JL Rothstein

Hello everyone! Anna Bushi, author of Heir to Malla here. I am happy to introduce a fellow author JL Rothstein to my readers. She writes in the Fantasy genre with an affinity for the Supernatural. Her debut novel in the Heaven Sent series is available now on Amazon.

Atonement Heaven Sent Book One is a Fantasy novel that takes place on Earth. It’s about a family of nine siblings, members of an elite fighting force referred to as Heaven’s Guard. They fight back against Hell’s unfair influence on humanity. This is book one of a trilogy, each book will focus on one of the O’Mara sisters, three strong female leads. The first book is Genevieve O’Mara’s story. The story has themes of family, love/loss, and the power of forgiveness. Though this is a trilogy the first book is a complete stand alone story and does not leave off on a cliffhanger. There is a lot of action and suspense, sprinkled with a bit of humor. The below snippet is from the back cover. 

To Hell, this world is fractured and faithless, perfectly ripe for the picking. Sent by Heaven, Guardians defend against a malevolent onslaught of demonic intrusion. For hundreds of years the nine siblings of the O’Mara family have been engaged in this merciless battle, fighting to protect the souls of all humanity.

Heaven and Hell have been waging this infernal war bound only by the rules of a contentious accord. On the 40thanniversary of her husband Gabriel’s disappearance, Genevieve O’Mara’s lingering sorrow manifests into a murderous rage unfurled upon a demon. Vengeance is coming, not just for Genevieve, but for all those she loves.

What is your social media advice for 2020 Debut Authors like me?

Finding readers is the question that every writer wants the answer to, especially Indie authors. When Amazon broke the barriers to publication, I think most writers, myself included, assumed our material would now reach the intended audience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Self-publication fundamentally changed the industry and I don’t think it’s yet settled nor recovered. Most people would tell you the industry is still in flux. Nearly overnight, writers were producing material and throwing it onto an unsuspecting public. 

A lot of what went into the market back then, was not consumer ready. People were publishing unedited and unreviewed material. As a result the early days of self-publication gained a negative reputation. If you were self-published, that became synonymous with low grade. If you self-published, it was because no one else would publish you. That negative first impression is something the Independent industry is still trying to overcome. Fortunately, it is getting better, but I bring this up because a new barrier has emerged in the marketplace. A gatekeeper born out of need, one aimed at protecting readers from purchasing sub-par material. The birth of the book blogger/reviewer is now what Indie writers need to navigate through. Reviews are key, if you want to reach your readers you’ll have to work at reviews before and after launch. Once you establish your social media presence, you’ll need to use it to help with requesting reviews.

Use social media to build a platform, a brand, before you launch. Start a website and begin accumulating subscribers, people who like your writing and will be reading your work. Create social media accounts as early as you can, at least six months. If you are able, keep consistent with the naming convention, I am JLRothstein1 on both Twitter and Instagram. That makes it easy to find me across platforms. Writing is hard, for a lot of new writer(s) self-promotion is harder, be prepared to put yourself out there. Take risks, make connections, and stay positive. In time the readers will find you, but it will take time.

Book Review: The Henna Artist

Alka Joshi brings Jaipur alive. I can taste the food, smell her herbs, and picture the beautiful henna designs. She has painted a beautiful portrait of two sisters: Lakshmi and Radha.

The yearning in Lakshmi is palpable throughout the book. For love, for recognition, for respect, and independence. She is a grey character whose growth happens organically. I am a mother, so I did scream in my head a few times to ask Lakshmi to go after her sister. To comfort, to guide, to scold, and to hug her. Sign of good writing to get me emotionally vested.

Radha is a child of thirteen. I was mad at Lakshmi for not understanding that. My heart broke many times for what this child had to endure. I had this insane desire to protect her from the minute she appears on the page. Hats off to Alka Joshi for creating such a beautiful character.

Many side characters are carefully woven into the story, adding depth to the story.

Lakshmi and Radha, two characters imbued with humanity and all its flaws. Looking forward to the sequel.

Book link

Book 2 Progress

Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

William Faulkner: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1949/faulkner/speech/

I recently finished chapter 8 of my yet untitled book 2. Since I scrapped the first few chapters of my book 1 during my edits, I have anywhere from 0 to 20% of my first draft completed.

I left plenty of hanging threads in book 1, and I am having fun pulling them to see what unravels and what tightens into a knot.

My protagonist Meera and my other POV character, who will remain nameless (Book 1 Spoilers), have plenty of conflicts – love, duty, and desires pulling them in different directions. What the self wants to do is not what is best for society. Love, that strong overpowering feeling, leading them down perilous paths with no return. And why is it so hard to do one’s duty? All happening in the backdrop of war for Magadha itself.

My next chapter is one I have envisioned happening in my head for a few months now, but sometimes these characters surprise me and take me down a road less traveled. I am excited to see how the images in my head translate into words on paper.

Inspiration for writing

My first inspiration was my grandmother. As a young child, I spent several summers with her. Mealtimes were storytimes, and I remember prolonging it, so I can hear one more story. Her stories based on Indian mythology would bring characters to life. She had excellent delivery for comedy and would have my brother and I laughing at the funny stories.

As I grew older, I read practically anything I could get my hands on. My mother would buy used books for me to read. And I used all my allowance at the local lending library borrowing books for one rupee each. I have read Tamil novels by Kalki, like someone dying of thirst gulps water. Greedily.

I have read all Jane Austen novels. Who says romance is easy to write? To write a book that appeals to someone 200 years later is monumental. Her female characters are witty, headstrong, make mistakes, and very human.

I have read several Charles Dickens novels, and my favorite is A Tale of Two Cities.

Epic fantasies with complex plots, alternate universes, and a myriad of characters are a delight to read. I have read Lord of the rings, Mistborn series, A Song of Ice and Fire, among others. Magic, when weaved carefully into a tale, can be a powerful tool in the writer’s tool kit.

Science fiction opens our mind to possibilities, and Neal Stephenson books tackle some contemporary issues, and the Dune series takes you into space.

You can find more of the recent books I have read on Goodreads.

Curl up with a good book this weekend.