Monday, August 22, 2011

Cursed Viking Shapeshifters

 Today we are talking to Lisa Hendrix about her third book in the Immortal Brotherhood series, Immortal Champion.  With cursed Vikings who shapeshift, a well-researched history and mythos, and love that can last forever how could you not love the premise of this series?  All three of her books in this series have garnered the coveted Top Pick from Romantic Times book reviewers. The two review quotes below are reflective of the craftsmanship reviewers have recognized in her latest book.

Romantic Times Top Pick! Kathe Robin said [readers] "will be enthralled by Hendrix’s masterful storytelling and talent for seamlessly blending magic, myth and romance."

Romance Reviews, Lenore said "IMMORTAL CHAMPION is a glorious book that begs to be read. From the eye-catching cover art to the depths of the pages, readers will be enthralled by Lisa Hendrix's craftsmanship."

Please welcome Lisa Hendrix to Behind the Book.  Pull up chair and get to know more about Lisa, her series, how each character matches perfectly with his animal self, and more specifically learn about this wonderful third book in the series, Immortal Champion.

These three words--medieval, paranormal, and romance--aren't often seen together, but it's sooooo cool. What made you chose the Middle Ages as the setting for your Immortal Brotherhood series?

First, I love medieval romance. My introduction to historical romance was Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove, and even before that I loved the whole Robin Hood, knights and ladies, storm-the-castle thing, so that’s where my heart lies. And then there’s the fact that my guys are Viking warriors. Since the Vikings started raiding England heavily during the mid-800s, that was when my guys were cursed. All the stories would have to take place in the centuries following.

And really, can you think of a better setting for a paranormal story? Gloomy castles, windswept moors, the Black Death, alchemists...

It seems that most authors use something from their own lives, or the lives of people they know as an integral part of their stories. Is there anything in this story like that? If so, what?

Well, Gunnar is a bit like my husband in that he’s an ordinary man, just trying to get by and live his life with honor. (Perhaps that’s why I love Gunnar so much. Hmmm.) I’ve also loosely modeled a few minor characters on folks I’ve known over the years, and used real incidents for bits of action in my various books.

Additionally, I have a degree in biology, and that (and a lot of research) informs the stories in this series. The animal each man becomes reflects the human personality of each man. You can see the raven in Ari’s love of bright objects and talkativeness, the bull in Gunnar’s way of stubbornly plodding ahead no matter what, the wolf in Jafri’s sullen wariness, the eagle in Ivar’s loyalty to his mate, and so on.

To date you've published 3 books in this series, and it looks like book 4 is due next year. How many more can your readers expect in this world? Will the timeline of later books extend beyond the middle ages?

Though the first three of the Immortal Brotherhood books are set in medieval times (1096, 1290, and 1405-15), the entire series will span approximately a thousand years, with the next one set in Elizabethan times (1583), and the others working their way forward in time up to the present. After all, if a group of men are immortal, you wouldn’t expect them all to find their true loves in the same three-week period one summer.

But I would like to clear up something. “This world” is the real world of England. I make everything as historically accurate as I can, except for the warriors themselves and the magic of the curse. They are simply men, forced by the curse to try to make their way in a very un-magical world where (at least for the first books) most good men and women fear the very idea of magic. That’s part of the fun of this series to me. What do you do if you turn into a bear every day at sunrise, or a dog every night? How to you create any semblance of a normal life when you’re hunted as a beast for half of each day and considered a demon during the rest? How on earth can you find companionship, much less real love, when they’re burning ‘witches’ all around you?

As for numbers: I’m planning nine books, one for each of the men. I’ve introduced most of the crew in the first three books, and readers will meet the last two warriors, Rorik and Ketil (aka Kjell), in next year’s book, Immortal Defender, when the pair of them interrupt their wenching to ride to Torvald’s aid. They are, to say the least, the worst scalawags of the bunch. 

If someone was just starting the series, would you recommend they start with Book 1? Does it matter which book they read first?

 Immortal Warrior (Book 1) does have the “creation myth” for the whole series, plus it introduces Brand, the captain, and Ari, his friend and skald, who are the crucial characters for the series. But each book has a Prologue that consists of a section of Ari’s written chronicle or saga, which ties the stories together and lets the reader catch up on the story without missing a beat. I work hard to make each book stand alone, so you really can start anywhere, and then go back to pick up the others. Gunnar, from Immortal Champion, really is my favorite, though, (and my editor’s and agent’s, for that matter), and I think his story makes a wonderful place to jump in.

What's next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming releases?

As I said, Immortal Defender is coming next August 2012, and quiet, monkish Torvald has a real adventure in store after he bumps into Josian Delamere one night. You see, Josian is definitely not the shy, virgin widow of romance mythology. She’s talkative, quick, and shall we say...a bit fast.  In other words, she’s a true merry widow for the contemplative man I sometimes refer to as my Zen Viking. She boldly invites Torvald to come on up to Chestershire and see her sometime, and oh my, do the sparks fly. But madmen, zealots, and ancient magic conspire to destroy them, and it will take all the courage each of them has to beat back the darkness and find their way to freedom and love.

Since I’m one of the slower writers in the biz and people are already emailing me that they’re getting impatient, I’ve decided to self-publish a short story to tide everyone over. I’m not sure yet whether it will be about Tom, Ivar’s squire from Immortal Warrior, or Robin/Robert from Immortal Outlaw. I have stories for both churning around in my head, so we’ll see which one won’t leave me alone after I finish my current WIP. Or maybe I’ll write both. All I’m certain of right now is that my newsletter subscribers will get it for free. (How’s that for a bribe? Sign-up for the newsletter here.)

And finally, I’ll be republishing my out of print works in ebook format over the next several months. Readers should sign up for my newsletter to keep up with the news.

Wow! You certainly have a lot going on with free reads, a long series, and a newsletter to keep us all up to date.

Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to download books 2 and 3 right now!  I liked book 1, Immortal Warrior, but then I got busy and the next two slipped by without me buying them. This interview convinced me I was missing out. 

Be sure to visit Lisa's website, where you can find excerpts from all the books, interactive maps of the locations, and info on how to get some fun swag. (like cool romance trading cards)

Below are links to all of Lisa's books in this series.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Strong Women Through The Ages

 Karen Harper is a NYT bestselling author.  She writes both contemporary and historical novels.  I must admit, she is a new author to me.  However, as I prepared for this interview I was very impressed with her output (over 30 books since the mid-80s), her strong heroines, and with her intelligent and thoughtful approach to her stories. Karen's historical novels have been praised for her  attention to detail and for making the characters truly come to life. Her historical novels tend to be in the Tudor or Medieval periods of history.  The Romantic Times Book Club said of her contemporary Amish suspense novels:

“Multidimensional characterization, fascinating details about Amish culture and a twisting, complex plot make for the kind of rich reading experience readers have come to expect from Harper.” 

I must admit, when I learned that Karen had been a professor at The Ohio State University, I had an immediate affinity for her.  I began my academic career in Columbus, Ohio at Franklin University (known as the other university in Columbus).  Through RWA I have learned there are many academics who write wonderful romantic fiction, and every time I meet someone new I smile.
Please join me in welcoming Karen Harper as she talks about her career, and the two books released in the past two weeks. The Queen's Governess, her historical released in paperback, and Fall from Pride, a suspense novel set in Amish country.

You write both contemporary and historical fiction.  It seems what binds them together is a suspense or mystery element.  What is it about suspense that draws you to write these stories?

My contemporary books have much more suspense than my historicals, although the thrill of the heroine escaping disaster is prominent in both genres.  Above all, I love a story of a woman who conquers huge odds with the help of the man she comes to love.  My “amateur sleuths” in my romantic suspense novels don’t set out to be crime solvers.  Something terrible impacts their lives, and they have to find and stop the criminal. 

Another common element in my writing is a culture clash of some sort:  the hero and heroine come from different worlds.  This may mean one is a commoner and one nobility in my Tudor novels.  In my contemporaries, I’ve lately been fascinated by a mismatch of one Amish character and one ”worldly.”

Most often the woman is Amish and the hero an auslander or outsider.  That means, when they are thrown together to solve a crime, they learn a lot about each other’s worlds.  Besides, what is more interesting than forbidden love?  If an Amish person dares to fall in love with or marry a worldly person, the community of Plain People will shun them—a big price to pay.

In my current rom/sus, Fall From Pride, Amish Sarah Kauffman and worldly arson investigator Nate MacKenzie are forced to work together to solve a series of barn arsons.  As the barns blaze, their feelings for each other do too.

But as to your original question that does suspense draw me to write my stories, that is true also.  I love for each character to have a secret—to be hiding something.  Aren’t we all?  Suspense comes in many forms:  how members of the same family can be so different…how two opposites can fall in love…how a seemingly “good” person can commit a crime.  One of the best comments I get is, “I had no idea that person could be the killer until the very end!”

 In your most recent release, Fall From Pride, your heroine is Amish.  It seems rare to see an Amish novel that is not marketed as an inspirational.  What was the spark that led you to come up with this story, and how did that spark blossom through your characters?

It’s true that most Amish novels are inspirational fiction today.  Mine are suitable for those readers and a broader audience.  They are not faith-based per se—though with the Amish beliefs, that always comes in a bit.  I’m not writing to get on a current, popular “bandwagon,” as I began writing my Amish books ten years ago, including:  Down To The Bone, Dark Road Home, Dark Harvest and Dark Angel.  (The last three have been re-released twice more recently.)  My spark for these, as well as for my Aug. 2011 Amish novel, Fall From Pride, is simply my fascination with and familiarity with the Amish. 

I live two hours from their largest US settlement (Holmes County, Ohio, not Lancaster, Pennsylvania anymore!)  I’ve studied them, mingled with them and learned from them for years.  Because they live isolated, rural lives with no phones in the home, “slow” transportation, mistrust of police and lawyers, they make perfect subjects for suspense novels. 

After all, they often must solve their own problems.  They do call in outside help at times, but they can’t/won’t just “call the cops.”  Also, they’re pacifists and don’t fight back physically against evil; therefore, they must find other clever, careful ways to protect themselves.  And yes, I must admit, that sometimes means cooperating with an arson investigator, sheriff or FBI agent who is thrust upon them.

Your reputation is one of writing “proto feminist” heroines in your historicals which seems anathema to the historical genre (except in romantic fiction).  What is it about how you choose and form your characters that interests you in exploring power dynamics?

The heroines in all my historicals are real, dynamic women who actually lived, so I write historical novels with romance rather than historical romance.  I try to keep my main characters true to their times, but these are not weak women and I research their lives carefully.  My heroines pulled themselves out of difficult situations and triumphed in life.  Each of them has a great love story. 
Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, is one of these in my The Last Boleyn.  My Boleyn book was published about 20 years before Philippa Gregory wrote The Other Boleyn Girl, and our takes on her are completely different.  (Check out Alison Weir’s Oct. 2011 nonfiction book on Mary if you want to see which author came closest to the real person!)

Joan of Kent (The First Princess of Wales) rose from obscurity to marry the Black Prince; Kat Ashley (The Queen’s Governess) was the once impoverished woman who became Elizabeth Tudor’s governess and foster mother; Elizabeth Fitzgerald (The Irish Princess) was the Irish spitfire who dared to challenge the Tudors.  Each woman (at least eventually) wed the man she really loved—a bit of a novelty for those days—so that sounds a bit modern too.  In Mistress Shakespeare, the heroine stands up for herself against great odds.  My nine-book series the Queen Elizabeth I Mysteries focuses on the queen herself—her happy marriage was to her nation.

Most authors either purposefully or subconsciously use parts of their own lives in their novels.  Do you find yourself in these two novels?  If so, in what way?

 My books, of course, reflect my interests and world view.  The assured, take-charge heroes are my ideal kind of man.  And all my books are ultimately uplifting:  true grit and love conquers all, even deadly crimes.   There is always a triumphant, happy ending in a Harper novels.

 Is there a particular scene in each book that you really loved when you finished it?  Which ones and why?

I love reunions scenes, be they between lovers or families.  Also, I am an author who must write about the settings I know well and love.  Many authors start with character or plot, but I almost always begin with a place I relate to emotionally.  That helps the story and people in it to come alive for me and, hopefully, for my readers.  And how do I know when to stop researching and start the story?  When the characters start talking to each other and I have to scramble to write what they say.  

 What’s next for you?

I have already written Return To Grace, book 2 of the Home Valley Amish trilogy, which will be out in March.  Book 3, Finding Mercy, is almost through the planning stages and ready to come to life.  In the historicals, I have recently completed Mistress of Mourning, a book set in 1500 where the Medieval world clashed with the English Renaissance.  Mistress of Mourning is a historical mystery probing whether Prince Arthur Tudor (Henry VIII’s older brother) was murdered and what happened to the Princes in the Tower, a long-time debated historical mystery.  The book has two heroines, Queen Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII, and Varina Westcott, a merchant-class candle-maker and death mask wax carver, who, with the hero, solves the murders of the queen’s brothers and son. 

My big author news of the year is that I now have a British publisher for my historicals and a recent review said they would never have guessed I was American and not English.  I hope all my books seem that real and “right on” in bringing people and places to exciting life.

Thank you for joining me at Behind the Book.  I can barely wait to begin reading Fall From Pride!

You can find all of Karen's Books at these fine retailers.