Hembry Castle Has a New Look!

Thanks to our awesome cover designer, Robin Ludwig, we have a new cover for When It Rained at Hembry Castle. Here’s the lovely Daphne sitting in the window at Hembry (reading a letter from Edward, presumably). And it does look rainy outside.

I had always heard that covers should reflect the genre of the book, and while I never disagreed with that I also liked what I liked. I thought the previous cover for Hembry was great because the house looked so much like the house from Downton Abbey, and that show was a huge influence on Hembry. But it has been about two years since Hembry was released, so to shake things up a bit we went ahead with featuring a woman on the cover since that’s the thing to do when you write historical fiction. Luckily, my cover designer came across this lovely lady in Victorian dress who very well could be a stand-in for Daphne Meriwether. I love the new cover, and I hope you do too!

Viva Las Vegas; Or, God Bless Us Every One

I’m not a ranter. This blog is about my books, my writing, and my researching, as are my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I post photos of books and Halloween decorations on Pinterest. I have my political opinions, certainly, but I vent those opinions in my fiction. From my main man Dickens I’ve learned that you can tell a great story and still make a political point or two (or three). My fiction is quite political (see The Loving Husband Trilogy or That You Are Here if you don’t believe me), but I’ve always kept that aspect under wraps. The deeper themes are there if readers care to dig; otherwise, readers are getting entertaining stories with characters they want to know better and plot twists and turns with maybe some romance (and a vampire) along the way. But today I have something else to say.

I have been a proud Las Vegas resident for 14 years. I taught in the Clark County School District for 11 years. I have spent the past three years getting my PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a goal I will complete this coming May. UNLV is just miles from the Las Vegas Strip and Mandalay Bay where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place. I was at home while the shooting was taking place, probably in bed reading, which is where I spend most Sunday nights, or most of my nights in general (party animal that I am). I admit I’m not a big news-watching person. Since the current resident of the White House took office, I watch the news enough to make sure that the world was where I left it when I went to bed the night before, and I have a general sense of what’s happening, but otherwise I’ve been so busy reading and writing and PhD-ing that I haven’t had time to be a news junkie. When I woke up Monday morning I checked my phone, saw an odd message from the emergency services at UNLV saying that the campus was open and to expect heavier traffic than normal. I’m not sure why the alarm in my head didn’t go off when I read that. I’m so used to seeing odd messages from here, there, and everywhere. Just two months ago I was on campus speaking to one of my professors when the university was locked down due to a shooting near the library. That time, no one had been hurt, so I just shrugged it off. This morning it wasn’t until my mother, also a Las Vegas resident, told me about the events at Mandalay Bay that I understood how serious it was. And then I realized that the world was not where I left it when I went to bed the night before. I did become a news junkie and watched CNN all day. It was like a nightmare, seeing this hotel, just miles from my home, a place I’ve visited many times, become a war zone, and for no reason at all. Let me rephrase that. I’m sure the shooter had his reasons. As I’m writing this no motive has been found, but there’s always a reason, even if he didn’t share that reason with anyone, although I’m sure more will be discovered as the days pass.

I wonder if as a society we ever pass the point of no return. I wonder if things ever get so bad that there’s nothing left to be done and we just have to accept that this is the way we have to live now, looking over our shoulders, wondering who is there, why they’re there, and what they’re planning on doing while they’re there. I wonder how one man can be so disturbed that he could premeditate this attack on peaceable Americans out for a fun night listening to country music on the Las Vegas Strip, and then I wonder at the selfless heroics at the scene of the tragedy with the courageous first responders, the off duty police, and the medical personnel. Family members and friends shielded each other, and strangers pulled strangers to safety and did their best to tend to the wounded.

But how can this be? How can we scream at each other on Facebook and Twitter for having different political opinions and then pull someone we’ve never met out of the path of a bone shattering bullet? How can we bark at someone at the coffee shop (where some angry man poked me in the shoulder and yelled at me for jumping ahead of him in line when it was the coffee shop manager who told me to join her so she could refund my money) and then use our bodies to shield others from danger? Why does it take a tragedy for us to recognize the humanity in each other? Why does it take madness, murder, and mayhem for us to realize that everyone is a story, and every story is valuable?

Not that long ago strangers held the door of the restaurant or grocery store open for whoever was behind them. It still happens sometimes, but not as much. Not that long ago strangers smiled at each other, said good morning, hello, how are you? What happened? I have had this discussion often with some teacher friends of mine. We like to blame technology, how we’re all spending so much time behind blue-toned screens that we don’t recognize the importance of flesh and bone human beings (I write this with with due irony noting that I am, of course, writing this behind a blue-toned computer screen; but writers get a pass, or at least a small one, I think). We can blame the weaknesses in our society on a lack of education, a lack of jobs, a lack of medical care, and, most importantly, a lack of concern about us ordinary folks from those who are supposed to be representing us in the Congress, the Senate, and the Oval Office. Hey, remember us? We’re the ones struggling to make ends meet, sitting for five hours in the doctor’s office waiting for decent medical care, seeking to educate our children and ourselves in order to find our own little slice of that pie that used to be called the American Dream. Does the American Dream even exist anymore? As a former K-12 teacher and a current university instructor, I wonder if the younger people coming up see themselves doing better than their parents, which is what I believed I would do, and which is what I did.

Then I wonder how racism is connected to this dis-ease. Racism has always existed, but never in my lifetime have I seen people so proudly displaying their bigotry. When I was a kid my Jewish mother told me that she was glad that our last name was Allard because no one could tell we were Jewish. That’s silly, I said. No one cares about that stuff anymore. My mother explained that we had lost relatives during the Holocaust, but at 10 I didn’t understand. Who cares if we’re Jewish? Today, sadly, I understand her point. And yet again, from the ashes (or the shit in this case) rises the phoenix, and there are more people protesting the haters than there are haters. But where does such hate stem from in the land of the free and the home of the brave? I know enough about American history to understand that this country has never been the land of the free, but I had some hopes that it was the home of the brave. It’s a hope I hold onto. We see flashes of bravery in the men and women who protest for human rights, and we saw it right here in Vegas in the angels who protected and cared for others. Has this anger always been there, hidden deep and dark in our collective psyche, only to lately be released, like an outraged genie in a bottle suddenly loosed to wield frustration and fury? And why, dear friends, why is it that the angry ones with orange faces and pointing fingers, or the friends of the angry ones with orange faces and pointing fingers, get all the attention while those of us who struggle through, day by day, the ones who believe in live and let live, the ones making the best lives we can for ourselves in the rubble of what used to be the American dream, are left nameless and voiceless in the shadows?

Sometimes people struggle so much they go off the deep end. I don’t know if the shooter had any of this in mind (whatever he had of a mind), but I do think it’s all connected somehow. People lose hope, and they don’t see change coming, or they perceive that too much change is happening, and they think things are getting worse. For the first time in my 48 years, I don’t see my country improving. I see it in decline. For whatever sins America has, I used to feel like at least we were moving in the right direction. The slaves, though it took a bloody war to do it, were freed. The Civil Rights Movement happened. The Women’s Rights Movement happened. The Gay Rights Movement happened. Can our problems now really stem from what they’re saying on the news? Is it a backlash because all people are gaining their independence?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Here’s the thing: there is not a limited amount of life, liberty, and happiness. The Creator is limitless, and because our Creator is limitless our unalienable rights are limitless. Because I as an American woman have my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that doesn’t mean that any other American citizen has less of a right. But nothing is handed to us, dear friends. If we want our pursuit of happiness, we must work for it. Pointing fingers at others gets us nowhere. Believe me. I’ve tried. Whatever I have, I’ve worked hard for, and no one could have gotten it for me but me. Perhaps it’s because some people feel so hopeless at the state of things that they no longer feel the drive to try, and pointing at others and saying it’s their fault is the only thing we can do to make ourselves feel better.

So where do we go from here? We could hope our government figures out a way to keep Americans safer, but they’re too busy politickin’ to care that Americans are dying. This has always been a country of the people and their idealism. For all of our faults, we still have the greatest ideals of any country in the world. You can still be anyone born anywhere and rise as far as your hard work allows you. It might be harder now, but it can be done. So rather than relying on a broken government that cares for nothing but playing games and pointing fingers, we must rely on each other. We keep pressing forward. We peaceably protest. We write our Congressmen and Congresswomen and our Senators and our local government entities. We remember that the worst thing we can do to someone begging for attention is to ignore them. That’s harder in the Internet age where it’s so easy to respond, but the old fashioned method of ignoring is still best.

I wonder what the world would be like if we lived in that place of helping instead of hurting. Sometimes people ask how the Creator could allow such things to happen. My argument has always been that it’s not the Creator who does such things—it’s disturbed people. The outpouring of love, help, support, caring, and donations you see after a tragedy—that’s where you find the Creator. What would our world look like if we lived in that place—that place of love we continue to see after the tragedy in my hometown of Las Vegas or that place of help and concern we saw in Texas and Florida? And while we’re in a charitable mood, let’s not forget our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who still desperately need our help.

We must remain idealistic. It is possible for us to look at each other, smile, and help each other every day. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get us to acknowledge the humanity in each other. But we have to make a conscious effort to make things better. A change is gonna come, dear friends. Whether that change is good, bad, or indifferent is up to us.

Which is all I have to say. God bless us, every one.

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FAQ–The Loving Husband Trilogy

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I receive about The Loving Husband Trilogy so I thought I’d have a go at answering them here.

1.Did you always know James and Sarah’s story would be a trilogy?

I did. From very early in the idea gathering process I knew the connection between James/Elizabeth/Sarah and I knew the ending as we find it in Her Loving Husband’s Return. The further I went into mapping out the story, the more I knew I wanted to cover several different historical periods. In order to keep the story as I saw it a manageable length, I split it into three books. I once said as a joke that I wanted to avoid writing a 900-page tome that would send readers screaming for mercy. I wasn’t too far off. The combined page count of the Loving Husband Trilogy is 818 pages.

2. How long did it take you to write the Loving Husband Trilogy?

It was four years, almost exactly to the day, from when I first pressed fingers to the keyboard typing out ideas for Her Dear & Loving Husband (in April 2009) until Her Loving Husband’s Return was published (in April 2013). It took two years for me to write Her Dear & Loving Husband since it took time for me to find the narrative thread. The plot was more complex than other novels I had written, weaving the way it does between the past and the present, and it took time for me to work it out.

I read about these authors who publish three, four, five books a year and I’m amazed by them. When all is said and done, it takes me between one and two years to write a book. Keep in mind I’m not writing the whole time. I have to live with an idea in my head for a while before I ever start writing. I have to kick the idea around, soften it up, pull it here and tug it there to see if there’s anything in those odd daydreams. I kicked the idea around about the vampire missing his long-dead human wife for about six months before I ever began writing. Once I start writing, it can take anywhere from six to eight months for me to have a draft I’m happy with, and then the revising and editing process is intensive because I’m persnickety about how the words read on the page. The revising and editing process takes me about three to four months.

3. Do you have beta readers?

Her Dear & Loving Husband wouldn’t be the story it is without the help of a critique extraordinare who became my beta reader. I saw the love story between James and Sarah so clearly in my head, but I was having trouble articulating it on the page. With the beta reader’s sharp eye and finely tuned comments, I was able to finally write the story I meant to write in the first place. Once I figured out what I was doing with Her Dear & Loving Husband, writing the next two was a much easier process.

Here’s a Loving Husband Trilogy F.Y.I: The original title of Her Dear & Loving Husband was The Vampire’s Wife. The beta reader suggested that The Vampire’s Wife was too much of a giveaway about the story, so after stumbling across Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” I changed it to Her Dear & Loving Husband. The revised title has the same idea as the original, but it takes more digging to figure out what it means. And I love that the poem was able to serve as a connection between James and Elizabeth and James and Sarah. Things like that make me happy.

4. Was Outlander or A Discovery of Witches an inspiration for Her Dear & Loving Husband?

No, which surprises even me now that I’ve finally read Outlander (now working my way through Dragonfly in Amber). I haven’t read A Discovery of Witches yet, but it’s close to the top of my TBR pile. I talked in this post about the similarities between Outlander and Her Dear & Loving Husband, so I understand why I get this question now. Any hunk named James—whether he’s from 18th century Scotland or 17th century England—is fine by me!

5. How do you come up with story ideas/characters?

For the story ideas, something—a news story, something I’ve seen in film or television, something I’ve read—captures my imagination, grabs hold of my brain cells, and won’t shake loose. I have a lot of ideas that float through my brain at any and all times of the day, but the ones that become novels are the ones that latch on and won’t let go. The Loving Husband Trilogy was born from reading Twilight, watching True Blood, and reading a number of other vampire novels. Victory Garden was inspired by a news report that said women weren’t voting in high numbers and I was reminded of a story I read about women who were arrested and force fed for fighting for the right to vote. Woman of Stones came about because I’ve always loved that story from the Bible: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” which to me is the secret to peace on earth. When It Rained at Hembry Castle was born from my love of Dickens and my fascination with Downton Abbey.

As to the characters, those are more of a mystery to me. I don’t know how to explain how I come up with characters except to say that to me, the characters are already there, inherent in the story, and it’s up to me to figure out who they are and what role they have in this tale I feel compelled to share. The characters and the story are too intertwined—I can’t separate them one from the other. When I started imagining this vampire mourning his long-dead human wife, that vampire was James, even if I didn’t always know his name.

6. How do you research the history in your fiction?

I know we live in the Internet age, but I’m still a fan of the old fashioned way of researching. I enjoy going to the library, searching the stacks, and weeding through the books to find exactly what I’m looking for. It’s no surprise to me that Sarah from The Loving Husband Trilogy is a librarian. One of the nice things about the Internet is that I can do some my library research from home. I still like to take my notes by hand. That’s a personal preference, but I feel like I absorb the information better that way. I do like that we’re able to access whole books on the Internet, and Google Books has become a strong resource. I love the Internet for on the spot research, like if I realize I need to know what might have been served at a meal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, though I often cross reference the information with several websites. I do my best to make sure the information I share in my fiction is accurate.

By the time I started writing Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009, I learned that the purpose of historical fiction is for the history to illuminate the fiction, not for the fiction to illuminate the history. If you want to illuminate the history, write nonfiction. Paragraphs of facts that have nothing to do with the story, or that detract too much from the plot, slow the story down. As a result, I learned to do general research on the historical period for my own knowledge, but in my writing I’ll only use the historical bits that make sense within the story. In other words, Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t a treatise on the Salem Witch Trials; instead, details of the witch hunts are used to help illuminate James and Sarah’s story.

7. Do you believe in paranormal elements, reincarnation, Wiccans? What do you think happens after we die?

I’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not I believe in the supernatural elements of the James and Sarah books. I don’t believe in vampires or werewolves. I don’t think it’s so much about believing in Wiccans since they’re really there. There are many all over the world who consider themselves Wiccan. Do they have magic powers like Jennifer and Olivia? I know Wiccans cast spells, and I’m not one to judge whether or not their spells work.

As for reincarnation…I certainly don’t know. I believe that human beings are composed of body, mind, and spirit. I believe we’re more than our earthly experiences and five senses show us. I believe our souls go on after our human bodies die, and I think it’s possible that those souls go on to be reincarnated into new life. That’s what my Buddhist friends believe.

The Loving Husband Trilogy is fiction, and the reason I love writing fiction above all else is because it allows me to explore the possibilities. Reincarnation may or may not happen—I certainly don’t know one way or the other—but writing these books was my way of wondering aloud what ghosts, vampires, and witches might look like if they were real.

8. Geoffrey? Really?

Geoffrey is a recurring character in The Loving Husband Trilogy, for those of you who don’t know. I’ve had this question asked a few different ways, and it always makes me smile. I can’t say too much for those of you who haven’t read Her Loving Husband’s Return, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for James and Sarah fans to learn that there’s more to James and Geoffrey’s relationship than meets the eye. The clues are there, mainly in Her Loving Husband’s Curse. A couple of you have written to me to say you figured the mystery out before it was revealed at the end of HLHR. Well done! I love it when readers read with an eye for detail.

9. Will there be a Book Four? Pretty please?

When readers first started asking this question after Her Loving Husband’s Return was published, my answer was “Probably not.” I felt James and Sarah’s story had been pretty well wrapped up in Her Loving Husband’s Return and I wasn’t sure there was anything left to say. Plus, I had other stories poking me in the ribs with pointed sticks until I wrote them down and set them free. After That You Are Here and When It Rained at Hembry Castle were released I started wondering if there was more to say about James and Sarah.

I realized that there had to be more to James and Elizabeth’s experiences in Salem Town in 1692. Has James really come to terms with what happened during that inexplicable madness? Thus, Down Salem Way was born. I have no publication date for you right now. I can tell you I’m researching it and writing it, and the story has finally started to click so that I can see how it’s all going to play out. If you’re dying for any new James and Sarah you can get, you can follow the progress of Down Salem Way on wattpad.com. I’m posting new pieces on Wattpad as I write them. These aren’t revised, edited chapters. These are first draft meanderings fresh off the press, so to speak. But, yes, Virginia, there will be a fourth book. After that, who knows?

10. When/why did you start writing historical fiction?

Like most things about my writing, I started writing historical fiction by accident. I knew since high school that writing of some kind was in my future, though I didn’t know myself at that time what kind of writing it would be. At first I thought I’d be a journalist, but one high school journalism class showed me the “Just the facts, Ma’am” style of news writing didn’t work for me. In college, I turned my attention to screenwriting. I took a number of screenwriting classes, and I even worked for a film production company.

Around this time, I watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary about the American Civil War, and I had an inkling of a story I wanted to tell about how brothers, brought up in the same family, could come to fight on opposing sides in a war. When I sat down to write the screenplay, I realized, at about page twenty, that the screenplay format was too small for what I wanted to write. Screenplays are blueprints for directors, actors, set designers, costume designers, directors of photography, and the many others necessary to make a film. There were times when I worked in “The Industry” when I felt like the screenwriter was the least important person there. I didn’t want to write a blueprint. I wanted to describe exactly what the characters were wearing. I wanted to go into detail about the room they were sitting in. I wanted to get into the characters’ heads and wonder why they made the choices they did. In order to do that, I needed to write a novel. Thus, my journey into historical fiction had begun.

11. What other books have you written?

My other books can be found on the My Books page.

The only common denominator in my books is they’re all written by me. Other than that, each book is completely different from the ones that came before (except for the Loving Husband Trilogy, of course). I write about whatever I’m fascinated with at the time, which is why my subjects are so varied. After I’ve finished Down Salem Way, I’m writing a memoir about what writing has meant to me. Then I’m writing the last installment of Hembry Castle, and after that will come an historical novel set around the Oregon Trail, an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time.

I love hearing from my readers. Keep the questions and comments coming through my Contact link, via email at meredithallard(at)aol(dot)com, or through my social media networks. You can find the links on the right sidebar. You guys are the best!

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