Monday, 17 July 2017

The story behind Rooster Street by Janet Purcell

As most readers know, North American history is inextricably bound up with the iniquities of slavery and the slave trade and even after it was abolished, the struggle of the former slaves to make new lives in freedom was often heart-rending.

In Janet Purcell's page-turning novel, Rooster Street, two stories unfold: the first is set in the 21st century and tells of a young woman's research into the history of a house in Cape Cod, the second is that of a runaway slave girl who begins a school in Rooster Street in Boston. How the two stories become entwined is revealed in this compelling book.

Janet Purcell

We asked Janet how she became inspired to write Rooster Street. This is what she said:

"I’ve been asked a number of times what led me to write about a runaway slave.  I’m not a person of color, I do not have ancestors who were slaves or slave holders.  No one in my family were even abolitionists.  So why?

I’ve pondered that question long and hard and the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is—I care.  

I grew up in a city, Trenton, New Jersey, and went to school with kids of all races and ethnicities.  It didn’t matter to us what color our skin was.  We were just friends.  But segregation began to rear its ugly head in the south.   I watched as black children were not allowed to enter their school--kids who looked just like some of my friends. I started seeing race riots across the country on tv, reading about atrocities being done to good people who just wanted to live a quiet life, to become educated, to raise their children in communities that accepted them as equal.

As an adolescent who loved to read, I was always drawn to books about brave women who overcame great odds.  The American pioneer women who followed their men across America and made homes and raised their families against all sorts of deprivations.

And, of course, I devoured books about the bravery of the African people who were torn from their families, brought to America and sold into bondage.  My heart ached for them being treated worse than animals and my heart swelled with joy for the ones who so bravely escaped.  I read with fascination about the Underground Railroad and had strong admiration for those who helped the runaways move to a safer place where they could be free and begin building real independence for themselves.

And there’s something about my love for and admiration of my mother in my writing.  She was born to a poor family and abused as a child growing up in New York City.  She loved to read and made friends with two women who worked in the local library.  When the abuse continued and she got to an age where she could do so, she climbed out her bedroom window one night and ran away.  The library women took her in and finally helped her be placed in a foster home where she served as a nanny while going to school and preparing herself for her adult life.   She married, raised my sister and me and became an adroit business woman and opened a very successful children’s clothing store.

I know you may be thinking by this time “How do those two separate inspirations to write Rooster Street mesh?  What’s the connection?”  I’m sitting here, fingers on my keyboard asking myself the same question.  When I began writing this blog story I decided to do it “stream of consciousness” and that has been a real eye opener for me.  

What I’m seeing is  Rooster Street was born in my caring about the strong spirit, the instinctual drive to better oneself, the intelligence of those held in bondage and abused.  I want to set them free and so greatly admire not only their bravery in breaking those bonds and fleeing, but then facing all the barriers they encountered and persevering to achieve their place in society which they deserved. As I was writing the book, I never stopped to ask myself why.  Althea came out of nowhere and was a gift to me.  She told her story to me as she became real on the page and she fascinated me the entire time.  

I like to meet with book clubs who have read Rooster Street and so many people have commented about the mother-daughter relationships throughout.  I was not aware of that as I wrote the story.  

The primary one is Lou and Althea, but also there is, in the beginning, Althea’s mother and Althea.  Farther on, there’s Bessie, the older slave woman who became a sort of surrogate mother to Althea when her mother died.  Next comes the new plantation mistress and Althea, then Liza Bell and Althea during her stay at the general store, then Mrs. Barbiero and Althea at the boarding house.  And in the present-day story, there is the troubled relationship between Jennifer and her mother, the important segment near the end with Dolores Austin and Jennifer, and the reconciliation of Jennifer and her mother.   

I’m a journalist and I came to that profession because I was more comfortable writing about other people rather than revealing myself.  But I’ve come to realize that as fiction writers, we can not hide.  What we care about most deeply finds its way up to the surface."

Thank you for this fascinating insight into your book, Janet.  

For anyone interested in reading this compelling novel, the link is here:

Monday, 10 July 2017

The story behind The Skipper's Child by Valerie Poore

This week's post is another back story by one of our authors, Val Poore. Here she tells us what inspired her to write her novel, The Skipper's Child, published under the Sunberry Books imprint of Sunpenny Publishing.

Val with her books at a book
fair in the Netherlands
"Most people who read my blog and know about my watery life generally associate me with memoirs. However, I have also written two novels, one of which, The Skipper's Child, is published by Sunpenny and is also about my watery world. However, this one concerns the history of barge life itself rather than the barges.

The Skipper's Child is a sort of cat and mouse adventure set on Europe's waterways in December 1962 at the height of the Cold War. 1962/63 was also the longest and coldest winter on record in Europe in the 20th century, even exceeding 1947, I believe. The story is woven around the Kornet family: Hendrik, a commercial barge skipper, his wife Marijke and their three children, Anneke, Arie and Jannie. Essentially, this family is based on my partner Koos's parents and two sisters. 

My partner, his mother and sister on their family barge.
Note his mother knitting on the go!
When I first met my partner, he told me he was brought up on a barge. He then regaled me with numerous stories of what life was like for a skipper's kind (child). It was neither glamorous nor exciting and despite travelling all over the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, he felt very restricted as they were always on the move and he could rarely leave the barge. For the most part, he told me, it was incredibly boring. All the same, I was fascinated by the stories of family life on board and the tough conditions they considered quite normal for their way of life.

The skippers' family on a day out
I knew then I wanted to write about this old and very special way of life. Skippers these days have quite a luxurious lifestyle with all possible mod-cons; even their cars travel with them. In my partner's time, they had no electricity, no central heating and no interior insulation either, so it was not unusual in the winter for them to wake to ice on the inside of the cabin; on occasions, they even got frozen in and had to walk across the ice to get to land.

Thinking about all of this sowed the seeds of a fictional story in which I could incorporate both his memories and also a few of the anecdotes his father told him about earlier times, especially during and after the war. And so Arie, The Skipper's Child, was born. The outcome is an adventure involving Russian spies, secret service agents and a young stowaway who has failed in a mission that he was not aware he was undertaking until he overhears a conversation where he learns what his fate was meant to be.

The main target audience for the story was my younger self. It was the sort of book I'd have been reading in my early teens, so I set that as the 'age' for the reader. But in truth, most of its readers have been adults.  The only real YA (young adult) feedback I've had has been from The Wishing Shelf Awards whose panel of judges for all the YA entries were teenage school children. Luckily for me, they liked it and The Skipper's Child won a Silver Award.

So if you feel like something completely different from the usual action packed adventure, you might like Arie's story. The link to the book and all the reviews is here. The link to a book blogger's review can be found here too."


Friday, 30 June 2017

The story behind Sophie's Quest by Sonja Anderson

In this next post in our back story series, Sonja Anderson tells us of how she became inspired to write her lovely children's book, Sophie's Quest. With our authors' international backgrounds, it's even more interesting to read where they got their ideas from. In Sonja's case, the first spark came to her in Japan.
Sonja Anderson

"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:38
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it,
but in the end, there it is. 
Winston Churchill

I'll never forget listening to author Frank Peretti addressing the idea of truth. "If it's true," he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "It's true whether you believe in it or not. Whether you even know about it, or not. It's just TRUE."

The truth is a hot topic these days. The idea of "fake news" is thrown around casually, as if it's a widely understood "fact" that many journalists have abandoned all their training and integrity and are just writing any old thing that gets people to pay attention and believe what they want them to believe. And maybe that's the case for some.

I like to believe that, deep down, we all still value--and want to know--the truth about things. No one has a corner on the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," but there's a sense that the truth is out there for us to find, somehow, someday.

Sonja's international class in Japan
Years ago, 2nd graders in my multifaith class at an international school in Tokyo wanted to know what was true, too. These were kids of every faith background except for Christian (those kids were divided between Protestant and Catholic groups), and so I started with the basics--I read stories from all the major world religions and tried to focus on something universally good about each story. I tried hard to be a good teacher and read all the stories with equal enthusiasm and equally earnest facial expressions.
So it astonished me, after reading some Bible stories, that the hands shot up. The Muslim and Buddhist hands. The non-religious hands too. "Is that a true story, Miss Young? That's a true one, isn't it?"

It was that experience that triggered my own journey toward writing Sophie's Quest. After a brief glimpse of an owl character in my mind (owls are supposed to be wise, after all), I set aside the idea of writing a story that would investigate who God is until my own daughter brought it all back up with an argument on her elementary school playground. At age 5, she was trying to educate some of her friends about the truth, as she understood it, about God's power and "bigness."

My owl flashed back into my mind, and the rest is history. While I probably raise more questions than answers in the story, I sincerely hope that the truth that God exists, that He made you and loves you, and that He wants you to trust Him with your life, shines through the words on the pages of the Sophie Topfeather series.

Thank you so much, Sonja, for this special insight into what inspired your books. For those interested in viewing and reading Sonja's lovely books, here are the links on Amazon.

Sophie's Quest

Sophie Topfeather Superstar

Friday, 23 June 2017

How to Create a Book: Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal by Stephanie Parker McKean

This guest post from Stephanie Parker Mckean is the first in a short series of posts we are going to be publishing on the 'back story to the books'. We thought it would be great for our readers to know where the ideas for our authors' books came from. This week we are kicking off with a post from Stephanie Parker McKean. She tells us the very special back story behind her series of books featuring the zany Miz Mike. 

Stephanie Parker McKean with her book
Bridge to Nowhere

As Stephanie says:
Folks sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for my books. Not being facetious, but the answer is simple. Anywhere and everywhere.

Not an unusual site in Miz Mike's home
Bandera, Texas
The idea for my first Sunpenny-published mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge to Nowhere” came at me literally – out of nowhere! One day while taking a new route through the Texas Hill Country I came to a humongous new concrete bridge. It was impressive! What was even more impressive was the fact that the bridge – didn’t go anywhere. I was so mystified when I got to the other side of the bridge and found that it went nowhere that I turned around and went back across it again from the opposite direction to see what I had missed. Surely an expensive new bridge on a paved road must go somewhere – but this one didn’t.
Another scene from Miz
Mike's home ground
Over the next few weeks, I couldn’t get that bridge to nowhere out of my mind. I was working for a newspaper in Bandera County, Texas, at the time and not even my fellow reporters could explain the bridge to nowhere. It wasn’t in our county, so digging up facts proved time consuming. Only a partial story emerged out of my investigation: a housing development was scheduled for that area to provide homes for San Antonio commuters. The developer had matched funds with the state highway department to have the bridge built. Some county residents were outraged, however, that tax dollars had been used to build a bridge that benefited no one. The “bridge to nowhere” became a joke with a razor-sharp punch line. And that's where the title for my first Miz Mike book came from.

While at work sorting through boring minutes from county commissioners’ meetings, my mind spun off into intrigue and adventure. I never planned to write a series originally. My idea was to write a book that I would enjoy reading. I wanted an older protagonist more in line with “Baby Boomers,” and a clean-reading mystery-romance-suspense that would entertain without embarrassing. Texas Miz Mike was born.

The problem with creating a zany, slightly bonkers, slightly klutzy character like Miz Mike is…that she’s fun! She’s fun to write about, fun to read – and too good to get shoved into computer files and forgotten. She somehow bounced off the pages and became so real that I know what she’s going to do and say without stopping to write down an elaborate outline first. Outlines wouldn’t work with Miz Mike – she wouldn’t stay inside the lines! She also couldn't be confined to just one book.

A real Texas Longhorn
Miz Mike started out as “Nicole,” because my invented author could write her invented mystery series under “Nick Rice” so men would be more inclined to read them. Then a spiteful Nicole blundered into my life and I couldn’t bear to use that name. Nicole changed to the Biblical name of King David’s wife, Michal, or “Miz Mike.” She can write her imaginary books under Mike Rice to attract a male reading audience.

Since a series wasn't part of the plan when I wrote “Bridge to Nowhere,” Sunpenny and I spent painful months agreeing on a title for the sequel, "Bridge Beyond Betrayal". My original title was, “Dead Body in a Pickup Truck,” but editor Jo Holloway pointed out that was perhaps not the best title for a romance. Without giving the story away, the story revolves around a body that Miz Mike finds, a body that keeps disappearing again until no one believes her.

From the first, Mike was supposed to fall in love with and marry her cowboy hero Marty, which is where the secret M&M candy game came into the books (the secret is in the books!), but Miz Mike refuses to stay between the lines and when a handsome new feller comes along…well, again... it’s in the book. Who betrayed her, why she was betrayed, and how she recovers from that betrayal explains the title and bridges the two books.

Both Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal are packed with comedy. The intent is to help the reader laugh and celebrate life.

Sadly, Bridge Beyond Betrayal doesn’t make me laugh as much as it once did. My son USMC Major Luke Parker was killed in a plane crash just before the book was published. Bridge Beyond Betrayal is dedicated to Luke, and the prophetic poem he wrote one year before his death is included. For me, it helps take the pain away. For other readers…I hope Miz Mike will go crazy enough outside the lines to make them laugh!

Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story. It's a special background to a special series!For anyone interested in reading these first two books in Stephanie's Bridge series, follow the links below: