Books by Melissa Bowersock

Monday, October 31, 2016

Author Interview: Carole Penfield

Today I’m sitting down with my friend Carole Penfield, who has just released her first novel, Midwife of Normandy. I haven’t read the book yet, just the blurb, but it sounds like a sweeping historic saga. Carole, can you give us a quick overview of the story?

Carole: Hi Melissa. Midwife of Normandy is a fictional story of love, ambition and heart-pounding adventure set in turbulent 17th century France. This was the actual period in history when King Louis XIV was not only building Versailles but also intent on forcefully converting all his subject to Catholicism.   His religious persecution of Huguenots threatens to destroy the life of my protagonist and her family.

To summarize briefly, Clare Dupres is the headstrong daughter of an impoverished Huguenot minister.  Her mother is training her in the art of midwifery, an ancestral profession including the secret formula for a pain-free childbirth called the “magic elixir.”  On the brink of womanhood, Clare stubbornly rebels against her father’s wish that she settle down and marry a boring silk merchant she does not love, despite the fact that he offers her a life of wealth and ease.  Dreamy-eyed, she envisions herself marrying his penniless handsome younger brother and enjoying a rewarding independent career as midwife to wealthy members of the aristocracy.

Clare’s life doesn’t turn out exactly the way she plans, when her own ambitions come into conflict with the powerful ambitions of King Louis, and she ends up facing unimaginable danger in a courageous attempt to save her family. Only then does she learn what is most important in life. 

Sounds fascinating. It seems to me that writing about the dynamics of France during Louis XIV’s reign is a weighty and almost overwhelming task. How much research did you do for the book? And how long did it take you to research and write it?

Carole: I spent more than a year doing research for Midwife of Normandy.  Not only on the dynamics of 17th century French politics, but also on midwifery practices, religious persecution of Huguenots, rigid class societal structure and growth of the merchant class, treatment of women, contrasting  lives of the rich and poor, and possible locations in France in which to set my fictional story. Trying to time my character’s actions to coincide as closely as possible to actual historical events. Then it took a year to write and rewrite many times. Since I had no previous experience writing fiction, I did hire an editor to do a developmental edit, copy edit, and proofreading.

Well, it's nice to know all your hard work has paid off. Have you always had an interest in French history, or was your interest specifically on your story?

Carole: No, I haven’t always had an interest in French history. I have to admit my greatest interest has always been British history.

However, when I travel I generally try to study a little of the history of the places I visit. While vacationing in France a few years ago, I visited Versailles and decided to learn more about Louis XIV. That’s when I first became aware of his religious persecution of Huguenots which caused tens of thousands to flee France. I always knew I wanted to write a novel about a strong, unconventional woman and decided to place my story in 17th century France. There are relatively few works of fiction set in this interesting era, compared to numerous historical novels set in the English Tudor and Regency eras.

I find that surprising, since Louis's reign was such a turbulent one. You'd think there would be more novels set into that pivotal time. What inspired you to write this book? Where did the story idea come from, especially the “magic elixir”?

Carole:  The “magic elixir” is based on my personal experience when giving birth to my first child in the sixties.  He was born in a hospital and the obstetrician promised me I would feel no pain.  Being young and inexperienced, I consented to having “twilight sleep” for the delivery.  Have you ever watched Mad Men, the TV series depicting life in the 1960s?  If not, seek out the episode on Netflix where Betty Draper gives birth to her third child, Gene. It is rather horrifying.

As I created the back story for my novel, I decided to invent an herbal equivalent to this twentieth century (now discredited) medical advance in obstetrics, and the “magic elixir” became the fictional vehicle for Clare’s initial success as a midwife.

I do plan to write a blog about the wildly popular “twilight sleep” on my website, so watch for it. 

I'm sure there are many women would be interested in that. Now, I understand this book is the first of a series. How many books will be in the completed series, or do you know? Do you have them all plotted out? Will the same characters appear in each book, or will you go in other directions, to other families?

Carole: If I live long enough, there will be three.  And yes, they will be the stories of Clare’s descendants. I’ve named the series “Secrets of the Austen Midwives” and the reason for that title will become more apparent in Book Two.  There is one “Austen” sighting in the first book, a reference in a letter Clare receives from England.  I’ve promised my fellow Jane Austen fans that there will be more.  I should also add that Midwife of Normandy incorporates a number of Jane Austen’s famous words, hidden away in my characters’ dialogue and the narrative. My editor refers to it as an Easter Egg hunt for Janeites.  I had fun putting them in and hope her devoted fans have as much fun finding them. But even if you are not an Austen fan, this book is a stand-alone story full of adventure.

Your story is historical fiction, but what about it is relevant to today?

Carole: The underlying theme of this book is fighting to escape oppression based on a person’s gender and/or religious beliefs.  In centuries past, and even up into the twentieth century, women were considered unequal to men.  During the 17th century, marriages were largely based on economic arrangements, not romantic love. Husbands owned their wives and children, and could lawfully beat them. Divorce was unheard of.

Careers for women?  I had to beat the bushes to think of a suitable occupation for my female protagonist , which is why I chose to make her a midwife. (The other choice would have been prostitute).  Midwifery had been a female-dominated profession since Biblical times, but most midwife/healers were uneducated and poor. Some were feared as witches. All the men in Clare’s life disapprove of her decision to work outside the home. Her husband denigrates her earnings as “ill-gotten gains.” Times are changing, but it has taken more than 2000 years to recognize that women can choose to have a career or a traditional family or both. Even run for president.

As far as religious persecution goes, one only has to check the depressing daily news to see that it still exists.  

Unfortunately, you are so right. So are you working on the next book in the series already?

Carole: I’ve drawn the family tree from Clare Dupres (born 1654) to the present.  Other than that, I’ve been too busy learning the ins and outs of publishing and promotion.  I’d rather be working on the book.

How well I know the feeling. The cover of your book is beautiful. Who designed it for you?

Carole: Victoria Cooper is an amazing artist and a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend her.  I spent many hours on the internet viewing bookcovers before I decided this was the right one for my book.  She has also designed matching bookmarks which I will soon have available.

If people want to know more, how can they find you?

Carole: Check out my website  (The header is an actual photo I took in Normandy.) Or send me an email at

I would like to take this opportunity to ask everyone to please read my book and leave a review on Amazon. Reviews are so important to newbie authors like me.

Thanks to you Melissa, for this interview and for starting me on the path to self-publishing. Your calm words of advice during my moments of panic kept me from throwing in the towel.  

You're entirely welcome. I'm glad I could help you along on your journey.

Midwife of Normandy is available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle ebook.

Facebook Author Page: Coming soon
Twitter: I’m not a bird, I don’t tweet
Amazon Author Page: Coming soon
Google+: Nope
LinkedIn: carole penfield

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Release: The Man in the Black Hat

I'm realizing that I love time travel. I always have, I just never wrote it until this year, but now that I've gotten started, I can't seem to stop. After my two Travis books (Finding Travis, Being Travis), I switched gears a little. My new novel, The Man in the Black Hat, is very different, but just as fun. Here's the blurb:

Clay Bauer, at the age of 38, is a second-rate actor in Hollywood. He’s too mean-looking to get leading man roles in movies, so he’s resigned himself to playing only villains. While filming a low-budget Western in the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, he hears about the vortices there — places of power where people claim to have strange experiences, even traveling to other dimensions. He doesn't believe any of it — until he accidentally passes through a vortex and is transported more than 100 years into the past. Suddenly he’s faced with playing the most important role of his life. Only this time, it’s for real.

If you love time travel, if you've ever been to Sedona and seen the splendor of the red rocks and heard the stories of the vortices, I think you'll enjoy this book. And for this week only, Oct 21-30, 2016, I'm putting the e-book on sale for just 99 cents. Get it while it's hot. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Author Interview: E.J. “Russ” McDevitt

Today I am sitting down with my good buddy E.J. “Russ” McDevitt, author of a growing series of thriller novels about Danny Quigley, a retired Special Forces agent who, even as a civilian, offers his services when the need arises—which it always does.

Russ, I understand that your character, Danny Quigley, is based on a real person. Tell us how you met this person, and what it was about him that inspired you to write Danny.

McDevitt:  Melissa, I was training sales people for a Life Insurance company in the UK, where a class came in on a Monday morning and I worked with them for a number of days or even two weeks. One of the people who came in one morning was ex Special Forces, known as the SAS , and obviously suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress. He kept failing exams and I had to counsel him. He looked like he could have reached across and torn my throat out. However, as I was ex Canadian Military, he gradually relaxed and I was able to help him. He also started to share some incredible combat stories of operations he’d been on in the Special Forces which, under ‘The Official Secrets Act’ he wasn’t supposed to reveal to anyone whatsoever.

Danny Quigley was born right then, and when I started writing some years later, I just couldn’t get that man out of my mind! Go figure: he was probably killing people the week before he came in for training…..  then wanted to sell Life Insurance!

Pretty amazing. I’m not sure I’d want to let that guy into my house on a cold call, but on the other hand, he probably didn’t have too many prospective customers saying no to him! Can you give us a brief overview of the series? What has Danny accomplished so far?

McDevitt:  Not surprisingly, the first novel, The Quigley Alchemy, was about a guy who gets out of the UK Special Forces and tries to earn a living by selling life insurance, (sound familiar?). Initially he fails, but hears about some super salesman who broke all records and then disappeared. He decides to track him down. This leads him across to Ireland, but MI5, the UK’s Domestic Intelligence Service, want him back to carry out a political assassination. They won’t take ‘NO’ for an answer and kidnap his wife to make sure he does the job.

Subsequent novels are black ops that he carries out for MI5, MI6 and the CIA in various countries. Oh, yes, he has some interesting, and in some cases, ’kick-ass’ ladies on his team. (The odd steamy love scenes as well)… ‘NO’ not 50 shades of anything. (Danny IS British after all!)

Sounds like he’s had some pretty interesting adventures, and the stories have something for everyone. Now what’s up for Danny in your latest book, The Jihadists’ Return?

McDevitt:  Highly-trained, hate-filled Jihadists are returning to the UK to create mayham. Britain has a major problem in that literally thousands have left Britain and joined up with ISIS and Al Qaeda overseas, and are returning with instructions to create a 9/11 attack on the UK.

Danny is tasked by MI5 to carry out surveillance on some of the groups, try to target their contacts, and discover their operational plans. In the meantime a Pashtun from Afghanistan wants revenge on Danny for killing his cousin, and unleashes attacks on Danny and his family. To add to this situation, a former female colleague in California begs him to come and help find her husband, a member of the elite Seals, who has disappeared.

Later in the novel Danny is kidnapped by the Jihadists who intend to behead him on video to launch the UK’s 9/11 attack.

Whoa! That’s a lot on Danny’s plate. We can see that your stories circle the globe and take Danny into all sorts of tricky situations. How much research do you do for your books?

McDevitt:  Lots… obviously Google is a tremendous support and I use it quite a bit. Melissa, you have urged potential authors to read a lot and I’m a prolific reader of my genre: action novels. I even saw someone recently correct the guru Chris Ryan, with a scribble in his Special Forces books over something quite miniscule, so readers want the genuine thing and ideally from personal experience.

As an author I feel I can provide real credibility to my portrayal of action, having travelled as a young man in Australia in a boxing and wrestling troupe for 3 years, taking on all comers.

You were also a military policeman in Canada for six years; how much of your training and experience play into the Quigley books?

McDevitt: Yes, I served 6 years in the Canadian Military, 3 of them with the NATO Brigade in Europe. You can bet that I use this knowledge quite a lot in my stories, particularly where weapons are concerned. When the recruiting Sergeant found out about my unique experiences in Aussieland he immediately processed me into the Military Police. (I wonder why?)

You’re right; my experience is certainly reflected in the Quigley books.  In those days, when it comes to unarmed combat, the Canadian MPs never carried a pistol or a club (apart from in action zones overseas), and so they handled themselves pretty well.

What’s next for Danny Quigley? Do you already have a new book started, or are the ideas still simmering?

McDevitt: I have some thoughts spiraling around in my head. Too early to share, and I wouldn’t want some eager beaver author to beat me to a story! Watch this space…

I know the feeling. Have to let the ideas percolate until they take the brain hostage and insist on being written down. Have you ever veered off in a different direction, written in a different genre or with a different main character?

McDevitt:  I have written a Personal Development Journal that I updated recently which is basically a blueprint for those people who want to create a more fulfilling life for themselves.

However Danny Quigley is such an interesting character and hard to let go. I was also amazed and delighted to discover how many women loved my books. I didn’t figure on this initially.
One woman volunteered that Danny Quigley is what men used to be like: the genuine article, that the world needs more of.

Perhaps Danny is moving into the long-vacated space occupied by James Bond, who definitely had an appeal to women. Danny stays pretty busy, and his life makes most of the rest of us look tame. What do you do for excitement? For relaxation?

McDevitt: I’m a member of Toastmasters. Some years back I won the Irish and British titles.

I exercise just about every day, Tai Chi, Che Gong, the local gym, and some martial arts. I read a lot and am a carer for my wife Marie who is disabled with arthritis. I have 6 grown up kids who live all over the world, so I travel whenever writing activities allow.

Sounds like a full life, and very satisfying. Thanks so much for sharing it with us today, Russ. Now, if readers want more information, how can they find you?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pacing…in Writing…Is Everything

Pacing in writing is essential. It can make a story or break it. Good pacing can tune a good story into a masterpiece, or bad pacing can reduce it to caterwauls.
Some months back, I read a new book by an author I like. I expected good things. Unfortunately, the pacing of the story left me frustrated and just anxious to get the durn thing over with. The protagonist, an investigator, was frequently approached by a mystery woman who may have had information he needed. The meetings usually consisted of her appearing suddenly, saying she needed to tell him something, then leading him to a small café or down a deserted alley. She spoke cryptically; he asked questions which she danced around, they both became angry and she rushed off. Over and over.
The author may have thought the emotionally-fraught meetings were adding tension to the story, but they added little else. They added no additional information. They did not move the story forward. Their only purpose, that I could see, was to frustrate me and make me less inclined to care if I finished the book or not.
Our job, as story-tellers, is to parcel out bits and pieces of the story line all along the length of the story. We do this not only to let the story build in an evolving, suspenseful way, but also to reward our readers. Sure, we don’t want to give away too much too soon, but we need to give the readers something as they go along. That book I was talking about was giving me nothing. I felt like I was doing the hard work of sticking with it to try to figure out the mystery, but I was getting nothing in return. It didn’t feel like a fair deal.
Just recently, I picked up a crime thriller that was free on a promo. I don’t normally gravitate to crime stories, but this one sounded interesting and had a ton of good reviews, so I tried it. I’m glad I did. The story began a trifle slowly, primarily because there were a lot of characters to be introduced to, but then quickly ramped up. I was almost halfway into it when I realized that I was really getting anxious about the turn of events. I suddenly realized that the author had completely pulled me in, and had moved me forward with rewards of revelations as the story unfolded. The story is told not only from the point of view of the investigator, but also from the POV of the bad guy, giving me inside knowledge about the crime and how it’s being carried out. That inside information, while not revealing too much about motive, still gave me more kernels of story than the investigator was getting, so while the police side was being stymied, the story was still moving forward fully and inexorably. The author was a master at turning the screws minutely but continuously. Once the police caught a break and began to put the pieces together, the story became two vectors moving rapidly toward a point of intersection. And I wasn’t going anywhere except along with them.
Right on the tail of this book, I picked up another free promo, a paranormal, which I love. It was about a medium in 1800s London and the male ghost she connected with as they tried to contain a demon, and it was great. The pacing of the story was perfect and the relationship tension built at a rate that pulled me happily along. As with the crime thriller, I was anxious to see how it all played out.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. When I reached the end, one story line was resolved, but the relationship issue was not. That was going to continue into the next book. I was rather disappointed in this, but dutifully bought the next book in the series. That’s when things began to go downhill in a hurry.
The new story line was fine, but the push-pull of the relationship issue was getting tiresome. How many times can characters move toward each other, have second thoughts, and move away? How many times can they almost succumb to the overwhelming love they feel, give in to the doubts that fill their heads and back off? I quickly realized that the pacing of this dance was perfect in the first book, but had become contrived and overdone in the second. Rather than being fed a few tasty crumbs to keep me going, I felt like I was being tempted by a yummy cookie that was unceremoniously yanked away whenever I got too close. Because in the first book the couple had come about as close as they possibly could to consummating their relationship, they had already progressed from point A to point Y and only Z was left. There was no place to build to except full intimacy, and in order to maintain the tension of the story, that promise of resolution was never being kept. Again, it felt like a raw deal. I knew I wasn’t going to get the cookie until I got to the end of the book (maybe—there might be a third book!), but there were no crumbs left for me in the meantime. If the author had added the second book on as an afterthought, she had not taken pacing into account. If she had planned the series from the get-go, she still had not taken the pacing into account. As a writer, I found it interesting that a first book could be almost flawless, yet the second book was, in my mind, a total toss-off. And it was all because of the pacing.
So what is pacing? It’s rationing out bits of information a little at a time to move the story forward. It’s developing the characters so their personalities and relationships evolve in an ever-expanding way. And it’s rewarding the reader with “ah-ha” nuggets that keep them interested. Failing to find the correct pace in any of these areas can make the difference between compelling and contemptible, between fascination and frustration. And obviously, even the best authors can find the right pace … or not.

Originally published by Indies Unlimited on September 16, 2014.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book Do-Over!

When my first two books were published by a New York house way back in the 1980s, the giddy excitement rather quickly turned to disappointed resignation. Although they accepted both books without any editing comment except to increase or decrease page count to fit their norm, they had full control over the cover images and the titles, and they exerted that control with no input from me. I named my first book The Rare Breed, as it was about a half-breed woman searching for her Cheyenne family after being reared in the civilized East. Well, that title was just way too tame. The book became Love's Savage Destiny. When it was published and my husband and I made our first foray into a Waldenbooks to look for it, we scanned one huge wall of historical romances. My husband searched the titles for a few moments, then came to me and whispered, "There's a lot of Savages up there." 


My second book was another historical romance, but this time the heroine was searching the Superstition Mountains in Arizona for the Lost Dutchman gold mine, escorted by a cavalry major and a Pima Indian scout. My title was Superstition Gold. Noooo, the publisher said, the word superstition connoted the occult and they couldn't have that. They sent me a letter in which they said, "We hope you'll be as thrilled with the title as we are." The new title was Love's Savage Embrace.

All righty, then.

It was at that point that I made myself a promise; one day I would write a book and name it Love's Savage Armpit.

I never did that, but I did write a satire of romances called The Pits of Passion by Amber Flame. The Pits of Passion is not your normal romance novel. It's a bodice-ripper, to be sure--but literally. The poor heroine can barely walk down the streets of London without having some lust-crazed man rip her clothes right off her body. When she goes to her closet to find something to wear, she has a hell of a time because the bodice is ripped out of every dress she has. You see, this is a romance novel where every aspect of the much-loved genre has been taken to the nth degree. This is a completely over-the-top, wild and sexy satire. I often warn people, this is NOT your mother's romance novel!

I actually wrote it just for fun, without any idea of publishing it. I was working at the time, and I wrote it longhand on blue line pads in the break room at work on my lunch hour. Some of the other gals in the office thought it was a hoot, and pretty soon most of them were reading it, coming behind me as I wrote. Word spread quickly, and before long I found out several techs that worked out in the field were also coming in on their lunch hours and reading it, too. I'm guessing these guys had rarely read a romance novel before, but even if they had, they hadn't read anything like this one! One day I went back to the break room and actually had to shake down almost every person there to find the last page I'd written. The pages were being passed fast and furious, and I had to wrestle the last page away so I could continue writing. That's when I realized that this campy little novel might actually be popular.

But who would publish such a thing? Romance is a sacrosanct genre, and the readers who love it would not be open to having every sacred cow lampooned as I was doing. Heck, even the hero had alabaster thighs. Surprisingly enough, though, one publisher stepped forward and optioned it. True, it was as an eBook only, and not a big deal, but at least someone actually published it. After that, it was a simple matter to publish it myself, both as a paperback and an eBook. 

My original cover was quite a mishmash of ideas. I wanted to hint at the sexiness of it, but also the absurdity of it. Ripped bodices, pirate ships, kidnappings; they all figured in. I cobbled together the cover myself, and at the time I felt it was a decent presentation. Now, though, after many years, it was time for a redo.

That was when the idea struck me. Pits could become Love's Savage Armpit. It was a perfect fit. Why hadn't I thought of that before?

The book has gotten mixed reviews, to be sure, which is no surprise. This is a book with something to offend everyone. But if you can approach it with an open mind, and if you're ready for some belly laughs, it really is quite a romp. Here's a sample of a couple reviews:

I was laughing out loud throughout the whole thing. Most satires/parodies I've read tend to go over the top and take things too far. Ms. Bowersock didn't do that. She does a wonderful job of giving just enough absurdity without crossing the line into the unbelievable. I really don't know how to write a review because there was just soooo much I liked about this book. It's friggin' hysterical!  If you like satire or historical romance or romance of any kind, you'll love this book. -- Kara Leigh Miller 

(This) is an unbelievable, hilarious tale and an enjoyable, easy read. Captivating from the get-go, this novel will take you on the ride of your life! Elizabeth's journeys will enable you to ride the high seas with her and her twin lovers, and laugh at the predicaments in which she both finds and loses herself. I have never read a novel quite like this one; (This) is in a class of its own! ... Congratulations, Melissa, (aka Amber Flame) for doing what so many writers fail to do! I treasure it! —Amazon review

So, in honor of the little satire that could, I'm re-releasing it with a brand new name, a brand new cover and a special sale. From now through October 9, 2016, it'll be just 99 cents. If you like satire, if you like over-the-top, off the wall humor, if you like sizzling, sexy action, this book is for you. 

But just remember: I warned you.