Friday, August 24, 2012

Destinies by Karleene Morrow: Interview and Excerpt


Historical epic/saga of royalty and rural family.

Catherine II seizes the imperial crown of Russia and a thousand miles away a Rhineland boy’s life changes forever.

Uprooted from his home near the Rhine River and taken to a hostile land on the Russian steppes, Christian comes up against adversity and setbacks as he attempts to make a new life for himself and his family. His efforts at enlisting a blacksmith and Gypsies to help a Russian girl sold into servitude put all their lives in deadly peril.

Meanwhile, Catherine, in her new role as empress, is surrounded by court intrigue and secret plots to overthrow her; rumors of her lover’s infidelity; an army of wild Cossacks and escaped serfs thundering down on Saratov intent on burning the city, sacking Moscow and locking the empress in a convent.

Now Catherine must find a solution to the challenges she faces at court – as Christian must find his own solutions in the colonies.


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Margreta let her breath out in a sigh and turned toward the stove. As she moved, something across the field caught her eye. She turned again to the window. She squinted to focus over the distance. A woman climbed onto a two-wheeled cart and settled herself heavily behind a small donkey. It was Frau Bockenbacher, the meek, skinny landlord's fat, bellicose wife, on her way to market, no doubt, in her ridiculous ass-cart.
Marga wrinkled her nose in disdain, an unchristian gesture of which her absent husband would not have approved. She watched as the dour Hausfrau raised her arm and brought the lash across the little donkey's back. Although she could distinguish no details, she knew the sour lines that marked the ill-tempered woman's face.
"Woe to the merchant she’s about to descend upon," she mused.
To her discomfort, Marga saw the donkey cart swing up the road instead of making the turn toward town. The left turn the landlady took would carry her past the Kehler house to the fork. Marga could not think of any reason why she might drive in that direction. One side of the forked road led only to vineyard and farm country while the other went to the church. Frau Bockenbacher did not have any friends in the farmlands or anywhere else that Marga knew of. Nor had she ever been inside the church or spoken a polite word to Pastor Ekler when she casually encountered him. Marga's discomfort increased.
The donkey trotted over the road, pulling the miniature cart and its whale-sized driver nearer and nearer. As the scrubby little animal approached the turn-in lane, Margreta moved to the window at the front of the house. Her suspicions were confirmed. Down the road toward her came the Lilliputian carriage with its absurd cargo. Perched on the padded box seat, her ample skirts overflowing the little wagon, Frau Bockenbacher could have been a performer in a traveling circus. On her head she wore a curious combination that added to her preposterous appearance: the everlasting black felt hat, anchored securely by a scarf knotted beneath her chins.
Already fat as a pork hog, the massive coat she wore increased her girth. As she descended the little cart and lumbered toward the house, Marga thought she looked like a flapping tent on human feet.
The wooden steps creaked beneath the woman’s weight and a moment later fleshy knuckles rapped against the door. Marga crossed the room and opened it cautiously.
"Good afternoon", she said, startled to hear the flat tone of her own voice. She hastened to add a weak smile, for she did not wish to be rude, even to the likes of Frau Bockenbacher.
"How do you do." The words were nasal and as devoid of warmth as the landlady herself. "I may come in?" she said curtly.
Marga preferred to shut the door in her face, but she said, "Of course. Please." She stepped aside to let the woman pass.
Inside the house the visitor made no attempt to disguise her curiosity. For a long moment she looked round the room, examining its contents. Seemingly satisfied, she removed the scarf from her head and unbuttoned the huge coat, which she handed to her surprised tenant. The silly black hat sat on the top of her head like an inverted bowl. She selected Adam's large cushioned chair to wiggle into, clasped her hands and rested them across her ample belly.
"You were just making tea?" she asked. She glanced toward the pot steaming on the stove.
Margreta collected her self-composure and found a place to lay the heavy coat. As she moved to the stove, she said, "I am about to call Christian from his chores. You will join us for a cup?"
"I prefer not having children around." Her voice was brassy, disposed to issuing orders. "I will take tea, with sugar and milk. Not cream, mind you. It overpowers tea."
The woman's insolence grated but Marga checked herself. "We will have to speak softly then," she said coolly. "My little ones are napping."
Frau Bockenbacher made no comment. She sat rigidly wedged into the big chair and continued to examine the room's contents. When the cups were served and the women sat facing each other, she cleared her throat with a noisy gargle.
"You are ready for your journey?"
"No, not quite."
"Why not?"
Marga felt the intimidation the landlady surely had intended. "There is much to do for such an undertaking. But we are progressing."
"You are progressing?" Sparse eyebrows flew up. "Indeed. Does your husband help you?"
"But of course. What do you mean?"
"So many of you religious women are like oxen, stupidly bound to the yoke while your men carry the whip."
Marga drew back. Wherever did this woman get such gall? "But. . .that is untrue," she stammered. "Why would you say such a thing?"
A fat hand waved off the rebuff. She switched abruptly to a new subject. "You have not yet paid your monthly rent."
"My husband handles such affairs," Marga responded. "But I do know that he has made arrangements to pay you. Or rather, to pay your husband."
"My husband," she sneered. "If I left matters to him we would be in the alms house. Three of our tenants will be with that wagon train and if I do not keep track of things I may wake up to find all of you gone, and us left penniless in the package."
Marga thought the Rhine River would dry to a cracked ravine of parched clay before Frau Bockenbacher would find herself penniless. The stingy miser probably had more money in her strongbox than all three families would see in their lifetimes.
"We are not thieves who slip away in the night," she retorted.
"Do not be impertinent," the woman ordered. "I am speaking of our rights."
Marga maintained her composure. "You have the right to expect the rent payment. You have no right to suggest we’re dishonest. In all the years we’ve lived here you have never been cheated of one kreuzer. The fact is, Frau Bockenbacher, my husband has built a barn and workshop on this property and greatly improved this broken down house, all at his own expense. If we were the sort who would run off in the dark, you would still be money ahead."
"Nevertheless, you do owe me the rent—"
The seizure came on Margreta abruptly. Her body stiffened as the dry cough began. She choked and struggled for air. Her face twisted in the grip of the spasm. The visitor watched dispassionately as her tenant’s hands grabbed at the chair for support.
The attack lengthened, convulsing her thin body. She lurched forward, bent over her knees, the rough cough gagging her. When she caught her breath and felt the mucous breaking from her tortured lungs, she gasped and with a painful aspiration, brought up the thick, stringy phlegm. Fumbling in her apron, she found the cloth and raised it to her lips.
"Whatever is wrong with you?" Frau Bockenbacher demanded. The beaded eyes narrowed in her big frog face. "Is it contagious?"
Marga rested her head on one hand and for several moments could not answer. Gradually her breathing stabilized. She raised herself and walked crookedly to the stove where she leaned over the simmering kettle and inhaled the steam. With her back to the landlady, she pulled the blood-stained cloth from her pocket and dropped it into the fire.
"No, I don't think so," she said weakly. "It started as a cold, but now my lungs are irritated. It will pass, however. I’m already improving."
"Consumption!" Frau Bockenbacher diagnosed. "My brother died from it. Very nasty. His lungs just closed in, day by day, until he slowly choked to death."
Marga's eyes came up. She saw the hint of a smile pinch the fleshy face.
"But about the rent," the woman said, returning to her subject. "I would be willing to accept that cabinet as part payment. Is it French?"

Welcome Karleene!  It’s wonderful to have you visit today.


Thank you so much, Laurie, for the opportunity to be on your excellent blog. 


Tell us about your current release.


My historical novel Destinies is an epic tale of royalty and rural family.  Catherine seizes the crown of Russia and a thousand miles away a Rhineland boy’s life changes forever.  Christian Kehler’s family and many of their friends travel to Russia, a miserable year-long journey, at Catherine’s expense and invitation to help her drag her backward country out of the dark ages.  We are plunged into Christian’s life and the complications and struggles that develop in this strange country. His efforts at enlisting a blacksmith and Gypsies to help a Russian girl sold into servitude put all their lives in deadly peril.


Catherine’s story is equally complex involving court intrigue and attempts to overthrow her while she is also dealing with her lover of ten years when all is not as it seems.


Has someone helped or mentored you in your writing career?


I am one of the really lucky ones in that I belong to an exceptional group of women writers, a small critique group whose purpose is to help, be helped and complete their novels. While I have taken writing courses, university and author-led classes and read a gazillion books, I have learned the most through interacting with these women.  I not only learned how to write but they helped to polish Destinies.  It is a far better book than it would have been without them.


Using no more than two sentences, why should we read your book?


Wel-l-l-l. . . you will learn some things you didn’t expect to and be pleasantly surprised by them.  A-n-n-n-d. . .betcha you’ll fall in love with Christian and want more about him. At least that is what readers have said so best I let them do the speaking.


Plotter or pantser? Why?


I think this is one of the questions people like to know about writers and interestingly, it is something writers like to know about each other. Certainly it’s a question that new writers ask. I am not one to sketch out the plot and/or do a chapter outline. I don’t know the story until I write it. I do have an idea of what the character is about and what will or might happen but I don’t know the twists and turns and never know the end until I get near it.  I think that says that I, and writers like me, enjoy an active friendly muse who comes to our aid as we write.  Since I write historical fiction, I do need to stay somewhat true to history, but since it is historical fiction, there are many scenes and sequels that have to be invented. Things pop into my head I least expect. I always say it’s my muse writing, not me.


What do you think makes a good story?


The stories that capture me, make me turn pages or keep me up half the night are always-always filled with suspense. That is not to say it is a dark and stormy night and someone is creeping through the house. Every good story is heavy with “What happens next?” The genre might be fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, western mystery, crime thriller, historical fiction or anything in between.  If the reader isn’t impelled to turn the page, the genre won’t matter even if it is the reader’s favorite. Writers need to know techniques, grammar rules and spelling as a minimum, but the truth is there are some poorly written books out there that are best sellers. Why? Most likely they are page-turners filled with tension. What happens next?


Tell us about your next release.


I have only just started working on my next novel, another historical fiction though not likely to be the size of Destinies.  It is set in Virginia following the Revolutionary War.  But it probably won’t be my next release, it will take me a year or more to write it.  I am, however, nearly finished with a small book, booklet really, on writing fiction, a basic nitty-gritty how-to book.  It is filled with advice, knowledge and ideas and not a bit of fluff or filler. I’m hoping it will be a little bible for new writers and contain welcome reminders for experienced writers. If all goes as planned it should be available in the next few months as both an ebook and a print book.


What are you passionate about these days?


That is a terrific question.  Of course as a writer I have to say I am certainly passionate about the written word.  Well, the written fiction word.  I used to be a snobby non-fiction reader but I finally outgrew that.  Now I love to read and write fiction.  I read historical fiction but also love medical thrillers (think Tess Gerritsen or Michael Palmer) and other genres including the delightful humor of Mary Kay Andrews. 


But this question also gives me license to mention my Pomeranian dogs.  I am most passionate about them.  My boy Rozzer just finished his championship with his third big major win and is now American & Int’l Ch. Rozzer the Top Cop. His sire is the famous Best-in-Show boy that Pom people know as “Colt” and his dam is my Ch. Gayels Showboat Raz Berrie.  Writing or Pomeranians?  It’s a toss up.


Thank you again for the invitation to visit here with you, Laurie.  Truly appreciated.


Author Karleene Morrow grew up in an ethnic family and is a descendant of the German colonists whose history was the inspiration for this historical fiction novel, Destinies.

She holds a B.S. Honors, Sociology and M.S. Ed Psychology. With the first as the study of cultures, group social behavior and the latter addressing the mind and personal behavior, these disciplines proved beneficial in the writing and understanding of another people in another time.

Karleene shares her home at the beach in the Pacific Northwest with her Pomeranian dogs. When they allow it, she is at work on her next novel.

Website | Blog   |  Twitter  |  Facebook

Of all the 5-Star reviews (thank you so much, readers) on Amazon, one of my favorites is a bit long to include, but here is how it ends:

I highly recommend this book to all readers. It is not merely a book of historical fiction but a book of families, hardships, love and determination. It portrays the best and worst of human nature and their struggle for survival.

Destinies by Karleene Morrow is truly a MUST READ. —Marilou George, The Kindle Book Review

Enter for a chance to win a digital copy of Destinies. Two Winners.
Comment on this post for a bonus entry.
Like the author on Facebook for another bonus entry.
Giveaway ends September 15th 11:59 PM Central Time.


Julie Rupert said...

This book sounds great. I love a good historical novel. Thanks for the giveaway.

furrondie said...

I am an avid reader of all types of subjects. I am also have been working on my geneology and this book took me to my German roots! The author has weaved a wonderful novel around the historical figures and tells a tale well worth the read. The characters earn your respect from the lowley peasants to the royalty as you read their hardships they all have to face living in their timeframe.

Well done Ms. Morrow!!

Karleene Morriow said...

Thanks "Furrondie" that is generous praise, and I certainly appreciate it.

lag123 said...

I absolutely love historical fiction and appreciate all reasearch that an author does for their novel.

lag110 at mchsi dot com

Karen Arrowood said...

I do like historical fiction; this particular time frame and place is not one of my favorites, but I think the book sounds interesting enough to give it a try. Thank you for the opportunity.