Monday, April 30, 2012

Windigo Soul by Robert Brumm Jr : My Review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:
It's Hank Reed's birthday. As a citizen of the United Federation of Nations that means a mandatory death sentence simply because he turned sixty years old. Referred to as "retirement," it's one of the desperate steps the government has taken to curb overpopulation. Retirement is a widely accepted fact of life on a dying planet ruled by a tyrannical government. Hank's execution goes ahead as planned but state sponsored euthanasia isn't what it seems. The Reed family learns what really happens to retirees when secrets the UFN keep from the public start to unravel.

This book is intended to be read by adults and may be unsuitable for children under 17. Contains indecent language and descriptions of graphic violence.

My Review
This short novelette really captured my attention and my imagination. Its premise is frighteningly realistic given the current alarming world population growth. Combine that with the large (and still to be larger) glut of elderly in our society as a consequence of the ever-aging baby boomer generation and Mr. Brumm’s curiously gruesome imagination, and what evolves is an, at times, intensely graphic horror story decidedly not for squeamish readers. I do not want to give any of the story away, but suffice it to say I will never look at retirement in quite the same way again.

Think about all the food additives that are already an accepted part of the foods we eat (pink slime immediately comes to mind). Think about how our planet is being systematically plundered of its precious resources in order to satisfy the demands of a population deluded into believing that its every demand can be met without repercussions. Then think about the fact that more than 25,000 people die daily from starvation. Then think about a government conspiracy of massive proportion determined to keep certain secrets at all costs. When I think of all these things and more, I can not help but wonder if Windigo Soul may be something of a predictor of something chillingly similar in our not-too-distant future.
View all my reviews

Also, See my recent Interview with Robert Brumm.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Weeping Empress by Sadie Forsythe: Character Interview, Excerpt

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Chiyo Alglaeca was happy in her life. That is, until it was all taken away. Forced into notoriety, stalked by a mysterious cult, hunted by the emperor, and facing betrayal at every turn she clings to the only safety she can find: two enigmatic men and the sharp bringer of death, Salvation. The Weeping Empress explores the devastating effects of loss, the hunt for redemption, and the price of destiny. It questions the true meaning of evil and asks what monster is not also an innocent.

Kindle  |  Goodreads  |  Nook

Convinced that she has witnessed the fulfillment of a prophecy Andela approaches the church officials in an attempt to ensure that they can take appropriate action. Andela’s speech may seem somewhat stilted in this passage, but she is speaking to someone of significantly higher rank than herself. Formal speech is a sign of respect.
“My name is Andela Masterdon. I was raised just outside of Timeroon as much by the kind sisters there as by my own mother. The teachings of the sisterhood and words of Snake were the stories of my youth. They have brought me many comforts during the hard times of life. I have always held them close to my heart. I preface my story with this so that you can understand that I have had more reason than most to learn not only the proper prayers and teachings of our Great Goddess, but also the lesser-known prophecies that many might know exist but fail to understand.”
“I see. By all means continue,” Kranglin said.
“Timeroon isn’t a wealthy or sophisticated village. It is predominantly populated by farmers. Over the years we have purposefully diversified our crops in an attempt to become further self-reliant, but the presence of a moderate mountain to the north has always posed a challenge to rain. Clouds often loose their momentum before passing it, leaving our village dry. This, as I said, isn’t new, but this year has been particularly arid, and more crops died than anticipated. The elders even authorized the distribution of emergency stores to some of the hardest-hit families.
“The village will survive, but the policies of the emperor leave the nyims no room to consider such circumstances. It’s not a new story: villages forced to send conscripts in place of rations. I’m such a sacrifice. I hated to leave my home, but my life is close to its conclusion. My children are grown. No one depends on me any longer. I can’t resent the decision of the elders. It was undoubtedly the right one. Furthermore, I’ve reason to now be grateful for it.
“For the Goddess said:
My children, who are myself, you are dear to me. Because of my love for you, who are me, I wish to spare you those pains that color life in pale hues of sorrow, but trials are coming. You will feel the chafe of disquietude, the sharp devastating sting of loss, and cold inescapable fear. As wind blows, water flows, and time passes unseen before eyes that see naught, I will come blazing in righteousness and clothed in cleansing blood from this very bleakness.
I will send my arm to you, to do what you cannot. I will smite thine enemy and bear witness to the birth of a martyr. As the dark dirges of death haunt you, she, who is me—my Arm, will carry these woes for you. She will bear your misfortune like a beast of burden; belly dragging below the arched breaking back of your heavy load. You must, but be vigilant. Watch for me. Recognize me for who I am. Embrace me, for my flesh shall set you free.
“Holy Mistress, perhaps I think too highly of myself to think that I might see the coming of the prophesied one, but I believe that I have.”
Andela could tell the mistress had listened earnestly to her. At this last statement she raised an eyebrow, and Andela could tell that Kranglin, sensing no ulterior motive, was trying to not allow herself to get excited by this news.
“That is quite the claim,” she said. “We should all be careful not to jump to conclusions. It is, after all, easy to see what one expects under such circumstances.”
Andela nodded. She had expected such caution.
“Of course,” Andela replied. “It’s a relatively new prophecy, foretold practically in my own lifetime even. But if you’ll spare me a few more minutes to relay my experience, I think you might agree. Besides, all I’m asking is that my story be passed along.
“We, the other conscripts and I, were bound for Danbire. There were few among us who hadn’t accepted their lot in life. It was primarily a group of the aged and broken, those, like myself, whom villages could afford to lose. One never likes to think of oneself as disposable, but at least we could be useful one last time.
“But that wasn’t our fate. There have been rumors of two men who have a habit of pouncing on supply trains for no other purpose than enraging the various nyims. I had heard of them. I assume you have, too. They’re something of underground heroes, and I can assure you that they live up to their reputation.
“Muhjah and, one of the Goddess’ own children, Senka, descended like a pair of demons bent on utter destruction. The nyim and Danbire’s warden lost a number of men. They left death behind as casually as footprints, but that isn’t the important part of my story; it’s merely an interesting aside. When the trouble started, I put myself under one of the carriages. This gave me an unobstructed view of the carnage, and I had hoped to remain out of sight and harm’s way. The two demons were joined by a third, a young woman.
“Those of us heading for Danbire had been thrown together almost a week earlier. We had become familiar with one another. There had been none among us who was so young and supple.
“It is possible that she had been waiting at the workhouse gates, but I find that unlikely. The place held the still oppression of death; it’s not somewhere one goes willingly or without reason. I don’t know how she came to be there, and consequently neither did she, but she didn’t stand about in idle confusion. She blazed with a singular bloody fury. She was like a star fallen to earth, and I was unable to tear my eyes away from her. It was as if I could see the aura of the Goddess around her. That might have been enough to convince me, but probably not enough to convince me to come here to you.
“Her name is Chiyo, and when there is a fight to be had, she seems unable to remain on the sidelines. Twice more she threw herself into a pitched battle in which she had no place. Twice more she emerged unscathed. Surely this could be nothing short of divine protection.
“Muhjah and Senka gave us little opportunity to rest, but we still didn’t manage to get far enough. The group split in two, and some of us ended up being caught by Nyim Cardinova’s men, where we were rounded up like common cattle. I imagine there was a plan of some sort, but I have to admit I did despair. Having once escaped from our poor fate, it was hard to imagine returning to it so quietly.
“My tears were wasted, however. Once more that fate was averted. Chiyo sacrificed herself for us. She tempted one of the guards. There’s no way to know exactly what happened once he took her away. She was certainly not inclined to discuss it, but it isn’t hard to figure out. Her intent was obvious from the start, her disheveled state afterward suggested the completion of the vile task, and she emerged victorious, allowing us to escape. I honestly believe she has come as predicted, and we would be remiss in our duty to the Mother if we failed to take notice.”

Character interview with Andela, protagonist of The Weeping Empress

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A Sacerdotisa--I wanted to support others with the same kindness they showed my family and me.

What was the scariest moment of your life?

Facing Senka for the first time--he's a pitiful child, but cloaked in his darkness lies the light of the Goddess and it is painful to look at.

What do you do to unwind and relax?

As advised by Confucius, I contemplate the chrysanthemum. The unfurling petals are said to be the reflection of perfection, and it has so many conflicting meanings. It can symbolize death, grief and lamentation, while in other places it is seen as a cheerful flower representing honesty and positivity. The story told here in The Weeping Empress encompasses all of these elements. I think about these things.

If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?

If I could apologize to Chiyo for the part I played in her sad circumstances I would, but I don't think that she would accept it or my heartfelt thanks for her sacrifice.

What makes you happy?

No matter what regrets I might have, knowing that what I've done with the last years of my life made a difference, and that my children will live a better life because of it makes me happy.

Do you have a favorite quote, quip, or saying? What is it?

'Your flesh is of the Goddess, care for it accordingly.' I like that it reminds us to look after ourselves and each-other.

Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?

My mother told me that there is no point in worrying about those things that you have no control over. Instead I concentrate on changing that which is within my reach. I advise others to do the same.

Thank you so much for stopping by today and letting us find out a bit more about you.  It's been a pleasure.

Sadie Forsythe hails from the Southeastern United States, lives in Northwestern England, and is a fan of all things Japanese. She holds degrees in Anthropology/Comparative Religion, International Criminology, and Social Change. She loves local coffee shops, geek culture, everything bookish, and tea (steaming with milk and sweet iced). She is married with two daughters and an imaginary dog.

Additionally she is a graduate student at the University of Manchester. She's currently in the latter stages of her 2nd Masters and applying for PhD funding to begin said research at the end of this year. Sadie asks that we Cross our fingers for her.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Lucky Boy by Caroline Gerardo: Guest Post, Excerpt

A dark coming of age story. Seth McGrath goes through hell to raise ten grand to find a girl. What would you do to find your true love?

This young man is the son of an icy neurosurgeon and a pill popping debutante who send him away to be raised by his Grandmother. Seth will sell drugs, arrange bum fights for hire, and steal from anyone. What does it take for a psycho to become a CEO? Find out in this chilling tale, written in contemporary literary beats. A MMA style of writing that will keep you up reading.

available paperback and all ereaders

Kindle  |  Nook

I have a Bachelor’s Degrees in Literature and Art from Scripps College and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Claremont Graduate University. I have been writing, taking photographs, and living a creative life since I was a little girl.

After college, I muddled along making a meager living as a performance poet and painter. I married my college sweetheart (after eighteen rocky years we divorced).

With children to feed all by myself, reality became such that I must work hard to sustain myself and family.

In 2008, I joined a writing group in Los Angeles. I ghostwrote a couple thriller novels for someone. In the end of 2009, I came out of the closet (after blogging on Blogit in secret for ten years prior) and decided to self-publish a series of seven short stories. This first project became tied up in litigation. I have now edited and put all seven stories together (to be released sometime after August 29 2012). That group of short stories (Cardinal Sins) seems long in my past.

I published poetry and short fiction in some twenty-two magazines in the past two years. I also completed two novels: Toxic Assets and The Lucky Boy. The two long form novels are very different. Toxic Assets being a literary thriller and The Lucky Boy a combination of literary novel and dark YA. My next two projects are: a long form novel now titled Eco-Terrorist and a short film based on my poem: The Last Willow Flycatcher.

Blog  |  Website   |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

My writing process

I am a planner. I believe all people should write out their one, five and ten year plans. Without a point to work towards, and a method to break down the steps on the path, we are lost. My planning includes my creative work, family, financial, spiritual, and health aspects of my life.

My daily schedule:

I wake up at 5:15 every day. I don’t need an alarm clock that rings. The coffee machine downstairs delivers an aroma and I jump up.

For two hours, I work on the long form novel. This time is important because it is when I am fresh and ideas from the past day are ready to flow. I work on the kitchen table wearing a Darth Maul baseball hat. This goofy hat indicates to my children that Mom is working. My house is quiet until my son Carson wakes and grabs something healthy to eat. If it is a school day, I made his lunch the night before and he now has his permit (soon he will drive himself to school yippee).

From eight to nine AM I check emails, Twitter, Goodreads, my blogsite, now new on Pinterest, write a few responses to emails or publishing events, book appointments etc. I use an egg timer to limit my time on twitter and other sites that get me off tangent reading. I do not use any auto tweeting or auto-bot marketing services. I dislike the feel of receiving the junk mail tweets and junk emails – therefore I have decided not to use any of those type of tools. This has worked very well in finding readers.

I take five and ten minute breaks to stretch and complete the daily chores on the weekends, but on weekdays I work my “Day job” in mortgage and will switch hats to complete that set of duties. I carry with me a separate cell phone connected to my writing platform and will check that when I am waiting in line, waiting on hold, or doing anything that allows multi-tasking. I don’t have a formal lunch, I will spend the hour writing a blog post or editing.

Evenings Monday – Thursday I write from 5:30- 9:30.

Weekends usually are nine hours broken into pieces.

This gives me about 40 hours writing, five hours marketing and planning, and 40 hours job.

On the weekend, I shop at the farmer’s market, plan dinners and have five twenty minute meals half prepared. Eating healthy is vital to support your creativity and ability to sustain a pace. I wrote a post about diet for creative people here if you are interested:

What we put in our bodies and our minds does come out in the work.

I always carry notebooks. Handwriting patterns of speech, an idea to express emotion through how someone uses their hands, a moment of synchronicity that becomes a poem and more are drawn, scribbled and rarely written in pretty handwriting. I have been seen writing poetry in the bleachers of one of my children’s Lacrosse games on a regular basis. Allow information to fill your soul. Be a sponge for great information. Read all the time. Be unafraid to tackle hard subjects, those that make you ache inside might connect the most with those in our time.

Time is the most important thing we own. I do not squander minutes it on junk television or agreeing to do things that keep me from goals. Learn to say no thank you upfront and save yourself from working on deadlines for others. I used to do a great deal of fundraising for causes, but I do not have the luxury of time to give in that direction today.

Physical exercise is important for creative people. I hike, run, hot yoga, and play sports with my children. Last Saturday I hiked eight miles in Red Rock Canyon and Sunday ten on the Kern River. In my backpack I had a gallon of water, notebook, camera, and “protection.” My oldest says I should not go alone, but arranging someone who wants to leave at the minute I am ready, well is difficult. This weekend, I went with the Laguna Nursery to Lotus Land in Santa Barbara.

I will post photographs of the amazing mini-climates, rare plants and my experience on my blog and Pinterest. Getting out of your own surrounds adds new ways to see, opens the creative person to thinking and combining better art.
My writing process for novels:

· First draft 150000 words

· Write seven days a week

· White board with graph of story

· Photograph images of story, character, drawings of characters

· Outline two pages of the narrative

· Read it aloud

· Then edit two times after you beg friends to read and comment

· Let it rest.

· Edit one last time (lost my two best beta readers last year –Tony, and then my Mom can’t after her stroke)

· Send to professional editor.

· Decide on cover art from the photographs and images after the book is completed. All covers are created from my own artwork/ photographs.

· My original outline may not be at all like the end product novel. The characters direct the story and take over. My work is often character driven.

· It takes me about a year to finish a book.

My recent novel:

The Lucky Boy is a dark bildungsroman. Seth McGrath’s a boy who experiences trauma at home. I will not reveal you if he has ADHD or is disturbed or has a guardian angel who helps him.

The story is set in 1965- 1972 when these types of modern labels went undiagnosed. In The late sixties, it was acceptable to spank your children, but this boy is actually beaten. The trauma of not receiving love, scars the young boy, until he is sent away to live with his paternal Grandmother. Something spiritual in Grandmother’s approach leads him towards finding love and connections. It as if she is a psychology and neuroscience expert before her time. Then suddenly she dies, causing Seth to stress to the point of ruin. He regresses to bad choices. Evil friends arrange what they label “bum fights” or illegal betting fights, selling drugs and stealing lead Seth into the wrong pathway. Somehow, he maintains decent grades and works hard at sports. These are not enough to make him feel accepted or grounded. Seth decides to run away to find his true love.

In order to write the fight scenes I trained in a Mixed Martial Arts studio.

I hope you will read The Lucky Boy and feel free to contact me to let me know what you think.

I am easy to find on twitter: @ cgbarbeau

I just started on Pinterest and have about 40 photographs that I enjoy sharing.


December 26th, 1956 flashback 

A Polaroid photograph of an infant that looks about nine months old leans on the windowsill of the McGrath’s avocado-colored kitchen. Seth is actually a year old in December 1956, but he was only five pounds eight ounces at birth. The doctor reviews his medical journals to check what percent of normal his son might meet, as he doesn’t practice pediatrics or neonatology. The child is measurably underweight. At best, Seth is 80 percent below normal for height and head size. However, he is growing. The baby is proportionate, but the doctor expects a child above the charts, as the father is six foot three.
“You’re not feeding this baby enough. His bone development will be harmed,” the pediatrician tells Maiya during a regular physical. She sends the nanny infrequently for the follow up visits.
As an infant, it appears to outsiders that Seth lives a charmed existence as the son of a neurosurgeon and a socialite wife. If a child might pick his parents, his fortune ahead appears easy. The unborn in the womb responded to usual stimulus. The delivery was seemingly normal. A few flaws went unnoticed. Maiya McGrath showed signs of high blood pressure in the random ballooning of her feet over the tops of her shoes. She also had chest pains, but this is confused with acid indigestion. In 1955 at the hospital when Seth was born, the specialists did not make consultations. Seth’s early years hold no recording of anything unusual.
The family enjoys an oversized Colonial on the Main Line. The two-story house has a single front door. The doctor works in a local Radnor hospital two days and takes the train into Philadelphia three days a week for surgery. He sees his brain injury patients from his office, tracking their progress with great success. He’s a busy man and never bothers with Girl Scouts, Little League, or homework with his two children.
Maiya maintains her figure with aerobics classes. She wears pink leg warmers and the right tennis shoes. She plays bridge on Monday at the Country Club. Every Tuesday, she meets girlfriends for lunch. Friday is nails day. The days in between are open. Maiya expects her subjects to glow in her presence. She leaves the driving of children to the nanny or the full time housekeeper. Often as an infant, they leave Seth to cry for a long stretches of time while Lorena, the nanny, watches I Love Lucy on television because she adores Desi. The doctor thinks this is good because picking up a baby spoils them to whine more.
In the afternoon, Lorena lays the baby on his tummy to nap in the downstairs port-a-crib. Then she locks down the net that covers the crib to keep the industrious little escape artist from climbing out. Lorena calls him mono or monkey child in her slang Spanish. She closes the sliding pocket door.
As instructed, the nanny busies herself with washing the bottles, but she skips the step of sterilizing the bottles by boiling that the pediatrician orders. The nanny washes them in soapy water and lets the baby bottles air dry in the pot with a rack for boiling. This gives the appearance of doing what they told her to do.
The child’s cries sound more urgent and hysterical than usual. His pattern of honks and then wailing grows more dramatic than normal infant fussiness. The babysitter slowly continues her chores. Her feet are swollen and sore from the long walk to the bus stop.
Then a soft whimpering with staccato bursts irritates the nanny. She checks on baby Seth, thinking that perhaps the schnauzer had made his way in through the pocket doors and teases him. There, she’s astounded to find the baby’s head lodged through the bars of the crib and his weak neck hanging like a piece of red licorice with a swollen softball, unmoving. The wooden spindles of the crib are just wide enough for the infant’s soft skull to push through the opening. The baby isn’t strong enough to lift and retract his head. She lifts the baby’s face from the outside of the crib. His neck has given up struggling. The tendons in his collar are limp. He appears lifeless.
The woman begins screaming in Spanish. With some unearthly strength, she turns one of the wooden slats with her left hand to allow a quarter inch more space to slide the child’s soft cranium back through the opening with her right hand and push his skull back onto the mattress. Her screaming and the jolting of the tiny child somehow shock the infant to gasp for a breath of air.
She holds him close to her chest. “Sorry, miho, I did not come sooner.”
Kissing him numerous times, she says, “Oh, Dios mío! Gracias a Dios estás vivo. Forgive my lazy.”
The child nuzzles her chest. She brushes his hair into one curl, a gesture he recalls and his body calms from trembling. He wiggles as if to nurse.
In the day that follows, the McGraths fail to notice the tiny lavender capillaries on the chubby neck. The newborn also has a dent in his cranium from lack of fluids and the sobbing. As soon as he rehydrates, the indentation fills in an hour. In two days, the stained branches fade from the skin to the color of a yellowed confederate uniform.
Lorena takes green papaya and blends it in the Osterizer with boiled sugar. Seth spits out the stringy texture. She buys more papayas and comes upon a method of juicing them. The extract is added to his powdered formula as a substitute for water.
“Come on, little baby, the papaya helps heal up bruises real fast. That’s a good boy, drink it.”
“We’re going out for a long walk today, Seth.” Lorena keeps him away from the parents for a day and a half with minor distractions. She wipes her forehead with her sleeve and dots the beads of sweat around her nose. “Forgive me, little one.”
She makes up a witchcraft story to Maiya who is susceptible. “Do not tell the doctor about the bruises from the devil, Maiya. I know how to get rid of the demon.”
“I didn’t see any bruises, Lorena.”
“Well, just in case. We need to burn some sage in the house. I will take the baby to see if we can find some growing wild.”
“My husband won’t be home tonight, Lorena, and I have plans with my friends. Why don’t you keep the baby in your room?”
“Should I bring the port-a-crib into my room?” Lorena asks.
“Yes, then I can sleep in the morning.”
The nanny is more diligent in her charge. She looks both ways in everything she does. Then again, she checks twice when she takes the baby for walks in the stroller. She actually buckles him into the stroller with the canvas strap, which she never before used. She feeds him on an exact schedule. Every two hours a buzzer is ringing. One tone is to prepare the next formula. Another is to remind her to sterilize. She uses an electric alarm clock, the buzzer over the oven for timing baking, and a chalkboard to record her care of Seth.
The stress of making another possible error overcomes her in the middle of the night. Lorena tiptoes into his bedroom to make certain the little prince is breathing.
“Good baby.” She pats his back with a cupped rhythm.
She looks into his face with a careful inspection as she changes his diaper. Something is different about the two eyes. Baby Seth has cobalt blue eyes. One is slightly different from the other. The nanny holds the eyelid up. When she holds up the eyebrow with her fingers, the fold of skin of the right eyelid balances with the left lid.
“See, honey, now you are handsome. Maybe we need to tape the eye up at night to make your eyelids match. Don’t tell anyone.”
He responds to her voice.
“See how smart you are.”
To overcome her anxiety, the nanny weaves a story about the infant’s prenatal care.
“Maiya, the baby needs the old country herbs to grow. Someone has put a spell on him. Look at his evil eye.”
“He’s an ugly thing,” Maiya says. “Yes, I see one eyelid is droopier.”
The nanny begins burning sage under the crib. She gathers violet, thyme, and ginger root. She places them in a glass bowl to dry in a sunny window.
She adds some marbles to create magic. She tells Mrs. McGrath, “We need to attract the light.”
The next day she pounds them with a wooden spoon “to balance the heat.” Then Lorena grinds them with a pestle. The friction binds the fiery catalyst. Maiya watches all the silly procedures with religious belief. The poultice is rubbed on the baby’s neck to hurry the healing.
Lorena tells enchanting fabrications. “There was an older twin and Seth’s umbilical cord became wrapped around Richard’s neck during delivery,” the nanny utters to Maiya, granting her the cache of a secret.
“What are you talking about, Lorena?”
“Oh yes, they will all lie to you because they feel you can’t handle the truth. But I am your real friend. I reveal this story only to you.”
“Even my husband? Don’t tell him?”
“Yes, he loves you and told them to lie to you, Maiya.”
“Yes, you know your husband can’t be trusted. This story is gruesome, are you ready, Maiya?”
“I must know, Lorena.”
“I believe baby Seth as a seed in the womb strangled his brother in some jealous uncontrolled urge. Your husband, the doctor, named the murdered unborn Richard.” Lorena makes up a wild story while Maiya’s eyes are motionless.
It is like a fairy tale that Lorena uses the twin to make herself powerful and useful. Maiya’s vivid dreams relive a past that never occurred. The frightening story seems to distance Maiya even further from reality. She spends days writing the twin’s possible names in ring binders. Her handwriting is illegible.
“I want to rename the twin and have a funeral. Do you think Seth remembers?” Maiya loses herself in a belief of clairvoyance and mystical spirits. The nanny encourages with foxglove and frangipani teas (both being poisonous). Lorena believes she controls ancient Egyptian magic.
“Nightshade is slipped into my tea by my husband. See the tea leaves are telling me their sorrows,” Maiya tells Lorena.
Alarmed at his wife’s distress, the doctor prescribes her something to stop her increasing anxiety. “I’m your husband. I would do no such thing, darling. Honey, take this to the pharmacy tomorrow. After sixty days it’ll build up and you’ll feel much better.”
The next month he hands her another script. “Take this one as well.”
“No, really, see the tiny purple flowers in the bottom of my teacup.” She shows him the flakes in the bottom of the porcelain.
“There’s nothing there, Maiya.”
“What else can I combine to encourage the protection of the angels?” Maiya says to the ceiling.
The nanny ties two twigs together with red thread to form a solar cross. She creates a symbol.
“I’m making more protection for you and for the baby.” Lorena mounts the crosses in various rooms.
“Can you give me something for my stretch marks?” Maiya asks the nanny.
“Use this bee balm and vitamin C crystal cream I made. Rub a bit on every night.”
“Oh, that’s great.” The mother will be in Lorena’s confidence after she notices the stretch marks disappear.
Maiya looks at her reflection in the rimmed mirror with her lit Virginia Slims cigarette forgotten on the vanity.
Lorena exercises the baby’s legs every day. Lorena slowly moves his thighs in a kicking motion.
“Come on, practice swimming with me; help me make your legs strong.”
He puts up resistance. She notices Seth now spasms only once every thirty minutes. His real mother never holds him more than two minutes because his fussiness tires her. Lorena lifts his arms and allows the infant to put pressure on her fingers. At first, he’s cranky and irritable about the new routine. After two weeks of leg lifts and arm curls, the little man giggles. The baby gains strength and coordination from the exercise. She can tell he desires to beat her in some competition. Seth smiles at Lorena in adoration.
Lorena experiences the smell of infant burps from a distance while Mommy flops the treasured child about. This causes a fury in the house. The nanny suffers jealously of his real mother’s existence. She sees the obsessive woman as weak and pallid.
“Mr. Seth, this will be our confidence,” the nanny whispers to the babe her in arms, “you are going to grow up strong. You are now my baby.”
William McGrath and “The Mrs. Doctor,” as William describes Maiya, believe “children should be raised by professionals.”
Seth speaks a first sentence at age two. “I’m a yucky boy.”
Everyone laughs. Lorena’s English isn’t good enough to understand the joke that Seth speaks with a little lisp dropping his L sound and making him say he’s icky negative rather than fortunate. The parents fail to correct the boy, finding the undersized child rather toy-like.
Maiya also begins calling him “my little monkey” for his climbing agility, body type, and lisp.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wings of Freedom by Ratan Kaul: Interview & Excerpt

A cross-cultural romance set during the fury of British imperialism and the social-cultural divide in early twentieth-century turbulent British India.

It’s the year 1911. King George the Fifth is due in Delhi for his coronation celebration. A devastating fire in the royal camp gives rise to speculations of sabotage and an assassination attempt by the Indian revolutionaries. Will the British police be able to unveil real cause of the blaze?

Raju, a college student, struggling to establish his identity in the charged atmosphere of India’s freedom struggle is caught up in the vortex of violent passions as two of his innocent friends are made scapegoats for the blaze by the British police and murdered. Thus begins Raju’s relentless journey against colonial rule and the economic exploitation of India.

A passionate romance with Eileen, the daughter of a British officer, keeps Raju inspired in their roller-coaster ride against the backdrop of British imperialism, turbulent political conflicts, the fury of the freedom revolution, the catastrophic first World War and the racial, cultural and social divisions in the post-Edwardian era.


The book has moved on to the second round of 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Tell us about your current release.

Wings of Freedom, released recently as a kindle book on Amazon, is a historical romance novel. It depicts a passionate cross-cultural romance defying the fury of intense political, cultural and social divide in turbulent British India. The story is accentuated by the backdrop of coronation celebration of King George V amid speculation of sabotage, freedom revolution swirling furiously in the country and the ravages of World War I.

I’m taking the liberty to give an excerpt below from a review on Amazon that aptly sums up the features of this novel:

 Any readers of historical romance will really love this novel. Kaul has created a wonderful story dealing with amazing fictional characters during the British occupation of India in during the early 1900s. It's a story of forbidden love, society ideals, betrayal, and danger.”

   Kaul is a fabulous writer, engrossing the reader in his story as the beautiful descriptions, the gripping action, and the sweeping romance all come together to create a wonderful novel that I couldn't put down. I am not usually a reader of historical novels, yet Kaul's historical fiction is fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone.”

        Tell us about a favorite character from your book.

Eileen, the female protagonist in the novel, is my favorite. Looking at her, you’d think of her as a sweet, beautiful, bubbly woman on the threshold of adulthood.  But inside, she is intensely emotional and sensitive, suffering the plight of a motherless child that is accentuated by her being trapped between the powerful currents of her British parentage and her love for India, where she was born and brought up.

She is an effervescent child till she loses her mother at the age of ten. That transforms her and makes her a kind of recluse, craving for a shoulder on which she could rest her head, cry and shed her grief. Because of these inner conflicts she also gets recurrent, mysterious dreams of boating in the River Jumna flowing close to her house, with a call from some supernatural source. Her personality continues to remain suppressed till she meets Raju, the male protagonist and then their romance, maturing from a subtle to a passionate level with rendezvouses on boats and in old castles and monuments frees her from her shackles resulting in the  culmination of her ‘predictive dreaming’ episodes. This also makes her a determined woman, ready to defy the political and social order in the colonial India.

It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that at times I became sentimental while writing her character.

        Who is your favorite author?

The name of Mary Margaret Kaye comes at the top. In fact, I’ve been inspired by her novels, most prominent out of them being The Far Pavilions, which depicts the story of a passionate but dangerous cross cultural love between an Englishman and an Indian princess.

           As you’d know The Far Pavilions, which was published in 1978, sold millions of copies and inspired a popular television adaptation as well as a musical play. 

           However, my novel, Wings of Freedom, has a vital distinction as it’s written from an Indian’s point of view, and reflects the aspirations of the Indian masses during the turbulent colonial period. Moreover, with the Indian authorship, it depicts appropriately the locales, language, dresses, social customs and flavor of the Indian society as it existed a hundred years ago.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it? 

Here’s a passage that I intentionally put in the prologue to give the readers a feel of the setting,  period of the novel,  intense political and social conflicts during the colonial rule and the hint of a budding romance.  

             “His eyes flickered away to the rear of the lobby, which opened onto the beach.   Restlessly, he got up and walked out the door toward the stone steps descending to the water’s edge.  Stepping down, he gazed at the enormity of the Arabian Sea and its turbulent waves, frothing as they lashed at the large stone boulders skirting the retaining wall.
              The waves gradually coalesced in his mind to a collage of images: meetings with Eileen over the last five years, the love she had for India, her culture, her traditions, her language and him.
              Raj’s mind raced, reliving the intensity, the sublimity of their love, which transcended the barriers of race, religion and society in tumultuous times--when many countries were in the grip of British colonial rule and when India was struggling for her freedom.  He gazed back to December of 1911 when he--then fondly called Raju--felt the caressing touch of the hand of a bubbly English girl of eighteen during the coronation celebrations of King George the Fifth near the Red Fort in Delhi.”

 Does your novel cover mostly the events in India or does it have a shade of what was happening in other parts of the world in the early twentieth century?
Besides interweaving the fiction with threads of important historical events in India, the novel has the back drop of World War I, tracing the events prior to the great war-- the Balkan War and the assassination of Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo-- Britain joining the war, the ravages of trench warfare in Belgium and other war theatres in severe winters, where inexperienced recruits from the colonies were deployed in forward positions.
The social and political conflicts prevailing in England in the pre–war period, particularly the women’s suffrage movement and the rise of trade unionism, too find a place in the novel. 

       Where did you do research for this book?

 The first draft stage took me to government archives, museums and libraries as also the cyberspace, browsing for archival documents, particularly the early twentieth century editions of New York Times, Illustrated London News and Reuters.

  This was later supplemented by visits to the monuments, heritage sites, buildings and memorials constructed during colonial India as also actual locales in the novels to provide an authentic flavor of culture and traditions as they existed in early twentieth century.

           Do you have a Website or Blog?

           Yes. I’d be glad if the readers visit these sites and post their comments. 




Some Excerpts from the novel

1. William Smith’s office was enveloped in the fragrance of gladioli and chrysanthemums from the flower bed near the window. It mingled with the smoke of a lighted cigarette that was burning slowly on a groove in a crystal glass ashtray on the desk. But in his anguished state, Smith was oblivious to both.
A year ago, Smith had been appointed to the secretariat of “Coronation Durbar Committee” and his office was relocated to a spacious building in Civil Lines, the area exclusively reserved for the British. The Union Jack fluttering on top of the stately red-bricked building and a framed photograph of King George in the high-ceilinged room added a royal aura.
In such a setting, Smith should normally have been cheerful, but instead, he paced up and down the room with frown lines on his forehead and a sagging jaw. The reason was the blaze in the camp that took over a day to bring under control. He was aware that the Viceroy in Calcutta and the Secretary of State in London wouldn’t tolerate any mistakes, large or small, in the organization of that history-making event. He was in that restless, agitated state when the door to his office burst open and his clerk, Gopal, entered. “Excuse me, sir. There’s a cable from the Viceroy’s office,” said Gopal, standing at attention.”
William read the cable: “RE: PREVIOUS CABLE. POSTPONE ENQUIRY. INCREASE TROOPS. DEPLOY MORE FIRE TENDERS.” He hastily folded the paper and thrust it in his pocket without a change in his expression, as he’d made it a habit not to betray his reactions before a native.
“Gopal, get me all the files of construction projects…fast, and I’m not to be disturbed for one hour,”he said, snapping his fingers loudly--enough of a signal for Gopal to withdraw hastily to his own office.
These inefficient natives must be put in their place, Smith thought, twirling his thick brown bushy mustache. Now, he needed to put control of all the arrangements in the hands of British officers and rework the security and safety schedule.
2.              When Eileen woke the next morning, Mrs. Lawrence, the matronly caretaker in Fraser household, was at her bedside. The phonograph, with the brass horn and amber wooden case, at other end of the room was playing Eileen’s favorite romantic melody, “Briggs Fair.”  Mrs. Lawrence generally used such ploys to wake her up gently.
                “Good morning, my child,” Mrs. Lawrence said, pressing her lips softly on Eileen’s forehead. “I’ve been trying to wake you for the last half an hour…. having a dream?” Her tone held a blend of affection and admonition.
                “Yes, Mrs. Lawrence. A strange dream,” said Eileen, still groggy with sleep.
                Mrs. Lawrence lifted the metal arm with the needle on the phonograph.  As the music stopped, she pulled a chair close to Eileen’s bed.  “Tell me dear, what did you see?”
                Eileen rubbed her eyes and sat up. “I was on the bank of a river. It was dawn and the sky was flecked with patches of clouds having various shades--purple, orange-red, silver-gray--and at some places blending with each other. Impulsively, I jumped into a boat docked there and it started moving toward the opposite bank.”
               “Oh, did it scare you?”
                Eileen’s face brightened. “No, I enjoyed it. When the boat rocked with the waves, water splashed on my face and hair. On reaching the other bank, I found myself in the midst of lots of trees with beautiful blossoms. As I moved ahead, I heard distant notes of a flute, which made me tap my feet and then dance with ecstasy to the tune.  I felt I had wings and I was flying. That’s when I woke up.”
                    She straightened her nightdress and moved to the window. Putting her elbows on the sill and cupping her face with her hands, she looked out. The Jumna River, which was just across the boulevard facing her house, flowed majestically with its waves reflecting the sun’s rays. Vast stretches of blossoming trees on the opposite bank, their branches rustling in the wind, thrilled her.
  3.               They walked up slowly through the thick growth of trees.  A moist wind blew, carrying a whiff of Kadamba and Mallika flowers, when they spotted a swamp.    
                 “Look at the painted stork and flamingoes! What a lovely sight,” Eileen said.
                 “These birds have migrated from Siberia and …” Raju began.
                 Eileen heard his description of the migratory birds, but her mind was elsewhere; she was looking curiously at two rosy pelicans with pouches under their bills, extending their necks in a mating dance.
                 The sky gradually became overcast, and thunder and lightning popped up. Raju started climbing a hill. “Why are you going up?” she asked. “This weather could be dangerous.”
                 Raju smiled. “I want to have a look at the river from the top.”
                 Eileen was resting on a stone slab and didn’t move. “No, I’m tired…and I’m happy sitting here, watching the birds.”
                 Raju went up anyway, and soon reached a plateau at the top. “Eileen!” he shouted.
                 Eileen looked up. Raju was silhouetted against the setting sun. Suddenly, she imagined the scene to be the last part of her dream, which had always been hazy. The thought put her in a trance. Involuntarily, she got up and started climbing, step by step. She paused, trying to fathom what was happening to her.  But the call was there…the call from the unknown.
                  In a few moments, she again heard, “Eileen!” resonating from the top. She started again as if she were sleepwalking, feeling a subtle blend of consciousness and sub-consciousness, till she reached the plateau. She realized the time for the culmination of her dream had come.
                 She stood there with her eyes fixed on Raju. It began to rain and a gust of wind snapped at the end of her saree, sliding it down. Unmindful of her drenched blouse, she advanced further toward Raju, who also had his shirt soaked with rain. Their fingers touched, hands slid to arms, and then her heaving, wet bosom brushed against Raju’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and she clasped his back, digging her fingers into his ribs, looking him in the face. 
                 Her wet lips trembled, and then she felt his lips brushing hers. She closed her eyes and allowed her lips to part. As she felt the tentative touch of his warm tongue, warmth spread in her body. For a few moments, the world came to a standstill. The only sounds were the rumbles from the overcast sky.
                  A few moments later, she loosened her clasp and moved back a step.  She felt all her stress drift away, though her heart still pounded. 
                 “Raju, at last I feel freed from the dream that’s kept me captive for so many years,” she said, fumbling with her saree drape and wrapping it around her again.
                  Raju stood gazing at her. He reached for her hand and they walked toward a stone slab. They sat there with Eileen’s head resting on Raju’s chest and Raju running his fingers through her hair. They held hands in silence, watching a pair of swans with white plumage making high-pitched, quavering mating calls, while painted storks, black-headed ibis and sarus cranes floated in the air.   
                “It had to happen.” Eileen broke the silence with a whisper.
                “Yes,” Raju said.   He bent his head and kissed the back of her hand, holding his lips there a few moments. Eileen watched him quietly and brought her cheek close to his.                                
                 Soon, Eileen saw the crimson sun dipping down below the horizon and she straightened. The splendid, magical moments had to end. “Time to return now,” she said.
                  All was silent, except the strains of music in her heart, her mind, her body as   she watched Raju rowing the boat under the slender branches overhanging the bank. 

Ratan Kaul is an Indian author living in New Delhi. Though he had a long career in corporate management, he has been an ardent student of history, particularly relating to the British Indian period. He loves writing historical fiction as it gives him an opportunity to delve into the archived historical manuscripts and documents that provide an insight into what transpired back in time.

The serendipitous moment for writing his historical romance novel "Wings of Freedom" came to him when he visited the memorial obelisk at the coronation park in Delhi commemorating the coronation celebrations of the British Emperor King George V in Delhi in 1911. After publishing this novel depicting the cross-cultural romance during British India of early twentieth century, on Amazon, he is now writing a sequel to it.

Besides his interest in reading historical novels and writing fiction in that genre, he is working as a consultant and an arbitrator. He co-authored a book on Arbitration: Procedure and Practice, published by LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa in 2009. He has delivered lectures on arbitration and also contributed papers for seminars.

More information about him can be viewed on his website and he can be reached at email @

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