An interview with author Michael Llewellyn…
When I was a 4th-Grade Student in San Diego, California; my favorite part of the week’s lessons was always the California History segment Miss Wells taught. She told us the story of a tiny, frail priest, who walked from Vera Cruz, Mexico all the way up the coast, reaching eventually the location for his Mission Church which eventually became a line of churches set a day’s march apart along the Camino Real — the Spanish Royal Highway connecting their colony together in a network of commerce and soul-saving. My mental image of Father Junipero Serra as a kindly little padre in his brown Franciscan robes dispensing mercy and goodness to the California Native people, persisted until I began to learn the actual history of the Spanish Conquest of the Southwest including California as an adult.
Almost completely at odds with the carefully curated, vacation-brochure story of the peaceful Missions was the brutal truth. The chain of missions including churches and working ranches and farms were actually sites where monstrous cruelty, slavery, starvation, kidnapping and torture were doled out to the Native parishioners for generations. All carefully overseen or ignored by the Franciscan Friars and priests, including Father Serra. All men of their times, serving Cross and King.
Today, we’re discussing the controversial record of the Missions with author Michael Llewellyn. A gifted writer of meticulously researched historic fiction whose 2014 mystery novel, Communion of Sinners, uncovers this well-hidden past.
Good Morning, Michael. With sainthood almost a fait accompli for Father Serra, your book struck a strong chord with me. I was mostly acquainted with your Historic Novels set in New Orleans before reading this book. What brought you to uncover the truth about a priest so revered he’s called the Father of California?
A: Good morning, Richard, and thank you for asking me to talk about my book, Communion of Sinners. When I first visited the California missions, like most tourists I was seduced by their beauty and charmed by the history, at least how it was presented on-site. When I visited the Carmel Mission, I saw a woman in the courtyard reading a book I hadn’t seen in the gift shop. It was Life in a California Mission, the journal of Jean Francoise De La Peyrouse*, a French explorer who visited Monterey in 1786. The woman said such books were never sold at the missions because they told the truth, not what the Catholic Church wanted visitors to believe. Of course I was intrigued enough to read the book and was horrified by what I found, there and also in Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians by Robert H. Jackson. Both books were eye-openers, real revelations if you will. Instead of more mythologizing about the “child-like Indians and pious padres,” I found a world of oppression and outright cruelty. Rather than coming voluntarily to the missions, the Indians were more often herded there by Spanish soldiers, punished if they resisted forced labor and forbidden to leave. If they escaped, they were re-captured, returned and punished. Father Serra himself said, and I’m quoting here, “That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas.” In 1783, three years after he made that remark, no less than the Governor of California, Pedro Fages, filed a complaint against Serra for excessive punishment of the Indians. Not just punishment, mind you. Excessive punishment! And this is the man the Vatican wants to canonize!
It certainly was a surprise when I heard there was a huge push to complete the process when the new Pope visits. When important decisions that affect millions of people are made without consideration of the direct past, it always seems less like omission and more like subterfuge. But then, I’ve always been an ardent student of history. I understand you grew up in Tennessee, a state with a long and honored past. Did your childhood experiences bring you to write historic subjects or were you drawn to it from another direction?
A: When you grow up in the South, history is omnipresent and, for me anyway, it seemed a natural thing to write about. I was taught from an early age to respect my history, heritage and traditions. I’m old enough to remember a South that has all but disappeared and, while it was deeply flawed by racial segregation, it nevertheless had a magical, indefinable something that burrowed under your skin and stayed there. Harper Lee and Truman Capote captured the Southerner’s childhood best. As far as the Native Americans are concerned, I knew from an early age about the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears ripping them from their homeland in east Tennessee and western North Carolina and sending them to Oklahoma. Their story has been told many times, which is not the case for the Mission Indians. What little voice they had needed to be turned way up and I tried to help with Communion of Sinners. One of my main characters, Javier Chamales, is a modern-day Chumash with links taking the reader from contemporary Santa Cruz to the past when the missions held sway.
The Catholic Church has recently made attempts through Papal decrees, to distance themselves from their own past. I remember an apology made to many indigenous Nations of South America and the Caribbean for excesses and cruelty committed in the process of bringing the Word of God to them. Did writing Communion of Sinners provide a pulpit for you to try and share the truth of the Missions? It has been a seriously controversial subject in California for many years, I understand.
A: I’m not sure I like the word “pulpit” because I don’t want to sound preachy. But, yes, it’s high time the truth about the missions is told. It’s the responsibility of historical fiction authors, at least those who take our work seriously, to educate and enlighten and not perpetuate myths and hearsay. Father Serra and his ilk presented a serious challenge because it’s so very difficult to wrap our 21st century mindsets around 18th century behavior. Here’s what I wrote in my Author’s Notes for Communion of Sinners. “I believe most Franciscan missionaries were sincere, devoted men and that Serra fought hard to protect his neophytes from the soldiers, but he and his fellow friars were ill-prepared to grasp the radically different world of the Indians or how the imposition of European standards would annihilate the very souls they sought to save. The results were attitudes ranging from avuncular affection to vicious disgust, and there’s no denying the missions were akin to Nazi forced labor camps.” Serra’s punishment hardly emulated the famously gentle and compassionate St. Francis, who founded the Franciscan order. If a California governor and other friars were appalled by his behavior, how could Serra himself be so unaware and unbending? For that matter, how can the Vatican not be aware in 2015? I’m not Catholic so I won’t judge the veracity of Serra’s supposedly miraculous cure for that nun with lupus centuries after his death, but I do find it bemusing that the church has dispensed with the second requisite miracle in order to fast-track Serra to sainthood. If the Vatican is really so desperate for saints, can’t they do better than this guy?
I sure hope so. Hypocrisy doesn’t go very well with faith. I grew up all over the Western States and always had a deep interest in American Indian culture. It seems the arts, traditions and stories of many of the indigenous cultures are taught and explored in literature really frequently, but that there is very little out there about the California Native cultures. I’ve learned that there was more diversity of culture and tradition in California than in any other Mainland region. Is there a reason or reasons why their stories and traditions have been so neglected?
A: That remains a mystery, Richard. I can only speculate that they were eclipsed by more famous tribes because they weren’t as glamorous or sexy. Most everyone knows about Pueblo pottery and Tlingit totem poles and Sioux beadwork, about Geronimo and Sitting Bull and Wounded Knee. What history and culture the Mission Indians had was pretty quickly erased by the Spanish and the padres, and California school children, as you say, were taught only what the State and the Catholics deemed appropriate. What monstrous conceit! I should mention here that the Indians were themselves almost erased by Mission rule. In that period, 1769-1832, the population plummeted from 130,000 to 73,000. Many deaths came from European diseases the Indians could not fight, but plenty died of starvation, neglect and brutality.
It’s incredible to think that in its day, that kind of destruction and death were just accepted as inevitable things that occurred with Colonialism and swept under the carpet. At the very least least today we can acknowledge the truth and its lingering effects all these years later and try to do the right thing for those victim’s descendants who still survive.
You’ve been a very prolific author, with some seventeen titles available. I’ve read a few of your other books and have seen one common thread is a fascination with the interplay of diverse cultures. You’ve lived in a few places where this is very evident, haven’t you? We even share a couple of them.
A: I’ve been fortunate to live in Greenwich Village, the French Quarter and Santa Fe, all of which boast overlapping cultures. My favorite is New Orleans with its exotic French/Spanish/African roots, later watered by English, Irish, Italian, German and, after Katrina, Mexican arrivals. This polyglot mix is reflected in the food and music which is, happily, ever-evolving and makes living there a real pleasure. In 1967, I was lucky enough to live in the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, but believe me that’s another story.
Upper West Side of NYC for me, but I really understand the overlaps. They sure keep your mind working. Have you found that spending time in a place where a project is set helps the writing? I know my own experiences out on the road and as a newcomer in many places has influenced my own work a great deal.
A: Absolutely. New Orleans is again the best example. I set several books there because the history is almost palpable. Once during carnival season I was standing on my 1833 French Quarter gallery in a twilight fog so dense I could barely see across the street. While listening to the riverboats, carriage harnesses and hooves, and cathedral bells, I saw a group of revelers dressed in hooded capes, swirling through the fog down below. I realized everything I saw and heard belonged to another century, as did the buildings around me. That, of course was the perfect location and inspiration for my first time travel book, Still Time.
Your most recent novel Past Time, is the second in a Time-Travel historic series. It places your characters in the Winter Court of the Romanovs in Saint Petersburg just before the revolution. What specifically brought your interest to bear on a subject that has intrigued writers for so long?
A: Some places in time simply speak to you. Venice in the 16th century, Tudor London and Paris in the twenties come to mind. I’d always had an interest in the Romanovs and will never forget seeing the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. It trumped any excess I’d ever seen and drove me to learn more about the Romanovs. When I read about Marie Pavlovna, the feisty and fiery Grand Duchess who dared tell the Russian parliament that she wanted the Tsarina Alexandra annihilated, I wanted my time traveling heroine, Madeleine, to meet her. Their encounter is what drives the plot of Past Time.
As one of your loyal readers, I’m always wondering where you’ll take us next. Any clues as to a project currently in the works?
A: Sure. The third book, Over Time, catapults Madeleine to Haiti in 1820 where she meets the black King Henry I and his Queen Marie-Louise. She also meets the Duke of Marmelade and, no, I did not make that up. There’s a reason for that old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
That it is. I’ll be looking forward to news of its release. Thanks Michael, for your insights on the truth of the California Missions. I hope the truth is considered before the Pope makes his final decision and shows the California Mission Indians the respect they have so long deserved.
I’m glad to introduce my readers to Michael Llewellyn’s work. I’ve read many of them and always found myself absorbed and carried along on a great story line with real fleshed-out characters I care about. They’ve also made my brain work a bit and I always leave them with questions and ideas spinning out from that point. For more information about the writer and his work, be sure to visit his
Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelKLlewellyn
Amazon Author Page at http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Llewellyn/e/B000APJFP6
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*Jean Francoise De La Peyrouse biographical information is available on the French Language Wikipedia which you can translate by pasting the url into Google Translate. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_de_La_P%C3%A9rouse
September 23, 2015 Canonization Update from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/09/23/pope-francis-will-make-junipero-serra-a-saint-during-a-historic-canonization-today/
September 11, 2001 changed the world. Even in tiny hamlets miles away, the moment was felt intensely. For some, who suffered personal loss, grief has become part of their everyday lives. For others, an abiding sense of duty remains. This is a story I wrote some months afterwards that concerns one small village on Long Island and how one long-tern resident was affected.
By Richard Sutton
©2015, All Rights Reserved by the Author
At least he had time to get a drink. The sun was sending shadows across the sidewalks by the time he’d crawled out of the sack, but it was still bright enough to make him blink a few times. Karl’s eyes weren’t any good anymore. He rubbed the small of his back, which still ached from too much time in bed as he shuffled across the road and started down towards Main Street.
The bar would still be quiet, this early. He smiled at a young mother and her little girl – too big for the stroller. “Good afternoon,” he said in his best public voice. She gave him a sideways glance and hurried past without a reply. He checked his fly. OK, this time.
He slowly passed several storefronts. A few of them still let him inside. Up ahead, one of the merchants he knew was sitting on the bench by the door to his shop. Karl steered himself in that direction. “Good afternoon, Mr. James.”
“Good afternoon, Karl,” replied the shopkeeper, his head buried in some papers on his lap. He glanced up.
“How’s your day going?”
“Well,” began Karl, “not too well, I’m afraid… I seem to have lost my wallet again.”
Mr. James drew his lips down a bit, looking up into Karl’s bleary eyes. “How much do you need?”
“Forty dollars should do it until I can contact my attorney. Of course, I’ll return the funds as soon as possible.” Karl began staring at the wooden porch floor as the shopkeeper rose. He left Karl standing there, blinking while he went inside the store. It took him only a few moments, but he returned, extending his hand.
“Here’s a twenty. It’s all I can afford, Karl,” adding, “It’s the last time. Don’t ask me again.”
Karl lightly slipped the protruding bill from between the shopkeeper’s fingers, repeating himself as he turned, “I’ll return the funds as soon as possible.”
The shop keeper sat down and watched Karl shuffle off down the street toward his regular afternoon destination, the dark little bar stuffed into the side room of one of the local restaurants. He shook his head, thinking about whether it had been a good idea to cut Karl off. He remembered when Karl had actually been a regular customer, but even then, the decline was easy to see. The money was still there, though, from what he’d heard. He shuffled the invoices in his lap, stood and went inside to figure out where the money was going to come from to pay them.
Karl almost bumped into the delivery man bringing a load of liquor into the restaurant on his hand truck. Karl apologized, saying, “I’m terribly sorry.” He got a sneer and a grunt from the guy. Karl then stood there, looking at the door for a few moments, nervously fingering the twenty. Karl knew that just a few doors further down, another merchant would probably give him another twenty, but… it was getting late. He didn’t want to be sitting in the bar when the dinner guests came through the door. They would stare at him, and eventually someone seated at a nearby table would say something and he’d be ushered out. He didn’t want that to happen, so he went inside, carefully looking around the dining room to make sure it was unoccupied before finding the furthest stool, against the far wall in the cubicle where the bar was.
“Hey there, Karl,” said the bartender, unloading shiny bottles from boxes on the floor. “I’ll be right with you.”
“What’ll it be today?” The bartender waited while Karl went through the regular charade.
“Well, let me see… my throat is a bit dry… maybe I’ll have a glass of sherry… no, make it an Old-Fashioned. Just one.”
“Coming right up” replied the bartender, already dropping the cherry to the squat, brown drink. Karl, he knew from daily experience. From the six years he’d worked behind that bar he knew that there would be two more drinks, then the money would be gone. He didn’t expect a tip this time as Karl was looking particularly ratty today. Probably hadn’t showered in a few days. Karl used to tip him pretty well, around the first of each month when the Trust put funds into Karl’s bank account. By the third week, no more tips and only three drinks. But at least he could cut him some slack. He’d heard the old guy was some kind of war hero, back in the day.
Later, Karl rose from his stool slowly, his hands braced on the bar to steady himself, pushing back the stool with one foot. He turned towards the door, and shuffled out as the bartender gave him a quiet nod. A couple with children was being seated in the far corner and it was time to leave. He’d been sucking the ice for a while, anyway. He smiled vaguely in their direction before pushing the door open and heading back along Main Street.
“Smelled something awful, didn’t he?” The restaurant owner said to the bartender, adding, “You can always toss him out. Don’t worry about it. His family doesn’t have any clout left around here. He scares the customers away.”
“Sometimes,” replied the bartender, polishing a glass. “But, he wasn’t any trouble, and I never have any other customers that early.”
“Well, just so you know I’ve got no problem with you tossing him.”
Karl wore a slight smile all the way back along Main Street, it was getting dark by the time he made it back to his weed-blown driveway. The oyster shells crunched under his feet. He made it back to the barn, through what had once been a port cochere. Its last paint peeled and sloughed off many years before. Just inside the door, Karl felt for the long handle of a push-broom which he pulled out, trudging back down the driveway towards Main Street, the broom clutched tightly in his hand and tucked under an arm. His other arm extended slightly away from his body for balance.
Karl stopped at the side door sillcock, drinking from the ancient, cracked hose lying along the foundation. He set the broom against the bare clapboard siding and splashed water into his face from the hose, rubbing it across his balding head, so he could tuck the wild hair behind his ears and it would stay long enough to get him on the bus. He ran his finger across his teeth and gums, then took another drink, swirled it around then spat it out.
Karl’s personal hygiene for the day complete, he picked up the broom and headed towards the bus stop. He got there just as the street lights clicked on, and sat down on the aluminum bench slats.
Bill wiped his eyes. It had been a long shift, but it was almost over, just a few more runs. From the back of the bus he heard a conversation in muffled tones from the remaining two fares. Up ahead he thought he saw… yep, it was the old guy with the broom. He almost thought he’d pass him tonight, remembering how bad he stunk the last time he threw him off. He swung the big wheel over and the bus slid up to its stop. Bill hoped Karl had the fare. He wouldn’t mind letting him ride free in this direction, but there were other fares in the back.
Karl slowly climbed the steps. “Good evening.” He said to the driver. Bill just nodded and clicked the fare-box open as Karl rummaged through his pockets. A couple of coins clinked. Bill nodded as Karl dropped them into the slot. Three quarters and a dime. Short by almost half, but Bill didn’t mind as long as the sound of a fare falling could be heard in the back. Karl thanked him and took a seat a few rows back. Bill pulled away shaking his head over the smell Karl left in his wake.
When they got to the last stop, at the LIRR rail, Karl rose and turned to the couple in the back, saying “Good evening,” then repeated it to the driver as he passed him, the long broom banging against the cage as he slowly climbed down the steps to the pavement. The couple slid out, probably on their way to the city for a show, thought the driver. He closed the door and watched as the old guy shuffled off towards an empty spot in the parking lot. The driver had seen him take that broom to the same spot, almost every night, for as long as he could remember, whether there was a car parked there or not. He’s an odd old bird, thought Bill as he shifted into gear and left the curb.
From inside the station house, the night shift ticket clerk watched an old man sweep one parking space clean, then move on to a different space, not the next one, but one just out of sight. He knew he’d see him earlier, a few rows back. He sweep a few spots, then he’d go on to a few more. He sipped his coffee, wondering about what kind of crazy could make you do that, night after night. He’d even asked the security agent that patrolled the lot a couple of years before.
“That’s old Karl,” the rent-a-cop told him, “he comes from local money. He told me once that he felt someone had to take care of it, so I let him sweep. He’s harmless.”
“Why do they let him go around looking like that, the station clerk asked, “he looks like a derelict.”
“There’s no one left here, they all moved away. He used to dress better and such, but I guess he’s got no one to look after him now. I hear the money’s still there, though.”
Karl came back into view, under one of the security lights carefully sweeping around a parked car. The clerk thought about how careful he was not to touch any cars, but he would sweep all around them, then move on to the next space and sweep it, whether it was occupied or not. Money or not, the old guy was clearly nuts. Really nuts, he recalled, thinking of the last winter. The outer door swung open and another young couple came up to his window.
“Hey, what up with the old loon and the broom?” the young man asked the clerk after paying for two off-peak round trips. “He almost knocked that broom up against our new BMW.”
“He really stinks.” The young woman added, “Creepy.”
The clerk nodded, replying, “He’s been sweeping the same parking spaces since late September of 2001. He’s harmless, and I’ve never seen him touch a car. He’s no threat to anyone”
“Well, that’s a relief,” said the young man looking at his watch. “So he’s nuts or something?”
“I guess so,” replied the clerk, hoping they’d just go sit down to wait.
“Why the same spaces?”
The clerk almost rolled his eyes. He’d told this story a few times every single week for years, now. “Well, from what we can figure out, those are the parking spaces that remained occupied for a couple of weeks after the Trade Center attack on 9/11. After they towed the cars off, the old guy shows up and starts sweeping up where the cars had been. He’s been doing it ever since, too. Even in the snow.”
Really? All winter?” The young woman’s eyes grew round. “Did he know someone that died?”
“I don’t know,” said the clerk, “but you could ask him. He’ll be sweeping a spot right next to the platform in a few minutes, before the train gets here.”
The young woman just shivered and said, “I don’t think so.” Looking up at her boyfriend, for accord. He nodded, saying, “we’ll just stay inside.”
They took a seat near the platform door, and sure enough, in five minutes, Karl was outside, sweeping the last space before the bus returned to take him home. He swept it top to bottom, then side to side. When he was finished there wasn’t even a grain of sand lying on the pavement where a car had stood almost two weeks before it was towed. Karl walked to the station door and opened it, putting his head inside and saying toward the ticket window, “All finished. Good evening.” He returned to the outside bench where the bus would pull up in a few minutes.
He reached into both trousers pockets but came up empty. His jacket pockets were empty as well. He stretched out his hands and two fingers on the left hand still carried nice signet rings set with stones. One was turquoise and one was lapis lazuli, its deep blue surface reflecting the security lights in the parking lot. He pulled this one off the finger with some difficulty to offer it to the driver instead of a fare, if the driver would be so kind as to accept it.
The screech of the train wheels braking woke Karl as the headlight beams from the bus brushed across his form, slumped on the bench. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and pulled himself to his feet, the ring held tightly in one hand. Bill wouldn’t take it, covering the far box slot with his hand, so Karl slid it back on. He got off at his regular stop and crossed the street looking after the bus. He’s a gentleman, that driver, Karl thought as he crossed the street, a real gentleman.
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Drawing: This is one of the images from a folio of drawings of the Twin Towers during their construction. It contained several artist views of the phases of construction of the towers from various vantage points nearby. The small, ornate church and cemetery in the foreground survived with no damage at all, despite its proximity.
There is so much philosophical discussion around the idea that we are different from animals. Religious doctrine is often supported with a creation story that shows a definite break-out when it came to our ancient forebears. Somehow, say the writs, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth had something special in mind when it came to humans.
At least in most “civilized”, Western European traditions, we are not supposed to relate to the rest of living things as respected relations, but rather as chattal. Of course, I admit that I don’t feel that way at all and I also don’t pretend to understand the intention of any Creator. But as close as we are to all life, physically and even mentally, to the higher organisms (who made that distinction, anyway?), we do have one aspect of our lives on this planet that is decidedly different than most other mammals. As far as I know, we are the only storytellers.
We are the storytelling species, the organism whose memory and consciousness can be assembled into narrative that will be understood by others over time. A good story, as we all know, outlasts almost all of the damage that time can inflict on living things. many stories that are still retold in all kinds of variable forms, have been around for thousands of years. Sometimes the actual historic individual that originated a story is remembered as part of the tale, but in most cases, the origin has been lost and the story absorbed into a common, human collective memory. Shared by all who walk on two legs, or at least most humans.
The trick, for a storyteller to weave such tales that their stories are considered special, or moving or important, is to get into the listener’s heart where the story can connect with the feelings and memories the story evokes. While a unique take or engaging delivery on an old tale can revitalize its acceptance, there is something about raw honesty that can connect a storyteller across all kinds of subjects and all kinds of listeners. Since as writers, we’re not always handy to tell our stories directly to our listeners, our words need to carry that kind of honesty if they are to make that kind of deep connection. It’s a skill that can only be grown carefully, from the seed. It has to be practiced over and over again. If it’s done properly, it will shine through no matter how we embellish or skew the structure, characters or their behavior. It will shine through no matter the world the stories take place in, real or created. The honesty of experience and feeling is the heart of a story that makes connection. Everything else is the vehicle.
From the time that we blew colored rock pigment upon our hands as they were pressed into the wall of a cave, like the one pictured above, in the Argentine Santa Cruz Mountains, we’ve felt a deep need to make a statement. Tell others that once, we were here. We share moments in our lives and lessons learned with others, who may themselves share those moments and share the lessons. We tell stories. It’s what we do.
“SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b” by Mariano – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
“Immersive, transporting reading with an authentic period voice for a perfect Irish Summer reading destination.”
The O’Deirg Legacy, a bundled Kindle version of the first two books in the series, is now available at a very special regular price: $3.99. From Sepotember 1, for one week, it will begin at only 99 cents for early orders!
It brings together brand new editions of the award winning, beloved books, The Red Gate and The Gatekeepers. These books introduced readers to the O’Deirg and Quinn families of Western Co. Mayo and their struggle to preserve their farm and protect its ancient secrets. It will only be available on Amazon for Kindle. Watch this spot for the update announcement and the date of the launch party. There will be special giveaways also, so sign up to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter, to be sure of the launch notice.
“A beautifully written historical fantasy set in the early years of the 20th century.
I think I love the writing in this book even more than the story. It’s lyrical and descriptive and that alone made this book a joy to read. That being said: I also loved the story. It’s intriguing and suspenseful with very likeable as well as despicable characters. The viewpoint switches from time to time to give you an overall picture of events and I felt myself fuming when seeing things from the viewpoint of one of the characters I didn’t like. All in all Sutton managed to get me totally engrossed in the life of the O’Deirg family (especially Finn, my favourite character) and although the book luckily doesn’t have a cliffhanger ending, I’m curious what’s next for the O’Deirg family and their sheep.”
“In this sequel to the Red Gate author Richard Sutton seamlessly continues the saga of an Irish family charged with keeping an ancient secret.
The O’Dierg’s lives are rich with love and hope but also have their share of tragedy, sacrifice and old family skeletons. Their story of war, cousins arriving from America, strange connections and the old family secret flowed, blending fiction and history nicely. The author’s descriptions in this novel are poetic. I wanted to be there…”
All of Richard Sutton’s books are available from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, Sonybooks, Applebooks and many other booksellers both online and on the street, but the new bundle is exclusive for Amazon and Kindle Readers
A short memoir story…
(c)2015, Richard Sutton All Rights Reserved by the Author
Easter Sunday! We’d decided to take a ride some 40 miles west, into the Jemez Mountains. It was a beautiful, crisp day. Warm enough for a hike. Forty-five minutes later, we drove through the little village of Jemez Springs. Passing the church, we saw carloads of kids in their Sunday Best piled in with their parents, pull out headed in the same direction we were. Gotta expect company on Easter, I said to myself.
We drove past the turnoff towards a series of rail tunnels blasted through the sheer cliffs above Jemez Creek. Now abandoned, they’d been our destination a few times before, but today we were going to visit the Soda Dam, a few more miles ahead. We passed the ruins of the colonial Spanish Mission Church, then the retreat next to the trout stream that the Church hid away for priests afflicted with pederast tendencies. We even saw one of the sisters who provided for the afflicted brothers in her blood red, head-to-toe, burka-like, habit heading down a trail through a pasture.
The road up to the giant caldera nestled in the mountains was never without lots of unusual sights, and up ahead, we saw the one we had decided to visit, surrounded by parked cars and trucks. The Soda Dam is a huge, natural domed outcropping of calcium carbonate which has formed from the volcanic springs nearby over probably millions of years. It rises right next to the highway and climbs some fifty feet into a roughly bread loaf shape which actually crosses the creek. This time of year, the creek runs hard and roars as it passes under the natural dam. Inside, there are lipped pools of heated, mineral rich water and the echo of the roar of the creek flowing beneath your feet is a constant companion. Since it’s a popular spot, we had to wait to climb up and in. That’s when we noticed a bunch of kids in cut-offs and swim-suits jumping and bathing in a roadside trough with steam rising all around. It looked like a party, so we walked over to take a look.
We’d heard of the Jemez Hot Springs, of course. Back in the village, at least one entrepreneur had ages ago, created a resort for soaking in 100 degree water, straight from the Earth’s bounty. The kids in the hot water kept changing out, making sure everyone in each family had a chance to soak their feet at least. When my turn came, I pulled off my shoes and stepped in. The slightly sulphurous smell wasn’t a problem at all. I wished I could have just settled my whole body into those therapeutic waters, but there was just no room. I did overhear someone mentioning they were going up the mountain to the big pool, whatever that meant. They walked off and we followed behind them, getting into our car.
Of course we lost them, but a few miles further up the mountain around a big bend, high above the creek, we saw dozens of cars and trucks parked along the guard rail. Slowing, we found a spot and watched as several families jumped the guardrail in a certain spot and disappeared over the side. Turned out there was a rough path that looked like a game trail. We followed; this time, carrying a basket with some lunch and a couple of towels. Up ahead, once we’d crossed over the creek on a big log, we could hear happy voices up the slope above us. We hurried to find them and climbed up and over a shallow rock lip to a larger pool.
The steam rose in wisps that caught the noon sun while dozens of happy families soaked away their troubles in the stinking, hot water. No room for us. We must have looked disappointed, because one fellow told me, “You could head up further, you know. There’s a couple more pools up the mountain, above that talus slope behind all those trees. It’s hotter, too.” I got as many details as I could from him and he told me to, “Keep the exact location to yourself, once you find it. It stays pretty uncrowded, if you know what I mean.”
He smiled at my wife in a kind of funny way, then started to peel off his pants as he slid down towards the crowded pool. We saw there was a faint track through the pine needles in the general direction he’d told me about, so we took our leave.
An hour later, our canteen getting pretty empty, we neared the top of a partial ridge. We’d climbed over a slope of loose talus rubble, and found another pathway up through the trees and over the numerous limestone hoodoos. Behind us, we could hear the faint voices of children. I guessed it wasn’t as remote as the guy at the lower pool though it was, so we hurried as much as we could to make sure we got a spot to soak.
Finally, up ahead the path rose to a stone lip. Above it floated some plumes of steam and the now familiar sulphurous fragrance floated down to us. We heard no voices, so we climbed up. I started to unbutton my shirt, looking forward to a nice, long soak. My muscles were now crying out in protest from the forced march they’d been subjected to. “Won’t be long now!” I told my wife with a big, toothy grin. “Hope not,” was all she said as she passed me on the last few yards separating us from the glorious hot spring.
She popped up over the pool’s lip above me then returned very quickly to sit down beside the trail on a flat boulder. I gave her a quizzical look and went on up, tossing my shirt over a bush and leaving the basket. My field of vision was obscured until the last few feet. I rose above the pool’s lip at exactly the same time that one of the two, naked bearded men who’d been soaking in the pool rose up out of the water. My eyes were also at the same level of his dripping member. He gave me a big smile and a welcome, nudging his partner to slide over to make more room. I stuck a toe in the water just to be sociable. It was very hot, and the smell was really pronounced. I shook my head and nodded back down the trial towards where my wife sat with a now, sardonic grin on her face. “Thanks anyway,” I told them as I turned to head back downhill. “Suit yerself!” was the cheery departing shout.
A few hundred yards back down the trail towards the lower pool and the highway, we met the two families we’d heard heading up the trail and told them what to expect ahead.
There’s always somebody in that one,” we were told. “It’s just big enough for two, really.” They were going up to the really big pool further up. The children were still wearing their church clothes, dusty street shoes with their towels over their shoulders. Undaunted. Willing to work for their renewal. No matter what obstacles may lie in wait. I found some new respect for the traditional Easter Sunday outing that day. Later, we found the renewal we had sought with two tall cold ones in the privacy of our own back yard. Ahhh, nature!
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There are so many online book discussion and reader interest sites now offering to review an author’s book, that it can get really confusing… or expensive. Advance Review Copies are never free, but the cost is felt more acutely by a self-published author. The greater industry has known what a phenomenal marketing tool a good review can be, so they have taken to the time to learn about who their reviewers are before they send out “Free Books”. I was reading through an appropriate review offering section on Goodreads the other day, when I came across a new “reviewer” offering to review books, but keeping their profile private with no way to check to see if they even enjoy the
genre I write in. I then posted the following short article about what reviews are and why they are needed, as well as how a self-published author can use industry standards to find the right reviewer to send a free copy to…
One Author’s unique experience with cover design…
Mike Jastrzebski, the author of The Storm Killer, a compelling historical thriller, has just released a new novel, Stranded Naked Blues from his tropical writing desk in the Florida Keys. I found his first book The Storm Killer was a well-paced romp into the pulp mystery fave genre of my own youth. It reminded me a lot of the late, great Elmore Leonard’s work as well. Seeing that he was releasing a new title, I thought about his unique developing brand. Along with the endless rewrites and polishing, comes the need to plan the book’s marketing. One of the key components of marketing fiction is the book’s cover. I’ve addressed my own take on cover design and production several times in these pages, but today I wanted to talk with Mike about his perspective and the design process he just completed…
Mike, I’m glad you had the time to share your experiences with my readers. Creating an original cover for a new book can be a lot of fun or very intimidating. let’s start with revealing your new cover itself…
I understand that you’ve gone through this whole cover design process before, and that the process that culminated in this newly chosen image was very different from your previous cover projects. Let’s discuss those earlier covers before we reveal the unique way the new one came about. How did you begin the process with your very first book cover? Did you go it alone, or did you bring in the big guns right away?
A: When I published my first book in 2010, The Storm Killer, working on a book cover was completely out of my comfort zone. I had no experience or any idea how to find an artist, so I turned to a fellow writer I knew from the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers’ of America, Vicki Landis. Vicki is a writer, but she is also a professional artist. I was glad to have Vicki’s help with that first cover, but it was a first for her too. That cover was a learning experience for both of us. I paid her $200.00 for that cover and she did the next four covers for me. I was happy with all of them.
On your blog, Write on the Water, you posted that you wanted to find a new designer for the current release. What prompted you to consider a new approach and new hands in the mix?
A: Vicki’s cover for Key Lime Blues is still my favorite cover, but there were two factors that led me to look for another artist. First was the fact that Vicki became much busier not only with her cover business, but with her art business in general. The second reason was that I was having trouble visualizing a cover for Stranded Naked Blues. In the past Vicki and I had sat down together and came up with a basic idea for each cover. This time, I just didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted for a cover.
I understand that you “auditioned” 38 different designers to find the perfect cover design. It sounds really complicated. How did the logistics work?
A: I guess I just wanted someone else to come up with the idea for the cover, leaving me with only having to suggest minor changes like fonts and coloring. I got a referral to a design service called 99 Designs from another writer. Their premier level service costs $499, which was a bit rich for my wallet, so I chose a lower priced contest approach that still let me have many different versions to choose from. Auditioning 38 different artists for the new cover was quite easy through 99designs. I paid $299.00 to fund a contest. 99designs keeps a part of that money and the rest goes to the winning artist. 99designs had me fill out a form, including a description of the book and any input I wanted to add. They have a list of designers that they invite to enter into the contest, and within a week or so I had 38 artists enter who, in all, provided over 330 designs.
Now these were not all completely different designs. When I received a design I was able to instantly turn it down or offer feedback on the cover. Many of the 330 designs were redesigned covers based on my feedback. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the results.
What design concepts did you provide the artists before they began?
A: In the contest applications I stated that I wanted a cover that was slightly humorous with a nautical theme. I wanted a slightly humorous cover to tie into the humor in the previous two covers. I gave them a brief description of the book and I sent along copies of the first two covers in the series.
How did the presentation happen? Was communication an issue?
A: We had no contact until the first covers came in, then we were able to email back and forth. All emails were done through the 99designs site. I could tell them what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I thought they could do to make the cover better for me.
After the presentations, once you made your final choice, did you find the designer chosen fully conversant in the technical details of production? Did they also render the illustration or was that from another source?
A:The designer I chose was very easy to work with and knew what she was doing. The fee I paid to 99Designs included everything, including the photography.
Were you satisfied with what you got for your time and money? How long did the entire process take?
A:Everything from start to finish took less than two weeks but could have been done in 7-10 days. The price included an eBook cover, an audio cover, and a paperback cover. All covers and a written ownership of copyright for the covers were delivered through 99designs as part of the flat fee. All fees were included in the contest and the contract was drawn up by 99designs and digitally signed by myself and the artist. The contract gives me the right to use the images as I see fit. I don’t know if there would be a fee if I wanted the image changed, I think that would depend on the artist. I did ask each artist that I was interested in if the price included an ebook cover, a paperback cover, and an audio cover. Each of the artists I asked this question said yes. As for other marketing graphics, bookmarks, etc. I would expect any artist to charge more for that work.
My chosen artist also did a paperback cover with an estimated spine width. She has agreed to change the spine width to whatever it turns out to be on Createspace. It will be a couple of weeks before I get to that point and I have only her email assurances that she will do it, but since I’m sure she wants me to do more covers, I trust she’ll do it.
Are there a few preparatory steps you can recommend to other authors looking to begin the cover design process?
A: Talk to other writers about their artists. If you find a cover you really like, email the writer and ask for contact information on the artist. I have no problem reaching out to writers who contact me.
I learned several things. First, most artists are willing to work with you. When I didn’t like a font, the size of my name or a color both final artists were willing to make changes. I would not want to work with an artist who was unwilling to offer changes. I was working with both artists on complete designs and I did not hit them with one change after the other. There are places out there where you can buy a pre-made cover and I wouldn’t expect them to make changes beyond font and color of the title and author info.
Now that the project is complete, have there been any “take-aways” that you can share with other authors engaging in their own cover design projects?
A: Well, don’t go with the first artist you find unless they have good references. Ask for changes, but don’t be over demanding. If you want an artist to be reasonable and work with you, you need to do the same. If you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a cover let the artist know that from the start. Finally, paying top dollar doesn’t necessarily get you the best cover.
Would you use 99 Designs again?
A: I would use 99designs again, but I’m happy with the artist who did the Stranded Naked Blues cover and would use her again. In fact, she’s completed a brand new cover for my first book, The Storm Killer. Anyone can go to the website for 99designs and check out their cover contests.
Well, your experiences through the process have certainly been interesting and very productive. Other authors in the beginning stages of cover design will certainly want to consider following your example. Thanks for all your time. Your new book released June 14th on Amazon for Kindle. What are your plans for print or additional booksellers for more eBook format marketing?
A: Stranded Naked Blues is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google play, and I’ll be releasing a paperback edition in the near future.
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Author of The Storm Killer, Key Lime Blues, Stranded Naked Blues and several others…
Author’s Web Site: www.mikejastrzebski.com
Author’s Blog: www.writeonthewater.com
Author’s Page on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Mike-Jastrzebski/e/B003V0B58M