Cindy Smith, author of poetry books Voices in my Head and They Won’t Shut Up honours us—or honors us, since she’s an American—with her visit today. Cindy was raised in upstate New York. She has worked a variety of jobs during her life—store associate, certified electronic technician, and currently an over-the-road truck driver. Cindy has lived is many states from Maine to Florida, and now resides in Indiana.
Hello Cindy, thank you so much for coming in. First, congratulations on the release of They Won’t Shut Up. Would you like to give us a one-sentence summary of this book?
Poems that help deal with life’s situations.
What compelled you to write it?
I have written poetry all my life as a means of understanding the world I see.
How did you come up with the titles of your books, Cindy?
Voices in my Head I came up with because that is where I get the poems from. I hear them. They Won’t Shut Up is a continuation.
Would you share one-paragraph excerpt from each of your books?
Voices In My Head:
The winds of change are blowing cold
Within my world today.
My dreams of love and happiness
Have all been drawn away.
No longer can I feel the warmth
From his once gentle touch.
My heart now aches within my chest. Oh, I miss him so much!
Where has the caring tenderness
Gone from this old life?
What happened to the vows we made
Joining as man and wife?
Hindsight shows so clearly now
It’s been coming for a while. I got lost in fun and cheer And the lie behind a smile.
They Won’t Shut Up:
Amazed that two
Can meet online
Find share a heart
A chance remark
Or comment played
Forms a strong bond
New Friendship made
Worlds are now joined
Problems we share
Both blessed with one
Who shows they care
It matters not
For heart held tight
By friend we got!
Beautiful! Thank you, Cindy. How did you start to write?
I have written as far back as I can remember, it is the only way to get the rhymes out of my head.
Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life?
Dr. Seuss, Alex Huxley and Dalton Trumbo.
What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Each of them shows the world as it is becoming and asks us to think about what the consequences of our actions will be. Very powerful ideas.
What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
The biggest challenge for me is believing anyone wants to read what I write. I know it sounds strange, but I never saw myself as a published poet. I really just did the first book for my daughter and to get my friends to stop telling me I should do it.
Cindy, the world is more beautiful with your contribution! Keep writing 🙂
Now, who gives you the most encouragement and why is that important to you?
I am so blessed with great friends that encourage me. I can’t name just one.
It is such a blessing to know that there is someone who wants to know the real answer to “How are you doing?” Your heart just fills.
Gratitude is the first step towards inner peace, good on you Cindy. What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.
I am working on book three. I already have 33 new poems written. I have also submitted my first book to the publishers of the second one for consideration of a re-release.
Good luck for that. Your new book has been so well received. What’s your best marketing strategy?
Haven’t found it yet…got any ideas, lol?
Lol back. What are your other hobbies, Cindy?
I love to read, listen to music and cook.
What is your other profession?
I drive a semi over-the-road with my husband.
I usually get my poems while I am driving so I carry a voice recorder to capture them. Then I just type when I feel like it.
Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.
People matter to me. It bothers me when I see how much hate there is because of someone’s skin color or religion. Every group has some bad apples, it doesn’t make them all terrible. Some of the worst crimes have been done by white AngloSaxon Christian males, and yet a few Muslim terrorists has created a web of hate for the millions of gentle followers.
World peace will arrive when duality stops, Cindy, so let’s do our part towards end. What one thing is important for your readers to know about you?
I will write about anything. If you say it in a comment on Facebook…I will steal it. Why? I never know what my mind is going to decide as a poem topic. I have written several based on comments on Facebook.
Looks like your mind is awake and you’re forever alert—perhaps from your habit while driving.
Any tips on reading and writing?
I believe you should not force writing. If it isn’t coming to you smoothly, it won’t come to the reader smooth either. Readers should always remember to review any indie book. It is the only way to let people know about us!
How true. And your beautiful poems sure comes from the heart, my best wishes for them.
Would you like to tell us about who you are at home?
My husband and I will soon be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. Our daughter is an angel now and we are proud grandparents of a beautiful little girl. I love animals and used to have 10 cats and 3 dogs. Purple is the only color that anyone really needs.
Purple! I loved purple when I was a little girl, I remember asking mum to add purple flowers to the tablecloth she was embroidering. And congratulations on the anniversary, Cindy! Happy wishes for the both of you and your granddaughter too. Thank you so much for your time.
I’ve recently discovered that some book publicists and used-car dealers have one thing in common: their job description necessitates that they praise the merchandise, regardless of what their own personal opinion about this product might be. This makes me very wary when I’m offered books to review—“astounding” books by “incredible” authors.
Let me just make one thing clear: I don’t receive any payment in any forms for the reviews or videos I make. When I praise an author, that’s because I genuinely like what I read; not because I’m obliged to do so. And the reason you don’t find me criticizing an author/book is because I send any constructive review to the publicist/author instead of posting it for the public.
Some authors or readers here may make undisclosed donations to the charities I support, but any praise from me is unsolicited and unconditional.
Okay, recently two masterful authors, Cypher Lx (“Darkest Before Dawn“) and Stuart Land (“Epiphany“), have convinced me to praise books from a genre I rarely read: paranormal. Stuart is busy working a film project in Beijing, but we are honored that Cypher is here for an interview today.
Cypher Lx works full-time in law enforcement, part-time as an alternative model, and has a B.A. degree in Forensic Psychology. When she is not busy with those things, she participates in cowboy action shooting, makes Victorian gowns by hand, reads and writes. She is an avid reader of horror, mystery, and more specifically, vampire and zombie novels.
Her novel Darkest Before Dawn is a suspenseful thriller of mystery, action, psychological and paranormal intrigues.
“I am an author who will write just about anything paranormal, whether it’s vampires, zombies, other supernatural creatures, and anything else that goes bump in the night, with a psychological twist.” ~ Cypher Lx
Hello Cypher, thanks so much for coming in. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Darkest Before Dawn?
Darkest Before Dawn is the strange and twisting journey Elissa Greyfield takes to solve the mysterious disappearance of her sister and how it may tie in with more recent serial killings where the victims are posed as angels in Laurel Hill Cemetery.
What compelled you to write this book?
I have always been fascinated with large, old cemeteries and the statuary. Combined with my studies in Forensic Psychology, I thought it would be interesting if a serial killer actually turned his victims into works of art that blended in with their surroundings. I decided to add a supernatural element to it, which is probably influenced by all the paranormal books and movies that I read and watch.
I can see how your work in law enforcement influenced this story. Would you like to elaborate?
In law enforcement, you undergo a lot of training, from firearms to handcuffing, and interviewing to investigating. The thought process in using these elements is as natural for me as it would be for a doctor writing about a medical mystery or a teacher writing about the educational system.
Tell us about cemeteries and the Goth club.
Laurel Hill Cemetery is a real historic cemetery in Philadelphia, PA. It covers over 70 acres of land and has many beautiful statues and mausoleums. It is also an arboretum and is just wonderful to walk through. The Goth club I used in the story is also a real place, though the Goth nights are no longer held at that venue on a weekly basis. There are still many Goth events held in Philly and the culture is very “colorful” despite the mostly black attire many people wear. It’s a very accepting group where age, gender, race, or pretty much anything else has no bearing on you as a person. As long as you are nice to people there, they will treat you the same.
Your characters are very convincing. How real are they?
That’s a difficult question. There are elements in each of my characters that are very real. Except for the family tragedy, Elissa kind of depicts the rebellious person I was when I was younger. Like her, I was an art student who later on went into law enforcement. But I wrote her having much more experience in the career than I ever had to this point. Sage is probably more like I am now. Still rebellious, but with a sense of authority and responsibility. She’s probably one of my favorite characters and has a few surprises coming. Sean and Michael are different blends of various men that I have encountered in my life. I have to admit, Sean is probably the most realistic of all my characters. He’s down to earth with a good mix of humor and protectiveness.
How long did you develop the book to its final state?
I started writing it in 2009 and published it in early 2011, so a little over a year.
How did you come up with the title?
Long before I started writing the novel, I worked night security at a chemical facility. There is an actual phrase that says, “It’s always darkest just before dawn.” Walking around at night, I realized that it was true and I thought it would make a good book title. At the time, I was just considering writing a vampire novel, but I didn’t actually start writing in earnest until four years later.
What’s your favourite paragraph in Darkest Before Dawn?
“Dance with me,” the familiar voice spoke softly in my ear. His breath was like velvet against my skin and his hand travelled down my arm to my hand, which he raised slowly to drape around his neck. He pressed his chest closer to my back and I took a shallow breath, my heart pounding as hard as the beat of the song. Briefly, I wondered how he had crossed the room without me seeing him, but his fingertips sliding down my side to encircle my waist distracted me and I lost the thought completely. To our left, I caught the sight of Wraith glaring at me, incensed. I gave him a defiant glance as my dance partner turned me to face him, still holding me intimately close. Looking into his eyes once again, I felt as though I was losing myself in his gaze. The lyrics of “The Sinner in Me” seemed to echo in the distance as our sensual dance intensified. The subtle scent of him only amplified the sensations I was experiencing, and I began to feel a bit lightheaded. If I had been able to think at all, only one word would have been suitable to describe these feelings. Euphoria. My eyes closed as his lips tenderly brushed against my cheek and down my throat. It was so soft and fleeting that I was unsure if it had happened at all. The song was nearly over as I felt him release me. I opened my eyes and he was gone, just as quickly as he had appeared only minutes before.
Thank you Cypher. Now let’s visit its sequel, “The Cold of Night”.
Would you like to give us a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
The Cold of Night is the continuing story from where I left off in Darkest Before Dawn, using Sean’s perspective of losing his partner and trying to cope with that while continuing the murder investigation.
Where do you get your inspiration for this sequel? Did you base the sequel on what readers like from the first book or your own inspiration?
I purposely left loose ends in the previous novel to continue where I wanted the story to go. I also couldn’t leave Sean the way I did in the end of the first novel. There’s a lot more about him in the second one. I used my own inspiration for the sequel. If I wrote what people expected to happen instead of what I felt should happen, I think I would be doing a disservice to the reader.
Tell us about these fabulous characters. Which actors would you choose to play them in a movie rendition?
I always have a problem trying to decide what actors would suit the characters in my books. One that I can definitely pin down is Elissa. I could see Molly C. Quinn pulling off the role if she was just a little bit older. She has the look and if you’re not familiar with who she is, watch the television series Castle. Sage is so much a part of me that I would have a very difficult time being satisfied with any actress. Typically, I have mental pictures in my head of what the characters look like that is never based on celebrities.
What sets this one apart from the first book? Is this a repeat or are there new excitements?
I’ve introduced several new characters and revisited others who didn’t get as much face time in the first novel. Things happen that are hopefully unexpected. There is a lot more that was only hinted at before, so I hope it’s exciting.
Why is this a must read?
The characters have evolved and there is much more action. There are also some questions that are answered, as well as more questions that crop up.
Sample paragraph, please?
My eyes snapped open and for several moments I stared at the blank ceiling, watching the shadows and waiting for my pulse to slow. I knew that I had been dreaming, but couldn’t recall the content. Whatever it had been sparked another anxiety attack. Stumbling out of bed, I opened the window to let in fresh air. A sudden chill went down my spine and I felt like I was being watched. Great, Sean. Now you’re just being paranoid, I thought. Until I saw him perched on the fire escape across the way. Michael Sheridan. I scrambled for my gun, trying to keep my eye on him at the same time. I had only glanced away for a split second as I checked to make sure there was a round in the chamber, but that fast he was gone. And just as quickly, I felt as if a railroad spike had been driven into my skull, dropping me like a rock. The entire dream in all of its detail slammed into me as if a rubber band had been snapped back into place.
When is the planned release? Tell us your latest news.
I’ve had to delay the release, I will announce it on my author page. I also have a new idea for a novel that may very well have some sci-fi overtones.
Good luck with that. Now on writing. When did you first know you just had to write?
I’ve been writing on and off since middle school. Mostly just short stories and poetry with a few failed attempts at longer stories that I gave up on. In 2009, one of my professors asked us what goal we wanted to meet in our lives. I wanted to write a novel. Little did I know that we had to share with the entire class. He encouraged me to pursue that goal and Darkest Before Dawn was dedicated to him. I now have four complete novels and several more ideas for future works.
Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life?
What is it that really strikes you about their work? It sounds so cliché, but Stephen King and Anne Rice. I started reading King’s books when other girls were reading YA romance about cheerleaders. He really knows how to dig into the darkest part of the human psyche and bring it to life. It’s sometimes scarier than the monsters he writes about. Rice combines the horror and romance of vampirism so artfully that the reader can feel fear and sympathy at the same time. The Vampire Chronicles was just the start of my Anne Rice reading, but The Mayfair Witches and The Violin are also very good.
What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
Writing is a real roller coaster ride for me. I hate staring at that first blank page wondering how to start. When I finally jump off, everything starts to flow. Then I hit those loops where I have to keep going back to make sure I connected everything properly. Climbing that final big hill, I struggle to find a way to end it satisfactorily. Then it’s full speed ahead. There is the anxiety that builds toward that last big drop, because I wonder how people will accept the ending. Will they be happy? Will they hate it? After the ride is over and I publish, there’s almost a sense of disappointment that it’s over. Then I jump back on and ride again.
Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?
My husband and my mother are probably my biggest supporters. I have other friends and family that support me as well, but they are the most important. My husband allows me to write for hours on end and will even help me out with parts of the plot that he is knowledgeable about, which is evident toward the end of The Cold of Night when I had to use his military expertise. My mother reads over my novels before I publish and tells me what sounds right and what doesn’t. She’s also excellent at catching spelling and grammatical errors that I may have missed. Above all, she’s my biggest promoter. She just loves telling everyone that her daughter writes books and will do just about anything for me, including going out in the rain to model for the new cover of Darkest Before Dawn.
You are so fortunate in your supporters!
You lead a very busy life. Would you like to elaborate on who you are when you’re not writing? Please tell us about some unique experiences in law enforcement.
As a female in any kind of law enforcement, it’s more difficult to prove that you’re just as capable as your male counterparts. I tried to reflect this in the character of Elissa, because I have had situations where the sexist perspective still persists. While I don’t go overboard with this particular theme, I want the reader to understand where Elissa is coming from in Darkest Before Dawn and how others in the department saw her in The Cold of Night.
I can relate to that! Geophysics was dominated by males:)
Becoming an alternative model happened by chance. I had gone to traditional modeling school and was essentially told that I would never get a job in the field because I wasn’t tall enough, thin enough, or conservative enough. That was before I had all the tattoos. Several years ago, I transitioned from the “normal” Goth style to cybergoth and, because it’s not as common in the US, it drew attention. I was asked to model for the BizR Babes, and I still do from time to time when my schedule allows it.
What you do with your B.A. degree in Forensic Psychology?
Currently, there isn’t a high demand for careers in Forensic Psychology unless you have a Ph.D. I’m looking into furthering my education, but for now I mainly use my knowledge in my writing.
And cowboy action shooting?
My husband initially got into cowboy action shooting and after watching, I decided I wanted to participate as well. It’s an international sport where people dress in period clothing and register under a specific shooting class like Traditional, Gunfighter, or Duelist. The shooter is timed while shooting for accuracy at interactive metal targets. Unfortunately, because my work schedule has changed, I haven’t gotten to do it in a while, but if I ever become a full-time writer I will be spending more time doing it again.
What fun! You also make Victorian gowns by hand. How is it?
The short answer is…I can’t work a sewing machine to save my life. The longer answer? Victorian ball gowns are beautiful, suit almost any formal event, and are very, very expensive if you buy one already made. Cowboy action shooting full weekend events tend to have a formal dinner and that started my obsession. But I have also made them to wear to the Gravediggers’ Ball, which is a fund raising formal dinner Laurel Hill Cemetery holds every year to keep the grounds beautiful through the donations of the patrons.
Would you tell us about your charity drive?
Due to the nature of the plot for my novel Christmas Evil, I have chosen to donate fifty percent of the proceeds of its sales to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
What one thing is important for your readers/audience to know about you? Why?
The most important thing to me is that my readers enjoy reading my work. If I have made you laugh, cry, or even hate me for what I’ve done to one of my characters, then I have done my job, because I want my readers to experience the same range of emotions that I have while writing.
Share with us some of your photography work and their story. When and why did you take them?
Each of my book covers has an example of my photography. The original Darkest Before Dawn cover is a photograph of one of the angel statues in Laurel Hill Cemetery. The newest cover, as well as the cover for The Cold of Night, are also of Laurel Hill. The models I photographed were digitally added later. All of the cemetery photographs were taken on rainy nights during an event called Dining Amongst the Dead, where patrons eat a delicious meal at the gatehouse prior to taking a guided stroll along the winding paths. The cover of Salt Bowl Death is a composition photograph by myself and my husband using us as models and his best friend’s barn as the background. Christmas Evil’s cover was a fun experiment in photography. I mixed up fake blood and smashed Christmas ornaments and candy canes just to see what I came up with. That cover is the result. More of my photography can be found on my website. Eventually, I would like to start putting prints up for sale, but I haven’t had the time or finances to make that available yet.
My best wishes on that, Cypher.
Now would you tell us about your home in Pennsylvania?
I live in a pretty typical middle-class neighborhood, I suppose. My house is a half a twin, which means I can sometimes hear my neighbors. Most of us have dogs or other pets and grill outside when the weather is warmer. Generally, we know everyone in our little stretch of houses. It rains a lot in Pennsylvania. Sometimes too much for my liking.
Any tips on reading and writing?
Read a lot and write a lot. Reading keeps the imagination going and writing only improves over time.
Thank you so much for your time, Cypher. Best wishes for all the books!
Readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Cypher. Following is my review of Darkest Before Dawn.
Darkest Before Dawn, reviewed by Ia Uaro
Title: Darkest Before Dawn
Author: Cypher Lx
There are so many things I want to say about this book. So, I’ll make a list of WHAT I LIKE:
– The masterful writing
These days it’s very rare that I can lose myself in whatever I read without analyzing the structure and noticing all kinds of errors. Reading DARKEST BEFORE DAWN however, I was allowed to fully focus on the story and enjoy myself.
– The deftly drawn characters
Goth girl with attitude Detective Elissa Greyfield–who is obsessed with dark clothes, frequents Goth club Nocturne, and decorates her room with pictures of cemeteries–joins the Homicide department of Philadelphia Police Department, where nobody can stand or understand her bitterness and strangeness, except the ever loyal and patient Detective Sean Winters, formerly the investigator of her sister’s case. Sean knows what has shaped this girl, and their interaction is precious.
Enter mysterious newcomer Michael Sheridan, who brings suspicion in the protective Sean and rage in former Goth boyfriend Wraith. These characters, Michael and Wraith, are remarkable, but I really can’t be a spoiler here.
– The deep mystery
The plot is meticulous. Elissa is the last surviving member of her family, after her sister disappears and is presumed to be brutally murdered. Four years on, as detectives she and Sean investigates a series of murders where the victims are exsanguinated and posed as angels in a cemetery by a psychopath who leaves notes of warning. But who is he warning? How much danger will Elissa’s fearless search for her sister’s bring? Why is someone shadowing her? And who is the mysterious Michael; is he the last gentleman on earth or is he too good to be true? And there are so much more to this book. Expect the unexpected.
– The author’s knowledge
The details are amazing. No matter what topic or setting she’s describing, without overdoing anything the author pays scrupulous attention to providing fascinating facts, teaching you either from her thorough researches or from her wealth of experience in the law enforcement and Goth culture.
– The uniqueness
This book is first of all a suspenseful mystery, something fans of Kay Hooper will enjoy, but there’s nothing quite like this one. “Darkest Before Dawn” is massive–a wholesome and intriguing blend of deep mystery, murder suspense, psychological thriller, police action, Goth community, family drama, and paranormal adventure. Do not expect your normal fares of these genres though, because Cypher Lx will take you on a journey to where you know not.
– This is not good bye
I have mentioned the perfect balance of the book’s structure. Everything is just at the right proportion. But I fell in love with the story and its characters and dreaded the approaching end. I didn’t want it to end! And so I was glad when Cypher announced on the last page that a sequel should arrive soon. Yeay!
WHAT I DON’T LIKE: Nothing.
Perfectly balanced, cleverly written, and stylish, this one is a masterpiece by a talented author who excels in everything that she does.
TERRY STANFILL’s first novel The Blood Remembers was published in 2001 and was a finalist in 2002 Independent Publisher Awards and 2002 Dorothy Parker Awards of Excellence. Her new novel Realms of Gold has won the Bronze Medal in Romance of the 2013 eLit Awards. Born Therese Olivieri in West Haven, Connecticut, Terry is a first generation American of Italian descent. She received a degree in English Literature with a minor in Medieval History from the University of Connecticut. Until joining Christie’s as an International Representative, she served as a director of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. She is an overseer emerita of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens and a founding member and Life Trustee of Los Angeles Opera. For her efforts in fund raising for the restoration of San Pietro di Castello, the ancient cathedral of Venice, Stanfill was decorated by the president of Italy with the Ordine al Merito, Cavaliere della Republica Italiana, and more recently as Commendatore. She is vice president of Save Venice, Inc. and was a founder of The California Chapter of Save Venice.
Terry is married to Dennis Stanfill, former CEO of Twentieth Century Fox, and MGM. Their daughter Francesca Stanfill Nye, is a novelist and journalist. Their son, Dennis, is partner and managing director of HBDesign, Singapore.
We are honored to have Terry visiting with us today, and she brings along her fascinating wealth of knowledge and experience.
Hello Terry, thank you so much for coming in.
You dedicated Realms of Gold to your daughter, in memoriam. I am a mother myself and I feel you have to be very strong to have written this. Would you like to tell us about her?
Michaela Sara Stanfill, our daughter, was a brilliant girl who suffered from bi-polar disorder. After graduating with a B.A. from Harvard, she received a Masters Degree in Communications from Boston University. Michaela, (or “Cada” to rhyme with Michaela), was a professional researcher. My oldest, rarest articles on the Vix Krater are those she discovered at the Boston Public Library. After Cada died I went back to the idea of writing a novel about the Krater. I found that storytelling helped to sublimate my inconsolable grief.
Years before, I’d put together a sketch about the Krater, an immense bronze vessel (archaic Greek) from the 6th century BC. This was way back in 1994 after I came upon this virtually unknown object in a backwater museum in Châtillon–sur–Seine, Burgundy. Soon after, I wrote a very simple storyline and showed it to my editor, the late Alan Williams, retired Editor in Chief at Viking press. He liked my ideas but advised me to put them aside and concentrate on finishing my first novel, The Blood Remembers, which, like Realms of Gold, is also set in Italy and France.
When I returned to the idea of writing about the Krater. I abandoned the original sketch and found myself writing a completely different book—now Realms of Gold begins with a wedding in Venice and the opening chapters are from the point of view of Giovanni. And Bianca has developed into a much more interesting character.
Giovanni Di Serlo, by the way, is a character, an archaeologist, in The Blood Remembers. When he talks about the woman who went back to her husband in California, he’s talking about Rose Kirkland, the protagonist of the novel. Why not use him as the archaeologist in The Krater (working title), I thought. Many of my readers liked him and so I decided to “keep Giovanni going.”
Bianca has mystical visions of people from the past. Personally, I’ve had telepathic “contacts” with living people and “see” them—mostly when they’re in trouble—but they are not strangers or people from the past. Do you know a person with visions such as a “medium” or a “seer”, or do you have this ability? Please share your experience and opinion with us.
I too don’t know anyone personally who has a gift of prophecy—although I have heard of people in Italy who have this oracular power, handed down for generations to certain women supposedly from the seeresses and sybils of antiquity. As for myself, I do have some pretty good hunches every now and then.
For me writing is a mystical experience. I don’t work “on” a book; I work “in” a book. It all begins with my dreams. I have hundreds of pages in my dream-journal computer files and several pre-computer notebooks with dreams written by hand. When I write, some of the images loom large, and I use them in my storytelling. I, as a Jungian, believe that much of what we know and remember comes from the unconscious—and the deeper one goes into the unconscious by meditation or dreams, the more visual the storytelling. The back-story images in Realms of Gold are parts of actual dreams. Before I began my first novel I wrote poetry, and relied on those visual images. Most of Bianca’s ritual stories for the magazine were written this way. I guess you could call them visions—yes—the visions of my mind’s eye breaking through the layer of consciousness and called the imagination. I also believe that the story is already written in the unconscious and it has to be mined out from its depths.
Synchronicity, important in the narrative in Realms of Gold is also activated by digging deeper into the unconscious. I have had some startling occurrences that could never be merely coincidences.
Coming from a strongly matriarchal people myself, I like the independent women in your story. Who are the special women in history you particularly admire, and why?
There are two women who come to mind immediately—not so much women that I admire, but women who made a mark on the history of England, France and Italy, women who were in my area of research for my first novel.
The first, Constance de Hauteville, the daughter of King Roger of Sicily, and the mother of the Emperor Frederick_II. Frederick was born in December 26, 1194, died in 1250. Constance became the wife of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. When Constance was forty years old she gave birth to a son on her way back from Henry’s German kingdom to Palermo, where her ancestors the Normans had founded a great kingdom. Her son, who would one day become Frederick II (grandson of Frederick Barbarossa), was born in the public square of Jesi, near Ancona, in the Marche area of Italy. An elaborate tent was set up and any matron in the town could witness the birth of her child. Since Constance was over 40, she wanted to put to rest any stories that might arise if the birth had not been publicly witnessed. She also nursed her son to prove that she was indeed his mother. The image of this town square, with its great tent, eventually propelled the storytelling in The Blood Remembers. Years ago, long before I picked up the pen, it had become a vision imbedded in my mind’s eye.
The second historical character is Eleanor of Aquitaine; mother of King Richard the Lion Heart, and King John (of Magna Carta notoriety) was Queen to both Louis VII of France and to the Plantagenet Henry II of England. She lived a long life, and had enormous influence on the politics of Aquitaine, England and France. Eleanor was a patron of the arts. She brought with her the refinements of her beloved Aquitaine, poetry, troubadours, courtly love. Her daughter Marie, by King Louis of France was the patron of Chrétien de Troyes, and it is conceivable that Queen Eleanor was also Chretien’s patron, as well. Chrétien and his romance Le Conte du Graal (The Story of the Grail) is also an important part of the story telling in Realms of Gold...
One of the contemporary women I admire is the late Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who raised enough funds to build the three theaters of our Music Center, and who wisely engaged the very young Zubin Mehta to become the first conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in its new setting, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Buff Chandler was a very strong woman and it was hard to say no to her when she was so convincing about her mission. She raised millions of dollars for this great city which was bereft of a performing arts cultural center.
Another woman for whom I have a lot of admiration is the controversial writer, Camille Paglia, who is very strong in her opinions. I was impressed by her book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), her best-selling book of literary criticism. I admire Paglia for defending the canon of the western literature when so many colleges and universities want to abandon the classics and great writers throughout history.
Bianca Caldwell is quite a personality. How real are your characters?
My daughter was never far from my mind as I wrote. Even though Michaela is not Bianca, she had some of her characteristics. She too had a strong personality, definite opinions, and wasn’t the least bit shy about giving them. I know that she would have liked Bianca and she would have smiled at some of her descriptions, attitudes, little eccentricities—just as I’m smiling now as I write this for you. My characters are sometimes, but not always, composites. My mind is always at work combining the fruits of my imagination with people I know, or have known in reality.
Would you share the joy, the challenges, or your special experiences in regards to developing Realms of Gold and what has happened afterwards?
After The Blood Remembers was published I felt an enormous vacuum in my life, in my daily routine. After years of studying the Normans in South Italy I was suddenly without the dedication and the pleasure I derived from historical research. Because the Vix Krater had made such an impression on me on that day in 1994, I thought I might return to the idea of writing a novel about it. Before long I was reading everything I could find about the archaic period in Magna Graecia, the art, philosophy, about the early Hallstatt Celts, the many Celtic tribes in France. When finally I sat down to write in 2006, the historical detail was in my head, and the narrative flowed—especially on Bianca’s ritual pages. This was exhilarating!
The joys have come from the excellent reviews of Realms of Gold, and by the recent ward of a bronze medal (third place) in the romance category from the E-Lit Awards. The Blood Remembers, in hard cover, was first runner up in the general fiction category—Independent Publishers Awards back in 2001, it was also short-listed for the Dorothy Parker Award.
How did your love for history develop?
I can’t remember when I didn’t love history—especially ancient history—Greek and Roman in particular. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old when my Auntie Luisa returned from Italy with postcards of Pompeii and Herculaneum—how fascinated and terrified I was to hear the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I read The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton when I was in my teens—and one of my favorite novels of the past decade is Pompeii by Robert Harris. When I was a little older I also became interested in mythology, a subject which interests me still. I also enjoyed The King Must Die by Mary Renault, a retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as if it were reality—the works of Robert Graves, among them, The White Goddess, have been helpful. And of course, Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance which I’d attempted to read when studying T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as a freshman in college. I was far too young to understand why Eliot paid homage to her ideas.
Later on, at university, I studied Medieval history. Years later, the history of the Norman conquest of in South Italy was the subject of my research at the Huntington Library where I was a Reader.
Sometimes I scold myself for not being more knowledgeable about American history. I feel somewhat redeemed after reading David McCullough’s John Adams, then 1776, and more recently, The Greater Journey, his book about great Americans, writers, artists, and scientists in Paris in the 19th century.
On your work and writing. Who would you say have been the most influential authors or historians in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Ernst Kantorowicz, who, before he became a professor at Princeton, published (in 1927) the first complete monograph in English on Frederick II, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor. He clears Frederick of all contradictions and portrays him as a genius, a precursor of the Renaissance, who was advanced in law, science, art, architecture, philosophy. He spoke many languages including Arabic and Hebrew.
I bought this biography in Blackwell’s in Oxford, where Dennis (my husband) was a student. Years later I could find no other book on Frederick II in the English language. And it was this book, and my fascination with Frederick II, that became a seminal influence, and my novel, The Blood Remembers was the ultimate result. Kantorowicz portrays Frederick as “the genius and master of all times and eras before and after him.”
Certainly John Julius Norwich was a great influence with his two books on the Normans in South Italy and Sicily—The Greater Conquest and The Kingdom in the Sun, his volumes on Venice and Byzantium. Although Norwich claims not to be an academic, he writes with historical accuracy and clarity, in his own inimitable voice, making his books a joy for the layman to read.
Chrétien de Troyes was an important influence. Chrétien, as I mentioned earlier, was a court poet to Marie of Champagne, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was Chrétien who first mentioned Camelot, describing it as a place on a hill, by a river, surrounded by forests, with plains beyond. I make good use of his description in Realms of Gold! Chrétien was also the first to write about King Arthur and his court.
Jesse L Weston’s provocative words from her landmark book From Ritual to Romance, referred to Chrétien de Troyes and especially his romance, The Story of the Grail.
“It is most probable that the man who first told the story, and boldly, as befitted a born teller of tales, wedded it to the Arthurian legend, was himself connected by descent with the Ancient Faith, actually held the Secret of the Grail, and told in purposely romantic form, that of which he knew.”
The subtitle of Realms of Gold: Ritual to Romance is my tribute to Jesse Weston.
Thanks, Ia for your provocative questions. Thanks for reading through this. I hope I haven’t gone on too long!
It’s a great honour to have you with us Terry. Thank you so much for your precious time!
And readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Terry Stanfill. Following is my review of her intriguing book, “Realms of Gold.”
A Memorable Journey to an Ancient World“Realms Of Gold”, reviewed by Ia Uaro
Author: Terry Stanfill
ISBN: 978-0615 657 547
There are several layers of stories inside this story and intelligent readers with interest in historical mysteries and the intricacies of ancient arts would be intrigued by how the plot unfolds.
At Vix in Burgundy in 1953, Archaeologist René Joffroy unearthed a huge krater, a vessel used for the mixing of wine in ceremonial rituals, in a tomb from 600 BC, along with the remains of a woman of great importance.
In July 2007 archaeologist Giovanni Di Serlo attends a cousin’s wedding in Venice and meets Bianca Caldwell, an American art writer who depends on her visions for guidance as she writes about ancient objects and their use in ritual.
Bianca is obsessed with the mystery of her great grandmother Nina Evans, especially being in Venice, because this never-married Nina had returned from a 1902 Venice holiday pregnant.
Giovanni doesn’t think much of Bianca’s looks and her abysmal fashion sense, however he is kind to her and tells her about his latest archaeological work.
On the plane home to New York, Bianca receives inspiration that connects the Vix Krater with medieval poet Chrétien Troyes and King Arthur’s Grail. On her arrival home, her flat has been broken into and vandalized by the Mafia group Sacred Crown United, but nothing is lost.
Bianca continues to receive visions about strongly matriarchal peoples, and in her mind eye she sees the life events of the Lady of Vix, Zatoria, from her childhood with her storyteller mother and her travels with her spiritual-teacher father, Zalmoxis. Bianca also sees visions of Nina, and what had happened to her in Italy in 1902.
Giovanni invites Bianca to visit his dig of the lost city Sybaris, and Bianca connects her visions of Zatoria with his scientific findings of the origin of the Vix Krater. To understand more about their findings, these two set off to follow Zatoria’s journey from Sybaris to Vix in France.
The author’s fantastic imagination combined with her thorough knowledge of the artifacts lead us to the ancient world as we follow Zatoria’s journey from Olbia to Sybaris, to Vix. Terry Stanfill shows us these places and how their peoples had lived, what they had used and what mattered to them. And at the same time the real-life plot gets thicker as tomb-looters and underground art smugglers emerge, and romance blossoms.
This book isn’t for everybody but may hook avid mystery readers, who will lose themselves in learning intriguing new knowledge. A wonderful experience.