Why we write what we write

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Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

Romance, mystery, thriller, science-fiction … what makes an author choose to write in a particular genre? Your favorite bestselling authors reveal why they chose their literary path. This week, we continue with Kayla Dawn Thomas, David C. Cassidy, Scott Bury and J.L. Oakley.

Kayla Dawn Thomas

Romance

I’ve always been fascinated with falling in love, with everyone finding their perfect someone. While I read romance from all time periods, I like writing contemporary to show that people can still find love in this somewhat jaded, prickly world.

David C. Cassidy

Horror

For me, it was simply a case of being enthralled and inspired by Stephen King and Clive Barker at a young age. For me, they taught me two things. King: How to tell a story with “real” characters a reader cares about. Barker: How to imagine … and then to imagine more.

Scott Bury

Historical fantasy, non-fiction and mystery

When I was about 15 or so, I was into science fiction. I read a novella by Larry Niven featuring a detective named Gil the Arm. He served in a global police force, a couple of centuries in the future, so it was essentially a science fiction detective story. I was hooked!

When I started writing fiction, I felt frustrated by the expectations and tropes of genres: noirs, police procedurals, fantasy, science fiction … Plus, I am interested in many different types of stories. That’s why I not only write in different genres, I cross the boundaries as often as I can.

J.L. Oakley

Historical fiction

I’ve always loved history and even wrote a very serious thesis on Comanches as prisoners of war using primary materials from the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institute. My goal was to make it readable, not some high-faluting work that people wouldn’t understand. That’s what a publican historian is all about.

Writing historical fiction is another way to present history in an engaging way. When a reader becomes involved with a character facing the troubles of her time or just living life, you can teach about an era much more effectively. 

Take your pick

Whatever genre you like, BestSelling Reads members are authors who adhere to the highest professional publishing standards, dedicated to bringing readers compelling, enjoyable stories that leave you wanting more.

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Secondary characters we love

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Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

Great characters make great books. Creating great characters is something that every writer works very hard at. They’re what readers remember: Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, Lancelot. If the writer does their job right, we identify with the protagonist and experience the story through their senses.

But a story needs more than one character to come alive. The hero needs a villain, a best friend, a mentor, a love interest. Fagan, Watson, Gandalf and Guinevere are also characters that resonate with audiences.

For the author, these secondary characters can be great fun to create—and just as much work as the hero. We asked some of your favorite BestSelling Reads authors to tell us who is their favorite secondary character.

Samreen Ahsan

Of all the side characters I created, I have admired King Stefan from the [Stolen] Series. He is a tyrannical ruler whose mission is to break down his son Edward, and make a diabolical copy of himself.

Stefan is ruthless when it comes to punishment, and though he forbids his son to enjoy poetry, he himself reads poems, lives in them, and even fantasizes about the same woman his son loves. As the story progresses, he becomes more inhumane and evil towards his own son. 

Scott Bury

The character I enjoyed writing the most was Rowan Fields, the linchpin of Torn Roots, my first Hawaiian Storm mystery. She’s not very likeable: loud, opinionated, careless of others’ feelings, but she’s also passionate, dedicated to protecting the environment, and though she never admits it, deeply in love with the real hero of the story, Sam Boyko.

I have to admit, I still get a little thrill thinking about the insults Rowan throws around.

David C. Cassidy 

In Velvet Rain, the villain, Brikker is my favorite. He is cold, ruthless, sadistic … and brilliant.

His real-life counterpart would be Josef Mengele—and if Brikker were real, I’d wager he’d be far more terrifying.

M.L. Doyle

Harry Fogg (with two Gs) is a British SAS soldier and the love interest of Master Sergeant Lauren Harper in my mystery series. He is rough around the edges, a hardcore soldier, but has a brilliant sense of humor and tests my ability to write British-sounding expressions. I have to have some of his dialogue vetted by friends across the pond. I absolutely love Harry and my readers do, too.

I love all of my characters, but Granite and Pearl rank right up there as the best. They are cougar sized cats that were gifted to Hester Trueblood, in my urban fantasy series starting with The Bonding Spell. Hester, who also happens to be the embodiment of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, was given the cats by her demi-god lover Gilgamesh. Gil found them in room 56 of the British Museum, where they’d been magically imprisoned in stone. Once freed, the cats, who can talk to Hester telepathically, can also switch to human form. But they seem a bit confused when on two feet, so they prefer to be in their furry state. I love these cats.

Alan McDermott 

Simon ‘Sonny’ Baines is my favorite.

He has appeared in all the Tom Gray books from the very first, Gray Justice, and also appears in my new Eva Driscoll series.

He likes a little fun, but can be deadly serious when it matters.

Toby Neal

My favorite is Jake Dunn in the Paradise Crime Thrillers. An ex-Special Forces soldier turned private operative, he appears in Book 2, Wired Rogue, and in the rest of the series. Jake is all action and passion, a black-and-white thinker, a thrill seeker and fun-loving guy, and someone who is growing beyond his own comfort zone to appreciate the shades of gray in dealing justice. I tried to get rid of him several times, but my heroine pined and the stories lost zip and zing without him. He is more than he first appears, and I love that layers keep revealing themselves about him and what he brings out in those around him.

J.L. Oakley 

I have two favorite characters, both in The Jøssing Affair.

First, Tommy Renvik is a member of Milorg, the military resistance organization in Norway in WWII. A friend of intelligence agent Tore Haugland, he helps Haugland deliver arms and helps him escape to Sweden after capture by the Gestapo.

The other is Katherine Bladstad. In 1907, she is best friend to Caroline Alford. The wife of a logging mill manager, she is an outspoken proponent of hiking in the mountains and of the “New Woman,” a woman’s right to vote.

Caleb Pirtle III

I only needed Chester Giddings for one scene in Conspiracy of Lies.

He was a meek, mild-mannered little man so timid that a car backfiring would frighten him, and he occupied the second-story room of a walkup hotel where my hero needed to hide, unannounced, while the bad guys were trying to gun him down.

The scene ended with one dead, police crawling over every inch of the hotel room, Chester trembling and pale in the corner, and it was time for him to go. Chester refused to leave the story. He kept showing up when he was least expected, time after time, and near the end of one of the final climactic scenes, it was Chester Giddings who took a deep breath, clenched, his jaws, tensed his muscles, gave his heart to God, and fired the crucial shot. He didn’t leave because he knew that 182 pages later I would need him, and so I did.

Raine Thomas 

My favorite secondary character is probably Finn from my Estilorian novel, Deceive.

Finn is charming, quick with a laugh, and doesn’t take life too seriously, but he has a depth to his character that helps his family and companions through many of their challenges. I loved his shapeshifting character so much that he might make it into another Estilorian story…shh! 😉

Who is your favorite secondary character?

Tell us in the Comments section below who your favorite secondary literary character is — and if they’re from a book by a member of BestSelling Reads, we’ll send you a free book!

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New mysteries and thrillers

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Mystery and thriller lovers, rejoice—your favorite BestSelling Reads authors have thrilling, chilling mysteries for you to sink your teeth into.

The latest mystery releases

Order Wired Truth from your preferred retailer.

Toby Neal: Wired Truth is the 10th book in the Paradise Crime series. Like her first mystery series, the Lei Crime books, they’re set on the Hawaiian Islands.

In this latest installment, a heist at a high-end auction house sends tech specialist Sophie on a new case hunting down a thief whose skills match her own. Even as she chases a cache of precious gems, events begun in a distant land threaten the fragile happiness Sophie’s building—and an enigmatic new partner brings challenges close to home, luring Sophie into the world of vigilante justice.

“Great character development, twists and turns! You never know how these books will end.”—Tango

J.L. Oakley: The Hilo Bay Mystery Collection: The past never forgets. No one gets away with murder.

Auntie Bee Takahashi is a retired fourth grade teacher. Her great-niece, Tawnie Takahashi, is a hard-nose Honolulu TV crime reporter. When crimes from the past touch friends and family, Auntie Bee and Tawnie—with a little help from a historian— face down the past in hopes of finding justice and healing for the victims and their descendants.

Award-winning author Janet Oakley brings history to her collection of three cozy mystery novellas set on the Big Island of Hawaii: Coconut Island, Volcano House and Hilina Pali.

“Characters that come across as warm as the sun.”—Amazon reviewer

DelSheree Gladden: Incendiary is the fourth book in the Eliza Carlisle Mystery series. For Eliza Carlisle, starting a new year means making tough choices, even if those decisions mean losing friends and possibly getting kicked out of culinary school. She’s all set to take her life in a new direction when her demented half-brother Simon’s reappearance changes everything.

Broken and more alone than she’s been since fleeing her childhood home, Eliza struggles to hang onto the fragile threads that are holding her life together. Only a comically disastrous young chef and the threats against her life pull Eliza out of her fog of self-loathing.

“It was so good I finished in less than 24 hours and it was hard to stop reading to get some sleep!”—Didiwi, Amazon reviewer

Get it on Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III: Bad Side of a Wicked Moon is the second in the Boom Town Saga series of historical mysteries. Strangers pour into Ashland, an East Texas town that’s dying in the Great Depression—until the discovery of oil. Where there is oil, there are jobs, as well as con artists, thieves, scalawags, and at least one murderer.

“A series of climaxing scenes keep the reader riveted to the pages until the very end.”—Patricia J. La Vigne, Amazon reviewer

” Excellent writing! “—
Thonie Hevron, Amazon reviewer

Scott Bury: Torn Roots is the first Hawaiian Storm mystery. Vanessa Storm thought her first week on the job as an FBI Special Agent in beautiful Hawaii would be about settling in. But she’s immediately sent to Hana on Maui’s rain-soaked shore to find a kidnapped woman—and solve a possible murder.   

Published last year, it’s now available in paperback, as well.

Torn Roots is wonderfully rich with plot and setting, but it was Mr. Bury’s command of the story’s pacing that impressed me most.”—Eden, Amazon reviewer

Coming soon

M.L. Doyle: The Bonding Blade combines ancient mythology and gritty urban mystery. Former Army Sergeant Hester Trueblood struggles to find the answer, seven years after fate bonded her to the ancient Sumerian Goddess, Inanna. When her warrior Quincy is stricken with a mysterious illness, Hester thinks a supernatural blade could be the answer to save him. Or it just might destroy the world.

“You know it’s a good book when you’re in a real-life situation and think about how one of the characters would react. That happened. It’s because of this book.”—Susanne Aspley, author of Ladyboy and the Volunteer and Granola Minnesota.

The Bonding Blade will be available on Amazon on June 19. You can pre-order it now.

Toby Neal is bringing reader favorite character Lei Texeira back in the thirteenth Paradise Crime Mystery, Razor Rocks.

Paradise is plundered by pirates.

Someone is attacking and robbing luxury yachts as they sail the Hawaiian Islands—their passengers missing and presumed dead. Sergeant Lei Texeira, with her typical leap first, look later style, dives into a case with the Coast Guard to find answers that lie as deep as Davy Jones’ locker. 

Lei is back, solving crime again! Grab this fast-paced mystery with a twist of romance, and take a trip to Hawaii with the series that’s sold more than a million copies!  

Razor Rocks publishes on August 13, but you can pre-order it from your preferred retailer through Toby’s website.

Thrillers

Find Rainy Night to Die on Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III continues the Quiet Assassin series with Rainy Night to Die. Roland Sand’s His missions for intelligence agencies are those no one else wants to tackle. The reason: Sand is expendable.

In this story, he’s sent to Ukraine to smuggle out a beautiful lounge jazz singer who, for years, has been smuggling Russian secrets back to MI-6’s home office in Great Britain. Her contact in London has been compromised. He is found floating in the Thames River. Sand must extricate Pauline Bellerose before the Russians trace the stolen secrets back to her and place a noose around her neck.

He has twenty-four hours to find the singer and remove her to safety. If she is caught, he dies.

Coming soon

Alan McDermott has been thrilling readers since Gray Justice came out in 2014, launching the Tom Gray series. His new project brings back some of his readers’ favorite characters into a new story arc featuring the beautiful and deadly Eva Driscoll.

Fight to Survive is the third book in the series. After taking on the super-secretive Executive Security Office, Driscoll has found a new life in Australia. But the ESO has been watching her every move force her to help with a high-risk mission in North Korea. After she decides to take matters into her own hands and her handlers become suspicious, time is not on her side.

Fight to Survive publishes on June 20, and you can pre-order it now.

“Alan McDermott’s books are always fast paced, full of action, and hard to put down once started.”—Bill, Amazon reviewer of book two in the Eva Driscoll series, Seek and Destroy.

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New bestsellers for book lovers

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May is Mystery Month at BestSelling Reads:

Plus a bonus for lovers of paranormal romance!

Mystery and thriller lovers, rejoice—your favorite BestSelling Reads authors have thrilling, chilling mysteries for you to sink your teeth into.

The latest mystery releases

Read more about Wired Truth on the author’s website.

Toby Neal: Wired Truth is the 10th book in the Paradise Crime series. Like her first mystery series, the Lei Crime books, they’re set on the Hawaiian Islands. In this latest installment, a heist at a high-end auction house sends tech specialist Sophie on a new case hunting down a thief whose skills match her own. Even as she chases a cache of precious gems, events begun in a distant land threaten the fragile happiness Sophie’s building—and an enigmatic new partner brings challenges close to home, luring Sophie into the world of vigilante justice.

“Great character development, twists and turns! You never know how these books will end.”—Tango

Learn more about Wired Truth and how you can buy your copy on the author’s website.

Toby has also just published all new covers for all her books. Visit her BestSelling Reads author page to enjoy them!

Find the Hilo Bay Mysteries on Amazon.

J.L. Oakley: The Hilo Bay Mystery Collection compiles three books: Coconut Island, Volcano House and Hilina Pali. They feature retired fourth-grade teacher Auntie Bee Takahashi. She teams up with her great-niece, Honolulu TV crime reporter Tawnie Takahashi, face down the past to find justice for victims and their descendants.

“Characters that come across as warm as the sun.”—Amazon reviewer

You can find the Hilo Bay Mysteries on Amazon.

DelSheree Gladden: Incendiary is the fourth book in the Eliza Carlisle Mystery series. For Eliza Carlisle, starting a new year means making tough choices, even if those decisions mean losing friends and possibly getting kicked out of culinary school. She’s all set to take her life in a new direction when her demented half-brother Simon’s reappearance changes everything.

Broken and more alone than she’s been since fleeing her childhood home, Eliza struggles to hang onto the fragile threads that are holding her life together. Only a comically disastrous young chef and the threats against her life pull Eliza out of her fog of self-loathing.

“It was so good I finished in less than 24 hours and it was hard to stop reading to get some sleep!”—Didiwi, Amazon reviewer

Buy Bad Side of a Wicked Moon only on Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III : Bad Side of a Wicked Moon is the second in the Boom Town Saga series of historical mysteries. Strangers pour into Ashland, an East Texas town that’s dying in the Great Depression—until the discovery of oil. Where there is oil, there are jobs, as well as con artists, thieves, scalawags, and at least one murderer.

“A series of climaxing scenes keep the reader riveted to the pages until the very end.”—Patricia J. La Vigne, Amazon reviewer

Buy it exclusively on Amazon.

Torn Roots is available in paperback from Amazon.

Scott Bury: Torn Roots is the first Hawaiian Storm mystery. Vanessa Storm thought her first week on the job as an FBI Special Agent in beautiful Hawaii would be about settling in. But she’s immediately sent to Hana on Maui’s rain-soaked shore to find a kidnapped woman—and solve a possible murder.   

Published last year, it’s now available in paperback, as well.

Torn Roots is wonderfully rich with plot and setting, but it was Mr. Bury’s command of the story’s pacing that impressed me most.”—Eden, Amazon reviewer

Learn more about Torn Roots on the author’s website.

Mysteries coming soon

Learn more about The Bonding Blade on the author’s website.

M.L. Doyle: The Bonding Blade combines ancient mythology and gritty urban mystery. Former Army Sergeant Hester Trueblood struggles to find the answer, seven years after fate bonded her to the ancient Sumerian Goddess, Inanna. When her warrior Quincy is stricken with a mysterious illness, Hester thinks a supernatural blade could be the answer to save him. Or it just might destroy the world.

“You know it’s a good book when you’re in a real-life situation and think about how one of the characters would react. That happened. It’s because of this book.”—Susanne Aspley, author of Ladyboy and the Volunteer and Granola Minnesota.

The Bonding Blade will be available on Amazon on June 19. You can pre-order it now.

New thrillers

Find Book 2 of the Quiet Assassin series on Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III continues the Quiet Assassin series with Rainy Night to Die. Roland Sand’s His missions for intelligence agencies are those no one else wants to tackle. The reason: Sand is expendable.

In this story, he’s sent to Ukraine to smuggle out a beautiful lounge jazz singer who, for years, has been smuggling Russian secrets back to MI-6’s home office in Great Britain. Her contact in London has been compromised. He is found floating in the Thames River. Sand must extricate Pauline Bellerose before the Russians trace the stolen secrets back to her and place a noose around her neck.

He has twenty-four hours to find the singer and remove her to safety. If she is caught, he dies.

“This novella could not be more perfect to read on cozy snowy afternoons or bright, hot sunny days.”— Jackie Taylor Zortman, Amazon reviewer

Find it on Amazon.

Thrillers coming soon

The third book in the Eva Driscoll series comes out June 20.

Alan McDermott has been thrilling readers since Gray Justice came out in 2014, launching the Tom Gray series. His new project brings back some of his readers’ favorite characters into a new story arc featuring the beautiful and deadly Eva Driscoll.

Fight to Survive is the third book in the Eva Driscoll series.

After taking on the super-secretive Executive Security Office, Driscoll has found a new life in Australia. But the ESO has been watching her every move force her to help with a high-risk mission in North Korea. After she decides to take matters into her own hands and her handlers become suspicious, time is not on her side.

“Alan McDermott’s books are always fast paced, full of action, and hard to put down once started.”—Bill, Amazon reviewer of book two in the Eva Driscoll series, Seek and Destroy.

Pre-order Fight to Survive exclusively from Amazon.

Bonus for lovers of paranormal romance!

Once Upon a [Fallen] Time

From the award-winning fantasy romance, Samreen Ahsan continues the saga that began in Once Upon a [Stolen] Time.

The saga continues in Once Upon a [Fallen] Time, as the past and future collide in the tale of love, obsession, betrayal and the hope for redemption.

It will be available on Amazon on May 21.

“The author’s style is magical in itself as she sets the past and present onto a direct collision course. 5-stars!”—Tome Tender Book Blog.

Pre-order it now.

Learn more about Samreen Ahsan and her books on her BestSelling Reads author page or her website.

Forever Still: Vampire Brides

Forever Still is one of 11 Vampire Brides books from 11 bestselling authors.

Corinne O’Flynn joins 10 other bestselling paranormal romance authors to bring olut the new Vampire Brides series of standalone novellas set in a shared world.

Love never dies. But it can be damn bloody…

Delilah left her abusive boyfriend for a new life on her own. When she stops in Lake Tahoe and Miles crosses her path, it feels like fate is testing her to see whether she will throw herself into the arms of the first guy she meets—just like always.

The last time Miles took a chance like this, it broke his heart and almost cost him his immortal life.

Available now from Amazon.

Learn more about Corinne O’Flynn’s books on her BestSelling Reads page or her website.

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Thursday teaser: Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity

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This week’s excerpt is from the historical mystery-romance

By J.L. Oakley

At six o’clock a sergeant came over to escort the women to Captain George Pickett’s quarters next door where Pickett personally greeted Jeannie and the Jenkins women at the door. For the second time that day she mused that she was the same height as the captain. With dark shoulder length hair, mustache and a long unruly goatee, Pickett was only a little over five and a half feet tall. What he lacked in height, however, she had already learned he made up in audacity, charm and a strong scent of Jamaican rum cologne. He offered her his arm and led her into the candlelit dining room.

Gathered around the table was a collection of men and women from the area. Pickett gave immediate introductions. “May I present Mr. and Mrs. Lyle Marshall of Port Townsend, my second lieutenant, James W. Forsyth, two British naval officers from the HMS Satellite, Lieutenant Fuller—Mrs. Jenkins’ brother visiting from Fort Steilacoom, and Andrew Pierce from the settlement of Seattle.”

The men rose as the women were escorted to their seats at the table. The Jenkins women were treated with courtesy, but from Lucy’s pout not enough. When Pickett pulled out her chair, Jeannie thanked him for his hospitality and sat down.

“Now, Mrs. Naughton,” Captain Pickett said as he sat down. “Do tell us all about your time in Kanaka Town. It has concerned us all, considerin’ someone has left his earthly bounds.” He put his napkin in his lap and sipped water from the crystal glass at his place.

Jeannie glanced around. The table was set just as fine as the officer’s table at the Royal Marine Camp with a linen cloth, several candlesticks spread out down the middle, and a large hurricane lamp set in the center. The candles cast soft yellow light on all the diners. Captain Pickett winked at her, but she pretended she did not notice. “An act of bravery, I might add,” Pickett went on. “Do tell.”

Jeannie wasn’t sure what account to give or whether it was a proper subject for the dinner table, but they seemed anxious to know about her time with the people of Kanaka Town, so she told them of her days there. When she was done, Pickett directed the dinner guests to a discussion of health in general. He sat at his place at the head of the table, his long hair curling at his jacket’s collar, like a country gentleman hosting guests at his estate. Jeannie could understand why Mr. Breed said he was popular with both military camps and civilians.

It soon became apparent that the women were not taken with her account. Mrs. Jenkins’ lips seemed to get acutely puckered as Jeannie went on. Mrs. Marshall, the merchant’s wife, burst out that the whole affair was unseemly.

“Don’t you think, Mrs. Jenkins, a woman should be more particular in what she chooses to undertake?” Mrs. Marshall’s rag curls banged against her neck.

“I do indeed. Don’t you, Mr. Pierce?”

Andrew Pierce was mid-bite on an appetizer of oysters. He looked startled, then blushed at Jeannie sitting next to him. “You caught me off-guard, ma’am. I’ll have to think on it.”

“I don’t believe that there is anything to think on,” said the captain of the HMS Satellite. “Women served valiantly in our hospitals in the late Crimean War. Miss Nightingale for one. An extraordinary woman. Saved many a soldier’s life.”

Mrs. Jenkins and the other ladies shrank back when the military men agreed. The matter of Jeannie’s incautious adventure was settled and to her relief, in her favor. The men agreed that containing the smallpox was imperative. It touched her deeply when they gave tender acknowledgment to her loss and the irony she could not help her son.

Dinner was served in the French style with all the dishes on the table and the serving plates assisted around. Pickett continued playing host, leading the conversation and letting topics flow from local politics to news of the social season. Occasionally, he’d interject, “Sir, ah believe that is the most interesting thing ah heard” or something to that effect. Jeannie found his accent hard to understand.

During the second hour, the conversation turned to more national subjects, though Jeannie noticed that by some unspoken agreement, they did not speak of the growing discord and talk of secession back in the States she had heard during conversations in Victoria. Instead,

the conversation settled on Pickett’s exploits in the Mexican war. The British officers were interested in the tactics of General Winfield Scott. Pickett obliged them with an arrangement of salt cellars and candlesticks on the table.

As he laid out the battlefield, Jeannie was amused to see that he had brought Mrs. Jenkins and the other women to a complete stop. Their fan-covered faces and asides were muffled. The officers leaned over and the battle began. When Pickett was done, salt had been spilled and a candlestick dripped its beeswax onto the linen cloth. To that, everyone clapped. The officers raised their glasses as Pickett returned to his seat in good cheer.

About Mist-Chi-Mas

In Mist-chi-mas, everyone is bound to something.

Jeannie Naughton never intended to run away from her troubles, but in 1860, a woman’s reputation is everything. A scandal not of her own making forces her to flee England for an island in the Pacific Northwest, a territory jointly occupied by British and American military forces. At English Camp, Jeannie meets American Jonas Breed. Breed was once a captive and slave — a mistchimas — of the Haida, and still retains close ties to the Coast Salish Indians.

But the inhabitants of the island mistrust Breed for his friendship with the tribes. When one of Breed’s friends is murdered, he is quickly accused of a gruesome retaliation. Jeannie knows he’s innocent, and plans to go away with him, legitimizing their passionate affair with a marriage. But when she receives word that Breed has been killed in a fight, Jeannie’s world falls apart. Although she carries Jonas Breed’s child, she feels she has no choice but to accept a proposal from another man.

Twenty years later, Jeannie finds reason to believe that Breed may still be alive. She must embark on a journey to uncover the truth, unaware that she is stirring up an old and dangerous struggle for power and revenge…

Find it on Amazon.

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

In addition to historical fiction, J.L. has also written the Hilo Bay series of four mystery novellas set in the Hawaiian Islands. Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017.

 Get to know more about Janet on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.

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Thursday teaser: Tree Soldier

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This week’s #teaser excerpt is from the historical romance set in the Pacific Northwest in 1935

By J.L. Oakley

CHAPTER 4

The game was in the third ending when McGill and some others struck. It was all supposed to be a joke, a tradition, but from the start, it turned ugly. Surrounding the group of eight, a crowd of local enrollees began to ask questions of the boys and when Costello or Spinelli spoke they got teased for their accents.

“Hey, they did all right,” a blonde local named Larsen said. “They did their share.”

McGill knocked the enrollee’s cap off. “Sure they did. You’re gonna get dunked.”

“So?” Staubach said. The big blonde Pennsylvanian straightened his back. He was a farm boy, but not the hayseed they thought he was. He put up his dukes. “We’ve got bigger rivers where I come from.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got man eating fish. Ever wonder why a salmon looks so threadbare by the time it spawns?  It’s the little fishes in the water that nibble at them, bit by bit. They can take off your toes if you’re not watching. If the cold don’t get you, they will.”

“Where do I sign up?” Staubach asked.

“Why, over there,” one of McGill’s buddies said. He pointed to the willow-lined bank at the end of the field, some fifty feet away.

“Come on fellows, let’s show them what we can take,” Staubach said.

“Now wait a damn minute,” McGill growled. “You got to be done proper.”

“Then carry me there.” Staubach swaggered his shoulders.

McGill looked annoyed but instantly several enrollees seized and carried Staubach like a plank of wood to the river. There they swung and tossed him out into the river. When he yelled as he hit the water, some of the locals began to cheer and chant, “Dunk them, dunk them.” The boys pushed on Joisey Squad, edging them toward the water. Joisey Squad pushed back.

Careful, Hardesty thought. He didn’t like the feel of the whole situation. A strange electricity prickled around the water’s edge.

“You’re next,” McGill said to Jacob Golden.

“Where’s Jeff?” Golden craned his neck and looked down river.

“He’s okay,” someone said. “He’s making his way down to the next stop.”

“How fast is it here?” Hardesty asked.

“You worried?” McGill sneered, his face puckered up like a Boston terrier’s.

“No, I’m just inquiring whether I should dog-paddle or display my Tarzan-like swimming skills.”

“It’s not too fast,” an enrollee said. “And it’s deep.”

“Stop talking,” McGill said. “You, Toland. Get some of the boys to bring up Golden and O’Connell.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Golden said and let himself and O’Connell be thrown in. Hoss Werner was next. He stood at the edge and held his nose before jumping off. Some of the locals laughed. A ways downstream Staubach waved as he climbed out and then turned around as Golden and O’Connell came paddling by. They had narrowly missed a big snag in the water, coming around it backwards.

Up on the bank, it was Costello’s turn. McGill’s squad charged him, but he fooled them all and twisting out of their hands, took a flying leap and went blind into the water. Fortunately, he avoided going out into the river’s faster middle.

“How’s the water?” Spinelli yelled to Costello. He got an answer quicker than intended when he was pushed in. He grabbed onto an enrollee from Spenser’s squad and they went in together. The local man came up sputtering to the roars of the others. Both young men made it down to the stony shore several hundred yards down, safely making it around the snag. Costello and Werner were there to pull them in.

“That leaves you two,” McGill said. He looked really steamed. Turned around and looked sharply at Hardesty and Sal Lorenzo. “Who goes first?”

Hardesty shrugged. At this point, they had no choice, but go in. The honor of squad at stake. He looked over at Lorenzo and was surprised to see him pale and drawn. A tough, wiry Puerto Rican from Newark, what bravado he normally carried was long gone. He worked his mouth constantly, his dark eyes on the water. Sensing Hardesty’s gaze, he looked up at his straw boss and instantly Hardesty knew what was wrong. Lorenzo couldn’t swim.

“I’ll go,” Hardesty said. “I’ll wait for you, Sal,” he said directly to him, ignoring McGill’s curious look.

“I’d rather not go at all,” the eighteen-year-old replied.

“You gotta. It’s tradition,” a local enrollee next to him said. “Unless you’re chicken.”

“I ain’t chicken.” Lorenzo spat.

McGill suddenly understood. “Aw, he can’t swim. That’s what he’s afraid of.” His eyes grew wide. “Hey, Larsen. Get that clothesline rope.”

“What for?” Lorenzo asked.

“To snag a fish.”

“Do I have to?” Lorenzo asked Hardesty.

“No,” Hardesty said. “You don’t have to.”

“It’s okay,” Larsen said. “I’ll tie you good. You’ll only get wet.” Squeezing through the group around the remaining enrollees from Joisey Squad, the blonde put the rope around Lorenzo’s waist and tied it in front. “We’ll hold onto you.  I won’t let go. I promise.”

Lorenzo seemed resigned to his fate. Hardesty could see it on his face and appreciated the fact that he had probably faced worse things in the streets back home.

“You going in, Park?” Lorenzo asked.

“Sure.  I’ll go in.” He took the rope in his hands. It didn’t seem strong. Its cotton fibers looked old and rotten. “You got another?”

“This’ll do,” McGill said. “Quit babying him. You going in?”

“Sure… I’ll do it,” Lorenzo said. “When Park’s ready.”

“Ready?” McGill nodded to two of his friends and before Hardesty could react, Lorenzo was picked up and tossed far out into the river. He went down, then came up sputtering, grabbing desperately for the taunt rope.

“That was a dirty trick.” Hardesty got right in McGill’s face and slammed him on his shoulders. “What the hell did you do it for? What was the point?”

McGill shrugged him off. “Watch your paws.”

Hardesty watched the boy flounder in the water and hoped Larsen and the two others that held him would bring him in quickly. He hesitated, wondering if it would do any good at all to go in, when he could help haul him in here on shore.

“Bring him in, Larsen,” he finally asked. “He’s done his time.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“No wait,” McGill said. “He’s not done.”

“He’s done.” Hardesty reached for the rope but before he could lay hold of it, in one sickening moment, it broke, causing Larsen and the others to fall to the ground. Lorenzo went spinning out into the middle of the river, thrashing his arms wildly where the rope had once been secured.

“Park!” The boy screamed, then quit when he got a mouthful of water.

“You bastard, McGill.” Hardesty tore along the edge of the bank, looking for a place to go in, watching in horror as Lorenzo swung back into shore directly in line with the snag. For a moment, he seemed to be held in place there, before swinging out into the current again and crashing back into the weathered gray roots of the old tree.

“The rope!” Careless of his safety, Hardesty dove into the water and let the current take him down to the snag. At the last minute he stroked over to where Lorenzo was caught on some roots. The boy’s head was bleeding and half-submerged under the water. Hardesty came alongside and kicking out, clung onto one of the roots while desperately lifting Lorenzo’s chin out of the water.

“Sal!” he shouted above the water’s noise. He slapped him on his cheek and the boy’s eyes opened. “Hold on. I’ll cut you free. Can you do it?”

The boy nodded, choking and spitting out water. “I think so…” He had one of his arms wrapped around a gnarly root, but when he brought up his free arm, he cried out in pain. One glance told Hardesty that it was broken. “Just hold on.”

Hardesty got his knife from its soggy scabbard and sawed on the rope. The water was a numbing cold and he found it hard to concentrate as it pulled relentlessly on his clothes and body. His feet were in danger of slipping off the root he stood on. He did not notice that Spenser had joined him until he was beside him. Together they got the boy untangled from the snag.

“Dumb tradition!” Spenser yelled over the water’s torrent. “You did good, Sal. No one’s going to give you a hard time.”

The boy smiled weakly. He looked like he was going to pass out and Hardesty feared shock. When he was completely free, Hardesty asked if anyone had gone to get a doctor.

“Yes,” Spenser said.

“Then let’s get him away from this.” Knowing that it would probably hurt him, Hardesty chose the best lifesaving hold he could think of for this water and kicked out into the river with Lorenzo. Spenser stayed close and together they were swept downstream to the low bank. By now most of Joisey Squad was standing there ready to help as well as a crowd of boys from the other squads. The dunking had turned ugly and many were ashamed. As soon as the three were within grabbing distance, there were hands to help pull them in safely to shore.  Groaning, Lorenzo was gently lifted out of the water and brought up on the bank. A blanket was produced and the boy wrapped up. A group of enrollees volunteered to take him to the infirmary, but Hardesty checked him again for shock. The boy looked cold and pale, but Spenser okayed the move and Lorenzo was quickly taken away.

“What happened?” Spinelli asked.

“That happened,” Hardesty replied pointing to McGill as water dripped off his head and nose. His sopping wet clothes clung to him like he had just emerged fully clothed from a bathtub. His skin was like goose flesh. As they walked back up towards the field, McGill was standing with his little group. Larsen off to the side looked horrified, but McGill didn’t look particularly perturbed. There was a sly smile on his face when Hardesty came up to him.

“He couldn’t take it,” McGill sneered.

“He took it all right. Here’s his answer.” Hardesty slugged the Tar Heel in the mouth in a single movement that sent McGill to the ground. Hardesty stepped over him and walked on, gathering people as he went. His own squad stayed close to him, clearing the way as he went back into the camp. Something roared behind him, yelling at him to stop. Hardesty turned in time to see McGill charging up to him.

“No one lays a hand on me!” he shouted. “No one!”

“All right, I won’t.”

McGill didn’t see Hardesty’s foot until too late.  Tripping, he lost his balance and went rolling down the bank to the pebbly narrow beach below.

“I’ll get you, you dirty foreigner,” McGill shouted as he climbed back up, but Hardesty was already across the field. He held his hands up in the air.

“No hands,” he yelled back, his squad laughing beside him.

Win a copy of Tree Soldier

Author J.L. Oakley will give a free e-copy of Tree Soldier to one of the reader who can answer this question:

Name a state or national park in your state built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. If you are in Canada or beyond, name a Great Depression program that helped put people back to work.

Leave your answer in the Comments below, and J.L. Oakley will choose from the correct answers.

About Tree Soldier

One mistake can ruin a life. One mistake can transform it.

A government forestry camp set deep in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest might not seem the likely place to find redemption, but in 1935, Park Hardesty hopes for just that.

Blaming himself for the fiery accident that caused his brother’s disfigurement and the death of the bootlegging woman he loved, planting trees, building bridges and mentoring tough, homesick New Jersey boys brings him both penitence and the renewal of his own self-worth. When he wins the love of Kate Alford, a local naturalist who envisions joining the Forest Service, which allows only men, he also captures the ire of a camp officer who refuses to let her go. Just when he is ready to seek his brother’s forgiveness, he is falsely accused of rape. Every aspect of his life he has tried to rebuild is put in jeopardy. In the end, the only way he can defend himself is to tell the truth about his brother, but he risks being kicked out of the camp. Worse, he could lose Kate’s love forever.

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

In addition to historical fiction, J.L. has also written the Hilo Bay series of four mystery novellas set in the Hawaiian Islands. Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017.

 Get to know more about Janet on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.

 

 

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