Friday, August 26, 2016

An Interview with Mark Noce


Today I am happy to have as my guest Mark Noce, author of the fine historical novel set in post-Arthurian Wales, Between Two Fires. (Last week I review his novel on this blog, and you can re-read the review HERE.)

I was fortunate to be able to read a PDF of the book in advance. I also preordered a copy of the book to have signed and was notified by Amazon that it will arrive tomorrow. (Yay!) For those of you in the Sacramento area, he will be signing books at the Avid Reader at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 2nd.

Mark was kind enough to answer some interview questions about his book and his writing process, so I hope you will enjoy learning more about both. After the interview you can read more information from the publisher and also get order information and Mark's contact information. And now . . . here's Mark

1. Between Two Fires is set in sixth-century Wales. How did you get interested in this period?
I’m always interested in any “dark age” period on history. Not just some technologically backward time or an era where civilization collapses, but an epoch that has left very little trace for modern historians and archaeologists. As an author, historical fiction allows me to bridge the gap and extrapolate a little further than a historian might feel comfortable doing. I love giving life to these time periods, such as early medieval Wales, where we’ve literally lost the names of some of the kings and kingdoms, let alone what the common people were doing. My novel is a small attempt to shed light on the supposed “darkness” of this age.

2.  Did you have to do much research for your story? What kind of sources were available?
I certainly did plenty of research, but the clues left behind are few indeed. The longest piece of text to survive the time period is only a few dozen pages! Couple that with a few ruins and some oral legends and the trail can go very cold very quickly indeed. But I find that applying some common sense with what makes for a good narrative often turns into a complimentary process. Legends definitely provided plenty of inspiration!

3. Are there any legends of a strong woman leader in the Celtic Wales of that era?
There are hints, for instance, references to a queen who ruled like a man in one kingdom long after the Romans were gone. Also, many tribal Celtic customs survived in places like Wales and Cornwall, and they definitely had a matriarchal bent to them. Goddess worship mixed with concepts of the Holy Virgin and the Saints, and voila older forms of thought suddenly become Christianized, but still very much existed. Also the actual Mabinogion legend of Branwen is set without any firm date in antiquity, simply supposing to have occurred sometime in the distant past. So as an author, you get a lot of leeway considering the vagueness of dates and times in the oral legends.

4. Your settings were full of rich details so that the landscape came alive. Have you been to some of the locations your story mentions?
I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the UK and Ireland, but I found that not as useful in this novel, mainly because the landscape and sometimes even the culture itself has changed so dramatically in the last millennium-and-a-half. Deforestation, alterations of laws or customs, and subsequent invaders have given us a modern Wales that looks pretty different. The visualizations for me came more from the legends themselves, which paint a picture of a very wild landscape with people as untamed as the land they inhabit.

5. Between Two Fires is both history novel and a puzzle mystery, both with lots of plot twists, and a dynamic protagonist. Tell a little bit about your writing process: Do you start with the plot or with the character? 
For me they’re a bit of the same thing. That being said, I definitely start with the character. If I know the protagonist inside and out, I know what they’ll do and what their story will be. For me it all started with that first line, “Today I will marry a man I have never met.” From that point on I knew Branwen and had to tell her story.

6. Can we expect to see any more of Branwen in future novels?
Definitely! I already have the sequel with the publisher, although no firm release date as of yet. The Long Defeat will showcase the Welsh dealing with a new threat, the Picts, and a very different set of circumstances than when they dealt with the Saxons.  

7. Any hints about what you are presently working on?
I’ve always got something going, although I admit that with all the marketing efforts for Between Two Fires, I haven’t been writing as much as I prefer. I write contemporary short stories, and even sometimes Sci Fi or fan fiction. I’ve also written a draft of a Viking story that follows a female warrior amongst the Norse. But mostly, I just let inspiration lead me where it wants. Even I don’t know what I’ll write next!

Thanks again for having me here, Elizabeth! 

My pleasure!

What others are saying, where to buy the book, and how to contact Mark:

Praise from Bestselling Authors for Between Two Fires
“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin

Synopsis of Between Two Fires
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.

But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

Places to Order Between Two Fires

Author Bio
Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family.

His debut novel, Between Two Fires, is being published by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin's Press and Macmillan). It is the first in a series of historical fiction novels set in medieval Wales.

Social Media Links 

For those of you stopping by today, can you recommend other books set in a historical period in Wales? (I have a thing about Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and love to find novels with those settings.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Book Review -- Between Two Fires, by Mark Noce

I've had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mark Noce through blogging, and the equally good fortune to get an advance reading of his debut novel, Between Two Fires. Mark is on a blog tour now, and -- lucky me -- I had the good fortune even again to get an interview with Mark. Next week I'll be posting that interview, so please do return to learn more about him, his book, and his writing process. 

Meanwhile, here is the review of his book I posted on Goodreads yesterday:

I love a good mystery, and I love fiction that takes place in historical times. I’m also hooked on stories set in Celtic Britain. So these are three great reasons to be delighted with Mark Noce’s debut novel, Between Two Fires.

The book opens in the year A.D. 597—post-Arthurian times, when Wales is in disarray from the invading Saxons. The Romans are gone. Arthur’s Camelot is distant history. Christianity coexists with remnants of the old Druid religion. Fragmented Wales is riddled by power struggles between kings want to be sole ruler of Wales, if it can ever be united enough to withstand the Saxons. The ambitious King Vortigen of Dyfed has decided to marry his illegitimate daughter Branwen to King Morgan of Caerleon and Caerwent, also known as the Hammer King. Illegitimate or not, it’s to Morgan’s advantage to breed sons by Branwen for the future, and it’s to Vortigen’s advantage to have his daughter strategically placed to spy on Morgan. Yes. It’s that kind of world, full of intrigue and counterplots set in motion by those who have other plans for Branwen.

At first, sixteen-year-old Branwen, smart but dutiful, is resigned to her destiny. Then several attempts on her life force her to make her own destiny, one very much at odds to the future her father had planned. Choosing love over duty, using healing skills she learned from her mother, trusting her own natural leadership, Branwen becomes a legend throughout Wales. The story is told throughout through her eyes in present tense, which gives a sense of immediacy to every scene. Subplots abound, all of them well-resolved. From the opening line (Today I will marry a man I have never met), the main story’s builds tension, and each chapter ends on a page turner.

The story takes place over a three-year period, during which Branwen evolves into a revered figure the people call Mab Ceridwen, with the love of her life by her side. I can’t tell much more of the storyline beyond this without spoilers. But this is a book to settle into, as you become immersed in history, legend, and a great love story.

You can learn more about Between Two Fires and the author HERE. And you can preorder the book HERE  (I did, and I can hardly wait for it to arrive, so that I can take it to his book signing in Sacramento next month -- September 3rd).

How about you? Have you had the opportunity to get a book signed by an author you like? Do you like historical fiction? If so, what period of time and what setting? 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Books Set in Paris

I have had the good fortune to go to Paris two times in my life, and I loved that city both times. The art museums, the book stalls by the river, the cafés with outdoor tables and delicious wines, and musicians playing accordions in the park . . . I could go on and on.

I'd love to go to Paris again if the fates are kind. Until then, I satisfy myself with books set in Paris. Cara Black's mystery series leaps to mind:

I always consider a new Aimee LeDuc mystery my free trip to Paris. I haven't read the whole series, although I'm doing my best. I read too many of them to review them, but a few years ago I discovered Murder in the Bastille, and  while it isn't Book I of the series, it was my introduction. Actually, any one of them is a stand alone mystery, although, once hooked, it's fun to keep track of Aimée's life. She's a private eye for white collar techie crime, but keeps getting dragged into murder cases instead. Single, she 's a bit on the wild side with a penchant for bad boys.  Cara Black knows Paris inside and out and places each new mystery in a different neighborhood. Because Aimée grew up in Paris, naturally she has little snippets of memory about buildings she passes or bridges or streets she traverses, and so in a completely non-intrusive way, the reader picks up scraps of French history and art history while Aimée chases or runs from the bad guys.  Cara Black's website is equally interesting: Press HERE and go take a peek.

Right now I'm reading two different books set in Paris. And, since I seem to be on a book review kick these days, I'll share them with you.

One is fiction--Extraordinary People, a mystery by Peter May. A forensic expert, Enzo Macleod, has made a wager with a police chief and a préfect that, with modern forensic techniques, he can solve a cold case. Ten years earlier Jacques Gaillard mysteriously disappeared. Foul play was suspected, but there were no leads. With the help of a journalist, Macleod uncovers clues that were missed in earlier. investigations. He (like author Peter May) knows his way around Paris, too, and his setting details make you feel as though you are there in the City of Light, not as a tourist, but in a day-to-day way, with all the local landmarks being a familiar part of your universe. His writing is superb: interesting, well-drawn characters, and good story movement that never bogs down. Naturally I'm going to have to find more of this series to feed both my Paris habit and my mystery habit, because I love a good mystery. And, as you can tell, "I Love Paris."

The second book I'm reading (I'm about halfway through) is nonfiction. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart, is just delightful. It's a memoir of sorts. I say it that way, because, while it starts out recounting how Carhart discovered the shop and what was inside, it becomes an engaging share about the world of pianos in general--their history, how they are made, why they are made that way, etc. And it introduces you to life in a quiet, modest Parisian neighborhood with its local customs and traditions and ways of looking at the world. Carhart noticed the shop for weeks and weeks while walking his children to school, then finally worked up his courage to go inside. (He had once studied piano and had a softness in his heart for pianos and piano music.) In the window, it looked like a piano tuning and repair shop, and so it seemed when he first went inside. But the atelier he glimpsed through the back door of the shop held further mysteries. Really, you must read this.

How about you? Have you discovered some new good reads lately? If so, please share titles. I love to read a good book and usually find my books by word of mouth or hanging out at the library or book stores.