1. Before we start talking about your book, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?
Hi, Jamallah. Thank you for having me! About myself--I’m a mother, musician, and writer. I grew up in the military, which can be hard, but I loved going to castles, pig fests, salt mines, and the great historic sites of America’s East Coast. I think some of those experiences, and the people-watching that comes with always being the new kid at school have had a great influence on me as a writer.
As I grew up, my twin passions were music and writing. Over the years, in addition to majoring in music on trombone, I have taught myself a number of instruments. I have been lucky enough to play a few of them semi-professionally, and to teach on a wide variety. I wrote stories from the time I was eight or nine.
In addition to writing and music, I’m the mother of nine children--seven boys and two girls. They are the joys of my life.
2. Besides writing, what other things do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love playing music. My ‘day job’ is teaching lessons to about fifty students a week, but I never get tired of it. When I come home in the evening, when I get up in the morning, I like to sit down at the piano or harp, or pull out my flute or guitar.
I also like studying languages. I have coursebooks , novels, and bookmarked websites in Russian, Norwegian, German, Scottish Gaelic, and Old and Middle English. My skills range from having to re-learn the alphabet in Russian to being able to read a novel with some ease in German, but I’m not fluent in any of them.
I like doing kakuros and skiing, too, when I get a chance.
3. What is your daily routine as far as when you have an idea for your story?
Typically, I either clean or play harp while I drink my coffee and get the younger kids off to school, and once they leave, I spend the next few hours writing. Then I head out to teach music lessons, and take my laptop with me to write during any breaks I might have. In the evening, after the kids go to bed, I typically write and edit a little bit more. It’s sort of an all day, whenever I can sort of thing.
4. Where do you get your ideas from?
All over. A comment someone makes. A newspaper article. Things I read. A song. Things that happen in my life.
5. Out of all of the stories you’ve written so far, what would be your favorite and why?
Right now, I like The Blue Bells Chronicles the best. Of course, that’s one large story told in five books, two of which are out so far. I like the characters, their personalities, the way they face crises and learn and grow from their experiences. I like the history, adventure, and battles, and the concept of time travel.
6. Tell us something funny about yourself that not a lot of people know about?
If not a lot of people know, there might be a good reason! Well, this is very sad. I had to ask my kids if they could think of anything funny about me and they said they’d get back to me in a few days. Not good! I could tell you about my career aspirations when I was four, and loved cats and going for walks, but that might cast aspersions on my character, so I’ll settle for saying that when I understood what certain words were euphemisms for, I changed my career aspirations!
7. Are any of the stories you’ve written based on real life experiences or basically just from imagination?
I think every story written by every author contains bits and pieces of real life experiences. Coming up in Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles, for instance, Christina tells of a mysterious experience she has on the Isle of Iona. Although I’ve never been to Iona, her experience there is taken from something that did happen to me--minus the time-traveling twins fighting the thieving MacDougalls, of course!
I’ve written a couple of books that are more largely based on life experiences, with lots of details changed, settings overhauled, endings changed, and so on, but I’m not sure those will ever be published.
8. Does your ‘muse’ have a name and if so what is his/her name?
Coffee? No, in all seriousness, I don’t even think of having a muse. There are days when the words flow, when I’m inside every event and scene and character; and days when I have to work harder. But I never think of having a muse or outside force giving me inspiration.
9. What other genre besides the one you are writing about now would you like to venture into writing?
Some of my other works in progress are more contemporary fiction. The one I’m working on the most, outside of The Blue Bells Chronicles, isn’t time travel, but also involves a touch of paranormal, and two intertwined stories set in both modern and medieval Scotland; however, it delves into mysteries a bit more than my current writing, and that’s a challenge for me, but one I’m relishing.
10. Who are your favorite authors that are out now?
I like Jodi Picoult’s focus on tough issues. I love the way Audrey Niffenegger wove together such a complex story of two characters living interwoven, but chronologically mismatched, lives. What skill, apart from a beautiful story! I loved Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale for its setting and mysterious tale of dark secrets. And I would love to read more by Jennifer Egan. I found her book The Keep in a thrift store and was fascinated by the interwoven stories, the exotic locations, unusual circumstances, and the unfolding question of whether the prisoner is writing fact or fiction, and who he is in the story he’s writing.
11. Who are your favorite female and male characters from your books and why?
I actually like Shawn quite a bit, although he’s everything I dislike. He’s a wreck, but he’s someone fighting against a horrible life event, someone who’s made a lot of wrong choices as a result of that, instead of using it to grow. And yet, when his life finally spirals out of control, he finds there really is someone good there, just as Amy had believed, and bit by bit he grows into the man he was always meant to be. Of course, I like Niall, too, and I enjoy the interaction between them, and they discover nobody is perfect and we can all learn from one another and have room to grow.
Female characters--it’s hard to narrow down. I like Christina, who first makes her appearance in The Minstrel Boy as the wife of the evil younger MacDougall, when Niall goes to the dark and foreboding Creagsmalan as a spy on Bruce’s orders. She becomes important throughout the series. I have a college student named Deb in a book I wrote years ago, and a young widow in a new book I work on now and again who I like a lot. I think what draws me to all of them is that they are all three women of very different times, places, and circumstances, who have faced some very ugly situations and come through with grace intact.
12. What do you think is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Editing. And the fact that I work on my laptop, which makes the distraction of the internet very difficult.
13. What advice would you give someone who wants to start off being a writer?
Write. Write a lot. Write every day. Edit what you write. Get feedback on what you write. Write some more.
14. If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you would be doing right now?
Exactly what I am doing--playing music and raising my children. Although what I would love to be doing is playing trombone in a major symphony orchestra.
15. What do you like on a man…..briefs, boxer briefs or boxer shorts or nothing at all?
Mainly, what I’m trying to decide in answering this question is which of my sons would be more embarrassed to find my answer on the internet, lol! I have to eat dinner with these kids and they might never let me live it down, no matter what I say!
Shawn is sent with Niall’s beautiful young bride-to-be, Allene, on a mission through the wilderness to raise men Scotland’s famous Battle of Bannockburn. Throughout the series, Shawn and Niall encounter the giants and colorful characters of Scotland’s history--Robert the Bruce, James Douglas, Angus Og, and Edward Bruce, among many others; they fight at Bannockburn, Coldstream, Jura, Carlisle, and more. Most importantly, they are on their own journeys of growth as they move from despising one another to becoming brothers.
From Blue Bells of Scotland:
Shawn blew one long, golden tone, settling his nerves. His gaze drifted over the orchestra, to the hooded man who wanted Niall dead.
"Anyone can do that," the captain snapped. "Play, or you're dead."
Shawn scanned the crowd. He spotted Allene far back, pale as an albino rose and straining against Brother David's arm. He turned from her, winking as he did. He started a scale, getting a feel for the instrument. He played some lip slurs, jumping octaves faster and faster, as a boy skips stones in a river.
"Anyone can do that!" the captain roared.
"Want to try?" Shawn offered the instrument. An easy smile curved his lips.
The captain glared. His eyes narrowed. His voice dropped to a deadly whisper. "Play a song, Sydney. I'll cut your bowels out myself for playing me for a fool."
Their eyes locked. Shawn read bloodlust. Once more, his heart took up its pounding. This man did not want to be convinced. A moment of doubt assailed Shawn. But he swallowed hard and stepped boldly into his fate, as he always had.
He raised the instrument, paused for effect, meeting the eyes of several in the crowd: the dark-haired woman with child; the apron-clad apprentice. He let out a single note, tripped a half note up and back down, and slid an octave higher. He dropped in a couple of effortless grace notes, and drifted into the sweetly poignant melody of Czardas.
A gypsy woman near him swayed, her long black hair, like Amy's, swinging, her skirts swirling around her ankles. A couple of sixteenth notes floated from the bell, and she twirled. People stepped back, giving her space. He slid into a lively melody, the slide flying, notes tumbling out in revelry. The woman threw her head back, laughing; spun, twirled, raising her arms over her head, her feet skipping to his sparkling music.
He smiled behind the mouthpiece; his eyes danced with hers, then skimmed out over the crowd. He found Allene, leaning against Brother David. The gypsy's skirts spun in a magnificent circle, flashing layer after layer of kaleidoscope petticoats. Young girls swayed to the music. His arm flashed in and out, his tongue clicked out the tu-ku tu-ku tu's needed for notes this fast. He leaned toward the gypsy, their eyes met, and they circled one another, the sackbut singing, the slide flying, her feet dancing, gold earrings flashing sunlight. Shawn skipped and danced as he played, the notes skimming out in joyous revelry.
Villagers gaped. The sackbut player gaped more. Shawn slid back into the poignant melody, and the gypsy laughed again, showing white teeth and joy in life, and slowed back into the swaying, matching his music beat for beat; a bright crimson kerchief floated from her hands.
The last note drifted from the bell, shimmering in the summer air. Shawn lowered the instrument, beaming, bowing. The crowd cheered and clapped. They shouted. A girl threw blossoms, whites and blues and pinks showering his feet. He blew her a kiss. He grinned from ear to ear. He turned to the captain.
The man's face glowed crimson.
The words Can anyone do that? froze on Shawn's lips.