Featured Author – Laurel A. Rockefeller

Laurel_new_garb_2012-06-16Today Laurel A. Rockefeller joins me to tell us all there is to know about her books and a bit about herself.

Thanks for allowing me to ask you a few questions. Can I start with some personal ones, for the readers to get to know you a bit before we jump to the writing matters?

Are you a traveller or a dweller? i.e. have you always lived in the same place?

I am a reluctant traveler. I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, I migrated all over the country. I currently live in Pennsylvania which is my sixth residential state, eighth municipality, and 16th overall home. My talent and the economy have driven all these moves as, just like everyone else, I’ve pursued that daunting task of trying to make a living.

Besides writing are there other things you enjoy?

I love birds. I’ve always adored parrots, especially cockatoos, and am blessed by the love of my cockatiel Mithril.

I’m also an amateur scientist and historian. I love learning. I practice living history in the Society for Creative Anachronism where I like to sing, dance, spin, make my own period clothing (I sew, but not very well), herbalism, heraldry, and of course, medieval aviculture.

I’ve been told you are kind of a Tolkien fan. Is there anything you ever did to express this love for his work?

Actually my first national publication was in the Minas Tirith Evening Star (journal of the American Tolkien Society) in the Winter 1991 issue for my sonnet “Why Bilbo?”

Since 1991, I have named every one of my birds with a name from Tolkien’s work. The only exception to this was a six year-old cockatiel I rescued from 1996-2002 named Cleo. Every other bird (and future bird) has a Tolkien/Middle Earth name.

What film is your favourite?

I’m a big movie buff; I don’t have a favorite movie. I don’t like violence, so I think I personally enjoy The Fellowship of the Ring the most among the Peter Jackson Tolkien films. The epic battles in the subsequent films (including The Hobbit series) bore me.

Overall I really enjoy bio-pics, musicals, classic films (big Cary Grant fan), and well done literary adaptations. The BBC adaptation (1995) of Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorites; adore Jane Austen.

Thanks for answering these questions about you, but now let’s get on with what you came for.

What is the title of the work you would like to talk about?

The Ghosts of the Past (book two of the Peers of Beinan series)

cover ghost

AMAZON | CREATESPACE

Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

Ghosts of the Past was much easier to come up with than its prequel, The Great Succession Crisis which had about six different working titles.

There are many levels where “ghosts” fits this story, both literal and metaphorical. It may not be the most clever or sexy title, but it describes this epic very well.

If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform to the market?

The entire Peers of Beinan series is multi-genre depending on how each person defines particular genres. It’s a medieval historical series grounded in my university history education and my twenty plus years as a medieval re-enactor. But it’s also set in another galaxy, enabling me to look at big picture sociological, political, religious, and historical topics without offending people.

The core story is a murder-mystery. But there’s also some paranormal aspects to it.

I guess if I had to change something to simplify all of this, I would turn this into a straight medieval murder-mystery, getting rid of some of the neat high tech stuff in the book. But it would be more of an alternative history on the religious front. Because unlike our own western history, there was no “Constantine” using monotheism for political gain, transforming medieval Europe into Christendom. In my stories, the original trend towards matriarchal polytheism that was so common across western societies persists. Instead of a pope battling for political power against feudal barons and kings, here we have a high priestess in that role.

And no, I don’t conform to the market. That probably makes my sales much lower than they might have been. But my literary role models like Tolkien and Austen did not write for the marketplace. Instead they told the stories that were in their hearts. History has rewarded them for that. I am optimistic that the cultural currents that make Austen and Tolkien even more popular today than when they were alive still persist.

I believe in these books and in Ghosts of the Past in particular.

So really, I would not change a thing – even the cliffhanger at the end.

And that’s how it should be! Good for you. 🙂

Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?

Well first, I celebrate by moving on and not re-writing it!

I am quite the perfectionist. I’ve joked that book one, The Great Succession Crisis, is my Montecello, a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s never finished, always in process of re-building estate.

So for me to stop and say “done” takes a lot.

After that, I celebrate by watching a movie or maybe an episode of one of the Star Trek series. And of course, finishing something difficult means I get more time with my precious cockatoo. Happiness is cockatoo cuddles!

Right with that out of the way and to confuse you we’ll take the alternative route now.

What don’t you like about writing.

I’m a perfectionist and I have a hard time calling anything DONE. I’m working on book three right now and I must have scrapped my second chapter “A Beinarian Princess in King Arthur’s Court,” (yes, a pun on the Mark Twain work) a dozen times. Sometimes I have a hard time finding the character’s voices and sensing where they want to take the story. My inner work ethic tells me that I should be FINISHING my third book, not constantly re-writing it from the beginning. That’s hard. Patience and finding the serenity to not fight my talent is always hard.

What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?

I market a lot through twitter. I hate it when people canvass social media with “buy my book” posts (I might be more turned off by this than you are), so I tweet a lot of links to my non-fiction articles for Yahoo Voices (for example, a recipe for lavender-chamomile tea I created that won in a tea brewing competition) and among those some tweets pointing people to amazon.com where they can buy Peers of Beinan series books.

Actually what generates the most attention, IMHO, is sitting down and talking one on one with people. I’ve tried the regular advertising and social media stuff, spent way too much money on that. But none of that works for me nearly as well as connecting individually in person with people. So my office door is always open to people – as long as the conversations are professionally focused.

I think that is actually a strategy which will prove to be the most effective, Laurel.

Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?

Food plays a big part in the world building I’ve done for this series. For example, Beinarians have a special minty hot chocolate they serve at weddings (there are plenty of weddings in the series) the way we drink champagne. There’s nara berries, kelan fruit, Belarian waffles, and of course, slatkos.

What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?

How about the recipe for Beinarian slatkos which the chefs at “What’s the Occasion” Bakery in Illinois helped me create? You will find this recipe at the end of both the paperback and digital editions of “The Great Succession Crisis Extended Edition.”

Beinarian slatkos are buttery baked pastry filled with fruit fillings popular across Beinan at formal events and sometimes for breakfast. Slatkos made be filled with any number of fruits and/or nuts from across the planet. While kara, kelan, nanla, and other Beinarian trees cannot grow here, their flavors can be closely replicated as demonstrated in this easy recipe. It works best when stainless steel cannoli forms are put in the middle while baking; without the forms, each slatko bakes completely flat, greatly reducing the amount of filling and requiring the scooping out of some of the bread in the middle.

Pastry Puff Shells

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup cold butter, divided

¼ cup ice water

1 ½ teaspoons water

2 tablespoons beaten egg

 

  1. In a small bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in ¼ cup butter until crumbly. Gradually add water, tossing with a fork until a ball forms. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12 inch x 6 inch rectangle.

2. Cut remaining butter into thin slices. Starting at a short side of dough, arrange half of the thin butter slices over two-thirds of rectangle to within ½ inch of edges. Fold unbuttered third of dough over middle third. Fold remaining third over the middle, forming a 6 inch x 4 inch rectangle. Roll dough into a 12 inch x 6 inch rectangle.

3. Repeat steps of butter layering and dough folding until all the butter is incorporated into the dough, ending with a 6 inch x 4 inch rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 15 minutes. Roll dough into a 12 inch x 6 inch rectangle once more. Fold in half lengthwise and then width-wise. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. In a small bowl, combine egg and water. Roll dough into a 12 inch square; cut into four squares. Brush with half of the egg mixture. Place squares onto cookie sheet and grab the two opposite corners and connect them over a stainless steel cannoli form.

5. Bake at 450° for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool until warm but not burning hot. Gently slide cannoli form out. Cool completely. Fill as directed below.

Substitution: baked shell dough may be substituted with crescent roll or turnover dough located in your local grocery store. Of the “crescent” dough options available in the supermarket, we prefer the new Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations Seamless Dough Sheet which is uncut crescent bread dough. To use pre-purchased dough, simply unroll, separate (or cut to size if using the dough sheet), bring the corners together over each cannoli form, seal, bake, and fill. For the flakiest shells, use turnover dough or Grands biscuit dough rolled/pressed out to size.

Fillings:

 1 ½ cups berries or chopped fruit

¼ cup sugar (if the fruit is tart or slightly unripe)

3 tablespoons cornstarch diluted in enough COLD water to dissolve it.

  1. Puree with blender or mash thoroughly to a smooth to slightly lumpy consistency. Push through a sieve if you want to remove the seeds. Put puree in a pot on medium heat on the stovetop; add sugar and starch liquid; stir constantly. Bring to a boil until well thickened. Cool completely. This will become very thick and tastes very fresh.

2. Once cooled, place some filling into either pastry bag or a sandwich bag. Cut hole into bag and squeeze slightly into pastry to pipe in the filling. Alternatively, a small spoon can be used to carefully fill each slatko shell. It is easier if you fill half on one side and half on the other as well.

Beinarian fillings:

Kara fruit filling

¾ cup blackberries (approximately 1 6 oz. container)

¾ cup blueberries (just under ½ of a standard pint container)

Kelan fruit filling

¾ cup blackberries (approximately 1 6 oz. container)

¾ cup lingonberries (approximately ¼ to ⅓ pound)

Nanla fruit filling

1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into small but not fine chunks

¾ cup kiwi fruit (about 1 to 2 fruit, depending on size), peeled and chopped

Nanla fruit filling should be coarser than most slatko fillings; do not puree completely smooth.

Toppings:

After baking and filling, the tubes may be doused with powdered sugar, sprinkles, iced at the ends, or just left plain.

Pastries! And with different fillings! Nom! Thanks Laurel. 🙂 Too bad I won’t be able to provide a picture with those goodies.

Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!

I was at work all day. By the time I catch up on email/social media responsibilities and make some dinner, it is time for bed.

Hahaha, credible, very much so indeed. 🙂 And finally why would you ever want to live life behind a keyboard slaving over a manuscript?

Why would I NOT want to slave over a manuscript?

Seriously, it is so much more fun and intellectually engaging than a lot of the jobs I’ve done across my long professional career. I’m very research-centric as a writer, perhaps because learning is so much a part of who I am. I’ve worked in many different industries over my life and never found anything so intellectually stimulating as writing my Peers of Beinan books. Where else do I get to study history, chemistry, physics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, languages, religions, and dozens of other disciplines all at the same time? I also get to apply my living history experiences. You see that in the dozens of heraldic emblazons I’ve created for the series, in the structure of royal court scenes, in the English country dancing, and of course in my music. I’m unusual as an author in that I write songs into my books, some of which still have the music to them surviving and heard on the book trailers.

If there is a perfect scene in Ghosts of the Past, it’s the one at the very end of chapter eight where Princess Constance finds her slain father. She’s in shock, particular since the crime scene is the throne room. She doesn’t know what to do, so she sings a song that is so reflective of ancient and medieval Germanic and Celtic musical traditions, I’ve been asked by people to cite the historical source for the song she sings. What a compliment to me as a medievalist!

That song is so beautiful to me that I never get tired of hearing it.

You can read the scene in full at http://www.peersofbeinan.com/Ghosts-Excerpt.html. But here’s the song itself:

“He was a strong and noble lord with piercing eyes of grey. 

He sat upon his noble throne shining like the dawn. 

His sword flashed like the brightest star. 

He led our people well. 

Yet here and now he lays in blood pierced with arrows.  

He was the friend of many knights. 

He loved the warrior games. 

His heart was won by a lady fair for marriage they did wait. 

A kindly prince, his duty carried him to another’s bed. 

And on her death true love returned, finally they wed. 

He felt the grief of children lost to murder and to pain. 

I was the youngest of his blood. 

I’ll never be the same.  

Here lays my father and my lord.  

I know not what to say. 

Except my father and my lord was slain here on this day. 

Here lays my father and my lord.  

I know not what to say. 

Except my father and my lord was slain here on this day….”

Okay now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cat’s, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

Writing Ghosts of the Past gave me terrible nightmares. It’s a dark story, much darker than my naturally optimistic nature feels comfortable with. I’m not a dystopian, though I was certainly raised in a home emphasizing a very dark, apocalyptic world view – Jack Van Impe and similar preachers were always on TV or in church or whatever. The world was always ending.

In Ghosts of the Past, the world IS essentially ending. The Beinarian Era (BE) actually ends with the book with the New Era (NE) dates beginning towards the end of book three, Princess Anyu Returns (in progress now).

The world is ending because the villain in book one and his followers want their revenge on the Gurun dynasty so bad they are willing to do anything – bomb healing centers, murder in cold blood, use and abuse people – there is no means they will not pursue to get that revenge.

Writing all that meant I had to remember the darkest time of my life, a time of unspeakable violence and torture, my body still marred by the physical scars from that time. It was brutal beyond the imagination of even a horror novelist.

I cannot put into words what happened nor would I in a public forum. But the adage that we write what we know is true. Into Ghosts I bestowed some of the most difficult experiences of my life. It was very hard for me. This was not an easy write.

But it is the perfect middle chapter to this Anlei’s Legacy trilogy arc. And so I feel it was all worth it, all those sleepless nights!

Thank you very kindly for speaking with me today. I sincerely hope you now know me better. I look forward to speaking to as many of you as possible in the coming days and weeks. To talk to me directly, please email peersofbeinan.com. There is also additional contact information on my website, www.peersofbeinan.com.

Thank you for being so open Laurel. I think you are very passionate about what you write and that shows in your words and the effort you put into it. If at any time you feel you have more to share, don’t hesitate to stop by again. And to the readers I’d like to say, or rather I’d like to ask them, “Have you ever truly written or read a book that has been so thoroughly thought through as this series?”

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