Thursday, November 14, 2013

Interview with historical suspense author Linda Bennett Pennell

The historical suspense with romantic elements novel Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel is the focus of today's interview with the author, Linda Bennett Pennell.

Linda will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. To be entered to win, leave a comment below. And to increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit other tour stops and leave comments there, too!

Welcome, Linda. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend." 

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.

Favorite quote regarding my professional passion:  "History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up." Voltaire  

Please tell us about your current release.
Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.  

Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan's self-righteous vigilantism. Jack's older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancĂ©, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.  

Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.

What inspired you to write this book?
When my parents and I moved to Lake City, we stayed at the Blanche Hotel for a few nights waiting for our furniture to arrive. Later I learned about its history. Al Capone really did stay there at least once in transit between Chicago and Miami. The hotel is also supposed to be haunted by a woman who killed herself over love gone wrong and children who died there for reasons that I don’t know. Very credible people have reported hearing a woman crying and the sounds of children running and playing when there was no one else in the place at the time. The county has had its share of difficulties with moonshining, prostitution, and gambling. Knowing these tidbits of history drew me to write the novel.

(from Chapter Three)
“Jack Blevins, where have you been? It’s after midnight.” Meg grabbed her little brother’s arm and pulled him through her bedroom window. “If Daddy finds out, he’ll skin you alive.”
“Well, he ain’t gonna lests you tell him.” Jack hit the floor with a thump. “Man, I’m glad to be home.”
Meg’s eyebrows rose. “That’s sure new. Mama says you stay gone as much as you can get away with these days.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Jack kicked at the edge of the rag rug beside his sister’s bed. “If I’d known you was coming home, I’d of stayed around.”
“Nice to know you haven’t gone completely wild.”
Jack grinned at Meg and winked. “Not yet, but you never know. It could happen any day now. At least that’s what Mama says.” As he picked a thorn out of his elbow, he became quietly thoughtful. His words turned halting when he spoke again. “Meg, you ain’t gonna believe what me and Zeke seen at the sinkhole.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
Here is the blurb for my WWII work in progress tentatively entitled Assignment: Casablanca.

Casablanca, 1943. The city is a viper’s nest of double agents and spies. Nonetheless, preparations are underway at the Anfa Hotel for the first Allied conference of the war. The success of the conference, moreover the outcome of the war itself, may hang on OSS Officer Kurt Heinz completing his next mission, but he is increasingly torn between duty and the army nurse who needs his help. Lieutenant Sarah Barrett, R.N. is given a coded message by a mysterious patient who dies with Kurt’s name on his lips, sucking her into a vortex of danger and intrigue. When Sarah’s apartment is ransacked and her roommate disappears, the one person who can help is Kurt, a man with too many secrets to be trusted.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was about halfway through my first, and as yet unpublished, work of historical fiction, I began to feel like publication might be possible. No real reason for such optimism other than I was enjoying the act of creating so much. History has always been a passion of mine, but writing fiction is so much more fun and freeing than writing academic papers!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am lucky enough to be able to organize my time as I wish and as family needs allow. In addition to writing, I volunteer in our arts community and with my church. At times, I work for the school district. I also sing with the Texas Master Chorale. I manage to stay busier than I sometimes want.

On days when I’m writing, I usually start as soon as I’ve cleared emails and other business, then I write until I get to a logical stopping place. Sometimes it’s noon, sometimes it’s midnight.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
This is more of a life quirk because it applies to more than writing. I seem to have a major case of ADD, but not of the type that prevents concentration. My situation is just the opposite. When I am focused on something, you could set off a bomb and I wouldn’t notice. Great for getting writing done in any environment, but not so great when the hubby wants attention!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh my, so many things: cowboy (I was a major tomboy), singer (now my avocation), architect (still love to play with house plans), archeologist (cave paintings, yes!), historian (earned a BA in it), park ranger (national parks are my fav vacation spots) - sort of ran the gamut.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I would like to offer aspiring authors some advice that I had to learn the hard way: be kind to yourself. We writers face a lot of rejection. It comes in many forms. This can create in us an internal critic that spews forth a constant stream of negative self-talk. Do yourself a favor. As long as you have done everything possible to be the best writer you are capable of being, then get rid of the internal critic and its negative self-talk. Turn it off; kill it off; do what you must. You are being kind to yourself and that is great for the creativity.

Thanks, Linda! Readers, don't forget to comment if you'd like a chance at the gift card!


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Andra Lyn said...

Hi Linda!

Thanks for all the good stuff about your book! I'm loving it! So tell me, if you were to come up with a soundtrack for your book, which artists or songs would be featured?

andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

Linda Bennett Pennell said...

Thank you for hosting me, today, Lisa!!

linda Bennett Pennell said...

Hi Andra, thanks for stopping by. A sound track - what a fun question! Let's see, for the historical chapters it would have to be lots of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, & Gershwin: "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime", "Night & Day", etc. For the present day chapters, I guess Liz would have to listen to what I listen to. Artists like Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Buble, Nora Jones, Josh Groban, Chris Botti, etc. Jazz, Broadway, and standards are my favs!

Rita Wray said...

Sounds like a good read.


Linda Bennett Pennell said...

Thank you, Rita!

Mary Preston said...

Fun to get to know you better - love the cowboy thought.


Natasha said...

Sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

bn100 said...

Interesting inspiration

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Karen H said...

Sorry for the late post. I’m playing catch-up here so I’m just popping in to say HI and sorry I missed visiting with you on party day! Hope you all had a good time!
kareninnc at gmail dot com