Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Blogger Author Alice Duncan!

Alice Duncan is one of my favorite authors. I adore her cozy mystery Spirits series featuring Daisy Gumm Majesty and set in 1920's Pasadena, CA. Daisy is a fake spiritualist who does all she can to keep body and soul together and help support her family. She is a spunky, industrious heroine much like Alice herself. In addition to rescuing dachshunds, Alice has sung and danced in a folk group. See photos on her website under her bio, and check out her YouTube links there. Alice Duncan has also written as Anne Robins, Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson, and even westerns as Jon Sharpe a couple of times. Alice, Anne, Emma and Rachel all write historical novels. Jon writes westerns. Back when she was young and didn’t know any better, she wanted to write the Great American Novel. After life kicked her around for a few decades she realized that she not only doesn’t want to write the Great American Novel, she doesn’t even want to read it. What she craves from reading material is to be taken away from life’s toils for a few hours. Entertainment is what she aims to provide with her novels, and she considers it a most worthwhile goal—and one she accomplishes extremely well. Read more interesting things about Alice in the bio on her website, http://www.aliceduncan.net/, and don't forget to read excepts of her books while you're there. Please welcome guest blogger Alice Duncan!


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Every now and then, when I’m sitting and ruminating about things whilst dachshunds cavort on, around, in front of and behind me (I’m serious about that. It gets downright annoying at times), I wonder why I can’t seem to force myself to write contemporary stories. The conclusion I inevitably come to is that I don’t like life as it is and prefer to make up life the way it probably wasn’t a long time ago. I mean, sure, people make up mysteries and romances about modern-day people, but I’m someone who not only doesn’t follow trends, but actually had to be told what a “Jimmy Choo” was. In other words, I’m hopeless in today’s world and like to get as far away from it as is humanly possible, as often as possible.

Therefore, I write historical novels. For several years I wrote historical romances set in the Old West (or my version of it). I had help in this endeavor from my mother, who grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, in the teens and twenties. Yes, I’m old. But my mother was old when she had me, her mother was old when she had her, and there’s room for at least three more generations in the spaces between my Swiss maternal grandmother and me. I won’t even talk about my paternal great-grandfather, who was a deserter from the Confederate Army. At least, I won’t do it here.

Anyway, Mom used to tell me stories about growing up in Roswell, and it sounded as though she lived in the wild, wild west. When she was a little girl, ranchers ran cattle down Second Street (the main east-west street in town); she and her three brothers and one sister lived in a three-room house made of adobe brick; her mother (having been widowed two days after my mother was born) earned a living for the entire brood as a seamstress; my uncles occasionally went out on the desert and captured wild burros, which they’d then ride until they got bucked off; there was no electricity in town; and there weren’t even any trees to block the relentless spring winds. Heck, I wrote an entire novel (COOKING UP TROUBLE) about the spring winds here in Roswell (Mom said she’d sometimes arrive at school with her legs having been sanded raw by the blowing dirt, dust and pebbles), and another one (PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND) that began with kids running to stay under the shadows made by clouds so that they could be cooler during the vicious summer heat. Today when the wind blows, which it does constantly during the springtime, the only vicissitude I endure is finding shingles that used to be on my roof in my front yard. And, lucky me, I have air conditioning.

Hmm. The Good Old Days don’t sound like a whole lot of fun, do they? Well, they probably weren’t for the folks who lived in them. However, when it comes to history, a novelist can fudge a bit. In my western historical novels, for instance, I leave out the cholera epidemics, floods (Roswell is in the middle of the desert, the soil is like clay, and it takes a long time for water to soak in. Before a couple of dams were built in the thirties by the CCC, the place flooded once or twice a year), ptomaine poisoning due to lack of refrigeration, lack of antibiotics, etc. Mom told me about tent revivalists who used to visit town and the Chautauqua folks who’d lecture in Roswell, etc. Therefore, I decided to give Annabelle Blue, heroine of PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND (available on Kindle and iPad) and PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL (to be published in January 2011), a lot of the stuff my mom used to talk about only without the grime, illness and so forth.

Oddly enough, once I moved to Roswell, I became nostalgic about Pasadena, California, where I’d lived for most of my life. Mind you, it was the smog, crowds, expense and general chaos of Southern California living that drove me away from it (I recall trying to shop for Christmas dinner after work once, and finding no parking anywhere even close to the market, much less in its parking lot, which was full to bursting. It was quite frustrating), but it used to be a beautiful, serene place where wealthy easterners wintered, and refugees from the motion-picture industry fled to escape their hectic lives. Of course, all those rich folks needed people like me (poor ones, in other words) to do their chores for them, so I decided to give Daisy Gumm Majesty, heroine of my “Spirits” books, a working-class background and a strong work ethic learned from her parents. The fact that she learned quite early in her life that rich folks can be just as gullible as poor ones, and that they sometimes have a good deal more money than sense, only added to the fun with Daisy, who’s a phony spiritualist.

I chose to set my historical mysteries in the 1920s, because so very much was going on then. Women, after decades of trying, finally got the vote in 1920 (in Turkey, by the way, women got the vote in 1918. Go figure); the world had lately endured two ghastly crises (the Great War and the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic); radio was being invented and improved upon almost daily; baseball was truly the great American pastime; the sale and consumption of alcohol was outlawed, giving rise to bootlegging and the murdering gangs who fought for control of the illegal stuff; and young people had begun questioning the values of their elders with a vengeance. The last item on that list is probably as old as the human race itself, but in the twenties the rebellion of the “Bright Young Things” seemed to take on an almost hopeless ethos. After years of war, illness and death, lots of young people concluded there wasn’t anything they could do about life, so they might as well party (if you need proof of this, read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books).

Unfortunately for her, Daisy Majesty, my favorite character to date in any of the books I’ve written, and who has appeared in four books to date, suffered through the worst of what life had to offer, too, but she couldn’t waste her life partying because she had a war-injured husband to care for and support. Although I have a lot of fun with the “Spirits” books, Daisy has many burdens to bear. As Connie Gregory, reviewer for Connie’s Reviews, put it: “HUNGRY SPIRITS has substance in the story line as well as in each character.” That made me feel good, as did the Booklist review of HUNGRY SPIRITS, the first line of which is, “This enjoyable series deserves to be much better known.” Huh. I couldn’t agree more!

Anyhow, that brings me to the most important point of this blog. HUNGRY SPIRITS, the fourth “Spirits” book, is being released this month! You can read the first chapter on my website (http://aliceduncan.net/) if you want to. In fact, you can read the first chapter of all the “Spirits” books there, if you hunt around a bit. The first three books, STRONG SPIRITS, FINE SPIRITS, and HIGH SPIRITS, are also available for your Kindle or your iPad if you’re lucky enough to own one of those interesting devices.

By the way, I hold a monthly contest in which I give books away. I started doing this some years ago, and I still have too blasted many copies of my books sitting around. Anyhow, each month I throw the names and addresses of entrants into my special contest doggie dish and at the end of the month Daisy, my winner-picking wiener, selects winners of the books I’m offering. This month is HUNGRY SPIRITS month, so if you’d like to maybe, depending on Daisy, win a copy, just e-mail me at alice@aliceduncan.net and give me your name and home address. Daisy does the dirty work on the last day of the month. Thank you!
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One person who comments today will receive a download of the Civil War anthology NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES, in which Caroline has a novella, LONG WAY HOME. Be sure to leave your email in the comment! This win does not disqualify you for Caroline's Saturday drawing nor as Alice’s weiner winner if you email her. Hooray for free stuff!

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Reviews for Alice Duncan:

“This enjoyable series deserves to be much better known. It takes place in Pasadena at the beginning in the early 1920s. WWI has had an immense impact on the Gumm-Majesty family. Billy Majesty returned from the war with wounds related to being both shot and exposed to mustard gas. As a result, he cannot walk or work and has become addicted to morphine. Daisy, his wife, supports the family working as a spiritualist. Billy doesn’t approve, but Daisy and the Gumm family are much more pragmatic. In this adventure, Daisy is asked to teach a cooking class for disadvantaged immigrant ladies at the Salvation Army. That sounds innocent enough, but Daisy can’t cook. She manages to stay one step ahead of the class, but she lands right in the middle of an anarchist plot, forcing her to turn sleuth and, along the way, confront her prejudices against Germans, whom she blames for her husband’s disability. Daisy’s upbeat attitude in the face of serious problems gives her great appeal, as does Duncan’s grasp of the period. Recommend Daisy to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs.” Judy Coon, Booklist

“Daisy is a terrific heroine – she’s strong, smart, sassy, independent, and loyal. All of Alice Duncan’s characters have outstanding traits, and the author’s narrative of Pasadena in the era of speakeasies and flappers is nothing short of genius and a true love of the time and place. HUNGRY SPIRITS is an easy reading guilty pleasure and is chock full of danger, intrigue, and friends and family relationships. This is a delicious tale showcasing another of Daisy’s unknown talents – cooking! Thank you Alice Duncan for providing some of the best stories and characters in today’s literary market.” Betty Cox, ReaderToReader.

“Alice Duncan has given us a slice of life book in post-wartime with an interlocking mystery. She delves into the feelings of the survivors and the families who lost loved ones. HUNGRY SPIRITS has substance in the story line as well as in each character. A great change of pace book, thoroughly enjoyable with great writing that holds your interest throughout. I highly recommend it; it's good for the heart and soul! “ Connie Gregory, Connie’s Reviews.

“The latest post WWI era "Spirits" novel is a terrific historical that contains a strong mystery subplot. Daisy and the strong cast including the repeat characters from previous books (see Strong Spirits, Fine Spirits and High Spirits) and the cooking class make for a fascinating deep look at 1921 California.” Harriet Klausner


After you finish commenting on this post, please go over to http://rebeccasavage.wordpress.com/ and read her interview of moi that was supposed to run yesterday. Rebecca has had major computer-related problems lately, so she's a tad behind.

16 comments:

Caroline Clemmons said...

I'm so pleased Alice stopped by today.

Sheila Deeth said...

What a neat article, and what fascinating facts. I love learning about America's good old days - learned about England's from my family. So here's my email and hoping I'll get to read more.

sdeeth at msn dot com

Elizabeth Delisi said...

You know what I love best about Daisy Gumm Majesty? She thinks she's a fake spiritualist...but her predictions come true often enough that it leaves us, and her, wondering if maybe she has a teensy bit of psychic talent after all. ;-) Can't wait to read the new one, Alice!

Liz

Alice said...

Thanks, Caroline, for having me, and thanks, Sheila and Liz for commenting! I hate to say it, but it took me a half-hour to figure out how to post comments on the blog. Can you tell I'm not very good at this????

Alice Gaines said...

Hi, Alice,

Great article. I love Daisy.

Bonnie Vanak said...

Hi Alice,

Daisy Majesty is a great character. Nice article!

Alice said...

Thanks, Alice and Bonnie! Love you guys.

Joan Young said...

Hi Alice - Loved you blog - informative with a bit of humor. Daisy Gumm Majesty is one of my favorite characters - a survivor like so many of us. Joan Young

Alice said...

Joan! Thanks for posting! I'm very fond of Daisy, too. She sort of reminds me of what I might have been without all the neuroses and vicious family members and stuff like that :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

A lovely piece! I'm certain the novel will be a great success.
In fact, I've enjoyed all your novels that I read.

I'm looking forward to posting a new interview with you
Monday, June 21st on the Author Expressions Blog.

Alice said...

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate all the help I can get in promoting my books.

Bonnie said...

Nice interview! I'm excited about the possibility of winning an Alice Duncan book. I'm also going to keep my eyes peeled for copies in the bookstores I frequent. You are an interesting author and I appreciate you sharing yourself with us.

BD@bdtharp.com

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Alice: I enjoyed your blog and descriptions of Roswell. Just wanted to tell you I love, love that cover. Reminds me of Nancy Drew books for some reason. Like you, I can't write contemporaries, but never knew why.

binabug said...

checking out the links from alice email :)

Mary said...

I love Alice's "Spirits" titles and reviewing the old times. Good blog!
MFS onthegulf
Mary Schoenecker

Alice said...

Thank you very much, Joyce, Bina and Mary! I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't write contemporaries!