Monday, September 15, 2014

More about Spy Island

In honor of Spy Island's virtual book tour, I decided to give a little more information about the story behind the story. So without further ado, I present:  

Where did the idea of the book come from?

Spy Island blends real life events with fictional elements. It started out from an inspirational idea that I could weave an adventure story around the fact that the U.S. acquired the Danish West Indies in 1917. A little-known fact was that the island of St. Thomas had a well-entrenched German spy ring operating out in the open. Using this detail, I wove a narrative about an island girl who rescues a German U-boat deserter who is later blackmailed by the leader of this spy ring into committing sabotage and murder. The result is an old-fashioned spy thriller with an exotic Caribbean setting.

Charlotte Amalie: the site of an important WWI German Ettapendienst base.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Abigail Maduro:    Odeya Rush
Erich Seibold:        Daniel Brühl
Nana Jane:             Alfre Woodard
Cooky Betty:         Octavia Spencer
Judge Henrik Neergaard:   Bernard Hill
Herr Dreyer/Langsdorff:     Christoph Walz
Jens Jørgensen:      Max von Sydow

Odeya Rush: Does she make the perfect Abby?
Alfre Woodard is an extraordinary actress and would make a splendid Nana Jane.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your novel:

During WWI on the island of St. Thomas, a beautiful Sephardic Jewish girl helps a German war deserter and becomes embroiled in a German spy's plot to take over the Danish West Indies.

German actor Daniel Bruhl: would he play a convincing Erich?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Three years.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Ever since I was a child growing up in Charlotte Amalie, I longed to know what life was like back during Danish times. When I grew up, I turned my obsession into a full-time job when I began researching and writing Spy Island, (which is called "Transfer Day" in the Virgin Islands). In the book, the reader will be transported back in time to a tropical Danish sugar colony in the West Indies at the height of the Great War when German spies operated throughout the Caribbean and Latin America under the noses of the authorities.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

"Spy Island" is historical fiction with espionage and romance elements, comparable to "Circle of Spies" or "Ring of Secrets" by Roseanna White, or "Spy of Richmond" by Jocelyn Green.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Readers who love the Edwardian period through WWI will love "Spy Island" because it immerses the reader in that era. The period dancing and music, horse carriages, steamship travel, victrolas playing in the background…
"Spy Island" also boasts an international cast of quirky characters that range from a witty Irish sailor to Old World Danish characters, German spy characters, colorful West Indian characters and a spirited heroine who will capture your heart. So pour yourself a rum & coke, add a twist of lime, and let yourself be transported back to the old West Indies. You'll be in for an exciting adventure!

The Danish West Indies is a location rarely used in novels, movies, and plays.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A preview of my forthcoming historical thriller: Race to Tibet

I couldn't resist posting some pictures of my new novel Race to Tibet, a novel that explores the Victorian era's fascination with exploring the Roof of the World.

Let's start with some of the characters:

Nikolai Prejevalsky (1839-1888) was your classic Great Game heavyweight. He was the Tsar's go-to guy for bringing back vital intelligence about British activity along her Central Asian borders, exploring previously-unknown regions and mountain ranges, as well as bringing back zoological and ornithological samples. He even discovered a previously-unknown wild species of horse that was named after him.
His greatest dream was to reach Lhasa, but fate intervened and he came down with a whopping case of typhus and an unpaid hospital bill in the Russian military hospital in Karakol (in present-day Kyrgyzstan) where his body was laid to rest.

The death of Prejevalsky in 1888 opened up new doors for other explorers, namely Gabriel Bonvalot, a gutsy French explorer whose specialty was sneaking up on foreign countries unannounced, a sort of geographical party-crasher. Bonvalot had guns, muscles, and oodles of chutzpa, but not much money, so when the Duke of Chartres offered to finance his expedition to Tibet, he said, "Oui" and "Quand partons-nous?" (When do we leave?) The only caveat being that Bonvalot had to take along the Duke's wayward son, Prince Henri d'Orleans, an aristocratic poltroon with a penchant for gambling, drinking, and getting on everyone's nerves. Thankfully, nothing that a good fist fight couldn't fix. You can read all about their harrowing journey in my forthcoming thriller "Race to Tibet". 

For more pictures about their extraordinary journey to Tibet, please click on the Pinterest link. Please follow me on Pinterest for updates.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Evolution of a Book Cover

I started writing Transfer Day, an historical novel set in the Danish West Indies during WWI, in December of 2008 to fulfill a childhood promise to write a novel that would capture the unique history and beauty of St. Thomas, the island of my youth. Very few people know that for 300 years Denmark had a sugar colony in the West Indies, but no novels existed that were set in this unique location.

My novel centers on a 16-year old girl who becomes embroiled in a German spy's plot to invade and take over the islands after she rescues a deserter from a German U-boat. After years of writing and polishing several drafts, I was ready to start designing a book cover.

 In the Spring of 2011, I hired a professional designer and described my vision for the cover, which included blazing cannons, Danish soldiers and U-boat medallions. Here are the results:

I liked the covers, and I have no doubt I would have used one of them had it not been for a certain beta reader—a gentleman who owns a book store—who pointed out that the majority of book buyers are women, and for a book cover to work, it should reflect that fact.

This added a significant wrinkle to my situation. Since one of my main characters was a U-boat officer, I naturally thought that guys would be more interested in reading Transfer Day. I knew that to successfully market my book to women, I would have to change the girl's age, change several key scenes, and create a richer romantic subtext to the story.

I went back to the drawing board and hired a new book designer to create a new cover that reflected this new image. The new cover we conjured up was definitely designed to appeal more to females. Gone were the smoking cannons, the unfurled flags, the shiny medallions. Instead, we inserted a beautiful girl superimposed over an idyllic image of Charlotte Amalie. This is the result:

I launched "Transfer Day" in June of 2012, never realizing that my journey was just beginning. As a thank you for sharing his expertise, I sent a paperback copy of "Transfer Day" to my European military consultant (who is also an avid reader) who promptly declared upon completing it that the book was a spy thriller. A spy thriller? I could feel my brow wrinkling. "That's impossible!" I argued. "This book is historical fiction. Look at the historical setting, the island vignettes, the international cast of characters." "No, no," he answered firmly. "Transfer Day is a spy thriller."

I accepted his assertion, but if "Transfer Day" was a spy thriller, then it would need new title and a new cover to reflect its new genre. I pondered this dilemma for hours, but I remained stumped. I couldn't think of a new title. And then, right out of the blue, it hit me:  "Spy Island". Spy Island was the perfect title for my book. After more intensive research, I designed a new cover to reflect this new image:

I was pleased with the results. But two months later, I got a big surprise. I had entered "Spy Island" in a giveaway sponsored by a popular YA blog (since I was trying to break into the YA market) and to my dismay, the reaction was lukewarm. The new cover didn't seem to excite much interest. I was shocked because I thought the title and cover would appeal to lovers of historical fiction and action/adventure novels. But I was off the mark. Back to the drawing board.

This time, I delved deeper into the study of YA book covers. Many book blogs contain in depth analyses about current trends in YA book covers, and I studied these blogs for hours on end, analyzing hundreds of covers, studying which images worked best to attract readers. After more research and investigation, this is the new image I came up with:

While the new cover captured the essence of my main character and the tropical setting of the novel, the historical aspect was missing. After subjecting the cover to a focus group, the conclusion I came up with was that most people felt the cover projected a contemporary romantic look, not the sweeping historical espionage thriller I had written. I heaved a sigh and went back to the drawing board.

Late one night after everyone had gone to bed, I was browsing through Shutterstock, looking for the right image. Then it hit me. I found a picture of a beautiful Croatian model with a turn-of-the-century hairdo that was just perfect. I knew I had found my Abby. But what about the background? After more consideration, I decided to go back to my original background, the one that accurately captures the look of the island that I had used for the original Transfer Day cover. My cover artist put the cover together and for the first time in years, I had a feeling of total satisfaction. After all those hours of work, I finally achieved the desired results. The cover is attractive and intriguing, and conveys the historical feel of the novel. My job was finally finished.

After two years of hard work, I learned that designing a book cover is a complex subject best left to professionals. But if a writer is compelled to do it, you should be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, as it is only through those failures that you'll learn to grow, adapt and change. The hardest lesson of all was accepting that what pleased me was not necessarily what the market wanted. I had to let go of my preconceived notions about what entailed a successful book cover and embrace the market's needs. Now that I've reached this new plateau, I feel like I've passed a crucial test. But when I look back on the journey, I'm grateful for all the help I received along the way. Mostly I'm grateful that I listened to the messages I received, and that I had the flexibility to act on them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

I've been tagged by my friend, the lovely and talented Lynne Hinkey, to blog about my writing process. Just scroll down to my entry of March 6th (My how time flies!) to read about my forthcoming historical novel, "Race to Tibet". If you would like to listen to an interview I gave to Etienne Gibbs in his show "In the Author's Corner", please scroll down to the very next post. Thank you in advance for reading/listening about my books. And as always, we serve a steaming mug of fresh coffee on this blog to all our readers!

Monday, April 7, 2014

In the Author's Corner with Etienne Gibbs on Blog Talk Radio

Join me on Blog Talk Radio where I discuss the writing and researching of Transfer Day (Spy Island):

Thank you again to Etienne Gibbs for a great interview. I really enjoyed it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guest Post by Literary Agent Josh Getzler


Josh Getzler

Recently, my assistant, Danielle, and I were discussing a number of queries we had received where the setup and buildup were outstanding, the manuscript was rolling along, we were wondering “Hmm, I wonder how this will play out,” and then…
BANG—Conspiracy of Templars!
BANG—The evil bully is actually an alien!!
BANG—The GOVERNMENT is out to get the 12 year old!
(No, this is not about any specific query, but a type. If you think this is about YOUR query, read on, then revise!)
OK, so here’s the thing: If you are writing a big international thriller, a YA adventure with Save-the-world written all over it, or epic fantasy, then fine. Go ahead with the Uncle Who’s Really a Triple Agent from the 28th Century.
But the books we were reading where this was happening were smaller in scope; mysteries and domestic dramas and YA novels that were, in some fundamental ways, cozier than that. It’s not necessary for a kid to find enough nitroglycerin to destroy the world three times over in the neighbor’s garage; he can find a stash of stolen art or his father's old service revolver. The bad apple down the block could have issues smaller than being three light years from the planet Xenon.
My point is pretty basic. Most novels have a built-in scope, where the reader is nodding along and where the suspension of disbelief is reasonable. When a writer, for reasons of ambition or because it seems cool, or in order to work out a tricky plot point, goes beyond scope, it is jarring. Eyes roll. We ask “Why?” We don’t want to read further, or we ask the author to walk it back.
Sometimes the writer will make a reasonable point: “We always hear that books need to be BIG in order to ‘make an impact in the market,’ and that’s what I was trying to do.” OK, fair enough. But almost all the time, the issue is far less about the true Bigness of the story and more about trying to compensate for a plot deficit.
And also understand, I’m not saying don’t be ambitious. I don’t want only tidy dramas in small towns or, you know,Good Expectations. But when you are thinking “OK, what if the dog can fly?” PLEASE be sure that you set it up that the spaniel drank a whole mess of magical non-poisonous jet fuel for dinner. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I have been tagged by Australian writer Elizabeth Jane Corbett to share my writing process in the “Tagged” blog tour. When not writing, Elizabeth works as a Librarian, Welsh Teacher, and blogger. You can visit her blog at:

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to my new novel:

Race to Tibet

Tibet by Nicholas Roerich courtesty of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, Manhattan

What am I working on?

"Race to Tibet" is a historical novel that tells a thrilling tale of high-altitude adventure and survival set in the world's most forbidden country: Tibet. It is based on the true story of three courageous explorers who are determined to be the first living European to reach Lhasa during the age of Victorian Exploration. 
When these intrepid adventurers reach Tibet, they discover a land of mystery and intrigue, a land of danger that promises them only one thing: death. In the end, only one of these explorers will fulfill his lifelong dream of reaching Lhasa, but he will spend the rest of his life haunted by it.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I have yet to find any substantial work based on the same theme. There is one book by the English writer, Mike Scholey, called "Beads of Water, Drops of Gold", but it tells the story of the 1904 Tibetan invasion from the point of view of Sir Francis Younghusband, whereas my story starts in 1889 and tells a much broader story about three distinct explorers, Francis Younghusband, Gabriel Bonvalot, and Bronislav Grombchevsky, who were all vying to be the first living European to reach Lhasa. I was inspired to write a novel set in the Himalayas after reading the novel "Paths of Glory" by Jeffrey Archer, but that's where any similarity ends. Archer's book is solely about George Mallory's attempts at conquering Mount Everest whereas my book narrates the adventures of three distinct explorers who set out on life-threatening expeditions between 1889-1890.

Gabriel Bonvalot, your average intrepid Victorian explorer

Why do I write what I write?

This story was a dream come true. I found it by chance, so, in a certain sense, I feel as if I was personally chosen to tell this tale. The amazing story of Gabriel Bonvalot was languishing in libraries around the world for over a hundred years and was dying to be retold in a novel. Had it not been for the geniuses of Google (specifically Larry Page), who came up with the brilliant idea of digitizing the worlds' books and making them searchable and accessible to all of mankind, Bonvalot's story might have stayed buried forever. So, in answer to the question, I'd have to say: when I find a story that captivates me that has never been told before, I immerse myself in that world and go to work bringing the story to life one scene at a time.

How does my writing process work?

I start with research, deep, intensive research. I download and purchase every book on the subject. Using legal-sized notepads, I write down everything relevant to the story or to the time period, such as eating habits, drinking habits, attitudes, unusual observations, medicines, bureaucratic dilemmas, folk remedies, speech habits, etc. Ditto with paper books. I highlight and underline everything I need to tell the story. This process can take a year to a year and a half. Then I sit down and start plotting the novel and creating scenes. I love to start by introducing the characters and building them up as interesting personalities. I keep the action moving forward and build suspense.

I hope you will enjoy "Race to Tibet" when it's released and I love to hear readers' comments and observations.