Monday, June 20, 2016

Preview: Island of Eternal Fire


Eternal Fire
In the lush, tropical world of Martinique in 1902, a planter's daughter and an army officer are swept up in a whirlwind of voodoo, deceit, and treachery during the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century
Coming in 2017
On the tranquil Caribbean island of Martinique all hell is about to break loose. 
Martinique, 1902: In the lush, tropical world of Martinique where slavery is a distant memory and voodoo holds sway, the volcano known as Mount Pelée begins to rumble and spew out ash. On a nearby plantation, Émilie Dujon is pressured into an unwanted engagement with a wealthy sugar planter. Desperate, she turns to a voodoo sorcerer, but instead becomes his unwilling pawn. To escape her situation, she joins a scientific commission sent to investigate the crater where she meets Lt. Denis Rémy, a soft-spoken Army officer whose reticence to discuss his past stirs her imagination.

At the summit, the commission discover that a second crater has formed and the volcano appears to be on the verge of eruption. But when they try to warn the governor, he orders them to bury the evidence for fear of upsetting the upcoming election. As the volcano begins to show its fury, a deadly mudslide claims the life of Émilie’s father and she is sent to an asylum. As ash rains down and chaos erupts in Saint-Pierre, Rémy deserts his post and sets off on a desperate quest to rescue Émilie. With all roads blocked, can the lovers escape the doomed city of Saint-Pierre and its voodoo sorcerer before it’s too late? 
Old map of Martinique 

Mount Pelee, the volcano responsible for the greatest volcanic disaster of the 20th century, and practically of all time.
The City of Saint-Pierre, also known as the Little Paris of the West Indies before the disaster of May, 1902 that would completely decimate the city as if from an atomic explosion.
Amedee Knight, an important political figure and businessman caught up in the whirlwind of the Mount Pelee tragedy.
A typical street scene in Saint-Pierre in the idyllic days of 1898 before the disaster.
May 7th, 1902: the volcano in full eruption. No one in the city was evacuated.
Dining Room of wealthy Creole house.
Professor Gaston Landes, teacher of biology and natural science at the lycee of Saint-Pierre. He was the most respected of the educated elite of Martinique, but even the study of volcanology was still in its infancy in 1902.
Martinique Beke family (blanc Creole) relaxing on their porch.
Creole Plantation Villa.
The Gran Zongle, one of the most feared Voodoo witch doctors in the history of Martinique. Voodoo is still very much alive in the Caribbean.
Martinique lady 1905.
French Colonial Soldier.
View of Saint-Pierre by Louis Gamain.
May 14th, 1902: finding the shocking and devastating remains of people incinerated by pyroclastic flows.
Sophie Schiller in the dungeon of Ludger Sylbaris (August Cyparis) one of the few people to survive the devastating eruption of May 8th, 1902

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Inspiration can come from some of the strangest sources

When I was a senior in High School I chanced upon a movie that changed my life. Das Boot was a movie about the exploits of a WWII German U-boat during the infamous Battles of the Atlantic. Something about the movie fascinated me. Perhaps it was the cramped conditions on board the submarine, perhaps it was the maritime setting, perhaps it was the agonizing suspense. I think the main reason was Jürgen Prochnow, a wonderful actor who played the ship’s Kapitänleutnant and soon became an international star. I wasn't alone in these adventures, however. I was joined by my best friend and partner-in-crime, Beth Nagle, who was just as intrigued by the adventures of these hardy sailors as I was.

Seeing Jürgen’s picture it’s not hard to imagine why an 18 year old girl would have preferred to spend her days in his company rather than in Trigonometry or Chemistry. But it was the images of those sailors in those cramped conditions that really fired my imagination. 

Anyway, about 25 years later all those afternoons in darkened movie theaters became the engine that drove my first novel, Transfer Day. The idea that a German U-boat officer could become a sympathetic character was very intriguing, and I wanted to make it work. First I had to learn what characteristics these hardy men of the sea possessed.

To understand what it was like to live and fight under these conditions I dove into the study of U-boats, reading such classics as “Iron Coffins” and “Steel Boats, Iron Hearts” as well as books about the War of the Atlantic and accounts of sinkings on websites like It was on this website that I made the acquaintance of my research partner, Robert Derencin, a Croatian naval veteran who is one of Europe’s leading U-boat experts. It was a partnership that grew into a friendship that lasted until this day. When I told Robert what I wanted to accomplish, namely, to write a book about a German U-boat officer who deserts his ship in the middle of war and escapes to the Caribbean, he provided all sorts of scenarios that made the book possible. 

In the end, I believe my character, Erich Seibold, fits the image of a hardy U-boat officer whose personal ethos prohibits him from sinking passenger ships, which is the engine that drives my novel and puts him in even greater danger when he escapes to a neutral Danish island only to find out that it will soon be transferred to the Americans.

Kptlt. Otto Weddigen (1880 - 1915)
One of the most infamous U-boat captains of the Great War.

Perhaps the one scene in the movie that moved me more than any other was when the U-boat sailors sang the WWI song “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. That song, more than anything else, symbolized the war for both sides of the conflict, and I made sure to include it in my novel. 

Click here to watch the video

If you are a writer, what are some of the strangest sources of inspiration you've ever had? Did they inspire you to write an entire novel? Or did they take you on a completely different direction?

Transfer Day: When the whole world is at war not even an island is safe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Spoof Rejection of "The Stranger" by Albert Camus

What if "The Stranger" had never been published? What if Camus' great achievement had never been recognized? Here we have a little fun envisioning what a rejection of this classic work of existentialist literature would look like to brighten your otherwise morose day.

July 14th, 1942

Dear Mr. Camus,

I regret to inform you that we cannot publish your novel "The Stranger", which appears to have been written on the inside of French cigarette packs and mailed from some obscure Algerian prison. It took our intern weeks to piece it all together in the proper order, but she finally managed after many glasses of red wine and tears of frustration.

Do not think that I came to this decision lightly. I sat for a long time contemplating your character's situation, staring at the walls of my office, watching the flies buzzing around my head, feeling hot and uncomfortable as the sun beat down through the skylight and the sweat dripped down over my eyelids. While setting half your story in an Algerian prison may seem exotic and original, I found it hot and claustrophobic. My intern threatened to quit unless I opened a window or turned on the air conditioning, but in the end I decided to dismiss her, thinking that would be the most humane thing to do.

I found it hard to sympathize with your character, Meursault. First because he smokes in almost every scene, and second because he was so indifferent, ambivalent, and unambitious. To tell you the truth, most of my interns fit this description. Perhaps a better title for the novel would be "The Intern." At least that way you would have an easier time finding an audience and plugging your novel via social media. Plus, I would seriously reconsider the ending. The buzzword in publishing these days is HEA, which means "Happily Ever After" but it could also mean "Horrible Endings Always." I'm not really sure and it doesn't really matter anyway.

Apathetically yours,

Harold Meaningless

Sisyphus Publishers

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

10 of the Coolest Explorers to Reach Tibet

A breathtaking journey to the Land of Snows....

No country has stirred the public's fascination quite like Tibet. For centuries people have dreamed about reaching this mystical Land of Snows. Locked away in the foreboding Himalayas, men and women longed to read about this mysterious Buddhist kingdom that was ruled over by a god-king, the Dalai Lama, but no explorer had yet managed to reach this forbidden land. With Tibetan soldiers armed with matchlock rifles stationed at every mountain pass under orders to turn away or shoot any foreigner caught trampling their Buddhist kingdom, entering into this Forbidden Kingdom seemed like an impossible feat. And that's how it was for centuries.
The yak is the only pack animal suited to life at high altitudes.
 Lying at an average altitude of 15,000 feet and surrounded on all sides by the enormous peaks of the Himalayas, Victorian travelers dubbed Tibet 'The Roof of the World', and Lhasa, its mysterious capital so long closed to foreigners, was called 'The Forbidden City.'

Here are some of the hardy explorers who dared infiltrate the Forbidden Kingdom:

General Nikolai Prejevalsky- Notable Russian explorer of aristocratic Polish heritage, who inspired fear in all who met him. He was active in the 1870's up to 1888, making several attempts to reach the Forbidden City of Lhasa, but each time was forced to turn around due to the extreme altitude and sick animals. The closest he came to Lhasa was 160 miles, a record at that time. He eventually died just before his final expedition and was buried beside Lake Issyk-Kul in what is known today as Kyrgyzstan. Prejevalsky was a legend in Russia, a favorite of the Tsars, and a classic explorer in the Victorian mold.
General Nikolai Prejevalsky: Despite the resemblance, he was NOT the father of Joseph Stalin.
William Rockhill- Young American diplomat in Peking who studied the Tibetan language and thought he could sneak his way into Tibet by dressing as a Buddhist pilgrim. In the 1880's after his wife came into some money, he organized a caravan and set out on a grueling thousand mile march to Lanchou from where he planned to clandestinely cross into Tibet. He reached Tibetan Monastery of Kumbum where he gathered materials on the Tibetans and their religion and pressed onward, but was driven back 400 miles from Lhasa by the harsh climate. His second attempt brought him to within 110 miles of Lhasa, beating Prejevalsky's record. He was later awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society and went on to become the ambassador to St. Petersburg and Constantinople.
William Woodville Rockhill: the diplomat who dreamed of seeing Lhasa.
Alexandra David-Néel- Perhaps the most flamboyant and celebrated of the Tibetan explorers was David-Néel, a true eccentric who was years ahead of her time. Born in Paris in 1868, she became an opera singer before turning toward more spiritual pursuits. A seeker and a mystic by nature, she became a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a practicing Buddhist. After disguising herself as a Tibetan beggar, she became the first European woman to enter Lhasa in 1923 and wrote about her strange encounters on the Roof of the World. David-Néel exemplifies the adventurous spirit of the Victorian explorers. She won an audience with the Dalai Lama in Darjeeling and sold many copies of her memoir which are read even today. A French movie about her life was made in 2012.
Alexandra David-Néel- Probably the most spiritually inclined of all the Tibetan explorers
Annie Taylor- Adventurous, 36-year old English Presbyterian hell-bent on carrying the gospel to the Dalai Lama. Due to a childhood heart-condition, she was spoiled and coddled by her parents and was not expected to survive into adulthood, but she outlived her doctors' prognoses and became a missionary in 1884, selling all her jewelry to raise the funds necessary to set sail for Shanghai. After organizing a caravan, she mounted an expedition to Tibet along the Tea Road from Szechuan to Lhasa. After experiencing ill health and passing the skeletons of earlier travelers, her sense of self-preservation forced her to turn back only a 3 day march from Lhasa. She died at the ripe old age of 67.
Annie Taylor in Tibetan dress.

Jules Dutreuil de Rhins-  By far the unluckiest of all the Tibetan explorers, de Rhins was a former naval officer who organized a caravan to Lhasa in 1884. He traveled for 4 months and came within a six day march of Lhasa when he was ambushed by a party of Tibetan bandits armed with matchlocks. After a standoff, during which time he was deteriorating from the altitude sickness, frostbite, and gangrene on his legs, he was finally captured, bound by his hands and feet, and thrown alive into a river.

Sven Hedin- Swedish explorer born in 1865 who made 3 daring expeditions through the mountains and deserts of Central Asia between 1894 and 1908, mapping and researching parts of the Sinkiang Province and Tibet which had been unexplored until then. He is probably the most famous and lauded of all the Tibetan explorers, but his later associations with the Third Reich have clouded his otherwise stellar image.
A heroic depiction of Sven Hedin in Tibet was widely used to sell products during the Victorian era.
Heinrich Harrer- An Austrian mountaineer born in 1912 who joined a four-man expedition in 1939, led by Peter Aufschnaiter to the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat in what was then British India. When war was declared the 4 climbers were sent to a detention camp near Bombay, but escaped to Tibet. After crossing the Tsang Chok-la Pass (5,896 m, 19,350 ft) Aufschnaiter and Harrer, helped by the former's knowledge of the Tibetan language, proceeded to the capital of Lhasa, which they reached in 1946, having crossed Western Tibet. In all, Harrer spent seven years in Tibet which he recounted in his memoir which was later turned into a movie. 
Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama
Gabriel Bonvalot, Prince Henri d'Orléans, and Father Constant de Deken- This unlikely partnership between a burly, fast-shooting French explorer, a gambling, womanizing French prince, and a Chinese-speaking Belgian Catholic missionary is recounted in Race to Tibet, a novel about their daring exploits on the Roof of the World. A self-made man of French peasant stock, Gabriel Bonvalot traveled widely throughout most of Central Asia and scaled some of the most dangerous passes in the Pamir Mountains and the Himalayas. The story of his journey to Lhasa is a fantastic adventure filled with action, danger, and suspense and just a little romance.
Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orleans
Now for the first time ever you can read the untold story of Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orléans who risked everything to be the first Westerners to reach Lhasa and meet the Dalai Lama. RACE TO TIBET is a thrilling tale of high-altitude adventure and survival set in the world's most forbidden country: Tibet
Gabriel Bonvalot: As fearless as he was gorgeous. He was so rugged, he was considered the explorer's explorer.

Race to Tibet is now on sale.


Publishers Weekly: "Fans of Jules Verne’s travel adventures will find Schiller has done a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn."

Here's what reviewers are saying:

"A Fascinating Journey Across Tibet." 
Mountaineer Mark Horrell

"Wonderful historical novel about the famous French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot. Experience an expedition to Tibet with all its beauty and horrendous conditions." 
Words and Peace Blog

"Non-stop excitement from beginning to end."

Redhead with a Book

"The characters were larger than life, intricate, and interesting, and the enterprise suspenseful, dramatic, and scenic. Schiller writes in a descriptive manner, with sentences that flow in a fluid and at a good pace."
Erin, For the Hook of a Book

"Excellent fact-based novel about an expedition to reach the most isolated culture in the world. Fascinating!"

Author Mark Schreiber

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Read the first chapter of "Island of Eternal Fire"


     While the island of Martinique was fast asleep the Devil rose up from his subterranean lair and took up residence in Mount Pelée. It started out as a groan, deep-throated and muted, that grew into a growl—a geological hiccup. Soon the ground began to tremble. Puffs of smoke blew out from the crater as if from the Devil's own mouth. A short while later, cracks began to appear in the walls and bridges around Saint-Pierre, and somewhere beneath the ocean depths, a telegraph cable snapped.

     The evening of April 22nd was one of those spectacular nights in the West Indies. The stars lit up the heavens and bay of Saint-Pierre sparkled like jewels in the moonlight. Palm trees rustled in the breeze and gas lamps illuminated the streets, sending shimmers of light reflecting off the yellow walls and red-tiled roofs of the villas.
By ten o’clock that evening the theater let out and Émilie Dujon, a young woman of twenty with amber-colored eyes and long brown hair twisted into a chignon, was part of the procession that made its way down the grand staircase and out to the horse carriages that were lined up along the Rue Victor Hugo. Accompanying her was her fiancé, Lucien Monplaisir, a dark-haired, brooding young man of twenty-five who had just returned from Paris where he had studied law and every cabaret in the city. He attempted to make small talk with as Émilie hastily descended the grand staircase, but she was too annoyed to even look in his direction let alone engage in civil discourse. He had spent the entire evening flirting with one of her old school friends and she was ready to wring his neck. When the heel of her shoe caught in the cobblestones, she uttered a loud oath and climbed into the carriage without even waiting for the driver to open the door.

Lucien raised an eyebrow. “What the devil’s gotten into you?”
Émilie turned her head away and said nothing.
“You know she means nothing to me,” he said with exasperation. “Why are you behaving like a petulant schoolgirl?”
She glared at him. “I’m petulant? That’s a laugh. You couldn’t take your eyes off her the whole evening.”
“Now you’re being silly,” he said, sitting beside her. “We were only having a simple conversation.”
“A simple conversation that lasted the entire intermission.”
“Oh come now, you’re being impossible. You know I would much rather spend the evening with you drinking champagne under the stars or dancing at the Cercle de l’Hermine rather than in a stuffy old theater making small talk with a complete stranger.”
“Then why did you buy her a glass of champagne?”
“Because she’s your friend,” he said with a touch of iciness in his voice. “And she’s a lovely girl. What would you have me do, ignore her?”

Fuming, Émilie turned to stare out the window. An uncomfortable silence followed during which time Lucien lit a cigarette and began drumming his fingers on the windowsill, a habit that irritated Émilie almost as much as his flirting and his penchant for gambling in the private clubs and drinking to excess.
“You know what your problem is, Émilie? You’re the jealous type.”
“I’m jealous?” she said, taken aback. “If you must know, my problem is that I’m too tolerant of your wandering eye. This is not the first time you’ve behaved like that. I should have left before the second act.” As she said this she swept the ashes from his cigarette off her dress.
“Now you’re being silly,” he scoffed. “If you must know, Mademoiselle Lavinier can’t hold a candle to you. I find her much too provincial for my taste. I don’t think she has read a book in her entire life.”
“Lucien, please stop blowing smoke in my face. It makes me gag.”
All of a sudden, they heard three loud explosions followed by tremors that rocked the carriage. A loud rumbling noise emanated from the mountain that sounded like boulders rolling down a hill—or thunder. The horse reared and the carriage driver, an elderly native man, struggled to control the frightened animal. With great difficulty he brought the carriage to a stop and they sat in the darkness feeling the ground shaking beneath them. Émilie grabbed the seat and held on, watching in amazement as pedestrians raced through the streets to open doorways, screaming in panic.
By now her muslin dress was streaked with sweat and her brown hair clung to the back of her neck. Heat and humidity hung in the air like a wet blanket. She glanced over at Lucien but he was craning his neck through the window for a better view. There was mass confusion all around, as if they were in a steamship caught in the middle of a cyclone, but they were on dry land and this was most likely an earthquake.
“Let’s get out,” said Lucien as he opened the carriage door. He pulled Émilie with him and together they stood on the side of the road watching the scene unfold before their eyes like spectators to a disaster. All around them, terrified residents crowded onto their balconies, into cafés, stores, or inns as they pointed to the faint shadowy outline of Mount Pelée in the distance. Lights flickered behind drawn shutters that were suddenly thrust open as curious residents peered out into the night, trying to determine the source of the quake. The driver hopped down from his perch and held the horse by its reins as he stared at the mountain in wonder.

Émilie followed his eyes and felt her heart skip a beat. By the light of the moon she saw an eerie plume of smoke rising from the crater of Mount Pelée. Next to her, Lucien emitted a low whistle. The driver said with great solemnity, “The sulfur mountain is boiling tonight.” Émilie and Lucien both nodded, but kept their gaze fixed on the smoldering mountain.
When the rumbling ceased Lucien turned to Émilie and said, “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here before something happens.”
Émilie was too stunned to reply. They climbed back into the carriage and the driver proceeded up the mountain road that headed north along the coast and then meandered up the flanks of the mountain. And then, all at once, Émilie smelled something ominous in the air. It was not a burning kind of smell, like the occasional fumes that drifted down from the Guérin Sugar Factory across the savannah, but a different kind of smell, like rotten eggs. Sulfur. As the carriage crossed the Rivière Blanche, she noticed the smell was becoming more pervasive. Some of the laborers walking by the side of the road had handkerchiefs tied around their noses and mouths to keep out the fumes.

For the rest of the ride back to the plantation, Émilie refused to acknowledge Lucien’s presence. As far as she was concerned she was through with him, but breaking off their engagement was impossible. As far as she knew no young lady of her social class had ever broken off an engagement and survived the gossip that would result from such a cataclysmic announcement. She let out a deep sigh and gazed at the summit of Mount Pelée, but just then a film of black clouds blotted out the moon, reducing her world to utter darkness.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brooklyn Book Festival 2015

On September 20th, thousands of readers and literary fans descended on downtown Brooklyn to partake of the Brooklyn Book Festival, the largest literary event in the 5 boroughs. The weather was sunny and warm with just a hint of breeze. Absolutely perfect. Representing the Historical Novel Society was yours truly along with Lisa J. Yarde (author of the Sultana series), Nancy Bilyeau (author of the Tudor Trilogy The Crown, The Chalice, and the Tapestry), Faith Justice (author of Gladiatrix), as well as our President Pat Rich, Denise Valenti DiFulco, Yvonne M. Conde, and Michael Joseph Mollow of the Romance Writers Association. Historical Mystery writer Annamaria Alfieri author of Strange Gods also joined us for some deep discussion about historical novels. Here are some highlights:

With Lisa J. Yarde and Nancy Bilyeau
With Romance writer Michael Joseph Molloy

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Emma's Shadow

Most people have never heard of "Emma's Shadow" (Danish: Skyggen af Emma), but in 1989 when it came to America, I went to see it 7 times. It totally captivated me. (Actually it was the character of the pure-hearted Swedish street cleaner who captivated me.) Thinking about it now, I believe it had a huge influence on my first novel, Transfer Day, the story of an orphan girl in the Danish West Indies who crosses paths with a German U-boat deserter. Is it a retelling of "Skyggen af Emma"? I would be proud if it was! 

Watch the Video Here: