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 M. 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.

Namaste!



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 an excerpt of "Island of Eternal Fire"



CHAPTER 1

Monday, April 21st, 1902
St. Pierre, Martinique

Emilie Dujon trained her field glasses on the summit of Mont Pelée and her eyes widened in surprise. Smoke and steam were rising from the lower crater, the one they called the Etang Sec, the dry crater. She lowered the binoculars and scanned the mountain for several minutes, contemplating this show of nature’s force. Something odd was definitely going on here. She had been watching these occurrences almost daily and now they were becoming more frequent, and by the looks of things, more worrisome. A young woman of eighteen with chestnut-colored hair, amber eyes, and a grave but lovely face, Emilie was by nature very observant. Patient, observant, and quiet. She jotted her findings down in a notebook and thought about it for a moment. For years the experts had claimed that Mount Pelée was extinct, but if that was the case, then where was all the smoke and ash coming from?

She closed her notebook and sat down in front of her vanity mirror to brush her hair, happy to put aside her worries for the moment and concentrate on more pleasant thoughts. Tonight her fiancé, Lucien Monplaisir, was taking her to a gala performance of “Tartuffe” at the theater in Saint-Pierre. While Lucien normally had no patience for cultural events, he was making the sacrifice on her behalf. She smiled, thinking how strange and wonderful it was to be in love. Look what it had done to Lucien!


As their carriage rolled into Saint-Pierre, music and laughter filled the air. It was the end of the sugar harvest, time for celebration and revelry. The air was crisp and smelling faintly of the sea. The stars lit up the heavens, and the moon shone resplendent over the bay where schooners and steamers lulled gently in the breeze. The strains of biguine music could be heard echoing from the cabarets, and the piquant odor of Creole cooking wafted from the cafés and villas that lined the harbor. The Little Paris of the West Indies was in its usual high spirits.


At eight o’clock spectators began streaming into the hall in top hats and tails, and long muslin gowns and matching turbans knotted in the distinct Martinique fashion. Emilie was brimming with excitement. She hadn’t been to the theater in years, not since her father’s plantation “Solitude” started to lose money. While the musicians warmed up their instruments, a murmur of anticipation rose up from the audience to the private box seat where Emilie sat with Lucien and his younger sister, Violette.
She smoothed out her muslin gown and gazed at her surroundings. The concert hall was even more splendid than she remembered. It shimmered like a golden Fabergé egg. The chandelier glowed, spreading warm light over the frescoes that adorned the ceiling. The sight of it took her breath away. She could scarcely believe how she, the daughter of a modest cocoa planter, had captured the heart of the richest sugar planter on the island.
The lights went down and the play began. The audience watched with rapt attention, including Emilie, whose eyes scarcely left the stage. Even Lucien, who normally grew bored after only a few minutes, seemed to be enjoying himself.
Suddenly, in the middle of the third act, something unusual caught Emilie’s eye. She looked up and spied an old school friend, Suzette Lavenière, sitting in the opposite box. She appeared to be gazing over at Lucien. Lifting her opera glasses, Emilie's mouth fell open when she saw that Suzette winked at him. Then, with trembling hands, she held up her program and saw out of the corner of her eye that Lucien winked back in return! Panic spread throughout her limbs and her heart pounded. And then the final coup de grâce: Suzette mouth “I love you” to which Lucien responded in kind. All at once her heart sank.
Emilie’s face burned with anger. Her limbs trembled and her heart beat like the wings of a hummingbird. She had never been so humiliated in all her life. Only the fiercest self-discipline kept her from storming out of the theater. Her mind raced and she began to replay everything in her mind, searching for clues that Lucien had been unfaithful all along. How could she have missed it up to now? She blamed her own naivety and stupidity. She blamed her misplaced sense of high-mindedness. She blamed her too-trusting nature. Now she was in too deep. 


Lucien leaned over and whispered, “Why is your face so red, cherie?” He put his hand on her shoulder but she stiffened at his touch. She stammered out an answer but inside she was filled with rage and fury.
She lost all interest in the play. She lost all interest in Lucien. She never wanted to see him again. And then a sickening thought occurred to her. If Lucien was this deceitful before marriage, what would he be like after?
Emilie broke out in a cold sweat. She tried fanning herself but nothing could quell the fear and angst that had come over her. And then, in the midst of her turmoil, a great rumbling noise filled the hall. The chandelier swayed and the building shook.
A murmur arose from the audience. The actors on stage looked around in confusion, and when a piece of scenery fell mid-stage, they shrieked and ran back-stage in terror. And then, all at once, a marble statue fell into the audience and a woman’s piercing scream gave rise to mass commotion.
Emilie gasped in fright. She feared the theater would collapse, crushing them all. Someone yelled “earthquake!” and the audience jumped out of their seats and raced toward the exits. The musicians fled the orchestra pit like wasps from a burning nest and the once cheerful hall turned into mass hysteria. People were shouting and jostling each other in their haste to escape. And old woman cried out and an elderly man in a black suit and top hat struggled to protect her as they were shoved aside in the melee.
Lucien grabbed Emilie’s hand and said, “Let’s get out of here.” He pulled her and Violette through the crowd as they raced down the marble staircase. When they reached the bottom, Emilie spied Suzette Lavenière heading down the opposite staircase. For just an instant their eyes met and Emilie gave her a piercing stare that made the other girl shudder. Before Lucien could reach her, Suzette was pulled away with the mob.
They raced through the courtyard, down the stairs, and out to the waiting horse carriages on the Rue Victor Hugo. They climbed into the carriage and the driver took off just as the streets erupted in panic. People screamed to each other from their balconies and deserted their homes in terror.


Boom! An explosion like cannon-fire rocked the carriage. In the distance, the mountain appeared to be glowing. The blast was followed by a loud rumbling noise and tremors that shook the earth. The horses whinnied and reared and the elderly West Indian driver struggled to control them. “Ho! Ho!” he cried, as he pulled on the reins. Emilie feared the ground would split open beneath them and swallow them up. Even Lucien looked frightened. Outside, the gas lamps swayed and roof tiles smashed to the ground as people rushed down the Rue Victor Hugo toward the cathedral, crossing themselves and uttering prayers out loud. Is this the end of the world? Are we all going to die from the volcano?
By now the streets had erupted into panic. People ran out of cafés and cabarets and gathered in the Place Bertin. Some were visibly crying. Emilie’s muslin dress was soaked with sweat and her 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 staring at the smoldering volcano with a mixture of fear and awe. Dear God, she prayed, please don’t let me die together with Lucien, not here, not now. Shouts rang out from balconies overhead and shutters flew open as fearful residents peered out into the darkness. A few horses broke free of their reins and were galloping down the street, chased by their furious owners.
The carriage ground to a halt as they watched the scene unfold before them like spectators to a disaster. Unable to contain her curiosity, Emilie pushed the carriage door and scrambled outside to get a good look at the mountain. She was followed by Lucien and Violette. Orange flashes of light lit the night sky as an enormous ash cloud billowed outward then spread southward, raining ash down on their heads. Violette let out a scream.
“Hurry up,” said Lucien. “Let’s get out of here.”

The driver cracked his whip and the carriage continued over the stone bridge that crossed the Rivière Roxelane, and then proceeded north for several miles until they crossed the Rivière Blanche before turning west onto a dirt road bounded by coconut palms and bamboo that led to the tiny hamlet of Saint-Philomène where Emilie’s plantation “Solitude” was located. As they climbed the western slopes of Mont Pelée, an ominous smell filled the air. It was not the 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. Emilie pressed her handkerchief to her nose and mouth. Lucien slipped his arm over her shoulders but she tensed and moved further away. As the carriage made its way down the dirt road bounded by dense vegetation an uncomfortable silence followed during which time Emilie pondered her dilemma. She had to find a way to break off her engagement without causing a scandal. But it would not be easy. No young woman of her social class had ever broken an engagement and survived the resulting gossip and slander. The scandal would crush her parents and brand her a social outcast. Her mind raced as she searched for a solution, but it seemed hopeless. How could she have been so wrong about Lucien? How could she have made the worst mistake of her life? As she gazed up at the summit of Mont Pelée, an ominous film of 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:


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why my heart still aches for an unlikely hero named Major Scobie

While the world has fallen head over heels for a violent sociopath named Grey, my heart still aches for an unlikely hero named Major Scobie.


I discovered Major Scobie as a young woman of 24 or 25 while perusing through a bookstore on an otherwise uneventful Saturday night (back in the day when one did that sort of thing). I had never heard of Graham Greene before: he didn't figure in my father's extensive collection of books that consisted mostly of Hemingway, Uris, Evelyn Waugh, and Somerset Maugham. The title caught my eye instantly: The Heart of the Matter, and the setting was one I could easily relate to: an English colony on the West African coast (Sierra Leone), which brought back memories of my childhood in the West Indies—drawn from Greene's own experience as an MI6 agent in Sierra Leone during WWII.

I took to him right away—Major Scobie. He had all the qualities that attracted me in a romantic hero: steadfastness, courage, gentleness, masculinity, tact, and above all, stoicism. As Deputy Commissioner of police, he is passed over for promotion when the commissioner retires, yet he refuses to resign his post as he has grown to deeply love the people of Sierra Leone and can't imagine himself living elsewhere. He is dignified and middle-aged; he pays no attention to gossip and is detached from the local snobbery. His men respect him, and when a serious matter comes up, the Commissioner always turn to Scobie, whose professionalism is unquestioned. Scobie is the embodiment of masculine virtues: self-sacrifice, trustworthiness, quick to forgive—he never holds a grudge against a slight and constantly works to perfect his character vis a vis his fellow man and vis a vis G-d. You can almost picture him in his khaki police uniform sitting in his stifling hot office with the rusty handcuffs on the wall writing his police reports: a street fight here, a petty larceny there, and always the ubiquitous search for smuggled diamonds. 

Trevor Howard as Major Scobie

In all that he does, from small acts of kindness to actual police investigations, Major Scobie is a quiet hero. A hero without bluster and fanfare, but a hero nonetheless. His humanity is his greatest virtue, but it will also be his greatest undoing. He's aware of the dangers of extreme emotions like love or hate in tropical Africa: "This isn't a climate for emotion. It's a climate for meanness, malice, snobbery, but anything like hate or love drives a man off his head." In the world of deceit Scobie is a novice, and when he embarks on a love affair with a young widow, the survivor of a German torpedo, his life begins to spiral downward. 
Trevor Howard and Maria Schell in The Heart of the Matter
Pursued by a jealous MI6 agent and hounded by a Syrian diamond smuggler and his own capricious wife, Scobie nevertheless pursues the path of virtue, if not according to the doctrines of his faith, at least the path that poses the least pain to the women he loves and has sworn to protect. Unlike Grey who uses women as objects and then throws them away, Scobie is willing to sacrifice his life, indeed his eternity for the love of a woman. Ultimately, his greatest act of heroism is his willingness to sacrifice everything for the love of G-d.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Jonathan Pollard: the story behind the story and what it means for the future of the Middle East

This article was written in February of 2007. It has never been published until now.

In 1984, Israeli Intelligence (with the aid of a compliant CIA analyst named Jonathan Pollard now serving a life sentence) gained access to top-secret CIA satellite spy photos which showed the Chinese parading some 'hot' Chinese Ballistic Missiles in front of a Saudi audience at a top-secret missile complex. Apparently, Saudi King Fahd had authorized a $20 Billion payday for delivery of said missiles and the construction of a launching site deep in the Arabian desert that no onenot the Americans, and certainly not the Israeliswas ever supposed to find out about.  Enter Jonathan Pollard.*

Jonathan Pollard in a photo published by the Washington Post.

The Saudis were going for a nuclear payload that of course threatened to upset the entire balance of power in the Middle East.  Once the Israelis found out what was going on, they sent a stern warning to King Fahd in the form of a "special delivery" of live pigs from C-130's right onto the Saudi runway. Of course this message infuriated and humiliated King Fahd, but he got the message loud and clear:  "You can buy all the missiles you want, but the Israelis own the sky. We can penetrate your airspace, we can destroy your entire country. Don't get any ideas."


There is an old Arab saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  The Saudi royals fear for their safety and perpetuity in the new climate of Islamo-Fascism and "Bin Laden Worship," especially that of the Shia Faction being exported from Iran and the imminent readiness of Iran's own nuclear weapons program.  There are at least 13 Iranian nuclear facilities, some in underground bunkers.  The key target according to Military Sources (obtained from the Southern Command Website) is the Natanz Nuclear Facility, some 200 miles south of Tehran that houses at least one centrifuge cascade that is thought to be where nuclear fuel for weapons is being developed.  There is also the Bushehr nuclear reactor on the Persian Gulf and any bombing at this site could prove deadly for the scores of Russian Contractors working there.  Military Sources also predict that Israel would launch an attack during daylight hours in order to expedite all the technicians and scientists working there.**


Let's face it, the only Air Force in that part of the world with the experience, determination and capability of pulling off a job of this caliber belongs to Israel. The Saudis learned their lesson about who owns the sky. But there is one major complication: a refueling base is of utmost necessity, but where? The Saudis will have to realize that their peninsula is the only practical strategic choice.  The question that remains is, Is the imminent threat of a hostile, nuclear Iran catalyst enough for a quiet, secret alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia? Can past humiliations such as the Pollard Affair  be 'swept under the carpet'?   Can the Saudi Monarch, King Abdullah, finally acquiesce to releasing him as a show of good faith? Okay, so this is a little far-fetched, but in the course of Israeli-Saudi affairs, stranger things have occurred. In the 1990's, just before the start of the Gulf War, the Saudis gave $15 million as a down payment to members of the Russian mafia for the purchase of $75 million worth of red mercury, which, the Saudis believed, was a substance that could be used to make a nuclear bomb. In reality, it had no fissionable potential at all. Unbeknownst to the Saudis, the $15 million was paid to con men. It was only after the money was spent that the Saudis began to wonder if the sellers were not Russians at all but Israelis. Truth is always stranger than fiction. But I have digressed....


*For the fascinating story about how the CIA pieced together that the Chinese and the Saudis had entered into a secret missile deal please read "The Gold of Exodus: The Discovery of the True Mount Sinai" by Howard Blum.


**Although this was not the case when the Israelis bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, which was manned mostly by Frenchmen. As I recall, they bombed it on a Sunday to minimize any loss of life.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Check out my interview with Publishers Weekly

Want to Succeed in Self-Publishing? Revise Wisely: Tips From an Indie Author


As a writer of historical fiction, indie author Sophie Schiller has always wanted to bring her “own unique brand of adventure” to life. In 2013, she self-published her first novel, Spy Island—and notes that going indie opened up a host of new opportunities.
Publishers Weekly praised her latest novel, Race to Tibet, with our reviewer saying it did “a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn.” Looking back, Schiller is happy with her self-publishing journey: “In a way, I'm glad I learned everything one step at a time. Everything that pertains to publishing your novel, from conceptualizing to creating your cover image, to articulating the back blurb, to hiring an editor, to marketing your book, can only be learned through experience. The best advice is to take it one step at a time and don't rush your book to press.”

We asked Schiller for some advice for aspiring indie authors:
Kill Your Television
“If you want to be a serious writer, throw away your TV. The life of a serious writer and a TV-watcher are incompatible.”
Revise Wisely
“Don't waste too much time editing your manuscript until the first draft is complete, [and when you’re done] use beta readers—hopefully with some knowledge about your book's subject matter—to tweak your manuscripts before the final edit and publishing.”
Do Your Research
“Start with memoirs, letters, and diaries from the era, and, to acquire a larger grasp of the period, study history books, newspaper articles, and biographies…For dialogue, I suggest watching theatrical performances, to attune your ear to the speech patterns and vocabulary of the time. The more you as the writer immerse yourself in that period, the more the material will start to flow from your subconscious. Above all, you must let go of any preconceived notions about how an individual from that era should speak, think, and act. Aim for authenticity. Let your characters speak and act in the most natural way possible for their time and place.”

Saturday, April 18, 2015

One of those "a-ha"moments...

     Today I had one of those "a-ha" moments when I saw this painting, Chez Tortoni by Edouard Manet. 
Chez Tortoni by Edouard Manet (1878-80). Cafe Tortoni earned an international reputation by its famous clientele as well as its frozen desserts.
     While I was writing Race to Tibet, I had set the first scene of the novel—an altercation between Gabriel Bonvalot and General Prejevalsky that may or may not be realin Café Tortoni, a well-known café on the Rue des Italiens in Paris. But until today I had never known about the existence of this painting, even though I had been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston numerous times, although not prior to March 18, 1990, the day it was stolen. To me, Cafe Tortoni, with its sophisticated ambiance and suave reputation, known for being the meeting place of politicians, intellectuals, scholars, dandies, and ladies of the demi-monde seemed to be the perfect setting to place two opposing characters, and how much more so now that I can see it through Manet's eyes. All I can say is, "Wow!" and pray that some day Chez Tortoni is restored to its rightful place in the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, one of Boston's great cultural treasures.
Cafe Tortoni on the Boulevard des Italiens, Paris.
Incidentally, the FBI is offering a $5 million reward for the return of Chez Tortoni.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How an Obscure Danish Princess led me to write Race to Tibet

The idea for writing Race to Tibet came about in an unusual manner. While I was researching my first book, a historical novel set in the Danish West Indies, I came across an obscure, outspoken Danish princess whose life story gripped me. Princess Marie Valdemar was born in 1865 as Princess Marie d'Orléans, the daughter of Prince Robert, Duke of Chartres, a Grandson of King Louis-Philippe of France and a Pretender to the French throne.

Portrait study of Princess Marie of Denmark by Albert Edelfelt (1894)

Through her marriage to Prince Valdemar (the youngest son of Christian IX of Denmark), Princess Marie developed a great love of Denmark and the Danish people. In addition, she strongly opposed the sale of the Danish West Indies to the United States. Out of curiosity, I began to look into the life of Princess Marie d'Orléans, and was struck by how tragic and poignant it was, and how much it paralleled the life of Princess Diana with its tale of unrequited love and early death. Before long I decided to write a novel about her life, but after months of knocking on doors, I realized I would never be able to gain access to the Royal Danish Archives where the obscure details of her life lay locked up. Instead of giving up, I started searching for other sources. I made a list of all her relatives and searched for any diaries or memoirs they might have left behind, anything to fill in the missing gaps in her tragic life. As it turned out, the only relative of Princess Marie's who wrote an extensive number of books was her younger brother, Prince Henri d'Orléans, a notable French explorer who died at the age of thirty-three.

Prince Henri made headlines all throughout Europe for his 1897 duel with the Count of Turin Vittorio Emanuele.

During his brief life, Prince Henri earned a reputation as a ladies' man, a dilettante, and a hot-headed dueler, but he earned the Gold Medal of the French Geographical Society twice, once in 1891 for a  daring expedition to Tibet he made with the French explorer, Gabriel Bonvalot, and again in 1896 for his expedition from the Gulf of Tonkin to the Gulf of Bengal. 

By 1889, no living Westerner had been to the Potala Palace in Lhasa or met the Dalai Lama.

The more I read about Prince Henri's expedition to Tibet, and all the hardships and difficulties it entailed, the more I became enthralled with the story until I found myself studying it in great depth. Not only did I focus on the expedition, I also threw myself into the study of the Great Game, Central Asian history and geography, famous explorers, and the history of Europe's obsession with Tibet.

The French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot had connections with Russian Generals like Korolkoff  in Russian Turkestan that made him a lesser-known player in the Great Game.

Gradually, my focus changed from writing about Princess Marie's life to writing about Prince Henri d'Orléans and Gabriel Bonvalot's expedition to Tibet. To this end, I researched this famous journey both in the original French and in the English translation. But still there were many unanswered questions about what really happened to these hardy explorers on the Roof of the World. Victorian writers are known more for the details they left out than for what they chose to tell; this was an era when propriety and discretion were at their zenith. Luckily, after months and months of unrelenting searching and digging, I came upon another version of the events, this one written by Father Constant de Deken, a Belgian missionary who had accompanied the famous explorers. I had struck gold.

Rare for a European missionary of his era, Father De Deken could speak Chinese and ride and shoot like a cavalry officer.

Unusual for his generation, Father Constant de Deken was fluent in Chinese and wrote about his experiences with uncharacteristic candor, telling details that would have raised eyebrows in polite society. His input added a whole new dimension to the story, filling it with more danger and suspense, and for that I am eternally grateful. By combining both versions and adding some fictional elements of my own, the end result is this account of an historic journey into mysterious Tibet. But it only came about because of this tragic Danish princess and her sad, poignant life. And so, I owe this lovely lady all the gratitude in the world for leading me to this fascinating story. Without Princess Marie d'Orléans, Race to Tibet would not have been possible.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

I love this review from Publishers Weekly!

Race to Tibet

Sophie Schiller, Author

Fans of Jules Verne’s travel adventures will find Schiller (Transfer Day) has done a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn. A sex scandal blights the name of Prince Henri d’Orléans in 1888 Paris, and his father, the Duke of Chartres, fears that his continued misconduct will only further weaken the royalist cause. The duke’s solution is to make the prince’s inheritance contingent on his leaving France for a year to stay out of trouble, a plan that neatly coincides with explorer Gabriel Bonvalot’s desire to be the first Westerner to reach Lhasa. Gabriel lacks the funding to finance the complex and dangerous venture and agrees to take Henri along in exchange for the duke’s backing. Schiller makes the physical challenges of the trip palpable. There are occasional lapses into purple prose (“I’ve had enough of your callousness, you fiendish devil”), but for the most part Schiller succeeds in keeping readers engaged in the plot. (BookLife)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Victorian Era's Fascination with Explorers

The late Victorian period was the first age of mass advertising. In previous decades, it was considered ungentlemanly to aggressively advertise a product. Now, for the first time advertising became powerfully visual: photography and art were used to sell goods and soon celebrities were sought to endorse products. And during the Victorian era, there were no greater heroes than explorers.

Explorers were the Victorian age's movie stars, rock stars, and astronauts. No detail about their life was considered too minor or insignificant. Their memoirs and travel books were best sellers and they spoke to sell-out crowds. From the fate of the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone to Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated voyage to the South Pole, the public's fascination with explorers knew no bounds.

My novel RACE TO TIBET tells the dramatic story of Gabriel Bonvalot, a Victorian age explorer who attempted to reach the Forbidden City of Lhasa on horseback. Accompanying Bonvalot was Prince Henri d'Orléans, a budding young explorer, and Father Constant de Deken, a Chinese-speaking Belgian missionary, and a team of hardy Turki caravaneers, Bonvalot made his way across the Tibetan Chang Tang during the height of winter, a heretofore impossible feat.

As can be expected, when he returned to France Gabriel Bonvalot scored his country's Gold Medal in Geographical Exploration as well as a slew of product endorsement, including French chocolate company Guérin-Boutron, Lu Biscuits, and a French wax company:


This chocolate label featuring Gabriel Bonvalot shows the rigors of traveling across the Tibetan high plain.
Bonvalot on the cover of Lu Biscuits. No explorer left home without his trusty Winchester or a box of Lu Biscuits.
Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri on a wax label.

Even the bespectacled Belgian Missionary Father Dedeken who accompanied Bonvalot as official Chinese translator got his own product endorsement with French Chocolatier Félix Potin:


What other explorers scored product endorsement deals? Take a look at a few:

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, and was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration:


The heroic face of American Arctic explorer Robert Peary graced cigar boxes:


As Peary's partner, Matthew Henson was among the first explorers to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. He was later made a member of the prestigious Explorer's Club:


The Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, scored multiple product endorsements, including German sewing thread. Here he is greeting Tibetans in what looks to be native dress:

Here is Sven Hedin promoting French chocolates:


And here he is endorsing a French beef consommé product (showing another exciting scene in Tibet):

Cigarette cards were perennial favorites. Here is a quartet of  Victorian giants, from the Tsar's favorite Great Gamer, Nikolai Prejevalsky, to the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (who trounced Admiral Robert Falcon in the South Pole), to the Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Fridtjof Nansen, to the erstwhile Livingstone:

Nikolai Prejevalsky stalking through Central Asia.
Roald Amundsen



















Fridtjof Nansen
David Livingstone























Here is the ill-fated Captain Scott and his Siberian pony "Nobby" on a package of Fry's Cocoa & Chocolate:




A rare image of Scottish explorer Hugh Clapperton on a cigarette card. Did Clapperton's image sell more cigarettes?



The mother of all cigarette cards: Marco Polo and the Great Wall of China:


A fitting tribute to Sir Richard Burton, who traveled in disguise to Mecca:




James Clark Ross discovered the position of the North Magnetic Pole in 1831:


Prince Luigi Amadeo (The Duke of Abruzzi) was an Italian mountaineer and explorer. He is known for his Arctic explorations and mountaineering expeditions, particularly to Mount Saint Elias and K2 in the Karakorums:

 

A Cigarette Card dedicated to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world and the dream of every mountain climber-explorer:




And finally, a cigarette card dedicated to the fallen heroes on Mount Everest: George Mallory and Sandy Irvine:



Annie Smith Peck was an accomplished mountaineer and explorer, primarily in Peru and Bolivia:


You can read more about Gabriel Bonvalot's exciting expedition to Tibet in RACE TO TIBET, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Nobel:


 Race to Tibet