Book Bloggers and Bookstagrammers


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I’m always looking for fresh ideas and not long ago thought that it would be a great idea to feature book bloggers and bookstagrammers – and the work they do to connect readers and authors.

Our reading ecosystem has changed a lot in the past ten to fifteen years and readers are playing an increasingly  crucial role. The diagram below gives some sense of what’s happening to a landscape that used to consist of book reviewers in traditional media recommending books to their readers and literary publications featuring authors and books on a monthly basis.


Today, you hear about a book from a myriad of sources and check out what other readers are saying about it on Goodreads. You can find a book blogger or bookstagrammer whose recommendations suit you or participate in a reader/writer forum like Wattpad. You can follow an author on BookBub and be notified whenever that author releases a new book. You can join one of thousands of book focused pages on Facebook and not only discover new novels and authors, but also interact with those authors.

Why do readers make a decision to share their thoughts about books? Why do they take the time to write thoughtful reviews every week? Who are their followers? Without these passionate readers, many authors wouldn’t be able to spread the word about their novels.

So let’s talk to some of them and find out.

PS – I’m sure my diagram is simplistic! Feel free to make suggestions.

Harald Johnson suggested adding author website & email lists … which I’ve done in the diagram below.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website



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I met Curt Locklear at this year’s Historical Novel Society conference. He’s an author, historian, teacher, education consultant, and public speaker. He also plays the banjo. Welcome, Curt!


Real Lives are Stranger than Fiction by Curt Locklear

One of the great things about research for historical fiction is coming upon a surprise and knowing immediately that you can use it in your story. In my discovery of the amazing lives of the Fox Sisters, it was not just a neat tidbit to insert to add flavor to a good story. Their lives, or should I say antics, became a driving element in the plot of all three of my Civil War novels.

The Fox Sisters were the first and most notable, or notorious, spiritualists. The  phenomenon they helped engender – the “Spiritualist Movement” – swept through the nation.  This movement, proclaimed by even church leaders as religious in nature, clutched the United States and Great Britain in its grubby paws. Twelve years prior to the Civil War, in upstate New York, two young sisters, Kate Fox, age12, and Maggie Fox, age13, began their elaborate hoax innocently enough. Their father was devout Methodist minister, but the girls had no qualms about their extended effort to deceive their parents and neighbors.

They began their hijinks at night, tying a string on an apple and bouncing it on the floorboards of their upstairs room to sound like footsteps. Both girls later found they had an innate ability to make the joints in their big toes pop extremely loudly. They went on to invent a story about a peddler, Mr. Split-foot, who had been murdered. In the presence of their parents and neighbors, they would “ask” Mr. Split-foot’s ghost a question, and he would always rap the floors exactly correctly. No one doubted their story or discovered their ruse.

After a while, their mother sent them to stay with their much older sister, Leah. Rather than bring a halt to their connivance, the older sister saw the makings of a good income. If snake oil salesmen could sell their wares, Leah was certain that the sisters could market their uncanny ability of “speaking to the dead” to a nation of suckers. Their first séance, or spirit rapping, was held at Corinthian Hall – Rochester, New York’s largest venue. The price was one dollar.

The show was a success as were several more soon after. In a short while, “Spirit Societies” were formed all through New York state. The young sisters, in later seances, were speaking to Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and even Shakespeare. It was not long before other entrepreneurs figured out that a naïve and easily-fooled public would pay for séance shenanigans – wholly believing the purveyors of spiritual nonsense.

With newly burgeoning “science findings” sometimes flying in the face of some religious dogmas, many people searched for proof that immortality and the afterworld existed. Of course, skeptics immediately took on the hoaxes. A number of the shysters were found out. They were caught using small drums between their legs or having an accomplice behind a curtain, and so on.

Despite the skeptics, the spiritualist societies grew in number, most notably in Ohio.

The Fox Sisters, being more than once tied to chairs and monitored closely by renowned skeptics, were never found out. When the two spiritualists cracked their toe joints inside their shoes against wooden floorboards, the sound reverberated everywhere on the stage. No one guessed their ploy.

With their overbearing older sister forcing them into compliance, both Kate and Maggie became alcoholics and ended up broke at the ends of their lives. Both later admitted their lies.

The larger story is that many of the most respected individuals in the United States and Great Britain succumbed to the belief that certain people could openly consort with the deceased. Among them were Horace Greeley, the outspoken publisher of the New York Tribune and A. Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

When the Civil War began, never had the American nation seen such loss of life. The effects of witnessing the inconceivable devastation first-hand when the battle arrived in their front yards; and the dire news delivered by newspaper almost daily, led to a sort of national insanity. Large cities had a steady stream of hearses and coffin-laden wagons, the deaths being more from disease than battlefield death. Sometimes, in a single battle, small towns lost almost every young man who had joined the army.

No wonder people sought some sort of relief from their anguish.

The panacea was a chance to speak to lost loved ones during a séance. Historians estimate that as much as one-fifth of the US population believed in Spiritualism (the ability of some people to speak to the dead.)

Perhaps the most notable person to consort with spiritualists was Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of the president. Mrs. Lincoln held numerous seances in the White House after the untimely death by typhoid of their young son, Willie. Even the president sometimes attended. Mary Lincoln’s favorite spiritualist was Nettie Colburn, though she had Charles Colchester lead a séance as well. President Lincoln, his wife, and Charles Colchester play prominently in my third novel – Reconciled. The Fox Sisters are in all three novels and are involved in the dramatic climax in Reconciled.

Fascinating history, Curt. It’s my understanding that the famous French author Victor Hugo was also captivated by spiritualism. Best wishes for your Civil War novels.

Asunder Trilogy by Curt Locklear ~~ Thrust into the middle of Civil War battle, with both Union and Rebel protagonists and antagonists, Curt Locklear’s Asunder trilogy are stories of love and loss and of families torn apart.

Splintered is the second in the trilogy. From its heart-wrenching opening scene of stoic grief in a Lincoln White House on the day of his son Willie’s death to the final heart-wrenching battle scene and suprising assasination plot against Lincoln, Splintered proves itself a novel of sweeping, artfully rendered proportions, and one that is at times deeply moving, while always intelligent and socially conscious.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

The Path to Story


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There are many ways that a story comes about. Author Kieran Donaghue relates the imagined intersections of the Church, family and personal histories that became his novel German Lessons.

Church History

While Germany is the home of the Protestant Reformation, a substantial proportion of the German population has since the time of Martin Luther remained adherents of the Church of Rome. At the time of the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s, almost one third of the German population was Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church therefore had a vital and direct interest in National Socialist Germany.

In the minds of many historians, the Church egregiously failed the test which National Socialism represented. The most common focus of criticism is the purportedly weak response of Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) to the systematic murder of European Jews during the Second World War. Defenders of Pacelli point to evidence of hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives saved through the Church’s actions, but critics maintain that he could and should have done much more to prevent the Holocaust. The current Pope has reacted to the ongoing controversy by announcing that the Vatican Archives on the Pontificate of Pius XII will be opened on 2 March 2020, eight years ahead of schedule.

The Vatican’s response to the Holocaust understandably stands at the centre of the criticism of its stance towards National Socialism. But the Church’s actions leading up to and immediately following the Nazis’ accession to power in 1933 are also of significant interest. It is this early period of Church-Nazi relations that forms the historical background to German Lessons.

Prior to March 1933 the Catholic Church was a vigorous opponent of National Socialism. Hitler feared this opposition, and once in office made overcoming it one of his highest priorities. He raised the prospect of a concordat (a legal agreement specifying the rights of the Church in Germany), something he knew the Vatican was keen to achieve. In return Hitler sought a withdrawal of Catholic opposition to his regime, from both the Catholic political parties (the Centre Party and the Bavarian People’s Party) and the Church hierarchy. 

The Nazis were strikingly successful in defusing Catholic opposition. On 23 March 1933 the votes of the Catholic political parties were crucial in passing the Enabling Act, which empowered Hitler to govern for the following four years without recourse to parliament. On 29 March 1933 the German bishops published a statement formally withdrawing their opposition to National Socialism, paving the way for Germany’s Catholics to support the new regime with a ‘clear conscience’. A concordat between the Vatican and the German Reich was signed on 20 July and ratified on 10 September 1933.

A large proportion of Germany’s Catholics reacted with relief to the Church’s accommodating position on National Socialism, willingly embracing the ‘new Germany’. But many Catholics reacted with dismay, unable to reconcile the Church’s teaching on faith and morals with the words and deeds of the Nazis.

The history sketched here is largely settled, although there remains some debate about how central the prospect of a concordat was in influencing the Church to moderate its opposition to the Nazis. German Lessonsdoes not take a position on this question. Its task is rather to depict how a small number of ordinary Catholics, German and foreign, laypeople and clergy, perceived and responded to the events that were to have such disastrous consequences for Germany and for the world.

Family history

As a young man in the 1930s my father studied to be a priest. He went straight from school to the seminary, first in Australia and then to Genoa in Italy. He returned home in the mid-1930s and rejoined life outside the seminary.

In Genoa one of my father’s fellow seminarians was a German, Ludwig Lohmer. Ludwig had difficulties with Italian. He taught my father some German, and they became firm friends.

When I started to learn German in high school my father told me a little about Ludwig. He said that they had lost contact, but he was planning a trip to Europe and would try to locate his old friend. But my father died before be could make this trip.

After my mother’s death several years later I found among her papers two letters written in German and addressed to my father. One of the letters was from Ludwig; four pages of closely written but quite legible handwriting. The letter describes his life since his ordination to the priesthood in 1937: a difficult period in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland before the war, an easier period (primarily due to the lack of language difficulties) in eastern Germany during the war, flight from the Soviet army in 1945, and a fulfilling if demanding job as a priest ministering to displaced German Catholics in south Germany after the war. Ludwig thanked my father for a care package already received, but stressed the difficult material conditions he continued to face two and a half years after the war (‘our ration cards give us too little to live and too much to die’). He respectfully asked if my father or other ‘good Australian Catholics’ could provide additional help.

The second letter was from a woman who worked for the Catholic charity Caritas in Stuttgart. She had also received a care package from my father, and thanked him in moving terms for his thoughtfulness. She also gave details of her life: the death of her father in the First World War, the loss of her mother in the interwar years, and the death of her last remaining family member, a brother, in an air raid in the last days of the Second World War. She thanked my father for ‘building a bridge’ to a defeated country and its despised people.

It was through Caritas that my father and Ludwig Lohmer resumed contact after the war.

In German Lessons I make use of the relationship between my father and Ludwig to establish the fictional rationale for the protagonist’s (Frank Hannaford’s) trip from Australia to Germany and to help establish the social context of Frank’s life in Germany. But beyond this there is no relationship between the fictional Father Klein, particularly his relationship to National Socialism, and any information available to me about Father Lohmer.

Many thanks for sharing the story behind the story, Kieran. I wish you great success with German Lessons.

German Lessons by Kieran Donaghue ~~ A novel in which the events take place during the period Autumn 1932 – Spring 1933. Frank Hannaford, a young Australian from a sheltered Catholic background, is searching for a deeper version of himself in 1930s Germany. At the university and in an organisation of young Catholic men he finds friendship and a new confidence in his own resources. A German identity begins to form, surprising and delighting him. But he also struggles with the unexpected possibilities of love, and with political events and commitments he does not fully understand. The Nazis come to power, previously strong opposition from the Catholic Church evaporates, and Frank is left floundering, at odds both with himself and with the young woman whose friendship he most values.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website