Meeting Authors on Twitter

And So It Was WrittenA few months ago, I connected with Ellen Brazer on Twitter. Can’t recall now who tweeted whom first but the result is this morning’s discussion of her writing. Ellen Brazer has written three novels, the latest, And So It Was Written “travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found”.

Have you always been a writer or did you begin with a different career?     My first career was in retail. I had a boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida that I opened when I was 24 years old.  I also worked for many years helping to raise money for the State of Israel.

You have written several novels from different time periods under the banner of Jewish Historical Fiction. Why did you choose these stories?     Clouds Across the Sun is Holocaust related. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. This is the story of just one of these children. From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells discovers her Jewish soul and unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.

I did not have any family in the Holocaust and yet I always knew that when I wrote it would somehow be related to those horrific events. I wanted this generation to understand what happened from a different point of view. The history of the Holocaust is too big and overwhelming for most of us to comprehend. And so, my goal was to have the readers care about my characters so deeply they would cry with their horrors and applaud their triumphs.

And So It Was Written travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found. The year is 132 CE, and the proclaimed Jewish Messiah, Bar Kokhba, has defeated the Roman army and rules Judea. As the Romans prepare to reclaim Israel, the book follows two sets of brothers–one Roman and one Jewish–whose friendships, hatreds, and lives intertwine. You will smell the spices in the markets, see the blood on the battlefields, rage with the injustice of brother against brother. From triumph to defeat, this is a saga of courage, conquest, familial loyalty, honor and love–showing man at his best and his worst.

This is an obscure time in Jewish history and I wanted to write a story that shifted the perception of Jews, showing how they were warriors long before the creation of the State of Israel.

What do you think attracts readers to your books?    I write to educate and entertain. I try to create stories that drive the reader from page to page. I cannot tell you how many letters I receive and how many comments I get that always say the same thing: I couldn’t put the book down.

Do you have a particular approach to research and writing?    History can be so obscure. My goal as a writer of historical fiction is to take real people from our past and give them a voice.

Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you?    As a very young girl, I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus. He brought the birth of modern Israel alive for me. That was my greatest influence but I adore Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, and so many others.

What ingredients do you think make for a best-selling historical fiction author?     Bringing the period you write about alive! It really does not matter if the time period in sixty years ago or two thousand years ago, there is always that connection with the now. We may have worn different clothing but beneath the surface we are simply the continuation of all that ever was and ever will be.

What techniques do you employ to write productively?    When I am in the zone, I write and do research every day. I think it is known as obsessive-compulsive behaviour. 🙂  The problem is that being creative is a process and I have just come out of a huge “writer’s block.” I was miserable and not easy to live with! But I am BACK to writing now.

If your brand is Jewish historical fiction, what do you do to reinforce it?    I love this question. It is the best part of my journey. I study Judaism and its precepts of Torah and Talmud with a brilliant Rabbi-Scholar.

How do you connect with readers?    I have spoken to over 5,000 people all over the country in the last few years. This has happened because I identified groups and organizations that would have an interest in what I write. I then wrote letters contacting them, sent free books and then they “booked” me.  My philosophy is that I will go anywhere, any time!

What do you know about your readers?    I know they are intelligent and curious. They talk to their friends about what they read and they want to know more.

What data do you collect about your readers?    So many times someone in my audience will raise their hand and then proceed to tell me a story from their lives relating to the Holocaust. When I meet a survivor, I always stop whatever I am saying or doing to give them a hug and to say thank you for surviving.

What strategies guide your writing career?    I write what I am interested in and what I love, NOT what I know. The fun is in the learning.

What would you do differently if you were starting again?    Start when I was a lot younger. I turned down the opportunity to work with a fabulous agent because I didn’t want to wait a year for And So It Was Written to be published.

Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction?    Be accurate. Our goal should never be to misinform.

Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked?    I just want to say that I love to speak with book clubs, talking with people that have already read my books. I did a Skype book club with Texas recently and it was really fun! They had me in an auditorium on a big screen. I am only glad I could not see myself!!

Many thanks for telling us about your writing, Ellen. I’m sure you’ve given some pearls of wisdom to other writers.

A Reader’s Paradise

Out of 2,440 individuals, 312 provided a link to their blog or website! What does that say about the world of books?

I promised to publish the list. It includes general book review blogs, genre specific blogs, author sites, specialty blogs, single topic blogs. And they come from all over the world.

I encourage you to stop by some of these sites, browse around, and let them know you found them based on the historical fiction survey. I’m sure I’ll do some more analysis at a later date and, of course, I’ll be publishing the favourite blogs & sites when time permits.

History Refreshed (in Dutch) but it is definitely not exclusively book-related
Reading the Past,
Historian’s Notebook (
For Winter Nights
Washington Independent Review of Books (
The Book Minx
Time For Books – Free Community Library – Vietnam
Passages to the Past ( (books and cooking)
Bitty’s Buried In Books
The Howling Turtle
Custer at the Alamo
Je Suis Prest Book Club
Book Drunkard
Found Between the Covers (
Reading Between the Wines
So Many Books, So Little time (
Life, Library and the Pursuit of Temperance (
Voices under the Sun
Celticlady’s Reviews
Http:// (Stephen Crabbe’s Blog)
Parsing Time by Pallas
Bookworms Dinner
Historical Odds and Sods at
Writing the Renaissance – features some reviews
Caz’s Reading Room –
Bags, Books &Bon Jovi
Rambling Reads:
the book I am reading ( facebook group)
Just Janga
Pen and Paper.
Richard III Society of NSW
Writers Who Kill Blogspot (contributer)
The Unmasked Persona’s Reviews
Historically Speaking – Books to the Ceiling
Ancient & Medieval Mayhem
Romance Bandits
Unabridged Chick:
Unusual Historicals;

Historical Fiction Author – Blythe Gifford

Blythe Gifford HeadshotI’m very pleased to have Blythe Gifford appearing today. Blythe is known for creating a wonderful balance between history and romance. She has written medieval romances featuring “characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket” and is writing a series set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the Tudor era. 

I see that your tagline is ‘On the Borders of Historical Romance’, what made you choose that as your focus?    My Brunson Clan trilogy is set on the Anglo-Scots border during the early Tudor era, so it refers specifically to the Scottish Borders.  But beyond that, the term “borders” refers to two other characteristics of my work.  First, the time periods I choose tend to be outside the current mainstream of historical romance, which is squarely focused on Regency England.  And second, my work tends to be close to the edge where historical romance becomes historical fiction, so it refers to that border as well.

You have written several historical fiction novels and have been successfully published by Harlequin Historicals. What do you think attracts readers to your books?    To paraphrase an old presidential campaign motto, “It’s the romance, stupid.”  By which I mean that first and foremost, my readers want an emotional love story with a happy ending.  That said, my work is grounded in history and virtually all my books have included a real historical personage as a character, which is a little unusual for historical romance.  Despite this, my stories are very much about the people who lived it and their emotions.  As a result, I hope reading one of my books is like living a slice of history, not just reading about it.  I once had a line on my website, “to them, it wasn’t history, it was life.”  I can only guess that my readers enjoy that experience.

Do you have a particular approach to research and writing?    At the beginning of a project, I’ll read generally about the time period, until I find the “hook” that drags me in.  For example, when I was developing the Brunson Clan trilogy, I read broadly about the Reiver era, in general, across the entire 16th century.  Scottish Border Ballads are a great legacy of this area and the story behind one of them, “The Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong,” caught my attention.  It seems there was a Reiver who was enticed to meet with the Scottish King under safe conduct but was hanged, along with his men, when he arrived.  I wanted Johnnie to have a happy ending, so that started me down the path, though I turned the entire story inside out.  Still, there’s a kernel there, a specific historical event, and that has been the case with nearly all my work.

As I get into the story, I’m always searching for the sensory details that will allow me to walk around in that world and experience it.  I have a map and a calendar at hand to keep me grounded, and in some ways, I find images better research than words.  But the physical sensations, scent, touch, sounds, really put me in touch with my characters.  The “everydayness” of real historical life is, of course, the most difficult thing to pin down, particularly before literacy was wide-spread.

As an example, in the second book of the trilogy, CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, the Brunson daughter goes to court, where she is out of place as a “country bumpkin.”  During the development phase, I participated in an historic dance workshop at the Romance Writers of America National Convention and experienced the types of dances they would have done at court then.  I consider myself a good dancer, but the first time through, I felt incredibly awkward.  That gave me a great insight into how Bessie Brunson would have felt, tripping over her feet before the king.

Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you?    I heard Philip Roth quoted recently as saying “After the first ten years, the influences fall away.”  Since I’ve been writing seriously for more than twenty, it’s a little hard to say what influences are left, but two books come to mind.  The first was not “historical” when it was written, but JANE EYRE was the first book I remember reading that was about “romance.”  It really gripped my junior high school heart.  I have a theory that romance writers are either about Jane Eyre or Jane Austen (apples and oranges, I know!), and I’m all about the Eyre angst.  While the Regency era is the most popular in historical romance, it never drew me and I blame both Charlotte Bronte and Anya Seton for that.

Seton because around that same time, I read Anya Seton’s KATHERINE.  That book more than any other gave me my profession.  It sparked a lifelong interest in fourteenth century England and the impact that love, and the resulting royal bastards, could have on history.  When I started writing romance, I began in the fourteenth century and my first books usually featured royal bastards, real or imaginary, as main characters.  That was a direct result of my love of the subject and time period sparked by that book.

What ingredients do you think make for a favourite historical fiction author? Do you deliberately plan for these ingredients in your writing?    First of all, any author must tell a good story.  The basics of craft (pacing, character, dialog, plot) must be strong.  I’ve seen writers use the novel as an excuse to drape lengthy descriptions of period food, clothes, and politics around a flimsy story.  Or, conversely, they assume readers already know the history and explain too little, so the reader is left confused and, worse, feeling that historical fiction is only for the already educated.  It’s a real challenge to whisk the reader into the story while sprinkling just the right amount of historical detail and context into the mix.  I try to get that right and hope I succeed.

How do you select new stories to tell?    It’s a delicate balance between writing the stories that call to me and still positioning them in the commercial space.  My decision to write the Brunson Clan trilogy is a good example.  I wanted to write a trilogy, because readers love them, and I thought to move from medieval England across the border into Scotland because Scotland is second only to Regency England in popularity.

However, the Scottish Highlands, where most romance is set, called to me not at all.  The Borders, on the other hand, was in the center of the Anglo-Scottish conflict for three hundred years.  It was a good fit for my interests and, as I explained above, I settled on the early 16th century because of the Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong.

Though I was all set to promote my “Scottish” trilogy, when it came time to market the books, my editor tagged them as “Tudor”, so my description became the Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era.  And, not to my surprise, I’ve had several lovely reviews of my “Highlander” books.

But I have story ideas stacked up like planes on the runway.  I hope I have time to get to them all…

What techniques do you employ to write productively?    Do you have some to share?  Let me know!  A few tips I can suggest.  I write at the same time every day.  I don’t wait for the muse to strike.  I set word count goals and have learned to delay revising hard copy until late in the writing process instead of printing and revising daily.  With the Brunson books, the primary research applied to all three books, although I still had new things to learn for each story.  That, and knowing the characters well by book three, allowed me to write those books in six months each, a schedule I hope never to repeat!

Do you think of yourself as having a brand? If so, how would you describe it and how do you reinforce it?    My background is in marketing, so I’ve been very conscious of branding.  This business favors the predictably prolific writer, so I’ve tried to establish the hook of my brand in several books before moving on to something new.  First, I wrote about English royal bastards (literally), both real and imagined.  My last “royal bastard” book was set on the Borders, so to write a Borders trilogy, even though in a different time period, was a natural transition.  Next, while I might have been wiser to stay on the Borders, I’m going back to fourteenth century England and the court of Edward III.

There are other time periods I would like to write, but have postponed in order to establish myself in the reader’s mind.  Ultimately, I think a writer’s voice is her brand.  And there, I’d describe myself as a writer of angsty historicals set in time periods of change and disruption.  There’s a lot of competition, however, and “royal bastards” or “early Tudor Scotland” may be easier for readers to relate to as an introduction.

What do you do to connect with readers?    A website, newsletter, Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads.  I blog with the Unusual Historicals group and I did extensive guest blogging to promote the trilogy.  But I’m most consistent on Facebook.

What do you know about your readers?    Romance readers as a whole are voracious readers and they read across many genres.  Most are women, yes.  My readers tell me they read in multiple formats – as many in e-book as in print and many read both.  Libraries are still important sources of books for them, too.  I’ve been honored to hear from readers in many countries, since Harlequin has made my work available around the world.  I must admit, I’m still really amazed when I receive a fan note from someone I don’t know personally!

What data do you collect about your readers?    Their email addresses if they will share them.  I occasionally ask questions on Facebook about what/how they are reading, but I don’t have ZIP codes or mailing addresses.

What strategies guide your writing career?    Strategy is too grand a word!  Just a few guidelines.  Don’t chase trends.  Keep showing up at the page.  Stay true to your muse.  Have faith.  Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

What would you do differently if you were starting again?    Two things.  I would have started earlier and I would NOT have spent six years writing my first book.  Such a rookie mistake!  Finish it and move on!

Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction?    Remember that the book is not about history.  It’s about the character.  The history in the book should only be included to the extent that it touches the character and brings him or her to life.

Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked?    A final comment, perhaps.  As writers of historical fiction, we face the particular challenge of making our characters authentic yet accessible to the modern reader.  If we were to faithfully present the world view for our time periods, it is likely that the modern reader would not understand, nor sympathize with the characters.  On the other hand, to imbue an historical character with modern attitudes is as grating as anachronistic dialog.  This is a tug-of-war particular to our genre, I think, piled atop the usual authorial angst.  That said, I love the journey of discovery that awaits me with each book.

Thanks for having me.

And thanks for participating, Blythe. I love your down-to-earth views on the business of writing. A few items spoke to me: don’t spend six years on your first novel (wish I’d heard that before the six years spent); the balance of historical accuracy and accessibility to a modern day reader; “story ideas stacked up like planes on a runway” is such a great image which probably resonates for many writers. You’re the first author who has considered the notion of brand – congratulations on that!


Cover_ROTBW_lgBlythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s published a Harlequin Historical trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era. The books are RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL in March 2013. The Chicago Tribune has called her work “the perfect balance between history and romance.” Visit her at,, or on Twitter @BlytheGifford. Author photo by Jennifer Girard.