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How I came to writing

Like most authors, I've been fascinated by books since an early age. Because my parents were working (yes, I had a very modern mummy, ...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review 3: Maria Gonzalez

February 2009: LeeAan, reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More
                         Rating: 4 coffee cups

Maria Gonzalez thought life for her was going to be simple: marry, fall in love, and have children. But sometimes life has other plans.

Michael Fenwick thought this was going to be a simple raiding party. How could he ever have guessed that the mysterious blond on board the ship he was capturing would capture him instead?

Maria stumbles through life until she finally lands in the arms of her true love. But this stumble takes her through many adventures, loves, and deaths. But how could she have ever known that Michael Fenwick would be the man that would capture her and her heart forever?

The main character Maria has more misadventures in this book than any other character I have ever read. It was such a wonderful surprise to have a character written with this much strength and understanding. This story is such a wonderful blend of pit falls and triumphs.

Maria Gonzalez is a wonderfully written book, with a really remarkable main character who no matter the situation continues to fight on.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review 2 : Maria Gonzalez

June 2009: Danya for Night Owls Reviews
                  Rating: 3 ½ - enjoyable

After her father’s death, Maria left her home in Antwerp and moved to Madrid to live with her uncle and aunt in 1582. Miguel Gonzalez was a darkly handsome soldier who quickly swept Maria off her feet. After four years of wonderful and passionate marriage, Miguel was posted to New Spain. Maria refused to be separated from her husband, so she went with him. After a horrible attack by Indians leaves only Maria and the priest alive, Maria is given to the Aztec king Montezuma as a bride, considered to be a woman of the Sun because of her golden hair. After many experiences, Maria finds herself in England years later, fighting an attraction to the attractive sea captain Michael Fenwick. Will she be able to resist the advances of the lusty Sea Dog or will Maria succumb to his salacious intentions?

Nickie Fleming has written a sweeping romance that follows one woman through exciting and tumultuous times in history. Torrid and steamy scenes combined with intrigue and danger result in Maria Gonzalez gripping the reader’s attention. While not always historically accurate - the story more than makes up for any creative rewriting of history.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review 1 : Maria Gonzalez

Janurary 2011: Christina St. Clair for Angel Eyes’ Reviews
                         Rating: 3 angel eyes
Maria Gonzalez is a woman who has lived a long rich life. From the prologue we learn this Flemish born woman went to Spain, married a handsome soldier, moved with his regiment to New Spain, was kidnapped by Aztec Indians, and somehow ends up an old lady, now a noblewoman in Cornwall, with a maid called Tetla.

There are many interesting historical facts in the novel which appears to have been well-researched. It took a while for me to become engaged with the story, but by page 32, I found myself interested in the Aztec way of life within the hidden city of Tenochtitlàn. Here we meet the woman, Tetla, who becomes Maria's maid in England.

Adventure and dangerous escapes propel the story along. 

I commend the author on her interesting details, her exciting plot, and the character, Maria Gonzalez, who seemed quite real. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Excerpt from Maria Gonzalez

Here is an excerpt from my novel Maria Gonzalez: Maria has married her soldier love Miguel and is now accompanying him to his new post in Mexico (or as it was called New Spain). Their Indian guides advise them to travel through the vast jungles, because this will cut down the journey in more than half...

“Where have you come from?”
Manuel’s voice did not sound too friendly as he looked at his wife. She had obviously bathed, and was now tidying her hair. She smiled at him. Although her clothes were drying fast, they still showed the curves of her body. He had to look away. The way the cloth clung to her breasts…
“There’s a brook a bit further” she told him. “I could not resist freshening up. The water is so lovely! I’ve soaked my clothes as well.”
“You’re foolish, Maria! You don’t know the dangers of this forest! Besides, what must the men be thinking?”
Now she laughed aloud. “They are all busy setting up the tents, like you ordered. Rest assured, they won’t be looking at me!”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to leave the company of the others?” he went on, not hearing what she said. “I don’t want it, Maria!”
“Are you afraid that something might happen to me?” she asked, inwardly smiling at his show of feelings.
It was his pleasure to answer Maria. “Of course! I could not bear to lose you, mi cielo!
“Neither would I.” She went over and kissed him full on the lips. “Not much longer now, cariño…”
He answered her kiss with another one, but then she tore herself free.
“Let’s eat first. Travelling sharpens the appetite!”
The Indians had angled up some fish and were now roasting them, wrapped in banana leaves, over a smothered fire of leaves and fine branches. It was not a fish they had eaten before, but the meat was white and firm and had a good taste.
“They call this fish piranha,” the Padre mentioned. “I believe the Tupi Indians in Brazil use that word too.” He had taken a lively interest in the heathen Indians. He even spoke some words of their language. This came in useful, he had once told Maria, as his aim was to convert these believers in the ancient Aztec gods to Catholicism.
“I was told that a piranha was a very small fish, which eats meat. Commandante Muñoz advised me never to put my hand into the water of any stream, because the piranha’s could snap off my fingers!” Miguel said.
“That’s true enough” the Padre agreed. “It appears though that there are various kind of piranha. The bigger fish are excellent food, as we can all tell from experience!”
They finished their evening meal with a cup of red wine, which they had brought along. Not much later most of the men retired to the tents to sleep.
Miguel and Maria remained by the fire for a while longer. Being responsible for his soldiers, the captain had to make sure that everything was in order and that the guards on night watch had been posted. When he was satisfied, he took his wife by the hand.
“Let’s go to bed, mi esposa.”
As soon as he had closed the flap of the tent, he flashed his white teeth. “You made me a promise, madam! Are you ready to make good of your word?”
She did not say anything, but slowly unfastened the laces which tied the skirts to her bodice. For comfort on their travels, she was only wearing one skirt above her shift, and it was made in a practical and light material. Miguel came closer and helped her to untie the long sleeves, after which he continued to open up the bodice. His fingers played with her breasts while doing so. At last she was only wearing the thin shift, which did nothing to hide the curves of her delicious body. His Maria was a beauty, he thought. From her Flemish ancestors she had inherited the blonde hair and blue eyes. Her breasts were round and firm and her hips promised easy birth-giving.
He gave her a playful kiss and then started to get out of his uniform as well. Finally he pulled her down on the makeshift bed. Slowly his fingers picked up the hem of the shift and caressingly he pulled it over her head. He kissed her again, more passionately this time.
“How gorgeous you are” he sighed. “And mine alone…”
He began to fondle her milky-cream breasts. His thumb touched a nipple and started to rub it enticingly. She leaned back against the cushion, to better feel the hardness of his body. She grabbed hold of him.
“Ahh!” she let out as her heart started to beat faster. His lips now descended upon her breast and his warm tongue left a trace of burning desire. Then his head went lower, to her navel and slowly, teasingly lower and lower… Before she had been married, Maria had never suspected that such delights between man and woman existed. Her aunt Francesca had been trying to prepare her for her marriage, but she had only spoken of duty. “It is God’s will, my dear,” she had explained “that wives should endure the carnal desires of their husband. I always close my eyes, and silently pray to Our Lord.”
Not a word about lust, about desire. It was only after their marriage that she had experienced this wonder. Now she knew that a man’s body could actually give delight. She was not shy anymore and loved to look at the nakedness of Miguel, with the hard proof of his desire so clearly visible.
Now his tongue was licking her love bud, and she let out moans of desire.
“Oh, yes, please” she begged. “Come into me, mi amor!”
He was about to comply, when all hell broke loose.

They had been too enticed in their nightly activities to hear or notice anything.  Nor had the rest of the camp suspected that danger was lurking in the rain forest and that they had been watched all the time, from the moment that they entered the forest until they made camp. The Spaniards had not suspected that the seeming cries of exotic birds had really been a way for the Aztec to pass signals among themselves.
All of a sudden, a big shadow loomed over the love-making couple. Maria opened her eyes wide, and when she saw the painted face and long black hair above hers she screamed in terror. An Indian, dressed in short white tunic, showing the reddish-brown of his skin, holding a dangerously looking knife!
Miguel needed a moment to come to reality. His wife’s anxious screaming then urged him into action. He quickly got to his feet and made a threatening gesture towards the Indian.
He had not the chance to do anything else. In a fluid movement, the Indian plunged the sharp knife into his breast, killing him almost instantly. He then turned to Maria, the dripping knife in hand, and grabbed her by the hair.
She screamed even louder and struggled against his grip. Her loose hair swirled about in flashes of gold. To her surprise, the Indian loosened her as suddenly as he had grabbed her. He even stepped back a couple of paces, and shouted some words in a language she did not comprehend.
Other Indians appeared into the tent’s entrance. One of them was holding a torch. The man who had killed Miguel took it and approached her a second time. When the light of the raised torch fell over her and disclosed her light hair and blue eyes, the Indians looked awe-struck. Hesitatingly, one of them reached out and touched her hair, uttering more strange words. The intensity of his look was more than frightening.
After a while they started to whisper in hushed tones, accompanied by broad gestures. They seemed to come to some agreement, because some time later their leader beckoned one of his men to fetch a cape, and he handed it to Maria. All of this time, she had not risked to open her mouth, in fear of doing something the Indians would take offence to. Apparently they had never seen blond hair. Would they spare her life because of it? She almost dared to hope so. At last she spoke up.
“What are you going to do with me?” she demanded. They only gave her a blank stare and shrugged.
She was escorted outside, where the success of their ambush laid in evidence. The soldiers of the company had all been slain. Some had their throats cut, others had severed heads or limbs. The stench of blood filled the air with a coppery scent. She had to suppress a feeling of nausea and quickly closed her eyes.
She only felt how she was lifted upon a horse.  A horse? Why had they been spared?  A hand prodded the back of her horse and it went into a trot. Away they went.
When they were well away from the camp, she dared to open her eyes again. At least there was no more carnage now. She tried, as best as she could, to block out everything that had just happened in the camp.  She could not yet bear to think about Miguel’s death and what this would mean to her. Mourning would have to come later, when they would be brought back to safety. Surely, the soldiers would come and look for them…
So now she concentrated on memorizing their route through the rain forest. It appeared to her they were heading north, which was the best she could do. When she looked around, she saw that their party consisted of about fifteen warriors and six unsaddled horses.  And then she discovered a dark form astride yet another horse.
“Who’s there?” she whispered.
“It is I, Padre José” a soft voice answered.
“Thank God!”
“How are you doing, my dear?” the padre asked, his voice full of compassion. She felt a pang of pain when she thought of her loss, and impatiently wiped away the tears that suddenly appeared. She did not want to show weakness in front of the Aztecs.
The guard that rode next to the padre gave him a push. Apparently they did not like that they were talking. He said something they did not understand, but obviously meant: “Keep quiet!”.

No more time for further thoughts. The band of Indians started its way into the depths of the forest and she had to follow. Deeper and deeper they disappeared into the forest.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I like strong heroines

Those who have read any of my novels will know that the main female character is a strong woman who can withstand fate. Maria is, and so are Marguerite (from The Medici Diamonds), Sarah (The Gold Crucifix) and Justine (The Haversham Legacy).

So you may wonder why I make my heroines this way. Well, like I told before I was mainly brought up by my grandparents. My grandmother (who lived to a very old age) was a woman who was not afraid of anything. She had survided on her wits through two world wars, for starters. Can you imagine, being the young mother of four, she saw her husband taken POW and there she was, stranded in Calais. As the bombings went on, she headed towards the German headquarters and demanded to speak to someone in command. The trains weren't running anymore, so she asked for a means of transport back home - and got a horse and cart! Later on she had to face visits of the Gestapo who came asking about my grandfather (who had escaped the prison camp). During that war, she also went from Dendermonde to Antwerp (and other places) on foot to buy food on the black market.

She always told me I should never do anything I didn't want to. Her favorite quote always was: 'If everyone jumps into the river, would you do too?" The correct answers was of course 'no'. So I grew up with a will of my own and a resilience to face whatever  comes to me.

I also want my heroines to be this way. I can't stand a woman who gives in too easily, just to please another. The females in my stories are women of flesh and blood, who have good and bad characteristics. They stand behind their way of thinking and they always pull through.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Maria Gonzalez

When you have been reading this blog, you'll know I wrote the first draft of this novel when I was only 16 years old. Well, the first part of the novel anyway, where Maria is captured by Aztec indians and is forced to marry their king. For one reason or other the book ended there, but on retrieving it I thought I could continue the story of Maria's tempestuous life...

Maria Gonzalez was published in 2008 by Rogue Phoenix Press. You can have the novel as paperback or e-book, and you can order it directly from the publisher or from Amazon.

What is the book about?

The novel tells the life of Maria, a young woman who was born in Flanders while this still was a part of the Spanish imperium. When her father dies of the pest, Maria goes to live with her aunt Francesca who has married a Spanish wineseller and now lives in Madrid.

In Madrid, Maria meets a dashing young officer, Miguel Gonzalez. She is literally swept off her feet and soon marries her beloved.

Not long after the marriage, Miguel's company is ordered to leave for New Spain (which would now be Mexico). The soldiers must travel from Vera Cruz to another - remote - part of the country and are advised to take a short-cut through the jungle.

It is there they are ambushed by Aztecs. Everyone thought the Indians were all killed, but some of them took refuge in the vast jungles and there they built another city. All the Spanish soldiers, including Miguel, are killed, and only Maria and a priest are spared.  Maria's blue eyes and blond hair saved her, as did the black frog of the priest.

They are brought to the hidden city of Tenochtitlan, which is the exact copy of the one destroyed by the Spanish. There Maria is forced to marry the king. The hight priest sees her as a messenger from the gods, because of of their legends tells about a creature with blond hair and blue eyes.

At first, there is no love between Maria and Montezuma. But as days go by, they begin to aprreciate each other. When Maria gets pregnant with Montezuma's child, he honors her with the title Daughter of the Sun.

But the Spanish find out about the hidden city and start an offensive. When her new husband is killed Maria tries to save the women and children by surrendering to the enemy.

Because of this, she is considered as a traitor to the Spanish course and she is brought back to Vera Cruz to await trial. The person sent out to head the tribunal, Don Felipe, however takes pity on her and offers her a way out - if she marries him.

As Donna Maria she returns to Madrid. During the sea voyage they meet with English pirates, under the lead of Michael Fenton, a daredevil of a man. He too takes a fancy on Maria.

Times are difficult in Europe and war is threatening. Don Felipe is sent to the court of Elizabeth the First to try and prevent a war between Spain and England. Maria accompanies him on this journey. Of course she meets Michael again and can't fight the attraction she also feels for him.

When Felipe is killed, Maria doesn't know what to believe? Is Michael behind this murder? Is he so desperate to have her?

While the Armada is sailing towards England, Maria must find out the truth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Writing historical fiction

As you already know, I grew up around books. My grandfather had an expansive library, including a lot of French classics. One of his most valued possessions was his late father's Larousse Encyclopedia (dating back to 1878).

I was absolutely fascinated by that encyclopedia. It contained so much facts. Whenever I read a book set in historical times, I went to granddad's Larousse and looked up the background to the story. That way I filed away lots of tidbits in my mind.

Next to reading and writing, history was my absolute favorite. Small wonder I turned up writing historical fiction...

Most authors will tell you you need to do a lot of research when you write. That's true. But luckily for me, history holds few question marks and most of the time I don't need to look up something as I have it locked up somewhere in my brain.

When I plan a book, I set the background. Of course I turn to those periods in which I find myself the most confident. I don't often take notes - I also do them in my mind.

So writing for me is just sitting behind the pc and letting my fingers go over the keys. It sorta flows onto the paper. Yes, just like that. I write as easily as I speak - our late family doctor always said I spoke like a lawyer!

Sometimes I look up something - and not always on the internet. I still use that Larousse for facts before 1878. It's very accurate, and a trove of findings you don't find anywhere else. But most of the time I trust my good sense.

I remember when writing 'Maria Gonzalez' I sent out the story to a few proofreaders. One of them was a retired guy who had worked in intelligence. He was used to checking facts. So when I wrote somewhere in the story the sun went down around 4 pm that afternoon, he actually went to look it up - and concluded I had been correct. Seemed pretty evident to me, as in winter the sun always sets around that time!

Up to now I haven't had a reader tell me I had a fact wrong. Most of them praise me for my knowledge and thank me for sharing things with them they had not heard of before.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The road to publication

Like I told in my previous post, I've been writing for a very long time. I must confess I never was very serious about it, it was only a way to pass some free time.

And you mustn't forget that in the 1980s there was no internet yet. After having finished the first draft of 'The Gold Crucifix' - which was the very first 'serious' novel I wrote - I managed to get addresses from London publishers from a penfirend who worked in London.

Of course I got rejections galore (I suppose every author must cope with that) but after some time I got one letter back in which an editor said there still needed to be a lot of work done to the novel, and she pointed out some of the points where it went wrong.

I worked very hard to improve the writing, but when that was finished (two years later, because I also was working and did not always have the fime for writing) I contacted this editor again, only to hear she had left the company.

Well, I just gave up then. I went back to writing for myself and the few persons prepared to read my ramblings. My sister being the first of them - and she actually liked what I did!

With the coming of the internet, I spent lots of time online and I became a member of more than one writing group. These guys shared a lot of advice and also made me aware of all the pitfalls unexperienced authors can fall into. Like trusting publishers who are only out to get your money.

Then I also tried to find an agent. I sent out query letters and samples of my current project. An editor at Avon wrote to me, telling me she loved the book, but it was just the wrong time for it. Quote: 'if you had sent it twenty years ago, it would have been a bestseller.'

I also made a big mistake then. When contacting an A-list agent, he immediately replied he'd like to see the work. He did not offer a contract yet. I delayed my reply, as I was also awaiting rhe reply of another agent, and that was my mistake. I should have sent out the manuscript asap. I know that now.

Well, I am not stupid and I can read a contract. So I decided I could do without an agent as long as the big deal didn't come through.

One of the people I knew from a writing circle, Christine Young, then started up her own publishing company 6 years ago. She had a vast experience as editor and writer and from what I knew from her I realized she would do a decent job.

I queried her and was asked to send over my manuscript. Christine believed in it and she offered me a contract. Also my other books have been published by Rogue Phoenix Press and I still have no complaints about their way of working.

Since this year I am also a proofreader for them. I have a master's degree in English Literature and Grammar. I loved reading through various manuscripts, and sometimes you come across one you know will be really good.

I am also working on a next novel and hope to finish it this year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How I came to writing

Like most authors, I've been fascinated by books since an early age.

Because my parents were working (yes, I had a very modern mummy, who worked even in the early 1950s) I stayed with my grandparents - and I just loved it. My grandfather, a pensioned army officer who had lived through two world wars, had lots of patience with his little granddaughter.

While grandma was doing the housework, he minded me. Because I did not like to sleep a lot during the day, he mostly put me on his lap while he was reading or arranging his stamps collection. His father was French-speaking, so grandfather spoke two languages fluently. He read both a Flemish and a French newspaper daily. But most of his books were in French.

One of my earlies memories is sitting on granddad's knee and listening to 'La Reine Margot' by Alexandre Dumas. I probably did not know French then, but I do remember what the story was about. Likewise with 'La Tulipe Noire' and all those other classics by Dumas.

When I was a little older (two and a half) my grandmother began to take me along when she went to the library. Yes, everyone read in our family. The only one who doesn't like books a lot is my sister, although now she also reads occasionally.

I remember entering that big old library for the first time. Oh my, all those books in their high cases! The librarian (pensioned by now) still tells how he could see I'd adore books.

No wonder I could read and write before going to primary school! By age ten, I had read all the books in the youth library ten times over and the lady who managed this library allowed me to pick books from the adult section. I began to read Agatha Christie then. Before that it had been Stevenson, Dickens, Dumas and all those other authors who wrote adventure and history.

Later on I discovered romance. These three genres are still my favorites. I still appreciate a well-written adventure novel (big fan of Clive Cussler) and a book that keeps me guessing who's done it (Harlan Coben is one of the best here). And of course I enjoy reading romances by authors like Sabrina Jeffries, Teresa Medeiros or Karen Hawkins.

I wrote my first story when I was six years young, in the first year of primary school. I was bored to death because I knew how to read and write, and make sums. I could learn nothing there, so I spent my time making up stories (I was a good kid, I did not want to disturb the class!).  I even decorated those stories with little drawings, although I must say I am not very good at it.

As I grew up, the stories became longer and by my 16th birthday I had finished my first 'full' novel. I named it Maria Gonzalez and in reality it was the first draft of a novel with the same title published much later.

Still I did not do a lot with these writings. I wrote mostly to amuse myself. Only when I turned 50 I began to think about publication. I've been lucky to find a small publisher who believes in my work and I know they do a good job. They only started six years ago, but they have come far already.

Since then five books have been published, and I hope to get number six ready later this year.