Guest Blog

Germany’s First Female Physician. A Guest Post by Historical Fiction Author P.K. Adams

I’m thrilled to host P.K. Adams’ discussion of the inspiration behind her book, The Greenest Branch, which follows the story of Germany’s first female physician.

Greenest Branch eBook Cover LargeSynopsis of The Greenest Branch

In The Greenest Branch the medieval era comes vividly to life in all its romanticism and splendor, but the societal strictures that prevent women from being able to access education and live independent lives are also on display.

The year is 1115, and Germany is torn apart by a conflict between the Emperor and the Pope over who should have the right to appoint bishops and control the empire’s vast estates. In that atmosphere, young Hildegard is sent to the Abbey of St. Disibod in the Rhineland as her parents’ gift to the Church in accordance with a custom known as the tithe.

Hildegard has a deep love of nature and a knowledge of herbal healing that might make more than one Church official suspicious of witchery, and she hopes to purse medical studies at St. Disibod. But no sooner does she settle into her new life than she finds out that as a girl she will not be allowed to attend the monastic school or use the abbey’s library; instead, she must stay at the women’s convent, isolated from the rest of the community and from the town. It might seem that Hildegard’s dreams have quickly come to an end. Yet she refuses to be sidelined.

Against fierce opposition from Prior Helenger, the hostile head of the monks’ cloister, she finds another way to learn – by securing an apprenticeship with Brother Wigbert who runs the infirmary and is in dire need of a capable assistant. Under his supervision, she begins to train as the abbey’s first female physician and makes rapid progress. When Hildegard’s reputation starts to spread throughout the Rhineland, Helenger’s persecution escalates as he fears losing control over the women’s community. But that is not the only challenge she must grapple with. She has also developed feelings for Volmar, a fellow Benedictine novice, that force Hildegard to re-examine the fundamental assumptions she has made about her life. Is the practice of medicine within the monastic confines her true calling, or is a quiet existence of domestic contentment more desirable?

With the pressures mounting and threatening to derail her carefully-laid plans, Hildegard becomes locked in a struggle that will either earn her an unprecedented freedom or relegate her to irrevocable oblivion.

The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the true story of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician and one of the few women to attain that position in medieval Europe. Set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, it is a tale of courage, strength, sacrifice, and love that will appeal to fans of Ken Follett, Umberto Eco, Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret Frazer, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and to anyone who enjoys strong female protagonists in historical fiction.


 

The Inspiration Behind The Greenest Branch, an account of Germany’s First Female Physician

Guest post by P.K. Adams

I first heard about Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1178) in a history of music class in college. Her chants are sublime, and as I fell in love with them I started to read more about their composer – the first woman in the Western world to do so.

It turns out Hildegard did much more than that – she was a pioneer in many fields thus far reserved as a man’s domain. One such field was medicine. She was a skilled herbalist who applied treatments in a way most medieval physicians did not, namely by observing the outcomes of the cures rather than relying on ancient texts for guidance, irrespective of whether they worked or not.

As I researched Hildegard’s life, two things began to puzzle me in the (admittedly sparse) historical accounts. One is that she was enclosed at a young age (possibly as young as eight or ten) at a very strict women’s convent, where the residents lived in enforced poverty and isolation from the world. In such a place, historians tell us, she lived for the next three decades.

This, to me, is hard to believe. The psychological and intellectual toll such privations would exact on a child would be extremely damaging. Yet Hildegard re-emerges in contemporary chronicles, around the age of forty, as an accomplished physician, writer, and composer, and a diligent student of nature. She is already well-known in the Rhineland, and her theological writings are about to catch the attention of Pope Eugenius III. She is also preparing to leave the abbey of St. Disibod, where she had been enclosed, and start her own foundation.

Clearly, something happened during those decades that allowed her curiosity to be fostered, her intellect to develop, and her creativity to flourish. There is no reliable record of her early life beyond the few basic facts of her provenance and enclosure, and that is what inspired me to imagine what that life may have been like.

The Greenest Branch is a fictionalized account of the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, but it is rooted in what we know about her and the world she inhabited. It is a world, needless to say, that is not conducive to female empowerment. That she managed to accomplish so much is a testament to her fierce intelligence, strength, and determination.

The second book in the series, titled The Column of Burning Spices, traces the second half of Hildegard’s long and eventful life. It will be released in early 2019.

Greenest Branch eBook Cover Large

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Order the The Greenest Branch on Amazon US  and Amazon UK

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“Hauntingly beautiful and meticulously researched. P.K. Adams writes about the Middle Ages like someone who has lived there. Hildegard’s story is inspiring, and her voice feels so real that it’s almost spooky.” – Jessica Cale, author of Tyburn.


PKAdams

About The Author
P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).

Learn more about P.K. Adams at her website and @pk_adams.


 

Book Review

Book Review: Fifty-One by Chris Barnham

38487634Synopsis:

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, stranding Jake in war-ravaged 1944. Jake’s team, including his long-time girlfriend, is desperate to trace him before something else goes wrong.

Stuck in the past, Jake must pull from his training and blend in. He clings to the one familiar face he can find, Amy Jenkins, a war widow whose life he saved during the assignment. Drawn to each other by their loneliness and thrown together amid the terror of war, Jake and Amy look to a future together.

But Jake’s future cannot let him go. And when his bosses finally find him in 1944, Jake faces a terrible choice: risk unraveling the modern world, or let Amy die.

My Thoughts

My biggest pet peeve with fiction is Deus ex machina and coincidences. I was frustrated many times while reading Fifty-One due to apparent coincidences in the plot, but in the end, it turns out they were not coincidences at all. (Wow!!) I usually can predict endings but not for this one, this one blew me away.

Barnham’s attention to detail is impressive and the little nuances through out the time travel plot are delightful. I enjoyed the historical aspects of war-torn London and the evident research that went into the writing.

This story is more a thought exercise than a romance – which I appreciated, though I do wish some key scenes would have been between Amy and Jake instead of through a different POV (I especially would have liked to have seen more of Amy’s reaction to 2040). But that is a small wish considering I couldn’t put down the last half of the book. And that ending…

Buy link

About the Author

Chris Barnham worked for two decades for the British government, advising Ministers on education and employment policies. In 2013, he decided it was time to make stuff up for himself. He now combines writing with running a small business, and active involvement in community politics in south London, where he has lived since the 1980s. His short fiction has appeared in a range of magazines, including Compelling Science Fiction, Black Static, the UK’s premier horror magazine, and the late-lamented Pan Books of Horror. His first novel, Among the Living, was published in 2012 (revised 2nd edition, 2017).

Chris lives in London, England, with three tall children and a scary wife. Whenever work allows, he spends as much time as possible out of town with mud on his boots. His latest walking challenge is the 630-mile South West Coast Path, around the Devon and Cornwall coasts. You can follow his (slow) progress on his blog.

https://www.chrisbarnhambooks.com/

https://twitter.com/barnham_chris

Uncategorized

Cover Reveal: Meant to be Broken

I’m excited to host the cover reveal for Meant to be Brokena YA contemporary romance by southern belle by Brandy Woods!

Synopsis

Rayne Davidson is perfectly happy fading into the background. Her mama’s antics garner enough attention in their small Southern town for the both of them, but when Rayne catches the eye of all-star quarterback, Preston Howard, she’s enamored with the possibilities. Too bad Preston doesn’t make her heart thump—his brother does.

Gage Howard doesn’t mind the town’s stares because he doesn’t get them. Growing up in his older brother’s shadow, Gage shrugs off the endless parade of girls Preston brings home—until Rayne.

But there are unwritten rules that shouldn’t be broken, like cheating on your boyfriend or betraying your brother. Rayne and Gage deny their growing attraction, neither willing to hurt Preston—until the town finds out.

They think overcoming the gossip will be the hardest obstacle.

They’re wrong.

Rayne’s mama has a secret, and its revelation could divide the town, the families, and the new couple.

Can love endure if it’s all built on a lie?

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Her secret is big. Mama’s is bigger

 

I love the yellow background of the cover which gives such warmth and is sure to stand out on a bookshelf. You can have this beauty in your hands on July 2, 2018.

Pre-order at: https://www.fillesvertespublishing.com/product/meant-to-be-broken/

Read an Excerpt:

The store manager calls me on my cell and asks me to come get her. He has my number because he’s Daddy’s best friend’s brother and used me to babysit his kids a few times last year. I answer, expecting another job offer.At 9:30 Saturday morning, I find out Preston Howard wants to date me. At 11:30, my mama hears it from old lady McAlister and has a “spell” in aisle three of the Piggly Wiggly. It’s taken seventeen years, but I finally understand the two things my social life and Mama have in common. They’re both erratic and one usually suffers because of the other.

“Rayne? This is Dave Sullivan, you know, the manager down at the Piggly Wiggly? There’s been an incident with your mama.”

Apparently it’d happened in front of the Luzianne tea bags. She was comparing the family size to smaller ones when Mrs. McAlister offered her a coupon… and a piece of news.

The details get a little sketchy from there—something about her sinking to the floor and gasping for air. That’s when the manager came over with one of those small brown paper sacks they use to bag up ice cream and had her breathe in it. A nurse and a vet, both in the crowd assembled around her, agreed from their varied medical expertise it didn’t appear to be life-threatening. When the paper bag seemed to work, he decided to call me instead of the ambulance.

I pull into the parking lot ten minutes later. She’s sitting on the front bench beside the automatic doors where the employees go to smoke, under the “I’m Big on the Pig!” sign. Mrs. McAlister sits beside her, a little too close, waving a folded-up circular in her face. I wonder what the store employees and shoppers think of me, casually parking the car, walking-not-running, and looking both ways before crossing the main traffic flow. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out they’re all watching from between the weekly specials scribbled on the plate-glass windows.

I don’t feel the need to rush. It isn’t a heart attack or stroke. I call it her bipolar though Daddy gets mad when I refer to it like that. The diagnosis is anxiety, better known as my evil little sister—always around, always a pain, and always ruining my life.

This sort of episode has happened before, just not too often in public. In most societies that’s considered good news—but not in the South. They say we don’t hide our crazy, we dress it up and parade it on the front porch. And even if we don’t, someone else will do the parading for us—telegraph, telephone, tell-a-southern woman. We know how to reach out and touch some people.

Mrs. McAlister jumps up from the bench and grabs my arm as I step up on the curb. “I suwannee, child. She liked to turned over her buggy and spilt them groceries everywhere.”

Talking to some of the older ladies in town always feels like walking out of real life and into some part of Steel Magnolias. She gives me her version of the sordid details. Mama created quite a scene, not just with her episode but also by her scandalous choice of groceries. The mayonnaise was the only casualty, rolling out the leg hole of the kiddie seat portion of the cart when Mama accidentally gave it a rough shove while collapsing on the linoleum.

Mrs. McAlister hadn’t bothered to pick that up and put it back in the buggy, which was now waiting by the customer service desk. It wasn’t Dukes Mayonnaise. She leans in close to whisper because how embarrassing would that be for Mama. To her, it’s further proof Mama hadn’t been feeling well long before their conversation. What southern woman in her right mind buys off-brand mayonnaise?

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About the Author

unnamed (1)Brandy Woods Snow is an author and journalist born, raised and currently living in beautiful Upstate South Carolina. She earned a BA in English/Writing from Clemson University and worked in corporate communications and the media for more than 17 years before pursuing her true passion for novel writing. Brandy is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Young Adult RWA.

When Brandy’s not writing, reading, spending time with her husband or driving carpool for her three kids, she enjoys kayaking, family hikes, yelling “Go Tigers!” as loud as she can, playing the piano and taking “naked” Jeep Wrangler cruises on twisty, country roads.

Reviews of Meant to be Broken

“Brimming with romantic tension, Brandy Snow’s MEANT TO BE BROKEN is a story of forgiveness, friendship, and first love. Full of authentic southern voice and populated by characters who are real, relatable, and raw, this intensely emotional debut kept me reading late into the night. Romance lovers, you’re in for a treat!”

– Katy Upperman, author of Kissing Max Holden

“Brandy Snow’s poetic prose keeps the reader turning the pages. This story is about more than just a love triangle. It is also a family drama with dark secrets and twists.

The story unfolds from both Rayne and Gage’s perspective. Growing up in his older brother’s shadow, Gage is almost oblivious to the girl’ s Preston brings home—until he meets Rayne. You want Rayne and Gage to get together, but you don’t at the same time because Preston is a good guy.

When Rayne and Gage finally get together secrets come to light that will surprise you!”

– R.J. Garcia, author of Nocturnal Meetings of the Misplaced

 

Pre-order now: https://www.fillesvertespublishing.com/product/meant-to-be-broken/

Writing Tip

My Worst Writing Bad Habits: Using Find/Replace to Scrub the First Draft

The first draft is finished. Great! Um… now what?

I am often asked about my “writing process” and the more I write the more procedural it becomes – it is the engineer in me.

Getting the first draft on paper/electrons is a monumental task. And if nanowrimo and write sprints have taught me anything, it’s that snails could crawl over the keyboard faster than I write. So when the words are flowing, the last thing I want to do is disrupt my train of thought by editing.  But when the words flow, my bad writing habits tend to sneak in. That’s OK, a first draft is just getting the story down so it can be molded.

But it needs molding.

So after completing a first draft, the next step in my personal writing process is a systematic scrub for my worst writing habits. I have a list of my issues and systematically go through the manuscript with “find and replace” to address them before diving into developmental edits and more complex issues.

In all of its glory, here is my list:

1. Minimize Filtering

These are words that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through the character’s point of view. they place the character between the author and the reader. Examples include:

  • To see
  • To hear
  • To think
  • I wondered
  • I read
  • I saw
  • I feared

For example, instead of saying “She felt fear as she heard another’s footsteps,” it is more compelling to write “Shivers ran up her spine with the unmistakable echo of approaching steps.”

I have a personal list of my most used filtering words and use find/replace to do perform manuscript surgery. However, no rule is absolute. Notice I said “minimize” and not “delete all.” Do what makes sense for your manuscript,  your voice, your story, and the particular use.

2. Check overuse of certain words

Every author has a list of safe words that they overuse or naturally rely on during writing. While drafting, I overuse the word “with” and for the sake of getting the story out, I often get lazy and my characters “smile” a lot. (Smile 🙂 )

By using the find feature, I can systematically go through each instant of my commonly overused words and determine if there is a more exciting alternative. This also provides variety to the voice.

Don’t know your over used words? Don’t fret! Try running your manuscript through a word cloud. Instructions here.

wordcloud ASAW

3. Check your common grammar errors

Despite a degree in journalism (and simply knowing better) I often confuse “it’s” and “its”. Needless to say, its it’s on my “must check” list and is easily fixed with find and replace.

4. Minimize the words “was”/”were” and passive voice

During editing I find I can often replace “was/were” with more interesting verbs and finding these two words is also quick way to start targeting passive voice.

Active voice is generally more interesting, but passive voice does have its uses. Here’s a fantastic article which describes when passive voice can be the right choice.

5. Minimize adverbs

It is generally agreed that adverbs weaken writing and most authors have heard Stephen King’s quote: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

One problem with adverbs is they are subjective and most often can be replaced by a more accurate phrase that provides an image of greater depth.

The good news: most adverbs can easily be spotted by searching for the word “very” and the characters “ly ” (note I recommend adding a space in the search after the ly).

Example: Instead of “She left quickly” consider “She sprinted” or “She sped like a criminal” or “She hurried.”

Of course, not all adverbs are bad and there are good use cases for them. Read more at this fantastic blog post about adverbs by Henneke.

The rest of my bad habits are not easily identified with find and replace but the above list provides a good start for editing.

What is on your personal bad habit list? Please share your editing tips in the comments!

 

 

 

Apricots and Wolfsbane

2018 B2BCYCON!

Welcome to my 2018 Brains To Books Convention Post! I am exciting to be highlighting my historical thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, which follows the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England.

B2BCyCon runs April 6-8. Readers can participate in the convention by: 

And thank you to all who voted in the cover wars! Apricots and Wolfsbane won both the historical fiction and thriller cover wars!

B2BCyCon Explaination

Synopsis of Apricots and Wolfsbane

front cover

Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.

Watch the Book Trailer

Read reviews from other readers and on Goodreads or read an excerpt below.


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My B2BCyCon Virtual Interview

1. Describe your main character in one or two sentences.

Facing with the choice between the convent or marriage, Lavinia Maud claims independence in Tudor England by employing poisons as an assassin. She balances her morbid career with faith believing confession erases her sin.

2. Which one word would you use to describe your antagonist? Now which word would your antagonist use to describe themselves?

My protagonist is an anti-hero which makes this question interesting.

Antagonist #1 is the magistrate she loves but who could never understand Lavinia’s murderous desires. He is honorable and would describe himself thusly.

Antagonist #2 is the Priest who refuses to hear her further confessions. He is conflicted but believes himself to be righteous.

Lavinia’s patrons serve as several more antagonists. They are vindictive but believe their actions are self-justified.

And then there are the antagonists that no one suspects.

 

3. What’s the worst thing your main character has done?

The reader would say murder but Lavinia begs to differ.

4. What is the one part of your book that you, as the author, like best?

I love how my book ends and no on e has yet told me they saw the ending coming. I love every time someone tells me it is original. The ending actually inspired the rest of the book. In order to not give spoilers, feel free to DM me on Twitter or contact me through my website and I’ll tell you more after you’ve read it 🙂


Excerpt from Apricots and Wolfsbane

The violent display of convulsions lasted longer than I anticipated.

With my boots propped on the table, I remember watching beads of wax roll down the candle, marking time between my victim’s spasms. The brothel room was sparse, and the bed in the corner remained undisturbed. I had assumed the role of temptress that evening, but delivered a different climax.

I savored the fear on my victim’s face as much as my own unlaced mead. The sweetness of both danced on my palate. His repulsive gagging, however, I endured with patience.

My target focused upon me. His hand shook, reaching out in a misplaced plea for aid. Instead, I raised my goblet in a final toast while he turned purple. He glanced towards his spilled glass, and then studied my face with new understanding. With his last remnants of life, he pieced together what I had done. Those little moments made the act so delicious. And as his body collapsed upon the floor, I added one more success to my mental tally.

Murder just never got old.

The scratching of my chair sliding across the uneven floor broke the sudden, serene silence of the room. Driven by curiosity, my boots echoed with each step towards my victim.

The man’s eyes contained a lingering remnant of vibrancy despite the departure of the soul they once served. White froth percolated from his open mouth, overflowing the orifice to trail down his neck. It was not an honorable death, but my client had paid for certainty, not dignity.

Curious, I examined the large ruby on the victim’s pointer finger which matched the client’s description — an ornate setting with a coat of arms on one side of the gem and a mare’s head on the opposite. The worked piece of silver did not seem important enough to procure my service, but as a professional, I had not asked for justification, only payment. Material significance so often motivated patrons to fill my coffers. I recognized the inherent sin, but I never judged a client’s reason. I was not qualified to cast the first stone.

I did admire my victim. After all, he was a fellow criminal. I believed his talents as a thief must have been remarkable to pilfer the ring unnoticed from the finger of its owner. I often boasted of my own sleight of hand, but admittedly, I could not accomplish such a feat. Though in my defense, assassin clearly trumped thief.

After donning the black leather gloves concealed within the lacings of my bodice, I returned to business. I pushed the tipped chair out of the way and pulled on the ring, but my motion abruptly halted.

Caught at the knuckle, the gem did not budge.

I stared at his limp hand, dumbfounded, before a flame of focus burst through my body. How I craved and savored that rush. That high, and the feeling of power, motivated my ghastly craft all those years. Despite the stress, I never lost control of my emotions on the job. No matter the circumstance, I learned to remain calm and reason through any dilemma. That night was no different.

Grabbing the corpse’s wrist in one hand, I pulled on the metal band with all my strength. Still, the damn ring did not move, even with my heel braced against his chest. But through the sound of my grunting, the unexpected scratching of a nearby rat interrupted my efforts.

The rodent stood tall on his hind legs, observing the entertainment outside his hole in the floorboard. What else could I do except laugh in amusement? There was something poetic about the meager creature being the singular witness to the growing farce, while beyond the chamber door, an entire brothel remained unaware.

But their ignorance would not last for long.

By God’s nails, I was not going to degrade myself to play tug of war with a corpse, nor disgrace my spit to serve as lubrication. I retrieved the dagger from my boot and sawed through the bone of the blasted digit. In contrast, his purse strings cut with ease and the contained sum gave me confidence the proprietor would retain his promised discretion. Eager to depart, I cleansed the ring with the pure decanter of mead and left the contaminated gloves on the table.

I threw the finger to the rat.


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Thank you to my genre leads, A.F. Stewart and Richard White for all of their support and time with B2BCyCon.