Thursday 5 February 2015

The Thornless Rose, by Morgan O'Neill

Readers of my blog will already know what a big fan I am of Deborah O'Neill Cordes, having thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Dawn. 

So when I heard on the grapevine that she had teamed up with Cary Morgan Frates to write The Thornless Rose, an Elizabethan time travel novel, I got excited.  Rightly so, it transpires. 

No one ever knew what really happened to Dr. Jonathan Brandon back in 1945. He simply disappeared from a London pub, leaving behind an unsolved mystery and his fiancée—Anne Howard’s grandmother. Seventy years later, Anne herself is haunted by the strange tale, along with inexplicable hallucinations straight out of Elizabethan England. Including a scarred, handsome man whose deep blue eyes seem to touch her very soul...

Anne wonders if there isn’t something more to the story. Is it even possible that Jonathan disappeared into England’s dark past? And why does Anne keep hearing him whisper her name? Because now she too feels the inexorable pull of the past, not to mention an undeniable attraction for a man she doesn’t even know.

It’s just a matter of time before Anne will step back into history, and face a destiny―and a love―beyond imagining...

I loved reviewing The Thornless Rose on both and . And so when I had the opportunity to ask both lovely ladies about the crafting of this book, I jumped at it :). 
Throughout The Thornless Rose, the scenes and dialects jumped out at me for their seeming authenticity. How authentic are they all actually, bearing in mind that you both live and work in the U.S.?

We strive to do the best we can in terms of recreating the varied dialects in our novels. Our Elizabethan "speech" reflects the language of the era as much as possible, without burdening the reader with obscure wording. Both of us have been to the UK - and London - many times on vacation, and Cary lived in the Fulham section of London for part of a year.

I love Fulham, great part of London. Being a writer myself, I know one of the hardest senses to depict is that of smell. But here, once again, the smells jump off the pages. (sometimes uncomfortably so ;) ) How did you know what to describe? 

We were in a critique group together for several years, and one of our dear friends, Susan Ashton, never let us overlook the sense of smell. And for good reason! How often does a whiff of something instantly transport us to a specific memory? Depicting all of the senses draws in a reader and gives them the feeling of "being there." Whether pleasant or foul, we've always kept Susan's advice in mind - "Put in those smells!"

One of the things I find difficult again is how to open those portals, whether into different times or worlds. The use of tools such as magic keys, rifts in time and shapeshifting all have been done numerous times. Therefore I thoroughly enjoyed your originality in that Anne and Jonathon time travelled when all of their senses became alive. How did you come up with that idea?

The progression of the senses aspect did not come to us right away. When Jonathan met the whore on the docks, we suddenly realized his developing senses could be the way he's pulled through the "veil between two worlds" and into the past. We then went back and added this to Anne's experiences - and voilà, she couldn't avoid passing through veil, either.

A question that occurred throughout was how historically accurate is The Thornless Rose, i.e. was Dudley's wife murdered? Was Norfolk such a horrible man?

Amy Robsart Dudley did indeed die under mysterious circumstances, and Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I were widely condemned as having plotted the whole tragic event. Minus our bad guy, the day unfolded as we have set forth. Amy was very weak and thought to be mortally ill, she was left virtually alone in the house, which was unheard of, she fell all the way to the bottom of a dog-leg flight of stairs, her neck was broken, and she had other abrasions on her face. Some claimed suicide, some claimed mischance, and many supposed murder. After all, the primary beneficiaries in that case were Amy's husband and the queen, who were known to be very close. But Elizabeth and Robert were both intelligent people, and doing something so brazen, so obviously self-incriminating, would seem to go beyond reason. We believe we found the perfect fictional solution to a case that continues to be debated to this day.
As for Norfolk, yes! He was cunning and devious and a second cousin of Elizabeth I, which put him in line for the throne. Did he covet the Crown? What do you think? We believe he did, and we do know he was eventually executed for treason for his participation in the plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne of England. We follow actual history in our novels, and we write time travel/historical fantasy. As our authors' note states, "...we depict events and people as accurately as possible, within the dictates of a time travel story."

Jonathon (Dr Brandon) and Anne introduce aspirin and penicillin to an Elizabethan England. Were you at all worried that this could have changed the course of medical history? Is it something you will delve into in greater detail in the ensuing books?

I think Dr. Brandon covered this well when he discussed with Anne how he worried he was changing history.  I think as time goes on, we will write both Anne and Brandon as worried and torn about doing things that might change history, part of the conflict inherent in any time travel considerations.

You could wreck your head thinking about the ramifications, hey :). Deborah and Cary, it's been an immense pleasure having you at Cait's Place, thank you so much for your visit. Oh, one further (and possibly most important :) ) question, when can I read the next in your Elizabethan time travel series? I do so much want to read more about Jonathon and Anne, and read what happens in contemporary England with Catharine and the monk. Great hooks at the end!!

We have a prequel written and with Entangled now (tentatively scheduled for later 2015 release) and we are writing the sequel to The Thornless Rose.  The prequel takes place in 1945-47, and it is the story of Catherine, Jonathan, and Arthur Howard, while the sequel continues the Elizabethan story of Anne and Jon from 1561-on.

Happy days and many more nights in bed by 20.30pm coming up then :).

Thank you for hosting us on your blog, Cait. It's always a pleasure to visit with you and your readers ~ Deborah and Cary

 Now onward read for a smashing excerpt from The Thornless Rose: 
In this scene, time travelers Anne Howard and Dr. Jonathan Brandon are thrown together for the first time.

Anne felt a tingling, a creeping of skin on the back of her neck and arms. She closed her eyes, suddenly feeling faint, when the air stilled beyond anything she had ever experienced.
What the––? From darkening shadows, she gazed out. Oddly, the chapel was brilliantly lit by dozens of candles. Black-clad monks knelt on wooden misericords, praying.
Their soft, collective droning was a counterpoint to her heart’s fierce drumming.
“Wh—what just happened?” Anne stammered, trying to keep the shrill edge out of her voice. “Where’d you come from?”
The monks turned. To a man, their gazes cut through her, sharp and deeply suspicious.
She swallowed in fear. “Where am I? There were tourists. What happened to them?”
Eyes widening, a young monk held up his crucifix. “Woman,” he said, straining to see Anne, “why dost thou speak gibberish? Hast thou no wits?”
“But this is Westminster Abbey, isn’t it?”
“Aye. But if thou seeketh absolution, thou must find the bishop, for we are at prayer.”
Anne took a deep breath and crossed into the light. Gasps exploded from the monks as they gaped at her shorts and bare legs.
“Strumpet! For shame!” a monk shouted.
“Princess of Sodom!” cried another. “Get thee gone!”
Anne backed up, anxious to escape, and quickly turned to avoid the royal tomb directly behind her. She stopped and stared. The place looked nothing like before. Instead of a marble sarcophagus, there was a pile of broken stones heaped on the floor.
She spun toward the monks, still frozen against their misericords. “Where’s the tomb? Queen Elizabeth’s tomb?” she croaked.
Elizabeth?” The young monk rose to his feet. “Would that the foul heretic were dead! There,” he pointed to the heap of stones, “rests our true Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. God rest her soul.”
“Brother Daniel, silence!” shouted another monk. “If the queen’s men hear thy words of sedition...”
But the young monk, Daniel, shook his head, eyes blazing. “Witch, I’ll send thee back to hell!” He lunged at Anne.
Instinctively, she put up her arms, covering her face in a defensive posture. Then, in disbelief, she realized she felt nothing, no contact with her attacker. She turned just as Brother Daniel tumbled behind her onto Mary Tudor’s grave.
Anne looked down at herself, realizing for the first time she was fading away. Her body looked transparent! “Oh, help!” she shouted, panicked. “Help me!”
She started, blinked, and stared. The monks had vanished, the crowd of tourists surrounding the queens’ tomb the same as before. She held out a trembling hand. Her skin looked as it’d always been—she was whole again.
It took her a moment to get her bearings, to steady herself, but then a voice brought her fully around.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” a woman said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Anne muttered, even though she knew she wasn’t. Shocked, she looked at her shaky hands, again solid, part of the here and now. She shoved them into her pockets and walked on. What just happened?
She picked up her pace, intent on leaving. She shouldn’t have had that shandy on an empty stomach.
The lights suddenly dimmed, the atmosphere hushed, expectant. Just like before!
She halted in her tracks. Flickering candlelight and deep shadows, no tourists. The Abbey was even darker than it had been when she’d seen the monks.
What the hell is going on?
“Anne! Anne!”
Stunned, she turned. A man in costume ran toward her.
“Go back,” he shouted, “back where it’s safe!”
She stood transfixed. As he came closer, she recognized him—his eyes, the scar.
He halted and pulled her tight against him. “I love you, Anne,” he whispered into her hair, “but you have to go with him. Save yourself.”
He stilled her confusion with a tender brush of his lips, and she responded instinctively, their kiss deepening as her body arched against his, her blood ablaze with sudden desire, until the rest of the world seemed very far away.
When he finally drew back, he stared into her eyes, and Anne’s heart seized when she saw his pain, the sheer desperation in his gaze.
The feeling was apparently mutual, because he pulled her close and swore under his breath, “Bloody hell, the bastard will pay for this.”
I don’t understand.
He opened his eyes and stared at something in the distance. “Anne, go now,” his voice cracked, “because I can face anything if I know you’re safe.”
His fingers gently cupped her chin, his touch unleashing more heat. He lifted her face for another kiss, and then—nothing. He was gone. She fought for control, her breathing erratic, her legs threatening to crumble. She touched her lips, still feeling his caress, his soft breath on her skin, but he was gone.
The lights flashed on, the tourists once again milling about, unaware.
“Mummy, they were kissing!”
A small boy pointed at her, but his mother paid no attention.
He saw us! Anne plastered a fake smile on her face until the boy disappeared into the crowd. He saw us, and that means I wasn’t hallucinating. But how? How could Dr. Brandon be here? She touched her lips once more. The way he’d held her, spoken to her, whispered her name, made her believe he was real—and he...
He knew me. But how? A chill enveloped her as the memory of the monk’s stare supplanted Brandon’s.
Trembling, she left the Abbey.

 And a leedle bit about your authors today:
A chance meeting at a writers’ conference brought Cary Morgan Frates and Deborah O’Neill Cordes together, two award-winning authors who connected because of a mutual love of time travel fiction. Collaboration ensued, the search for a pen name the first step in their working relationship. Their maiden names provided the solution - and “Morgan O’Neill” was born. 

Cary and Deborah’s backgrounds are uniquely suited to writing stories steeped in atmosphere and history: Deborah has a Master’s Degree in history and is a dedicated genealogist; Cary is a talented linguist in French and is currently a student of Latin. They’ve traveled to Europe’s ancient and medieval sites many times, with Cary living on the Continent for five years. 

The Morgan O’Neill time travel novels have received a number of literary awards, including two finalist wins in the Booksellers’ Best Awards, two semifinalist wins in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, first, second, and third place wins for the Mainstream Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category of the Golden Rose Contest, a top ten finalist award in the Pacific Northwest Writers' Conference Zola Awards Literary Contest, and a top ten finalist win in the Orange Rose Contest.
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  1. Thanks for having us today, Cait! We look forward to hearing from your readers.

  2. Thanks so much for hosting us on your blog, Cait. It is always a pleasure to be here. And Anne, Jonathan, Catherine, Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, et al, salute you for helping to introduce their story to the world!

  3. What fabulous questions! I loved hearing Deborah and Cary explain the details behind how they approached different issues with this wonderful book. Like you, Cait, I can't wait for the next one!

  4. Thanks, Joanna! I agree about the next one, because I can't wait to introduce Arthur Howard to the world. He's THE heartthrob of London in 1947 - and he's a Pimm's man, too. :)