What was the inspiration behind this book?
When my parents and I moved to Lake City, we stayed at the Blanche Hotel for a few nights waiting for our furniture to arrive. Later I learned about its history. Al Capone really did stay there at least once in transit between Chicago and Miami. The hotel is also supposed to be haunted by a woman who killed herself over love gone wrong and children who died there for reasons that I don’t know. Wish I could report having had a close encounter with the supernatural, but alas it didn't happen. Very credible people, however, have reported hearing a woman crying and the sounds of children running and playing when there was no one else in the place at the time. Over the years, the county has had its share of difficulties with moonshining, prostitution, and gambling. Knowing these tidbits of history sparked my imagination and Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel is the result.What kind of research did you have to do?
Having lived in the town and visited the Blanche on many occasions, I didn't have to research the hotel itself. In addition, I am very fortunate to have had a mother-in-law from a family that had lived in the area for generations. Although none of her stories are in my novel, her voice played in my memory as I wrote. The hardships of the Depression and little tidbits about the county that are not generally known now did find their way into the plot via all the conversations she and I had over many years. The novel is a great deal of fiction and a little history.What are the advantages and disadvantages of using such a well known historical figure, such as Al Capone, in a work of fiction?
The advantages of using a well known figure is that of instant recognition. The downside is that you better have your facts straight or have a ready explanation for why you changed history. People can be touchy about what might be seen as poor research.I grew up on property that was adjacent to some formerly owned by one of Al Capone's buddies. He often used to stop there on his trips to Chicago. As a kid, as we were studying the gangsters in American History and American Literature, we researched other local places frequented by these gangs. For me, it was learning about history literally where I grew up. Why do you think others are drawn to these stories?
I believe it is because people are fascinated by those who choose to live outside the law and by the mystery that surrounds them. We don't necessarily want to emulate their choices, but we seem to get vicarious excitement from seeing bad guys act out and then be brought to justice. Just think about all the cops and robbers movies, books, and TV shows. Law and Order and its spinoffs have been some of the most successful franchises in the history of television. Of course, some people enjoy darker entertainment where the bad guy doesn't always get his in the end. No Country for Old Men comes readily to mind. But whether the good guy wins or loses, we humans seem drawn to the edgier side of life, if only in the safety of our own living rooms.Please tell us about your next book, due out next year.
My next book due out in 2014 from Soul Mate Publishing is entitled Confederado do Norte. Here is the back cover information: Set during the aftermath of the American Civil War, Confederado do Norte tells the story of Mary Catherine MacDonald Dias Oliveira Atwell, a child torn from her war devastated home in Georgia and thrust into the primitive Brazilian interior where the young woman she becomes must learn to recreate herself in order to survive.Are you working on any other projects?
In 1866, Mary Catherine is devastated when her family immigrates to Brazil because her father and her mother’s brother, Nathan, refuse to accept Reconstruction. Shortly after arrival, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. Nathan hates Mary Catherine because he believes her childish mistake led to his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan killed her father rather than share an incredible secret. At fourteen, Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to get rid of her as well and flees into the wilderness. Finding refuge among strangers, she ultimately marries the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family at age seventeen. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed intruders who have a mysterious connection to Mary Catherine. When the thugs murder her husband for failing to meet their demands, she directs the intruders to her uncle and his secret in order to save the remaining family members. Once they are free from danger, however, her powerful in-laws accuse her of complicity in her husband’s death. Mary Catherine’s survival now rests in her own determination, wits, and courage.
My newest project is a World War II romantic suspense set in Casablanca in 1943. It is tentatively entitled Assignment: Casablanca. It involves an OSS officer, an army nurse, and a plot to disrupt the war's first Allied conference.What do you find appealing about writing historical fiction?
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.How do you get yourself out of a writing rut?
To get out of a rut, take a break from writing when frustrated or the ideas just won't come. It is a trick my grandmother taught us. Although she didn't write novels, she was a wonderful seamstress and made clothes for all of her eleven children. It was definitely a creative pursuit for her because she sewed clothes that looked ready made without using patterns. She always said that when one became frustrated with a project, one should take a break from it and do something completely different. When one picked up the troublesome project again, a solution would present itself. So far, it has worked every time!What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?
Most people are surprised to learn that I have had close relationships with real gangsters. Sadly, they were young people lured into present day street gangs, primarily Crips and Latin Kings. Such is the life of a secondary public school administrator.Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for hosting me, Andrea. It has been fun answering your questions. If there are readers who are also contemplating a career in fiction, I would suggest the following. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend."Thank you so much for your time!
by Linda Bennett Pennell
Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.
Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan's self-righteous vigilantism. Jack's older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancé, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.
Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.
Read an excerpt:
August 15, 2011
Liz Reams glanced at the caller ID and grimaced. She didn’t have time for this, but guilt wouldn’t let her put the conversation off any longer. Sighing, she pressed the talk button and prepared to listen with forbearance and humility.
“Hello, Roberta. I’m so glad to hear your voice. I was beginning to think we were going to play phone tag forever.” Internally, Liz squirmed. Her conscience yelled, liar, you returned calls when you figured you’d get her voicemail.
Roberta’s reply made Liz cringe. While she endured the diatribe pouring through her cell phone, Liz eyed her purse, book bag, and laptop case huddled together on the sofa. She couldn’t afford to be late today of all days. Her eyes narrowed as her gaze paused on her laptop. She had paid more than a month’s rent for the thing, but as much as she loved its power and speed, it was also a constant reminder of her dereliction. It only compounded her guilt that everything Roberta said was true.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.
As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend."
I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.
Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: "History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up." Voltaire