Thursday, December 10, 2020

My Six Favorite Podcasts on History

 The other day I spotted this post on Facebook: “I’ve never ever listened to a podcast, I don’t understand why anyone does.” I immediately felt sorry for this person. I’ve had so MANY hours of entertainment, diversion, education, enlightenment, and amusement via podcasts.

This engrossing podcast will take your mind off everything else--I promise!


All day I’m reading, writing, and editing, working on both novels and on a nonprofit website. After this, at night my eyes are shot; I can’t read anymore. Yes, there’s watching TV or listening to music. (I’m enjoying my latest mystery series discovery, the Sicilian “Detective Montalbano" on amazon.) But a quality podcast really diverts and restores me. I have a hunch many of you like listening to shows about history too, so I’m eager to share my list:

These are my Top Six Choices:

1.   “In Our Time.” Hosted by Melvyn Bragg; BBC. The list of topics covered in this podcast is breathtaking. It’s very hard for me to pick my favorites, but among the standouts are shows on the Gin Craze, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Coffee, Agrippina the Younger, Holbein at the Court of Henry VIII, The Waste Land, Macbeth, King Tut, and Beethoven.

2. “You Must Remember This.” Written, produced, and narrated by Karina Longworth. I’ve had a challenging year, as many of you know. But I’ve been pulled through a stressful night more than once by these engrossing podcasts on the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century. I particularly enjoyed her series on MGM History, Fact Checking Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford.

3. “Revolutions.” Written and narrated by Michael Duncan. I like the perspective and edge of these podcasts on history’s most significant revolutions, particularly the Russian one.

4. “The Bowery Boys.”  Hosted by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. This lively podcast brings New York City history to life. The Gilded Age and Coney Island episodes were of course pretty relevant to my novel Dreamland. Really fun!

5. “Hardcore History.” Hosted by Dan Carlin. Dan is an emotional podcaster, and his programs go longer than most, but I found both his World War I series and his Japan series unforgettable.

6  “Our Fake History.” Produced by Sebastian Major. These shows uncover the “real” stories behind everyone from Cleopatra to Richard the Lionhearted to Nostradamus. Great debunking!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

My Christmas Ghost Story

Last year I wrote a mystery set in New York City in December 1912 that revolves around a young Irish American widow named Helen O'Neill. It's a tale with a ghostly element, and that's something I've wanted to do for years--write a Christmas ghost story.

I'd like to share some reviews:

"The Gilded Age splendors of the Morgan Library come to life in this wonderful, warm-hearted tale of Christmases past, present, and future. Bilyeau weaves a wealth of gorgeous period detail into her ghost story of old New York, delivering genuine chills, family drama, and poignant romance with equal skill. A gorgeous holiday treat!"
—Mariah Fredericks, author of Death of a New American

"All the characters are poignantly human, and their social and cultural backgrounds add rich shadings to their actions. The warmhearted theme of second chances is well balanced with the mysteriousness of the woman’s identity, which Helen gets in trouble trying to uncover. Add a touch of Irish magic to the plot—Helen’s unusual dexterity with her hands reminded her late mother and husband of the aes sidhe—and you have an entrancing ghost story with a touching message."
--Sarah Johnson, Reading the Past

"An enchanting story of the newly rising immigrants and the wealthy of old New York which you can read as quickly as you'd watch a film of The Christmas Carol and will also leave you feeling lovely. Has the author reinvented the much-adored annual Christmas novella? Curl up for an hour or so with a cup of something lovely and read The Ghost of Madison Avenue this season." -- Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart

The ebook is priced at 99 cents for one week, up until December 15th. And it is available as a paperback as well--making it an excellent stocking stuffer. You can order the book by clicking here.
 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sharing My Research on Coney Island

I'm honored to be asked to be a guest of the "Ask the Expert" series at Coney Island Museum. It will be a zoom, the focus is Dreamland and turn-of-the century Coney Island. I have a whole batch of great vintage photos and postcards loaded up to show. It's tomorrow evening--I know it's the night before Thanksgiving. But I promise to make it interesting.
So if you'd like to escape to 1906 Coney Island for a bit, please stop in. 🙂 The $5 fee goes to the nonprofit Coney Island Museum, which has been closed since March and could really use our help! Register here:

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Special Promotion for My Tudor Thriller 'The Crown'

 In 2012 I published my debut novel 'The Crown,' set in Henry VIII's England and featuring as a main character a Dominican novice. It was a pick of the month for Oprah Magazine and a finalist for the Crime Writers Association's Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, and became a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.




This month the publisher, Simon & Schuster, is running a promotion for the ebook: it costs $1.99 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in the U.S. and Canada.

Reviews for the book:


"Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal." - Oprah magazine

"In her debut, The Crown, Bilyeau delivers an engrossing thriller about a 16th-century Dominican novice caught up in royal intrigue. When Joanna Stafford leaves her priory to comfort a cousin who’s about to be burned at the stake, she ends up in the middle of the uproar surrounding Henry VIII’s decision to shut down England’s monasteries — and on a treasure hunt unlike any other, one that reveals secrets about her well-connected family and her faith." — Entertainment Weekly magazine

"Nancy Bilyeau's polished, inventive debut has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: a broad cast of characters, well-imagined settings, and vivid storytelling . . . In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values, while Stafford's desperate search for a lost religious relic will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans.'' --Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches.


To order it on Amazon, click here.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Interview With Judith Starkston

Judith Starkston writes fantasy imbued with the richness of ancient worlds, diving into the lore of the Greeks and Hittites. I first met Judith at the Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2013 and found a kindred spirit. I've enjoyed reading her novels as well as her fascinating nonfiction posts.

October 15th is the release date for her novel Of Kings and Griffins, inspired by the
 historical Hittite empire and its most extraordinary queen. Here's a description:

For Tesha, priestess and queen, happiness is a world she can control, made up of her family and the fractious kingdom she and her husband rule within the Great King’s empire. But now the Great King   is dead, and his untried son plots against them. Tesha fights back with forbidden sorcery and savvy. In  yet another blow, the griffin king lures Daniti, Tesha’s magical blind sister, into a deadly crisis that  Daniti alone can avert.


As danger ensnares everyone Tesha loves, her goddess offers a way out. But can Tesha trust this offer 
of divine assistance or is it a trap—one that would lead to an unstoppable bloodbath?

                            To order this novel, go here.
 


And now I'd like to share my interview with Judith:


Were you drawn to this period and place first and then came up with your main character, or did you want to specifically write a main character who is like Tesha and then found the best place for her?



Judith Starkston: My main character is based closely on a Hittite queen who was all but forgotten by history. When the historian-me discovered her, the fiction-writer-me fell in love. She ruled for decades over one of the most powerful empires of the Bronze Age (stretching over modern Turkey, Syria, Israel), a successful woman leader within a patriarchal culture. Her smarts and the kinds of conflicts she overcame drew me, as well as the daily life and customs of the time.


What did you base your descriptions on of daily life for your characters?



Judith Starkston: Fortunately, archaeology has brought much of the culture of the Hittites to light, uncovering details such as their foods and spices, clothing, and their homes, temples and palaces. I have traveled extensively in Turkey to study museum collections and site excavations. Of equal importance to depicting daily life are the archives of clay tablets that have been uncovered and translated. The historical woman, whom I call Tesha in my fiction (her real name was Puduhepa), was both a queen and a priestess. The tablets describe rites she performed—rituals we call magic. We don’t think of magic as
an integral part of our daily life, but it was for her. Without those records, I could never
have brought to life this psychologically fascinating aspect.



How would you describe the violence in war during this time compared to that of the
Trojan War period you wrote about in an earlier book?



Judith Starkston:
The Trojan war (whatever form it may have had historically) took place on the  western edge of the Hittite empire roughly in the same century as the reign of the queen I write about—so they aren’t really two separate periods.


Violence in war is woven tightly into Tesha’s world, as it was for Troy. She’s famous for
corralling her empire’s greatest rival, Ramses II, the pharaoh in the Biblical story of
Moses, into a peace treaty that suited her needs far more than his—and it lasted. But
that happened later in her life.



In my books so far, I’ve focused on the early part of her story as she meets the great
love of her life and follows a very bumpy road to power. In Of Kings and Griffins, one of
those “bumps” is an ongoing war with tribes who lived in the northern part of Anatolia
and viewed that land as their homeland even though the Hittites also claimed it, a
classic intractable conflict not unlike several in the world today. Each side gave the
other reasons to hate. I depict those realistically—raids, kidnappings, blinding of
prisoners, for example—while also showing my characters trying to find long term
solutions to that conflict, such as shared settlements and basic respect that sees past
old hatreds.



The combination of moral principles and pragmatism that this queen’s letters and other
records reveal is a big part of what drew me to her, although I enjoyed in this latest book
showing her struggling to find the balance between what’s “right” and what will actually
work—and not always succeeding. Knowing how to trust others and letting them do
things their way is part of her growth as a leader—even when those “others” include
griffins!


What was it like to be a royal woman in this time compared to the Greek world and
later Roman world?



Judith Starkston: Hittite women, royal and not, had a surprising array of rights that Greek and Roman women, for the most part, did not have, such as owning property and keeping custody of children in divorce. We think of history as progressing, but with women’s rights, the process goes in cycles that may need our repeated attention. Familiarity with the Hittites
is fruitful for that ongoing process.



As for royal women, Hittite queens came to power in conjunction with their husbands,
but if their husbands died, they continued to rule. Legally they were equals to their
husbands, although most of the queens did not exercise that power, so there must have
been a lot of pressure from customs that viewed women as inferior. In contrast, “my”
queen did act as an equal, famously so within her time period. She was much admired
for her independence and strength.



On the downside, Hittite kings had multiple concubines in addition to their “primary
wife.” From the children of those concubines, the kings staffed the equivalent of the
State Department and the highest echelons of the military. There’s a cultural difference
for you! Tricky as it is, I enjoy incorporating those hidden women in my plots and
confronting the issue of concubines. Tesha and her husband are said to have had a
very happy marriage, but that doesn’t mean it was without its troubles.



How do you work in the supernatural element in your novel?

Judith Starkston: Of Kings and Griffins combines history and fantasy. The part-lion, part-eagle mythical griffins are depicted pervasively in Hittite artwork. Giving griffins an
active role in my plot was so much fun. Despite the widespread visual portrayals, there
are almost no myths about them, so I had a blast creating their world and personalities.
I can assure you they are way more fun than dragons. Magnificent, invincible, with a
serious load of attitude, griffins bring a level of danger and high stakes into the world I
write that is reminiscent of what nuclear weapons brought to the twentieth century
world. They can change everything if you’re not careful—very careful. For a character
like Tesha who has to fight against her ingrained desire to control others, they pose a
major temptation—and she has the magic to interact with them.


I gave free rein to Tesha’s magic, which arose out of the historical details of the period.
The kind of magic she performs is always founded in Hittite or Egyptian procedures, but
with a scale and supernatural results outside the bounds of what we view as history, of
course. For example, there is a rite she uses regarding the griffins. I based it directly on
an Egyptian method of magically restraining the state’s enemies by performing some
dramatic activities on figurines who represent those foes. Ancient archaeology supplies
way better material than my imagination could come up with. I write historical fantasy,
not historical fiction, but you’ll get to know the Hittites very well from my fiction and have
a lot of fun in the process.



How do you take characters and plot threads from earlier books in this series and
bring them into Of Kings and Griffins?



Judith Starkston: Each of the books in this series—Of Kings and Griffins is the third—can easily be read on their own as a standalone. Readers can jump in with this latest one. However, I am following the same characters in a roughly chronological progression from one book to the next, drawing on historical events blended with the fantasy elements. If a reader loved a secondary character in an earlier book—Tesha’s blind sister Daniti often steals readers’ allegiances—rest assured, you’ll have a chance to see more of that character
in other books.



Are griffins a force as of now in historical fantasy? They seem very original to me!



Griffins are significantly outnumbered by dragons in historical fantasy, but they are
enjoying a rise in popularity. I noticed this when my cover artist was working on creating
the griffin for this book’s front—no small feat since she uses photographs and mythical
creatures are camera shy. She mentioned a 3D artist who served the growing market in
griffin artwork by developing premade griffins. Those griffins, however, were the
medieval ones of heraldry—with eagle talons and scrawny bodies. My ancient-style
griffins have four lion paws and powerful chests along with huge wings and lethal eagle
head, and they are a rare literary beast.



For a reader who knows nothing about the Hittites, how would you entice them to try
this time in their fiction?



Judith Starkston: The sophisticated and cosmopolitan world of the Hittites combines an exotic, long- ago experience for a great escape with some engaging, familiar-feeling concerns such as arrogant leadership, corruption, women in power, international intrigue,  romantic conflicts, and family.


Who are your favorite writers of ancient world fiction?

Judith Starkston: That’s like choosing a favorite child, but here are some excellent ones off the top of  my head: Geraldine Brooks, Libbie Hawker, Madeline Miller, Stephanie Dray, Kate Quinn, Emily Hauser, Lindsey Davis, Ruth Downie, Elisabeth Storrs, Margaret George.


What's next for this series?


Judith Starkston: Tesha will return, along with her allies and enemies. I’ll just say that despite Of  Kings and Griffins’ hard-won resolution, the crises across the empire are about to escalate in some unpredictable but entertaining ways.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Judith has one of my favorite author newsletters, packed with interesting info, and a sensational website. To learn more, go here.  


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Discount: 'The Blue' Ebook Costs 99 Cents

 


My novel THE BLUE, set in the 18th century and following a Huguenot painter's secret mission to discover the formula for the most beautiful shade of blue ever created, is discounted to .99 for the ebook in the United States and the United Kingdom. The sale lasts until December 27th.




I was fortunate enough to win endorsements for THE BLUE from some wonderful authors:

'Definitely a winner!' -- Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network

‘...transports the reader into the heart of the 18th-century porcelain trade—where the price of beauty was death.’ - E.M. Powell, author of the Stanton & Barling medieval mystery series.

'Bilyeau is an impressive talent who brings to life a heart-stopping story of adventure, art and espionage.' - Stephanie Dray, author of My Dear Hamilton.

'With rich writing, surprising twists, and a riveting sense of 'you are there,' The Blue is spine-tingling entertainment.' – Gayle Lynds, New York Times bestselling author of The Assassins

For the U.S. ebook, click here. For the UK ebook, click here.



Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Cover Reveal for Debut Novel 'Hide in Place'


I'm excited to share with you the cover of a debut novel written by the talented New York author Emilya Naymark. 


Hide in Place is a domestic thriller about a woman who left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high profile case gone horribly wrong. She moves with her son to a small town in upstate New York. But three years late, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life.




Don't you love this cover?

I'm privileged to be a friend and critique partner of Emilya's and so I know about her writing talent firsthand. This is a story you won't want to miss...

Hide in Place will be published on February 9, 2021, by Crooked Lane Books. The Amazon page is here.