Is the future duke hiding as an opera singer? 12-year-old Franni knows and won’t tell.

MANTUA, ItalyJuly 18, 2016PRLog — Sunbury Press has released Franni and the Duke, Anne E. Johnson’s middle-grade novel about two sisters trying out for Monteverdi’s opera in 1608, only to stumble upon a handsome and mysterious singer.

FATD_fcAbout the Book:
In May of 1608, the Duke of Mantua will throw the most spectacular wedding extravaganza in history. But it will all be ruined unless twelve-year-old Franni can keep a very big secret.

Franni and the Duke, a middle-grade novel, sets a fictional mystery against a specific historical backdrop. It takes place during rehearsals for Arianna, an opera by the great composer Claudio Monteverdi. When Franni and her older sister Alli run away to Mantua, they both find work in Monteverdi’s company. A messenger from the north announces that the next duke of the town of Bergamo is missing, and he may well be in Mantua. Alli notices that Luca, a singer she’s in love with, fits the missing Duke’s description. Although Franni thinks Luca is a pompous idiot, she promises for Alli’s sake to keep Luca’s secret safe and protect him from bounty hunters and Bergamo’s rival family. She does this with the help of the company’s set designer, a worldly wise and world-weary dwarf named Edgardo, who is not exactly what he seems.

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi

Excerpt:
Thursday, May 8, 1608
“I’m hungry,” said Franni. She ached all over from hours of walking down rocky roads in the Northern Italian countryside. “Please, can we get some food, Alli?” She shivered in the chilly spring drizzle.

Franni’s older sister, Alessandra, walked in front as usual. She looked back and smiled weakly. “I know you’re hungry, Franni. I am, too.” Alli’s eyes were glassy in her drawn face. “We’re almost to Mantua. That’s a big city with lots of rich people. I’m sure someone will take pity on us there.”

Although Franni doubted it, she nodded. A day and a half ago, they’d run away from their stepfather in Verona. They’d left in the middle of the night, carrying only a satchel of clothes each, and one loaf of bread between them. The last town they’d been through hadn’t shown them much pity. When they’d taken a drink at the central fountain, a soldier had chased them right out of town.

“I’m so tired.” She hardly had the strength to get any sound out. There was no way Franni could take another step, so she sat down right there in the road.

Alli grabbed Franni’s elbow and yanked. “Come on. We’ve got to get to Mantua before the sun goes down.” A slender, delicate creature of seventeen, Alli was no match for Franni when the younger girl felt stubborn. Franni willed herself to weigh as much as the elephant her real father once saw in Algiers. He’d said it was the size of twenty men. Closing her eyes, Franni glued herself to the paving stones, thinking heavy thoughts.

“A cart!” Alli let go of Franni’s arm and stood up, waving.

Franni’s heavy mood turned to dandelion seeds and floated away. “A cart?” She craned to see the black horse drawing a workman’s cart slowly along the road toward them. “Do you think he’ll give us a ride?”

“He has to,” said Alli. It sounded like a prayer. “He just has to.”

We’re saved! thought Franni. But when the cart pulled near enough that they could smell the tang of horse sweat, she changed her mind. “He’s an undertaker,” she whispered. “Look at the white marble slabs he’s dragging in that cart. It would be bad luck to ride with him.” She backed off the road and pulled her embroidered scarf over her head and face.

To Franni’s distress, Alli stepped into the middle of the road and waved her arms wider. If only their mother could see them now, two noble girls, behaving like beggars. Surely Mama could see them as she looked down from Heaven. She probably also saw how their stepfather treated the girls after their mother died. Franni was sure Mama up in Heaven approved of how she and Alli had sneaked out of the gates of Verona one night to find a happier life.

“Whoa!” said the cart driver, pulling back on the horse’s reins. “What is it, child? Why are you in the road? Do you need help?”

About the Author:
Anne E. Johnson taught music history for many years in New York City, specializing in the Baroque and Renaissance periods, and she feels a particular connection to the music and times of Claudio Monteverdi. Besides fiction, she has also written performing arts journalism for publications includingThe New York Times and Stagebill Magazine. Dozens of her short stories, for both kids and adults, have appeared in print and online.

Anne lives in Brooklyn with her husband, playwright Ken Munch. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s probably baking or going to concerts and plays. Her website is http://AnneEJohnson.com.

Franni and the Duke
Authored by Anne E. Johnson
List Price: $9.99
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
156 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620067031
ISBN-10: 162006703X
BISAC: Juvenile Fiction / Performing Arts / Theater

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Franni-and-the-Duke-9781…

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Rabid Philanderers, Inc. aims to save marriages by facilitating affairs

MECHANICSBURG, Pa.Jan. 26, 2016PRLog — Sunbury Press has released Rabid Philanderers, Inc., Nancy Williams’ suspense thriller with a romantic twist.

rpi_fcMark Ohlnick believes he is living the quintessential American dream: dog in the yard, cushy office job, a beautiful wife, and a great group of friends. Until Stan, Mark’s neighbor, makes him question just how happy his little bubble really is, not to mention the realization that his marriage may not be as perfect as he thought.

After a wild party at his friend Jeremy’s house, Mark is faced with deep temptation and the fear of getting caught. Telling himself that he really doesn’t want to hurt his wife and just needs a little excitement in his life, he takes Stan’s advice and hires Rabid Philanderers Inc., a high-tech surveillance company claiming to save marriages—by facilitating an affair. Little does he know that a whirlwind of trouble and grief is about to ensue. Mark must work hard to right his wrongs and undo the deadly mess that Vesta Rae Stubianski, the mysterious and beautiful woman who runs RPh Inc., has unleashed on Mark and his circle of friends before it’s too late.

A suspense thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Rabid Philanderers, Inc. offers a raw twist on infidelity and the dangers of taking love for granted.

EXCERPT:
She’s faking it.

Hunched between his wife’s legs, Mark looked down and glimpsed something he didn’t like. Mickey had her eyes open; normally they were closed during sex. They stared past him, fixed and blank. Worse than that was her recovery when she realized he was looking at her. She blinked and then uttered a loud groan bordering on a yodel. This performance was followed by a boisterous exclamation: “Oh, wow!”

She’s faking it.

Mark finished and rolled onto his side. He stole a glance at Mick. She was staring at the ceiling while at the same time tidying herself up with a Kleenex. Standard procedure.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

She tossed him a smile. “Sure—that was great, babe. How are you?”

“Good. You just seemed a little distracted there at the end.”

She rose and stepped into a pair of pink panties. She didn’t need to put on her shirt because she’d never taken it off. She’d quit bothering with that years ago. Standard procedure.

She shrugged. “Well, I was a little, I guess. I can’t get my novel out of my head. The protagonist is kind of a dick, but I want him to be a sympathetic character, too. I’m just trying to wrap my mind around him.”

He swung his legs off the bed. “So if you call out the wrong name, I shouldn’t worry?”

She laughed, pulling on faded jeans. Gave him the thumbs up. “Right!”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nancy Williams is a 1990 graduate of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa with a BA in English. Her first novel, Hawkmoon, was published by Loon In Balloon, Inc., a Canadian press, in 2009. They also purchased her second novel, Grace, in 2010 but never released it. Hawkmoon was a finalist for the 2010 Colorado Humanities Book Award. Grace won first prize in the Historical Fiction category at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference Paul Gillette Writer’s Contest.

Rabid Philanderers, Inc.
Authored by Nancy Williams
List Price: $16.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
208 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620066645
ISBN-10: 1620066645
BISAC: Fiction / Thrillers

Also available on Kindle

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Rabid-Philanderers-Inc-9…

“Keep It Blue” by Haley Dean now available

VANCOUVER, Wash.Sunbury Press has released Keep It Blue, Haley Dean’s novel about a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder.

About the Book:
kib_fcOctober 2006
What time is it? I reach up to feel the jagged edge of the old lead-ridden windowpane just above my head. A chilly autumn whisper of a breeze dances across my skin and I glance at my watch. Its weight becomes apparent as my arm hangs loosely above me. The glow of the setting sun plays on its face—an iridescent, oceanic wave of color, frozen behind the dial. Tick…tick tick…tick….tick.

As I count the seconds passing, I begin to hear my beating heart in rhythm, almost three beats per second. The bursts of blood rushing to my head with each passing second feel like hammers slamming on steel. My breathing begins to accelerate. My chest feels heavy. I notice my body moving.

Collision. Stripped. Bare. I can’t seem to catch my breath. The pressure rises from between my core up to my throat and it chokes me.

I feel myself slipping. I float up and watch myself quietly. My vision clears and my eyes find the sunglow through the birch trees just outside the window. Brilliant shades of flame dance around wildly and entice me. Its branches spread like mine, frozen open, for anyone to climb. I feel like I’ve been here forever.

Tim. I even hate his name.

He said I’m too old to not have done this already. He said he could help me with it—that it isn’t a big deal. He could show me what it felt like, just to get it out of the way. “You’re so beautiful,” he wrote on a piece of paper. He can mouth the words, but he can’t speak. We communicated on paper until I learned how to fingerspell. I’ll be a martyr, a savior. People will look up to me. I tried to convince myself that there’s no way I was taken unwillingly because he can’t hear. He’s still a man. No one will believe me. After all, I’d met him twice before. So it meant that I knew him, right? He isn’t technically a stranger. Maybe he could be my boyfriend—except that I’m not attracted to him. Maybe I could fake it. Maybe it could grow over time.

You’re weird like me,” he wrote. “You’ll never do any better.” Maybe he’s right. I told him I wasn’t interested. He said that it was okay, I didn’t have to be his girlfriend—we’d just get this out of the way really quickly and I could decide later.

I know I didn’t say yes, but maybe I didn’t communicate the word no clear enough. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe this is just the beginning.

About the Author
IMG_20150206_151353Keep It Blue
is life as I know it. Whether directly or indirectly, the events and emotions in this novel have often mirrored my own. I grew up along the Oregon Coast and currently live in Portland, Oregon. When I’m not writing, I am working as a fine artist and musician, as well as a mother of two wild boys and as the wife of Benjamin–to whom I’ve been dynamically and passionately married to for more than a decade. By the ripe age of thirty, I’ve survived three heart surgeries, homelessness, and an ongoing battle managing my level one bipolar disorder. I am the embodiment of a truth that is stranger than fiction, and I believe in hope, comfort, and perfect love for imperfect people.

Keep It Blue
Authored by Haley Dean
List Price: $16.95
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on White paper
240 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620065792
ISBN-10: 1620065797
BISAC: Fiction / Psychological

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Keep-It-Blue-97816200657…

“Remember the Sun” is a collection of poems on nature and inspiration by Melanie Simms

SUNBURY, Pa.Sunbury Press has released “Remember the Sun” a collection of poems about nature and inspiration by Melanie Simms featuring the Sunbury, PA community.

About the Book:
This collection of poems by Melanie Simms (all previously published in magazines, newspapers and poetry journals) covers such themes as Pennsylvania place poetry, inspirational poetry, and reflections on nature and love. Remember the Sun: Poems on Nature and Inspiration offers a wide variety of poems to suit the diverse tastes of the poetic pallette.

odeExcerpt:
Love needs no language,
Not here
Along the Susquehanna, watching as she twists and bends
Returning to mouths
Where sunlight and lovers meet,
Not here,
Where the silver maple and black cherry sway patiently,
Amidst the romantic odes of the meadowlark,
Or the ecstasy of the osprey
As they dive and reemerge,
Fed by the river.
Not here,
Where the haunting tales of lush mountains
Record through the ages
Those first seedlings of love.
Here, along the river she reveals us to one another
As we confess our love, baptized between her gentle waves.
How has she found us?
Here along the Susquehanna, reflecting in our gaze
The memories of our ancient love’s return.

rts_fcAbout the author:
Melanie served as the Perry County Poet Laureate from 2005-2006 and has published in over 180 newspapers, magazines, and poetry journals; her poems have been featured on state and local television shows and over fifty poetry radio programs. She has been a featured artist at various Pennsylvania colleges, high schools, and landmarks including but not limited to; The Harrisburg Capitol (aired by PCN Television in which First Lady Susan Corbett presented), and was an opening poet for Camille Erice’s political campaign for City Council. She has also read for the Pennsylvania State Museum, National Poetry Month at the Degenstein Community Library with presentations by State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver and Sunbury mayor David Persing.

Her awards include a Sophie Award, Finalist in the Richard Savage Poetry Award (Bloomsburg University), Perry County Poet Laureate (2005-2006), a Vermont Writers Studio Award, a Pushcart Prize Nomination, Marquis Who’s Who of The World, Cambridge Who’s Who of Women in Publication, Poet of the Week (Poetry Superhighway), and an Evvy Award nomination for Waking the Muse (best self-published book in the poetry category).

She is a President and Founder of the Association of Pennsylvania Poet’s Laureate (founded 2006) and a member of the World Poetry Society and The Daughters of the American Revolution. Of note her family history includes such noted individuals as her Uncle, a two-time Pulitzer prize- winning war journalist, Patrick Sloyan (Newsday), Frederick Watts (The Father of Penn State University), former Chilean Diplomat, Fred Purdy (Santiago, Chile) and by way of family oral tradition her father, George Melvin (a landscape artist of Scottish and Chiricahua Apache background) who claimed a descendancy to the Chiricahua Apache leader, Geronimo.

Ms. Simms can be reached for readings and poetry workshops via her website atwww.poetmelaniesimms.wordpress.com or via her email at sirenbliss@gmail.com

Remember the Sun: Poets on Nature and Inspiration
Authored by Melanie Simms
Photographs by Lawrence Knorr
Hard Cover 6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
42 pages w/photos
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620064245
BISAC: Poetry / Pennsylvania

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Remember-the-Sun-9781620…

“Shadows in the Shining City” is John Cressler’s prequel to “Emeralds of the Alhambra”

ATLANTA — Sunbury Press has released John D. Cressler’s latest novel “Shadows in the Shining City,” the 2nd book in the Anthems of El-Andalus Series.

About the Book:

sitsc_fcThe Golden Age of Moorish Spain was during the 10th century, a time when the benevolent Syrian Arab Caliphs ruled Iberia from Córdoba, the site of the iconic Great Mosque and home to the Royal Library, one of the largest collections of ancient books ever assembled. 10th century Córdoba was the richest, most populous, and most cultured city in the western world. Under the tolerant Muslim Caliphs, the pinnacle of convivencia was attained, that unique period of Spanish history when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in relative harmony and peace. Multicultural Córdoba was an enlightened city that treasured its books, celebrated art and literature, advanced science and medicine, and its myriad accomplishments were envied by both the west and the east alike.

Shadows in the Shining City is a prequel to Emeralds of the Alhambra, and the second book in the Anthems of al-Andalus SeriesShadowstells the story of the forbidden love between Rayhana Abi Amir, a Muslim princess of the Royal Court, and Zafir Saffar, a freed slave. Young love blossoms in 10th century Madinat al-Zahra, the Shining City, the Caliph’s magnificent Royal Palace located just outside of Córdoba. Their love story is set against the backdrop of the epic rise to power of Rayhana’s ruthless father, a man history will come to both celebrate and revile for the role he plays in dooming the bright future of Moorish Spain.

Praise for John D. Cressler’s

Shadows of the Shining City

An inspiring and deeply moving novel on both the nature of love and the many beautiful possibilities brought to life when religions learn to coexist.”

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

 

A mesmerizing love story … filled with vivid historical descriptions of treachery and strategies in politics, religion, power, and love during the Golden Age of Moorish Spain.”

Valerie Jackson, In Conversation (Between the Lines),

National Public Radio

 

This is the second novel in Cressler’s Anthems of al-Andalus Series, where the legacy of the Arab/Islamic civilization in medieval Spain, with its refinements, its enduring tolerance, and its esthetic dynamism is celebrated. A novel about love, political strife, and cultural conflicts, it is written in a rich and shimmering style carrying an implicit message on the value of recognizing the achievements of the “other,” and asserting the fact that there is no fixed center for human creativity and progress.”

Salma Khadra Jayyusi, poet, writer, and literary historian.

Founder and Director of EAST-WEST NEXUS/PROTA for the

Dissemination in English of Arabic cultural achievements

An enthralling narrative to a shocking history. In this novel of 10th century Spain during the critical transition in the Muslim world from a progressive leader to a cruel megalomaniac, the author brings the reader straight into the landscape, the majesty and the struggles for power which cast the shadows upon al-Zahra, the Shining City. Cressler brilliantly weaves together fact and fiction, passion and intrigue, the throes of love, and the violence of war. With great attention to detail, he artfully unfolds the drama of a young and forbidden love, exquisitely keeping us rapt in the story, wondering in each moment, what will happen next?”

Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman, Temple Beth Tefilloh

 

Another tour de force! Cressler submerges us in a luxurious narrative evoking the loves, lives, intrigue, and history of 10th century Córdoba, a time of religious and political amity among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Our master storyteller provides a cautionary tale of how human desire can corrupt the power of love through the love of power. We cheer for Rayhana and Zafir while we witness the horror of books burning on the pyre of one man’s insane desire to stem the love of knowledge. We rejoice in the many triumphs of al-Andalus, yet despair at lessons not yet learned about how human beings may live and love together. Shadows in the Shining City is a lovely, moving, and inspiring story of how it might have been. We believe!”

Professor Susan Abraham, Loyola Marymount University

Cressler is a master of meticulously researched detail. His intricately woven characters plumb the depths of love and fear, cunning treachery and wisdom, immersing the reader into the heart of 10th century al-Andalus as it balances on the edge of a cosmic shift, with repercussions that continue to reverberate today. What better way to learn history than through the eyes of lovers both young and seasoned: lovers of books and scientific discovery, of beauty and of harmony among diverse peoples, and ultimately, human love that defies all obstacles to proclaim,

I believe’!”

Cathy Devlin Crosby,Cofounder of Neshama Interfaith Center

 

Cressler is a master of rich description, pulling the reader into each scene. An incredible love story supported and sustained by the remarkable coexistence of religions that characterized that magical era. (We) are left yearning for a return to convivencia.”

Father Bruce Maivelett, S.J., Jesuit Superior,

Ignatius House Retreat Center

 

Cressler’s suspenseful novel, set at a decisive moment in Spain’s pre-modern history, challenges our all too comfortable prejudices about medieval culture as the eternal dark “other,” an allegedly primitive and less cultured period we have long left behind. Under the deceptive garment of an engaging love story, Cressler reveals the human continuities between the medieval past and the modern present, confronts twenty-first century religious intolerance with the decline of a relatively peaceful convivencia among tenth-century Spanish Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and celebrates the powerful role of learning and intellectual curiosity for interfaith dialogue.”

Professor Richard Utz, Chair, School of Literature, Media and Communication, Georgia Tech, and President,

International Society for the Study of Medievalism

Cressler has done it again! He has woven an intricate and fascinating web in 10th century Córdoba from the threads of court intrigue, war, lust for power, passion, and most of all, love. The author reminds us that the most powerful force available has always been, and will always be, love; and that people from different cultures and religions can not only live together in peace, but also thrive and flourish even more profoundly in diversity. Cressler helps us all to believe that these highest values are still attainable and worth fighting for. A great read with a heartfelt message for today’s world!” 

Marian Monahan,Cofounder of Neshama Interfaith Center

Cressler is a vivid writer who creates a breathtaking adventure that is both intensely entertaining and informative. The reader is immersed in the cultural, religious, and scientific currents of one of the most remarkable periods of Spanish history. I look forward to the next one!”

Father Thomas Kenny, S.J., Chaplain and Teacher,

Atlanta Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

 

 

Reader Reviews

Cressler has done it again! Against a tapestry of historical grandeur and religious conflict in 10th century Spain, he has woven a compelling tale of political intrigue, cultural turmoil, and forbidden love. Page turning was never so easy, or so unstoppable! Can’t wait for the third installment of this memorable trilogy!”

Roger A. Meyer, M.D.

A medieval masterpiece filled with love, intrigue, betrayal, and passion … (that) leaves the reader thirsting for more!”

Dennis Day

A superbly written novel (that allows readers) to glimpse the complex events that shaped Spain … (and) become living witnesses to a slice of the history of al-Andalus, which Cressler brings to life with such love and care.”

Acar Nazli

Takes you into the intrigue of a sophisticated civilization in medieval Córdoba. Full of ambitious plots, secrets, and true love. It kept me on the edge of my seat!”

Trish Byers

A love story inspiring to those lucky enough to have been loved unconditionally, and to those who hope for such a blessing someday. This riveting story kept me on edge throughout.”

Preston Bennett

A fast-paced, fun read that makes medieval Spain come alive. Characters of differing cultures and faiths come to life in a way that shows the goodness that is possible when we are tolerant.”

Patty Smith

A love story (that) will make you see that times change but mankind remains the same; capable of great love and awful treachery. Take a trip back to 10th century Spain and see people of faith—Muslim, Christian, and Jew—live with and love one another. There is hope for us all and it begins with love.”

Bud Treanor

I have undergone an education about a period of time of which I knew little, and best of all is that in becoming educated, I was thoroughly entertained!”

Bob Wilhelm

 

You will be awestruck (and) your breath will be taken away over and over again as you read the beautiful love story of two young people … whose unwavering love outshines the powerful, intriguing political forces set against their union.”

Denise Black

(Cressler is) a first-rate storyteller. Wonderful three-dimensional characters, dramatic situations, and fascinating historical and cultural details.”

Tom Nadar, Ph.D.

Exhilarating! A beautifully told story of love that finds a way to triumph. Historically compelling, with characters that make the time come alive.”

Tom Jablonski

Weaves fiction and fact into a suspenseful, intriguing, passionate saga. A compelling story exploring themes of love, religion, and the thirst for power. A must read!”

Barbara Nalbone

 

Shadows in the Shining City: Book Two of the Anthems of al-Andalus Series

Authored by John D. Cressler

List Price: $24.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
606 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620063453
ISBN-10: 162006345X
BISAC: Fiction / Historical

Coming soon on Kindle and Nook

For more information, please see:

http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Shadows-in-the-Shining-C…

 

 

 

Joe Farley’s verses are “Song Poems in Search of Music”

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — Sunbury Press has released Joe Farley’s poetry collection “Song Poems in Search of Music.”

spisom_fc

About the book:
Joe Farley is best known as one of “The Joes” who have written the “Keystone Tombstone” series of biography books, about famous or noteworthy people buried in Pennsylvania. He and his partner, Joe Farrell, have appeared on numerous television and radio interviews and programs, as well as dozens of news columns and magazines regarding this work. The two have traveled the Commonwealth in search of interesting tales to tell, interesting tombstones to honor, and interesting taverns in which to discuss their findings.

Joe Farley’s poetry spans his adult life, from the 1970s to the present, lamenting opportunities lost in the Anthracite Region of his birth, as well as his conquests and travels as he settled in the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania. Farley is a fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Wordsworth, Poe and William Butler Yeats, but his lyric style calls to mind his Irish roots. Regardless, these are verses in search of music. Hopefully a few musicians will do them justice. In the meantime, enjoy these lines by Joe Farley, an Irish bard at heart.

Song Poems in Search of Music

Authored by Joe Farley

List Price: $9.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
64 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620064191
ISBN-10: 1620064197
BISAC: Poetry / American / General

For more information about the book, please see:

http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Song-Poems-in-Search-of-…

An Interview with Dr. John Cressler on Shadows in the Shining City, the latest novel in his Anthems of al-Andalus series

Whether you’ve already fallen in love with medieval Spain or you have yet to meet the characters in Emeralds of the Alhambra, get ready for Dr. John Cressler’s newest book in the Anthems of al-Andalus series, Shadows in the Shining City. Book two of the ongoing series is a prequel to the story in Emeralds, but still explores and revives that special, peaceful time in history when religious and social coexistence was not only possible, but actually happening. Shadows in the Shining City is scheduled for a summer 2014 release, but meanwhile, check out the interview with the author, below.
Sunbury Press: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your Anthems of al-Andalus series and specifically your newest book, Shadows in the Shining City. Apart from the “official” summary for book one, Emeralds of the Alhambra, can you give us a recap in your own words?

Dr. John Cressler: First, a bit of preamble. My historical fiction is intended to introduce readers to a remarkable, and for the most part, little-appreciated period of history: medieval Muslim Spain, a place known today as al-Andalus (Andalusia). This rich history, a Muslim history, spans almost 800 years, from 711 CE to 1492 CE, and had profound influence on the development of Europe and even America. The goal of my historical series, Anthems of al-Andalus, is to break open the rich history of al-Andalus for the modern reader by using compelling love stories.
Emeralds of the Alhambra, book one in the series, takes place towards the end of this 800 year history, between 1367-1369, a pivotal period in Spanish history known as the Castilian Civil War. This was a time when, remarkably, Muslims fought beside Christians against other Christians. The events of Emeralds unfold around the love story between a strong-willed Muslim princess of court, Layla al-Khatib, and a famous English knight, William Chandon. Their love story is set in the glorious Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the best preserved medieval Islamic palace in world (it still largely exists in its 14th century form), and is one of the most visited tourist sites in Europe. It is a magical place and was front and center in the 14th century Castilian Civil War . . . and it is a terrific location to set a love story! Chandon is seriously wounded and brought to the Alhambra to be used by the sultan as a political pawn. There he meets Layla. It is a forbidden love. Among other things, their love story explores the complexities of interfaith relationships (she is Muslim, he is Christian). In the end, there will be difficult choices to make, ones that not only affect their own relationship, but also the future of Muslim Spain. In my humble opinion, it’s a really great read.

Emeralds of the AlhambraSP: And for readers who are still unfamiliar with Emeralds of the Alhambra, here’s an excerpt , book trailer , and where to buy. Now, the same for your latest Anthems of al-Andalus book, Shadows in the Shining City, if you please . . .

JC: Again, some preamble. One of the most remarkable aspects of the 800 year history of Muslim Spain, al-Andalus, is that for a long stretch of time (a couple of centuries), Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in relative harmony and collectively helped launch one of the greatest intellectual and cultural flowerings of human history. That period of religious and cultural harmony is known today as convivencia (Spanish for ‘coexistence’). A casual glance at our world today, with its religious tensions and conflict, suggests that peace never was and never will be possible among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. However, peaceful coexistence did happen, for a long time, and I view it as vital for us as a global community in the 21st century to recall that fact. One of the central themes of my fiction is this rediscovery of convivencia as it unfolded in al-Andalus.
Shadows in the Shining City is a prequel to Emeralds of the Alhambra, and is set in late 10th century Córdoba (975 CE – 977 CE). It was a remarkable place and period. Muslim Córdoba was the largest, richest, cleanest, and most cultured city in Europe—by far. The Muslim Caliphs were collectors and lovers of books and knowledge, literature and art, and that diverse, multicultural society made pioneering contributions to medicine, science, agriculture, literature, and the arts. Jews, even today, consider this period of living in a Muslim kingdom to be their Golden Age. Jews and Christians were valued and welcomed members of that society. Like Emeralds, Shadows breaks open this rich history using love stories—in this case three running in parallel! The central love story involves Rayhana Abi Abir (a young Muslim woman of standing at court) and Zafir Saffar (a freed slave). In Shadows, I use this central love story to explore class differences in this fascinating society. I also show how one ambitious man orchestrated the unraveling of this great society; it is an archetypal tale of power and greed. Shadows is also a GREAT read!

Shadows in the Shining City

SP: And for readers who can’t wait to peek at your newest book, check out this excerpt and the Shadows in the Shining City book trailer . Now, Shadows is a prequel to Emeralds . . . was it part of your intended series structure all along to write one love story first and then follow up with its prequel or does your series structure evolve in response to each book? Please go on about your intentions for the structure for the remainder of the series.

JC: Actually, making book two a prequel was always the plan. So Anthems of al-Andalus is not a classical (sequential) trilogy. As I said, my aim is to break open 800 years of history. I started in 1367, but wanted then to go back and contrast that time period with this Golden Age in the late 10th century. I knew this before I began book one. I also wanted to show where my characters in Emeralds came from and how they ended up in Granada. The setting for book three in the series was also decided up front. I will jump back over Emeralds and into the future to 1492, to witness the fall of Granada and the Alhambra and show how the 800 history of al-Andalus ends. The descendants of the characters in Emeralds will figure in book three. I will say that this is a series, not a trilogy, so I do intend on writing books four through six, but the settings for those have not been decided yet. There are many fascinating options!

SP: Both books focus on central love stories set during historically significant times that highlight relationships among practitioners of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Why is it important to you to use a romantic love story as the central focus of the books? What do you think the element of romance lends to the broader history? What do you hope the reader draws from the romantic relationships and the other types of relationships in the books?

JC: The two central themes of my fiction include: 1) re-awakening the dynamic interaction among the three Abrahamic faith traditions in medieval Muslim Spain, and hopefully through that experience inviting readers to imagine a different future for our modern world (i.e., can convivencia be resurrected today, and if so, how?); and 2) exploring the nature of love. If you stop and think about it, these two themes are strongly connected, since at the deepest level, all religion has love at its core: the love of self, love of the other, and love of God. I believe the history of medieval Spain is fascinating in its own right, but rather than create a history book (I began my writing career with five non-fiction books), I wanted to awaken those memories using fiction, which, if well-executed, can much more easily bring history alive for most folks, allowing readers to literally step into events and see for themselves what it must have been like. Centering my fiction on love stories, especially love stories that cross religious and class boundaries, serves as an ideal vehicle for exploring these broader themes while simultaneously producing a compelling must-read. Truth be told, love knows no artificial boundaries; religious, cultural, class, or race, and hence is the ideal plot device to explore my basic themes. As a side note, I have been greatly blessed in my life with a 31+ year romance with my wife and soul mate, Maria. So, tapping into that experience was easy for me. I have found that writing love stories is a very satisfying way to reawaken that flood of memories from our early days together. Ahhh, young love! And simply put, writing romance is a ton of fun! But, even though my novels have some serious romance in them, it is history first, romance second, and hence I consider my novels historical fiction, not historical romance.

SP: An important distinction. What, if any, are the contemporary connections you have tried to make in terms of the relationships among the peoples/religions/cultures depicted in your book (and now)? What are the modern implications in your historical fiction?

JC: I am very much concerned with interfaith dialogue and inter-religious dynamics in our broken modern world, which so often seems to spawn conflict and shameful atrocities (e.g., Syria, Israel, Gaza, etc.). So, yes, my fiction is intended to help folks remember that the conflict we see today was not always so, and that a different future is indeed possible if we desire another answer. That is not to say that we can necessarily recreate what existed in medieval Spain, but it does mean that what we see today is not mandated; it can be different if we dare to imagine it. In my mind, remembering the simple fact of convivencia in al-Andalus is a powerful incentive to try and create a different future. Imagine for a moment a world without religious conflict. Seems hard, but that is the invitation in my fiction.

SP: So you approach each book with a moral/lesson/goal in mind? How do you go about weaving your opinions and ideals into the narratives?

JC: The broader themes—inter-religious dynamics and the nature of romantic relationships—were present in my fiction from day one and manifest in each of my novels. But, these are obviously VERY broad and complex themes and can be explored in so many ways. So, each novel will attack this problem from different angles. For instance, in Emeralds the love story is across religious boundaries (Muslim woman, Christian man); in Shadows, the central love story is across class boundaries (they are both Muslim, but one is high-born, the other a freed slave). I would say that my themes are not overt in my plot or characters; I am first and foremost trying to bring a period of history alive in front of the reader and invite them to step into that history. Second, I am trying to make it a compelling page-turner. But, the reader will always be able to discern my two themes at work, weaving in and out of the characters and plot.

SP: Excellent. What are your overall goals for the Anthems of al-Andalus series? What inspires you to write these books about these topics? Could you sum up the whole series (so far)? I know that’s probably difficult, so bonus points for answering.

JC: Ultimately, I want to show how medieval Muslim Spain came to be, how it flourished and what that means to our modern world, and how it then fell apart and why. It is an 800 year history with tremendous nuance and fascinating complexity. Plus, it is a history largely unknown to most readers. So, that is the goal: revive this history in a way that makes it fun to read.

SP: What should we expect from your next book?

JC: I am already working on my research for book three and beginning to mull over plot lines. It will be set around 1492, back in Granada during the fall of the Muslim kingdom. It is a riveting time period with MANY interesting topics to address: the conquest of the Muslim kingdom and the Alhambra Palace by Ferdinand and Isabella (lots of battles and conspiracy), the launch of Columbus’ discovery of the New World (he received his commission in Granada in 1492 at the fall), the Inquisition (which is launched to address the issues with the Jews in the Muslim kingdom), the ultimate decision (it was largely political) leading to the great Diaspora of the Sephardic Jews, and the collapse and expulsion of all Muslims from Spain. The list is long. I am still mulling over what kind of love story(-ies) I will unfold along the way. But the descendants of the first two books will be front and center. Trust me: it will be a roller coaster ride!

SP: Looking forward to it. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JC: Sure, here’s something. As a professor for 22 years now, I have done a tremendous amount of research and teaching and mentoring of young people, as well as my fair share of writing (five non-fiction books and over 500 scientific papers). I have found, however, that my fiction is the single most creatively satisfying thing I have ever done in my life. It has become my lifeblood and will be with me from now until I die! And I am grateful to Lawrence Knorr and Sunbury Press for helping me bring my vision to the world. It has been a fantastic ride thus far!

SP: Thanks again for the insights to your latest book, Shadows in the Shining City (pre-order a copy!) and your series as a whole.