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Friday, June 23, 2017

When Fact is Stranger than Fiction

For authors of suspense, the political landscape has posed some interesting challenges. It has always been a popular theme to select an enemy government that our hero must infiltrate and take down, even if it’s done in bits and pieces. Consider Ian Fleming’s James Bond, who during the Cold War came up against the USSR and the KGB time and again. Or Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan whose espionage themes set during and after the Cold War involved enemies such as the USSR and later Russia and China. The USSR/Russia comprised targets that Americans seemed to agree on; to speak out on behalf of communism was tantamount to treason.

So what does an author do when the lines are blurred?

Often books have been written after world-altering events and not during their height; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 1939 and though it was set during the Great Depression many Americans were still trying to recover from it—and many never did. When Gone with the Wind was released in 1936, the American Civil War had been over for more than seven decades and only the youngest from that era were still alive. All Quiet on the Western Front was written by a German veteran of World War I, Erich Maria Remarque, published in 1929—11 years after the end of the war, and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway was also released the same year.

During the height of conflict, the enemy was encountered on posters, in news stories and even in comic books, such as Captain America during World War II. We had common enemies during times fraught with war and conflict, from the British in the Revolutionary War to the Yankees or Rebels in the Civil War (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon you happened to be on) to the Central Powers of World War I and the Japanese, Germans and Italians of World War II. During the height of the Cold War, scores of books were released that also painted the common enemy against whom Americans and its allies were always victorious.

Today’s political environment poses challenges for the author of fiction very similar to those faced during a civil war. Unlike a common enemy on the other side of a clear dividing line, we may face neighbors, family members or even friends with decidedly different political views. Russia is an enemy to some and trusted ally to others. Conflicts in the Middle East have no clear enemy that Americans have united behind; even those that attacked on 9/11 came from a country that today some prominent Americans embrace. The fingers are pointed in all directions and to choose one path guarantees the author of fiction the loss of 50% of their audience.

The characters in my Black Swamp Mysteries series have hit an interesting dilemma; the latest in the series, Cloak and Mirrors, written before the Russian scandal that plagues our country today, centers around Russia’s new stealth technology. The main characters—Vicki Boyd and Dylan Maguire—are CIA operatives. At one time an employee of the American Intelligence Community was respected; today half the American population trusts the Russians more than our own Intelligence agencies. At the end of Cloak and Mirrors (spoiler alert) Vicki and Dylan must go dark—deep undercover to escape capture by the Russians. Should the next book pick up with the next chapter in their fight against Russia? Or do I play it safe as an author and depict them in a picturesque little village where they get caught up in a local murder investigation? Or perhaps I should simply wait things out and write the next installment after America decides which way she intends to go?

While trying to decide my characters’ fates, I delved into the past—all the way back to 1608, when my ancestor William Neely left Scotland for Ireland (Checkmate: Clans and Castles). There is something comforting about slipping into the past, knowing that things turned out; the world is still spinning and humans somehow survived. It gives us an illusion of progress when we realize that Americans are not ruled by an autocratic monarch that can upend our worlds in a whim. When we read of the formidable odds we faced in times past—the seemingly unstoppable British Empire, Nazi Germany, Japan—we know when all the chips were down, we came out swinging and victorious.

Books of fiction are often a means of escape to our readers. They take us around the world to exotic locations we might otherwise never visit. They place us in someone else’s shoes that we will never actually meet. They give us superpowers; the will to continue, the determination to succeed. They take us out of our present-day news cycle, away from the sadness and hostility of our current politics, away from economic woes and crushing responsibilities. Books are often savored because of their unique ability to transcend time and space and circumstance.

Are you reading now? What are you reading? Chances are your book depicts the world as having some semblance of normalcy despite any odds the hero may face. And it’s precisely that normalcy that we all need right now.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, include the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. For more information, visit

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Challenges of Writing a Series

I'm very happy to introduce my guest today; award winning author Maggie Thom loves the challenge of creating a web of secrets, lies and deceit. She doesn’t want you to figure it out until the end and as someone who loves twists and turns, I can say that she always keeps me on the edge of my seat. She is the author of The Caspian Wine Suspense/Thriller/Mystery SeriesCaptured Lies and Deceitful Truths with Split Seconds about to be published – and her other individual novels Tainted Waters (2013 Suspense/Thriller Book of the Year through Turning the Pages Magazine) and Deadly Ties. Take the roller coaster ride. It’s worth it. Get your free copy of Captured Lies.

Her motto: Read to escape… Escape to read…

"Maggie Thom… proves her strength as a master of words, plots and finely chiseled characters… she weaves a brilliant cloth of the many colors of deceit.”  Dii - TomeTender

Writing a Series – The Challenge

By Maggie Thom

I love reading a series don’t you? I was always fascinated by them but swore I’d never write one because they seemed to be a lot of work. Which I learned they are but I have to say I’ve had a lot of fun writing The Caspian Wine Series.

It’s always interesting to see where an author will take the story and how they will do that. Series can take many different formats.
  1. It’s about one person. The series of books revolves around one person and what’s going on for them. You see a lot of detective stories that do this.
  2. It’s about a place. Sometimes the series will be about a certain town or a place and all that happens there. Often the characters will change but some may stay the same.
  3. It’s about a family or a group of people. The series will follow these group of people and may have each book focus more on one person than another but overall it’s about this group.
  4. It’s around a theme. In this the series can be around some topic – a quest, romance, solving murders, growing old…

There are so many ways to write a series. For my Caspian Wine series, I had struggled with this when I decided to write book 2, Deceitful Truths. As the ideas were coming to me though I realized that the two main characters in Captured Lies had already told their story. So I was stuck with how do I write a sequel, include those from the first book but don’t make it about them?

In Captured Lies, Bailey learns that her life has been a lie. She was raised by a woman she thought was her mother but after her mom dies, she learns that isn’t the truth. Guy, one of the main characters had a Private Investigative business with a partner. He’s the one that tells Bailey she’s not who she thinks she is. They end up on the quest together to unravel her past and stay ahead of those wanting her dead.

But where to go with book 2, Deceitful Truths? It dawned on me that I could tell Guy’s partner, Graham’s story. But as you will see when you read my stories they are about strong, kick-ass women. So I had to figure out who the woman was and what her dilemma would be but most of all how would she come to interacting with Knight’s Associates, Graham and Guy’s PI firm? Tarin soon came to mind. She was in a difficult marriage that she needed out of but I didn’t want it to be about that. I finally came up with her having something awful happen to her, she’d lost a week of her life but didn’t know by who or why. The consequences of it were unmistakable and that was why she’d ended up getting married. But now someone wants her son. So it was a great reason for her to need a PI firm but rather than hire them she decides to use their resources by getting hired by them. Her story is very much intertwined with Bailey’s, who’s story is told in Captured Lies.

Then it came to Book 3, Split Seconds, where was I going to go with it? One of the questions from book 2 had been about Tarin’s mom. Some readers wanted to know more about her and her story. So it got me thinking, ‘how could I use that in book 3?’ Tijan’s story came to life. Her story is very much intertwined with Tarin’s. They are identical twins that were separated as toddlers. Tijan knew about Tarin but believed she had died as a child. Tarin knew nothing about Tijan. Through a fluke of circumstances, Tijan sets out to find her twin. Not only does she find her but also a father she never knew anything about. He is not what she has pictured a father to be – he is cold and heartless and involved with the mob. After their father is shot and they learn that National Security and organized crime are very interested in their father and his dealings, Tijan switches places with Tarin to protect her. She finds herself running their father’s multi-million-dollar hotel chain, something she knows nothing about. And time is running out…

Although each story is part of The Caspian Wine Series, each is really a stand-alone story. Of course reading all of them will help to understand all of the characters in book 3, Split Seconds but I’ve written each in a way that you know what they’ve been through and what has happened.

Writing a series was a challenge. It is very different than writing one story because I had so much more to keep track of. It truly was interesting though to go back to the same characters and see where they were at and what was happening to them in each subsequent story.

There are no plans for book 4, I think the series is finished but… I have already been asked for it. So, we’ll see.

Split Seconds

Twins separated as toddlers, reunited as adults and now switching places in a deadly game to take on organized crime.

Her sister is alive! Excited to discover that her twin didn't die as a toddler, Tijan can’t wait to meet her other half but she struggles to understand why her only sibling hasn’t reached out in almost thirty years. Although the reunion is joyous, not everyone is excited to discover that there are two of them. Using it to her advantage, Tijan is determined to take down the one man, responsible for it all… her father. The secrets and lies that have kept them apart, soon unravel but with deadly consequences.

Pre-Order Split Seconds and get some amazing bonuses: Click here

p.m.terrell's Review

Just when you think Maggie Thom is at the top of her game, she writes another suspense that takes her to yet another pinnacle. In Split Seconds, identical twins separated as toddlers are reunited. Thom tells the story of their separation in chilling detail that brought tears to my eyes, forced the adrenaline to pump and caused my maternal instincts to feel their agonizing pain—and that was only the beginning. Lest you think all falls into place when they meet again years later, you’d better hang onto your seat because you’re in for more twists and turns than a world-class roller coaster. Thom kept me guessing to the very end with her skillful writing, believably flawed and engaging characters and intriguing subplots. I highly recommend this book.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Derry or Londonderry?

Londonderry/Derry is the 2nd largest city in Northern Ireland, second only to Belfast yet whether it is called ‘Londonderry’ or ‘Derry’ by residents of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has a lot to do with politics, religion and heritage.

In my book, Clans and Castles, the first book in the new historical Checkmate series, I refer to the city—then a village—as Derry. The name was originally Daire—pronounced as Derry—and though it was Anglicized, the original Gaelic name meant “grove of oak trees.” Here is an excerpt from the book describing its early history:

For five hundred years, the village had basked in its wild remoteness; while the rest of Europe had been engulfed in the Dark Ages, it had remained the peaceful and picturesque site of a monastery. Saint Colmcille himself had begun it in 521. The son of an Irish princess from Leinster and a father whose family had captured Saint Patrick and brought him to Ireland as a slave, Colmcille was said to have bridged two worlds. He was a member of the O’Neill Clan, one of the largest and most powerful clans in all of Ireland, and also a devout man of God and follower of the Catholic faith yet he somehow managed to achieve respect and reverence by both the Celts and the Gaels as well.

The land had been given to him, and although the O’Neill Clan held vast territory east of Derry, the monastery was situated on the west bank at the junction of the O’Donnell and O’Doherty domains. It was, perhaps, a gift from the O’Donnells to maintain peace between the two clans, which was often a tenuous peace at best, more often than not giving way to treachery and war.

No longer a monastery, Sir Henry Docwra had set out to change its history and was now considered the founder of the spirited village that had sprung up in its place since the English had begun her colonization of Ireland. From all accounts, after a dubious beginning, Docwra had fallen in love with the country and had striven to make Derry the jewel of the island; a lively port village and bustling trading post, it was a routine stop for journeys heading further west.

As the book unfolds, Docwra—having fallen out of favor with the English monarchy—was replaced with Sir George Paulet, a man who despised the Irish and who ruled Derry with hostility and discriminatory practices. He also coveted the land to the west of the village—land that had belonged to the O’Doherty Clan for more than a thousand years and that was ruled by Cahir O’Doherty. Cahir had come to power as a mere teenager when his father passed away and he was only 23 years old at the time my ancestor, William Neely, arrived in Ulster. He had been known as “The Queen’s O’Doherty” for his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I, and he had married an Englishwoman, Mary Preston.

Paulet was determined to drive O’Doherty off the Inishowen Peninsula and had sent troops many times to O’Doherty castles, where they attempted to establish residency. Cahir had appealed to King James I, who had issued an edict that the Inishowen Peninsula was to remain in the hands of the O’Doherty for his loyalties during the Nine Years War, but Paulet ignored it. Finally, in April of 1608, Cahir had had enough. He had been humiliated in public by Paulet, an occurrence that he considered worse than death, as he was an honored soldier and king and had been knighted in his teens by Queen Elizabeth herself.

Cahir burned all of Derry to the ground, sparing no building, and killed Paulet. It touched off O’Doherty’s Rebellion and would make Cahir the last of the Gaelic Irish Kings.

After the Rebellion, there was no money in Ireland to rebuild Derry so the settlers—English and Scots—appealed to London. Largely funded through private donations as well as the monarchy, Derry was rebuilt and in 1613 was renamed “Londonderry” to honor those in London who had funded its resurrection.

Today those with ancient Irish roots, predominantly Catholics, continue to refer to the city as Derry. Those of English and Scottish descent, predominantly Protestants, refer to the city as Londonderry. On maps, it is frequently shown as Londonderry/Derry and in typical Irish fashion it is also nicknamed “The Slash City”.

It has been the site of much strife between the Unionists (those in favor of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom) and Loyalists (those loyal to one united Ireland). I am currently writing the second book in the Checkmate series, in which once again Derry is the site of fighting. During the 17th century, my ancestors defended it from attack during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 as well as during the Siege of Derry in 1688.

View the book trailer for the first book, Clans and Castles:

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including her bestselling book, Songbirds are Free (the true story of Mary Neely's capture at Fort Nashborough by Shawnee warriors) and the award-winning River Passage (2010 Best Drama Award) about the Neely family's travels westward with John Donelson, as well as two award-winning series: The Black Swamp Mysteries Series and Ryan O'Clery Mysteries. She is the Founder of Book 'Em North Carolina, co-founder of The Book 'Em Foundation and the Founder of The Novel Business. For more information, visit her website at

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's a Thin Line

There’s a thin line between accuracy and the loss of credibility and nowhere does it show more dramatically than with an author. Our words are placed into the public realm for better or for worse and once credibility is lost, it can be next to impossible to regain.

This is particularly true when writing narrative nonfiction, the category that my bestselling book, Songbirdsare Free, falls within as well as the award-winning River Passage and my latest release, Checkmate: Clans and Castles. The facts must be correct but the book must also be a page-turner, increasing the suspense from the first to the last page.

With all three of these narrative non-fiction books, the ideas began by speaking to descendants of William Neely or Mary Neely. Mary’s children, grandchildren and minister had all written accounts of her ordeal that had been passed down through the generations and they varied only in minute instances; but these records were a dozen pages at most and I needed several hundred to make a full-length book. I took to the Internet, beginning with the location where she was captured and digressing into the Native American tribes in the area at that time, which ones were responsible for the vast majority of abductions and which were most likely to have brought her to Fort Detroit, where the British were paying for captured settlers. Once I established that her abductors were most likely Shawnee warriors, the places she recorded in her ordeal began to fall into place, such as Shawneetown where she was put through a ceremony and made a slave to the chieftain’s wife.

As my map became fuller with each stop along her route, I began contacting historians, archeologists and museums in each area. I made appointments to meet with each one and then took to the road, following in her footsteps. As I met with experts, they helped to fill in the gaps and often led me to meet with others in neighboring jurisdictions for additional details. By the time I returned from trips that began in Nashville, Tennessee—where a plaque is erected in her honor—through Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Canada, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, I had everything I needed to write the story of her Indian capture, captivity, escape and journey home.

I had so much information, in fact, that I had enough for two books. River Passage was actually easier to write because several of the people who accompanied John Donelson on his river voyage to Fort Nashborough in 1780 had kept journals, including Donelson himself. I knew on any given day where they began, where they ended and what had transpired in between. I took to the road again, following the general course of their trip—the TVA had changed the river substantially since their journey—again, meeting with historians, archeologists, museum curators and college professors to fill in the details.

With Checkmate: Clans and Castles, I thought it would be a more daunting task because all I originally had to go on was a name and a year: William Neely moved from Scotland to Ulster in 1608. How would I turn that into a book? I was to be very pleasantly surprised and in fact, intrigued by the details that came pouring forth. A Scottish friend told me once that in Scotland and Ireland a hundred miles is a great distance but a hundred years is nothing. Fortunately, I discovered a treasure trove of information dating to 1608 and even earlier.

Looking through family tree information (William Neely is my grandfather about ten generations back), I discovered that he had lived in Wigtownshire, Scotland prior to moving. I researched that area’s history in 1608 and what would have transpired that would cause an 18-year-old to leave his home and all he’d ever known to move to a country where he barely spoke their language (Irish Gaelic was a different dialect than Scottish Gaelic, though similar), where the customs were completely different and where he had no idea what to expect.

I then discovered that he had been with Captain William Stewart and that his entire life from the age of 18 until his death was spent in the northwestern corner of Ireland, largely in County Donegal. Captain Stewart was more widely known and I was able to trace his movements.

But things became really interesting when I came upon the reason both Stewart and Neely were in Ulster: O’Doherty’s Rebellion. I became immersed in Cahir O’Doherty, the last Gaelic Irish King, his English wife Mary Preston; their neighbor and sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy, Niall Garbh O’Donnell; and the sinister, cruel Sir George Paulet, the man the English courts eventually credited with leading the Irish to rebel. I painstakingly researched Paulet as well as Sir Arthur Chichester, Henry Holt and his wife Frances, as well as the MacSweeney Gallowglass, the Inishowen Peninsula (owned entirely by the O’Doherty clan) and other clans in the region. I looked at differences between the Irish and the settlers (Scottish and English), including their religion, their loyalties, their cultures and their discrimination.

In all three of these books, I placed myself in Mary’s or William’s shoes in order to write about their thoughts, their conversations and their motivations—all of which has been lost to history. I have the distinct advantage of knowing the Neely men and Neely women (having been born a Neely) and certain characteristics, beliefs and lifestyles that have been consistent throughout the generations. I hope I have done them justice in these books. (At right, my favorite picture I took in Ireland. It was taken in a cemetery as I looked for my ancestors' graves of a neighboring potato field and a tiny white Irish cottage that had been there for centuries. My ancestors owned 1,000 acres in County Donegal at the base of the Inishowen Peninsula as well as 1,000 acres in County Tyrone, Glencull, Ballygawley.)

I once sat on an author panel with another author that claimed he had never performed one minute of research, stating proudly that every bit of his writing came from his imagination. I would have been horrified. It is in the research, the details, by which an author forms their reputation. When details are wrong or historical events are inaccurately portrayed, the author loses credibility. And when that credibility is lost, they may never get it back.

The victor writes history and in each instance, I straddled a thin line because I sought to depict not only the victor’s version but the other parties as well—the Shawnee in Songbirds are Free, the Chickamauga in River Passage and the Irish in Clans and Castles. But in the end, I believe I told each story from diverging viewpoints and I believe they will indeed stand the test of time.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 21 books. She is the Founder of Book 'Em North Carolina Writer's Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. Read excerpts from each of her books, watch book trailers and read reviews at

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who We Are

Genealogy research is one of the most popular hobbies in America. In discovering our roots, we discover ourselves.

A few years ago when my book Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors was released, I was contacted by a Neely descendant. She told me that when she was growing up, she always felt out of place; she never looked like anybody else and it had shaken her confidence. When she saw the picture of Mary Neely along with a police artist’s regression sketch, she felt as though she was looking at herself. It turned out that she lived in a part of the country that was heavily Hispanic and her pale Irish skin, hazel eyes, light hair and slight figure was in contrast with the olive complexions, brown eyes and hair and more robust physiques.

In learning of her Scots-Irish heritage, it opened doors for her—just as it had for me. Since that time, I have delved deeper into my family history. Scores of people spend untold hours placing names in perfect boxes to form extensive family trees, but I always wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know who my ancestors were, why they did what they did, what experiences formed their lives.

My father and brothers were deeply involved in establishing our more recent past, going back to the American Civil War and Revolutionary War. I wanted to go back even further to the time before they left for America. I wanted to know why they left all they had ever known—their culture, their language, their friends and family, to move to a country halfway around the world they had never visited and knew little about.

My quest for knowledge led me to William Neely. In 1608 at the age of eighteen, he left Scotland for Ulster, not knowing that the Neely family had lived in Ulster until the 1200’s. He was, in a sense, going home again. I wrote in Clans and Castles, the first book of the new Checkmate series, his thoughts as he sailed westward with Captain William Stewart:

But isn’t that why men leave? He thought. For a man that is content with his lot, one with standing in the community and a future laid out before him is rarely the man that leaves for the unknown. But take a man with poor prospects of employment, one with a doubtful future, and he has but two choices. He can remain where he is for the simple reason that he has always been there, and take what Life may send him; or he take his destiny into his own hands and set sail for the unknown in search of new opportunities and a brighter future.

At the time William left Wigtownshire, the Lowlands of Scotland had been deforested to the point that it was a crime to damage a sapling, a tree or even a branch. The class system had ensured that those born into nobility remained in nobility and those born with a lesser standing had little or no prospects for improvement. Sandwiched in between the English to their south and the Highlanders to their north, they were often caught in the middle of the fierce battles between the two. So it was when King James I of England offered land to Scottish Lowlanders in Ulster as part of his colonization efforts (the same efforts that landed the British on American shores), he jumped at the chance. He was searching to make his life better and in so doing, he changed the course of history for his Neely descendants.

His experience was not to be smooth, however, as the Irish continued to fight against oppressive edicts against their religion and their native birthrights. The land that was given to Captain Stewart, which was the land on which William first lived and worked, was sandwiched between the Gallowglass MacSweeneys (of Highlander and Viking stock) and the Gaelic clans of the O’Doherty, O’Donnell and more.

Going to Ulster and standing on the land my ancestors once owned was a life-changing experience for me. Looking at the cemetery situated on a hill so it would always overlook their holdings was like no other experience I’d ever had. Visiting a local historian and finding our family tree written in pencil a hundred years prior on the back of wallpaper was a memory burned into my consciousness.

I understand why many of William Neely’s descendants chose Virginia and Tennessee when they immigrated to America, for the rolling green hills must have reminded them of Ireland. My ancestors became ranchers and farmers, taking what they knew of cattle and sheep as well as farming vegetables, and creating enterprises in America that mirrored what they had built in Europe. They were tough and had to be tough to carve out lives for themselves against the Native Americans warring against them—just as they had carved out lives despite the Gaelic Irish efforts to drive them out.

In return, I’d like to think they made things better. When visiting Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, I was happy to learn that William’s descendants, who had been given 1,000 acres at Ballygawley-Glencull, had donated land for the Irish Catholic church and school, despite the fact that they were Protestant. I learned that during the heated troubles between the two religions, the Neely family often hid the priests to protect them from harm.

And later, after coming to America, I learned that Mary Neely—the one that had been captured by the Shawnee and kept as a slave for three years before her escape and journey home—had learned so much about Native American medicine that people of all races traveled a hundred miles to see her and hopefully be cured by her.

Are you interested in genealogy? Have you explored not only the names and dates of your ancestors but also who they were, what they accomplished and what motivated them to do what they do? I would love to hear about it!

Read a free excerpt from Songbirds are Free, p.m.terrell's bestselling book about Mary Neely's capture, Shawnee captivity, escape and journey home. Read a free excerpt from Checkmate: Clans and Castles, based on the true story of William Neely and O'Doherty's Rebellion. p.m.terrell is the award-winning author of more than 21 books in a variety of genres, including the award-winning River Passage, the true story of the Donelson journey westward at the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Emotional Impact

There’s a simple reason some people enjoy reading particular books, authors or genres. Though they might not realize it, they’ve experienced an emotional impact.

I am currently reading The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. It is a heart-wrenching story, difficult to read at times and yet I can’t put it down. From the very first page, I was sucked in by the enormous emotional impact.

Noah is a four-year-old who has always been terrified of water and who knows things that can’t be explained, like the identification of lizards, how to score a baseball game or every scene in Harry Potter. His mother chalks it off to an active imagination or even that he’s a liar. But when his stories of being held underwater threaten to involve social services, she has no choice but to find out what’s wrong with him. She goes into debt, her business sidelined and the medical bills mounting yet test after test reveals nothing wrong. Until finally, she is forced to consider the impossible.

What if Noah is the reincarnation of another boy that was killed at the age of eight? A boy that simply disappeared, a boy whose mother is convinced he is still alive and one day he will come home to her? And what if Noah remembers exactly who shot him, exactly who tried to drown him, and exactly where his body is buried?

As an author, I am confronted with the emotional impact with every book I write. I write for my readers and sometimes that means they want to fall in love. Sometimes they want to be whisked away to an exotic location. Sometimes they want to be pulled back in time, perhaps looking for a simpler place, a simpler time only to discover a different set of obstacles. Sometimes the emotional impact comes in the form of having to know what is going to happen next, of solving the puzzle, of learning the answer. Sometimes it’s a heart-thumping read and at other times a breathtaking vista.

When I wrote Clans and Castles, the first book in my new Checkmate series, the emotional impact was even greater for me because I was writing about my ancestor, William Neely. There is something about envisioning an ancestor as a young man filled with hopes and dreams and desires… Knowing he loved deeply and lost intensely… Knowing he left everything he had ever known to forge a new future in a foreign land amidst odd customs, different dialects and warring factions. In a world that is divided today by religion, the divide between the haves and the have nots, power struggles and political alliances and upheavals… and then moving back in time to discover this has occurred for almost as long as man has lived on this earth. Some would flourish despite the odds; others would falter and still others would die far too early in their lives. It is the emotional journey that kept me writing and, like every author, it is the emotional journey that I hope keeps the reader reading…

p.m.terrell is the author of more than 21 books, including her bestselling book, Songbirds areFree, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors; her award-winning River Passage, the true story of the Neely family’s journey westward with John Donelson; the award-winning Black Swamp Mysteries Series and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mysteries. Discover book trailers, download free excerpts and read more about her books at

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What if you could walk in your ancestor's footsteps?

What if you could walk in your ancestor’s footsteps?

Today’s environment comes with a host of challenges, including economic recession, political drama, declining industries, a shrinking middle class, wars and threats on multiple fronts. It might be easy to come to the conclusion that living in today’s day and age poses more challenges than ever.

But what if you could take a step back in time to live as your ancestors did? What do you suppose you would find there?

I discovered a series entitled Victorian Slum House that takes modern-day families and places them in the environment of their ancestors. The day-to-day struggles are an eye-opener. Consider that during the 1870’s the average lifespan in areas of London was 28. Or the 91,000 Irish that immigrated to London in search of work, many of whom came because they had watched their own family members starve to death during the potato famine. One couple, when arriving in London, discovered lodging meant renting a coffin-shaped bed for eight hours, surrounded by dozens of others; or when the bed could not be afforded, one could sit on a wood bench with a rope that prevented falling off it during sleep for half the cost.

It may be easy to think that if we are doing well economically today, our ancestors did as well. Perhaps we have an image of our ancestors living a simpler life but having all they needed—plenty of food, a stable roof over their heads and adequate, steady employment. The reality, however, may be far from that.

When I began writing Clans and Castles, the first book in the Checkmate series, I was astounded at all I learned about Wigtownshire, Scotland in the early 17th century. The Lowlands of Scotland had become so deforested that it was a crime to cut off a branch, fell a tree or damage a sapling. Tenants often received their homes as part of their payment for work on a laird’s property, and they were moved on an annual basis. Because of that, they tended to build houses that could be erected within two days’ time and often blew away during major storms. They did not understand rudimentary agriculture such as irrigation but often thought if the land was too wet or too dry, it was simply “God’s will”.

It was that environment that my ancestor, William Neely, was born into. At the age of 18, he had the opportunity to leave Wigtownshire for Ulster—an opportunity he jumped at. In the scene below, Wills is with his friends Fergus and Tomas discussing a beautiful woman he has fallen in love with but her father doesn’t seem too keen on him:

“You have been unusually silent since you returned from dinner last eve,” Tomas said. “Things didn’t go well with the lass?”

Wills sighed. “They went well with her, aye. ‘Tis her father I am worried about.”

“What’s the story there, ‘ey?”

With the ropes secured and a short stretch of northward sail before them, Wills leaned against the railing and looked his friend in the eye for a moment. “I am afraid he could be looking for a nobleman for his daughter.”

“Ha! And didn’t we tell you?” Fergus said. “What would she want with the likes of you? More importantly, what would her da want?”

“What of your family?” Tomas pressed.

Wills shrugged. “Truth be told about it, they are tenant farmers—same as the three of us are here. Oh, and for sure, the Neely family has a decent reputation, one that has served us well. It has been a long time since our house and lands were rotated, so the house is sturdier than most and we’ve served the same laird for several generations now, we have.”

“Ah, but there’s the rub, ‘ey? Her father is looking for a nobleman for his daughter; a landowner. And a tenant farmer never owns the land himself, now does he? He tills it or he ranches it for the pleasure of the laird, and at his displeasure, he can be sent packing. ‘Ey?”

He nodded and turned to face the ocean waves. The mists were heavy this morning, the skies gray like his heart at the moment. “But though her da has lived in Donegal for two decades, at least, I had the impression his family was not of there.”


“So why does a man leave all he has ever known for the wilderness of Donegal?” Without waiting for a reply, he jabbed his finger in their direction. “I’ll tell you this, I will. No man leaves home if there is something there for him.”

“Are you suggesting—?”

“I am suggesting that Varney Ó Dálaigh is a self-made man himself. See, here’s the thing: when a man is at the top of the heap, there is no reason for him to leave that. He may own lands, a manor house or a castle, even; he might have the ear of his noblemen neighbors, a place in his community. Why would he give up all of that to travel to a place so vastly different?”

Fergus and Tomas grunted but whether they approved of his logic, Wills couldn’t tell. After another moment of thought, he added, “I’d be willing to bet, I would, that he had nothing to keep him close to his family for a man does not leave home unless he sees a brighter future for himself and his children elsewhere. He brought his wife to Donegal as well, which means at the time he knew he would not likely be returning, and with his two daughters having been born in Donegal, I believe it’s safe to say that he has determined he is better off now than he was before.”

“So where does that leave you?” Tomas asked.

“Truth be told, I left Wigtownshire for the same reason, I did. I knew I was leaving. I just didn’t know when or how.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, now does it?”

“Oh, I have an answer alright. I do. I came to Ireland to make something more of myself than I figured I could do where I was. And that I will do, or die trying. It’s just now the timetable has sped up a bit, ‘ey?”

If you could place yourself in your ancestor’s shoes, where would you be? Who would you be? How vastly different would your life be from what you are experiencing today, here, in the 21st century?

My ancestor’s life was to change dramatically when Cahir O’Doherty, the last Gaelic Irish King, launched O’Doherty’s Rebellion and he found himself fighting for King James I of England. His actions on the battlefield would set in motion not only his own fate but those of future generations. Here’s a trailer from the book:

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors; River Passage, the true story of John Donelson’s river journey to Fort Nashborough; the award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mysteries, and more. A full-time writer since 2002, she founded Book‘Em North Carolina and The NovelBusiness to assist other authors and connect readers and authors. Visit for more information.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Behind the Bloody Hand

While visiting my ancestral home in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, it is impossible to escape the images of the bloody hand. It appears in various forms, sometimes with lions, a fish, a crown or a knight’s helmet. It can be found on the side of buildings, on flags, at sports complexes or in pubs. And they all tie into the O’Neill’s family crest.

I wrote about the bloody hand in my latest book, Clans and Castles, the first in the new Checkmate series of historical books about my ancestors. The scene takes place in 1608 between my ancestor, William Neely, and an Irish lady named Penarddun who had sewn the Neely family crest for him:

Penarddun slipped her long fingers under the wool and retrieved a piece of material that had quite obviously been painstakingly constructed. In the center was a castle with three turrets sewn in a grayish-black color, above which was the Red Hand of the O’Neill clan.

“Do you know what this is, lad?” she asked.

“I am afraid I do not, Lady Penarddun, though I have seen the hand.”

“Aye, and I am sure you have. It is the Bloody Hand of the Clan O’Neill. It is said that in the days of the Celts, several great chieftains sailed across the waters. They spotted the beautiful Irish coast and as their eyes fell on the magnificent shades of green, they debated who would lay claim to her. Ah, but they were powerful competitors, they were, and after great deliberation they decided they would each row a boat toward the land and whosoever touched her first would lay claim to her.”

She placed both hands on her knees, her eyes staring into the forest and yet seeing something miles and centuries apart. “So off they rowed, and it was a fierce competition, it was. The weaker ones dropped back and seeing that all was lost, they watched as two neared the shore. Oh, they were so close that none could tell who would reach it first and as the final stretch was there for the taking, Niall could not bear to lose that beautiful, precious land. So he reached to his axe and he severed his left hand at the wrist and with his right, he tossed it to shore.”


She smiled. “Aye, and so Niall won, you see, for it was his hand that touched Eire first. It was in the days before we were told we needed last names… So his descendants called themselves ‘uá Niáll’ to mark themselves as the children of the champion, and it’s since been changed to O’Neill. And there you have it.”

As she handed him the material, he said, “You are too kind, Lady Penarddun. But I do not understand what the Bloody Hand of The O’Neill—”

“Your ancestors, dear boy, were descendants of Niall. You are related to the O’Neill clan.”

This was a bombshell revelation to my ancestor because O’Doherty’s Rebellion had begun. Led by the last Gaelic Irish King Cahir O’Doherty, clans that included the O’Neill, Maguire, O’Cahan, O’Donnell, MacSweeney and more united against the Scottish and English settlers, burning their settlements in an attempt to drive them out of Ulster. But Wills, who had immigrated to Ireland from Wigtownshire, Scotland in 1608, was to discover that four hundred years earlier, the Neely family had left Ireland for Scotland—which meant he had come full circle. It also meant that he would soon face off against distant relatives on more than one battlefield; one side would fight to the death to keep Ireland Irish while the other would fight for King James I of England to claim it as a colony.

The words on the Neely family crest mean “One Family, Several Countries” as the family eventually immigrated to such diverse places as Canada, the United States and Australia. Shown here is a modernized version of the family crest.

I did not know what I would find when I began to explore William Neely’s journey from Scotland to Ireland. I found much more than I could have imagined because it was a fascinating period where cultures collided; the Gaelic Irish population against the Scottish and English settlers, the Gaelic Kings against Queen Elizabeth I and then King James I, ultimately the Catholic faith against the Church of Ireland’s Protestants, betrayal… and death.

Below is a trailer:

Clans and Castles, the first book in the Checkmate series is now available on amazon in Kindle and Paperback, and will be in all bookstores on June 1. Autographed copies can also be ordered from the author’s website. p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books in a variety of genres.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Journey of the Scot-Irish

The odyssey into my family's history has taken me to unexpected places, and anyone of Scot-Irish (or Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish) descent likely has ancestors that traveled a similar path. Scotland is only twenty miles or so across the Irish Sea from Ireland and the inhabitants of both countries likely sailed from one country to the other at various times. But the modern version of the Scot-Irish descendent has its roots in the 17th century and specifically between 1606 and 1652.

In the late 16th century, Spain and England were at war. And in 1588, Philip II of Spain dispatched 130 ships in a failed effort to invade England. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gravelines, the Spanish ships attempted to return home by taking a route around western Ireland when they were caught by a massive storm, blown off course and onto Ireland’s western coast. Queen Elizabeth I believed the Spaniards were attempting to occupy Ireland and she sent a substantial force to stop the invasion. With rumors that Spain was sending additional troops to assist Ulster’s Hugh O’Neill in driving out the English, the English onslaught was merciless. Around 5,000 Spanish were killed and those few that survived escaped across Ireland and the Irish Sea to Scotland and the English occupation of Ireland began in earnest.

When King James I ascended to the English thrown after Elizabeth's death, the age of colonization began in full swing. King James wanted more Protestants loyal to the English Crown in Ireland to prevent Spain from attempting another invasion and to ensure that Ireland remained an English colony. Scottish Lowlanders were encouraged to relocate to Ireland, particularly Ulster. Scottish Highlanders were forbidden from participating in the relocation because they were largely Catholic and they had been less agreeable to England (to put it mildly).

In 1608, my ancestor, William Neely of Wigtownshire, joined Captain William Stewart and moved to Donegal. Fort Stewart was eventually erected on the Lough Swilly just across the water from the Inishowen Peninsula. That Peninsula was in the firm control of Sir Cahir O'Doherty, whose family had ruled Inishowen for more than one thousand years.

In discovering my roots, I discovered the role that the Scot-Irish played in Ireland's history. Born in Scotland and migrating to Ulster, they formed Plantations similar to those in America's Deep South, consisting of potato or vegetable farms and cattle and sheep herding. The men that journeyed there were searching for a better life, as the Scottish Lowlands had been deforested and were in a bleak state in the early 17th century. However, it meant displacing the native Irish - and therein lay the conflict.

William Neely and William Stewart were to come face to face with the chieftains of powerful Gaelic Irish clans, including Cahir O'Doherty, Niall Garbh O'Donnell, Phelim MacDavitt and The MacSweeneys. And the struggle for the future of Ireland would pit the native Irish against the Lowland Scots, culminating in O'Doherty's Rebellion.

The first book in my new series, Checkmate, is entitled Clans and Castles and it begins with William Neely joining Captain Stewart in sailing to Ulster and settling in Donegal. It introduces the complexity of the relationships between the Irish chieftains and the settlers, leading to O'Doherty's Rebellion and its aftermath.

If you are a descendent of Scot-Irish heritage, this is your ancestor's story as well.

It is now available on Kindle and in other formats on Smashwords, and it will be available soon in the iBooks store, Barnes and Noble Nook and other eBook stores. The paperback officially launches on June 1. If you'd like a personalized autograph copy of Clans and Castles or any of my books, please visit my website. Free shipping!

I hope you'll join me in taking a look at our ancestors' lives and seeing them come alive through the pages. For more information, check out my website. This is the first in a new series that will take the Neely family - and the Scot-Irish - through a journey that begins in the 17th century and is on-going today. The series will cover a number of events and rebellions in Ulster eventually leading to Irish independence for the Republic of Ireland but the establishment of Northern Ireland remaining under British rule, as well as both World Wars and the migration of the Scot-Irish from Ulster to America and beyond.

Watch the short video below about Clans and Castles.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books in various genres. Her love of Ireland is apparent in her suspense books such as The Tempest Murders, The White Devil of Dublin, Dylan's Song and Cloak and Mirrors. Her most popular book is Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely's abduction by Shawnee warriors in 1780 near Fort Nashborough (now Nashville, TN), and River Passage, the true story of the Neely family's river journey to Fort Nashborough at the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars won the 2010 Best Drama Award.