Say hello to author Laura Vosika!
What’s your name? Laura Vosika
What do you write? The Blue Bells Chronicles, a tale of time travel, mysteries and miracles, romance and redemption in an epic saga ranging across modern and medieval Scotland.
Where can readers find you on social media? www.facebook.com/laura.vosika.author
And just for fun, if you could be any mythological being, what or who would you be? I’m going to have to go with Pegasus. What freedom to be able to gallop and fly at will!
1. You’ve had many careers in addition to being an author, including as musician, publisher, and photographer. What made you want to become an author?
Author is really my first calling, along with music. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was ten, if not younger. I simply like to write and have stories to tell.
2. Your most well-known series is The Blue Bells Chronicles. How did you come up with the idea and why do you think it has done so well?
The Blue Bells Chronicles was inspired partly by the children’s novel In the Keep of Time by Margaret J. Anderson and partly by a piece of music in the standard trombone repertoire called Blue Bells of Scotland, the title of the first novel in the series.
In the Keep of Time tells the story of four siblings who go into a medieval tower and come out in the wrong century. Like them, Shawn Kleiner, world famous trombonist, and Niall Campbell, his medieval Highlander look-alike, go into a tower and come out in the wrong centuries, accidentally trading places in time.
I was originally a trombonist, with a degree in music, so Blue Bells of Scotland, a theme and variations based on the old folk song of the same name, is a piece I’m very familiar with. The original lyrics of the folk song include streaming banners and noble deeds, just the kind of book I would love to read. So it’s the kind of book I wanted to write.
In the story, Blue Bells of Scotland is Shawn’s signature piece, so it stood to reason that those noble deeds must take place in Scotland. From there, research led me to Scotland’s greatest victory, the battle of Bannockburn. And the story began….
3. What are the characters of The Blue Bells Chronicles like?
There’s a diverse cast in The Blue Bells Chronicles–and many of them do some changing throughout the series.
Shawn Kleiner is an arrogant, obnoxious classical musician who, with charisma and business sense, has made a stellar success of a small Midwestern orchestra with himself as the featured soloist. He has fan girls and throws great parties. He’s generous and lots of fun to be around. He also drinks, gambles, cheats on his girlfriend, and abuses his power in the orchestra. During his time in medieval Scotland–let’s just say, two years in medieval Scotland will change a man!
Niall Campbell is the medieval Highlander who looks just like Shawn. He is everything Shawn is not: responsible, devout, duty-driven and committed to doing what he must for his country and his people. He can also be overconfident, and he and Shawn discover, through the series, that they are more alike than either of them wants to believe.
Amy, Shawn’s girlfriend, is a gifted violinist, well-liked by everyone in the orchestra, but also, by the time we meet her in book one, off balance and unsure of herself after two years of Shawn’s gaslighting to cover his cheating. Throughout the series, she grows stronger and more sure of herself, as she remembers who she once was, without him.
Allene is the daughter of the Laird of Glenmirril, Niall’s betrothed, and later, his wife. She begins the story headstrong and determined to get her way.
Christina, who we don’t meet until book two, The Minstrel Boy, is the young wife of the cruel Duncan MacDougall. She moves through life and its difficulties with a peaceful strength, built on faith, which inexplicably draws Shawn.
4. Which Blue Bells Chronicles character is most like you and why?
After raising seven boys, I’ve become quite calm about catastrophes and chaos. (I have two daughters as well, but it’s almost always the boys I end up taking to ER!) My attitude has become, Yes, we have a problem–we’ll have to just do what needs to be done. There are moments of stress, worry, or fear, but overall I’ve learned that panic and meltdowns are useless, and worse, counterproductive. This is very much how Christina handles Niall’s arrival at her husband’s castle, his imprisonment, the attempt to rescue him from MacDougall’s dungeon and a later, traumatic event.
While she doesn’t manage every moment with this attitude, she always finds her way back to it.
5. Who should pick up your books and why?
People who love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander generally love my books. If you love time travel, if you love Scotland, if you love history–chances are good you’ll enjoy my books. They are as historically accurate as I can make them, with thousands of hours of research into the time of Robert the Bruce, and five trips to Scotland, as I make every attempt to portray the time, the place, and people, as they really were and are.
6. Favorite quote from your own work?
That’s a hard one! I’m usually asked about favorite scenes. But a quote? Well, Shawn’s quote, “I’m Shawn Kleiner–I can do anything I want,” becomes a running joke, as does his quoting of the concert tour posters–“The Best of Scotland.” Although the phrase refers to the music the orchestra will be playing, the posters feature Shawn (invariably with buxom women in tartans fawning all over him). The quote comes up as Amy accuses him of being arrogant, Niall mocks him with the phrase, and Shawn cheerfully agrees, ignoring Niall’s sarcasm. Later in the books, he refers to himself jokingly as the best of Scotland.
A more serious quote is when Niall and Shawn are together in medieval times, Shawn is grousing, as he is wont to do. Niall says, of Shawn’s century, and his tendency to grumble, that it is because, “Your lives are far too easy. And you expect them to be easier still!”
7. Favorite scenes, then?
I have many–I usually especially like the scenes where Niall and Shawn play off one another, as their relationship grows from one of antagonists, continually irritated by one another, to camaraderie, to brotherhood. But one scene I particularly like is in the first book, where Shawn, captured at a medieval fair by English soldiers who think he’s Niall, plays a sackbut to prove he’s not. As he plays Czardas, a gypsy sways and moves to his music, and they dance around each other as he continues playing, in a moment they both thoroughly enjoy, as the town watches and gapes at his playing.
I like this scene for many reasons. One is that I love the trombone and this particular piece of music and loved being able to write a scene that brings the song to life.
A second is that it shows us Shawn’s first glimpse of the good side of medieval life. To this point, he has mainly experienced fear, threats, and brutality. He’s traveling with a monk who was beaten almost to death because the English thought he was Niall. (Those poor English just can’t get the right guy!) In our modern day, I think we have some wrong ideas about medieval times, too. And in this scene, Shawn experiences the sheer joy and simplicity of the market, the fair, the music, and sees that we are all the same underneath and there are always moments of joy that bind us in a common humanity.
One of the taglines I use with the book is …because nobody is all good and nobody is all bad. A third reason I like this scene is that we see something deeper about Shawn’s character. Yes, he’s got a lot of issues. But here we see one of his positive traits: his ability to find joy even in the middle of all the awful things happening around him; the ability to not dwell on these things or get mired in them. Joy is a gift we should all aspire to and Shawn has it. He has the gift of bringing that joy to others, despite his flaws.
A final reason I really like this scene is because it’s my own experience of music. It brings people together across ages, languages, and cultures, to create joy and connection. What Shawn feels at this moment, with this woman he’s never met and will never see again, is what it was for me to play on stage in a big band, to see people swing dancing and full of joy. Our music gave them joy and their dancing gave us, the musicians, joy.
8. Tell us about your most recent release and/or an upcoming project.
I’ve just released The Battle is O’er, the fifth and final book of The Blue Bells Chronicles. The ultimate story is one of redemption, as Shawn wrestles with his past, with blaming others, with facing how his own choices have hurt others. In The Battle is O’er, he has managed to get back to his own time and begin re-building his life. But situations–I’m trying to avoid spoilers here!–force him to make one final decision about whether he will live for himself or life selflessly, for the sake of those he loves: His selfishness once cost him everything. His newfound selflessness may do the same.
My upcoming projects: compiling an anthology of modern poetry written in traditional forms, and my next novel, The Castle of Dromore, which features a young widow moving her five boys to a medieval Scottish castle in the wake of her own tragedy and betrayal in the States–only to discover that her new home is haunted by a woman in green!
9. What’s your favorite writing-related memory?
My favorite writing memories would center around my writers’ group, Night Writers, and my trips to Scotland. Climbing S’ron na Chlachan–The Nose of the Village–in medieval leather boots, replicating Shawn’s hike through the Highlands, was a highlight. I describe that experience in The Water is Wide as Amy and Carol climb it.
Stumbling onto the ruins of Castle Finlairig would be another. It was a magical moment of coming up a small, very small, dirt track in a wooded copse, and suddenly finding it there in a clearing, which always makes me think of the children in Narnia coming upon the ruins of Cair Paravel.
10. What’s a favorite moment you’ve had with a fan/someone who’s read your work?
In 2014, my friend Patt and I visited Elaine White, who lived in Dollar, Scotland, in the glen below Castle Campbell. She invited me to visit her when she heard I was coming to Scotland again. I thought she was one of the authors I network with online. We got to her house, and I found no, she was a reader who simply loved my books. She walked us through the glen to the foot of the climb to the castle, pointing out to me where she sat on a bench while first reading my book, and told me how she usually was wary of American authors writing about Scotland, but liked mine very much, as I’d done the research.
After dinner, she gave me her aunt’s leather bound of Tales of Scottish History, given to her aunt as an academic prize in 1941, and now inscribed with a very nice note from Elaine to me. I was very touched, and treasure this gift, especially as I was only able to visit Elaine once more, in 2015, before she passed away, far too young.
It was a moment where I really understood how much we touch each other’s lives. Here I was sitting at my kitchen counter making up a story, and someone around the world found so much joy in it. What we do matters, even when we don’t realize it.
11. In addition to being an author, you also started your own publishing company, Gabriel’s Horn Publishing. Why did you decide to start it?
In 2007, when I was still fairly new to Night Writers myself, we were joined by John Stanton who talked up the changing face of publishing, the way traditional publishers were pushing authors to do more and more of their own marketing while still taking the lion’s share of the royalties, and the benefits of indie publishing. He sold us on the idea, and he and I created Gabriel’s Horn to publish for the whole group.
It has grown by word of mouth as people have approached me seeking publication.
12. How has working behind the scenes influenced your understanding of the industry?
Working in a given field is always an eye-opener. For instance, when I started playing harp, I quickly understood why harpists charge so much for ‘just’ an hour of playing at a wedding. Likewise with publishing, I see how much work it takes to put a book out there. I understand the cost factor in trying to cut word count and page count–and yet the need to not eviscerate a story by doing so.
13. What can you say about the process of publishing with Gabriel’s Horn Publishing?
We try to meet individual needs. Some of our authors do all of their own editing, cover design, and formatting. Others are looking for most of this to be done for them.
14. Who should submit to Gabriel’s Horn Publishing?
I’m looking for books that are a good read and ultimately positive. Ideally, they also have a deeper message, but one that simply comes out in the story and through the lives of the characters. My ideal example would be C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re wonderful, fun stories that can be enjoyed on either or both a surface level or a deeper level.
Not everything has to be deep and profound, of course. There are times we just want to lose ourselves in a fun story. We currently have both fiction and non-fiction–adventure, literary and mainstream fiction, paranormal, mystery, horror, time travel, historical fiction, a bit of romance, Christian apocalyptic, and more.
One area we have not yet published, which I plan on branching into, is poetry.
15. What is unique about Gabriel’s Horn Publishing as a publishing house?
I consider us more of a publishers co-op. We started off as a ‘family’ establishment–publishing the works of the members of Night Writers. I hope to maintain that feel, and you can see that in our website, as we feature a gallery of our authors in their daily lives. Our authors all have access to our facebook page (and thus to our twitter) to promote their own work and my hope is for us to work together to promote Gabriel’s Horn and help each other.
16. Which aspect of your work at Gabriel’s Horn Publishing do you enjoy the most and why?
I enjoy the authors I’ve met and the relationships that are built. I enjoy the books I come across that I would not otherwise have found.
Thanks for the great interview, Laura! Don’t forget to check out her books and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
As always, keep making magic, word weavers!