Maureen Gill is a native Chicagoan and especially delighted that her writing style has been compared to a “gale force wind off Lake Michigan.” Her first novel, January Moon, has received excellent reviews and Maureen has also been compared to Michael Connolly and Lee Childe. January Moon is the first novel to situate female genital mutilation (FGM) at the heart of an American detective story and has been written in a refreshing new way that proves Maureen is unafraid to push boundaries and challenge conventions.
Maureen explains, “I was trained in history at Loyola University Chicago and I used my training as a historian to write January Moon. As a professionally trained historian I don’t feel bound by all the formulas and style guides or other so-called rules about fiction. I write fiction using the techniques of a historian which I can explain this way: January Moon is about a cult and how actions inside the cult by one or more crazy people changed the lives of all the main characters. If I were going to write a compelling, fascinating story about the FBI’s raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, I’d go down there and interview the whole town, all the survivors, their families and friends, as well as all the so-called important people like the federal agents themselves or the Attorney General. I’d write the story from the ground up, not the top down, and I might begin by interviewing a local woman who was the first to see the ominous helicopters move toward the cult compound as she was hanging out her ‘wersh’ one morning. That’s how I’d build the big picture: through the interwoven stories of the little people as well as the big people. I might open the story with the comments of the woman hanging out her wash. In January Moon I felt the need to tell a remarkable story through the voices and experiences of many people; some of those people would know how the events in the story changed their lives while a few might never know but taken together their lives were all a part of the bigger story. As a historian I’m very comfortable with huge epic stories about great men but they all also contain the many voices and influences of hundreds of people. I understand how history is written and now I’ve taken my professional ability to weave a great historical story out of real facts into the world of fiction, a special place where I can actually invent the facts and spin them to my own liking with all the bias I want and no worry about footnotes and bibliographies! It’s been very liberating.”
Maureen explains her decision to go indie this way: “I received tremendous feedback from agents almost immediately after I began the query process. I was incredibly ignorant about querying but I’ve since learned I won the Lotto. I sent out less than 50 queries and within weeks was discussing the story with three important agents. Within 6 weeks of my first query I entered into a 90-day exclusive with one of them. Shortly thereafter, however, the discussion went south after they came back to me and suggested changes that would have totally altered the story. Most astonishingly, I was told I needed to ‘dumb it down’ because it was ‘too sophisticated’ for the ‘average’ American reader. I rejected that; I don’t think that’s true but even if it is, here’s the deal: I write the kind of books I like to read and I like stories with complex plots, intriguing characters, speed, surprises, and a lot of intellectual meat.”
There were several things the agent said publishers appeared to be nervous about; the first was the FGM and the other Maureen’s critique of religious extremism. “Both of those topics, especially FGM, add to January Moon’s special uniqueness. While we were in these absurd discussions I did my own extensive research about my other options. It was obvious to me, for many, many reasons, that indie was the rational way for me to go. I did so and have never looked back. I’m at a point in my life where I understand the strength of my writing and I’ve been validated as a writer in many other venues and I never believed I needed traditional publishing to validate me. I also won’t pimp my work out for any reason.”
Maureen explains further, “It surprises people that, given my training, I don’t write historical fiction. To that I say, I write contemporary historical fiction and by that I mean that I incorporate many of the hot-button issues in modern society into my stories. I do that to wedge open discussion about those topics and hopefully make readers think about a variety of important topics in a new ways.”
Maureen believes she’s been successful in this because “the one thing I hear most often about January Moon is that people have learned something they might not otherwise have known or thought they even wanted to know. People write me deeply personal emails talking about these issues and sharing their personal experiences. I’m always deeply moved by their trust and willingness to share.”
“People repeatedly tell me that they thought the FGM might be a turn off but it wasn’t. I’ve heard from men and women, Americans and Europeans, and received nothing but praise for how I handled the subject. People have thanked me for tackling it, explaining it, and not sensationalizing. I’ve been told I’ve written with class and great understanding.”
“But January is about so much more. It’s about racism, religious fanaticism, mental illness, dysfunctional families and strong families. It’s about love and hate and loss and there are several really powerful love stories that are woven throughout the story.”
“I spoke before a group of book club women in Chicago recently and was overwhelmed by their love for the story and the main characters. One woman astonished me – she could recite whole sections of the book! It’s been said that I write like a man and some readers have said they were surprised to learn I’m a woman but one lady said to me that I write like both a man and a woman. She said she heard manly voices as well as womanly voices and she strongly identified with a mother’s pain in the book. She said, ‘I know you think like a mature woman and you’re a mother.’ Some of the women told me they thought January Moon was a love story but their husbands thought it was a great cop story. I think that’s fantastic praise.”
Among other academic awards, Maureen has won four Carnegie-Mellon Foundation awards for outstanding historical research and writing. A former legal and medical researcher, paralegal and college history and philosophy teacher, Maureen uses her grasp of US history and popular culture, as well as her skills for in-depth research and analysis, to write cutting edge contemporary fiction.
January Moon is the first in her "Del Carter Calendar Series." The second book in the series, March Storm, will probably be available in the late summer or early fall 2011. Maureen is also writing a history book titled Daylight & Déjà vu. Maureen describes it as “all the good stuff you never learned in school and probably need to know now.”
Where to find Maureen Gill online
Where to buy in print
(4.83 from 24 reviews)
Calls that come in the middle of the night are seldom good, especially when it’s your mother and she’s hysterical because your dad’s got a dead body in his truck -- a very young dead female body in his truck, to be exact.... As Chicago homicide detective Del Carter is about to learn, life can go from damn bad to real damn bad in a heartbeat.
January Moon is a rip-roarin' read!
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- The Last King's Amulet
on Oct. 25, 2010
"The Last King's Amulet" is an engaging work of fantasy grounded in historical analogies to antiquity, most especially ancient Rome, which makes it quite intriguing (and also makes me hope this talented writer will try his hand at historical fiction). The plot is solid but where Northern most shines is in the fine art of character development. At first blush the protagonist, Sumto, appears to be a spoiled, indolent, thoroughly self-satisfied slackard who might be easily dimimissed as totally disinteresting were it not for his ability to be remarkably honest about himself. Northern does an excellent job of revealing Sumto's true measure early on, using Sumto's sardonic humor to reveal a bittersweet self awareness about his character flaws. Sumto's brutal honesty about self is his saving grace and sets the stage for Sumto's plausible development into a thoughtful man, a person who raises eternal questions about life that are as important today as they were long ago. The story ended a bit too abruptly which makes me wonder if the author should combine it with its sequel "The Key to the Grave." Nonetheless, I found this book to be a fun, fast-paced read and I look forward to reading the sequel or sequels and want to repeat that I think this talented author should expand into historical fiction. If you like fantasy you're going to really enjoy "The King's Last Amulet." (Maureen Gill author of "January Moon")
- The key To The Grave
on Nov. 15, 2010
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book's prequel ("The Last King's Amulet") and recommended it highly, I did suggest that it ended too abruptly. Upon hindsight, and having now had the pleasure of reading "The Key to the Grave," I think it would have been more accurate to say "The Last King's Amulet" was something akin to a great Chinese dinner: thoroughly delicious but for some reason not totally satisfying. My hunger pains have now been fully satiated! "The Key to the Grave" is the equivalent of a 7-course feast and "The Last King's Amulet" was but a teasing appetizer to whet the appetite. Taken together, one has no grounds for any complaints and should be fully satisfied. I strongly encourage the author to merge both books into one because neither is well served without the other (my fear would be that "The Key to the Grave" might not be as well received as it deserves if read without the advantage of first having read TLKA.). I praised Chris Northern for his character development in TLKA but it's in this sequel that he really demonstrates the fullness of his talent for characterization and nuanced development. Sumto, as I said before in my earlier review of the first book, was redeemed by his self-awareness, among other things, but in "The Key to the Grave" he matures even more beautifully. In this book we see Sumto's earlier sardonic wit and hedonism ripen into a mature and well reasoned pragmatism as his irresponsible preference for the easy way out is replaced by a warrior's commitment to values beyond one's own immediate self-interest. In this sequel, Sumto's amorality is replaced with a moral awareness (in one example he denounces slavery in a world clearly not yet having gone through such enlightenment) and his innate cleverness is morphed into a richly nuanced intellectualism and wisdom. I especially enjoyed how Sumto respected and then came to deeply love Jocasta and, in the end, found it remarkable that after fighting so savagely for her he had the wisdom and reserve to allow her to claim a far different destiny than the one his own dream envisioned. This ending left me somewhat conflicted because the feminist in me wanted to applaud Jocasta on one level while the romantic in me wanted to kick her in the butt and ask her what the hell she was doing... and do you know why? Because (and this is telling) by then I had fallen in love with Sumto and thought Jocasta was making a grave mistake. To me this is the proof of Northern's success -- having first found Sumto somewhat shallow and juvenile I now found him quite manly in all the best ways and in that regard he became attractive to me. Perhaps in the next book (which I would encourage the author to write) we'll learn more about Jocasta's reasoning and whether it was wise. I hope so anyway because as full as this meal made me, I could still be talked into dessert. (Maureen Gill, author of "January Moon")
[PS to Northern: I'd still like to see you write historical fiction!]
- The Old Mermaid's Tale
on Dec. 19, 2010
Kathleen Valentine’s “The Old Mermaid’s Tale” is an elegantly crafted coming of age story about the healing powers of unconditional love. It is the story of a beautiful young woman, Claire Wagner, who falls in love with the ideal of romanticized love even before she experiences love’s own joys and sorrows. Claire is first awakened to the breathtaking realities of pure sexual passion by Pio, a young Italian-American who yearns for the dangerous life of a seaman. Pio, literally, will become the first and last great passion of her life, serving as bookends to Claire’s journey of the heart. However, the crucible that transforms Claire from love-struck girl to full womanhood will not be Pio but rather her love affair with Baptiste, a mysterious and seductive Breton, a man of tragedy and well as captivating songs of love.
Claire’s pure and unselfish love for Baptiste heals his tormented soul and allows him to claim his destiny. In return, Baptiste’s age, wisdom and ability to nurture and cherish a woman will serve as that most ancient of all mariners’ navigational tools, the Northern Star. The knowledge that she is deeply loved by Baptiste creates within her an inner compass so strong that it will guide her safely home through the tumultuous seas of her own passions and doubts, delivering her into a charmed life that gives her a platform for all of her gifts, most especially her astonishing capacity to love unconditionally and with great purity of purpose. Claire and Baptiste are eternal soul mates who share a love so profound it eventually comes full circle in the fullness of time, giving harbor to others who, like Baptiste, are also in desperate need to recover from the vicissitudes of life. Such souls are in need of safe anchor as surely as any battered ship seeking port after sailing through storms able to sink whole fleets.
Claire Wagner was born into the innocence and security of an age long gone in American history; a period before Americans began to cannibalize their best and brightest through assassination in word and deed and send off to war their own progeny to be killed or damaged beyond repair in grandiose wars of no rational purpose. Like America, Claire Wagner came of age during the social chaos of the sixties. Also like America, Claire had within her the ability to love a dream and understand dreams should be preserved and that sometimes, in and of themselves, dreams alone may be enough. As a historian, I find no small measure of metaphor in the fact that Claire found a way to preserve her dreams and justify her very existence in the arms of an older, wiser man – a man who came from a culture much more experienced than her own. America has always had a hard time looking backward to history for guidance, insisting instead on making its own mistakes. Claire was smart enough to do it differently.
Valentine sets the heart and soul of “The Old Mermaid’s Tale” in a small fishing town on one of the Great Lakes, successfully using the cultural richness of the locale and its locals as the warp and woof of her great love story. The effect is mesmerizing, entertaining, and at times enlightening. This very talented author displays an in-depth understanding and compassion for the lives of the brave men and women who define their existence according to the vagaries of mighty lakes and oceans and an ever present danger that most people will never know and can hardly imagine. The story is rich in folklore and the superstitions of seamen but most compelling when it reminds us about the fragility of our existence. Clearly to Valentine and her marvelously drawn characters there are many ways a person can die but being dead to love is quite possibly a worse death than being lost at sea.
Kathleen Valentine is a very gifted writer. She captures the prosaic as well as the heavenly but it is in the heavenly – in the sheer beauty of her sometimes astonishingly lush prose – that I was swept off my feet. Every great story leaves the reader with an indelible impression or a feeling, an idea that can often be captured in an artfully chosen word or clever turn of a phrase. Some stories leave the reader “breathless,” or “stunned” or “thrilled.” Kathleen Valentine’s “The Old Mermaid’s Tale” left me feeling simply “wonderful,” as if I had been rendered nearly senseless by an over indulgence of fine chocolate, heady wine, hot therapeutic waters, and the sweet caresses of an understanding and satisfying lover.
I’m not sure what else needs to be said with the possible exception that Kathleen Valentine proves being an independent author and being an extraordinary talent are not mutually exclusive terms. Kathleen’s writing elevates the bar for all those who want to independently publish. She has also cast adrift the myth that indies are not the equal of those who are agented or traditionally published. Everyone who wants to write or loves to read can learn much from Valentine and “The Old Mermaid’s Tale.”
(Maureen Gill; author of "January Moon.")
- Each Angel Burns
on May 11, 2011
Each Angel Burns is a masterpiece!
Kathleen Valentine is a gifted author in possession of a variety of talents. She knits gorgeous shawls by the seashore, shawls that are soft and sensual; she also loves to cook old fashioned comfort foods that nurture and heal. Valentine writes non-fiction books about knitting and cooking, and uses her talent for fiction to effortlessly cook up and then knit together remarkable stories about the passions of the flesh as well as the spirit. Each Angel Burns is Valentine’s second full length work of fiction and it is even more sophisticated and cleverly woven than her first, An Old Mermaid’s Tale, which was a story I thought would be impossible to beat. I was wrong. Each Angel Burns is a masterpiece.
Each Angel Burns begins with a wonderfully written introduction to a small group of middle-aged men struggling with the disappointing realities of their ordinary lives. These guys have been meeting at the local watering hole for thirty years since their graduation from high school and Valentine is adroit at writing dialogue that’s true to their blue-collar roots, masculinity, and New England mill town locality; so true, in fact, that it’s easy to imagine yourself sitting on a bar stool nearby, munching Beer Nuts and drinking a brew. Such is the sense of familiarity and comfort that Valentine quickly establishes; these guys are real and it would be a rare reader who wouldn’t know them.
Two of the men in this close knit group of friends quickly develop as central characters in the book: Gabe is a talented craftsman with an artist’s eye and heart, and Pete, the most handsome and gifted man the old mill town ever produced is a Jesuit priest teaching at nearby Boston College. Gabe is the settled-down guy who never wandered far from home; long married with three adult daughters who’ve flown the nest, Gabe struggles to understand how his marriage turned into a meat locker. Valentine’s ability to sketch out a marriage turned as cold as dry ice and just as caustic is astonishing. Gabe’s wife is a woman seething with slowly fermented husband-hate, a hate whose seeds were planted long ago when she married Gabe, knowing full well she didn’t love him. Gabe is excruciatingly unaware that the defect in his marriage is not anything he can correct.
Father Pete is married too but his spouse, Holy Mother Church, is a more demanding lover than any earthly wife. Pete has been a good priest – a faithful and loving spouse – but when the only woman he ever loved, Maggie, reappears in his life he, like Gabe, is suddenly faced with his own middle-aged marital crisis.
Maggie, named after The Magdalene, is married to a man of great wealth and even greater malevolence and after years of abuse Maggie has finally found a way to break free. Her husband, Sinclair, has given her the strange gift of a deconsecrated convent built on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Maggie is determined to return the Monastery of St. Gabriel the Archangel to its old glory and as she works to regenerate the mysterious convent it begins to regenerate her. Maggie’s hunt for the famous and long-lost statue of Gabriel the Archangel that was said to miraculously guard the convent door leads her to an expert on the subject at Boston College… and back into the life of Fr. Peter Black, the man she loved but walked out on many years before.
The Monastery of St. Gabriel the Archangel becomes ground zero in a Manichean battle for the hearts and souls – and lives – of all three of heaven’s namesakes: Gabe, named after St. Gabriel, the patron saint of priests; Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built His church; and the Magdalene, one of the most misunderstood and maligned women in Scripture, the woman of sin with the purest of hearts. Maggie’s malevolent husband is the Devil’s own handiwork; he is a creature of unimaginable evil able to destroy all three as surely as he has destroyed many others. Gabriel the Archangel, however, is determined to deny the Devil his victory.
Each Angel Burns washes over the reader, first slowly like gentle waves on a quiet day at the shore and then as fiercely as a killer squall. Valentine is a writer who is as talented with narrative as she is with prose. Her dialogue is earthy, clever and utterly believable while her narrative is breathtakingly beautiful, at times sumptuous. Valentine blends literary fiction with its opposite in a remarkable story that satisfies all of the senses. Gabe, Pete and Maggie are indisputably the story’s central characters but Valentine presents a compelling cast of actors who support her main cast brilliantly. Julie, Gabe’s brittle angry wife, sucks the air out of every scene she enters and Gabe’s father Mick is a crusty old guy smarting from the pain inflicted on him by his dead wife, a woman whom he robbed of her dreams by his all-too-human love. Gabe’s brother Mike and his wife Daisy are people who have refused to let personal tragedy destroy them and their strength and love for one another plays out like a beautiful but sad symphony. Zeke, Gabe’s dog, is an animal without shame; a brazen whore for affection, Zeke is willing to give as good as he gets and returns love with the generosity of a free spirit as only a dog can do.
Each Angel Burns is sexy and sophisticated and Valentine delivers a few shockaroos that are completely unpredictable. The ending is suspenseful, original, and satisfying and a testament to the many miracles that happen among us – those few that loom large and dramatic and the many that heal and sustain our broken spirits.
Kathleen Valentine has secured for herself a respected place in contemporary American literature and I eagerly await her third novel, Depraved Heart.
Maureen Gill, author of January Moon