Al Capone comes to The Bodice!

Help me welcome Linda Bennett Pennell, author of Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel to The Bodice. I’m very excited to host her here! Here’s her cover. Cool, huh?AlCaponeAtTheBlancheHotel_105

Hi Linda, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother’s porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, “Let’s pretend.”

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.

Favorite quote regarding my professional passion:  “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.” Voltaire  

Do you have a day job?

No day job, but I am involved in a lot of volunteer work with non-profits and my church.

How do you balance writing with all of your other obligations? (I ask, because I have yet to find it!) 

It is difficult and getting more so by the day.  A writer friend and I were just talking about this very issue.  If it weren’t for the marketing expected of authors, I think it wouldn’t be so hard, at least for me!  I have made a rule for myself that I will devote a portion of each day, no matter how brief, to some writing related activity.  Man, I hate discipline!!!

So do I, and recently I’ve been really bad forcing the discipline part. I could do lists, but then I’d just ignore those too. What can I say?Entropy always wins.

So, what’s your favorite book of all time, and why? (Because I’m a lit geek, I’ll let you get away with listing more than one) 

Oh, goodness, what a hard question!  I loved Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose: medieval setting, sex, murder mystery, beautiful language, and God. What more could one ask? And then there is To Kill a Mockingbird. I was Scout as a kid growing up in the pre-civil rights South. I related deeply to every word Harper Lee wrote! Of course, don’t get me started on Jane Austen and the Brontes!

I absolutely loved In the Name of the Rose. Who is your favorite movie/TV character and why?  

My favs are Elizabeth Bennett and Elinor Dashwood for the same reasons I loved the novels.  They are both strong women who must deal with the restrictions and frustrations of living in what was, at that time, very much a man’s world.  And I like happy endings!

What are your interests outside of writing? 

I enjoy singing with the Texas Master Chorale immensely! Traveling is also high on my list.

Oh, fun! I like traveling too. I just need the money to do more of it. Though, from my previous travels, I’ve learned that the best vacation stories often come with an embarrassing moment. For instance, when I was in Germany, I was trying to tell my professor about a documentary I saw on chickens. Only I used a colloquial, very offensive term for prostitute. Needless to say, my professor was horrified that the prostitutes were kept in “tiny cages, in their own filth.” It wasn’t until I got to the part about pecking each other’s eyes out that she started to suspect that maybe I meant something else. Ah, the language barrier. So, if you’re willing to share, what’s one of your most embarrassing moments? The only reason I ask is because I am the queen of the embarrassing moment.

Honestly, there have been too many to recount and no one stands out above the others, so don’t feel like you are alone in this. J

Let’s talk a little about your writing. Answer as many or as few as you want…

Is there a particular author who may have influenced you? 

I think any author with a Southern voice has probably had a great impact on me.  I do not consciously try to emulate anyone’s style, but I’m sure the Southern writers have influenced me because I relate to their stories so much.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired this book.

The book, Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel, is set in my Florida hometown. I have a Georgia hometown too, but that’s another story. The Blanche Hotel has stood on Marion Street in downtown Lake City, Florida since 1902 and is home to the state’s first elevator.  Lake City has been the gateway to Florida since the town was founded. It is at the junctions of US 41/441 and US 90, both of which follow the routes of older wagon roads and Indian paths, and I75 and I10. When my parents and I moved from Georgia to Lake City, we spent several nights in the hotel waiting for our furniture to arrive. Afterward, we ate many a Sunday dinner there after church. I have always been fascinated by the hotel’s history. Supposedly, the third floor is haunted by a woman who killed herself over love gone wrong and children who died of fever, I think, reportedly cling to the second floor.  It is said that when all is quiet and one is alone, the sounds of a crying woman and the laughter of children playing mingle and can be heard echoing throughout the building.  I don’t know for sure because I certainly didn’t hear such when we stayed there, but it makes for good stories. As for truth, Al Capone really did stay there in transit from Chicago to his Miami property. Knowing that tidbit set my imagination to churning and Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel is the result.

That’s really cool! What is your favorite sentence or quote in your new release?

I hope you will indulge me. I am going to give you two paragraphs.  I cried when I wrote this because I could see the old man and the dog so clearly.

“After all of the months of searching and frustration, it had come down to this – an old man rocking on his front porch with a fat beagle snoozing at his feet. The old man squinted expectantly, but didn’t in any other way acknowledge the presence of an unfamiliar car in his driveway. The beagle, whose white muzzle indicated that in dog years he was nearly as old as his master, raised his head momentarily and then dropped back into his dreams, nose wiggling, softly yipping, paws paddling after some enemy that only he could see. The old man reached down and patted his companion, soothing him into more peaceful dreams.

They made a good couple.”

That’s a great couple of paragraphs. In their hearts of hearts, what would your characters say about themselves?

My two main characters are female. I think that both of them would say that they learned some very important lessons and experienced important changes in themselves through their experiences at the Blanche Hotel.

Who do you envision as your lead characters?

My characters are such real people to me that I can’t decide who might best portray them.

Do you have any advice for an aspiring writer? 

Yes, I have several tidbits.

1. Writing is a skill, just like learning to throw a football or play the piano. In order to improve, study your craft and practice, practice, practice on a consistent basis.

2. My grandmother’s wisdom regarding creative pursuits: when you get frustrated with a project, put it down and leave it for a while. Do something completely different. When you come back to your project, a solution will more than likely present itself.

3.  Polish your work to the best of your ability and enter it in contests.  Judges of well-respected contests usually give good advice on how to improve one’s work.

4.  Don’t let negative feedback get you down.  Also, do not dwell upon it.  If writing is your passion, learn what you can from it and move on.

5.  Build relationships with other writers through critique groups, and writers’ groups and associations, both in person and on-line.  The writing community is populated by some of the kindest and most supportive people you will ever meet.

Where can your readers stalk you?



Twitter:  @LindaPennell

Tell us about your new release:

Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.

Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan’s self-righteous vigilantism. Jack’s older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancé, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.

Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite the entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.

Do you have an excerpt?  

Here are the first three chapters:



June 14, 1930

O’Leno, Florida

Jack jammed a finger into each ear and swallowed hard. Any other time, he wouldn’t even notice the stupid sound. The river always sorta slurped just before it pulled stuff underground.

His stomach heaved again. Maybe he shouldn’t look either, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the circling current. When the head slipped under the water, the toe end lifted up. Slowly the tarpaulin wrapped body, at least that’s what it sure looked like, went completely vertical. It bobbed around a few times and finally gurgled its way down the sinkhole. Then everything went quiet . . . peaceful . . . crazily normal. Crickets sawed away again. An ole granddaddy bullfrog croaked his lonesomeness into the sultry midnight air.

Crouched in the shelter of a large palmetto clump, Jack’s muscles quivered and sweat rolled into his eyes, but he remained stock-still. His heart hammered like he had just finished the fifty yard dash, but that was nothing to what Zeke was probably feeling. He was still just a little kid in lots of ways.

When creeping damp warmed the soles of Jack’s bare feet, he grimaced and glanced sideways. Zeke looked back with eyes the size of saucers and mouthed the words I’m sorry. Jack shook his head then wrinkled his nose as the odor of ammonia and damp earth drifted up. He’d always heard that fear produced its own peculiar odor, but nobody ever said how close you had to be to actually smell it. He prayed you had to be real close; otherwise, he and Zeke were in big trouble.

The stranger standing on the riverbank stared out over the water for so long Jack wondered if the man thought the body might suddenly come flying up out of the sinkhole and float back upriver against the current. Funny, the things that popped into your head when you were scared witless.

The man removed a rag from his pocket and mopped his face. He paused, looked upstream, then turned and stared into the surrounding forest. As his gaze swept over their hiding place, Jack held his breath and prayed, but he could feel Zeke’s chest rising and falling in ragged jerks so he slipped his hand onto Zeke’s arm. Under the gentle pressure of Jack’s fingers, Zeke’s muscles trembled and jumped beneath his soft ebony skin. When Zeke licked his lips and parted them like he was about to yell out, Jack clapped a hand over the open mouth and wrapped his other arm around Zeke’s upper body, pulling him close and holding him tight. Zeke’s heart pounded against the bib of his overalls like it might jump clean out of his chest.

With one final look ‘round at the river and forest, the stranger strode to the hand crank of a Model T. The engine caught momentarily, then spluttered and died. A stream of profanity split the quiet night. The crank handle jerked from its shaft and slammed back into place. More grinding and more swearing followed until the thing finally coughed to life for good and a car door slammed. Only then did Jack relax his hold on Zeke.

“I want outta here. I wanna go home,” Zeke whispered hoarsely.

Lucky Zeke. Before Meg left home to move into town, Jack would have felt the same way. Now he didn’t care if he ever went home.

Jack cocked an ear in the Ford’s direction. “Hush so I can listen. I think he’s gone, but we’re gonna belly crawl in the opposite direction just to be sure we ain’t seen.”

“Through that briar patch?  I ain’t got on no shoes or shirt.”

“Me neither. Come on. Don’t be such a baby.”

“I ain’t no baby,” Zeke hissed as he scrambled after Jack.

When the pine forest thinned out, Jack raised up on his knees for a look around. Without a word, Zeke jumped to his feet and started toward the road. Jack grabbed a strap on Zeke’s overalls and snatched him back onto his bottom.

“You taken complete leave of your senses?” Wiping sweat out of his eyes, Jack pushed his shaggy blonde hair to one side. “Check it out before you go bustin’ into the open.”

“Why you so bossy all the time? I ain’t stupid, ya know. Just cause you turned twelve don’t make you all growed up.”

Zeke’s lower lip stuck out, trembling a little. Whether it was from fear or anger, Jack wasn’t sure. Probably both. Peering into the night, he strained for the flash of headlights. Nothing but bright moonlight illuminated the road’s deep white sand. Finally confident that no vehicles were abroad, he grabbed Zeke’s hand and pulled him to his feet. With one final glance left, then right, they leapt onto the single lane track and ran like the devil was on their tails.

Thanks for stopping by Linda, it sure was nice to have you here!


Jessie’s War

Take a peek at JESSIE’S WAR, my western steampunk. Still on the fence? Why? It’s only $2.99!
 Wake up, that voice whispered.
She ignored it.The fear and the anger and the hurt were washed away as her ancestors greeted her and accepted her as one of theirs. For the first time in a long time, Jessie belonged.

Calm and at peace, she was stone and sand, the pinion pine and the fast-moving waters of the river in spring. She was sagebrush and scrub and the sky, filled with bright stars.

Wake up, Jessie.

For a moment, she was pulled away from her people, but she reached into the abyss for them again.

She was tufa and hot springs, the scorching sun and the thunderous clouds of summer storms. She was snow-capped mountains and dry, desert valleys. She was the rabbit and the coyote. She was the sleek fish of the great lake, and she was the fisher. She was the mighty hunter and the prey.

She was one and she was nothing. She was so very small and she was infinite.

A sharp sting pierced through the dream vision. She ignored it. Another one broke through. Beneath the chant, she heard something discordant and angry, breaking the melody. The dark pulsed, and the magic began to crack.

“Jessie!” Luke roared. The spell shattered as she grasped for it with desperate hands.

He slapped her face twice more and then picked her up by the collar and set her on her feet. His fingers dug into the flesh of her shoulders, and he shook her so hard her head fell back.

“Wake up! Don’t do this to me! Jessie, wake up!”
Interested? Here’s the link.

What’s a Little Panic Between Friends?

So today I climbed Fort Rock (200 ft drop) and walked the rim of a cinder cone (I have no idea how tall, but it felt really high). Then we went to Paulina Peak, the highest point in the Newberry Caldera. About halfway up, my tolerance for heights gave out. I’ll admit the views at the top were stunning (once the panic had waned enough for me to get out of the truck) and the drive down was better (the passenger side faced the mountain on the way down, rather than my imminent demise).

My self talk for the drive down went something like this:

Breathe, Connors. Oh hey, that’s a nice rock. Breathe. Oh hey, there’s a nice tree. Breathe, dammit! OH CRAP WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! Breathe, Connors. Oh hey, that’s a nice rock.

And then I ate potato chips. A lot of them. Followed by chocolate. I’m not proud of it, I’m just reporting the facts.

Here’s a picture of the view from the cinder cone. I was sweating and shaking too much to take a picture at Paulina Peak, because I swear to God, it was like looking out the window of an airplane. Without the airplane.


What I’m Doing on my Summer Vacation

I’m actually doing this post from my phone, so you’ll be getting more pictures and less talky-talky from me.

Which might be a good thing.

We are now in the middle of our twelve day trek across Oregon. We’ve visited Crater Lake, which had the most beautiful campground we’ve ever been to. Clean, large spaces, and I think we lucked into the best space in the entire camp. We could have stayed in the campground all day long. It was that awesome–so much to do right there. It was fantastic.

So, here are some of my pics. These are from my phone, but if you like them, I’ll post more. 🙂