Interview with Author Linda Bennett Pennell + Giveaway

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I have author Linda Bennett Pennell here to talk about her novel. Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel! You can also enter to win a copy the book, along with her other book, Miami Days, Havana Nights, so be sure to enter!


Hello Linda and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

Thank you for hosting me!

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 American 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 her or himself, "Let's pretend."

What inspired you to write Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel?

The Blanche Hotel sits on the main street through the heart of my hometown, Lake City, Florida. My parents and I stayed at the hotel while we were waiting for our furniture to arrive after moving from Georgia. I have eaten many meals is its now defunct restaurant. The scenes in the novel are based upon personal experience.

Opened in 1902, the Blanche, as locals call her, is home to the state’s first elevator and has played host to both the famous and the infamous. Al Capone is known to have stayed there while in transit from Chicago to his mansion in Palm Isle, Miami. Johnny Cash and other artists stayed as well. Lake City has always been and remains the logical overnight stopping spot when traveling into Florida by car.

The main east/west and north/south arteries into the state pass through or near the town, making it Florida’s Gateway City. Being at the junctions of US 90 and US 41, and later Interstates 10 and 95, has benefited the town and county through tourist trade. Being situated thus has also brought some serious negatives. The town and Columbia County of which it is the county seat have historically been the conduit for moonshine and illegal drugs and early on developed a reputation as a wide open area where vice was tolerated and the law turned a blind eye. It was so when I was a child and did not change until a Federal investigation in the 1970’s that led to indictments of the sheriff and local judge on 67 counts of racketeering, graft, promoting prostitution, accepting bribes, drug trafficking, and other forms of vice activity.

The fact that everyone, and I do mean everyone, in the county and for miles around knew about what was going on under the noses of state and federal law enforcement fascinated me as a high school student and saddened me when a friend’s father went to federal prison. Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel grew out of these experiences as I played an adult form of Let’s Pretend.

What research did you undertake when writing Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel?

I am a stickler for historical accuracy so I do a great deal of research in my fairly extensive personal library, in local libraries, on-line, and by purchasing topic specific volumes. If there is a historical inaccuracy, it will be intentional and integral to the plot. Since I lived in Lake City and my husband’s family has lived in the county since the early 1800’s, my sources were my own observations and stories that my in-laws shared. In addition, I have quite a few books dedicated to Florida history.

Did you find anything surprising about Al Capone during your research?

Ole Scarface has been so thoroughly researched, catalogued, and documented that there is little left to uncover. That fact is what led me to create “new” information for my contemporary timeline heroine, history professor Liz Reams, to “discover.” It made her a rising star among her peers!

What was your favorite scene to write?

It was the first two paragraphs of the last chapter. They involved an old dog and an old man and I loved them both! Here they are.

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. Liz watched the pair from the relative anonymity of her front seat, alternating between elation at the prospect of having her questions finally answered and the gnawing fear that this too would be a dead end.

The old man squinted expectantly in her direction, 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, soft 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.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

I cried all the way through writing a scene with a significant death. Any more than that would be a spoiler!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My high school did something fairly unique my senior year. I am not sure whether this is still policy, but that year they divided senior English into semester courses. I took writing for research papers, the requisite British lit, and creative writing. I enjoyed the creative writing the most, but majoring in history and then getting a masters in education put paid to the creative side of writing for me until I retired. In retirement, I have reinvented myself!

What does your daily writing routine look like?

I write everyday; although, it may or may not be on my work-in-progress. I also participate in a cooperative blog, History Imagined. And then, there are my friends and the arts groups on whose boards I sit. Anytime anything needs to be written, all eyes turn my way. Hey, you’re the writer, they all say!

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

Marketing – hands down. I hate it. Except for speaking to book clubs and appearing on other people’s blogs. That, I love!

Who are your writing inspirations?

There are really too many to name, but I am particularly drawn to the works of Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Harper Lee, Ann Rivers Siddons, and Kathryn Stockett.

What was the first historical novel you read?

Mistress of Mellon by Victoria Holt, if gothic romance counts as historical fiction!

What is the last historical novel you read?

The Orphan Train. Writing takes up soooooo much time!!

What are three things people may not know about you?

Two are rather ordinary. 1. I sing soprano I with my church’s chancel choir and Texas Master Chorale. 2. For a time, we bred Quarter Horses. 3. At one point in my life, I had close relationships with gangsters. As a secondary assistant principal, my school district’s Latin Kings and Crips were definitely on my radar!

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I have always loved history. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to hear all the old stories and visit any place of historical significance. I still do!

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

The Medieval period commanded a great deal of my attention for a while. I have read the entire Ellis Peters Cadfael series among others. I also enjoyed the Napoleonic Wars Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. More recently, I have enjoyed anything set in the latter half of the 19th century through the end of World War II.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I am involved in arts organizations and choirs.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I’m so glad you asked! My WIP is set during the Gilded Age on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Think dark secrets, a gloomy mansion, a young woman with her first teaching post, and a difficult pupil who knows something that puts her in grave danger. I hope All That Glitters will be published in late 2019 or early 2020.

Ohhhh...that sounds exciting! Can't wait to hear more! Thank you for spending time with us today!


Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel by Linda Bennett Pennell

Publication Date: July 9, 2013
Soul Mate Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 320 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


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.

Praise for Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel

5 Star Top Pick "...brilliantly written..." - BTSemagazine

"...The characters were so well done that I latched onto them and wanted to know where their journey was going to end up. It's a fascinating read. The way the author wrote this story made it so easy to get a visual of the characters, the setting and just life in general - you could feel yourself in the '30′s, living what they were living and you could feel yourself in the present time, living what Liz was living. I highly recommend it." - Maggie Thom, The Write to Read

4 out of 4 Stars "... a compelling, multifaceted book. It captured my attention from beginning to the end." - OnlineBookClub.org

Available on Amazon



Miami Days, Havana Nights by Linda Bennett Pennell

Publication Date: June 18, 2018
Soul Mate Publishing
eBook; 302 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romantic Suspense


Sometimes our biggest debts have nothing to do with money.

1926. When seventeen-year-old Sam Ackerman witnesses a mob hit, he is hustled out of New York under the protection of Moshe Toblinsky, A.K.A., the mob’s bookkeeper. Arriving in Miami with no money, no friends, and no place to hide, Sam’s only choice is to do as the gangster demands. Forced into bootlegging, Sam’s misery is compounded when he falls in love. Amazingly, the beautiful, devout Rebecca wants only him, but he cannot give her the life she deserves. When Prohibition ends, Sam begs the mobster to set him free. The price? A debt, as Toblinsky puts it, of friendship. A debt that will one day come due.

Present Day. History of American Crime professor Liz Reams has it all—early success, a tantalizing lead on new info about Moshe Toblinsky, and a wonderful man to love. Life is perfect. So what’s keeping her from accepting her guy’s marriage proposals? Confronting a long-standing personal debt sets her on a journey of self-discovery. While she delves ever deeper into Sam’s and Toblinsky’s relationship, her understanding of her own relationships increases as well, but the revelations come at a price. The emotional and physical dangers of her dual journeys may prove too big to handle.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

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 currently reside in the Houston area with my sweet husband and a German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she's a little girl.

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 13
Review at Macs Books

Tuesday, May 14
Review at Coffee and Ink

Wednesday, May 15
Review at Bookish Sar

Thursday, May 16
Feature at The Book Junkie Reads

Monday, May 20
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, May 21
Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, May 22
Excerpt at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away a signed set of Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel & Miami Days, Havana Nights! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Linda Bennett Pennell


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