Tuesday, February 26, 2013


"A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation."

On March 5th, The Chalice, the sequel to The Crown, will be published in North America. Once again, Joanna Stafford comes up against the most powerful men of the land. Based on detailed research into the tumultuous late 1530s, it's a mystery, an untangling of the political threads of the deadly court of Henry VIII, a poignant romance and a race-against-the-clock conspiracy tale. Think Day of the Jackal meets The Tudors.

Screenwriter Christie LeBlanc and filmmaker Norman LeBlanc, two extraordinarily talented people, created a book trailer for The Chalice that captures its adventurous yet eerie mood.

Without further ado, the Book Trailer! (Hit full screen, far right, to get the full impact.)

Isn't that intriguing?

To find out more about the book, read my interview with International Thriller Writers,  the book's earliest review from Kirkus and a recent review from respected British author M.M. Bennetts.

As for this wonderful book trailer, I asked Christie to share how she created it. The first step...I mailed her one of the first advance galleys of The Chalice. :)

Says Christie: "My aim was to make something visually cool on a shoestring budget that didn't allow for live action. Armed with Adobe Creative Suite and just barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, I pieced together stock footage and photos, and mixed in a dash of original material.  Then I hunted down some fabulous music! When I wasn't happy with the result, I used Norman's amazing skills without mercy. He finessed it until we ended up with a final product we both loved and hoped would do justice to a fine book."

Christie is one talented writer--and don't take my word for it. Follow her on The Single Screenwriter.

And remember: The clock is ticking...The Chalice is almost here!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Valentine's Day, Third Century Style

By Nancy Bilyeau

I'm delighted to be a part of Maria Grace's Hearts Through History Hop. This blog hop gives me a chance to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: researching the often strange and surprising origins of our culture's holidays, whether it's Halloween or New Year's Day.

Now clearly this hop is the occasion for a blog post about romance. Believe me, I would like to be able to deliver a sweet and touching historical anecdote. I tried. I really did. But you don't find hearts and flowers when you get to the beginning of the story of Valentine. You find martyrdom, imprisonment, plague, and death by clubbing. It's hard to conceive of anything less romantic than death by clubbing.

The Catholic Church distanced itself from St. Valentine's Day a while ago, and not because of any sort of distaste for chocolate hearts or hand-holding. The evidence that there really was a person who committed acts worthy of sainthood is fragmentary. Valentine is one of the "saints whose cult is larger than themselves, so to speak," according to Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints. In 1969, the Pope quietly dropped Valentine's Day from the official calendar of saints' days.

The consensus seems to be that Valentine is based on a Christian priest of that name who lived in Rome when the official religion was still pagan, during the reign of Claudius Gothicus, from 268 to 270 AD. This was not a proud time in the history of the empire. Rome did not decline steadily from the glorious reigns of Julius and Augustus Ceasar to the crumbling under Honorius in 423 AD. There were peaks and valleys. This was a valley. Emperors rapidly succeeded each other through assassination in the mid-Third Century. There was death by poison, death by strangulation, death by hanging, death by being dragged naked from the back of a chariot through the streets. The year 238 AD saw six different emperors.

Claudius Gothicus
Claudius Gothicus, the Ceasar who would, legend has it, confront Valentine, was born a peasant in what is now Bosnia and rose rapidly through the ranks of the army. He was popular with the soldiers, a very tall man who liked to fight. His specialty was knocking out the teeth of an opponent, including, once, an opponent's horse. He played a key role in the assassination plot that eliminated Emperor Gallenius in Milan. The Rome that Claudius took charge of was near-bankrupt, with rebel populations causing lots of trouble in German and France in the West, and Syria in the East. Claudius desperately needed more soldiers in the Army, and he tried to officially discourage men from marrying. 
Valentine and the Virgin

As the story goes, Claudius heard that the  priest Valentine was busy marrying Christian couples, in defiance of the emperor, and ordered him arrested. Pressure was put on Valentine to abandon his faith; he refused. The emperor decided to visit Valentine in prison. During this meeting, instead of being meek and obliging, Valentine tried to convert Cladius to Christianity. Disgusted, the emperor ordered his execution. Valentine was clubbed to death and then beheaded.

Three centuries later, long after Claudius died of the plague, a pope declared February 14th Valentine's day. One theory is that the Catholic leaders really wanted to banish the mid-February fertility celebration of Lupercalia. (What happened during Lupercalia? Let your imagination run wild and you still haven't come close.) Naming the day in honor of the martyred Valentine seems a wee random today. Nonetheless, the new holiday stuck, and in medieval times, all sorts of romantic stories were told. 

Shrine in Dublin
Did any of these sweet tales have anything to do with the Third Century Valentine? Only one--that the night before the rebellious priest was to be executed, he wrote a letter to the daughter of his jailer, and signed it "Your Valentine." The first Valentine's Day card was born.

It's a story perhaps lacking in historical probability. But in the spirit of the blog hop, I'm sticking with it!

To read stories from other historical writers, jump on the hop. Here is a list of bloggers:

Hop Participants
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
  17. Georgie Lee
  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
  20. The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
  21. A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
  22. Karen Aminadra
  23. Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos

I've written a historical thriller set in Tudor England called The Crown, with a protagonist who is a Dominican novice. The sequel, The Chalice, will be published on Feb. 28th in the United Kingdom and on March 5th in North America. 

If you'd like to win a signed hardcover of The Chalice, please comment below. Include your email address, so I can get in touch with you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


It's one month until The Chalice is published in North America--March 5th--and the early reviews from fellow authors and magazines are coming in. I'm very grateful for the time taken to write these reviews of my second novel.
"Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII's reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed." (C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen's Vow )

"Superbly set in the political and religious turmoil between Henry VIII's queens Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, The Chalice is a dark, twisty thriller that I couldn't put down. Nancy Bilyeau's extensive historical research makes the sense of dread, danger, and mysticism permeating this era tangible. Ex-Dominican novice Joanna Stafford is an especially compelling and sympathetic heroine—I adored her!" (Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens )

"An exciting and satisfying novel of historical suspense that cements Nancy Bilyeau as one of the genre's rising stars. The indominable Joanna Stafford is back with a cast of powerful and fascinating characters and a memorable story that is gripping while you are reading and haunting after you are done. Bravo! The Chalice is a fabulous read." (M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist )

The Chalice offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England's most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don't let you go even after the last exciting page. (Karen Harper, author of Mistress of Mourning )

"[A] layered book of historical suspense." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Anyone who's into English history will be engaged by every page." (Suspense Magazine)