Saturday, November 6, 2010

Katrina Michaels, Guest Blog and Review

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Today, I welcome Katrina Michaels.  She has graciously shared some highlights of her trip to Romania.

Thanks so much for having me here, Denise. Earlier this summer, I took a break from putting the finishing touches on my second book, Dead Awakening (2nd in the Preternatural Investigation Agency series), which was released in September, and traveled to Romania with my best friend. We found ourselves a great tour guide and drove around what felt like nearly the entire country (from Moldova to Transylvania). Yes, I went to Transylvania. I was interested in going since my Hungarian relatives were originally from Transylvania. It was a very unique and interesting trip and I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about it. So, without further ado,  Four Things I Learned in Romania

1) Almost everything I know about the Communist oppression of Romania

I will admit that I wasn’t very interested in history in school. I only took the required history classes, so while I knew Romania was a Communist country, I did not know much about the communist occupation. One day during our tour, it was raining too hard to go to an outdoor village museum, so our guide took us to the Communism Museum instead. The museum was inside a former jail used to house political prisoners during the regime. One of the first exhibits we faced was a wall filled with photographs of people who were imprisoned for opposing communism (see picture). It included pictures of teenagers all the way up to the very elderly. From there, our guide told us the story how the communist party took over via electoral fraud in the mid 1940s. It was pretty apparent that the Romanian people did not want communism considering that over 80% voted for the other party. While the history was interesting, it was much more poignant to listen to our guide talk about living under the communist regime. He told us stories about only getting 7 gallons of gas per month to turning out all the lights in their house at night so they could listen to Radio Free Europe and actually learn what was going on in the world. Apparently, if your lights stayed on past a certain hour, your neighbors would assume you were listening to the radio station and possibly report you. He then spoke with pride about how the revolution in December of 1989 started with university student demonstrations, of which he was a part. All in all, the village museum may have been fun, but this was an experience that was humbling, worthwhile, and eerie and I’m glad we went.

2) Vlad the Impaler may not have been such a bad guy

Many people have heard stories the describe Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, as a sadistic psychopath. During our tour of Romania, our guide told us stories that put Vlad in a different light. Vlad first became the ruler of his principality (Wallachia) at the age of 17, though it did not last long. However, he regained his rule at the age of 25. During this period, Romania was often invaded by the Turks and Wallachia did not have a large population of soldiers. According to Romanian history, Vlad impaled the bodies of the Turkish soldiers to discourage invaders by preying on their fear and superstition. Apparently, it did work for a bit and parts of Romania considered Vlad to be something of a folk hero who strived to protect his people from harsh invaders. Of course the Turks see it somewhat differently.

We also learned that Vlad did refer to himself as Dracula because his father was given the nickname Vlad Dracul (meaning Dragon) after he was initiated by the Emperor into the Order of the Dragon. Dracula means ‘son of Dracul’ or ‘son of the dragon.’ During his reign, German (Saxon) trade routes were also impacted by Vlad’s fight against the Turks and some of the nobles began printing pamphlets telling the tales of the blood-drinking tyrant called Dracula in a bid to get influential people on their side. These pamphlets became widely circulated throughout Europe describing all sorts of atrocities.

Whether it is the Romanian folk tales, the Turkish horror stories, or the German propaganda, they are all biased in one way or another. So was Vlad Tepes just trying to protect his people or was he a tyrant cruel beyond imagination? Well, there is no definitive answer, but it is obvious to me that there is more to the story of Vlad Tepes than we normally hear.

For fun, I’ve included a picture of Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle. Of course, Vlad Tepes never owned the castle nor did he ever stay there. But it was owned by his grandfather at one point.

3) Romania has a large population of storks. Who knew?

Okay, when I went to Romania, I expected to see dogs, cats, sheep, horses, and cows. Personally, I also hoped to see a couple of bats for the ambiance, but it didn’t happen. What I was not expecting on the first day was to notice a very large nest (at least a couple of feet wide) sitting on the chimney of one house and being told it was a stork’s nest (see picture). For the rest of the tour, not one day went by that I didn’t see numerous stork nests on telephone poles and houses. We even saw a flock in one field and another family of storks roosting on an old church. They were everywhere.

4) And the most important thing I learned…

Always have a change of clothes in your carry-on luggage. I cannot stress this enough. Just because your luggage has never been lost before does not mean it won’t happen. And when the folks in baggage claim tell you that your lost luggage will be delivered to you within 24 hours, don’t believe it. That way if it does happen, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. However, your luggage may take an extra day to arrive because it gets sent to Amsterdam by mistake. If you are like me and never traveled with any extra clothing in your carry-on luggage, then I hope you are traveling with a wonderful person (as I did) who will loan you a shirt for the next day since all the stores will undoubtedly be closed when you finally get out of the airport. Unfortunately, you will probably have to re-wear everything else until you can find the nearest department store.

Sorry no pictures. As I was without make-up, hair dryer, and hair products, pictures were officially banned.

And One Thing I Already Knew

Romania is a beautiful country, from the mountains to the painted monasteries to the opulent churches and castles. Despite lost luggage, lack of hair dryers, and extremely hazardous driving with one minor car accident, it was a wonderful adventure. I came away from Romania inspired and looking for ways to work the country into one of my future books. Not sure how yet, but I’m thinking maybe a flashback.

Thank you again, Denise for having me here.

For my last picture, I leave you with a glorious mountain waterfall. Enjoy!

Katrina, it's always a pleasure to have you as a guest!

Here is a review of Katrina's new book, Dead Awakening:

The Preternatural Investigation Agency is back in their second paranormal mystery. This time, rather than the focus being mainly on Tara Daston, the young vampire, Katrina Michaels spotlights her ensemble of investigators, primarily Aidan the warlock, who is dealing with baggage from his past as a CSI. The story opens with a fraternity hazing that goes terribly wrong, ending in the death of pledge, Billy Marcum. But this isn’t the only element of mayhem in the novel. A museum curator, Dr. Dennis Hylar is about to launch an exhibit featuring Egyptian artifacts and a mummy at a local museum. An insurance investigator, Mr. Fuji calls upon Aidan to discover whether a necklace and the mummy itself are under a curse. If indeed there is a curse, the exhibit will not be insured and permitted to open. I won’t give more away of Michaels’ intricate plot and spoil the ride, because it’s an enjoyable one with lots of thrills and chills. Ms. Michaels cleverly intertwines forensic science and magical rituals in a fresh and interesting way. Lest Tara’s fans be disappointed that she isn’t the main focus, rest assured that Michaels has given her plenty of room to grow as a character as the fledgling prepares for her examinations to become a full-fledged agent. It’s fun to see Tara discovering the delights of her vampiric senses (in a somewhat innocent manner) when her romance with Marco, a mortal, begins to blossom. In fact, all of the characters grow and their relationships deepen in this outing. Max, the sassy pyrokinetic, teases her co-workers but shows a genuine concern for them. I found Rick the empath’s growing pains funny at times and touching at others. The conflict between Aidan and Charlie, the werewolf is especially compelling. Tom, the leader of the PIA, continues to try to come to terms with his vampirism, with some insight from Tara’s sire, Alexander. I can’t wait to see more of these characters.
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Denise Verrico said...

Katrina, I'm so jealous! What a neat trip.

Bella Street said...

Great interview. My Hungarian ancestors must've believed those Vlad pamplets because they skirted Romania and stayed in Russia and Germany :)