Well, This Sucks

Some of you may recall that I spent the spring of 2021 writing a book about the Underground Railroad in Ohio, and I'm sure many of you were thinking, "So, where is the book, Lissa?

After my publisher, The Writer's Coffee Shop, closed in 2017, I found myself adrift. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Self-publishing didn't seem to be the right fit for me, but I have a thing about rejection and didn't want to go out and try to sell myself to trad publishers. I didn't feel like writing a book because it felt like sewing curtains when I didn't have a house.

My first publishing deal fell into my lap. I kind of just decided to drift and see if the Universe would drop something else on me. 

And then it did.

An author friend introduced me to a small publisher here in Ohio. I was familiar with them from some of the books we had in the gift shop of the museum where I work. They were looking for someone to write some non-fiction books for them, and one of them was a guide to Underground Railroad sites here in Ohio. Given my passion for history, it seemed to be a perfect fit. I signed the contract and started working.

Until I came up with a title, I called it "The Underground Railroad Project."

I traveled all over the state, photographing and gathering information on the publicly-available sites. I drove hundreds of miles, perhaps over a thousand -- I never added it up. I searched cemeteries and cities for markers. I went to museums and historic homes, some of which were still closed because of Covid, but I made do as well as I could.

The tomb of Horatio Cyrus Ford

In August, I turned the manuscript in and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I finally called the publisher, unable to take the suspense any longer, and was assured my book was up next. I had agonized for weeks, waiting to hear what they thought and they hadn't even read it yet!

I waited.

... and waited.

I spoke with the publisher a few times and was told there had been some delays, but work would begin very soon.

I waited.

I kept hoping the situation would resolve.

I sent a few emails. Heard nothing. I called a couple of times and no one answered.

My book was supposed to come out in January of 2022.

I finally contacted the author who had introduced me to the publisher and the author checked with their contacts. The publisher was having health issues which aren't improving. I asked for a release so I could take the book elsewhere. I haven't gotten one.

I suppose I could technically go on and take it to another publisher since my publisher is in breach of contract. But it could still be the subject of a lawsuit. I wanted to do things the right way.

And, well, the book is outdated now. I could travel around to the re-opened sites and take new photos of the places which have been renovated in the time since. (Ohio's creating a new Underground Railroad heritage trail.)

But I'll admit to being dispirited over the whole thing.

So that's where I am, gentle readers. In limbo again. I haven't made up my mind what I'm going to do. But I wanted to let you all know why you haven't seen the book I spent all that time promoting.

In the Name of Duty by Sandi Layne


A new Regency romance by Sandi Layne!

The success of Bridgerton has refocused some attention on a delightful genre, the Regency romance. I, myself, hadn’t delved into one in quite a while and this book reminded me of why I love it.

Robert Lord Aberleigh married Georgiana after the death of his elder brother, to whom she had been betrothed. Robert didn’t really want the marriage, nor did he want the title he inherited after the same tragedy that claimed his brother’s life. What Robert wanted was a life in the 12th Light Dragoons. It was the only place he’d ever felt at home. The only happiness he ever had was in the saddle. When fate handed him the earldom, he did his duty – as briefly as possible. He married Georgiana, impregnated her, and promptly decamped, dropping the reins of his estate into his young wife’s inexperienced hands. He then proceeded to ignore her for pretty much the next half decade.

Georgiana proved equal to the task of Countess. Over the years, she became deft at managing the estate. She’s everything a lady should be: generous, kind, resourceful, and dedicated to the welfare of her people. She’s raised her son effectively as a single mother and served as head of the family for her husband’s sisters in the absence of any guidance from Robert.

The Battle of Waterloo changes everything. Robert loses an arm after his beloved horse is shot out from under him by a cannon ball. He’s forced to retire and return to the life he’s always tried to avoid. A life in a home he’s always thought of as his brother’s. This sort of bitter twist of fate can turn a person cruel, but Robert isn’t that kind of person. He tries to treat people well, even when he’s struggling with pain or embarrassment because of his disability. This made the novel much more enjoyable. (One prefers to read about nobles with a noble character!)

Robert’s return creates all sorts of awkwardness. His wife has pretended to be in contact with him all alongwhich protects his own reputation – so he certainly can’t object to the husbands she allowed his sisters to marry – one of them a doctor. The daughter of an earl wed to a man with a profession!  And worse, she had been working as the physician’s assistant before they married!  You had your war to fight, she had hers,” Georgiana tells him. “And with your parents and brother gone, and my father passing, we did the best we could.” She doesn’t add “Without your help,” but it’s painfully obvious.

Here I must pause to say I really wanted to see more about the other sister, Rachel who is deaf. It was an era in which disability, especially in women, could put great limitations on the life a person was able to enjoy, but Rachel has managed beautifully. She’s married to a member of Parliament, so she’d have so many social challenges! She’d certainly worth a novel of her own.

Georgiana is resentful that Robert has dumped all the responsibility on her and hasn’t even bothered to assist her by letter. He’s meeting his child for the first time and wants the boy to learn how to ride, which Georgiana thinks is far too dangerous. But she tries to be gracious as he integrates himself into the life of the estate.

This story is about two people who have to re-learn one another and navigate around scars that have been created since those long-ago days. How can Robert find his way forward in a life he never wanted? How can he win Georgiana’s heart when she’s justifiably angry at him? How can he accept his disability and its challenges and find ways to adapt to do the things that bring him joy?

The tale unwinds against the backdrop of a country estate. When I first read it, I was disappointed we didn’t see the characters in the city, but upon further reflection, I think it was the perfect setting for a story like this. Many Regency novels focus on the glitter of court and its complex manners, but this story flourished in slower-paced country life.

It’s a delightful read and I’m sure fans of Regency romance will love it as much as I did.

In the Name of Duty is available for pre-order on Amazon!

Review of "The Most Happy" by Helen R. Davis -- An Alternative History of Anne Boleyn


This week I read The Most Happy by Helen R. Davis. I had recently read her alternative history series on Cleopatra and really enjoyed it, but this was the first alternative history of Anne Boleyn I’ve ever read. I’ve always wondered about the “what ifs,” of course. What if Anne had survived Henry’s obsession? What if she had given Henry a son and heir?

In this story, Elizabeth has a twin brother, and Henry dies at the 1536 joust. Two small quirks of fate that could have changed everything. Anne becomes queen regent, ruling for her son until he is of age.

What I enjoyed about this novel was one of the things I enjoyed so much about the Cleopatra series, catching references to familiar people and events and lines of dialogue that were spoken in other contexts.

What of Anne herself? In fiction, she’s sometimes been portrayed as an outright nasty creature that makes you wonder what Henry ever saw in her. I enjoyed this Anne and appreciated the balanced view of her character. This is an Anne who makes mistakes and regrets them. She’s certainly not saintly, but she tries to do the right thing both for her children, for the reformed faith, and for the country.

We also see the lives of other figures of the Tudor court play out. What would have happened to Jane Seymour or Jane Rochford? What about little Katheryn Howard, whose real fate was to meet the axe just like her cousin?

But what I enjoyed the most was exploring what might have been if Anne had been able to fully exercise her gifts. She was a sharply intelligent woman with a zeal for religious reform. At one point, Henry trusted her enough to meet with ambassadors for him and choose bishops for the new English church. What if her political acumen had been given wings? I really enjoyed exploring the possibilities with this novel.

Review of "When Women Stood" by Alexandra Allred

I’m passionate about history, but like many history buffs, I get a bit stuck in my own rut and prefer reading in my own time periods and topics. When Alexandra Allred told me she’d written a book about women’s sports history, I realized this was a chance to fix a gap in my knowledge. Still, I wondered how well I’d connect with the topic because I’m not a very sports-orientated person.

I quickly realized I hadn’t thought enough about this topic and how it entwines in so many aspects of women’s history: suffrage, racism, women’s freedom to travel, sexuality, and birth control. This book took me on a journey to realizing the fundamental truth I had been missing: for women, sports represent freedom – the freedom to control their own bodies and their own destiny.

But humanity has always taken a dim view of women controlling anything. Even the aesthetics of the body – one chapter in the book struck a very poignant note. Women athletes wearing snug-fitting uniforms were urged to lose weight, even when cutting calories was detrimental to their performance. Arguably the strongest, most physically-fit women in the country were thought to be too large to be attractive, and if that doesn’t reveal the lie behind the claim that body shaming is because of concern for their health, nothing will.

Allred doesn’t shy away from the tough topics, either. She writes about trans women in sports and the concerns over biological advantage, but it’s always with respect and compassion. There’s a segment about sexual abuse of women athletes that was very difficult for me to read.

I learned about Title IX and women pilots (I never thought of flying as a sport, but it clicked and made sense!) Moreover, I learned just how much of women’s history I’d been missing by not exploring this topic. I was introduced to so many heroes and pioneers whose stories I want to delve into further.

For a history buff, it’s a feast. For someone studying women’s history, it’s essential.

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When Women Stood: The Untold History of Females Who Changed Sports is now available for pre-order in the US and in the UK

Review of "Cleopatra Unconquered" and "Cleopatra Victorious.

 I had the opportunity this week to read two delightful alternative history novels, Cleopatra Unconquered and Cleopatra Victorious by Helen R. Davis. 


Cleopatra Unconquered

I adore a well-researched novel and this one satisfied my cravings. Though technically an "alternative history" there's enough real history here to satisfy even the most discerning of history buffs, and even the "unreal" characters like Isis and Athena are painted realistically.

We see Cleopatra's youth and traumas through the eyes of Isis, who has taken a special interest in baby Cleopatra. Cleopatra returns this devotion as she grows. (She's a Greek by bloodline, but in her faith and traditions, Cleopatra is fully Egyptian.) Isis protects her where she can and tries to guide her to making the choices that will help fulfil a destiny worthy of her.

Cleopatra herself takes over the narration at points and we see how difficult it was for her to navigate some of the challenges she faced, such as the betrayals of her siblings and her quiet disappointment in her father's indolence and alcoholism. Taking the throne is her means of survival, but she also loves Egypt and wants it to thrive. That's why turning to Caesar is the natural choice.

She comes to love this soldier with rough edges, though it will one day be Mark Antony who makes her heart truly sing. But Caesar, despite being ruler of much of the known world at the time, fails her in crucial ways.

We see twists of fate, both small and large, that changed the course of history. The author deftly turns a few of these to give Cleopatra and Antony victory at a crucial moment, opening a huge range of possibilities.

I liked the character of Cleopatra in this novel. I've read fictionalized versions of her life where she comes off a stilted and cold. This Cleopatra loves and worries and has flaws, but wants to do the right thing. She's a woman of faith and ambition, smart as a whip and curious about the world around her. She sees the value of diplomacy over warfare, conquering hearts and minds to outwit her enemies.

It will be interesting to see in the next volume how Cleopatra shapes the modern world.


Cleopatra Victorious

What if Cleopatra and Mark Antony had shaped the pre-modern world?

It's a fascinating question to ponder, and this novel does it well.

In the previous book, Cleopatra and Antony won the Battle of Actium and Octavian was killed. Cleopatra and Antony now control a vast territory: Egypt in the East and Rome's dominions in the west. Their children, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene -- as well as Cleopatra's son by Caesar -- thrive and have magnificent destinies of their own to find.

Would Cleopatra and Antony have been able to keep together the empire? Would Rome have accepted another Imperator, or recognized Caesar's son? Could Cleopatra have won them over and been able to establish herself as a legitimate wife or would Caesar's enemies have triumphed in continuing to paint her as a vile temptress? What if Antony and Cleopatra had managed to use the marriages of their children to create bonds between kingdoms? The book delves into all of the struggles the couple would have faced in strengthening and even expanding their holdings.

As with the first book, the goddesses who protect Cleopatra are depicted as characters with motivations and desires of their own. Caesar joins them in the Vault of Nut and is able to watch the world that they're creating.

As Cleopatra ages, the faith that sustained her never wavers. But she does begin to worry about her soul. What if the sins of battling against her brothers and sisters have weighed down her heart too much to survive judgment?

She also deals with the same family struggles that will be familiar to modern parents when one of her children acts out and seemingly rejects all of the values she's tried to instill in him.

She lives long enough to watch the world around her changing, such as the rise of a new Messianic religion in Judea, something that piques her life-long curiosity. The region fascinates her, despite her enmity with Herod.

Carefully, she and Antony build and strengthen. He, of course, is more attuned to war and conquest while she prefers to fight diplomatic battles and use the marriages of her children to create bonds. Toward the end of the novel, we see how she's positioned all of the chess pieces to leave a magnificent inheritance to her children, ruling over vast kingdoms... if they'd be able to hold onto it.

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, I love a well-researched novel, and though this is alternative history, the real history is depicted with care. A history buff will recognize the real details carefully woven into the narrative. (There was even a small bit of the Apocrypha stirred in!) What could Antony and Cleopatra have built if there'd been just a few different turns of fate?

Revolution: A Short Story

 I wrote this story for Alec Frazier. He intended to do an anthology of stories about disability for his second book, but it never worked out.

Now that he's gone, I've decided to share it, dedicated to his memory. 

Abide, my friend.

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by Lissa Bryan


Holloway Prison, 1913


She didn’t look up when the cell door opened.

“Miss Billinghurst?”

May did not reply. She kept her eyes on the featureless white wall in front of her and tried to steel herself for the violation that might be to come.

The man crouched down beside her. “Miss Billinghurst, I’d ask if you would speak with me.”

He was using her name, and that was unusual. She’d gotten so used to being referred to by her inmate number. She raised her eyes and looked into his face. He was a young one, his cheeks ruddy pink under a shock of ginger hair, his eyes wide and blue.

“Why would I do that?”

“I hope we might come to some…. agreement that might make your stay here more tolerable.”

Tolerable for him, or tolerable for her? Did the tortuous methods of the prison trouble his conscience? May turned back to the wall. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”

She heard him take in a deep breath. “Miss, do you think we enjoy force-feeding you ladies?”

“Actually, I do.” She remembered the fierce grin of the wardress who’d sat on her legs – knowing she could not use them anyway – and the cold contempt in the eyes of the doctor who forced the rubber tube through her nose and down her throat. She’d managed not to weep in front of them, at least. She’d kept that shred of pride.

The door opened again and she saw from the corner of her eye two guards carry in a small table and chairs. A pang of longing stuck her, longing to get off this cold cement floor and sit upright once more.

“Please, won’t you join me?” He gestured to the table.

May thought for a moment, then nodded. “Will you help me?”

“Of course.” He slid an arm under her back and one under her knees to lift her. “No!” she snapped. “Let me stand.”


“I can do it. Please, just help me keep my balance.”

He took the hands she offered and pulled, tugging her upward. For a moment, she struggled to maintain balance, her knees locked, but she finally managed to hold herself upright. Without being asked, he helped guide her through the two halting steps to the chair. He pulled it out for her, a courtesy she wasn’t expecting and it made her smile a bit as she seated herself.

He took a seat across from her. “They call you the Cripple Suffragette.”

May tilted up her chin. “I suppose I have been called worse. But you haven’t told me what you’re called.”

“My apologies. I’m Superintendent Dawson. I’ve been distressed by the reports I’m reading of your time here, and that of the other… other ladies who were arrested with you.”

“I understand. What’s happened to us should make any but the most hardened heart distressed.”

“Why were you sitting on the floor?”

“I’m told there’s a rule about not sitting on our beds during the day, but I’m in my cell all the time because they haven’t taken me to the workhouse with the other women.”

“Ah, yes. That’s because of your… your… “ Dawson paused for a moment to clear his throat. “May I ask… What happened to your legs?”

“I had polio as a child. It left me unable to use my legs to walk without braces and a crutch, but I can use my hands, my mind, and my voice. I will use every part of me that I can in furtherance of my cause. My only regret is there is not more of me to give.”

Dawson sat back, shaking his head slightly. “I admit, I do not understand why you’re doing this. Do you really believe your violence and destructive behavior will get you the vote?”

It was May’s turn to shake her head. “How long have we been writing editorials, article, and books, chanting slogans in the streets, giving lectures and distributing pamphlets, Superintendent? We’ve been asking you for decades now, but you will not listen. We want the vote. We want changes in law to grant us equality. Now people are finally hearing us.”

“Do you Suffragettes really believe it will be accomplished by violence?”

“Again, good sir, we’ve been speaking and writing peaceably for generations and it’s gotten us nowhere. Only now has real attention been brought to the matter. Perhaps the government will realize now that we mean to continue this fight to the bitter end. When men use bombs in war that lay waste to cities, it is called glorious and heroic. Why should a woman not employ same weapons as men? We have not only declared war, Superintendent Dawson. We are a revolution.”

“Revolution.” Dawson chuckled and May felt her eyes narrow. She’d never get used to being belittled no matter how many times it happened. But she took a deep breath and reminded herself that it was better to be underestimated. That way, they never saw it coming.

May shifted in her chair. “May I have back my leg braces and crutch? I fear catching a chill sitting on the floor all day.”

“You’ve used them as weapons, I’m told.”

May didn’t hold back her smile. “I have. We must all use the weapons at our disposal. “

“So you may understand why I must decline to arm you.”

“What if I gave you my word as a lady I would not employ them in that manner during my stay here?”

“Some would say you are not a lady at all, and thus your word cannot be trusted.”

May closed her eyes. She, more than anyone, knew that she and her sisters were not considered ladies by their opposition. And having that distinction stripped from them made them fair game for any sort of mistreatment. During the last protest, she had seen police officers pull up the skirts of her fellow Suffragettes and throw them into the mobs of jeering men.

“Can you tell me what this is?” He laid a picture on the table in front of May, one taken at the last rally. She picked it up, not to look at herself, but to scan the faces of the ladies with her at the rally, still smiling, still strong before everything had gone wrong.

“That’s my tricycle. It’s better for protests than a wheelchair.”

“Where did you get it?”

“I designed it and a friend helped build it. The third wheel is behind the seat so I can turn it like a rudder, and I pump the two handles above the wheel to power it forward.”

“There are reports you used it to ram into the crowd watching the protest.”

May dropped the picture on the table. “Only those who tried to grope the ladies or interfere with our progress.”

“Police officers trying to arrest them?”

May felt heat rise in her cheeks. “They weren’t simply trying to arrest them. They beat the ladies in the street like dogs. Any man who would beat a woman deserves far worse than having his shins bumped with my tricycle. What happened to me at that rally was--”

When she didn’t continue, be prodded. “What do you mean?”

May’s voice was tight. “I mean, sir, that the policemen rolled my tricycle down a side alley. They dumped me from the seat onto the ground as they let out the air from the tires and pocketed the valves. They left me for the ruffians, laughing as they went.”

For a long moment, he didn’t say anything. His eyes had widened, and she could almost see the mental gymnastics he was going through as he tried to justify the police’s actions. “What happened?”

“A group of about five men encircled me, saying vile things. All I could do was stare them in the eye and dare them to do their worst. But something in my demeanor must have shaken them because they stopped. One of them helped me into my tricycle and wheeled me back to my friends.”

“And after that you were arrested?”

May nodded. “The men in the alley said vile things, but the judge who sentenced me insulted me more greatly when he said I was not like the other women of my group, hysterical women who were associated with the movement simply because they ‘sought notoriety.’ As though any woman would seek to be despised by the majority of citizens for attention.”

“You could have paid the fine and avoided jail,” Dawson noted.

“Why should I pay a fine when I’ve done nothing wrong? Even if the fine were only half a pence, I would not pay it.”

“Just as you could avoid being force-fed if you would just eat.”

"The government authorities may further maim my body by the torture of force-feeding. They may even kill me in the process for I am not strong, but they cannot take away my freedom of spirit or my determination to fight this good fight to the end."

Sharp bangs sounded from the door before it opened. “Billinghurst, you’re free to go.” The wardress at the door wouldn’t even look at May as she said it. “Your fine was paid by an anonymous donor.”

“Well, then.” May offered her arm to Superintendent Dawson as elegantly as though they were at a ball instead of a grim prison cell. “Shall we?”

“I want to hear the rest of your story,” Dawson said, but he took her arm and helped her to her feet.

May took her first steps toward the door, toward freedom. “I dare say you’ll meet me again in similar circumstances and have a chance for further questioning. The revolution is not yet over.”

Salvation (Heart of Steel Trilogy Book 3) by Rose Mashal

Let me just get this out of the way first: 


It's genuinely not often that a book surprises me with its twists and ending, but over an entire three book series, Rose B. Mashal kept me guessing. 

I'm going to try to be as vague as possible because I want to preserve the suspense for those who haven't read it. Penny is lonely after her fiancée has an accident and is put into a permanent coma. She creates an android that looks like him, speaks like him, and even smells like him. Through a series of continual upgrades, she's even able to give the android his memories.

But then it seems her creation has become self-aware and develops even greater abilities, and his passion for her becomes all-consuming. But all the while, there are others who seek to control Penny's creation, and Penny herself.

The entire time I was reading, I was questioning Penny. Was she a reliable narrator? Was she seeing things clearly? As she herself wondered, was she, indeed, going insane? Who could she trust when everyone seemed to have a secret motive of their own?

This was not the plotline I expected; this was not the story I expected. It was a wild ride from start to finish. 

Quite frankly, I loved it. It sparked my imagination. Here I am, supposed to be thinking about the book I'm already writing and Rose has my imagination spinning off into a world with androids.

You can find the Heart of Steel series on Amazon.

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