Laurel by Susan F. Craft

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 | 10 comments

Laurel by Susan F. Craft

My guest author this week is Susan Craft, author of the post-Revolutionary War novel, Laurel. I know you will enjoy meeting this author with a passion for history and a special way with a story. Leave a comment at the end and sign in to the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a copy! 




Fabulous Fridays

Welcome, Susan! I think your new novel, Laurel, has one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. Tell us something about how this book came about.

The cover is stunning, isn’t it? My publisher had two designs created and posted them on FaceBook and asked for a vote. Both covers were beautiful, but the one with the woman and child won.

I wrote Laurel because I received such a strong response from readers of The Chamomile, which is a prequel to Laurel. People felt a part of the Xanthakos family and wanted more. I love each and every character and hated to give them up too.

According to one review of Laurel: “Characters become like family with whom you do not want to part, and the emotions expressed are spot-on for the circumstances. My hope is that there is a sequel to Laurel in the works as the book left me wanting to spend more time with this incredible family first introduced in the author’s award-winning book The Chamomile. In my opinion, Laurel is also a winner and award-worthy.”

So, of course I listened, and there is a final book in the trilogy being released this September. It’s entitled Cassia, in which the Xanthakos family experience high seas adventure involving pirates!

When did you first discover that you were a writer?

I credit my third grade teacher, who read to our class from a novel she was working on. It sparked a desire in me to Laurelwrite and let me know that authors aren’t people “out there and set apart”; they are like me, and I could be one too!

I wrote my first book (10 handwritten pages) when I was eight. I bound it using two pieces of cardboard box sewn together with dental floss.  I entitled it, The Secret of the Whistling Cave. I was into mysteries, having read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on.

I kept my writing to myself in my teen years, and then went to college where I earned a BA in Journalism.  My first job was as a writer for educational television. All the writing jobs I had during my 41-year career where day jobs I couldn’t give up because no one seemed interested in the fiction I was writing. After 30 years of persistence (some might call it hard-headedness) I finally found someone interested enough to publish my work.

Introduce us briefly to the main characters in Laurel, and tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.

Lilyan Xanthakos is an ordinary Christian person to whom some extraordinary things happen. Though she would disagree with me, I think she is brave because she does what has to be done, despite being afraid. A gifted artist, she has a strong sense of family and would do anything to protect them. She is a giving, caring, and generous person.

Lilyan and her husband, Nicholas, met, fell in love, and married when they were both spies for the patriots during the Revolutionary War and when Nicholas was a captain in Brigadier General Francis Marion’s militia.

Except for my terrible sense of direction and inability to find my way out of the woods, I associate with Lilyan more than any of the characters in Laurel, because she relies on her faith to get her through the tough times.

Nicholas…oh, my…well…he makes my heart trip all over itself. I have a place in my heart for this gorgeous Greek who embodies all the traits you want in a hero—bravery, gentleness, honor, faith. (No need to tell my husband of 45 years—he knows already knows )

Here’s how Lilyan describes her husband in Laurel:

She turned over and watched her husband’s chest rise and fall in his slumber, observing him as he lay in a partial shadow cast from the moonlight. His hands that could wield a knife with deadly accuracy—and yet gently rock a cradle. His arms that could sling an axe for hours—but also encircle his child and wife in a tender embrace. His broad shoulders that could bear the weight of a felled tree, and yet they provided a nestling place for his wife’s head. His firm chin that jutted out in moments of white-hot anger—but also nuzzled into his daughter’s feathery curls. Lips that shouted orders so harshly grown men cringed but also whispered endearments to his wife in their most intimate moments. She regretted the furrow that creased his brow, the only outward sign of how much he missed his koukla—his little doll.

Do you have any anecdotes or interesting experiences arising from your research which you would like to share with our readers? Have any of these found their way into your book?

Since I want my history to be right in my novels, I do extensive research and travel to the locations of my novels to absorb, to breathe in, everything I can: sights, sounds, smells.  Thank goodness my husband drives us, because I have no sense of direction and can get lost in my driveway.

The most fun trip was one we took to the North Carolina Outer Banks to research for my upcoming books, Laurel and its sequel, Cassia. In Laurel, which takes place in 1783, my characters are shipwrecked on an Outer Banks island.  Cassia, which takes place in 1799, has pirates.  Between the two books, I knew I needed to learn more about the ships that sailed at that time, some of the nautical terms, and seafaring jargon. In Beaufort, NC, I visited the Maritime Museum where I spent hours in the library that still uses a card catalogue system (at my age, I felt right at home). I learned about the wild ponies that have roamed Ocracoke Island for hundreds of years. The fact that they dig shoulder-deep holes when searching for fresh water made it into Laurel.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

I can’t not write. It’s a creative drive, a passion.

My story ideas come from reading about and researching history.  For example, when studying about the Cherokee Indians I learned how the backcountry settlers hated them for siding with the British during the Revolutionary War. Gangs of outlaws and slavers roamed North and South Carolina raiding Cherokee villages and stole the women and children and sold them into slavery. The idea for Laurel and her aunt to be caught up in one of those raids came about from that research.

If you could spend the day with a character from your all-time favorite novel, who would it be and what would you do?

My all-time favorite novel is Ben-Hur, which I read then I was fourteen, but the effects of that story have lived with me 51 years. I would like to spend a day with Miriam and Tirzah, Judah’s mother and sister, after they are miraculously cured of leprosy. I’d like to sit at their feet and listen to how they survived the horrors of prison and how it felt to watch Christ struggling along the Via Dolorosa, and the joy they felt at being cured and reunited with Judah.

What events in your personal life have most impacted your writing, and how?

I lived a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father. Consequently, I would try to lose myself and find comfort in music and books. They were my escape. I was able to reconcile with my father and forgive him, and, thank God, we were able to love each other fully and share a good relationship for ten years before he died.

It’s my hope that others going through painful times will become caught up for a while in my novels and feel a sense of joy as my flawed characters overcome adversity and experience a happy ending. Sad and frightening things may happen to my characters, but I don’t think I could ever write a book with a sad ending. 

Do you plot your stories out ahead of time, or just sit down and write from the seat of your pants?

I ruminate (what a good word) for a long time before I sit down to write. I have entire bits of dialogue and scenes going through my head – at stop lights, in the doctor’s waiting room, standing in line at the grocery store…

I do have to plot some because I write historicals that require a timeline of events, a template that overlays the lives of my characters.

Can you tell us something that your readers might find surprising about you?

Although at this stage of my life I’m fairly sedentary, I have an ambitious bucket list that includes parasailing, white water rafting, a hot air balloon ride, and a mule ride through the Grand Canyon.  I’ve already done the first two. Can’t get anyone in my family to agree to the mule ride. Anyone interested?

What other books have you written, whether published or not? And what is on the horizon for you?

In 2006, I self-published a Civil War novel, A Perfect Tempest.  My novel, The Chamomile, the prequel to Laurel, was traditionally published in 2011. It won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Okra Pick.  In 2014, a short story of mine was published in a best-selling anthology, Christmas Treasures. My novel, Cassia, the sequel to Laurel, will be published this September.

I have two Harlequin-type contemporary romances in my files, which will probably remain there. One that I wrote many years ago is cringe-worthy. J

I’m almost finished ruminating about The Great Wagon Road, a trail from Philadelphia to Savannah, GA, which immigrants took from 1720-1760 when settling the Southeast.


Book Blurb:

Desperate to rescue their kidnapped daughter, Lilyan and Nicholas Xanthakos trek two hundred miles through South Carolina mountains and backcountry wilderness, fighting outlaws, hunger, sleeplessness, and despair. When the trail grows cold, the couple battles guilt and personal shame; Lilyan for letting Laurel out of her sight, and Nicholas for failing to keep his family safe.

They track Laurel to the port of Charleston as post-Revolutionary War passions reach fever pitch.  There, Lilyan, a former patriot spy, is charged for the murder of a British officer. She is thrown into the Exchange Building dungeon and chained alongside prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Separated from her husband, she digs deep inside to re-ignite the courage and faith that helped her survive the war.  Determined to free his wife at any cost, Nicholas finds himself forced back into a life of violence he thought he’d left behind.

Following a rumor that Laurel may be aboard a freighter bound for Baltimore, Lilyan and Nicholas secure passage on a departing schooner, but two days into the voyage, a storm blows their ship aground on Diamond Shoals. As the ship founders, both are swept overboard.

Will their love for each other and their faith sustain them as they await word of their missing child? Or is Laurel lost to them forever?

Give us the first chapter of your book.

Chapter 1

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

May 1783


Inching forward on a ladder-back chair, Lilyan Xanthakos propped her elbows on her worktable and pressed a walnut shell into the pliant skin of a clay pot. Her face tight with concentration, she gingerly pulled out the shell and admired the pattern left behind.


Once again, her anxious gaze was drawn from her task to the road that meandered through the valley and wound its way up to the cabin.

What’s keeping them?

She turned the pot toward the old man who sat beside her on the porch. “What do you think?”

Callum, his body wizened from years of hard living, hunting, and long-forgotten battles, stilled his rocking chair. He studied Lilyan’s handiwork. “It’s a fine pot, lassie. Like you. Beautiful, strong, dependable.”

Adoration gleamed in his watery blue eyes, barely visible beneath their sagging lids.

She accepted his compliment with a nod, expecting nothing less from the Scotsman who, long ago, had proclaimed himself protector of her and her younger brother after their parents died. Numerous times she had heard Angus McCallum called an insufferable curmudgeon, but he held such a special place in her heart she could not imagine her life without him. Granted, he had no trouble speaking his mind and did so loudly and often. His hot temper, which had drawn him into many fights during his sixty years, had cooled over time, but his opinions had not.

At breakfast, one of the vineyard workers mentioned he had heard General Francis Marion’s men had deliberately not been invited to Charlestown, South Carolina’s liberation celebration.

They were too rough and tattered. That comment had ignited Callum into a round of fiery rhetoric and epithets that could have burned the ears off a donkey. In his eyes, Marion and his militia had won the war against the Brits.

Lilyan gathered her pottery tools—the clam and walnut shells for burnishing, the cord-wrapped spoon, corn cob, and peach pits she used to impress patterns into the pots—and rinsed them in a nearby bucket. She plunged her hands into the tepid rainwater and scraped the slick clay from underneath her fingernails.

As she scanned the valley road, she fought back a niggling fear that weighed like a stone in the pit of her stomach. “Why aren’t they home yet? Golden Fawn knows I don’t like for Laurel to go to bed so soon after she eats.”

“Don’t fret so. Your sister-in-law loves your baby girl as much as you do. She’d die before she let any harm come to her.”

“Not such a baby anymore, Callum. Can you believe she’ll be a year old tomorrow?”

Callum snorted. “A fine wee lassie she is. Been talking like a magpie for weeks. Took her first steps toward me, you know.”

Lilyan smiled at the vision of her daughter, fiery red coils of hair bouncing on her head as she tottered for the first time on her tiptoes and fell laughing into the waiting arms of her Lummy.

She wondered again if she had made the right decision to allow Golden Fawn to take Laurel to visit her Cherokee family.

The village lay only five miles away, but it was the first time her daughter had been out of her sight for any length of time, and the separation worried her more than she had anticipated. Her arms ached to snuggle her precious child against her breast, to bury her face in the sweet, silky curls, and to gaze into fern-colored eyes so like her own.

Wiping her hands on her paint-spattered, coarse linen apron, she rose and leaned against one of the log columns lining the front porch of the cabin. Before Lilyan and Nicholas had married, she’d entreated him to promise that her family would always have a place with them. Fulfilling that vow, he had built four cabins, connected to form a fortress with a center courtyard. Lilyan, Nicholas, and

Laurel occupied the front cabin. The second housed her brother, Andrew, and his wife, Golden Fawn. Callum bunked in the third cabin alone because he “couldn’t take nobody else’s snoring.” And the fourth accommodated Golden Fawn’s twin brothers, with space for winter supplies. It had been a daunting task, but there wasn’t much her adoring husband wouldn’t do for her. As usual,when her thoughts turned to him, her heart tripped.

He’s been out there long enough, she thought as she untied her apron and threw it over a chair. She took the spyglass from the corner of her worktable, slid it open, and trained it on the western side of the valley. The last rays of the afternoon sun danced across the tops of cedar trees, turning them into bright orange torches against the backdrop of hazy mountaintops. The rolling ridges reminded her of the ocean that dominated memories from her childhood. Except, instead of green, undulating waves, the peaks varied from shades of purple and morning-glory blue to a misty gray, one layer folding into the next as if God had raised a giant, silky coverlet in the air and let it billow down to the bedrock below. The mountains served as a stark contrast to the muscadine vines meticulously trellised in even rows, bursting forth in brilliant golden blooms that in three months’ time—God willing—would yield their first crop of ebony-skinned grapes.

She moved the spyglass from the top terraces to search the one nearest the valley floor. Anticipating a glimpse of her little girl, she spotted her brother first, slump-shouldered, leaning his forehead against a wagon stopped on the vineyard path. He crawled onto the back of the wagon among the reels of twine and cuttings and clutched his sides as a spasm seized his frail body and sent him into a series of bone-rattling tremors.

“Andrew’s coughing again.”

Callum sank back into the chair and started rocking. “He’s tougher than you think. Not many men could have lived through what he did. It’s the Cameron blood in him, I vow.”

Lilyan shifted her weight to focus the spyglass on her husband standing a few feet from Andrew. She watched him cut a piece of hemp and secure a cluster of vines to a stake. He had pulled off his shirt, exposing his bronzed chest and long, muscular arms. Strands of his soot-black hair had escaped from his braided queue and lay in sweat-drenched coils at the nape of his neck.

They had been married two years, but the war with England had separated them more than half that time. Now that the fighting was all but over, except for the final declarations, Nicholas was home for good, and Lilyan took great delight in watching her beautiful husband as often as she could. The moment he straightened and jerked his head to the side, she knew something was wrong. She sucked in a breath as he swung around and took off running. Gripping the telescope so tightly her knuckles ached, she stretched her body forward, trying not to lose sight of him as he sprinted between the trellises, slapping away vines that threatened to entangle him.

“What’s amiss, lassie?”

“Something’s startled Nicholas.”

Callum pushed up from the chair with a groan and stood beside Lilyan. The aroma of pinewood campfires and pipe tobacco wafted around her.

He cupped his hands over his brows and squinted into the distance. “Ach! My eyes don’t work anymore.”

Peering through the telescope, Lilyan could finally see what Nicholas raced toward—Golden Fawn’s brothers.

“It’s the twins. On the same horse. Smoke is slumped over. He’s … he’s falling.” Lilyan gasped. “Nicholas got there in time. He caught him.” She clutched Callum’s arm. “He’s bleeding.”

A lance of fear struck its mark into her heart. Laurel and Golden Fawn? Could they be hurt too? Please. No.

Unable to wait a moment longer, she shoved the spyglass at Callum, grabbed up her skirts, and hurried across the yard. She’d traversed only a few yards when she spotted Nicholas sprinting toward her. She charged headlong down the hill so fast that when she reached him, she slammed into his body. He clasped her forearms and gently pushed her away. His broad chest heaved as he took a moment to catch his breath, and then he stared at her so intensely the muscles in her back grew rigid. His topaz eyes, always so full of warmth and a depth of love for her that touched her soul, were now filled with a strange emotion she had never seen in them before. It was fear—raw and bone chilling.

“What?” She almost gagged on the lump in her throat and clasped his arms.

“You must brace yourself, aga’pi mou.” He gripped her arms and waited, never taking his eyes from hers. “It’s Laurel. And Golden Fawn.”

Oh, God. Oh, God. She dug her nails into his skin.

“They’ve been taken.”

About the author:

Susan F CraftIn 2014, I retired from a fulltime career and hope to devote more time to writing and even more time to researching, which I like doing a lot more than writing. An admitted history nerd, I enjoy painting, singing, listening to music, and sitting on my front porch watching rabbits and geese eat my day lilies. Forty-five years ago, I married my high school sweetheart, and we have two adult children, one granddaughter, and a granddog.

My new post-Revolutionary War romantic suspense, Laurel, was released January 16 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC). Its sequel, Cassia, will be released September 2015. In 2011, my Revolutionary War romantic suspense, The Chamomile, won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Okra Pick.

Connect with Susan on the Internet: (my website)  (my personal blog) (post the fourth Monday of each month) (post once a month) (post on the 31st of months that have a 31st)



Twitter: @susanfcraft


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  1. I always like stories based on American History. The stories related to the Revolutionary War are interesting to me. It seems they never get old because they are based on real life happenings in our beloved country. I cannot imagine being so brave in the face of tragedy as this mother was. I would love to get a free copy of this book.

    • Thanks for commenting! It is an excellent read!

    • Hi, Lorilee. For a long time I was interested in the American Civil War era, but about ten years ago became fascinated with the Revolutionary War (which was really our first civil war). I live in South Carolina where many Rev War battles took place. My husband and I enjoy visiting the battle sites and attending the reenactments.

  2. I love her bucket list 🙂 Thank you for the blog post and a giveaway.

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s a great read!

    • Thank you, Irma, I am so glad you enjoyed the interviews! Please note that the book giveaways are specified to US residents only. I am so sorry, but the postage is prohibitive for many authors.

    • Hi, Irma. I still can’t get anyone interested in going on a mule ride through the Grand Canyon. I talked my sister into a hot air balloon ride when we were in the mountains, but the high winds caused the company to cancel our flight. Sigh!

  3. I enjoyed learning about the process of your writing and look forward to your books!

    • Thanks for taking time to comment, Kimberly! I hope you’ll be back!

    • Hi, Kimberly. So happy you stopped by. Isn’t it amazing how different each author’s writing journey is?

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