Romantic Suspense and Thriller

The Book of Hours By Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra

Friday, February 13, 2015

Setting the Scene for The Coin and The Book of Hours

Lately, many readers and bloggers have asked how I came up with the plot of my first novel, The Coin. A more interesting question popped out from one particular blogger who asked, why use the French Riviera for the setting of your thriller? The obvious subtext was, how such beautiful area lends itself for the inspiration of such darkness, and that got me thinking.

The ready answer is always the simplest—I found some coins in a clearing and started thinking about a possible suspense plot. Since I was already living in the area, might as well use it as my backdrop. But the more complex answer is that I needed to show that even in a beautiful environment, there is always a suggestion of the ugly, a reminder of how things were and could be once more. Past events shape and affect actions, both around the environment I lived in, as well as with its people, and humanity always has the capacity to turn vicious.

Basically, it was a decision designed to give my characters depth and to show the undercurrents, political and social, that would have affected them in that area at that time.

Let me explain.

The French Riviera is truly a marvelous locale: gorgeous architecture, magnificent topography, wonderful cultural influences, and historical venues dating back to early mankind. But every time my family would go out to explore the region, there would always be small reminders of a violent past, of nasty things marring the countryside. I will never forget the first time we rode through the roads of the Mercantour (a national park northeast of Nice). The area was simply breathtaking. Huge gorges that the river had sculpted for thousands of years, the road bordering such a river (really scary road sometimes—lots of twists and turns, not too wide, with a ton of traffic going both ways).

But, throughout the length of the gorge, there were spots where one could see huge cement bunkers, remnants of WWII, which the Germans had constructed in order to protect their supply routes and control the area, which was a favorite hiding place with the French Resistance. The area was used by the French Resistance because of the plethora of caves where they could congregate in secret and carry out their meetings in relative safety. The Germans built there in order to further control that activity.

I began researching. I found out that in Nice itself, in the beautiful park of Place Massena, and where one very popular store, Galleries Lafayette, is located, four members of the Resistance were quartered in front of the citizens of the city, to teach them a lesson about revolting against their control. Literally, thousands of people pass that area every single day without the slightest idea of what transpired there, or bothering to look up and read the plaque commemorating the event.

I asked my neighbors about witnessing it and about their experiences in the war, and I found out they had been forced to work for the Germans and that my own neighbor’s cousin had been shipped to a concentration camp for stealing potatoes so that the family could eat. The woman, quite similar to my main character’s neighbor, used to go hunting at night for dandelion leaves in order to eat. She was almost caught once by the Germans, but she ran away to tell the tale.

Her husband was almost shot, together with many other forced labor workers, because one had complained. The Germans thought it would be fun to torment them that way. Every time we would go explore in the direction of St. Vallier de Thiey, we would pass the area where my neighbor was almost shot.

My neighbors were the lucky ones, but their experiences made them strong, not afraid of adversity, and capable of courageous acts.

That is when I decided to use my background as a Cuban who fled to America to give my main character, Gabriela, her depth. She is compassionate, strong of character, and not afraid to face adversity because of what she experienced. She would not back down when faced with a maniac, despite her fears.

With Richard, the hero, his past experiences gave him depth. It made him cynical, especially when dealing with women. His experiences as an intelligence officer have shown him a window into a portion of unredeemable humanity. He, as well, is strong of character, not afraid to face hardship, and will do anything in order to get the job done. So, when Richard is thrown into a situation where he needs to protect Gabriela, he finds not only a kindred spirit, but also encounters someone worthy of protection and love. It brings out the nobility in him. It will make him sacrifice for the one whom he loves.

Which brings us back to the setting: just like a good character, a beautiful place can harbor secrets.

Book Blurb
For artist Gabriela Martinez, psychopaths do strike twice. In The Coin, two star-crossed lovers were cruelly used by fate—and now, in The Book of Hours, destiny isn’t done.

Back then, Gabriela almost lost her life to a psychopath hoping to claim her artwork, her career, her body, and her love. If not for Richard, the operative sent to protect her, she would have fallen victim to his twisted vision.  The dramatic showdown pushed Gabriela and Richard together, even in the face of countless obstacles.

With someone new threatening Gabriela.

With an even more dramatic threat looming, and far more to lose, if they don't stay one step ahead of the danger, their lives, their love, and their future may very well go up in flames.

Author Bio
Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra is a full-time novelist based in North Carolina. With Cuban roots, she has lived in many countries, including France, the setting for her first novel, The Coin. She speaks English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German, and reads Latin, Middle English, and old French. She holds a Masters in English literature, specializing in medieval romances, and is currently an active member of the Carolina Romance Writers. She loves to hear from her readers, and always hopes to open a dialogue with her fans.

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