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15 September 2021

Wednesday Wanderings: To Paris - with Steve M. Gnatz my Coffee Pot Book Club Guest

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Wander through wonderful worlds
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meet interesting people,
visit exciting places
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The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris

The setting for The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris – is in Paris, of course!

But what was Paris like in the late 1700’s?

Paris was a European hub of commerce and culture in 1776 when Benjamin Franklin arrived to enlist the aid of the French government in the upcoming war effort against Britain for American independence. It has been estimated that over half a million people lived in Paris near the end of the 1700’s. Some streets were cobblestoned like the one illustrated above, but many were not. There were no sewers yet. Wealthier people had access to private toilets and bathing facilities while the masses used public baths. 

Paris was home to many artists, musicians, and craftspeople. Grand statues and fountains were abundant. Many schools and universities attracted students from afar. Health care – while in its infancy as we think of it today – was state-of-art for the time. Specialty foods were brought in from distant lands – including coffee and spices from the east and tobacco from America. One could find almost anything in Paris.

Paris was the height of fashion then as now with Marie Antoinette as the Queen. Hair and dresses tended to be spectacular. Franklin once mused he expected that someday an unfortunate woman would topple over from the weight of her hairdo. The public gardens had been laid out in intricate detail over the prior century. Lovers strolled along the river Seine under lamplight at night. Sciences and arts flourished in the “enlightenment” of the late 1700’s.

Franklin was already well known to the French aristocracy from his published experiments with electricity. He was quickly adopted into Parisian high society and scientific circles. 

In early 1777 Ben took up residence in the stately home of an American sympathizer (Jacques Leray) and his wife in Passy (a suburb of Paris) where he had easy access to both the city and the royal palace at Versailles.

John Adams was reportedly aghast that Franklin “acted like a Parisian” in terms of his behaviors in France, but Franklin just seemed to fit right in. Franklin was a natural hedonist. He dined out often, socialized in all the right circles, drank plenty of excellent French wine, and openly flirted with the French ladies. It is a matter of historical debate as to whether his activities with these ladies ever actually resulted in a consummated relationship. But Franklin surely did like to flirt, and the French ladies reciprocated. He even asked at least one to marry him.

In the scene depicted above, described in more detail in The Wisdom of the Flock, Ben is crowned with a laurel wreath by Queen Marie Antoinette to celebrate the American war victories. Franklin, in return, presented the King and Queen with a commemorative gold medallion of his own design called Libertas Americana. It was clearly a time of grand gestures and elaborate hairstyles – other than Ben!

The location and setting of late 1700’s Paris can only be surpassed by the cast of historical characters present in The Wisdom of the Flock. In addition to Ben Franklin and Marie Antoinette, we have Dr Franz Mesmer (of mesmerism fame), Casanova, and naval hero John Paul Jones.  Even Amadeus Mozart makes a cameo appearance in the book.

I hope that you will enjoy the setting of Franklin’s time in Paris as illuminated in The Wisdom of the Flock.

Book Trailer:


1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician. 

Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.

A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim. 

The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.

(Mild sexual content)

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Available on Kindle Unlimited.

About the Author

Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

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14 September 2021

Tuesday Talk: Amy Maroney - my Coffee Pot Guest Today

where guests can have their say about...
anything they want

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Helen! 
[my pleasure Amy!]

Island of Gold, the first book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series, takes place on and around the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus during the medieval rule of the Knights Hospitaller. The novel was inspired by a three-week visit to the island of Rhodes with my family ten years ago. During that visit, I marveled at the ancient temples and crumbling statues of goddesses that existed alongside massive stone walls and forts built by the Knights Hospitaller. Inside the rebuilt palace of the knights, I peeked into dim corridors where stone tablets carved with European knights’ coats-of-arms leaned haphazardly against the walls.

Staring at those forgotten slabs of stone, I found myself wondering who the knights had been, where they had come from, and how they had died. I imagined them on horseback, clad in metal armor, heading out from the thick walls of Rhodes Town to protect all Christendom from Muslim forces in the East. Once I delved into the research for Island of Gold, I learned how wrong my imaginings had been. The knights’ power lay not on land, but in the seas. Their naval superiority was what kept their attackers at bay. At their core, I discovered, the Knights Hospitaller were pirates.

Breydenbach’s Rhodes Town woodcut, 1486,
public domain image from Wikimedia commons

The Order of St. John of the Knights Hospitaller began in Jerusalem during the 1100s as a hospice for sick pilgrims. After gaining papal protection a century later, it expanded its operations to become both a religious and military organization, defending the crusader states in the Holy Land. As Muslims took over the crusader states, the Knights Hospitaller withdrew first to the Greek island of Rhodes and—after their expulsion by the Ottoman Turks in 1522—eventually regrouped in Malta.

The organization’s lifeblood was in Western Europe. Wealthy donors infused the Hospitallers with land, rights and revenues; their sons became knights of the Order and travelled to the Holy Land, Rhodes, and Malta to defend Christendom. Each European region or kingdom with ties to the Order was called a ‘tongue.’ France had three tongues: Ile-de-France, Auvergne, and Provence. During the era of Island of Gold, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller was Jacques de Milly, a seasoned knight from Auvergne and a pivotal character in the novel.

Jacques de Milly
public domain image via Wikipedia Commons

One thing that surprised me in the course of my research was how few knights lived in Rhodes during the mid-fifteenth century. Rhodes Town (the largest community in Rhodes and the headquarters of the Order for two hundred years) housed about three hundred knights at that time. The bulk of their fighting force was made up of mercenaries, some of whom were recruited from overseas, while others known as ‘turcopoles’ were local men conscripted into service. 

Most knights were wealthy second or third sons of noble families. Sending a son on a “tour” with the knights was both fashionable and a demonstration of piety. It was not glamorous, though. I found evidence of a young French knight who arrived in Rhodes only to be horrified by the brutality he witnessed. He wrote a letter home begging his parents not to send his younger brother to join him. They ignored his pleas and the boy was sent to Rhodes as a page and later killed.

That poor Frenchman had discovered what I learned in my research: the knights were pirates, like most seafaring societies in the medieval Mediterranean. They raided Muslim villages in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. They took captives and sold them as slaves (or kept them to build fortifications in Rhodes Town and work their sugar plantations). Mercenaries employed by the Order were allowed to keep much of what they stole. The Order was constantly engaged in negotiations with the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks (the rulers of Egypt at the time), dealing with exchanges of prisoners and attempts to mitigate violence at sea. But both sides routinely broke their fragile agreements. 

Street of the Knights, Rhodes Town.
Unsplash photo

How did all of this affect Greeks in Rhodes? The knights were feared by the people of Rhodes, but they were also respected. As Christians, Rhodians were terrified of a Muslim takeover of their island, and the knights were a bulwark against that possibility. The knights were a source of employment and occasionally great fortunes. Mercenaries who showed exceptional courage or brought back the best booty were sometimes rewarded with homes and lands. The Order needed Greeks to help them communicate with Turks, Middle Easterners, and Africans. They also relied on the Greeks’ excellent ship-building, sailing, and navigational skills to ensure their naval prowess was unmatched.

Of the dozens of academic papers I studied during the research for Island of Gold, there are some illuminating standouts. One of them discusses the archaeological find of wrecked Renaissance-era ships in the sea between Rhodes and Turkey. At that time, piracy was so commonplace that even merchant ships were outfitted with crossbows and iron or bronze swivel guns. Another paper, by noted Hospitaller scholar Anthony Lutrell, delves into the complex world of piracy around Rhodes and Cyprus during this era. His evidence shows that Catalans were the most successful pirates. A character in Island of Gold is modelled after a real-life Catalan pirate named Baldaia.

Another paper, by scholar Terrance Dugan, shows the discrepancy between an assumption that no one sailed the Mediterranean during winter back then and the reality (based on historical records such as insurance policies) that people actually did. The historical record is full of assertions that shipping was closed during the winter in the medieval Mediterranean. And yet Dugan’s findings show it’s not true. This discovery was helpful when I wrote scenes involving winter seafaring.

I never imagined when I first stepped foot in Rhodes Town a decade ago that I would one day write a novel about the place and its history. But it cast a spell on me that only grew stronger over the years. There was just too much dazzling adventure bottled up in all those layers of history, struggling to be set free. Stories of knights, and pirates, and the ordinary women and men who struggled to prosper in their medieval world. With each book in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, I aim to bring those forgotten voices into the light.

medieval hospital in Rhodes Town
Unsplash photo

Island of Gold (Sea and Stone Chronicles)
By Amy Maroney

1454. A noble French falconer. A spirited merchant’s daughter. And a fateful decision that changes their destiny forever.
When Cédric is recruited by the Knights Hospitaller to the Greek island of Rhodes, his wife Sophie jumps at the chance to improve their fortunes. After a harrowing journey to Rhodes, Cédric plunges into the world of the knights—while Sophie is tempted by the endless riches that flow into the bustling harbor. But their dazzling new home has a dark side. 

Slaves toil endlessly to fortify the city walls, and rumors of a coming attack by the Ottoman Turks swirl in the streets. Desperate to gain favor with the knights and secure his position, Cédric navigates a treacherous world of shadowy alliances. Meanwhile, Sophie secretly engineers a bold plan to keep their children safe. As the trust between them frays, enemies close in—and when disaster strikes the island, the dangers of their new world become terrifyingly real. 
With this richly-told story of adventure, treachery, and the redeeming power of love, Amy Maroney brings a mesmerizing and forgotten world to vivid life.

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Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy's readers' group at (Just copy and paste into your browser.)

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