book review, Interview, New Book, review, Writing

Queen’s Innocence

Today, we’re going to be exploring a book with a much darker theme than most we share. But often, the books with the harshest look at reality are the ones most important to read. After all, is there anything more frightening in the world than the things that we, as humans, do to one another?

I was recently approached by author D. Odell Benson concerning her novel Queen’s Innocence, a realistic look at the practice and aftermath of human trafficking in the life of one girl. While this book holds subject matter that may be difficult to read, perhaps after learning a bit about its author and how she created Aaliyah in Queen’s Innocence, you’ll add it to your reading list.

Aaliyah was born into a loving family with two parents, a full toy box, and the carefree innocence that children inherently have. But when her father crosses the line and assaults her, Aaliyah’s life if turned upside down and the once promising trajectory veers sharply off course.

She rapidly slips through the cracks, the police and foster care failing her at every turn. She passes through the hands of doctors and case workers, warehoused and ignored. When it does come time for freedom, she leaves the system only to be forced into a new type of system, one where women are a commodity to be bought, sold, and abused.

But as Aaliyah grows and is faced with the ability to retake her power, there are those who don’t wish to lose out on the money she can earn them. Can she break free of years of bondage, or will Aaliyah become yet another statistic?

I’m sorry to leave the description on such a cliffhanger, but Aaliyah’s journey is the book. Unless you can walk beside her and really take in all the trials of her teens and adult life, you can hardly appreciate the work Benson has created. Still, Aaliyah’s story isn’t just words on a page, it’s the end result of months of research and true stories that are reflected on the pages.

Human trafficking isn’t just something that exists on the fringes of society in seedy motels and back alleyways. It happens in the penthouses in New York City, the farmlands of Iowa, the split level home next door, and the streets of your own town. This includes my own area, no matter how quiet my middle class, suburban streets now are.

I was born in Atlantic City, which hasn’t had the best reputation. If you’re out on Pacific Avenue at night, you might see “the girls” strolling the sidewalk, trying to make eye contact with the bachelor parties as they walk to yet another strip club. You might see a man parked down one darkened street, watching “his girls” and ensuring they don’t leave the fold, collecting his cut after ever job. For people born in my area, that’s just part of casino life, but many of those women don’t choose to be there. Drug addiction, mental illness, abusive relationships, and even poverty brings the human traffickers. And once you’ve been taken into that life, it’s often difficult, if not dangerous, to leave.

Now that we’ve discussed the book and why I found this novel particularly engaging, let’s get to know D. Odell Benson and find out what brought her to write Queen’s Innocence.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your journey toward becoming a published author.

I am an introvert that is generally the life of the party/event. I believe that being nice to people will cost me nothing, so I make sure I offer a smile when I can. Considering life has not expiration date, I live with my heart on my sleeve, even towards strangers, loving unconditionally. That’s the most important thing about me, well that’s what I would like to believe.

My journey truly started in 2013. I was working full-time on my Master’s Degree coupled with full-time employment; but still felt that I could do more, which doesn’t happen often. See, I have ADD (attention deficit disorder) so focusing on one thing has always been a challenge for me; but, for some reason I was able to write in pure tunnel vision. The joy and adrenaline that came from the first five chapters gave me a lease on life that I have never felt before and one I refuse to live without. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve written thousands of short stories and poems throughout the years, but writing a novel is a total different beast and I love it.

2. What inspired you to write Queen’s Innocence?

The inspiration to write Queen’s Innocence came from my own daughter. A toddler doesn’t see or understand the dangers around them. Everything is fun, bright, and peaceful. These are innocent souls that we as adults are supposed to care for and keep safe; but how do you keep your child or the children around you safe when no one speaks of the dangers. I want people to speak on these dangers. I feel that Society as a whole has gotten into this “mind your business” phase and it’s more damaging to the younger children that didn’t ask to be here.

3. What was the inspiration behind the character of Aaliyah?

Aaliyah is you or me or even the girl next door. The things she did during the day, playing with dolls and sitting in front of the television waiting for her favorite show. This is typical child behavior. I thought about myself as a child, and incorporated my two oldest nieces and was able to see the innocence even at that age. I want people to see that Aaliyah can be any child, male or female. In a single parent home or a home with two parents. A happy thriving child can be a victim too. It’s not just “bad” or low poverty areas, Aaliyah is in every household, good, bad, or indifferent.

4. Your biography states that you were born in Philadelphia (this makes us almost neighbors!) did the city of your birth lend any inspiration to your work?

Yes, a lot of my work either starts here, ends up here, or crosses path with the City of Brotherly Love in some way. The inspiration for Queen’s Innocence and Philadelphia conjoins by the hopefulness of neighbors. Abuelo is anyone’s father or grandfather. I grew up on Bellevue Street in North Philadelphia where there was always a man somewhere telling you not to do something or will provide us with something we needed in order to keep our game going. Older men generally are essential to urban communities.

5. Aaliyah seems to “bounce back” from things fairly quickly for having been through so much, including the assault and drug addiction, so much so that her wit is sharper than one might expect for a young, abused teen. Why did you decide to make her such a resilient character?

Growing up in the City you see at a young age that things can go horribly wrong. You can either allow it to consume you or you can consume it and move forward. Not all “victims” remain victims, more times than not they become victorious; because in them, is something stronger, deeper, something that they were given at birth. The ability to recognize the World’s truths but the understanding that you and only you  can show someone else that it’s okay to hurt, to cry, to lash out, but time waits for no one; not even the victim. Aaliyah saw first hand what giving up looks like. Most women forced into human trafficking can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes the drugs forced on them is the one thing keeping them. Being resilient comes with seeing the “what if”. Aaliyah’s thought is that of a person that sees the bigger picture, help someone else to move on. See, she has her rock, she has the person that showed her even through her own doubt that he would be there, he would protect her. Not all victims will get that, Aaliyah knew this much because if it weren’t for Elijah, King (aka Lee) would have sold her back into what he rescued her from.

6. Much of the content of the book was fairly graphic. Did you find that difficult to write and research?

It was hard, it made me cry at points, completely breakdown in others, and wanted to throw the entire storyline out. That’s when it hit me, if I can have these feelings, if I can go through the thoughts and visuals of being sold off, raped, and drugged; why not show others that this is real. That this really happens to people and it’s not all flowers and unicorns. Life is hard, it’s breathtaking, unbearable, scary, the thought itself is scary and deep down I hurt. I hurt in a place that I want others to feel. I want others to feel as hopeless as I did when I was writing, rewriting, and reading. I want others to get into this fight and help because the hurt deep down is too much to bear for one person.

7. How much research did you do into the topics of human trafficking, foster care, mental health, childbirth, and drug addiction before beginning your project?

I started research on prostitution, that’s when my eyes were wide open for the first time. It took me a few months to do the research needed for human trafficking and about a month to speak to some people that are in the field of prostitution, and how they got to where they are today.

8. In your opinion, how can the public work to end human trafficking?

Speak up, stop minding your business, be observant of people and vehicles that are not normally there. Our biggest issue in society is that we moved away from the term, “it takes a village to raise a child.” If you’re not willing to be that voice, I understand. There’s a website www.wearethorn.org it’s ran by a group of individuals that are passionate about helping those abused. If fighting against human trafficking is too much, donate to the organization above. I am not affiliated with this organization in any way, but a portion of my earnings from Queen’s Innocence will be donated to help them in their quest to make the World a tad bit better.

9. How long did it take you to write Queen’s Innocence?

With research and mental breakdowns, it took about ten months. I actually started this book and a few others on Facebook. I thought it was something different and wanted to pull people together by offering parts of my books for free.

10. What do you want readers to take away from this book?

That human trafficking is real. It can take place in the hood, the suburbs, and even those places where millions are spent just on lawn care. There’s no monetary gauge on where and who can be taken. I don’t want to put fear into people and make them not want to do things, I just want people to be more mindful of their surroundings, mindful of the children that may yell out for help. Don’t mind your business, let your voice be heard, and possibly save a life.

11. Do you have any plans to continue Aaliyah’s story?

As of right now, I don’t plan to continue Aaliyah’s story. I want to leave her off as being an inspiration to others, a victorious survivor.

12. Readers might think that Aaliyah has allowed the negative parts of her life to take over the rest, for example when she recounted the rape and subsequent abuses at her wedding speech. What are your thoughts?

We grow by our mistakes, by our journey no matter how bumpy it is or terrifying the truth is, we grow. When there’s something to this magnitude, talking it out is the best way. Others wouldn’t be able to know they aren’t alone if Aaliyah doesn’t speak on it. Her pain can be someone else’s salvation.

13. What books, if any, do you have planned to tackle next?

I am looking to release Married Assassin on June 2nd during Bookcon. I will be at the event for a workshop and a few panels but I will not be on display this year.

Overall, I found this book to be engaging and raw. It was difficult to read at times, due to the harsh subject matter, but I find that that’s what makes it an important work. While parts were dramatized in a “Lifetime Movie” way that made them almost unbelievable, the themes were universally understandable across the board. I recommend this book to any reader over the age of 18 who wants to learn more about clawing your way back to the light.

To keep up to date with all D. Odell Benson’s work, order one of her books and learn more about her, please visit her at any of her platforms:

history, New SHow, outlander, television

The History Behind “Voyager”

As we wait for season three of Outlander‘s TV show with bated breath, there’s never a better time to talk about book three in the series, Voyager. So, in this post, I’ll be discussing what real life events, people, places, and laws were brought into book three that we hope are mirrored in season three! And since I use any chance to use my history degree, this will contain some historically accurate spoilers. So if you hate spoilers, or want to read Voyager before the show airs, read no further! This is a spoiler filled post that takes no prisoners.

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Dun Bonnet Cave

I’ve talked a bit about the use of this real life story before here, but let’s revisit it, as it will probably get some major screen time in season three.

So, there was a real life Scot named James Fraser, the 9th of Foyers, who joined Simon, Lord Lovat, on the battlefield of Culloden in support of Bonnie Prince Charles. Well, as we all know, those who fought for Charles were basically killed, imprisoned, shipped off to the colonies, or lost their lands. Well, James Fraser was having none of that, so he found a cave near the waterfall of Foyers, where he hid for seven years.

Luckily, his people were rather fond of him, and kept his whereabouts secret from the redcoats, calling him “Bonaid Odhair”, which means, “Dun Coloured Bonnet”. And the similarities to the Diana Gabaldon tale don’t end there! A young boy, who often brought supplies to James Fraser in the cave has his hand cut off when he was caught by the redcoats. Sorry, Fergus!

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Scotland and Slavery

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This is something that many people don’t know much about, but it means that many Americans who have some Scot in their family history could have ended up in the States after their ancestors were sent there in chains. Although many families did flee willingly once strict laws were enacted and famine and poverty hit Scotland. By the way, the use of the word “slavery” is still under historical debate. This is because the Scottish people deported by the British often had an end date to their sentence, unlike the African slaves who often lived their entire lives in cruel captivity.

Anyway, the British government wasn’t too pleased with the Scottish after the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745. But what to do with all the able bodied men who might rise up again if given the chance? Easy, ship them to the colonies to work the farms! They can make money for the crown and be far away from their comrades in arms.

It’s said that 1,500 to 2,000 highland “convicts” were sent to the North American colonies or the Caribbean colonies every year after the 1715 rebellion. Mostly, they were given terms of three to seven years of hard labor on plantations, or other labor heavy jobs, to “work off their debt”, if they weren’t forced into servitude indefinitely. Some didn’t even gain their freedom until they fought for England in the American Revolution!

However, there were Scots who actively participated in the Slave trade who weren’t servants, but plantation overseers and paid workers. This is seen in Voyager as Kenneth MacIver, who was Jared’s overseer at his Jamaican plantation. While this is a dark part of Scottish history, it is part of history nonetheless. Some wealthy Scots, such as Colonel John Campbell from Inveraray, who owned one of the larger sugar plantations in Jamaica. Today, the Campbell name is widespread in Jamaica, although those Campbells may never know if they descended from owners, servants, or anything in between. There are also dozens of places within Jamaica that share the same names as places in Scotland, such as Culloden, Argyle, and St. Andrews.

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Dress Act of 1746

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On August 1, 1746 the wearing of “Highland Dress” was made illegal by the British crown. This included tartans, kilts, and shoulder belts. It was a way for the British to try and cut the ties that connected the members of the clans and seemed effective in breaking down some of the allegiances. What made it so effective was the harsh punishments that would be enacted if someone broke this law. For the first offense, the person would be imprisoned for six months and if they were caught again, they would be sent to the colonies and engage in hard labor for seven years.

The only Scots who could still wear the tartans were members of the British military, more notably in the Black Watch. The Black Watch was an infantry battalion that was originally made up of members from Clan Grant, Clan Campbell, Clan Fraser of Lovat, and Clan Munro. They were first tasked with keeping the highlands at bay by collecting weapons and policing for any signs of uprisings.

Use of the Dress Act can be seen in Voyager, when Jamie claimed a piece of green checked Mackenzie tartan that was found in the prison in order to save the skin of young Angus Mackenzie. For the offense of having this strip of plaid, he was sentenced to thirty lashes. This also means that we won’t be seeing many kilts or plaid this season.

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Selkies

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So this is something that’s talked about a bit in book three and stuck out to me, as I’m a huge fan of this particular mythical creature. The Scottish refer to them as “maighdeann-mhara”, or “maidens of the sea”.

There are many legends that surround the selkies. They are said to live in the sea as seals, but sometimes come upon shore, shedding their seal skins and becoming beautiful women, or even men. If someone hides a selkie’s seal skin, they can take the selkie as a husband of wife, and they apparently make wonderful spouses. But, as in many Scottish tales, there is often an unhappy ending. A selkie never feels completely at ease on land, and if they ever find their hidden seal skin, they will return to the sea, never seeing their human husband or wife again.

We hear a lot about seals and a bit about selkies, called “silkies” in Voyager when it comes to the hidden gold on the seal’s island…and even Jamie’s own mother. Jamie tells Claire that people used to say that his mother Ellen had run away from Castle Leoch to join the silkies, because his father, Brian, resembled one who had shed his seal skin to walk on land.

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Real Jacobite Gold

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As we all know, the Jacobite treasure in Voyager was given by the French and hidden away. But there is some real Jacobite gold that some say is still hidden in Loch Arkaig in Scotland.

Two ships called Mars and Bellona came to Scotland with 1,200,000 livres of French and Spanish money.  But the ships heard about the Jacobite defeat at Culloden and ditched the seven cases of money at a port in Loch nan Uamh. One case was stolen by the MacDonalds and the seven others were secretly taken to Loch Arkaig by Murray of Boughton, who started giving money to the Scottish clan chiefs. But when Murray was captured by the British, the money was taken over by the chief of Clan Cameron and then by the head of Clan Macphearson. Macphearson spent much of his time hiding in a cave at Ben Adler…eight years of time, in fact.

Anyway, Charlie hightailed it out of Scotland and into France, leaving his money behind. But a failed king is no good to anyone and old Charlie was beginning to pine for his gold. But it, apparently, was never seen again. It’s assumed that Macphearson kept it all, but no one knows. It could still be hidden somewhere in Loch Arkaig.

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Pirates

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When I started reading the series, I never thought that I would see a pirate ship in the distance. But as we’ve read, Young Ian is kidnapped off the coast of Scotland by a bunch of pirates aboard the Bruja, which is Spanish for “witch”. Long story short, the Bruja makes it to port in Barbados, and hands Ian, along with the Jacobite gold he was in the process of taking when he was captured, to Mrs. Abernathy. The ship is later destroyed, but the damage is done and they’ve brought the Frasers, inadvertently, to the Americas.

Piracy was slowing down in the 1760s, but was still an active thing in the Caribbean region. One notable Bermudian pirate was Samuel Hall Lord, who straight up plundered any and all ships that he crossed paths with, even swiping riches from stranded sailors. Hall was also a really smart guy. Outside his mansion, on the beach, he would hang lanterns so that unsuspecting ships would think it was the port and sail right into his clutches, wrecking themselves on the reefs. BTW, this pirate built himself a castle. Talk about flair.

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Printing in Scotland

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One of the most anticipated scenes in season three is the print shop scene. You know, where Claire finally finds Jamie again after 20…well, 200? 220? years have gone by and they’re finally reunited…it’s probably the part I’m looking forward to the most, but let’s take a peek at printing history in Scotland and get a feel for what Jamie was up to in Edinburgh.

In1507, Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar were given the first royal license for printing in Scotland by James IV in Edinburgh. The first book ever printed via press was The first printed book from this press was The Complaint of the Black Knight by John Lydgate. While this seemed to be a success for them, printing wasn’t an instant hit in Scotland, with new presses being stationed in St. Andrews in 1552, another for a hot minute in Stirling in 1571, and another still in Aberdeen in 1622. After that, they became more widely spread.

The fist Scottish printers would have been trained in France, but as the practice grew, the Scots would have been left to their own devices. And by the 1760s, it didn’t get much easier, as the letters still needed to be set and inked by hand. To get an idea, here’s what Jamie’s printing press might look like…

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Prostitution in Scotland

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The brothel where Jamie does business, and often keeps a bed, is probably going to be a prime filming location in season three. But what would life have really been like behind the doors of Madame Jeanne’s establishment, you ask? Well, dear reader, let’s chat about the ladies of the night…

The the early and mid 1700’s was basically Scotland’s sexual revolution where prostitution was widespread and some of the best business and deals were made in the lounges and libraries of brothels. They weren’t as flashy as the French brothel we saw in season two, but the girls were kept clean, in good dresses, and as disease free as one can be in the 1700s. These establishments could be hidden down in alleyways or set right in the open in grand houses, while the local police turned a blind eye. I mean, it was such a favorite pastime of the wealthy Scottish that in 1775 James Tyler, a surgeon and editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica published Ranger’s Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure, which was basically a directory of all the brothels and their workers in Edinburgh.

Unfortunately, Scotland began to crack down on prostitution in the 1790s, with the girls being arrested on a regular basis and imprisoned. So, I hope Madame Jeane would have had a lot of money saved up for when the government started knocking on her door.

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Rose Hall and the White Witch

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This is a particular bit that I was eager to get to. I hope, very dearly, that they shoot on location for this one because the Rose Hall mansion is gorgeous! Anyway, we all know Rose Hall as being the home of Mrs. Abernathy AKA Geillis Duncan. Well, this manor home is a very real place, as is the ghost that haunts it.

Rose Hall is a Georgian Mansion in Jamaica, was built in the 1770s, and was owned by a John Palmer. It was a large estate that usually held about 250 slaves and dealt mostly in sugar. It stayed in the Palmer family for a bit, then went vacant and into disrepair, finally being revived in the 1960s.

As for the legend of the White Witch (which has unfortunately been revealed as nothing more than a story) it centered around Annie Palmer, John Palmer’s wife. Annie was basically raised by nannies who taught her voodoo and carried on her love of the dark arts into her marriages. Three husbands are said to have died at her hands, along with many innocent slaves. Remind you of anyone?

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And Bonnie Prince Charlie

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We can’t forget to talk about old charlie and what he did after Culloden…

Soooo during the Battle of Culloden, near the end, things weren’t going great. Basically, Charlie was ignoring the advice of commander Lord George Murray and just ordering whatever he wanted, which wasn’t going well. So Murray was basically like, “screw this, he doesn’t listen to a thing I say,” and drew his men back to attack from a different position. And Charlie, who again didn’t listen, finally noticed Murray was gone, he was like, “oh, Murray left? Well…I guess I’ll head out now,” and left the rest of the Jacobites on the field.

Even though the war was lost, the men never betrayed him to the British and helped him hide in the moors until he could escape the country. He finally did so when Flora MacDonald dressed him up as her maid, Betty Burke, and took him to the Isle of Skye, where a French Ship took him to the France. This is where the Sky Boat Song comes into play, although they leave out the dress and wig.

Prince Charles Edward Stewart as Betty Burke
Charlie as Betty

Losing Scotland drove him to drink and conduct affairs. He was known for being an abusive drunk to the women closest to him, causing all of them to leave, even his own wife.

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That’s all for this Saturday! Remember to check back every week for some new Outlander goodness and click HERE to read all out past Droughtlander posts. And read the second part of History Behind Voyager HERE!

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And if you’ve been following out journeys into publishing, you know that we’re really excited about our first ever published books! They’re currently available on Amazon, so take a look and see if you think our romance novels belong on your Kindle!

You can see more about my Scottish historical romance novel, Queen of Emeralds, and get it on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback HERE! And when you’re done Queen of Emeralds, The Amethyst Bride is next on the line, a steamy romantic drama with kilts, Gaelic, and tears that you can preorder HERE! Or if you’re into contemporaries, I have The Non-Disclosure Agreement, which you can get HERE!

You can also see Sarah’s first college contemporary romance novel, First Semester, and get it on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback now HERE!
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