About The Gate of Dawn
Welcome to 1880s Vilnius, a volatile Northeastern metropolis where Balts, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Jews compete for a place in the sun. After sustaining fatal burns in a fire instigated by his rivals, textile magnate Hermann Lichtner spends his final days in a shabby infirmary. In a hasty and bizarre deathbed transaction he gives his fifteen-year-old daughter Renate in marriage to Thaddeus, a widowed Polish farmer who rejects social hierarchy and toils side by side with his peasants.
Renate’s arrival quickly disrupts the bucolic flow of life and antagonizes every member of the household. During an excursion to the city, Renate rekindles an affair with a young Jewish painter who sells his watercolors outside the Gate of Dawn chapel. While her despairing husband might look the other way, his servants will not stand by and watch while their adored master is humiliated.
Taking us from the cobblestone streets of old Vilnius, swarming with imperial gendarmes, to the misty bogs of rural Lithuania where pagan deities still rule, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of rivalry, conspiracy, and revenge.
Historical fiction abounds with tales of skittish, voiceless child brides being married off to callous and lecherous older men. It’s a perfect scenario for a potboiler, because it’s guaranteed to generate a certain emotional reaction out of the female readership. Modern women will sympathize with the poor oppressed lamb and wait for her to be rescued by a dashing highlander/outlaw/starving artist (fill in the blank). But are the stock victim/exploiter roles always clearly delineated? What if the child bride becomes the aggressor, and the older husband becomes a victim? In my latest historical novel The Gate of Dawn (Penmore Press, 2016) I develop that scenario. We have Renate, an assertive, pragmatic fifteen-year old girl of German extraction giving her spineless thirty-year old Polish husband Thaddeus a run for his money. Did I say money? Oh, that’s right. There’s another twist. In this peculiar relationship, it’s the child bride who brings in the money in addition to her youth and promise of procreation. What in the world does her husband have to contribute? A chunk of infertile land with a sinister name Raven’s Bog where nothing grows, a chronically bleeding heart from too many bereavements, and a fantastic amount of religious piety. How in the world did those two end up together?
It started with a bizarre deathbed transaction …
Renate’s father, Hermann Lichtner, a textile magnate, sustains deadly burns in a factory fire instigated by his business rivals. Having only a few hours left to live, he summons his attorney to make a will. Hermann’s biggest dilemma is what to do with his adolescent daughter, who is now left a very wealthy orphan. As a progressive man, Hermann raised Renate to be the successor to his empire rather than a debutante, a future entrepreneur. The devastating fire that obliterated his textile business makes him change his plans. A fifteen-year old girl with a lot of money on her hands can attract all sorts of unsavory characters and get into a great deal of trouble. So the next logical step is to marry her off to a man who is not too predatory or unscrupulous. The only candidate Hermann Lichtner can think of is Thaddeus Dombrowski, a thirty-year old widowed Polish farmer.
Polish men have a reputation for being good husbands. They have the right balance of work ethic, good looks, Catholic guilt and sexual appeal that make them suitable for a lifelong relationship. Despite their physical strength, they are demure, quiet and submissive to their wives, always eager to lift heavy things around the house, always with a sheepish smile and a bottle of beer in hand. For a woman with a strong matriarchal/feminist streak a man like that would be dream come true. Our fifteen-year old heroine is not entirely blind to the advantages her marriage has to offer. The only problem is that Master Dombrowski is not the one who makes the decisions. It’s his Lithuanian servants. Soft-spoken and dangerously democratic, Thaddeus treats his servants as family members and gives them plenty of latitude. They eat at the same table and drink from the same beer barrel. From the moment the young bride arrives at Raven’s Bog, she antagonizes every member of the household. Before long, Thaddeus finds himself torn between his demanding, condescending teenage wife and his increasingly discontented servants, who hate the new lady of the house.
Portraying the heroine
I am fortunate to live close to New York City. I am also fortunate to have publishers who give me some creative latitude. They are open to the idea of me picking models for the cover as opposed to using stock images. I’ve seen enough historical novel covers featuring the same headless model. One of my friends from Historical Novel Society wrote an entire article giving great examples of the same cliche stock photo featuring a blonde woman with anachronistic hair and makeup used for various novel covers. Why rely on stock photos, when there are so many beautiful, unique, ethnic faces around?
To portray the above-mentioned child bride I chose a beautiful New York based modern dancer Logan Devlin, who is actually working in her chosen profession – something so many performing artists only dream of. As her name indicates, she’s of Irish descent. Old enough to vote but not old enough to drink, she can pass for a fifteen-year old. Her bone structure, coloring and expression were spot on. There are so many young female models on the website who fry their skin in tanning salons and put their natural hair through all kinds of torturous procedures to achieve that “ethnically ambiguous look”. Too many actresses end up with orange skin and streaky highlights. They reinvent themselves to the point where you cannot guess their age or their innate ethnicity. So it was very refreshing to find a young actress who takes pride in her natural Germanic complexion. I started planning a draft of The Gate of Dawn 15 years ago, so I had a pretty good idea of what the main characters looked like. So when I saw Logan’s head shot, I immediately thought: this is her!
About Marina J. Neary
A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.
Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. Her latest Penmore release, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of conspiracy and revenge set in czarist Lithuania.
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Publisher: Penmore Press LLC (May 19, 2016)