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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The High Country Festival of the Book

Last Saturday, readers from all over the High Country converged on western North Carolina to check out the presentations and all the amazing books on offer at the High Country Festival of the Book.

It took place at Watauga High School, a building that's so new, it recalled none of my formative years, although my husband felt as if he were headed off to class.

Here I am with Jan Holmes Frost, published author, seminar-giver, relation to Robert Frost, and the Loose Leaves editor who suggested we go to the event. Everyone seemed impressed with her because she came from Spartanburg, SC, while my recent arrival in NC itself received a tepid response.

I thought our display looked great!

Are all authors fascinated with seeing their own books en masse?

Yours truly with the one that started it all (and has had a facelift in the form of a gorgeous new cover).

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Startling Relation to Neil Gaiman

Great news!

I write like
Neil Gaiman
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!
Too bad I can't use this in my query letters. :)

This resulted from an analysis of the first chapter of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. My heart leaped when I saw it! I can only hope it has some validity.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carolinan and Virginian Book Lovers, Take Note!

This Saturday, I will be at the High Country Festival of the Book with my Loose Leaves friend and colleague Jan. We'll have a table where we'll sell Loose Leaves titles as well as Açedrex and Jan's Fireship titles. Click here and scroll down to see our lovely logo, then get all the information to come see all the wonderful authors, publishers, and books if you're in the area! It's a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get signed copies from both Jan and me.

All titles will be at a steep festival discount. We'll also have free bookmarks and a cool one-sheet catalog to take with you.

If you're not in the area, it seems that Amazon has reduced the price of all my titles for the foreseeable future. Snap them up at low prices!

Available Titles

From Loose Leaves

The Fleet Angels by Barbara Marriott (five-star reviews) (author signature stickers available!)

No Turning Back by Lidia Falcón Amazon Top 5 Bestseller (get it signed by the translator!)

From Açedrex Publishing

The Laughing Princess by Seymour Hamilton

The Abencerraje (Español & English) Amazon Top 20 Bestseller (get it signed by the translator!)

Dusk Before Dawn by Jessica Knauss (five-star reviews) (get it signed by the poet!)

Tree/House by Jessica Knauss (five-star reviews) (get it signed by the author!)

Sail to Italy and Sail from Italy by Jessica Knauss (get it signed by the author!)

From Fireship Press

Eight Things You Need to Know to Write a Novel by Jan Holmes Frost (get it signed by the author!)

Without Sanctions by Jan Holmes Frost (get it signed by the author!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Spanish History and its Aftermath - Interview with Author Lilian Gafni

The Alhambra palace in Granada today.
I was excited to meet an author who can't resist the explosive atmosphere of Spain around the year 1492. I'm even more thrilled to present a great interview with her. Without further ado, meet author Lilian Gafni.

Jessica Knauss:  How long have you been writing?

Lilian Gafni:  I’d say on and off for about thirty years. I started writing my first book, Hello Exile, back in the 80s when I was working for the Commission on Soviet Jewry. Russian Jews were then discriminated from entering university, some academic and public professions were barred to them, and they were also prevented from traveling and emigrating from the USSR. Many protested publicly against the discrimination. They were then called the Refuseniks, having been refused visas. One Refusenik was Ida Nudel who put out a sign from her balcony asking, “KGB Give Me a Visa.” The authorities arrested her on civil disobedience charge, sent her to prison then sentenced her to four years labor in Siberian Exile. From that experience I corresponded with Ida and was inspired to write her story.

JK:  Please tell us about the Flower from Castile Trilogy. What inspired you to write it?

LG: My ancestors were Spanish Jews, or Sephardim, who left Spain during the infamous 1492 expulsion. I was inspired because I lived in a Sephardic family that spoke Ladino. The name Sephardim derives from the Hebrew word Sepharad, meaning Spain.

At that time, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand struggled to conquer the Moors in Granada and reclaim all of Spain under the Catholic religion. Forced conversions began earlier, but as soon as Spain became unified under one flag and one religion, they required all other religious and ethnic groups to be converted as well. Spanish Jews had one choice: convert or leave the country. The Moors had lived by then for more than 700 years in Iberia and the Jews had arrived after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 AD.

The subject of Jews being forced to leave under duress always intrigued me. Why did these law-abiding Spaniard Jews have to leave a land that was their home for over a thousand years? The more I learned about the Sephardim, the more I felt close to those exiles of long ago. What thoughts, fears, and hope did they feel and experience? How did they preserve their Jewish heritage in secret? How did they escape the Inquisition, or fall into its clutches? As I put these thoughts on paper, a whole world opened up before me. The characters, the families and the individuals directly responsible for that exodus became real and spoke in their own voices. Then the characters opened a door for me to peer inside and discover their world.

The major character, Isabella Obrigon, a sixteen-year-old girl, with a privileged life leads the story and connects all the players. On the eve of her betrothal, she is kidnapped and thrust onto the world of persecuted Jews. I thought at great length on how to describe Isabella when it dawned on me: if her eyes saw the story, then her eyes were speaking to me. That's when I realized I was describing my mother's eyes! My mother, Rachel Palombo, was a most beautiful woman with emerald green eyes. I decided then that Isabella's eyes were going to be modeled on Rachel Palombo's eyes. The other characters were modeled on real men and women who lived in that time period. Only their names were changed. These characters were fluid, changing with the circumstances of those terrible times. The story took on a life of its own as it developed, and the characters spoke to me. Some of them pleaded for their lives, some of them risked their lives to protect others, and some fell in love under the most inauspicious of circumstances. In the end, these characters fought for their land, their livelihoods, and the futures of their families. Two hundred thousand Spanish Jews made the fateful decision to leave Spain in 1492.

JK: What kind of research did you have to do?

LG:  In addition to reading many books on The Alhambra Decree, the Inquisition, and Columbus, I used all media and avenues to find accurate information such as the libraries, Wikipedia, Sephardic organizations, etc. To understand the country and its people, I traveled to Spain and visited the locales then immersed myself in the lore, legends and beliefs of its people.

JK: You mentioned that you speak Ladino, a form of Spanish mixed with Hebrew words, which is a well preserved link to the way the Sephardim spoke in Spain before the expulsion. It's a historical linguist's dream come true! Did that language skill help your research?

LG:  After the Alhambra Decree exiled the Sephardim from Spain in 1492, they kept their Castilian dialect, called Ladino, in their families for generations. It helped me somewhat to be able to read documents in the Ladino language. Although my entire family spoke the language, Ladino remained an underutilized tongue. It is now being revived in the country of Israel.

JK:  Your book trailers are really well done. Did you do them yourself?

LG:  Thank you Jessica. I don’t have that magical touch to create them myself. I used the professionals Trailer To The Stars for the two book trailers.

JK: When is book three coming out?

LG:  I’m now working on Book Three: The New Haven. It’s scheduled to be published this year.

JK: Congratulations! What would you say to writers who'd like to follow in your footsteps?

LG: There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end to everything. I was a beginning writer and wrote by fits and spurts. Now I’m lucky enough to be writing full time. As writers we strive to entertain, to inform, and help in any capacity those seeking questions. What motivates me, as well as others, is having the ability to translate our thoughts and be useful with our writing. We may struggle to join the community of published writers in general, but we’re also enjoying the process at the same time. We need to think that our writing has its purpose, and in the end everything else will fall into place.

Another way to motivate us to write is to be inspired by using a banner, a photo or the motto of a famous and prolific writer that quotes in his or her own words why they write. Mine is framed on the wall above my computer and it says:

“Writers help summon people to a vision of human betterment. It is not unnatural for writers to be concerned about the human estate or to deal with those universals of human experience. Their primary goal is to their consciences. They create an awareness not just to things as they are, but as they ought to be.” -- Norman Cousins.

Writer should believe that they have the power to create and be published. That their voices have weight and should be heard. I equate the struggles to writing and being published as being armored with a pen, a saber or lance and fighting for our own personal time to write. Be a soldier for your own cause. Escritura feliz! Happy writing!

JK: Thanks for being on my blog!

LG: Thank you, Jessica, for having me!

Check out Lilian's web site and Amazon author page and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alfonso's Last Book

The pictures in my site banner actually come from a single miniature in the Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas from the workshop of Alfonso X, el Sabio. On the left, scholars have every reason to believe it's Alfonso himself. On the right, his queen, Violante de Aragón. How will I ever change it? What pictures could be better than that most scholarly of medieval kings and his mysterious wife?

In the original picture, the part now covered by my name and the blog topics shows a chess board oriented so that the viewer can see exactly where the pieces are located, so as to predict what would be the best next move. I love the picture not only because I love most pictures of Alfonso, but also because it shows him spending some pleasant time with Violante. Not knowing what their relationship was like at all has caused me more than a little scholarly anxiety. Violante bore him eleven children, so there must have been something there, but there are scant mentions of her in history, and most of them have to do with the time the couple spent apart because of disagreements on succession. The single clue to their possible happy relationship comes from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, when the King wakes from a dream and turns to the Queen in bed beside him to tell her about it, only to find that she's dreamed the same thing. Psychically connected!

Scholars believe the Libro de ajedrez is the last book Alfonso commissioned because, among other evidence, it focuses on games ill or old people could take part in. Find some more basic information about the Libro de ajedrez and a few illustrations here. (As with any Wikipedia article, consider it a jumping off point.)

The internet is at its best when a lonely Spain freak like me can find another person with similar interests. And this week, the internet has been at its best! Join me on Monday for a truly interesting interview with Lilian Gafni, a writer who grew up speaking Ladino and became fascinated with the Alhambra decree of 1492.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Truths About Reading Fiction

The delightful Robert Bruce (no, not Robert the Bruce!) did a post on five myths of reading over at Jeff Goins's site. It's a useful post! Today, I'm going to come at it from the positive angle (which Bruce ends up doing, anyway).

1. You Can Learn a Lot from Fiction. 
I have a distinct memory of Diego de la Vega in the New World Zorro saying, "You can learn a lot of things from books!" If Zorro says it, you know it's true! But seriously, aside from the misinformation and real information you can get, you also learn to distinguish between the two. Most importantly, you learn to empathize. They've done studies, but experience also confirms this one for me. Readers are simply more human.

2. You've Got Plenty of Time to Read.
Think about it. Next time you're in the subway or the DMV line, you can pick up a book. You can read over your lunch half-hour. You can read a book instead of turning on the miniseries adaptation of it. E-readers and all the apps on all the devices have made reading accessible from anywhere! That's right! It's not just for TV shows and music. And for anyone who doesn't have a gadget, the added weight of a book in your bag or your hand can count as a daily workout.

3. Reading is Great Exercise/Activity.
See above! Reading exercises muscles as well as the brain. Reading an extended piece like a novel is, in fact, one of the most complex acts humans can perform. It does wonders for your concentration and your mood, too! The importance of catharsis cannot be overemphasized.

4. Your Opinion of a Book Makes a Huge Difference.
If I said this as often as it needed to be said, I would feel like a terrible nag. There are tons of avid readers out there who keep their opinions to themselves, thereby stymying every effort at publicity. If no one had heard of a book, they can't enjoy it, too, and the author's incredible efforts go to waste. If they don't know anyone's enjoying it, they might not bother to keep writing. It's a serious possibility. Even Stephen King needs to know (once in a while) that he has an effect on someone. So, especially if you enjoy a book, please let everyone know about it! It makes a difference in the life of the writer, and from there, it makes a difference in what kinds of books are getting published.

5. All of the Above is True, No Matter Whether You're Reading Shakespeare or pulp novels.
Yup, even the worst written, toilet-paper book can teach you something, exercise your body and mind, and matter to you and others.

So THANK YOU for reading.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rejection! and The Right Match

I got my first "no" from the query I sent out last week. That was fast! I don't feel too bad because the whole thing was rather impersonal.

It was even kind of amusing because I'm doing this on Gmail, so there was a uniquely tantalizing preview: "Thank you so much for sending the X Literary Agency your query. We'd like to." We'd like to WHAT? To quest the full manuscript? To offer me a package deal for three books and accompanying movies and miniseries? To kiss my feet with gratitude because they'd thought literature was dead and my submission revealed that that's not the case?

But I knew intuitively that couldn't quite be it, because it began "Dear Author." If they were enthused about a project, I assume they would take the trouble to address it to an actual name. 

They only wanted to apologize for the impersonal nature of the rejection. Which is fine. 

There was a sentence in the form letter, which is meant to be encouraging, but that seemed simplistic to me: "After all, it only takes one 'yes' to find the right match."

I've done enough dating, finding writing groups, accepting manuscripts for publication and getting short stories published to know that it frequently takes a lot of yeses to find the right match as opposed to just any match. The key is getting past a sea of nos and to a yes everyone can live with, which may not be the first one that comes along. 

My life over the past three years has trained me to be as patient as a saint.  Patience wears thin, but something will always come along to give it a second (third, fourth, etc) wind. Patience and persistence are behind all the "overnight" success stories.

Ever onward!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reaching Goals, Querying, and WANA

We're living in a hotel until my husband's contract is settled. Daily housekeeping and my stuff in storage, unable to distract me, leave me little else to do than get down to business. No excuses! I see those goals and they're getting reached!

Hooray for me! I met the goal I pledged last week! The finishing touches on "Middle Awash in Talent" are done. Now to find some validation for them...

I also made a huge leap forward, which I haven't mentioned before: I've got The Seven Noble Knights of Lara out on query. I was astonished at the huge uptick in neurosis, obsession, and pure terror that finishing off my basic query letter caused. I know that getting it traditionally published is going to take a long time. I calmly accept it, and I thought that acceptance made me immune to the searing pain of moving from having all my options open to possibly getting rid of the agents I submitted to because I'd unknowingly done something wrong in my query letter.


As I was finishing the letter up, I showed sentences to my poor husband and badgered him until he said the magic words (that any agent would love it -- the words never came because, how would he know?),  I asked anyone and everyone what they thought, and I resorted to some magical thinking.

But now, it's out there. It's about to get REAL. Even if reality just means submitting to more and more places every week.

I'm one of the people in the seven billion who feels that the human condition is fundamentally alone. It's especially acute for writers. So I read every post at We Are Not Alone, and try to get it through my skull. Maybe someday I'll have less trouble reaching out for and finding the help I need, and I'll really believe it!

Thanks so much to the handful of people who really helped me with the query letter process. You know who you are.