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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: The End of Chapter 5

These are the last six I'm posting from Chapter 5 of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. I hope you've enjoyed the extended excerpt! This takes place soon after where we left off, with just a few words in between showing that both parties have agreed to the Count's arbitration.

* * *

With dutiful nods, six brothers each knelt at Ruy Blásquez’s feet and kissed his hand. Doña Sancha said, “Gonzalo will do it some other time since if he kneels now, he may not be able to get back up.” She dabbed at his head wounds with her maid’s handkerchief, although they were beginning to stop bleeding at last.
And with this, the men seemed well pleased. Sancha looked at Lambra, who refused to look back at her, but crouched down and began collecting Álvar Sánchez’s gore-covered teeth in an improvised pouch of her skirt. The blood and soil seeped through the yellow silk, spattered sinister flowerlets on Álvar’s tunic and sank deep into the earth.

* * *

I expect that's sufficiently creepy or gory for Halloween tomorrow. Thanks so much for stopping by. I so appreciate your comments! Don't miss out on the other excerpts here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Historical Wednesdays Halloween Countdown - Witch Hunts

For the last Wednesday of the month, we remember the scariest incidents in history for women and the men who loved them: witch hunts.

Although some men were also persecuted from about 1450 to 1700, when witch hunts were at their height, the overwhelming majority of people accused, prosecuted, and executed were female. "Witch hunt" has become a general term for any mass hysteria resulting in metaphorical and literal lynching of perceived enemies, because now we recognize the original 250-year craze as a last gasp of panic in the face of the unknown and uncontrolled before a (supposed) Enlightenment through reason. Whenever something went wrong during this time, women, especially women with certain knowledge or abilities, became the scapegoat through which misguided people attempted to expiate society. The possibility that anyone might accuse you at any time and put you through a legal system in which it was nearly impossible to prove your innocence is a much scarier prospect than meeting a green-faced lady with a conical hat and a broomstick.

The witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 -- a legacy that now brings the town most of its tourism revenue -- made up the last big witch scare in the Western world. Even scarier is the thought that this kind of thing still happens in some parts of the world.

This concludes our scary countdown. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Monday, October 24, 2011

NaNoWriMo and Things To Do

NaNoWriMo is about to come roaring down the highway at us. At least it doesn't sneak up.

These are the items I need to get done in November, in no particular order:

1. Write 1,667 words per day of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara as an unofficial NaNoWriMo. If I don't make a really big push now, the project could languish for a few more years, and no one wants that. 1,667 words a day is a lot for me, and I'll probably have to rigidly schedule a time to sit down and do it until it's done. I've resisted rigid schedules because I now have so many demands on my time, with priorities that change more often than I'm used to.

2. Fireship Press: Acquisition work. At a meeting this week, the new COO said we needed to shift acquisitions to someone with fewer qualifications than me so I could get back to higher-level editing. The thing is, I love acquisition work! Deciding whether a piece has what it takes to make us request a full MS, and then deciding how much editing the full MS would require before it was ready for publication can be the most thrilling part of the entire publishing process. So far, if I've had a hand in approving a book, it's then been assigned to me for the aforementioned high-level editing, and it's tremendously satisfying to take a book all the way through, from MS to the exit gate. Acquisitions is probably the least time-consuming of all the tasks here, but it does mean that much less time to do everything else.

3. Fireship Press: Editing work. Currently, I have four books I need to pay huge amounts of attention to in order to ensure their overall quality. I prefer to do them one at a time or I'll become distracted and irritable, because I typically have intense consultations with the author in order to better understand his or her vision and shape it as changes come through. I also love this part of the process because it's where the real metamorphosis takes place. Needless to say, it's the most time-consuming aspect of my Fireship work.

4. Fireship Press: Copyediting. Exciting, higher quality standards and a severe dearth of staff mean I have to take on a lot of the tasks Tom taught me how to do, although they aren't officially in my job description. We already have a new copyediting system in place that should eliminate misuse and mistakes, but if I see a mistake myself, I can't help but correct it. Hopefully, that instinct will lessen the work load of the official copyeditors.

5. Fireship Press: Production. This includes all aspects of formatting. I don't mind this at all and would gladly keep doing if it weren't so time-consuming. Again, the company is working on offloading these tasks, but for now I either have to do it myself for the books I'm editing or work closely with the other staff members to get it done right. One important task this month is to "teach" everyone how to upload the book for the printer. Which brings me to:

6. Fireship Press: Admin. We're working most of the time from our own home bases, but meeting once a week to update each other and teach each other about all the little details no single one of us has complete control over. Yet. At these meetings I also tend to be assigned more tasks.

7. Blog. In November, I will have to reduce the blog to excerpt days on Saturdays and Sundays and the occasional book review I'm already preparing. I'd love to provide much more exciting content for you, but as you can see, I'm stretched a bit thin at the moment.

8. Açedrex Publishing. My company isn't the cash cow I was promised, but my theory is that hard work will pay off eventually. My strategy is to keep increasing the catalog with irresistibly fascinating titles. Of course, the timing is perfect (not!) and I'm now working on a couple of especially intensive projects, which I will unveil when the time is right. In the meantime, you can always help by purchasing inexpensive but high quality titles!

9. Publicity. In a perfect world, I would have the financial and time budget to promote my writing and my company. I don't need to point out that this is no perfect world.

10. Keep reading good books in order to keep gaining exposure to good writing for my own uses. I also enjoy being of some help to talented writers by putting my reviews out there.

11. Taking care of my husband. He doesn't literally need taking care of, but mainly emotional support as he works just as hard as I do, but at a job he doesn't feel drawn to, just to keep a roof over our heads. And save to get our stuff in storage back to us some day. He's easy to please: he's thrilled just to spend time with me. For that reason, I can't be working on any of these other items at the same time I'm taking care of him. No, all that other stuff has to be done when he's at work. Such "rules" help to keep me grounded. I love my work, but it's important to work to live, not live to work. Also during November is my husband's birthday. I wish I could seize the moment to show him how much he means to me, but a card and a restaurant visit will have to do.

12. Thanksgiving. We'll probably be pretty pathetic. We can't travel to be with loved ones, but at least I assume my husband will have some time off to cook a turkey breast and give thanks for all our blessings. It's a great opportunity for calm and attention.

13. Staying sane. Under this umbrella fall eight hours of sleep per night, going to my writers' group meeting, keeping a private journal, and taking a moment to cook a nice meal once in a while. Some kind of contact with my actual friends would help, too, but I guess I'll put that off until December.

If we could assign a universal effort unit to each of these tasks and total them up, I think we would be looking at several months of work. The effort I put into each task is pretty intense, with the result that I'm a slow writer and a pretty slow editor. I always want to get it right the first time, which obviously doesn't apply to the writing process. Oh, the incessant push and pull of my different instincts!

So, November will be an experiment in quantity/quality balance. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No Six Sentence Sunday

I didn't have more sweet material for Saturday, and this week there is no Six Sentence Sunday, so that means no excerpt this week.

The apparent reason the organizers cancelled this Six Sentence Sunday is because people have been having trouble following the simple rules. See the admirably civil reasoning here. Try a little harder, folks, so everyone can play.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Historical Wednesdays Halloween Countdown - The Black Death

Don't look up "black death" in an image search unless you have a strong stomach.
What could be scarier than the plague that overran the entire known world, attacking with bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic strains, and obliterating one quarter to one half the population?
These victims were lucky to get coffins. 
No satisfactory explanation and no useful advice about avoidance or treatment were available. It struck you, or it didn't. Some people refused to have anything to do with the sick, sometimes saving themselves but creating chaos in the social order that had lasting effects into the modern age.
Some people today make predictions about super-diseases that will be spread even faster by transportation technology, and it's a great premise for horror/thriller movies. The Black Death is one reason I prefer to study the European Middle Ages before 1348. Before, optimism, color, and a sense that all was right with the world abounded. Afterward, things got truly scary.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

I haven't read Massie's other books about his obsession, Russia under the tsars, but if the others are anything like Catherine, then I have no doubt about why he's received a Pulitzer and why this book was so highly anticipated. Compulsively readable, Catherine takes a giant, intimidating subject and makes her accessible. From the first few pages, the reader sees into Catherine's most intimate thoughts through the invaluable resource of her childhood diary. The focus remains sympathetic even while the research provides an overall view of Catherine's time with verifiable facts.

The reader will come away with a deep understanding of Catherine's problems and decisions. On a more personal note, as a woman reader I appreciated the way Catherine learned to wield power in a man's world and have a significant impact while maintaining a traditionally feminine personality, demonstrated by her appreciation of the arts and fine things and love of pets.

This book is packed with enough relationship drama and court intrigue to be a novel, while the reader can impress the people he knows with his new knowledge. With Catherine, Massie has made a valuable contribution not only to women's and Russian history, but also to literature. It should be considered a must-read by any student of world culture.

This book releases on November 8, 2011.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: The Bloody Wedding Gets Legal

This week, we start up where we left off, with the highest secular authority in the land taking control.

* * *

The count raised his voice in announcement. “Let it be known to all present that I, García Fernández, Count of Castile, hereby pardon Gonzalo González for the unintentional slaughter of Álvar Sánchez.” Doña Lambra let out a strangled cry and, in what looked to Sancha like an exaggerated gesture, toppled into the arms of her poor serving girl. The count ignored her. “I further pardon Ruy Blásquez for his offense against Gonzalo González’s person and consider that any debt incurred for such wounding has been paid with the breaking of Ruy Blásquez’s nose.”
           Ruy Blásquez emitted a loud snort and then winced in pain, but don Gonzalo Gustioz nodded enthusiastically in agreement. 

* * *

Don't forget to look at the family tree if you're wondering who's who. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate comments ever so much. The other great sixes are here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Historical Wednesdays Halloween Countdown - Columbus Day

Columbus monument in Phildelphia.
"Naturalist" = student of nature.
Many Americans get confused because the official holiday always falls on a Monday, but true Columbus Day commemorates October 12, 1492 (Julian calendar), the day of first landfall somewhere in the modern Bahamas. I just love this holiday because it brings into current dialogue the period in history that signifies for me the dawning of the modern age, and the results are so controversial. People can get het up about the mysterious figure of Christopher Columbus the way they can about no other.

There are a lot of scary elements to Columbus Day, not least of which is the unprecedented way the world changed after that meeting of cultures. Today I'd like to focus on the fear of the unknown that must have plagued most of the crew members.

Imagine yourself as a regular seaman aboard one of the caravels. Many had been conscripted to take this wild journey against their will. While most European sailors of the day stayed within sight of the coast, on October tenth, no one had seen a lick of land for three months since leaving the Canary Islands in August. If they were unsure about Columbus's experience and calculations when they left Spain, imagine the growing terror after so many days of endless water. While no one really feared sailing off the edge of the world, they might have dreaded sailing so far south, into areas long theorized as so hot they were uninhabitable. Columbus had to play psychological games, fudging distances and times and making up reward systems like the CEO of a failing company, and still had problems managing the reluctance of his crew.

There might have been less fear aboard the Pinta and the Niña, which were captained by the trusted Pinzón brothers, who could have turned back and abandon the Santa María to certain death if obliged by their crews and their better judgment. No one aboard the cramped ships had a very clear idea of who Columbus was or what his intentions were, so they couldn't quell their fears by focusing on a charismatic leader. I haven't read any fiction based on the first voyage of Columbus, but the passage itself has the makings of a thrilling psychological horror story.
Replica of the Pinta in Philadelphia. Living on the caravels was not
for the faint-hearted -- or the claustrophobic.
Please also see the Top Five Misconceptions about Columbus.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jan Holmes Frost's Eight Things You Need to Know to Write a Novel

A lot of potential writers never end up with anything written, either because they don't know where to start or because they read too many complicated, over-detailed how-to books. This slim volume could be the unexpected, ultimate answer to that two-pronged dilemma.

The author introduces (or refreshes our memories) about the essentials: concept; plot; setting; characterization; dialogue, voice and point of view; resolution and research; editing and revising; and publishers and publishing. Each chapter is short and to the point, using popular examples everyone can identify and understand. My least favorite aspect of writing advice books is when they get too prescriptive -- write it like this or you're doing it wrong! While Jan tells it like it is, there is no sense of being pulled along on her agenda, since she recognizes that every writer is different and that there are many ways to arrive at a completed novel. The suggestions are just that: suggestions. The reader feels free to use them, to elaborate on them, transform them so they work for her/him, or discard them, which helps to jumpstart the creative process.

Because the author keeps the advice structured and simple, this book is also a solid reference for those of us with more experience, both in writing and in publishing. Jan's experience leading workshops and publishing her own novels results in a reliable, inspiring, and easy to read resource for writers at every stage and level.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: I'm Back!

September had its fun and its horrifying disasters, and I'm finally back! Don't miss the family tree for The Seven Noble Knights of Lara and an explanation of the names here. It's time to go back to your favorite tenth-century wedding, picking up where we left off:

* * * 

Count García arrived at the site of the commotion, parting the soldiers like the Red Sea. He made a regal, sweeping gesture at Ruy Blasquez's soldiers. "Stand down."

Ruy Blásquez looked at doña Lambra, who still flickered with rage. Holding his nose with one hand and holding up the other as evidence, he said, "Look at all this blood, my lord, at my own wedding. You really should allow such a justified feud to take place."

* * * 

Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your comments. I can't wait to get back to reading all of your wonderful sentences, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Historical (Not Too Hysterical) Wednesdays, Halloween Countdown

In honor of Halloween at the end of the month, for Wednesdays in October I've decided to post about some of the scarier aspects and anecdotes in history.

Today: deals with the devil. These stories were some of the bestsellers of medieval Europe, and still have influence on popular culture today.

What could be scarier than owing your soul to the embodiment of evil? And in exchange for what? Riches? Love? Fame? One important moral of all stories of deals with the devil is that no earthly thing you could desire is worth making such a bargain, because all earthly things fade while the soul is eternal.

The earliest versions of this story involve a man perhaps ironically named "Theophilus" -- lover of God. In spite of his devout nature, Theophilus needs more material wealth in order to help a friend, save a relative, or just to get on in the world. He makes the ultimate sacrifice, conjuring up the devil and selling his soul to him. But because Theophilus has been so devoted, God considers it a simple lapse in judgment and doesn't allow the exchange to be completed.

Indeed, most of these stories have happy endings. Once the dealmaker has been sufficiently frightened and sees the error of his ways, either a loophole is found in the contract or a trusted saint arrives to cast the devil away. Sometimes, the trusted saint is the one who finds the loophole. In these stories, we find that the devil is actually not a very good lawyer. This is in direct contrast to the saints, who spend a lot of time practicing their advocacy skills in the heavenly court for the sake of the poor souls who pass through the gates with torts and misdemeanors.

Maybe the really scary thing here is how deeply entrenched legal procedure already was into the lives of the people who first came up with this basic story. It depends on whether you think lawyers are good Halloween characters. Tune in next Wednesday for an even scarier tidbit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Discontinued Journals

The demise of This Mutant Life, which I mentioned a while back, prompted me to systematically check on the status of all the wonderful journals that have published my stories and poems.

This Mutant Life, which had made my dearest wish come true in September 2010 by publishing my first rhinoceros story, "Rhinoceros Dreams," is gone without a trace, with no warning or communications in that regard.

On the other hand, The Shine Journal's editor wrote a nice farewell message earlier this year, explaining the end of the magazine without overjustifying. In contrast to other sites that simply shut down, this little goodbye was reassuring. It appears that the site will remain active for some time, so my poem is still available here.

The best news is that none of the other journals seem threatened. They're all flourishing, which is gratifying and shows that literary journals are a great use of the internet.

I'm still deciding what to do with "Rhinoceros Dreams." How can they best run wild: in a journal that takes reprints, in a collection, or just roaming my imagination?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sweet Sample of My Accidental Novel

This story, "Middle Awash in Talent," which I've excerpted before, has asserted itself as possibly a novel as I've been working on it in the hours when I should be doing something else.

This is an unusual excerpt, because I'm putting it out here knowing that it has to be utterly changed. When I write magical realism, I frequently don't know when I've pushed the limits of belief too far, and my writing group has reigned me in for this scene. Emily is in the back of a police cruiser with her sister Beth, who's lost control of her telekinetic powers for a moment and seriously hurt Carlos (who happens to be Emily's love interest). I have to get Beth to the hospital to save Carlos with her healing powers, and in this version, the officers very reasonably agree. I love the police officers with their Rhode Island accents being so accommodating. Are they believable? Nope. They're going back through the mill.

The whole story is pretty sweet, but the instance of random violence makes it at least PG-13.

* * *

“I thought the deal was, you wouldn’t talk about Carlos and I wouldn’t mention your powers.” 
“Emily, I think it’d be great if you talked about my powers now. I’m so sorry about what I did to Carlos! I think if they let me go to the hospital, I can help him.”
I considered the strength of her telekinesis and thought about the surgical gash across her stomach, which she’d made a non-issue so quickly. “You can heal others as easily as yourself?”
“I think so. Otherwise, he might die, Emily. Die. I know you don’t want that.”
She was right. A dead true love would be far too melodramatic for someone like me. Keeping my eye always on her, I rapped gently against the mesh. “Officer?”
The one who wasn’t driving turned his head toward me skeptically.
“Remember how I said she had healing abilities? She says she can help the man she unintentionally harmed. Surely, that would lessen her guilt, and otherwise, I’m afraid he might be a goner.” I smiled, pleading, but wasn’t sure if he could see me at all through the mesh and with the unstable light as we passed under street lamps, north and south on College Hill according to the colonial street plan.
They conferred in low Rhode Island tones. All I heard was something about “a wicked good tetanus shot.” And quite a bit of chuckling. I’d known it was a shot in the dark, but just as I was opening my mouth to tell Beth it hadn’t worked, the driver said, “So I guess you want a ride to Rhode Island Hospital?”
Beth’s mouth gaped open and then clamped shut as she nodded her head vigorously.
“Yes, please,” I said.
“We figure extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” said the passenger-side cop as we sped past the police station and over the river.
“Indeed,” I said.
Apparently that was too much encouragement, as he kept talking about how much he knew about telekinesis and the history of the Providence Police Department with telekinetics ever since their kind had been revealed in the 1870’s. “Providence has a really good school for them, did you know? Is that why your sister’s here?”
“Mmm, yes, sure.” It was a relief to stop thinking about those concentration camps for talented people as we arrived at the hospital’s emergency entrance.

* * * 
Do you think I should work on this for NaNoWriMo, or my historical novel? Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it and I will stop by all your sweet samples.