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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Queen's Vow by C W Gortner

The Queen's Vow starts with a bang and ends on an almost philosophical note that really put me in the year 1492, on the brink of uniting the world's hemispheres at long last.

Oh, those middles.

Especially as the narrative draws to a close, there are more and more patches of time that are reported in a not very engaging way. It seemed the author got exhausted by the incredible demands of the subject matter. If he had had the time two or three books would have given him, he could have covered all the material as vividly as he does in the beginning. I have a PhD in medieval Spanish, so the basic story is all too familiar to me, and I hoped this book could send me back in time to viscerally witness the events as they unfolded. Many scenes are very successful, but they're laced together with straight explanations that needed a little something extra.

In particular, I would really have liked to see a lot more of Torquemada, the most controversial figure in a book full of controversial figures. He's portrayed as a ghoul who shows up at three different points to scare Isabella into setting up the Spanish Inquisition and expelling the Jews from her newly united Spain. I thought it was a missed opportunity to explore exactly what forces would make a person a proponent of such policies, but the character is so complex, he probably needs his own book anyway.

It would also be really nice if more historians would point out for the general public that Spain was the last European country to establish such an inquisition. These institutions were already at work in every other European country. Of course, it lasted a lot longer after that in Spain, but that's another story.

Isabel's female psychology seemed to be just out of reach of the author at times. When she says that she'd like to do all the things a man can do, it seemed like something a man would think a woman would say. Perhaps Isabel la Católica did indeed think women should have all the same advantages as men, but I suspect strongly that she would express it differently, or not at all, just putting on the armor and having done with it because of her obvious pragmatism.

On a more technical note, I'd like to explain that the "don" title in Spanish works the same way as "sir" in English: it's used with the first name. Just as "Sir Elton" and "Sir Elton John" are correct but "Sir John" (in this case) would be an enormous gaffe, so "Don Antonio" and "Don Antonio de Nebrija" are fine, while "Don de Nebrija" is jarringly wrong. This is easy to get right and I hope more editors will get wind of this as more Spanish-themed manuscripts cross their desks.

I was very excited about this book and enjoyed reading it, but I think my expectations might have been too high. So, love this book for the overwhelmingly iconic time it portrays and for the possibility it presents of getting inside the head of one of history's most interesting people. Love it because of the affection with which the author writes about Spain, which normally doesn't get much notice in historical fiction in English (except as a religious fanatic bad guy with lots of galleons to rob). Love it for the intense descriptions at the beginning of the book and the beautifully imagined personalities of Fernando of Aragon and Christopher Columbus. And hope that next time, the author doesn't take on quite so much material, because I think that is this book's main downfall.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

SSS: Those Talking Rhinos

Suzanne and Jake on a good day.
This Sunday, I'd like to draw attention to a story I wrote in January of 2011 and haven't been able to publish yet. I would really like people to be able to read this story. Cross your fingers that someone who publishes stories "gets" it soon!

The excerpt is from "Not Extinct Yet." Human researchers Suzanne and Derek are talking with their favorite crash of rhinos about new approaches to the poaching problem. Sasha is the matriarch white rhino and Jake is her young son.

* * * 

“It’s an education program you need,” said Derek.
“Precisely,” agreed Sasha. “Let the consumers know that the product they pay so much for has no real value.”
“Oh!” said Suzanne in the throes of a forming idea. “We need to let them know that rhino horns have no more medicinal value than…”
“Than chewing your own fingernails!” finished Jake. 

* * *

One of the journals I submitted to made the strange assumption that the talking rhinos were stand-ins for some human issue. I'm not trying to be metaphorical, I swear! I gave that up years ago! The rhinos represent rhinos. I wanted to give them a voice, and as an author, it was easy enough to do.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Check out the other great snippets at Six Sentence Sunday. If these rhinos have piqued your interest, please have a look at my review of The Last Rhinos and a suggestion for how you can help if you are so inclined (don't feel obliged).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Memory Lane

Being reunited with all my stuff that was in storage and living in an apartment that cannot possibly hold it all has provoked a lot of digging in boxes to see what things I can live without. In the process, I'm taking quite the trip down memory lane, not a little of it pertinent to my writing career. 

For example, this wonderful thing:

Of course I became a writer after receiving this ribbon! 

There's more to the story, of course. We got these in the sixth grade (and by "we" I mean the whole class) for putting a few pages of our own writing between laminated construction paper covers that were subsequently bound with those black plastic business spirals. While I was enchanted at receiving a physical object that so blatantly recognized my life's path and self-definition, I was confused and disturbed that everyone else got one, too. They weren't authors, I was.

Perhaps the Young Author program achieved its goal and inspired literacy in the children at my school. I will never know, because I was already all about reading and that summit of all intellectual activity, writing. Whether encouraged or discouraged, I would always have ended up here, making up stories and foisting them on unwitting readers.

But I have no doubt that the road was easier, being encouraged. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence and How You Can Help

Why would anyone want to bother this beautiful creature,
much less kill it?
Please scroll to the end of this post for information about a worthy cause.

I hesitated to give this book a high rating because it wasn't what I was hoping for: an account of the way intrepid humans saved a bunch of rhinoceroses, filled with charming anecdotes about rhino behavior. I don't know what I was thinking when I expected that, because I know the situation for all the rhino species is unspeakably dire. Co-author Graham Spence says he thought of calling the book "Blood Horn" and that might have been a more direct approach to indicate that this book is, at least in part, an outraged call to action. The Last Rhinos as a title feels contemplative and wistful, as if there is nothing left to be done, and unfortunately, that is the attitude that too many people are already taking. There are only three rhinos in this entire book. Lawrence Anthony never even gets to meet a single member of the subspecies he's trying to save before they're utterly gone. Instead of the happy stories I somehow expected, this book is a fact-and-experience-based indictment of the fatal disregard humans have for the other species on this planet.

A single anecdote about the rhino who lives in Thula Thula, Anthony's reserve in South Africa, serves to belie the idea that rhinos are not intelligent or adaptable, and I will treasure that. Perhaps to try and make up for the general lack of rhino experiences, Anthony intersperses what becomes a bizarre and scary narrative of human politics with incidents involving elephants, bushbabies, buffalo, and other wonderful animals. All the stories point to his deep belief that animals are as worthy as humans to occupy their space and live undisturbed. At a couple of points, he comments that any person who spends enough time with animals will witness evidence of their intelligence and sociability. There are also many examples that make the reader appreciate the difficulty of the life of conservationists in the wild and the talent and bravery of people who work with endangered animals.

The beginning and much of the rest of the book kept me on the edge of my seat with exciting, suspenseful and true occurrences, definitely material for the cinema. Please, someone, make a movie of this book (perhaps with a few more darling rhinos in the film version) and show it to people who consume rhino horn.

Because Anthony does not accomplish any of his goals for the rhinos. Absolutely everything goes badly wrong, often causing physical reactions in this reader. To top it all off, before the book was published, Lawrence Anthony passed away, and the animals lost their incredible champion. We're still here, and we need to step in for them because, incredibly, these half-ton, armored creatures with giant swords on their heads can't defend themselves from human greed. There's still a chance to turn this sad story around for the remaining rhinos.

The Northern White Rhino is the largest animal to go extinct since the woolly mammoth. See more details about the book and the human-provoked end of the Northern White Rhino in this Reuters article.

If the plight of the rhinos has prompted you to action, I have a suggestion. Inspired by The Birthday Project (and my upcoming birthday), I'm asking that instead of getting me gifts, people donate to Karen Trendler's Rhino Calf Response Project. Read all about it at the link and when you're ready, click the red "Donate Now" button in the upper right for a secure donation site. Any size of donation is hugely appreciated. Good people like this who support the victims of rhino poaching need our support! And spread the word: Rhino Horn Is Not Medicine. 

I've also set up a Facebook event for this cause.

Don't forget to let me know if you donate so I can count it toward my goal of 37 different donations. Random acts of kindness are celebrated, too!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

SSS: Stay in Your Own Bed

Starting up again in The Seven Noble Knights of Lara after last week's segment, there's not much Doña Lambra can do about the midnight disturbance, but she does what she can.

* * *

“Ermenegildo Antolínez, I will not tolerate that kind of mixing in my household,” Lambra said, as gruffly as she could to cover her panic. Which of her ladies had it been? It could have been any of them except Justa, who remained there by her side.
“Did you hear that, everybody? Stay in your own bed,” Ermenegildo called out. He was answered by several guffaws and many exhausted moans. 

* * *

Check out the other wonderful excerpts at Thanks for stopping by here and keeping my novel on track!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Writing, The Profession for Shut-Ins

Since I've arrived in Atlanta, I've had a wrecking service masquerade as our movers, a wasp infestation, several giant scary horrific roaches, two serious crises with the air conditioner in our new apartment while it was over 80 and 100 degrees, and a husband absorbed in his new job. I sympathize with the people at his job who want my husband to be there 24 hours a day (I love him that much, too), but if only we didn't need this job so badly, I would march over there and tell them that I did not marry him so I could spend a precious hour with him before he fell over asleep from pure exhaustion each night.

In spite of these inconveniences -- and, maybe because of the one of them -- I've been keeping up with my writing schedule. I'm finished with a first draft of Chapter 17 of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara and have sketched out the basic moves in the remaining planned chapters, of which there are currently 21. Dare I hope that the first draft of this project, which has been as epic in its writing as it is in its story, could be done by December? Yes, I think I dare! Setting tangible goals with a solid deadlines has been the single most helpful change I've made to my writing in the past two years.

So, unlike constructive criticism, in which you're supposed to sandwich a negative in between two positives, I'm going to sandwich the great news about my writing between two not-so-great ideas. All of these things I've mentioned so far have led to an inability so far to get out and explore Atlanta. I've been busy with a bunch of projects I'll announce later, but they involve my previous contacts from Tucson. And when I say busy, I mean, I've been working nonstop! All from home. I don't know what the people are really like here beyond the waiters in restaurants and I don't know the architecture or atmosphere beyond the road to the grocery store and the movie theatre.

This is temporary. I've been putting out slow tendrils to get to know other writers here, etc., and eventually my husband and I will have a clear weekend in which we can visit the aquarium, Stone Mountain, and any number of other recommended Atlanta activities. But for now, I'm really glad I'm a writer and a publisher. There aren't too many other professions that can be practiced in a completely virtual environment.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Laughing Princess by Seymour Hamilton

Anyone who read the wonderful Astreya Trilogy probably hoped Seymour Hamilton had something else up his sleeve. He did! Although this book also displays the author's talent for description and love for the sea, everything else about it is different from Astreya. Actually, it's not much like any other book available today. The Laughing Princess is a collection of stories or fables, all concerning dragons and the powers they still wield in our jaded world. One dragon in particular tells all twelve stories to a pair of siblings on holiday in a seacoast town that is much more special than they realize. 

The stories themselves range from meditative to epic, with melancholy musings on love and one's purpose in life as well as violent battles and the searing char of a dragon's breath. Some warn against bad behavior, and others merely advise that you be careful what you wish for. Most have an inimitable sense of humor sure to draw the reader in to sympathize with or revile at least one or two of the many rich characters presented. I was charmed by the unexpected outcomes of many of these little gems, and had a good chuckle even when the plot was more predictable. The important thing is that all together, these stories teach the reader to see the wonder in the world. This book is magical for that reason alone.

If you'd like to read something new that nonetheless feels like a half-remembered fireside chat, this is the book for you. Suitable for children and for adults who aren't too cynical. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

SSS: Medieval Sleeping Derangements

Last week, a few of you wondered why Lambra woke up so hot in the middle of the night. Although it's September and the weather is moving into autumn, and the fire has gone out, she's just had a disturbing dream about her nephew-in-law Gonzalo with a bizarrely erotic element that I have not included in any snippets because I'd hate to give the wrong impression on my blog. Those tidbits (turn-ons? turn-offs?) are for the readers of the complete book, whenever it comes out.

This snippet from Chapter Six of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara comes right after last week's. I hope you enjoy!

* * * 

They were trying not to wake anyone, but Lambra could tell that the muffled sound was coming from her side of the hall. She turned onto her stomach and faced the spot where she knew the vassal and his wife slept.
“Ermenegildo Antolínez,” Lambra called out into the marred silence. “Someone is on the wrong side of the hall.”
Sounds of shuffling arose from multiple corners as sleepers woke, the couple abruptly stopped their sensuous movements, and Ermenegildo Antolínez fumbled in the dark to light a beeswax candle. In the slow-growing amber flare, Lambra witnessed a bulk scurrying to collapse toward the floor and Gonzalo’s, definitely Gonzalo’s, chest heaving amidst the steady line of his brothers’ even breathing.

* * *

Thanks so much for stopping by! I just love your comments that let me know what you enjoy or don't like as much about each snippet. I always write back. Many and varied clips await you at

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld

The Cross and the Dragon is the story of Alda, wife of Hruodland, the Roland of medieval epic poetry. Rather than focus on the epic battle at Roncevaux, the book allows the reader to see what life was like for the women who stayed behind while the men went off to war. The author brings incredible, historically accurate detail into the service of place and character, so even if you know nothing about the Middle Ages, this page-turner will be a painless learning experience.

(SPOILER ALERT) The author took inspiration from legends outside the medieval epic, such that Hruodland doesn't actually die at Roncevaux. The battle is only the beginning of the lovers' trials and tribulations as Hruodland tries to be reunited with Alda, who believes he is dead. The antagonist is so convincing in his irredeemable evil that even though I don't generally believe in revenge, I found his downfall immensely satisfying. This book has one of the tidiest, happiest endings I have read in years. (END SPOILERS)

I recommend this book for anyone who likes a good love story with their well-researched, atmospheric history.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Grisly/Grizzly Sight?

Is this a grisly or a grizzly sight? Maybe both...

Lately I've come across a certain misused pair of homophones in published books, and wanted to use this space to muse on it.

Something grisly causes horror in the viewer: We shuddered at the grisly sight of a dehorned rhino. Grisly is a word with a long history in English, being Anglo-Saxon in origin.

Grizzly is a newer word, at least 500 years younger than grisly. It refers to something grey or greyish, normally hair: By the end of his presidency, any man's hair will be more grizzly than it was at the beginning. Grizzly bears, as you can see in the picture above, develop a layer of grey hair.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but grey hair doesn't automatically make me shudder, which is to say that it usually isn't grisly, just grizzly.

So, while you might find the sight of a roaring grizzly bear also a bit grisly (but you should probably look for a less similar word), a gruesome murder is usually not grizzly except in the most absurd literature.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

SSS: Medieval Sleeping Arrangements and Derangements

Last week, we experienced the layout of the crowded hall and got rid of the spiders so we could sleep on our straw pallets. It's not going to be a night of uninterrupted sleep for doña Lambra.

* * * 

Her eyes snapped open into profound blackness. She heard the normal sounds of people breathing around the perimeter of the hall and shifting on top of their crackling straw ticks. A bead of sweat ran over her ear. She felt as if the fireplace she lay next to contained a roaring blaze even though the flame must have died hours before. She threw a blanket off to her side and her nostrils were assaulted with her own scent as she felt where the wispy chainse was stuck to her wet skin.
           Then she heard it: the rhythmic soft moaning of a man and woman. 

* * *

Uh-oh, I don't think the new lady of the manor is going to like that!

Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments so very much and always respond in kind. Check out all the great clips at

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Abencerraje 99 Cents... for now

The promotion for The Abencerraje was a roaring success. It outsold everything I've ever published before and earned the distinction of being an Amazon top seller in literary fiction. Free copies at the .com (American) site were given away at ten times the rate of the UK site and about fifty times the rate of the other European sites.

Since the free promotion ended, its price has been the modest, impulse-buy, Walmart model, 99 cents. However, it does cost money to publish ebooks, and in order to recoup those costs, I'm faced with having to raise the price. Consider yourself warned: this weekend the price will go up drastically, so if you still don't have this enchanting, authentic historical look at friendship across battle lines, now is the time to buy!

A paperback version will be coming out soon. Look for the Amazon reviews on the back cover. That's right! Give me a well-written phrase and I might put it on the back cover of this book I love so much!

Amazon Prime members can still borrow this book for free! Please do so! It would mean so much to me!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Dreams

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

I thought I'd take this chance to share a couple of graphics I've seen on Facebook recently. As you're pondering how you'd like to be patriotic this year, please consider supporting homegrown writers who are struggling in this brave new publishing world.

Not to mention, two minutes to gobble versus a potential lifetime of enjoyment!

So hooray for the USA and hooray for the artists and writers who represent what we gained with our fight for independence!

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Release and Interview from Marie Danielle Frankson

More than a year ago, I interviewed "up and coming" author Marie Danielle Frankson. She has indeed accomplished much in just this past year, with a new novel in a totally new genre. Here's the amazing way the story got started.

Seeking Utopia is my third novel and my first attempt at writing a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel. It centers around three main characters -- Emily, Ryan, and Silas -- who are facing the end of the world together. The entire story takes place over the course of about a month and we see how each character grows and each tells the story from their own point of view. I based the characters of Ryan and Emily off of my fiance and I and I tried to make the characters as flesh-and-blood true to life as possible in the hopes that people can relate to them. Also, it's important to note that there are themes in this book that may not be appropriate for people under the age of 17.
This book, with the editing and publishing process included, took me about a year and a half to complete. Normally it doesn't take me that long and I can crank out a book in a couple of months, but I worked really hard on this one, did a lot of research, and talked to some friends of mine who are published sci-fi writers for advice.
At the risk of sounding crazy, I got the idea for this book from a UFO sighting. Back in October 2010, my dad and I were on our way home from a trip to our local Wal-Mart store to get some groceries and we stopped off at a gas station for coffee. On the 2.5 mile or so drive back home, we saw something football-shaped and glowing orange in the sky hovering over downtown. Neither of us could tell what it was and we were both curious, so we drove in the direction of downtown with the orange glowing football-shaped thing in our sights the entire time. Suddenly, as we turned onto a side street, we heard helicopters fly overhead and the orange glowing thing just vanished. That summer, the History Channel came out with a documentary called "I Know What I Saw" about UFO sightings. My dad and I were watching a part of it together and we saw someone being interviewed who said they were in an airplane about to land at the Albany International Airport (which, living in Albany, NY, isn't too far from us) when they saw something football-shaped and glowing orange out of the window. That person described exactly what we had seen! Right then, I knew I wasn't crazy and started writing down the information and description of the UFO that my dad and I saw. I was always a skeptic when it came to UFOs, but after seeing what I saw, I know we can't possibly be alone in the universe.
Since our last interview, I have been busy with school. I finished my junior year at college and will be starting my senior year on August 27th. I was involved with something called Sponsor-A-Scholar, which is basically tutoring with a twist--instead of just helping the students with their homework, I was in a group with two other young women and we worked together to come up with fun social studies lessons for the kids. Also, I became a volunteer at the New York State Museum, a history blogger, and an Examiner for writing about Albany, NY and New York State history. Now that I'm done with school for the summer, I've been looking for jobs, researching and writing for my history blog and Examiner articles, and my dad and I have been working on developing a history-based webshow which I hope to start filming soon. I want to send a copy of the show to our local PBS station in hopes of getting my own TV show, although my ultimate goal is getting a show on the History Channel. Also, I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of four years (he actually proposed on our four year anniversary) and I've been working on my fourth book, Somewhere In Between, which is a continuation of my second novel, Balancing Act. Because of a hectic school schedule this coming academic year, I do not know when it will be finished and published. My hope is to have it finished and on the market by March of 2013.

Get the Seeking Utopia paperback here and wherever fine paperbacks are sold. Check back for the ebooks soon!

The Transfer of Age is available in Kindle, Nook, Kobo and paperback.

Balancing Act is also available in Kindle, Nook, Kobo and paperback.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

SSS: Medieval Sleeping Arrangements

It wasn't all four-poster beds and brocade curtains in the tenth century. This segment from The Seven Noble Knights of Lara, which comes shortly after last week's, shows that a thousand years ago, people had never heard of "comfort."

* * * 

“I don’t think I’ve ever hosted this many people before,” explained Ermenegildo Antolínez.
After a supper of stew with onions, leeks, and carrots, the landholder and the seven brothers moved the table against the wall in order to make more room for two long rows of bodies to sleep side by side. Lambra claimed the spot nearest the fireplace and set Justa’s bedding next to her for insulation from everyone else. Lambra was glad that Justa knew to direct that the sexes be segregated just like they were in Bureba, with women all in Lambra’s row and all the men in the other across a cleared aisle, although Ermenegildo Antolínez’s wife quietly took her place next to her husband, directly across from Lambra. Toward the end of the hall where they’d placed the chamber pot, it was found that there weren’t enough bed pallets, so Little Page and Lambra’s other male servants followed Ermenegildo Antolínez to the barns to get more hay. Once every last person had a straw tick of some sort to lie atop, and all the spiders that ran out of the straw had been stepped on, swatted, burned, or drowned, travelers and hosts could finally rest.

* * *

Thanks so much for stepping into my historical Spanish world for a moment. I appreciate your comments so much! I return the favor in kind. The official Six Sentence Sunday site is here. Can't wait to see all the great snippets next week!