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Monday, December 30, 2013

Third Annual Knauss Awards for Excellent Books

Here we are again! Something that never changes from year to year is my love for reading. It seems I get to do less and less every year, and this time I was further hampered by the fact that I've lived in a hotel room for eight months. Such spaces are not known for their ample bookshelves, and I can confirm that I had zero nice places to store my books. Unless you consider a box under the bed a nice place. (Crimes against literature, I tell you.) On to the winners!

Best Fiction
The Color Master by Aimee Bender
The best fiction title of 2013 won by virtue of its being the one I most look forward to having handy on a shelf so I can open it back up and discover something new all over again. The Color Master is full of shimmering language in the service of a vigorous imagination. Read the full review here.

Best Non-Fiction
Clara's Grand Tour by Glynis Ridley
The best nonfiction title this year had more competition than I even remembered, but it's so good it beat out the others even though it was published in 2004. It researches and describes a world-changing moment (two decades) in the eighteenth century when a Dutch sea captain purchased and toured throughout Europe with a female greater one-horned rhinoceros. The author never puts forth ideas without solid evidence to back them up, but so much joy shines through her facts that the reader can't help but conjecture and imagine both the sailor and the rhino as personal acquaintances. It's everything a non-fiction book should be. (Of course, I love anything that helps me learn more about rhinos.)

Best Book I Edited
The Fiery Alphabet by Diane Lefer
This category gets more competitive by the minute. Looking back over the year, I actually find it hard to believe I edited The Fiery Alphabet in 2013. I feel like it's been with me forever. That overall fondness, coupled with its exquisite writing and historical, philosophical, sociological plot, make it the best book I edited this year. Read about its debut and an interview with the author here.

I wish I could honor every book I read because reading is such an amazing experience. Congratulations to the winners! Here's to an equally wordy 2014!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interview: A World of Joy Author K. N. Lee

Author K. N. Lee
Please welcome prolific author K. N. Lee! Her story adds some fantasy to the holiday magic of A World of Joy.

JK: What is your story about?

KNL: "The Ticking Ring" is about a young couple in Ireland. Amidst a strange snowstorm, they experience a magical moment that reveals to them what their true dreams and priorities are. Jack and Ella discover a few spectacular things about one another. 

JK: Does the story depart from your usual writing?

KNL: While the anthology A World of Joy is about joy, goodwill, family, and the holidays, I knew that I must stay true to my fantastical style. Therefore, the reader can look forward to a few surprises and a hint of magic!

JK: What else can readers find written by you?

KNL: I am the author of the urban-fantasy, The Chronicles of Koa: Netherworld, Thicker Than Blood, and the poetry collections Wicked Webs and Empty Your Heart. The Chronicles of Koa has a sequel called Lyrinian Blade coming out this December!

JK: What are your plans for this holiday season?

KNL: I'm quite the avid traveler, so this Christmas I'll either explore Munich, Germany or go somewhere tropical! I haven't decided, but I'm certain that I'll have a blast working on my next science-fiction series, Freya's Bridge.

JK: Thank you so much for sharing the holiday spirit with us. 

KNL: Thank you! 

Visit any of K. N. Lee's many websites:
Facebook Twitter 

And of course, A World of Joy is available for download now! Thank you, readers, for spending December with the World of Joy authors. Happy Holidays! Come back December 30 for the Knauss Awards.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Interview: A World of Joy Author Juliet Kincaid

Welcome Juliet Kincaid, whose story in A World of Joy features not just people, but also Maine Coon cats.

Q: Tell us about your story.

JK: Another Christmas Carol is actually the third of the mystery stories I’ve written involving Jen Shirey, a young female private detective, and several Maine Coon cats. In the first story, “Cat Show Caper,” she meets the cats and their owners, Blanche Hubbard and Blanche’s mother, Mrs. Elvira Jones. In the second, “Catnapped!” Jen travels to the Hubbards’ bed and breakfast located in a small town much like Westin, MO. Here she meets Blanche’s personable son, Eric Hubbard. By time “Another Christmas Carol,” takes place, Eric and Jen have gotten to know each other fairly well and seem ready to take their friendship to the next level — until Eric’s old flame shows up.

Q: What was the inspiration for the tale?

JK: Part of the fun and festivity of the holidays for me is attending productions of seasonal favorites like the Nutcracker Ballet and A Christmas Carol. Also, in and around Kansas City, historical homes are often open to the public with appropriately seasonal decorations and costumed guides. Yet in Dickens’ original story and in our very real lives, we can have mixed feelings about the holidays. Partly, this arises from disappointment when holidays don’t meet our high expectations for them. So Jen’s cranky and not at all joyous to start the story, pretty much like Ebenezer Scrooge, but the story ends happily for Jen, as it does for Scrooge.

Q: What other writing are you working on?

JK: Currently I’m writing and publishing Cinderella, P. I. stories and a novel. Like “Another Christmas Carol,” they’re crime fiction, but not murder mysteries. They have humor and happy endings. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook and a trade paperback. And Cinderella, P. I., and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook. The trade paperback version of the story collection should become available this month. And coming in January 2014: January Jinx, the first in the Calendar historical mystery series.

Q: Do you have holiday traditions of your own? 

JK: My daughter and I are looking forward to attending a friend’s ladies tea, a mystery dinner theatre with a Roaring 20’s theme, and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a wild and fun variation on the usual story from the Owen/Cox Dance Group. We will spend Christmas itself quietly with just the two of us. We’ll give each other gifts, eat well (maybe we’ll roast a duck this year), and take joy in being together.

Q: Where can readers fin out more about your writing?

JK: My web site is, recently restored after a hiatus. I post blogs on a variety of subjects including my experiences launching a new career after the age of sixty and what I learn from the books I read that help me write my own.

Q: Thanks for sharing your story from this joyous anthology.

JK: Thank you so much!

Spread the yuletide cheer! A World of Joy is available for free download now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Interview: A World of Joy Author Judith Works

Welcome Judith Works, who brings a special Italian flavor to the World of Joy anthology.

JK: What is your story about? Is it inspired by your personal experiences with the holidays?

JW: I wrote this little story about Christmas in Rome because at this time of the year my thoughts always return to Italy, where I lived for ten years. My husband and I moved to Rome when I had a job with the United Nations and he took a very early retirement from his own job to become our chef, home manager, driver and tour guide for us and for our daughter and friends who visited regularly. 

The story tells how different the holiday celebration is compared to here: much lower key, more emphasis on the Christmas story, and with its own traditional foods. Because of the happy memories from those years, we now keep some of the Italian traditions like eating panettone, and enjoying a Nativity set made in Italy. In the story, I write about the crystal drops we purchased at a flea market to hang on our Christmas tree. The drops, taken from old chandeliers, always make me think of who might have danced under the glittering lights in the 1800s —a sentimental touch for our home now so far from Italy.
JK: Do you ever get to go back to Italy?

JW: We return to Italy nearly every year to see friends and to enjoy life. This year we spent two weeks in September in Milan and Rome, and for a special treat, we are returning for Thanksgiving. Italians do not celebrate this holiday, but there are special events to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the UN World Food Program which we will attend.   
JK: What else have you written and published?

JW: I am the author of a memoir, Coins in the Fountain, which depicts the joys and travails of expat life in Italy. It is available as an ebook. I also blog at about my travel adventures. I write travel articles for two on-line magazines, Travel Belles and Plum Deluxe. My forthcoming novel, set in Rome, is in the final stages as my editor is just finishing up reviewing the last two chapters.
JK: Thank you so much for adding an international flair to the anthology.

A World of Joy is available for free download now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Interview: World of Joy Author Diane Major

Author Diane Major
Welcome Diane Major, whose wonderful World of Joy story is "Mason and Bess at Christmas."

JK: What is your story in the anthology about?

DM: Mason and Bess live in a world named Sanctea. It is Christmas Day when the children wake up to discover their Christmas tree has vanished. Queen Anna, Mason’s mom, accompanies the children in their search for the tree. When Mason and Bess finally find the tree, they meet Father Christmas, who has a splendid surprise.

This is a story which suggests that giving presents is fine, but it is more important to bring friends and family together to celebrate the festive season.

JK: What else have you written and published? 

DM: To date, I have written several fantasy adventure novels. They range from books for adults to my children’s series about Mason and Bess. The Mason and Bess books are all fantasy adventure, or you might call them fairy tales. I wrote these stories to inspire children, but particularly boys, to enjoy reading. They are fast-paced stories about two friends who meet various creatures, both good and bad; however, they all have a happy ending.

JK: Do you have any special holiday traditions in real life?

DM: All of my relatives come together at my house for Christmas dinner. We do this on an annual basis on Christmas Day. This is the one time of the year when my mother, children, grandchildren, brother, nephew and his family, ensure we meet to celebrate the festive season as a family.

JK: What's next for you?

DM: As well as "Mason and Bess at Christmas" being available in A World of Joy, my third book in the series which is called, Mason and Bess, A Different Adventure, will be published in the very near future. This is a story when the children meet Dragons and Boggarts.

JK: Sounds cool! Thanks for sharing the seasonal joy at my blog.

DM: Thank you so much, Jessica.

Visit Diane's author page: Amazon US and Amazon UK

And don't forget to get your free copy of A World of Joy!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Interview: World of Joy Author Marcy Dyer

Welcome Marcy Dyer to the blog as the second guest in the World of Joy interview series. Her story in the anthology is called "Bleak Christmas."

JK: What is your World of Joy story about?

MD: The main character in my story is Gabby. She's grieving and wants nothing to do with Christmas. Until she meets a young girl, Jenny. Jenny's kindness changes Gabby's outlook.

JK: What was the inspiration for the story? How does it reflect your experience of the holidays?

MD: I have difficulty relating to Gabby, because I have never endured her circumstances, but as nurse who worked in hospice for many years, I've been with family members as they faced the holidays without joy because of their loss. They provided some of the inspiration for the story.

It reflects the holidays for me, because I feel Christmas should be a time of year to reach out to others — those who are hurting or less fortunate.

JK: What else have you written and published? 

MD: This story is a departure from my usual writing. I normally write Christian Suspense/Romantic Suspense. I have two books out now, Down & Out and Out for Blood. Both are available in electronic format and in February, Down & Out will come out in paperback.

JK: Thanks for visiting my blog for this joyous interview series.

Please visit Marcy's website:
Her books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And don't forget to pick up your free copy of A World of Joy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Interview: A World of Joy Author Elizabeth Rye

New Author Elizabeth Rye
Welcome our first interviewee, Elizabeth Rye, who has many reasons to celebrate, because her writing debuts in AWorld of Joy

JK: What happens in your story?

ER: Blair and Derek have been divorced for two years when out of the blue Derek calls with an odd request. His Aunt Agnes is dying of cancer and has invited the couple to spend Christmas with her. The problem is that she doesn’t know about the divorce and Derek doesn’t want to tell her. Instead he calls Blair for help. “I was hoping you’d consider being my wife for the weekend,” he asks.

Despite his hostile attitude, Blair agrees. She’s never stopped loving him and decides that now is the time to fight for what she wants — what she wants is her husband back.

Will this Christmas be one of joy? Will Blair and Derek be happily reunited? To answer these and other questions, read “Weekend Wife” by Elizabeth Rye in A World of Joy.

JK:  Where did the story’s inspiration come from? How does it reflect the holidays for you?

ER: The story came over time. One day around the holidays several years ago, Blair introduced herself to me. All I knew was that she was divorced from her husband and that he’d called because his aunt was dying and wanted to see them, not knowing about the divorce.

That was the story I had. I didn’t know what the end was. All I had was the beginning. When the holidays ended that year I had gotten no further and the inspiration for a Christmas story wasn’t there in February for me and so I put it away. I didn’t look at it again until I saw requests for the ASMSG anthology, A World of Joy.

This time, when I picked the story up, Blair was talking again, leading me onward to what her story was. Years ago I’d thought her story would be a novella but I soon realized that it wasn’t that complex. It was a simple story.

For me, Christmas is a time be thankful and a time to be with those we love. That is Blair and Derek’s story.

JK: What else do you write?

ER: I began as a writer of children’s stories and simple poetry. As the journey continued, my word vocabulary grew and I began to write adult fiction, though I still dabble with the latter two from time to time.

Currently I’m working simultaneously with a collection of essays chronicling historical events in America that have been forgotten, two romance novels and a mystery novella.

I find writing to be fun and above all, a learning experience. From all walks of life, a story waits and it is the writer who must pounce like a cat or spin a web as a spider does to catch the prey that will become our next book.

Though my short story, "Weekend Wife," will be my first official publication, I have published dozens of articles on my blog. These range from self-help essays for writers, writing exercises and advise, to historical and modern disasters and others that take on a lighter side. I believe a writer should never limit themselves. To that end I write what interests me, be it popular or neglected thoughts and dreams.

JK: Any other happy tid-bits to share?

ER: I have an old car with a warm heater. I still have enough money in the bank to pay off my Avon bill – I sell. My family and friends are supportive of my writing whether they understand/agree with it or not. In time, every story finds an ending.

JK: Can you share what you’ll be doing this Christmas?

ER: This Christmas I’ll deck the house out. This includes a green tree in the living room and a pink tree somewhere else. I don’t know if it’ll find its way to the dining room, entranceway or the landing – it’s been in all places over the years. I have my mini village from Wal-Mart/Walgreen’s/Dollar General to put up – that’s when the buildings still cost a dollar each. Stockings, of course, go over the mantle. Upstairs, I place Christmas Little Golden Books over each of the bedroom doors.

I plan to make several batches of cookies and let someone else clean up the mess. Naturally, I get to eat the first ones out of my 1926 Peoples Gas oven. I think we’ll have ham this year and I’m going to see a big mound of real mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce next to it. Surrounded by my family and my two year old turtle, Sparky, this Christmas will be one of joy.

JK: Do you have any other writing coming out soon?

ER: At present I don’t have anything else scheduled for publication. I have many irons, as they say, in the fire, with several nearing their final stages. Some of these will go the agent/publisher route, others I will self-publish.

JK: Thank you so much for being here.

ER: Thank you, Jessica, for taking the time to conduct this interview and for all your work in the writing industry. Writers' work hard and it is in these moments that our dreams are realized.

A World of Joy is available now for free download.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holiday Anthology Debut

Please join me in welcoming the holiday anthology, A World of Joy, into this world! Twenty-two stories of yuletide cheer for you to enjoy for free!

My story in this collection is called "Axe Man." I've never written a "holiday" story before, so I dug around in my own life experience and the resulting story is based not-very-loosely on my husband and me. It shows our situation accurate in everything except the fine details, and I hope it communicates the depth of our love for each other. What could be more appropriate for the holidays?

The plot centers around our longing for stability after these years of moving every six months. And yes, it features a visit from a certain Christmas eve traveler! I hope my take on St. Nicholas is unconventional and surprising without subtracting from the spirit of joy he imparts.

So anyway, if you'd like to read a slightly fantastical story about two tired people in love, you can do it for free with a download of A World of Joy. It will soon be available in all the ebook stores you can imagine.

In December, I'll be featuring short interviews with six of the other authors of the varied stories in this exciting anthology. Be sure to tune in!

Friday, November 29, 2013

November Recap

In November, I've done a few things, including:

I met my NaNoWriMo challenge goal and wrote 25,000 words for Waterfire, Part II of the Providence Trilogy Awash in Talent, converting it officially into a novella. More on that later!

I cut more than 2,000 words from my epic Seven Noble Knights (while keeping the old copy just in case) as well as cutting a few words from the title. I sent out a few query letters, got a few rejections, and a few leads.

I edited and copyedited and proofread my story, "Axe Man," for the anthology A World of Joy (debuting soon!).

Rare photo of a male Javan rhino. IRF
My husband and I decided to celebrate the holidays by giving. We chose to donate to the International Rhino Foundation because of all the organizations we looked into, the money seemed to go the farthest with them. It is my fond hope that our small amount of cash will make a difference in the lives of the most endangered, largest land mammals on Earth, Javan rhinoceroses. We also decided to "adopt" a Sumatran rhino through the World Wildlife Fund because we couldn't resist the swag! Merry Christmas and prosperous 2014!

Yours truly with WWF Adoption swag, an
achingly cute (and hairy) Sumatran rhino plush. We'll put
him back in the bag to open on Christmas.

In other rhino-related news, I wrote five pieces of flash fiction in October, in honor of the five surviving species of rhinoceros, and submitted them to an anthology after polishing them in November. My husband loves these little vignettes and I hope at least one of them is accepted. They will be added to the Rhinoceros Dreams omnibus in the future.

I haven't moved yet, so that's still hanging over me like the Sword of Damocles. There was a lot going on at Loose Leaves, too, enough for a full time job!

For the month of December, this blog will be celebrating books! I'll have interviews with six of the authors from the new free holiday anthology, A World of Joy, and at the end of the month, for the third year, the annual Knauss Awards.

In December, I'll also be taking a course in writing magical realism. I'll be sure to let you know how that went in January. Thanks for stopping by — see you again soon!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cover Reveal: A World of Joy

Happy 11/12/13!

It's my pleasure to reveal the cover for a yuletide anthology I'm going to have a story in. This lovely, cheery cover was designed by Lauren Jolles of Filmchild Creations at Deviant Art.

Many authors from the Authors Social Media Support Group — which has become so much more than that — have gotten together to bring you family-friendly, holiday-themed stories (to reiterate, one of them is mine!) for absolutely no cash. That's right, hours of seasonal entertainment for free.

The World of Joy Anthology will debut on November 29. I'll be sure to include links for you to download. I'll tell you all about the strong sentiments behind my story then, too, and in December, I'll have interviews with a few of the other authors. Be sure to stop by for a warm, friendly experience in all the cold weather.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Votes Are In...

Thanks to everyone who let me know what they would prefer to read, here or via Facebook or Twitter. I read a lot of helpful comments and learned something about my readers, so that's always a wonderful experience!

The overwhelming vote was for the firestarters.

I'm really excited to go full out on this story and finish it! It's conceived as a companion to "Middle Awash in Talent," which is now going to be called "Hope & Benevolent." It takes place in a world where most things are just like they are in our daily world, but the general population is joined by people with three different kinds of Talents: telekinesis, pyrokinesis (firestarter talent), and psychics.

Because these powers manifest in members of otherwise normal families when the child is in his or her early teens, these stories are YA or NA and most characters are 13 to 20 years old. Once I finish this one, I plan to start a third story, about psychics. No promises that I'll be able to start it in November, but that would be the ideal.

Otherwise, this series of long stories, which I will put together in a single book when they're all complete, is intended as a celebration of Providence, Rhode Island, where I spent some of my formative years among college students. So the series will be called PROVIDENCE and this firestarter story, "Waterfire."

Waterfire is a real-life art installation I can't wait to describe for you in the story. Suffice to say for now that it's amazing.

Time to get to work! These pictures are sure inspiring. The blog will be confined to practical updates and supercool announcements about publications. (Watch for those!) Otherwise, I'll see you again in December!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Next month is NaNoWriMo, a month which has become sacred in the lives of professional writers and those who plan to use it make the leap into professionalism. It's a marathon writing session, and like real races, the writing athlete has to train for this one.

Mainly, what's involved is research and planning, because the words come out a lot more slowly when you have no idea what you're writing about.

It seems I find myself here most Octobers: how do I decide which project to work on in November so I can do the proper planning? It seems my muse loves the change of seasons, because I get more serious ideas for writing projects in the autumn than at any other time.

For the 2013 exercises, I'm really not sure how many words I'll be able to make for a reasonable goal, because I anticipate a lot of fundamental life changes. Then again, I made my goal of 25,000 words and actually completing my novel in spite of a few setbacks and my husband coming home to vacuum when I was ready to type the last word. (I'm not sure I'll ever know what that was about.)

Setbacks this year include:

   Not having any of those trappings I pictured and wrote about in my completion post. There was some serious inspiration in those unassuming objects, and as of this writing I'm still (five months later!) in a hotel with only the barest essentials. I left behind everything but the computer, convinced we would get the sentimental objects out of storage within four to six weeks. Sigh. But I do have story notes I can use because the ideas for both projects came to me here.
   Not being able to decide which project to write!
   Probably moving and waiting for my stuff in storage to come to me some time in November.
   Most likely, my husband ending his job. Nothing like money worries to take one's inspiration away.

But I have grit. Cervantes wrote in prison, and a hotel is definitely better than that. So here are the possibilities:

A YA paranormal story about a sassy girl who can start fires with her mind. Her school is oppressive and she's got to find the self-confidence to break out in spite of some serious traumas. It's conceived as a companion piece to "Middle Awash in Talent" (title soon to be changed), which is about a sassy girl whose sister can move objects with her mind and who has control over whom in that relationship. Like "Middle Awash," this one would be 16,000 to 20,000 words and I would complete it if I chose it for NaNo. Then the question would be whether to try to carry on with the third story I plan to write in that universe, thus completing the book-length project entirely. The third story will be about a psychic as defined against the Talents in the other two stories.


Begin and pledge a reasonable number of words for the rhino novel. An ingenue stumbles into corruption and intrigue on the rhino preserve where she gets a job. The ideas have become unexpectedly thriller-like as I think them through. There is some urgency to this project, since I'd like to complete a novel about rhinos before they're gone from the real world.

And I must make this decision while furiously typing away on a story for a holiday anthology due at the end of October (more on that soon).

Please weigh in. Firestarters or rhinos?

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Review of Law and Order in Medieval Spain

Whenever I sell a copy of Law and Order in Medieval Spain, I'm a little amazed. I love finding out that there are some people looking for a nonfiction book of literary criticism of thirteenth-century poetry based on legal tracts. I recently had occasion to be dumbfounded when I wandered onto the Amazon page for this book with a different objective to find that a thoughtful reader had taken the time to leave an unsolicited (but much appreciated) five-star review.

Readers, there is nothing that makes an author's day like an unexpected bit of honest appreciation from someone who connected with that author's book.

"A book for a well rounded library," this singular review proclaims. "Enjoyed reading this book and so glad I found it. In college I took a music history class that covered the cantigas of the Virgin Mary."

Me, too. My first exposure to the Cantigas was in "Música Española," a class for American college students in Córdoba, Spain.

"I did find many other books but they were mostly in Latin and the prices were in the range from fifty dollars up to six hundred. This book was at the right price for me but the author put her heart into this book."

Quality academic publishing is expensive, but students are the people who can least afford high prices. I priced the book to be accessible to everyone who might have a hint of interest. Yes, I admit, I put my heart into this book — thanks for appreciating it!

"All her research is well documented and footnoted with names of other authors and universities where I could even get more history."

The highest academic standards were in place at all times during construction of this book. Blood, sweat, and tears. It's nice to know readers like that.

"The ancient art work is a treasure to behold especially since I don't think I'll be traveling to Spain. The subject of this book can interest those who like history, religion, music, or art. All these reasons are why I think this book is for a well rounded library."

That's what I love most about the Cantigas de Santa Maria: they touch so many aspects of medieval life. They aren't unitary, but a combination.

"I even wish the author would write a second book with more on the cantigas of the Virgin Mary." 

Of course this makes me want to drop everything and head to the library to start researching more! 

You can read the whole review without interruption by scrolling down here. Thank you for sharing my joy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rhinos While They Last

I'd like to share two similar infographics, each with its own point of view and information (click on the sources for better views):

From the Huffington Post:

From Al Jazeera:

Complex, but not hard to understand when you come from the point of view that all such destruction comes from ignorance and greed.

A much-needed dose of sanity about the possibility of legalizing trade comes from Annamiticus.

In a nutshell:

1. Rhino horn is worth nothing to human beings.

2. Rhinos must be saved.

3. It's not too late.

I'll expand on these bits of knowledge next week. Feel free to ask questions and let me know what isn't obvious about the rhino crisis.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day and Spanish Heritage

In the picture above, the pulverized remains of Christopher Columbus rest in the casket supported by the four kingdoms of Spain in the Sevilla cathedral below a painting of St. Christopher. Of course, no one is sure those are his actual remains, despite research and DNA testing. Columbus's final resting place has become as equivocal as his legacy.

October 12 is not only the day Europeans first set foot in the Bahamas, but also a day to celebrate Hispanicness, whatever that means to you.

Here are a few suggestions for how to mark the day:

Celebrate Spain with the medieval Spaniards.
Celebrate Spain with historical novelists.
Celebrate Spain with me.
Feel the thrill of fear on the first Columbian voyage.
Read about another unforgettable event in 1492.

Mostly, enjoy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

True Grit

If you need to be inspired to keep your nose to the grindstone in a way that doesn't take too much time away from that nose-grindstone contact, try this lovely tidbit. Ira Glass is incredible, anyway, and now he brings us years' worth of wisdom in two minutes.

On  the same day, I read an article that scientifically proved that success is better predicted by a person's "grit" quotient than by intelligence. Grit is perseverance and enthusiasm for long-term goals that cause an aversion to giving up. More or less, doggedness.

So I bit. I took the test. And thank goodness, this is how it came out:

That's 98, 99 and 97th percentiles across the board. I am gritty. Yes! Some long term things I've accomplished that bear this out are finishing an epic novel even while I moved to four different states, a PhD, two thesis-based master's degrees, and founding not one but two publishing companies.

So, that predicts success in the future, right? Because we all need to know the end goal isn't totally out of reach, and – dare I say it? – maybe even visible from here. I may be super gritty, but I'm starting to cramp up from keeping my heels dug in...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dragon's Child: The King Arthur Trilogy by M. K. Hume

M. K. Hume set out to retell the Arthur legends from a new perspective, using the strength of her knowledge about post-Roman Britain, and tomorrow, that dream makes it to American readers with the first book in the King Arthur Trilogy, Dragon's Child.

The novel accomplishes many things, including:

Describing the post-Roman ambiance
Showing Latin placenames for Arthurians sites
Explaining the controversy between Roman, Celtic, and Saxon factions
Revealing that Arthur had a wife before Guinevere
Being old fashioned

I'm not saying that last one is a bad thing. Old fashioned writing is clearly a matter of taste. The novel doesn't really fit in with contemporary historical fiction for two big reasons: the pacing and the point of view.

Pacing: I was puzzled as to why certain passages were emphasized with description, dialogue, and emotional analysis while others were glossed over. The first really big event occurs more than 100 pages in. A devastating evening at the villa turns into several highly detailed days of horrors which stand out all the more because of the surrounding summarizing passages. I already believed Caius was nasty and have a sense of some of the depraved things Romans did in history, so I'm not sure the scenes in which Caius's friends worship the death gods and Arthur exhumes the corpses of abused children were necessary. Perhaps the depth of Caius's evil is important in an upcoming book? For the rest of the novel, I couldn't decide whether it could be condensed to a normal-sized novel or split up even further into two or three. Sometimes, an event was discussed or pondered so much that when it happened, it was anticlimactic.

The pacing is also weighed down with complex turns of phrase: "Artorex easily parried Caius's blows, until a woolen mat brought him to grief when his foot slipped on its treacherous purchase." (page 111 of the advanced readers edition). There could be many ways to express this, but in an action sequence, "he slipped on a woolen mat" is most effective.

Point of view: This novel takes an omniscient stance, in which the narrator knows everything going on, down to the thoughts of various characters in a scene. My experience as an editor has convinced me that omniscience isn't an option for today's writers. I find that the writing is stronger when events can be described from a single character's perspective, and any switch in point of view is clearly signaled by a chapter or section break. However, books with an omniscient point of view are still published all the time, and an epic with so many characters is the best excuse I can think of for using it.

There is one gaffe in my advanced reader's edition that is a nightmare for all historical fiction authors: "The landscape was newly washed by the onset of spring into a tapestry of green and chocolate..." (p. 205) Green and what?

One thing I'm sure about post-Roman Britain is that they'd never heard of chocolate. Granted, the characters aren't savoring chocolate bonbons, but since they wouldn't have been able to use it to describe a color, either, the use of the word takes the reader out of the story. Much safer to say "brown."

That said, I really enjoyed spending time with some of the unexpected characters, like Ector, Livinia, Targo, and Gallia. Ygerne (Igraine) and Morgan have good psychological complexity. And I really liked everything in the list above (except the last one).

I highly recommend this book to readers who long for the days of all-knowing narrators who take you on long adventures under the assumption of certain heroic ideals. And that's what King Arthur is all about.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Author Claudia H. Long on Her Publishing Journey

I met Claudia H. Long when she submitted her novel, The Duel for Consuelo, to Loose Leaves for consideration. The book was very exciting to me because it takes place in New Spain (Mexico during the colonial period). Unfortunately, Claudia's agent worked a little too fast for us while we were swamped with work and she placed it elsewhere.

JK: New Spain is obviously unexploited and fascinating material for novels in English. How did you come to be interested in the time and place?

CHL: I fell in love with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz when I was an undergraduate. After all, what 1970s girl could resist a feminist nun who wrote poetry and subversive letters to the Bishop of Puebla in 1690? 

JK: No argument here! I've spent a fair share of time studying Sor Juana, too.

CHL: I wrote my senior thesis on her, and remained fascinated by her daring and works. It didn't hurt that I grew up in Mexico City, either!

I agree, though, that Mexico and the 1650-1800 time period are a completely untapped world. One of the reasons for that is traditional publishers' hesitance to publish non-English-Regency-Historicals. I got lucky, Atria/Simon & Schuster took me on for that book... but I get ahead of myself here.

JK: How long did it take you to write your first book, and how did it come to be published? 

Sor Juana
CHL: It took me two years to write Josefina's Sin. I'm a veteran of NanoWrimo, and almost every November I have written a 50,000 word novel with them. I have a number of Women's Erotic Fiction books under a pen name, and even those were usually written in a Nano-November.  But because Josefina's Sin was my first breakthrough mainstream novel, I then took more than another year to expand, rewrite, rewrite some more, and polish the book. I was very lucky. I got an incredible agent, April Eberhardt, who sold the book to Simon & Schuster.

But when it came time for the next book, The Duel for Consuelo, my editor at S&S had left, and the house didn't want the sequel. While I was at the Historical Novel Society's conference in London, an editor of a major house, who had considered The Duel for Consuelo, counseled me on my book: "I loved Consuelo, you write beautifully," she said, "but does it have to be about Mexico? I mean, nobody wants to read about, you know, Mexico!" 

When I picked my jaw up off the ground, I realized that this mentality was seriously impacting the sale of the second book!

JK: Is that what prompted you to turn to small publishers this time around?

CHL: My agent did eventually place The Duel for Consuelo with Booktrope, and I am very excited about their model. I don't regret not being with a major New York house this time around. At the majors, the author has very, very little control over the marketing, and if one isn't J. K. Rowling, one doesn't get much in the way of support. Although I must admit the prestige is fantastic.

I was attracted to Loose Leaves Publishing because of The Fiery Alphabet. I read about the book in the She Writes newsletter. I liked the sound of the book and bought it. As soon as I started it, I was entranced. Who publishes such a book? I wondered. No major house would take a chance on such an esoteric topic, despite the fact that The Fiery Alphabet could be a best-seller. I checked and it was Loose Leaves. The choices, and the beauty of the publication, point to a fine, truly independent house. 

I can't wait to see more of Loose Leaves Publishing. They are THE house to watch, I think. 

JK: Thank you, Claudia! Dear readers, that was unsolicited! And thank you, Claudia for coming by my blog to talk about your wonderful books and complex publishing journey.

Follow Claudia on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website for all the latest.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Unusual Historicals Feature

Today I'm featured at Unusual Historicals. Find out the three most pressing facts about me, and send me your good wishes for finding a place in the world.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Color Master by Aimee Bender

Full disclosure: I'm a diehard fan of Aimee Bender. I admire the way she defies categorization even while all of her fiction has a magical realism/fantasy element. Especially in a collection like this one, I admire the way she's able to assume a new, convincing authorial voice for each story. And I'm constantly amazed at the mysteries of her writing, which makes every story, no matter how long, seem too short.

I experienced The Color Master for the first time by reading each story aloud to my husband. He enjoyed the stories, but maintains that Ms. Bender doesn't know how to come to an end. Every time, he said some variation of, "That's it? That's where she chose to end it?" On a writerly level, I appreciate that she ends each story when she feels it's complete. These stories are evocative, meant to point to a bigger truth or to a whole world beyond what the reader's just read. Anyone who's expecting an entire world described and signed, sealed, delivered, should read a novel, and probably not a novel by Aimee Bender. It's just not what she's trying to do.

This is Bender's third collection of stories. In the first two collections, I thought there were some hits and misses (although even the misses were ecstatic and thrilling in their own way). Here, the quality is consistently high to the extent that going back through, I can't point out a weak one. Each one is memorable and impressive for any number of reasons, and together they make up a tour-de-force book even better than a die-hard fan like me could have hoped for.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How I Spent World Rhino Day 2013

I hope everyone had a happy World Rhino Day yesterday!

I wore my rhino coin necklace all weekend, but didn't have the guts to tell the one person who mentioned how cool it was that it was World Rhino Day. Baby steps for this introvert, I guess.

I also went to the university library to check out books and online resources about rhinos for that novel I've pledged to write.

The object is to fill the rhino to the top...
The biggest activity I took part in was WWF South Africa's #iam4rhinos Tweet storm. This really impassioned me because it's so rare I find something I can really do without money and being so far from where wild rhinos live. The goal was to get one million Tweets by the end of World Rhino Day. I was in suspense for a while, but it eventually became apparent the million wasn't going to happen.
End of day Sunday
I started on Thursday and got really earnest about on Friday, when I had to do laundry and everything... I was driven. Here was my chance to make a difference! They may not make it, but it won't be for my lack of trying! I even tweeted my entire fantasy story "Not Extinct Yet" in honor of the rhinos. (You can see it in my Twitter feed for Friday, or just buy it for less than a dollar here. The rhinos will thank you!)

I found myself a top supporter a few times! I was possessed by a higher calling! I was going to single-handedly save all five rhinoceros species from extinction! Don't bother me with other work — what matters more than rhinos? I went to what my social media guru authors call "Twitter jail" for the first time for the sake of the rhinos. And it's somewhere I would go again, gladly, for their sake. Of course, when my husband was home for the weekend, the activity had to calm down or he would feel neglected.

Before this weekend I hadn't sent that many Tweets. I'd say 80% of my lifetime Tweets took place this weekend, for the rhinos.

As of this writing, it's still going on! Try it out! You'll like it!

Being that it's social media, a few experiences accompanied the furious tweeting: I ran across a lot of photos and videos — some sad, most funny or cute, like this one:

I found other media to experience, and purchased this sad story when it was available on Amazon.

I also met a bunch of people interested in helping rhinos however they could — just like me! Up to now, I've been mystified as to what's the point of Twitter. The only people I'd met there so far were in my authors' social media support group. So this was real aha moment! There are ways to connect with people on Twitter beyond membership.

There were a couple of tweets I noticed that (gently) hated on the whole idea. They thought that there were bigger problems to deal with (an opinion they're entitled to) or that tweeting doesn't actually help rhinos. That second one is misguided. I believe the awareness level was significantly raised. There are now a few more people in the world who realize that rhinos are in trouble and are worth saving. A worthy effort indeed.