Sunday, March 31, 2013

Preliminaries for April...


Thinking...
I saw the A to Z blogfest and, in a moment of recklessness - the kind that leads to commitments that we end up regretting in direct proportion of their grandiosity - signed up.  The regret lasted for a week or two.  What on earth was I going to write about?  Just random posts?  What do I do with 'Q'?  And then it hit me as I was singing along to one of my very favorite songs - which I am making the first in this blog series. 

Songs somehow seem to define me or explain me.  I come from a musical family, and it is to my everlasting regret that my college - the University of North Carolina - rejected my offer to play the kazoo in their orchestra.  

So, we are going to talk about 'those songs'.  The ones you really, really love, that you find yourself singing over and over, humming.  They might not seem to have a lot in common, but there is something that ties them together.  What is it?  Well, maybe we will find out.
 
See you tomorrow...

Friday, March 29, 2013

For VikLit's blog hop celebrating the small triumphs, I'm happy to celebrate the fact that I have managed to come up for a theme for the A to Z blog hop om April.  And I think it will be fun...  
The theme will be:  Songs

Q and X are problematic, but do-able/

(I do love this weekly reminder of accomplishments - thanks, VikLit!)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Ballad of Sherlock Holmes

The nice thing about writing a blog that doesn't get a lot of traffic is that the blogger can put up all sorts of nonsense without fear of reprisals.

With that mindset, and a bow to Conan Doyle, I herewith offer:

The Ballad of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was canny
And his observations many
And he had a nose for sniffing out the facts.

Not until some nasty villain
Had surrendered, meek and willing,
Could our great detective sit down and relax.

But the villains, they were many
And poor Sherlock wasn't plenty
Even if we counted Watson - which we won't.

And it seemed that every morning
Brought a different case a-borning
Till The Great Detective screamed and shouted "Don't!"

Doctor Watson was a-staring
As poor Sherlock started swearing
And he wrote down in his notebook 'Mania!'

Sherlock saw him and he snorted,
"My career will be aborted!
Friend, I need some rest or I'll go 'Zani-a!'"

Watson beamed with inspiration
And he said, with hesitation,
"Holmes, you ought to go and visit Baskerville! -

Why, the prospect isn't daunting,
And he has some lovely hunting!"
"Capital, dear Watson - yes, I think I will!"

But Lord Baskerville had trouble
And the trouble seemed to double
In the eerie shape of one gigantic hound.

And poor Holmes - he started crying
As he saw his 'rest trip' dying,
And he wished he hadn't thought to come around.

There's a moral to this story:
If you do not want to worry
You can take as good solution this alone:

If customers with their hist'ries
Want to tell you all their myst'ries -
You can tell them that you simply are not Holmes!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Graphic work: Done

Before:
This had problems; the original was worse
Not a lot to complain of, except that the main character featured on the cover was a man, without a doubt, and the kohl around the eyes and the truly bizarre hair - even to those like me who are somewhat familiar with the society makes you doubt it.

I had wanted it to be moving, the tears in the eyes - the story arises from a bereavement - but while I liked the composition and the color, I had to admit to myself (at the very least) that this was wretched and needed to be adjusted.

I liked the colors and the composition, and, as with the other designs in the cycle, I liked using statuary (in this case a bas-relief) that had some connection with the characters.

The hair was problematic, and there were several reasons why I was dissatisfied.


An improvement, but needs work...
Tonight I sat down, thought things through, and worked for severael hours.  I had an idea for a way to fix things.  Doing the hair differently, for starters.  

 After:

The final version
Better hair.  It looks better.  I may lift his chin a little, though he is mourning (hence the title...)

I adjusted it a little this morning and then the connection failed.  I'll upload the 'final' version this evening.  I made the man larger on the page, and raised his chin, as I had intended.

...and here is the final version.  I also removed the hand from the frame, whihc reduced the 'noise.

One more step taken.  *Sigh*.  I will miss this story.

September 6, 2015:
I am editing this to show the final cover.  I scrapped the cover image, which I realized was not up to par, and composed a different one completely:


Picture


Uppity Characters


Dorothy Sayers wrote an excellent and fascinating book with the title The Mind of the Maker.  It is actually a treatise on the theology of the Trinity - but since it is told from the focus of a writer, specifically, it is a wonderful read.  You can find  it HERE on Amazon.

She talks of the three parts to a work - the Idea behind the work, the Energy involved in creating the work, and the Power that arises from the work - the reaction that readers have to it, and the way it changes them.  My copy is hopelessly marked up.

One of the most enjoyable discussions (for me) is her talk about the nature of characters, and how they have to arise out of a plot and be firmly centered in the plot to have any reality.  She gives as an example a passage from Writing Aloud by J D Beresford in which he tells about his attempt to write a book based on a character that he dreamed up.  It was a shambles.  The minute he put this character into a story, other characters, arising from the story itself, and conceived of as being in a situation took over.  They were immensely more powerful and more compelling.

Interesting, I thought all those years ago.  Something to mull over and marvel at.

And then it happened in my writing.

Pharaoh's Son takes its title for the literal translation of the Egyptian term for 'Prince'.  It is 'King's Son', or 'Pharaoh's Son'.  Since the book involves a number of princes, I thought it appropriate.

The main character is a son of Ramesses the Great, well-attested in history with a character that comes through clearly across the centuries.  Historically, he was a scholar and was credited with being the first archaeologist in history.  He served as High Priest of Ptah and Governor of Memphis, and was Crown Prince at the end of his life.  He fulfilled these roles with such distinction that he was remembered as a wise man for centuries after his death.

With these attributes, how can such a character help but be splendid?

Well, my would-be main character was overshadowed by his brother, the Crown Prince of Egypt, who stepped into the story as a quasi-villain, had a turnaround, and ended up stealing the show.  A character in a situation, he was far more powerful than his brother, far more interesting...

The original hero ended up holding his own, and we had two main characters.  It worked.

And it provided for me  a very good illustration of Beresford's situation.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I am posting this late because I've been crazy busy.  BUT...  I love this 'hop', it's always good to be reminded of the things that make  you happy, and - I do have two things to celebrate.

First of all, I did finish Mourningtide, and the manuscript is off for a line edit.  It's funny, I've been working on this story for well over a year.  Let me see...since November 1, 2011.  I did have the idea a few decades ago and fiddled with it, but nothing substantial.  It deals with characters I have come to love, and I like the story...

...So why do I feel like a mother letting her children head off to Kindergarten and wondering if they will be happy?  Well, those are the things we deal with in life - make something, offer it to others, and it's out of your hands.  As a monk wrote at the bottom of an illuminated manuscript:

Finis!  Finis!  Finis!  Laudate Domine Finis!!

My second celebration is best expressed with this photo:



Wait for the miracle - it comes every spring!



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Six Weeks

I will be releasing Mourningtide in six weeks - April 30, to be precise.  I am posting the current cover, but I have a newer design that will be posted a little closer to release.

It has been an enjoyable story to write.  I am often sad when I finish a project like this.  I will be seeing a favorite character for the last time - he appears only as a memory in the next installment.  And at the end of the next one I will be saying good-bye to my favorite character, ever.
Here is the older cover: 

Sample chapters are HERE

Friday, March 15, 2013

Small Celebrations - Busyness (a guest post)

Good morning, good readers and bloggers.  Diana Wilder, being quite busy with the subject of this post (as you will see) has asked me to step in and post for her, explaining why she is unable personally to post this morning.  It is, of course, a pleasure for me to do so.  The gods know she has done enough for me over the years.
 

She is, as she so divertingly puts it, 'up to her eyebrows in editing', and as she is putting the final polish on a story involving His Majesty my father, and myself at a younger age, she is also impatiently looking forward to working on another story set some fifteen years later in which I, unfortunately, make something of an ass of myself.  But it features four of my sons, and that is always enjoyable.  And she describes me, privately, as a 'bonny fighter, if  distressingly gullible' - I  call it wishful thinking - 'and a bit of a doofus as to strategy'.  History shows that I was a statesman, not a strategist.
 
She is also polishing an older story - set in Paris (in my time it was most likely a pile of mud upon which wretched barbarians squatted and squabbled) - with an eye to putting it out on Kindle without a great deal of fanfare.

 
All of this has her, as she says, 'crazy busy', but she is also delighted.  She informs me that only those who have gone through extensive dry spells can understand her delight and celebration at running mad in this way.  She will be visiting the other blogs on this 'hop' (such an undignified term!) as she can.
 
She makes her apologies, informs you all that she is raising a toast to all your celebrations, and knows that those of you who are running in the same lines of madness will understand and celebrate.  She also directs me to inform you that she is providing one and all with some 'eye candy' here.  I am blushing at the compliment.  Now if they could just find a better place to put the sheath for that dagger I would be a happy man.
 
Ramesses
by his own hand and seal.



Thursday, March 7, 2013

Celebrations for March 8 - Small Pleasures

 
(folks, I don't know why the date says March 7.  I posted this at 12:10am eastern US time on March 8...)

Years ago, when I was in college, my friends and I had one of those 'what would you do if…' discussions.  You know the sort of thing:

 
What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

(I always wanted more information: how am I going to die? Am I supposed to know in ADVANCE?  So, the question is What would I do if I knew I were going to die tomorrow - apart from having a full systems blow of a freak-out episode?) 


Why don't men dress like this any more?
If you could only go on one date this year, where would you go, and with whom?

(You mean no other date for the rest of the year?  So this would be my dream date?  Does sitting at home and eating rum raisin ice cream while playing footsie with Keanu Reeves - love the eyes - count?  No?  Whyever not?)
 

Quick! What did you eat for supper last night?
Fugu Sashini

(I hate that question!  I could have cooked a cordon bleu feast for friends using truffles, vintage Dom Perignon and fugu sashimi and I won't remember after being put on the spot like that.) 

There is one question of those, however, that I always enjoy answering.  This is because, for me, it expresses the things I find perfectly luscious and celebration-worthy:
 

 - What would you buy if money was absolutely no object at all?

Can you smell the lavender?
You mean if I could afford ANYTHING?

- Yes.

Oh…  Oh, my.  Let's see… 

1.  Every evening, when I got into bed, it would be to clean cotton sheets - and not too high a thread count - crisp is the word - that were freshly washed and hung out to dry in the sun - then ironed.  Yes, and three pillows on the bed.  AND a down comforter, crisp and white.
 
It's the sun that gives the lovely scent...

2.  Clean, brand new clothes every day.  This would be excepting my jeans, which would be nicely broken in and spotlessly clean.
 

3.  Flowers in every room.  Fragrant ones.  Freesia, lavender, sweet old-fashioned roses. (and visit this blog, which provided this lovely bouquet: http://jeanniesgarden.blogspot.com/2010/10/october-bouquet.html ) 
Ahhhhhh......

4.  A view of either mountains or ocean from every window.  Ideally, it would involve both.  I am not sure where that would be, but nevertheless - if I looked out the window it would be to see something splendid.  (I lived in a place, once, where every window opened to a view of a wall.  it was terrible.)

 
This is Barbados.  I'll take Kauai.

5.  I would own a desk like that owned by Beauty in Robin McKinley's book Beauty - the first iteration - when she first comes to The Beast's castle.  Stocked with all sorts of paper and pens.
 

Who needs sugar with these?
6.  And, whatever the season, fresh, ripe raspberries whenever I wanted them.  Or fresh, wild strawberries, so small and sweet that sugar is not only unnecessary but laughable.
 

I'll never be that wealthy, mind, but if you think it through, that list represents many of the things I find worth celebrating.  The crisp feel and smell of good paper, smooth, clean sheets, berries like the ones I picked at my uncle's farm a lifetime ago.  The sweet, almost honey-like smell of my cat's fur.
 
She does have sweet-smelling fur...


They are all worth celebrating.

 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cheating

I try not to be negative.  Heaven knows, it's difficult enough to do in the best of times.  Our lives are hard enough without having to deal with people lurking about just waiting to slam us.  I admit it is sometimes very satisfying to cut loose and give some nasty person what for, but the satisfaction in doing so is generally short-lived.  You hurt or offend someone, and there was no need.

But I can think of one or two times where it was merited and I enjoyed it.

One time that I recall, I was in Philadelphia, meeting some friends for tea at the Bellevue Hotel in their (Ethel) Barrymore room on the nineteenth floor:

The tea room is in the windowed, lit area on the front of the  photo.  A wonderful view!
     That was always a wonderful time - high tea (your choice of tea) perfect little sandwiches of egg salad, or smoked salmon, or date nut bread and cream cheese... Devonshire cream, jam and scones... All in a lovely atmosphere.
        You entered from the ground floor, off the street.  There were a couple elevators that rattled their way to the 19th floor...  On the day in question, I boarded the elevator first, saw that others were coming, and put my finger on the 'open door' button.  People got on, and one gentleman was holding the door (he thought) by leaning against it.  I smiled at him and said, "I have the button!"  He smiled, nodded, and boarded the elevator.

Apparently, three of the passengers (one, actually) found my comment offensive.  From the first floor to the twelfth, she spoke loudly of 'the LADY who has the BUTTON'.  Very loudly.

I thought, "She's going to say something when she leaves the elevator,"  and I started thinking.

Now, a bon mot is really only 'bon' if you come up with it on the spur of the moment.  Practice may make perfect, but it disqualifies a retort from being a bon mot.  But back to the elevator.


The Ethel Barrymore Room at the Bellevue Hotel
We reached the seventeenth floor.  The door opened.  The two girlfriends exited the elevator.  The loud talker left after them, turned, raised her head, bared her teeth in a saccharine smile and said, "I'm so GLAD you hit the BUTTON!"

I smiled and said, with equal sweetness.  "My dear.  They can do SO much to help Premenstrual Syndrome - do, please, consult your gynecologist!"  And I 'hit the button' one last time.  Her saccharine smile shifted to a horrified snarl, punctuated by the sudden smirks of her friends as the doors closed.

Now, that was cheating.  I never - except that one time - refer to feminine (or, come to that, masculine) issues in my repartee.  It is cheating and demeaning.  But that chick deserved it.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 

It WAS good tea that afternoon, though.

Saturday, March 2, 2013




How the Amazon Queen Fought the Prince of Egypt
(Bccb Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award by Tamara Bower)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am always looking for sourcebooks for my research/writing, and I stumbled across this gem while looking for something else. The author's credentials are impeccable - trained at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (one of the foremost sponsors of digs in Egypt) worked with the Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian division... Her bibliography is excellent.

The story itself is based on a Ptolemaic text and concerns Egyptian royalty (the prince and his father) who lived during one of the intermediate periods. The circumstances surroundinng this tale are recounted, explained, set into their proper setting.

Having gotten that out of the way, let me say that this is a charming story, told with humor in the fashion of an ancient (Egyptian) text. The Prince of Egypt has heard of the fighting women and has come to see what they are like. The Queen of the Amazons sends her young sister as a spy and then decides to fight the prince face to face.

They fight, they realize that each is worthy of respect and admiration - and they fall in love. Delightful!

The illustrations are wonderful, whether or not you are familiar with ancient Egyptian art. The notes on the text and the illustrations are interesting, and even a child would be interested to learn that the collection of symbols forms the prince's name, and that the archer running away with his bow over his head and one hand stretched out behind him is trying to surrender.

All in all a delight to own!

Sweet Glory by Lisa Potocar


 

This link ( below) takes you to Amazon US.  Sweet Glory is also available on Amazon UK and through other booksellers.

Sweet Glory by Lisa Potocar

Years ago, while reading about the American Civil War, I came across an item that I found very interesting even for that heartbreaking, fascinating time.  I retired soldier, living on a government pension and in a home for retired veterans, had been discovered to be a woman rather than a man.  This soldier had fought during the war, had suffered all the privations that were experienced by soldiers in that time, and had been mustered out at the end with an honorable discharge. 

Naturally, the authorities were horrified and canceled the soldier's pension.  A woman?  She was not a real soldier - she was an impostor!  I was not surprised to read of this.  It was the late 1800's when 'women's work' was officially circumscribed and severely limited, regardless of what women of that era had to do to survive.  I was thrilled to read that the 'disgraced' soldier's comrades rose up and came to her defense  She WAS a soldier, they said.  She fought alongside them, suffered all they suffered, and had her share in securing their triumphs.  A woman?  Well, they hadn't known.  One man said that that certainly explained the soldier's modesty on the subject of going to the 'sinks' -a word for latrine.  The pension was reinstated, as was her war credit.   

This was not an isolated incident.  Something like this happened more than once.  And not just with women serving as soldiers.  Anyone with imagination starts wondering Who would do this?  How?  What hindrances would they face?  What temptations?  And how would they feel.
 
Sweet Glory tells the story of one of these soldiers. 

Jana Brady, from upstate New York, is an accomplished horsewoman, experienced with treating the ailments of humans and animals alike.  Sweet Glory follows her experiences s she joins a Cavalry unit - will she be able to get away and sign up in time? - learns about soldiering, becomes 'one of the boys' and finds a way, when it appears that her service must be at an end, to continue to serve. 

I don't need to outline the plot of Sweet Glory.  The narrative draws you in, and you follow it.  I don't mind saying that there is a twist toward the end that startled me and made me think, 'How on earth will she get out of this?'  You'll have to read Sweet Glory to find out what I mean. 

Lisa Potocar writes well, catching conversations in an authentic voice from that mid-Victorian era.  Her characters have human emotions and conflicts - one scene shows the two sides in a post-battle truce caring for the wounded.  It contains a very touching scene that had me choked up.  A description of a cavalry clash, with fighting in a ditch, was deftly handled, the emotions of the combatants believable and realistic. 

Sweet Glory is not a long book.  It tells the story of Jana's service with the army - how it came about, how it progressed, and how it ended - and what it did to her.  Jana is a very 'together' young woman of intelligence and resolution.  The story follows her timeline, and while it could have paused to dawdle over details of day to day existence, that was not necessary to the intent of the novel, which shows how a woman can engage in a war and emerge from it with her feminine abilities and characteristics intact and deepened by the experience.  Jana uses her abilities and experience to cope ably with all that is involved in war. 

Physically speaking, Sweet Glory is a satisfying book.  And it is pretty.  The cover is beautifully conceived - note the top of the cover with a view of a lady's slippered foot descending a step - and below it a scene from a battle - the woman stepping into war.  The typeface used is reminiscent of that you might find in a novel of that period. 

I have no hesitation recommending this book for just about any age.  I would have loved it if I had encountered it in when I was in elementary school.  I graduated from college a long time ago and I enjoyed it.  YA readers would enjoy it, too.  There is a love story in it, but I don't classify this as a romance novel, though Jana's emotions are well handled.  This is a reread, and I will be loaning it to my niece, aged fourteen, when I see her next. 

I was given a copy of Sweet Glory by the author as a thank you for some assistance with electronic media - blogs, postings and the like.  It was a gift.  I was not asked to review it, nor was it implied that I was expected to.  I read it because the subject interested me, and I am writing this review to reflect my impressions. 

This is, for me, one that I will reread.  Sweet Glory has won awards.  They were well-deserved.  Well done, Ms. Potocar.