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Sunday, April 29, 2012

For Decency's Sake

I was in Gettysburg, once, at an antique shop. I'd been visiting the battlefield and now was enjoying some light shopping.  The owner asked me what I was looking for, and I told him "I'm trying to find an Ames light cavalry saber, 1863 model." That is my standard comment when I'm approached.  Of course he didn't have one (they aren't easy to find), but he said, "I can sell you a soldier..."

He had a box of bones. Someone, digging in his garden where there had been fighting in 1863, had discovered a burial. He dug the bones and accouterments up, put them in a box, and decided to try to sell them. I heard this, stared, and walked out. I wish I'd notified the Veteran's Administration. Everyone I've mentioned this to has been shocked that a body of a soldier should be so abused. Frankly, in my opinion, any body should be respectfully treated.

I am working on a story based on this experience,  In the story, the heroine buys the bones and contacts the Veteran's Administration.  The story follows her quest to discover who they belonged to, and what happened to him (other than being killed at Gettysburg).  It's a few years away from being finished, since I put it on the back burner,

I think  it's safe to say that anyone reading this blog knows that I am currently (and have been) writing some novels set in dynastic Egypt.  Late eighteenth to early nineteenth, to be precise.

Advances in imaging, medicine and DNA research have made it possible for us to learn a lot about the people of the Nile.  We are developing more information on that culture, and it is a good thing

However, we continue to do one thing that I find outrageous:

We put the corpses of their dead on exhibit.

If you read a book, say, on Tutankhamun, it will most likely contain photographs of his great-grandparents, Thuya and Yuya. It may also have a photo of his grandmother, the great queen Tiye. And it will almost certainly have a full face photograph of him.

So, what's wrong with that? Well, the fact that they are photographs of the mummies of those people. Bodies that were discovered and are now on display.

When the body of Ramesses II was taken to Paris to have some work done on it to stop its deterioration, it was accorded a twenty-one gun salute.  That is appropriate: he had been a head of state.  But if you go to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you can gape at a room of mummies.  A search for images will bring up photos of them.

I wonder what people would say if a history of the English monarchy for the past two hundred years contained within it photographs of the exhumed bodies of the royal family. Or perhaps a history of the American Civil War could have photographs of the bodies of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, the various great generals of that time and, let's say, Clara Barton and Belle Boyd.

It sounds a little odd, doesn't it? Well, that's the problem I have with the display (all over the place) of mummies.

To me, this is just plain wrong.  Royal or not, these were human beings, not freaks, and putting them on display in this fashion is bad form. 

The Hyphen is Mighty Indeed

I just threw out five brand new copies of one of my books that I had ordered for a GoodReads giveaway.   They were free, a  perk for finishing NaNoWriMo.

I  had updated the book's cover.  When you do that, you have to resubmit the text.  And there was the rub:  there had been a problem with the text: my laptop had been stolen, and with it my final version of that manuscript.  (Yeah, I know.  I'm backing everything up now.)

It's easy to retrieve the text of a Kindle book, and I retrieved the MS that way, plugged it into the book setup, did a perfunctory final text check - the text had been fine before, and I had simply updated the cover image - and gave the go-ahead.  Then I ordered my five copies for the giveaway.

I'm beta testing a new feature for manuscript editing on CreateSpace.  It's a good feature, and since I had this book up in the  program, I went through that manuscript.   I sat back and went to one of my favorite scenes, one toward the end where Ramesses the Great, having extricated himself from arrest ordered by his eldest son, arrives at the palace to get some answers, is denied admittance by an over-zealous servant who isn't aware who's waiting outside the door, pulls out all the stops and, in the scene, is questioning the servant, a man he's known for fifteen years.  The scene is related from the servant's point of view:

"Let me see if I understand you," Pharaoh said thoughtfully. He raised one long fingered hand and ticked off the points as he spoke. "One  the Crown Prince has gone haring off to parts unknown. Two  you have no idea where Prince Khaemwaset is, but  three  you do know that he tried to drug his brother, and  four  a spy sent the Crown Prince's ring back to him as a sign of urgent danger to Prince Khaemwaset. Five  the army is in a state of alert, and  six  the city of Memphis is virtually under siege. Am I correct so far?"

It took me a moment to realize what was wrong with the text. Actually, it doesn't look so bad, even now, but I'd placed hyphens in to highlight the way Ramesses was ticking off the points on his fingers. And the hyphen between 'long' and 'fingered' described the sort of fingers he had on his hand. Without it, His Majesty had a long hand equipped with fingers.

It should have looked like this:

"Let me see if I understand you," Pharaoh said thoughtfully. He raised one long-fingered hand and ticked off the points as he spoke. "One-the Crown Prince has gone haring off to parts unknown. Two-you have no idea where Prince Khaemwaset is, but-three-you do know that he tried to drug his brother, and-four-a spy sent the Crown Prince's ring back to him as a sign of urgent danger to Prince Khaemwaset. Five-the army is in a state of alert, and-six-the city of Memphis is virtually under siege. Am I correct so far?"

In looking things over I discovered, to my dismay, that the file transfer from Kindle to print had stripped every hyphen from the text.  And I hadn't caught them.

I started looking for them.  I went to another scene where the servant, newly captured after a battle between Egyptians and Hittites (his country), gives everyone a piece of his mind using a coarse expression that draws a parallel between their sexual propensities and Oedipus'.  (I am not going to quote it here; it's about an eighth of the way through Chapter XIX; the bottom of page 121 if you have a paperback copy of the book.)

In my defense, the text had been perfect when I sent it to Kindle; the manuscript in my (stolen) laptop had been lost, I had retrieved it (I thought...) and simply plugged it in.  But my father always told me never to make assumptions.

Ultimately, I pulled up the adobe document for the manuscript and manually searched it for hyphens.  When I found one, I went to the manuscript and replaced it.  I was able to do global searches for set expressions, but when I relied solely on that method, checking afterward, I kept stumbling across hyphens that needed to be inserted.  (To be honest, I would never have found Mutallish' epithet directed at Pharaoh if I'd done a global search and replace for commonly used hyphenated words.)

Things were fixed.  Finally.  It was too late to cancel my order of the printed books.  So what to do about them?

Well, they're defective.  I've read enough diatribes on the subject of defective books, whether self-published or not.  These are all, every one of them, being consigned to the trash.  Sigh.

Lesson Learned.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Seannachie, Seannachie, Spin Me a Yarn...

A story, once told, has as much reality as a piece of embroidery or a painting. Myths, bearing within them the very essence of eternal truths, make up the core of our existence. The fabric of legend surrounds us every day like coats of many colors that we can no longer see or feel for their very familiarity. We move through landscapes of myth with the heedless nonchalance of treasure-house guards accustomed to treading upon a rainbow of precious stones in the course of their daily work. And yet the beauty and the color are there to be seen by any who are willing to look and see. A good storyteller is one who can somehow touch these myths and bring them to renewed life in his tale. (from the afterword to The City of Refuge)

I remember a Career Day at my high school years ago, when a writer was engaged to speak to a classroom full of kids. She told of what it was like to be a writer, specifically a novelist. I sat there and listened to her, and I was too shy to say that I was writing stories (I was, too; I had written two in longhand, one of them rather thick). She fussed over a more forward student who admitted to being a writer.

She started out by asking whether any of us had the old Irish name 'Shaughnessy'. None of us did. She then told how it arose from the Gaelic 'Seannachie', or 'storyteller'. I thought it was interesting, and there and then made up a pen name for myself. I may yet use it.

A seannachie was somewhat more than a 'storyteller'. According to Webster, the definition is:

A bard among the Highlanders of Scotland, who preserved and repeated the traditions of the tribes; also, a genealogist

Most cultures had them.  The story of the siege of Troy was passed down verbally from generation to generation before it was written down.  To a degree, those of us who listen to the stories our parents and grandparents tell and either write them down ourselves or bully them into doing it, are fulfilling the same function.

I remember reading a woman's account of her mother teaching her some songs and saying 'You'll need this some day', as though the songs would help her to cope with whatever life deals out.  She said that it had.

I can attest to that.  I was listening to The Mary Ellen Carter, a song written by Stan Rogers about the wreck of a ship.  It had been recorded by an Irish group of pub singers (and darned good they were, too!), and I was enjoying the tale of the ship, how she was wrecked, and how the remnants of her crew determined to bring her back ('make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again').

And then I heard the last verse:

...And the laughing, drunken rats who left her to a sorry grave
They won't be laughing in another day. . .
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

I sat up, breathless.  I'd dealt with those 'smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go'.  I had!  It was like remembering a time when I had thought myself alone and abandoned and discovering that I'd had friends and sympathizers beside me, that I hadn't known of.  And this from a song I heard on a CD.

How many of us read a novel and get something from it aside from a moment's entertainment?  I know I do.  (Heck, I've taken away some pretty profound lessons from Disney's cartoon The Emperor's New Groove - watch it and you may see what I mean!)

We write our books (most of us) to entertain people. I am still blown away when I see that someone shelled out cash to read something I 'made up out of my own head', but maybe that's just my oddness.  Our creativity is fueled by everything around us - whether stories our grandparents told us or myths we have heard or things we have read.  When I talk to people about what they have read, that I have written, and what they have gained from reading it, I am left feeling a little breathless.

Perhaps I, too, am a seannachie.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Covers

I am involved in graphic design and web maintenance (on a small scale) and I have designed my own covers. This is not to say that others couldn't do better than me. I know better. But for now...

I've been overhauling my book cover, and this day I worked on the cover for The City of Refuge.  I've wanted to redo it for some time.

The story takes place in Akhenaten's capitol city of Akhet-Aten (better known as Amarna).  It occurs twenty-five years aftr it was abandoned.  Although Akhenaten is long dead by the time of the story, his presence is definitely felt.

I had origially designed a cover using the bust of Nefertiti, but the redo has her husband Ahenaten's statue on it.  He is a presence in the story (remembered by characters).  It seems more fitting.

I'd be curious about others' thoughts:

Older cover


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Adventures in Photoshopping - Or Why it is Important to have Good Photos

I do some graphic design in a small way, and I manage a couple websites.  Recently I was asked by one client to find a photo of a cat she owned and send it off to another person to be used  in an award that this cat won,

While the person in question is intelligent, charming and very good indeed, she and her equally delightful husband are firmly settled in the era of wax tablets and sealing wax.

They don't understand the need for good photos and the ways to preserve them.

I asked them if they had a photo of the cat in question - a fellow named 'Anzo', which means 'Young God'.

Anzo hails from Paris, and for the first couple years he lived in the United States he understood only French.  At one point his owner was trying to coax him from his bed at a Cat Show.  He just blinked at her.

I came over.  "Anzo!" I said.  "Leve-toi paresseux!   Allez, allez!" (Anzo - get up, lazybones!  Come on!)  He widened his eyes at me and strolled over.
Six years later he is retired and getting an award. 

One photo was tiny.  I couldn't make it any 'bigger' or clearer.  So I located another, scanned by his owners in antediluvian times:

Poor color, faded...  I cringed.  And I decided to try to retrieve it.  Anzo was gleaming black with bright copper eyes and a level look.  I didn't think it would be terribly hard to bring him back.  So I set to work.

Photoshop has tools that enable you to cut blur, restore brightness and contrast, and cut 'noise' from a photo.  If you know what you are doing, you can restore the 'freshness' of a photo.  This has nothing to do with falsifying things (which, unfortunately, some people do), and everything to do with making repairs.  Here's handsome Anzo, the charming fellow from Paris, in all his original glory.

I'll have to post some other endeavors, but that will be another time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's Your Point of View?

I have run into a lot of discussion about different points of view in writing. First person, second person, third person (omniscient and otherwise).

First person is told by the narrator. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier is a splendid example. The narrator tells the story as she saw it unfold. She is telling it some years after the events took place.

Second person is rather rare (and, to my mind, is a little clunky):

You went to the store to buy some croissants, but you remembered that George hated them, so you opted for the raisin bagels, instead. That's when you saw him - the man you'd longed to meet and finally gave up meeting...

Third person is a narration that can change its focus from character to character. The writer can get into the character's minds and switch from focus to focus. Here's an example from Pharaoh's Son, where Hori and Khay are arguing:

Khay lost his temper. "You're an arrogant, hard headed fool," he said with cutting deliberation. "You ignore what you know is good advice to follow your own half witted schemes. I wash my hands of you!" (you can see Khay's reaction)

"And you're the biggest fool in all Lower Egypt!" Hori snarled. His hand rose almost unconsciously to touch the bruise at his forehead. (now you're watching Hori)

That slight movement made Khay take a half-step forward. "Wait, Hori!" he said. "Wait! Please - understand me. You aren't just Crown Prince here: you are my brother and I love you. I don't want you to be harmed in any way-" (Khay sees the movement and his heart softens)

Third person works (for me) in stories that are progressing as you read. Depending on the action of a specific section, I zero in on the character that is chiefly active (one of a pair of brothers, trying to find the other who's been kidnapped, comes running from a spot, his mind veering between hope and despair) and change the focus (not the point of view) from scene to scene.

Here is one final example from Pharaoh's Son. The villain, Rahotep, has just killed one of the major characters and is now heading toward the hidden treasure:

Rahotep plunged into the coolness of the night and moved purposefully across the courtyard toward the processional way that cut straight through the temple. If he hurried along there and then cut southeast he would come to the series of pylons that culminated in the ruined southeast gateway of Seti I. The pylon of Amunhotep III lay closest to him if he went that way, though it would entail cutting through the sanctuary.

He drew his robes closer about him and shivered. His night of triumph had somehow turned threatening. He thought he could feel eyes upon him, and the silent statues that he passed in the dimness all seemed to be staring at him.
I do, however, have two stories where the narrator is telling of things that happened in the far past. Here's the opening page of a manuscript I'm working on. It tells the story of a year in the life of a boy, remembered forty years later:

Following the tide of memory can be risky. We turn our thoughts and emotions toward a moment in our past, recalling it through the eyes of memory and feeling it with our beings that lived through the moment and beyond and bringing to bear on that act of recollection the subsequent knowledge that our lives have brought us. The moment is not the same. We know too much now, we are able to see where we were before it, and where we went after it had its influence on us. We risk stepping into bitterness, the sense of the hollowness of hopes and dreams.

If we had the chance to relive the moments that we thought were the turning points of our lives, how many of us would behold them unchanged? Many of us would say, "I wasn't so desperate then," or, "If I had known how swiftly my happiness would flee," or perhaps, "I was so deluded at the moment - and I didn't know."
And yet, as I sit here at my desk, I can turn the eyes of my memory back to one moment that remains in every particular just as it was at the time I experienced it. It hasn't changed at all. If I could step backward, turn and enter that specific date and time, seeing it through the eyes of a grown man. I would feel the same way, see the same things, speak the same words. But maybe, knowing what I know now, there would be an added spice, the ability to sit back and say, Yes, that is how it was. I remember the feelings. I feel them now. That was then, this is now, but that moment so strongly ties them together, it is present and as strong as ever.
So, then, the moment.

It was, as I remember, a day in March, a blustery one. Snow lay on the mountains in untidy rags, diminishing each day...

The story follows his recollections told from the point of view of someone who lived through that year and is remembering.

Here's one other (I'm being kind to insomniacs). It's told by a mercenary soldier on the eve of a big battle that will, he thinks, annihilate his troop. It recounts the story of a summer in the life of his troop:

It's odd the way memory works. I just lifted a reed pen, scraped my thumbnail over the tip to see if it was sharp, and suddenly I wasn't sitting as I am now, in a drafty stone hut in the midwinter with three days' growth of beard on my chin and a stomach sour from eating too much sausage, but enjoying the warmth of summer, sound of body with a good horse between my knees. It's HIS doing, I suppose, since it was he who taught me to hold a pen and first traced the letters for me.
I'll think of him. God knows it's better than letting my stomach churn while thinking of tomorrow's fighting. Maybe I won't be here tomorrow. Maybe I will, and right now I don't care.

The second part of the novel begins with him picking up the journal thirty years later and saying that he's going to finish the story:

I had forgotten this journal. It's odd to leaf through it and recall the events of a summer thirty six years in the past, remembered on a night twenty years ago, when I expected to die within the next twenty four hours. The ink is still dark and the handwriting resembles mine as it is now, but somehow cruder, more angular. I've been writing incessantly for the past twenty years, none of it important. Now I write a more elegant hand.
Importance. We mislabel so many things, calling important those events which should occupy only a fraction of our attention, and all but ignoring those things upon which rests the fate of our souls. As I look over this journal and remember, I realize that I have been measuring my life in spoonfuls day after day, a happy life but a hurried one, and now that I am close enough to see the ending, the past has touched my shoulder and made me turn my eyes back toward the beginning. And maybe just as well. There's plenty of room in this journal to finish the story.

In those cases, the first person point of view takes the place, to a degree of the third person (though the speaker can't know everything, he or she has a pretty good idea of what happened

Which is best? It depends on what you want to accomplish. In my experience, first person works best in a story told in retrospect. Third person is the best way, for me, to tell an ongoing story. It allows me to look through different characters' eyes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So... You need to jot down a scene...

I'm one of those people who needs to have the materials handy to write things down.  I'll get an idea for a scene, or for an edit, and I'll turn it over in my mind, fiddle with it, refine it - and if I don't write it down quickly it will vanish like a summer morning fog as the sun climbs higher.

Chapter 33 in Mourningtide

I had a wonderful system originally.  I rode the train in to the big city where I worked.  Forty-five minutes each way in relative comfort (this was a train, not a subway).  I always carried a notebook and jotted down my thoughts.  As I transcribed the jottings, I'd mark them off with a strike across the page.  I'd know something hadn't been transcribed if it was missing the strike through.  I transcribed this page:

     "Get to your post. We're having a drill."
     Khatef's jaw dropped. "You dare speak to me like that!"
     "I do." Sa-Ramses brought two fingers to his mouth.
     Sa-Ramses lifted his eyebrow.. Three piercing whistles split the air a moment later. "Drill," he said, lowering his hand. "Get to your post."
     Khatef stared. "Just a minute here -"
     Three more whistles.
     "Drill," said Sa-Ramses. "You're away from your post. Get there now!"
     "You ragged, disgraceful vagabond!!" Khatef choked.
     Motion halted, the sounds faded. The commotion around them dimmed for a moment. Eyes widened. Henetre folded her arms. Djedi stared.
     Did he really say that?
     Who's he talking to?
     He's an ass!
     Sa-Ramses' smile deepened as he raised his fingers once again and sounded the signal. "Your charges are being butchered," he said. "You'd better go do something about it and stop beating your gums."

It appears in my manuscript, tentatively numbered as Chapter 33.  I may change the expression 'beating your gums', since it seems a trifle anachronistic.

Paper Towels - the new Papyrus
There have been times, especially recently, where I haven't had a notebook handy, usually when I'm involved in an activity that doesn't give me a place to store my notebook.  We've heard of people writing notes on napkins, matchbooks and the like.  Anything resembling paper works, but carrying sheets of paper around is a little troublesome.  I've been using paper towels lately. 

It took a while before I got a system going.  You see, I sometimes oversee a fitting room (long story; interesting part time job, but gel insoles are crucial...).  And if someone is in the fitting room, an employee must be there, even if the customer appears to be taking a nap in her dressing room.  So, if you get an idea for a tweak to a scene, what do you do?  There is no paper available (there seldom is, when inspiration strikes you) and you must improvise.  What to do?

Well, the fitting room has a roll of paper towels.  Not the super-absorbent kind that you can tear off at perforations, but the hard, crackly kind similar to the fiber of toilet paper in Europe but lacking the splinters I encountered at the marche' aux puces in Paris.  I tore off a length, trimmed it, grabbed a pen, and started jotting...

It worked fairly well although, being one of those who has trouble throwing things away, the presence in my home of various lengths of paper towel posed a bit of a problem for various family members: had I transcribed it yet?  Should it be preserved? 

I like to hold on to things that show the progression of a scene.  That's why I held on to all my old notebooks, but the paper towels are a little different.  Also, the material on them hasn't all been transcribed.  We have this, for example:

The main part deals with the scene I cited above.  The women of the town are annoyed that Sa-Ramses (the pseudonym taken by the king while he recovers from his son's death in anonymity) has been so insulted, and they pool their resources and present him with some garments that he can wear to augment the clothes he brought with him in one satchel.  They do this by descending upon him en masse armed with the garments and insisting that he try them on.  As an experienced husband and father, he is not as non-plussed as he might be, but still taken aback.

     A fist upon his door interrupted his thoughts.  He went to the door and opened it.
     "Aha!" said Lady Henetre. "I thought you'd be in, Master Sa-Ramses! You haven't eaten yet? Excellent! You'll dine with my family!"
     "I have a supper set out for me," he began.
     "Pooh! Probably cold fruit and some tough squab!" Henetre said with more accuracy than she could have guessed. "I know how those servitors are! You'll dine with my family. Change your clothing and come to my house. Others will be there, as well..."
     She frowned at the door. "...which reminds me. Nebet! Tetisheri!"
     He looked over his shoulder in time to see two more ladies enter, their arms full of garments.
     Henetre put her hands on her hips and looked him up and down. "You're taller than most here, but unless you're trying to wear an old man's long tunic, that doesn't matter. You've got a good pair of legs. The shoulders, now, might be a problem, but these sleeves are generously cut. Put them on!" And she handed four garments to Seti.
     He looked at them and then at her. "Excuse me," he said.
     "We're all married women!" Henetre said.
     "But, ladies, you aren't married to me," he said, and left the room, reflecting that while it was a retreat rather than a rout, it wasn't in as good order as he would like. He took the top tunic - a plain one bordered with blue stripes - and pulled it over his head. A sash was in the pile; he cinched it about his waist and hoped this determined group weren't going to inquire after the state of his shentis.
     They were waiting, seated on his stools, as he came back.
     "Well, then!" Henetre said. "That looks fine! Turn around!"
     He obeyed, suppressing a smile until he saw Tetisheri's round eyes begin to dance. He covered his grin with a cough.
     "That's perfect!" Nebet said. "You will take them won't you Master Sa-Ramses?"
     "This is too generous," Seti said. "I do have clothing-"
     Henetre snorted and fixed him with her bright eyes. "Somewhere up north with the rest of your family, no doubt! Aha! I'm right! Take these." She eyed him. "Does your wife know you're here kitted out like a beggar?"

In this case, the writing in the square is something I thought of while sketching out the scene.  There's fighting later and Seti is slightly injured and ends up bleeding on one of the garments.  He says "Henetre is going to kill me!"  I haven't transcribed it yet (I will as soon as I'm through with this post) so I have it with me, now crumpled.

Literary inspiration meets cabernet sauvignon...
Sometimes emergencies happen - in the form of a spilled glass of red wine most recently.  In that case I sacrificed one piece of writing.  Then I remembered that I hadn't transcribed the part below the line.  I dried it out and will be typing it this evening.  Unless I spill, say, a bowl of chili.

I should think of a better way to work things, but notebooks little larger than matchbooks are a waste of my time because I don't write in three point font.  I also tend to lose such small things. 

I'm sure I'll figure out a way to do things right.

In the mean time I'll just meditate on P. G. Wodehouse who taped his manuscript pages to the wall.  The ones that were not quite to his satisfaction were pasted slightly lower than the ones he liked.  Once he fixed a page, he would put it on the level with the others.  When all were level, he would know he had a finished story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wandering Through Old Plots

It's odd how stories come to be.

Years ago I was daydreaming somewhere (I don't recall where) and I suddenly could see a blinding snowstorm, the sort where the wind is driving the snowflakes almost horizontally.  I could see a man on a horse, hood drawn  up around his face, going slowly into the teeth of that storm.  The wind rises; the snowflakes swirl and the man tries to read a map, but the slashing snow cakes on the parchment and dashes in his eyes.  He folds the map away after a moment and moves on. 

It has been a long journey for him from where he once was to where he is now, and his heart is full of regrets, foreboding and a sort of weary, cautious hope.

He pauses, sensing something looming ahead of him.  He looks up pushing his snow-sodden hair from his face.  He can see something towering over him.  He nudges the horse to a walk.  It flicks its ears, tries to shake the snow from  its mane, and then starts forward.

The wind is cut off and the snow is suddenly gone.   He is before a huge, dark structure.  The man's gaze takes in the bulk of stone rising above him, the signs of neglect. 

He can see the storm behind him, as though through a transparent curtain, but the wind and the ice don't touch him. He is in the lee of the building - the gatehouse of an old castle.   As he looks  up at the weathered, dilapidated stone, he can almost hear the word: 


He touches his heels to the horse's side and moves in through the gate...

I will be working on this story.  I blocked it out years ago and wrote a little on it.  It was a magic-less fantasy - alternative history, maybe?  The lands are my own invention - full of noble tragedy, courage, a love story, dying for a great cause...

I set it aside to work on more urgent things and promptly forgot about it.  It wasn't in electronic form anyhow, and I'd have to retype it...

I revisited it recently, twenty-some years later.  It had changed from a tale of high tragedy to one of -

Well, let's say I smiled as I read my notes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Review: North Country Cache by Joan H. Young

North Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic TrailNorth Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic Trail by Joan H. Young

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I encountered North Country Cache: Adventures on a National Scenic Trail while 'chatting' with other readers. The title interested me, I looked it up, read some sample chapters, and decided to buy it. I contacted the author to purchase a copy and found her gracious and humorous. I have never met her, except online the day I decided to buy this book. With that said, here is my review:

The title of this book refers to a 'National Scenic Trail' the North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches from North Dakota and ends in Port Henry, NY, crossing North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The sections of the book with the individual essays/chapters refer to happenings and observations in different parts of the trail. A map with a star shows the location and general mileage of the hike.

So much for format.

Each section recounts the hike, and since what is going on inside your head at any given moment is a valid part of an event or activity, Ms. Young has that feature, as well. This is part of what makes this book such an enjoyable read: Ms. Young (I'm going to refer to her as 'Joan' from now on) has an active and retentive mind and a gift for observation and expression. An example is this bit from page 126 where she makes some observations regarding the economic impact of a (well known) hiking trail on the local community (hit: hikers will come to the community to purchase supplies and such):

It is interesting to observe the evolution of urban centers as their primary ode of transportation changed. Where the canals came first you now often see a row of very old storefronts that face on some dismal ditch, or perhaps just an odd linear depression which no longer connects with anything. Sometimes the railroad lines followed the same rights-of-way as the canals, and then there might be a newer set of buildings just a block away, but facing the same corridor...

Interesting thought. I tend to be very observant, but I hadn't thought of that.

Each hike that she takes, whether a day jaunt or over several days, is a story complete in itself, presenting issues specific to that hike. Chapter 41 - SHE WHO BUILDS FIRE, starting page 211, speaks of a hike in Ohio. She wanted, she said, to translate the title into Native American, but the choices were troublesome and she kept them in English. She tells of the hike, which goes past Cedar Falls (nice photo inserted - more on that) and ends with a rather damp camp and the comment by her buddy that it would sure be nice to have a fire; too bad it'll be impossible to start one. She offers to do that, is told it's too damp, goes ahead, and...

Nevertheless, in just a few minutes we are squatting around a bright fire holding warm cups of coffee and chocolate. Buddy (the trail pup who was brought along) nuzzles close to enjoy a warming hand on his back. Soon there is a fine blaze going, sustained by rolling three large logs in toward the center of the fire. Whenever their ends crumble to coals I roll them in a little more.

Taking a long sip of his drink, Rich sighs contentedly. "I'll have to give you a new name," he proposes. "I think I'll call you 'She Who Builds Fire."

Joan's descriptions are enjoyable; she writes very well. Gray layers of shadow and fog soften the hard edges of the day as we spend a cozy night at the Klondike shelter.

She hikes with friends and acquaintances, with a trail pup (Chip, who passed on and was given a wonderful tribute) and she encounters people. Reading her account is like listening to an articulate friend tell what happened while on a jaunt.

I mentioned a photo of Cedar Falls. This book is full of photos - good ones that illustrate the walks, things that caught Joan's attention, that point up her writing. Page 221 - 223 contains The Song of Hiawatha's Friends (faked me out) complete with photos. My only criticism is that the photos would be more visible on slick paper. But then the whole book would have to be printed on slick paper, since there is a wealth of photographs, and I like them all.

All in all, Joan Young has put together a complex book that satisfies on many levels. It is a book that can be read in sips, that you can keep by your chair to sample, or else plow through. It is thoughtful, and it is effortlessly written (that's hard to do). If I were to compare this to any others I'd read, I'd have to say that it reminds e of Edwin Way Teale's work, my favorite being Autumn Across America. I also find myself remembering Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

This is an excellent book, well worth the five stars I've given it.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Sonnet for a Message Board

I was a poet once.  My first piece of 'creative' writing was a poem about a horse (what else?  I was a girl in third grade).  It rhymed.  I still know it by heart.  No, I'm not posting it here.  My teacher was wise (and charitable) enough to praise it and encourage me, and I was hooked.  I wrote a lot of poetry through the years, with rhyme and meter (usually).  I've lost a lot of what I wrote, though just now I found some pieces in an award-winning fine arts magazine published by my university since 1897. 

I started participating on a message board set up by a large concern that publishes and sells books of all sorts (among other things).  There is a board about electronic books, boards for all types of writing - Young Adult, Mystery,  Historical...  Not surprisingly, the explosion of self-publishing has caused something of a tsunami of authors who have read that they must push themselves every chance they get with the result that message boards all over the place were swamped with people advertising their writing, proclaiming that they are writers, urging people to buy!  buy!  buy!  (and arguing publicly - embarrassing for the rest of us - with those people who have the tastelessness to give them a review of less than five stars).  Not surprisingly, such promotions were banned from the boards both at that specific site but also around the web.

The boards are full of comments about obnoxious authors, and those of us who aren't, cringe.  To counter this and provide some humorous relief, one person set up a thread that encourages posts to be submitted in haiku form.  It went for a while (I enjoy haiku), then morphed into Tanka, another Japanese form that has a beat of 5:7:5:7:7

I went along with it for a while and then upped the ante by posting a sonnet:

I wandered through the threads upon this board
Read frenzied boastings from the wannabees
Counter'd by the sneering of the hordes
Who fought to keep the threads promotion free.
I drew a breath, put up my feet and sighed
Why should my muse have led me to such grief?
Class'd with the rabble, scorned and vilified -
Seeking desp'rately to find relief?
"Alack!" said I, "To be so misconstrued!
"Grouped with Neanderthals who have no couth!
To wish both groups in hell would be too rude,
And heaven help the soul who tells the truth!"
Yet leap I must - So listen, everyone!
I'm off these boards until the squabbling's done!

That's a Shakespearean sonnet, which is the most common.  It has the following rhyme format:

I upped the ante by writing it in iambic pentameter, which is as easy to slip into as riding a bicycle after a break of several years, once you've learned how.  Is it great poetry?  Well, no.  I'd have to really polish it and, frankly, it isn't worth it.  I may do some more sonnets, however, when I have some time.  I did enjoy them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Cover

I am a graphic designer in a small way.  My family has always been artistic, with painters and sketchers and designers of jewelry and knitted garments.  That is not my gift, unfortunately.  I wish it was.  I took a class in watercolor and did decently for a neophyte, but the spark wasn't there.  That isn't going to stop me from practicing at some point (it's been a few years), but the urge is not there.

I discovered graphic design, though.  Taking images and arranging them harmoniously.  I bought a version of Photoshop and taught myself, and had a lot of fun along the way.  Now I take commissions and work on people's websites.

...and I design my own book covers. 

It takes a while to formulate an idea into a whole.  I'm not going to post photos following my path of designing a book cover.  I will say, though, that I have redesigned the cover for Pharaoh's Son
and am posting it here.  It will take some time to be put on the listings, but it's in the works.

If you look at my posts on Kindle covers as well as the one on old and new covers, you'll see the development.  My first cover for Pharaoh's Son was a redo of the wretched one.  It wasn't bad, but I got the idea of using the colossus that inspired the story in the first place and the design took off from there.

I deleted the pyramid (it was on the back of the book for a while).  The nighttime sky made sense because the climactic scenes take place at night.  It fit.  I did make adjustments, but the cover is what is listed on my 'Kindle covers' post.

I will be working a free giveaway for Pharaoh's Son, City of Refuge and A Killing Among the Dead, and I'd been dissatisfied with my designs recently.  They were OK, but amateurish (well...  I am an amateur, after all...) and I'd had a notion...

The design incorporates two additions, a cartouche and a line drawing.  The 'Cartouche' is the oval element that contains the title and, on the front, the line drawing.  The line drawing itself is a depiction of an Egyptian prince.  The headdress is composed of a headband of gold with, on the side, the pendant element including some sort of circular stone?  Enamel?  We haven't found one of those in the round, but we have various depictions. 

Young boys, prior to puberty, are depicted as having shaved heads and a braid on one side of their heads. It's called the 'Horus lock'.  Yul Brynner as Ramesses in The Ten Commandments, wears one of these.  Based on his behavior, Yul's character was long past puberty, and I enjoyed a good snicker, but this is a good depiction.

A mature man who was acting in the role of someone's son (or a prince) would have worn something like the headdress in the line drawing.  You'll see them shown on depictions of various pharaohs' sons assisting in storming cities and other such activities.  The cobra at the front of the line drawing is my invention to show that the wearer of this particular headdress  is 'His Royal Highness' - the Crown Prince.  In my story, other princes might wear that arrangement, but without the cobra, since they were not in the direct line of succession.

The Cartouche is on its side.  Egyptians used that feature when their text was on the long side and couldn't be fit vertically, or else when the horizontal arrangement was more satisfactory.

All in all, I like the difference.