On this blog

Thursday, May 31, 2012

So, What's With the Ladies Without Heads???

Or, alternatively, When Can We Expect This Silly Cover Trend to End?
The realm of historical novels is being inundated by headless women. Why this should be is something I can't say, but there it is. I have been looking for historical novels and the trend at the moment is to get a model wearing a period dress and only show her from the neck down.
I am hard put to understand this trend, unless perhaps some cover designer had the bright idea of doing this with a photograph in order to get around the fact that, aside from a Merchant Ivory movie (and sometimes not even then) a modern person photographed in period dress doesn't work.

Actually, being a writer of historical novels and a nit-picker myself, I could remark on Cicely, Duchess of York ('Queen by Right') holding an un-tethered hawk on a lightly gloved hand while bearing a basket of flowers in the other.  Did the hawk  help her pick flowers?  I can't imagine that he was at all cuddlesome or companionable, especially considering that his pose shows that he is most likely stuffed.  Also, the lady would be wearing a headdress composed of a stiff frame to the face and then a headcloth falling behind.  High-ranking ladies in a public setting did not uncover their hair, as this photo shows.

Catherine De' Medici ('The Confessions of Catherine de Medici') is shown in a garment that would have been several decades out of date, worn around the time of Henry VIII.  Catherine was a contemporary of Elizabeth 1.

I am not as conversant with costumes from the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I will say that the unbound hair looks wrong ('The Scarlet Lion').  It would have been braided or otherwise confined or covered.

But wait! The problem appears to have originated in Ptolemaic times and then spread to Rome, based on other covers I've seen.  And--Is Selene wearing a toga???  It certainly looks like it.

The other problem with all of these covers, aside from the one about James II's mistress, is that the facial features - what you can see of them - are wrong.  In the centuries since these people lived, we have seen a blending of the breeds (meaning Celts, Angles, Norman, Tuscan, Palatine).  Bone structure is different.  I remember reading an article, once, by a forensic anthropologist who was discussing how he could tell if a skull came from the Civil War era.  He said that people in the 1860's in the US were generally more hatchet-faced, with sharper bridges to their noses and generally longer faces,  The influx of late Victorian immigrants brought higher cheekbones and wider faces. 

Let us be reasonable, here.  These are covers for books and are meant to draw attention to the book and, perhaps, draw people in.  The first one I saw was somewhat interesting; they got the costume right.  But this parade of headless ladies has gone beyond interesting and into the banal: they look utterly silly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Map for Frontispiece of The City of Refuge

The good news is that after several days' work (and it was very intricate and detailed) I have finished the frontispiece map for The City of Refuge. This goes with the updated cover.

The bad news is that it has to be in grayscale...

...and it does lose something in the translation...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Setting up a Website is a Pain in the Neck

I'd had a website once.  I have a new one now, but I'm in the process of setting it up.  It takes a lot of work, and I'm finding it heavy going.  Thus far I have the first page.  I want to have a bit about myself, links to my work (with sample chapters) any news that I don't think will bore people to death and, possibly, a review or two?  Hm.  Maybe I'll keep my reviews here.

The address is www.dianawilderauthor.com , but don't expect much right now.  (I haven't activated the link yet...)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

We have located a scroll that contains the minutes of an audience held by Ramesses the Great when he received an envoy from the Far Lands of Amazon and was given the gift of a Kindle.  Based on my read of the man, the account is accurate...

He sat back, eyed the man kneeling before him. "And what is this?" he asked.

"A gift from the Lords of Amazon, sire," the man said. 
"From whom?"

"He speaks of the far lands of the Western Tribes, Sire," said the Vizier. 

"I...see," said Ramesses.  He eyed the flat, rectangular item in his hands.  "And they have given me this? What is  it?"

"It is called a 'Kindle', sire. We can fit the archives of all the palaces and temples of Egypt and of Nubia within it."

"All of them?"

"Yes, Sire."

Ramesses raised the device again and tapped the shiny side with a fingertip.  "I assume there is some way to read the documents contained within this thing aside from frowning at my reflection in it?"

"It's easy, Sire.  You see those tabs on the side?"

"No, I do not."

"They are there - If I may, Majesty - your finger is on it.  Now push it."

Ramesses complied and the device went flying from his hands and skidded to the feet of the Vizier, his son, who bent and retrieved it.

"Thank you, Khay."  Ramesses looked at the envoy.  "What is your country, my good fellow?

"Amazon, Majesty."

"The lords of Amazon should be advised that their - their implement - is somewhat lacking-"

"Oh no, Sire-!" the man ignored Pharaoh's sudden frown at the interruption.  "It only takes a little time to learn how to use it.  Any idiot can cope with it-"

"'Idiot'?" said the Crown Prince.

"It can hold all the documents of your realm -!"

"Hm..." Ramesses sat back and turned the straight-sided oblong over in his hands. He finally handed it back to the man. "Take it away, my good fellow.  Thank your masters for me."

"But sire-! The sheer size of what it can hold--!"

Ramesses nodded to his fan-bearers, who began their motion again. "The size is certainly impressive," he said. "And based on what I have seen, if the Lords of Amazon can somehow figure out how to use the thing, I am certain that the lowest moron in Egypt could.  But I can't help wondering what will happen if I decide to read while bathing in my garden pond and a clumsy servant drops this - this Kindle - into the water. Aside, of course, from getting electrocuted-" He turned to the Crown Prince  with a thoughtful frown. "I forgot to ask The Author: Do we know about electrocution now?"

Hori shrugged. "I can ask her, Sire," he said.  "She's working on that story that features me as a child."

Ramesses flicked his fingers. "No matter," he said. "She's busy and, most likely, preoccupied.  Authors get testy at such times.  The main problem would be that the libraries of all Egypt would be destroyed in my bath. I can't take responsibility for that. I will leave those honors to that fool Justinian.  Take it away and bring me Sun Tzu's volume..."


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Speaking of Graphics...

...which we weren't, here is the latest.  An ad for a Delegates' booklet.

My lips are sealed...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Telling a Story? Or Preaching?

I was reading a discussion among a group of writers of Historical Fiction. 

There seemed to be a consensus that it was the duty of a writer to (fill in the blanks): push a favorite cause, sound the clarion call to arms against some injustice, convert readers in one way or another, educate them to injustice.  Whatever.  I didn't see anywhere (in this discussion) the thing that I think is the primary job of a writer of fiction: to tell a story that entertains its reader.

I think the most boring novels I've ever read were ones with an agenda.  It isn't hard to pick up the fact that you're being preached at, and I, personally, get really annoyed when I learn that I've wasted my time and attention on a lecture.

I have a compilation of shorter works - essays, articles, commentary - by C. S. Lewis (On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature with foreword by Walter Hooper).  I believe it is in that collection, in one of his essays, that Lewis commented on the conception that in order to promote Christianity, The Church needed to write books.

Lewis said (I have to paraphrase, since I can't locate my copy):

The Clergy have enough to do.  It is for Christians to do what they are best at.  Christian writers should write books.  Christian physicists should study physics and do their research.  What you are should shine through what you do.

In my opinion, we exist to tell stories that entertain, enthrall, capture the reader's imagination, and become a part of their lives.  If in the course of setting out to tell the story the writer encounters an injustice, say, that captures his or her imagination and lights a fire, then it has a part in the story.

But sitting down and saying, "I am going to write a novel that will expose the injustice inherent in 'express lines' in grocery stores and will fire up the proletariat to rise in revolt!" negates from the first the intent to tell a story and entertain the readers.  We have gone from the region of storytelling into the realm of homiletics.

Pass me a pillow...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Cover!

I've finalized the cover for Mourningtide:

I wanted to follow the format of the other covers, using sculpture that tied in to the story itself.  This took some doing.  There was no statue of the main character that I could use with any success.  I had had the notion of showing the king in mourning. One of the serene sculptures of that era - but with tears in its eyes - was what I had envisioned, but I had no success with sculpture in the round.  In fact, my efforts - using the famous black statue of Ramesses II found in the Turin (Italy) museum - were particularly unfortunate.  The disembodied face with tear-streaked cheeks looked like nothing so much as Darth Vader, hung-over, leering down over the planet of Tatooine.  It was so bad, I deleted it in its entirety once I was able to sit up straight and wipe the tears (of laughter) from my own eyes.  So it was back to the drawing board. 

After a lot of searching I chose to use this bas-relief from the tomb of my hero.  With the sort of arrogance that utterly flabbergasts me whenever I encounter it, people who came to the tomb in the early nineteenth century decided that they would cut it away from the wall and take it back to Florence with them. It is now in the Louvre.  This depiction seemed to be the best prospect, though I could have wished the headdress had been a little different.   People, looking at long hair and what they perceive as makeup (kohl circling the eyes; worn by both sexes in Egypt), tend to think "Ah!  A woman!"  For those in the know, those two gold strands around the king's neck are military decorations of the highest order - 'the Gold of Honor'.  This is a warrior-king.  I mention it in the story:        
         Ptahemhat smiled and offered a packet wrapped in cloth. "Lord Nebamun sent these with me.  I'm ordered to hand them over to you after you have been stopped from throttling me and, by reference His Holiness."
          Seti frowned at the package and then sat down and opened it.  Jumbled within the layers of cloth were three cylindrical gold necklaces, two rings and a falcon pendant of gold, lapis, turquoise and carnelian.  Seti stared at them and then looked up at Ptahemhat.  "And what am I supposed to do with them?" he demanded.
          "I imagine His Holiness  thought you might wish to wear them," Ptahemhat replied.
          "Wear them?  I'm an itinerant scribe!  Where would I have found them?"
          "You are also a king."
          Seti frowned.  "And another thing:  What are we to do with it?"
          "Hide it," Ptahemhat replied with a promptness that made Seti's mouth tighten.
          "Servants come to clean the houses in this village," Seti said.
          Ptahemhat shrugged.  "Are they thieves?"
         "No.  But they might think that I am one!"
          "I rather doubt it, Sire."
          "Stop calling me 'Sire'!  Someone might hear you!"
          "They'll probably think I'm your son."
          "Worse and worse!"

I have earlier versions of this cover in this blog; separating the figure from the background was awkward, and I decided to keep it in situ, though I did blot out the extraneous writing at the top.  Fitting the carving into the frame of the cover was a challenge, but I think it worked.  I like having the hands and the edge of the wig overlap the borders of the frame. The gradient coloring worked well, too, highlighting the blue and gold balance.

Now I absolutely must not fiddle with it any more.  (And it would help if I could finish the novel, which is currently at about 77,000 words - 320 pages.)

(Added July 22, 2015:

Mourningtide: Final Cover
Of course, being myself I ended up fiddling further with the cover after I received a trial print of the book, which made me realize that the cover would not work. 

The tone/tint of the flesh came out too red on the cover.  This was fix-able, but other things simply looked wrong.  While this is a depiction of a king wearing the standard ceremonial headgear of the time, the depiction looked, even to my eyes, a little too much like a woman in heavy makeup wearing a wig. 

I did some further work and created this image.

The bas-relief is from Seti's great mortuary temple at Abydos, which was finished by his son, Ramesses the Great.  The tear took a log time to get right, but it worked, actually, much better than the original concept.

I was able to return to my notion of monumental sculpture, featuring one or another of the characters, whether directly involved in the story or related in some way to the story, as the focal point.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Writer's Mission

This is a statement made by the author, P. L. Blair.  I think it perfectly (and elegantly) expresses an author's mission, or at least my perception of it:

What is a writer's mission?

...another mistake made by fools - to ever think our readers will - or for that matter should - "settle" for anything less than the best we can give them.

Here's my personal bottom line as an author: I'm telling you - my reader - a story. I want to immerse you totally in that story. I don't want you to be aware of me as an author; I want to be invisible to you while you're reading (although, if you happen to remember me after you close the book - and want to go find other books I've written, I won't mind ...) I want you completely involved in the lives of the characters in that book.

So, for me, if I do anything that pulls you out of that story ... if you falter because of misspelled words, if punctuation (or lack thereof) causes confusion, if ... well, if anything happens to confuse you or pull you out of the story, even for only a second or two ... Then I have failed.

                                        - - P. L. Blair

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dream Date.....

You can feel the longing pulsing through you...  Your breath comes swiftly through parted lips...  You have always dreamed of this moment, longed for it and yet, half-shamed, never felt that you could admit the longing to anyone.

...And yet - and yet perhaps the time has come...

You sit back and close your eyes.  Your fingertips tingle with the thought of touching, savoring...

You open your eyes, look to see if anyone is watching, and then sit back again, sighing.

It's nice to dream, but what's the reality?

You scan the message - a brief meeting, the chance, almost, to fly -

But is it worth it?

Your imagination has always been supple.  You follow yourself on the day it is to happen - your pounding heart, your shaky knees...  The glances of envy from your friends.  Such a short time, but to touch that power...

You look at the words again, form them silently, and then shake your head sadly.  It isn't to be.  It's too costly and too brief.  It might break your heart.

...and yet, you linger until, wearily, you surrender to your common sense and turn away.

Three laps is not long enough - even if it is a Lamborghini Gallardo.  Perhaps, when you win the lottery, you can own one - instead of paying $100 to drive one for ten minutes...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wherever You Go...

I decided that I would write at least some of those chapters I mentioned in my last post.  Since I had to be out and about today and running errands that included an enforcedly inactive hour and a half (give or take a few minutes) I decided I'd take along my laptop and see what I could do.

I drove to a local mall, parted company with the rest of my party who had a long appointment that would keep them busy for nearly two hours, and strolled to the lobby at the center of the mall, where they had a respectable seating area.

I mouse with my right hand, and I need a table on which to do it (my thigh doesn't work so well, and I'm no good with a joy switch - or whatever you call that thing on the computer).

The area was fairly deserted at that hour, so I selected a comfortable seat (see arrow), set everything up, got out my bits of paper towel (yes, I was guilty of a little backsliding) and went to work.

I broke twenty minutes into things because I needed caffeine, and they had a coffee stop (Starbucks) there.  Lattes are nice, though I received some strange looks when I said I didn't want any flavoring syrup in my drink.  Perhaps it would have made them feel better if I'd asked for whipped cream or assured them that I'd be shaking some Splenda into it?  They were pretty pleasant, though...

I opened Scrivener, skimmed through the various chapters, adjusted some wording, grinned at some changes I'd forgotten...  The scene set up my hero's disappearance:

     He pulled one of the gilded stools forward and sank into it, closing his eyes. A year ago his wife would have been with him. They would have come into these rooms, she to her own chamber, he to his. A few minutes later they would be in this room, sitting knee to knee, talking about the day's events - Tuia's dry humor would have him chuckling at the remembered conversations. He would call for a jar of wine, would open it with his own hands, pour two cups, and sip from his.And she would take his cup, turn the rim and sip from it. Leaving a kiss in the cup.  How odd that he hadn't thought of that in months...

     Guardsmen swung the doors open. He nodded to them and went into his chambers. The luxurious appointments were all anyone could desire - piles of pillows, gilded chairs, a harp in the corner (when had he ever played a harp?), elegant vases in gilded bronze ring stands. He thought a cup of wine would be soothing - and then he remembered that His Majesty had to call for wine, that it would never do to have one's wine sitting untended. What if there was an assassination attempt?

 So far, so good.  He was back from visiting his son's tomb.  He's tired, and this is a visit of state.  A feast is set for that evening...

He raised his head, watched a man enter, flanked by two guards. He looked familiar... Of course. The Nomarch (title akin to 'Duke') of the Third Nome, headquartered in Thebes. He rose, greeted the man, accepted his homage with a kind smile.
     When can I simply sit down and catch my breath?
     The man was still talking. He made some response.
     "Thank you, Sire!" the man said. "Till this evening!" And he bowed himself out of the room.  Seti closed his eyes. A banquet.
     His sight seemed to blur behind his eyelids. He could picture himself telling his corps of guards that the great lords of the third Nome could damned well eat their meals in garrulous comfort away from him.
What a pity he could not respond that way.
     He nodded to the major-domo. "Send my servants in," he said. "I will prepare for the feast."
     The door closed softly.
     A feast. Two weeks after a bereavement... No. After I learned of a bereavement.
** ** **
     "Thank you, Kha," he said after he had been bathed and oiled and robed to everyone's satisfaction. He tweaked the pleated linen sleeve of his robe. "I have a charge for you: assemble as many sheets of parchment as possible. The best quality. Have it brought to my chambers.

He attends the feast, returns to his chambers...

     The moon was riding high in the night sky when he returned to his chambers. He disrobed, suffered his servants to bathe and oil him, and then dismissed them. The night was relatively young. He went to the balcony of his chambers and looked across the Nile toward the east, warming with the first, faint light of false dawn.

     False dawn… His mind circled around the term. A precursor to dawn, an indication of dawn's approach while still in the night.
     He smiled at himself. Well and good, he thought. He had to move forward, or else remain in darkness and grief. This was the proper time.
     He looked around the chambers. There were so many things there that he did not need, things that had only become necessities since the death of Horemheb, when his line had become entangled with the exigencies of royalty. He could still live frugally and comfortably with what could be packed in one small satchel.
     His smile widened. It was time to do so. The papyrus was awaiting him, as he had ordered. He had his own writing kit. He eyed the reed brushes and thought for a moment.
     And so, in the third hour before dawn, Men-Maat-Re Seti Merneptah, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, stepped out of his world and left.
** ** **
     Word did not come until five hours after dawn. Thebes was a tolerant and understanding city. His Majesty had suffered a severe blow, and he had borne it with pride and courage. Who could blame him if he lay abed late? Or if he chose to warm his bed with the caresses of a woman? Indeed, it was a wise thing to do.
     But there was no woman, and the bed was cold and unmarked.
** ** **
     Intef (he's the prime minister and an old friend) sat back in his chair and tilted his chin back to allow his manservant to shave him. The scent of the unguents was almost intoxicating, and the action had become a morning ritual that helped to soothe him and prepare him for the day. He let himself drift, thinking over what had happened and what would happen… he prided himself on his ability to prepare for whatever came.
     He thought nothing of the slap-slap of sandals on the packed earthen floors, and when reality burst into his chambers and shouted the news, his first thought was to regret not having that second glass of wine when he arose.

And the rest of the story goes from there, with ensuing havoc, people milling around, reading letters, shouting orders, calling for the guard, dismissing the guard because His Majesty ordered in one of his letters that they were not to call for the guard.  His Majesty's Major-Domo issuing smug orders until the moment when the prime minister, frowning at a document given to him, raises his head and says, "His Majesty directs you to return to Memphis."

I sipped my latte.  Not bad.  Needs a lot of polishing, but the ideas were preserved.

Someone was looking at me surprise (you don't see a lot of people tapping away at a word processing system in the middle of a mall).  I smiled, folded the paper towels with the writing, and ran a spell check.

Not a bad morning.  One down and three to go...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Smorgasbord - Mourningtide

What to do?  What to do?

I have about 75,000 words written.  If you do the math, with one printed page comprised of 275 words, this story is currently at about 272 pages.  Respectable, though I tend to run just over 110,000 - 120,000 words.

I have things to fill in, transitions between scenes, chapters to write...

I have two specific chapters I want to write  The first ones involve the disappearance of the main character, who is mourning the death of his son  He is a very intelligent man, but also very direct.  He has a sense of humor, and the way he gives his loyal supporters the slip would be very amusing.

But then I also must write a chapter involving the woman  he falls in love with.  How does he handle his leaving and the revelation that he is definitely not what they had expected?

And, finally,the leave taking scene itself.

All of them have wonderful scope for writing, and I'll enjoy them all.  But - which to start first?

Ay, there's the rub.

I haven't written a thing tonight.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


It's the first of May.  The first day of a new month.

I was checking various things online, and I happened to see that someone bought a paperback copy of one of my books and another person bought it in ebook form.

I found myself smiling.  Yes, it's nice to sell things, but what makes writing so enjoyable for me - what keeps me writing - is the fact that someone, somewhere, is reading what I wrote and (I hope) enjoying it.  The fact that someone thought a story of mine, that I 'made up out of my own head', was interesting enough to spend money on it, make place on their shelf for it, is really warming.

Jackson Browne has a song, Roadies, that expresses it (for me):

but when that last guitar's been packed away,
you know that I still want to play.
So just make sure you got it all set to go
before you come for my piano

But the band's on the bus,
and they're waiting to go.
We gotta drive all night
And do the show in Chicago... or Detroit.
I don't know, we do so many shows in a row.
And these towns all look the same.
we just pass the time in the hotel rooms
and wander around backstage.
Till those lights come up, and we hear that crowd,
and we remember why we came.

People stay just a little bit longer
We want to play -- just a little bit longer
Now the promoter don't mind
And the union don't mind
If we take a little time
And we leave it all behind and sing
One more song
Oh won’t you stay just a little bit longer
Please, please, please say you will

Say you will

...I hope those folks enjoy their books/kindles. I wrote it for them.