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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Old-Fashioned Advice

    Years ago, as I was getting ready to go away to college, my father came to me.  I was in the basement doing something or other that a pre-college kid might do.  He looked around, sat down and said, "Diana, I have something to say to you that I think is important.
     I looked up expecting something – I'm not sure what.  A talk about not blowing all my money, being respectful to elders, never to worry about calling him or my mother if there was a problem or I was in trouble – any of those.  Dad was a singular father, and aside from knowing that he called things as he saw it and did administer punishment as needed, and was always fair and to be relied on (my mother was the same way), I never could be sure what he might say.  There was a time, for example, when he told my brother and me that the Mayflower (ship that brought the pilgrims to Plymouth rock in 1620) was made of bricks.  But that is another story and will be told another time.
     But he threw me a curve ball this time.  "You are going to college, and if you're like every other college kid in the United States, you are going to try drinking.  So this is my advice..."
     It was good advice, and I am giving it it's own paragraph:

If you are going to drink, don't drink sweet, sticky drinks like Singapore Slings or Pina Coladas, Mai Tais, or other such things where you don't know what is in them. Drink Scotch on the Rocks, or Gin and Tonic, or an Old Fashioned. The best thing to do is mix it yourself if you're at a party, then you know what's in it. And if you don't know the people around you, get your own drink, or stand there and watch as they're mixing it. Or drink beer. You'll get sick before you get drunk.
     I paid attention to that advice – it is very good advice, and while I did enjoy fuzzy navels, I noticed that they packed a wallop out of proportion to their ingredients.  And it was hard to remember what was in them.  My mixed drink of choice became the Old Fashioned.  I can nurse one of them for an entire evening, augmenting it with a glass of seltzer.
     For those who don't remember them – they're making a comeback – they consist of:
     A sugar cube with a dash of bitters muddled with lemon zest in the bottom of an Old Fashioned (what else?) glass.  You fill the glass with cracked ice, pour a (smaller) jigger of Bourbon or Rye over, stir, and then add cold water to fill the glass the rest of the way.  You can add a maraschino cherry, if you want and a slice of orange.  Some people add a small spoonful of cherry juice.  It depends what you want.  I do put the orange slice in.  It helps to stave off scurvy.
     Did I say they were coming back into fashion?  They are, which means that for a while there, they were out of fashion, with servers not knowing what on earth I was ordering.  I remember one time – it was at Downey's in Philadelphia - that I ordered an Old Fashioned.  The table had pina coladas, beer, wine and Long Island Iced tea (why on earth would you pay a lot of money for a drink that 'tastes exactly like iced tea',  and levels you like a bulldozer?).
       The server stared at me.  "And old fashioned WHAT?" she demanded.
       The attitude had come out of left field.  I lifted my eyebrows.  "It's a mixed drink," I said.
       "I've never heard of it!"
       "Just ask your bartender to mix me an Old Fashioned."
     "Yeah.  Right."  She left.   She returned five minutes later, the pleasantness of her demeanor having improved somewhat.  "The bartender wants to know if you want your cherry muddled..."
       It was a good one.
       I was visiting family over Thanksgiving, and my mother said, "I wonder if you would make me an Old Fashioned...  Your father used to.  I remember you did, too."
     Well, I mixed one. Two, actually – one for me and one for her.  And we lifted our glasses to Dad.
     Thanks for the advice, Dad.  And the recipe.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Moving Right Along...

Things are coming together with Mourningtide.  I finished the cover design (with a few reservations - more below) with a mock up of the book itself in the works.

It is copyrighted and registered with the Library of Congress, with an edit scheduled.  I'd say it's five months or less away from publication.  I will miss the characters, especially since I know I won't be dealing with one of my favorites after this.

Here's the cover mock up.  The back needs more of a blurb, and I'm not sure I like the black spine...

I write historical fiction, with or without fantasy or mysticism, and I have realized once again the big sorrow of dealing with people, whether real or fictional: they don't stay around forever.
I said farewell to my father this summer - and I find myself thinking of things he would love - and realize anew that he isn't beside me to enjoy them.  In the same way, though not as deep, there are characters who, following my timeline, are making their final appearances in life. 
Seti (the main character in Mourningtide) has been dead for five years in the time-setting of Kadesh.  I realized how he died when I was writing backstory about one of the main characters.  Lord Nebamun, who has been one of my favorite non-historical characters in the course of two books, is in his mid-eighties in Kadesh.  Will he be there to welcome the troops home?  I don't know.  I will miss them both.
I suppose I could pick up one or another of my own books and read - but it is not the same.  But when it's time to say goodbye...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I do write fiction that is set in Egypt; and I do read it, as well. I am posting here a review I did of a beautifully done, intriguing book set in the earliest days of dynastic Egypt. It has intrigue, romance, mysticism - and it is engrossing. Do I make it sound like a Penny Dreadful? I promise that it is not. You will simply have to read the book - and then read its sequel, set four thousand years later and cleverly tied in with a notorious art heist of modern times. You will not regret it. And now, my review:

Khamsin The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ancient Egypt is thought of, by many, as the dawn of history. This book takes you to a time that is before history, bringing to life names that we only know from fragments, harking to a rhythm and image that is smoothed and darkened by time. And yet the author makes them human.

This is the very earliest period of dynastic Egypt, a time when the border between history and legend is blurred, when the kings and queens of that land seem to be gods that stepped down from the bowl of the sky and trod the land...

The author states:
At the dawn of the great Egyptian dynasties, before any Pyramids were built and the camel was introduced to the Nile regions, certainly long before the royal title of Pharaoh came into use, Aha rules as the second King of the First Dynasty... H i8s triumph and tragedy plays out centuries before the Greek colonization of the Two Lands... To this day our vague answers are drawn only from relics and mummies of much later dynasties, their cities wrenched from the hot red dust driven into the verdant river valley for fifty days by the Khamsin, the dreaded Devil Wind of the Nile. In Khamsin, the reader is immersed in the life of the fertile Valley of the Nile, as flesh and muscle have been molded back onto those brittle bones...

She molds them well. We meet characters that catch the exotic cadences of the faraway times as we follow the fate of a life conceived in the beginning pages. We watch first one character and then another - the general of the Fourth Army of Amun, who is tender to his faraway wife, lusty with a woman of the desert, and crafty. (And I must remember never to go back to that time and agree to carry an important message...)

And we meet Ramose...

This is a story to savor, written lusciously, with care and enjoyment. I grew to love Ramose, to enjoy his dry wit and his wide-eyed mysticism. The writing is lyrical at times, so rare in a time of utilitarianism, and the Khamsin is in the background, lending its tone to the story.

I enjoyed this - and I rejoice to tell you that Ms. Borg has written another, arising from this but far, far in the future from this story. I think you will enjoy it, too.

Okay, What I'm Doing...

I really need to update this blog on a regular basis.  It does tend to be hit or miss, but I don't want to bore everyone with my writing issues and enjoyments (though I find it enjoyable). 

For example, I have the nicest recipe for Thai-style soup that works up quickly, has low fat and sodium, and makes wonderful left-overs for the next day.  In fact, if you can hold off eating it for two days it's really good.  I'll post it if I can find a good photo.

Currently I'm in the middle of NaNoWriMo, which is a contest of sorts where you attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days.  To reduce that to understandable terms,a printed page - as in, say, a paperback of normal size such as you sneak on mass transit and hope no one notices you reading it - Harlequin Romance, to be precise - has about 275 words per page.  50,000 words translates to  181 pages.  A normal-sized harlequin.

Lots of people seem to think that they must produce a finished, polished, to-be-published-then-and-there manuscript, but that is not the case.  The founder of NaNo, Chris Baty, says that the task is to write 50,000 words.  And he gives some examples of what counts,

I have some Egyptian stories (you have noticed, haven't you?) that feature some Egyptian names.  If I type (with apologies to A. A. Milne):
 Ramesses strode down the hallway, yanked open the door to the Imperial Kitchen s and snapped, "Nobody can call me a fussy man - but I do like a little bit of butter on my bread!"
I score 36 words.  Not bad.  But if, having access to his throne names, I type

User - Maat - Re - Sotep - en - Re - Ramesses II Meriamun strode down the hallway, yanked open the door to the Imperial Kitchen s and snapped, "Nobody can call me a fussy man  -  but I do like a little bit of butter on my bread!"
I score 50.
Now, that actually is not cheating per Mr. Baty, bless him.   

Way out of date cover
Mourningtide was last year's NaNo project, and it's in final polish, but I was just a trifle burned out and decided to go with Kadesh, which is moving along.  (Check for some chapters on my web page - www.dianawilderauthor.com )

I've been going slowly, and yesterday I took a day off to put Mourningtide into print book format for reasons that I am not allowed to discuss.  It was interesting to see that, printed, it is working out to 332 pages, if I include the List of Characters but not my incomplete Author's Notes.  Considering that Pharaoh's Son, that behemoth, was 421 pages and had a genesis that spanned nearly twenty years, that is not bad.

So, what on earth am I doing?  Writing and cooking and enjoying autumn.  I'll have to post photos.

And that recipe, of course.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The hazard or, if you prefer, the muse of writing -

The name of the Muse of Writing, according to the ancient Greeks, was Calliope.  Actually, she was the muse of heroic and epic poetry.  Since I write historical fiction, I think that's about as close as I come.

I've been going hammer and tongs at a new project, and she has been with me every step of the way.  ...or do I mean that she has obstructed me?  Hm.  Perhaps that is a better choice of words...

The hard thing is that if you do write, you have to have a muse. 

...but do I have to have one that sits on my keyboard? 

Now all I need is Terpsichore (muse of dance) to tap-dance on my keyboard.  I suspect it's only a matter of time.

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo is taking place right now.  I'm participating. 
And I am an idiot:  I have a whole lot going on. 
I'm polishing Mourningtide, I am doing a once-over on a (Civil War) novel that will be on KDP Select as a freebie later this month, and I signed up to write a minimum of 1700 words a day to produce 50,000 words in 30 days.  (1700 words works out to about six printed pages).  It's do-able if you work steadily, but in this case I am also working at a day job. 
I'm giving it my best shot, and I think I can do it, but if one thing or another has to go Kadesh will be the casualty.
Which reminds me: Kadesh is a working title.  Fans of Egyptian history will know that it was the battle that Ramesses II touted as his greatest triumph.  The Hittites, whom he fought, were equally emphatic about their 'successs'.  My read is that two superpowers met and mauled each other, though Ramesses probably had the shock of his life in the process.  (There's a strong indication that his father, Seti I, died of a heart condition, and I've used that supposition in my own 'family history' to account for some deaths.  It would appear, though, based on what happened at Kadesh, that Ramesses did not have a weak heart.  He survived the shock of seeing the Hittite army breaking through the palisades of his camp.)
I'm telling this story from the point of view of lesser characters.  Hori (Amunhorkhepechef) as a nineteen-year-old Crown Prince is given nominal command of one of the armies.  Others of his brothers (Ramses and Montuhirkhopechef, who died prior to the opening of Pharaoh's Son) are in high command in other armies.  Khaemwaset ('Khay' in Pharaoh's son, and the most well known,  historically, of Ramesses' sons) is with his father, being all of fifteen years old.
It's important to understand strategy, but this event shaped Ramesses' reign and world history.  It turned him from being a 'warrior king' (though he tried) to being a true statesman, where his greatness lay.
So I'm writing Kadesh.  I truly must redo the temporary cover, but it's a decent placeholder for now.
My website has sample chapters that I've whacked out.  Hori seems to be taking center stage just at the moment.  (I know him rather well).  Check them out here: