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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Celebrating a Break in the Weather

It is Friday and time to enjoy VikLit 's blog hop that highlights small celebrations, the things that we tend to ignore unless something or someone joggles our elbows and says, LOOK!

Today I am celebrating not only the end of the work week (though the fact that I have work during these difficult times is a celebration in itself) but also the fact that Ye Olde  Wizzardes Who Thinke They Hath Ye Means To Foretell Ye Weather are predicting a cooler weekend.

My dog won't sit around and pant so much, I can pull a blanket up to my shoulder, and I can even wear a bathrobe, which for me is a necessity, whether or not I will roast in it.

I hope they are right.

What are you celebrating?  Why don't you join us?  The link is below!

Cover Reveal: Effigy by M. J. Fifield

Today I am happy to participate in the Cover Reveal of Effigy, M. J. Fifield's debut novel.  Danger, excitement, beauty, sacrifice and love figure in the story of Haleine, queen of a once-great kingdom that is crumbling into ruin under her husband's cruel, evil reign. 

The survival of a once-mighty kingdom rests in the hands of its young queen, Haleine Coileáin, as it slowly succumbs to an ancient evil fueled by her husband’s cruelty. 
A sadistic man with a talent for torture and a taste for murder, he is determined to burn the land and all souls within. Haleine is determined to save her kingdom and, after a chance encounter, joins forces with the leader of the people’s rebellion. She gives him her support, soon followed by her heart. 
Loving him is inadvertent but becomes as natural and necessary as breathing. She lies and steals on his behalf, doing anything she can to further their cause. She compromises beliefs held all her life, for what life will exist if evil prevails? 
Her journey leads to a deceiving world of magic, monsters, and gods she never believed existed outside of myth. The deeper she goes, the more her soul is stripped away, but she continues on, desperate to see her quest complete. If she can bring her husband to ruin and save her people, any sacrifice is worth the price—even if it means her life.

M J Fifield
Release date: July 22, 2014 
Cover art by Ravven
About The Author: 
Armed with a deep and lasting love of chocolate, purple pens, and medieval weaponry, M.J. Fifield is nothing if not a uniquely supplied insomniac. When she isn’t writing, she’s on the hunt for oversized baked goods or shiny new daggers. M.J. lives with a variety of furry creatures—mostly pets—in New Hampshire. Effigy is her first novel.
Ravven, the cover artist:  www.ravven.com

Friday, June 20, 2014

Celebrations - June 20, 2014

Welcome to Friday  and VikLit 's blog hop.  We're celebrating the small things that make our lives richer.

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join?  Or, at least, visit the various posts and smile.

...And today I am celebrating...
This means the folks on this hop, the people who jot down their thoughts now and then because they want to share, those who have an interest that they think is just absolutely cool and they can't stop talking about it.
There are those who assemble the most fascinating bits of information and provide a background to help us understand the information, those who have a skill, be it crocheting (one on the A to Z blog fest had a theme involving  crocheting all sorts of flowers)  or travelogues. 
Cooking, being a parent, adjusting to country life, job-hunting, chronicling their writing endeavors, reviewing books and, through all of them, giving an incredibly rich picture of people.
I have been honored to co-host this hop, along with two others, and the time has been truly eye-opening.  It's been a 'wow!' experience.
So here's to bloggers - people to celebrate!  (And I'm going to try to visit every single blogger on the hop list over the next week.  Fun!)
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day,June 15, 2014

Someone commented once that my stories, no matter where set, or when, have a feature or theme in common: good fathers.

It is true, I think, mulling things over.  I have men who are good fathers, characters who were blessed with good fathers, characters who had men step in and serve as fathers to them...

It is not surprising.  I was blessed with the finest father anyone could hope for.  He was a very good man, and one of those rare people who remembered how it was to be a child.  We would go for drives on Sunday afternoons, and he would tell us kids to look for bears.  Once he bought some Native American arrowheads and 'salted' them in a place where he planned to take us.  We were too oblivious to notice them.

He would tuck us in to bed (Mom did, too) and tell us 'Make up stories', which were the absolute best.

He was unflinching in his honesty.  The 'Right Thing To Do' was what had to be done.  And he did not blink it, even as he understood and sympathized with his children when we found it hard.  I never in my life doubted that he and Mom were on my side, that I could always go to them when I was in trouble, and that while they would speak their mind, they would never stop loving me.

Years ago, Dad discovered computers.  He was a very bright man, but computers were mysterious and fascinating.  Maybe this was because he was in the first wave of radar officers in the U.S. Navy in WW II.  His talk of them bored me to death...for a while. 

I remember he phoned me once to go on and on (and on) about Ram and Megabytes and such, and I sat back, phone to ear, and rolled my eyes.

...and then it occurred to me, with the force of someone jabbing me in the ribs: there will come a day when you would give almost anything to have him beating your eardrums about computers.

I listened to the voice, and it was right.

Dad died two years ago this August.  He went quickly, and his passing was guided by  his own instructions, written and notarized.  No difficult decision was left to us.  No lingering doubts or regrets.  He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery (for those non-US readers, it is the cemetery for veterans - and Dad was one).
Not a day goes by that does not bring with it some reason to remember him and thank God that he was my father.  He is in good part a reason that I took the path I did.

As he was, so are other fathers, and I salute them this day.  It is a tough job but a crucial one.  I wish all can be as blessed as I was, and can bless their children as Dad did his.

Happy Father's day!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fireflies - (June 13, 2014 Celebrations)

Welcome to Friday!  This post is part of the blog hop  that Vikki at VikLit thought of well over a year ago. 

Here we pause to celebrate the small things that together make our lives richer.  

The hop is still open if you want to join, and it has drawn a wonderful group that posts, remembers, celebrates and just generally supports and cheers you on.

Today I am celebrating one of summer's perennial surprises.  You know: the sort of joy that you forget from year to year, making each new encounter seem as though it is the first.  This always comes as a surprise to me, and it sifts down in several ways to make it memorable each time I encounter it.

I am speaking of what we call 'fireflies'.

They are modest little things, sober-colored insects with that splash of red.  There always comes a point in late spring when I step outside, gaze up a hill  in the deepening twilight, and see, like a handful of stars thrown on the hillside, flickering points of golden light, drifting in the light breeze, rising up into the tree tops.

When visiting my grandmother in Vermont (far northeast United States for those who are not from North America) I can remember driving back from getting ice cream and watching, enthralled, as the forests seemed to flicker with light.

Just two nights ago, one of them was perched on my window screen.  I fell asleep to the gentle, flickering glow.

This weekend, the sporadic showers and the mosquitoes willing, I will be sitting on my porch and watching them against the stars.

How about you?  What are you celebrating? 

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join and tell us? 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sorting Through Boxes...

...I received quite a blast from the past.

This was lying demurely folded in a box of photographs.  It is not the first manuscript  I copyrighted. That honor goes to a Heroic Fantasy Trilogy that is so utterly silly, it will never see print.  Besides, I'd have to retype it.

This one has some sentimental and 'lessons learned' associations.  It was the first manuscript I sent around for representation, and I worked for a year with one agent (a very good one) polishing it.  Ultimately, he turned it down and I went with another agent who wanted to represent me.  www.pred-ed.com did not exist then. 

Amazing what you find in boxes.
The first copyrighted manuscript that I published was A Killing Among the DeadThat one came out in 2011.  this one (part I) was published last year.

25 years ago for the copyright on this.  And boy was it bad!

It's pretty good now, and Book II is coming along very well.  Book III is nearly ready to go this very moment.

I have the three covers designed.

...And now back to writing... (and staying away from boxes)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Small Celebrations - June 6, 2014

Welcome to Friday and the weekly blog that Vikki at VikLit thought of well over a year ago.  It is a way we pause to celebrate the small things that together make our lives richer.  Reading the posts over the months will open your eyes to the many, many ways we touch delight and celebrate it.  The hop is still open if you want to join, and it has drawn a wonderful group that posts, remembers, celebrates and just generally supports and cheers you on.
.here are lovely people involved in posting, remembering, celebrating and being just generally awesome - rather like yourself, don't you think?

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join?  Or, at least, visit the various posts and smile.
...And today I am celebrating...Books!

I just ordered two books yesterday.  One of them is to replace a book that I had, that was lost during four moves.  It is a sourcebook and a picture book (don't get me started on picture books...)  It is a collection of aerial photos of Paris, taken from close(r) to the ground.  This was done after years of negotiating with the French government, which does not allow flyovers.  One day was granted, and this book resulted. 

It was very useful, since I could visualize the buildings, see the terrain.  Besides, I loved my visit to Paris, and if I ever win a lottery or inherit an emerald mine, I will go back and stay a year in an apartment near the Pont Neuf with three - count 'em! -bathrooms complete with soaking tubs.
I ordered another book on Paris (I'm writing a story set there), and since it's about urban planning (it is not polite to yawn), it should be good.  Besides, the sample I read rather thoroughly is beautifully written.

I ordered both of these in 'hard copy'.  The first is a hardback.  It's an oversized book, and they don't do well in softcover.  The other is a paperback. 

I never got over my love for books.  The things you hold in your hands, the fresh pages that smell of ink or, if they are older, of library dust.  The dog-eared pages, the notes in the margin (mine), the tucked-in bookmarks that can be anything from a magazine advert cut out because it's pretty or a receipt from some lunch enjoyed years ago.

I have an e-reader.  A Kindle Fire.  I bought my first Kindle under protest because while I am not a Luddite by any means, I don't like to deal with something that might conk out in the middle of a page leaving me glaring at my reflection in a black screen and screeching "What is the matter with this blasted thing???  It's gone black!  Gah!"  My friends and loved ones informing me in tones of sweet reason that shaking the thing isn't going to help, nor is blunting the blade of the Navy cutlass willed to me by my father.

(I wouldn't have done it anyhow.  I like the thing.  The cutlass, that is).  I will say that my review and corrections are being done, preliminarily, on my uploaded MS using the Fire.

But books have a feel, a sense of completeness.  If I hold my volume of Treasure Island (Stevenson) in my hands, I have a sense of holding the entire adventure between my two palms.  Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver (one of the most chilling villains I've encountered - and you never suspect him till the end), the parrot, Captain Flint, Captain Alexander Smollet, and the plague-ridden island.

You can hold a book, linger over it.  If you're in the right place you can nearly bathe in it:

My library, such as it is, is not quite as palatial as this one, but the idea is the same.  I do have to dust it.  At least it is not as chaotic as this one:
Actually, that one might have a few too many books, and I'd be afraid that the shelves might come down.

Books are tangible in a way the electronic readers are not.  You can hold them, smell them...  Though I suppose that if an e-reader exploded there would certainly be a smell...
You can mark them up.  (My ms is marked up.  Little yellow squares with little blue boxes.  If I click on them successfully, up come my notes.  they *are* handy, but oh so unromantic.  Rather like emails instead of handwritten letters.  Written in fountain pen.  I am told, though, that my letters are eternal because they are hard to read.

But I digress.  I do like the fact that I can indulge my terror of being left without something to read but not wanting to do damage to my spine by trundling along a suitcase full of books simply by bringing my e-reader.  They have their uses...

This poem expresses it well:
“Who hath a book

The parking garage for the Kansas City public library
Hath friends at hand,
And gold and gear
At his command;
And rich estates,
If he but look,
Are held by him
Who hath a book.

"Who hath a book
Hath but to read
And he may be
A king, indeed.
His kingdom is
His inglenook-
All this is his
Who hath a book.”  

― Wilbur D. Nesbit

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pulled In Different Directions IWSG June 4, 2014

Welcome to the first Wednesday of June, IWSG day.  This is the once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group .  We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 
Pulled in Different Directions
There is a saying in academic circles: publish or perish.  In other words, if you are a professor and you wish to be taken seriously and have your career blossom, you had jolly well better write something that is published and met with acclaim.  So (in academic circles, or at least the ones I am familiar with) you see a lot of scrambling and panic and despair if the proposed publication does not somehow make the grade. 
       I have heard time and again that in order to be read, a writer must write.  This is not as simple as it sounds, at least to me.  It is taken to mean that a writer must present his or her reading public with a steady stream of writings so that, one book being devoured, another is ready to be savored. 
       People have contacted me recently and asked when the second and third books of a trilogy will be published.  This is a tremendous compliment, and very gratifying, but it introduces a sense of urgency, a sense of 'time's a-wasting'.   
('I'm in a hurry to get things done, so I rush and rush until life's no fun.  All I've ever got to do is live and die, but I'm in a hurry and don't know why' [Alabama])
So what do you do?
In my case, faced with the thought that my last work was published in October of 2013, I scrambled to get book II of the trilogy ready.  It was blocked out, it had some good flow to it.  Book III was better, longer established. I had realized that the story had a center part between Volume I and what had originally been Volume II, and it needed to be developed.  I started it in earnest six months ago, working on an old timeline. I set a December publication date.  I plotted and pantsed and typed and went over and over what I had, and then I sat back and took stock.  The story was there...and it wasn't very good.  It was exhausted, stale.  The words were there, the thoughts were there, but writing that book was like trying to run up the side of a sand dune.  Forget the thought of dancing.
I know my own (current) capabilities.  I knew I could bring it in by December.  But at what cost?  My own exhaustion, certainly.  Worse, that stretched, dry, rushed endeavor would be a waste of my readers' time.
The projected work, elegant in its concept...

They wanted to know what happened to a specific character.  Book III brings a very satisfying resolution, with a lot of adventure, suspense and laughter along the way (he's that kind of kid).  But people would have to slog through Book II before they hit that resolution.   And that was where the problem was:  If a reader was opening Book II and expecting something like this:

How could I possibly even think of producing something like this?

Finished in a hurry...  Sort of.  Happy author?  Uh, no...
The fact is that I couldn't. 

And that led to a revelation that should not have surprised me.  I can't put out something that is consciously hurried.  It is an insult to the story and to the reader to withhold my best effort.  And - let's admit this - it is disrespectful to our own talents and abilities not to endeavor to produce our very best.

Yes, the passing years will (I hope) bring improvement.  Something I wrote twenty years ago, that made me happy, may not be satisfactory now that I have lived and practiced and grown those twenty years.  But at that time it was my best.

So what is going on with Book II?

I contacted my editor and told him that it would be badly rushed if I pushed for a December release.  (He agreed.)  I took down any mention of the projected December date.  I took a deep breath, uploaded a mobi version of the working manuscript onto my Kindle and started adjusting it.  Tweaking wordings, contemplating the possible plot passages...  Opening myself to the luxury of writing an excellent story, fit to follow the first and lead to the third.

I have something small and fun that I can polish in my spare time and put out in December.  A fable that children and happy adults might enjoy.

And I can savor creating something beautiful.  That is, after all, what we writers live to do.  Isn't it?

Check out the hop.  There are some fabulous, unhurried posts to savor:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Parisian Encounters - of Cops and Angels

Sometimes reality and mystery intersect in strange ways.  Things that seem unlikely or impossible become probable and likely.  We touch mystery and the sublime as we walk through our lives, and sometimes - but only sometimes – we stop to take a closer look. 

I had an encounter once that on the surface was certainly of this day and age.  I was nearly mugged, at the very least, on a back street in nighttime Paris.  But the echoes it stirred some weeks later spoke of something a little different.  My imagination?  Probably.  I have one, after all. 

I am writing the second book of a trilogy set in 1830's Paris.  The idea came to me suddenly after listening to music.  Ideas come in odd ways, and when you unravel them, you often find your way to a story, as in this case.

Paris is a hard city to research.  It has charmed people for centuries, but those who seek to know of its physical properties prior to 1860, let us say, are going to run into trouble.  The wide, spacious boulevards that we stroll along, that we see photographed and painted, were sent lancing through the heart of the old city by Napoleon III in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Prior to that, it was a medieval city with crowded, colorful, twisting streets. 

I did not know this when I started writing The Orphan's Tale.  I solved the problem by making it Alternate History (from a geographical standpoint). 

In those early days I pored over maps, purchased books with illustrations of the different arrondissements, with photos from above, all giving me an idea of the area.  I became very familiar with the streets of the city, which was not necessarily a good thing. 

I arrived in Paris in the late evening of a Monday in May.  The manager at my hotel, after giving me a far nicer room than I had reserved and paid for, told me where I could go to find a nice sandwich for dinner. ("Un crocque Monsieur, Mademoiselle? Bien sûr! You will love it!). It was along the Rue de l'Opera.  My Hotel was near the rue St. Honoré, which parallels it. 

Avenue de l'Opera, Evening
Since I was arrogant enough then to think I knew the area very well from reviewing maps, I knew that I could cut out a dog-leg by following  a street that connected those two major thoroughfares. 

The detour looked fine on the map, but I quickly realized that it was little more than a dark alleyway. My instincts told me to turn around and go back, and I don't generally ignore them.  As I was about to obey them, three people stepped in behind me, sending my sense of alarm soaring. I now had a very bad feeling. 

What to do?  Turn and face them?  To what good?  It was a high-sided, dark alley.  I was one person and there were three.  I chose to increase my pace.  I was wearing shoes called 'City Walker', made for walking in urban areas and styled like high-heeled pumps.  After some years of ballet, I was comfortable in heels.  I walked faster. 

Their pace increased. 

I sped up, myself.  I can walk very quickly, and at this point, with the adrenaline pumping through me and all my senses alert, I was going at a fast jog while not breaking out of my step. 

They increased their pace.  And now the alarms were sounding in my head.  

Half a breath and I was ready to break into an all-out run.  I could see the Rue de l'Opera ahead, not close, but within reach, and if I was ready to scream— 

I drew abreast of a small alleyway and out stepped a tall, strong-looking police officer. Not a Gen d'Arme with the little, beaked, flat-topped hat and the cape, but a municipal cop with a very stern look to him.   He stepped right into the alleyway, hands clasped behind him, and fronted my pursuers, who scrambled to a halt, turned and ran. 

I said "Bonsoir!" rather shakily, my heart thundering in my ears. He smiled faintly and bowed. 

At that moment I had the strangest feeling as though Saint Michael had stepped in to take a hand.  

The rest of my stay in Paris was notable for its beauty and my enjoyment, aside from the moment I realized that I was clicking photos in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in the middle of mass.  (It is a huge structure, and I was not paying attention to the French words).  I realized my gaffe, capped my camera, sat down, and enjoyed the service. 

The Fontaine St-Michel, Paris
I mentioned my near-mishap to a friend, who said "You do know that Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of Police, don't you?"  

That made me blink.  No, I hadn't. 

I'm not one of those wifty types (no more than any other writer) and I know what happened: he probably heard the sound of footsteps, realized what was going down, and stepped out to intervene. I think I would have been mugged at best if not for him. 

It is strange how trains of thought will alter your conclusions.  I do know that at some point, some time in the future, I will face that man and say (in French, bien-sûr) "Thank you.  You saved my health, at least, then."  And it may just be that he will sheathe his sword and say, "It was my pleasure, Mademoiselle.  I trust you enjoyed Paris…"