Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ebook Promotion - 99 cents for a limited time

I have a few announcements to make:

1)  I wanted to announce a promotion for the ebook version of my novel. It is at the bargain price of only 99 cents. This is perfect for those who just received an ereader as a gift this holiday season and are looking to stock their cybershelves with books.  

(It will have a comparable discount in BPS and Euros for my international friends.)

Simply go to and enter the coupon code XR43S at checkout.

It has multiple versions that work with Kindles, Nooks, iPads as well as Android tablets and smart phones. Just choose the one for your style of e-toy or personal computer.

The promotion ends at midnight Pacific Standard Time (PST) on January 1, 2013. Hurry, and tell your friends.

2)  The following day, Wednesday, January 2nd, at 7 pm PST, I will be interviewed on  KRCB Radio by Gil Mansergh about my novel and various aspects of writing historical fiction. The interview was taped last week, so I can tell you that I read several passages from the story. If you have ever wondered what my voice sounded like, here is your chance.

You can listen to it live on your computer, but it will also be archived later as a downloadable podcast a few days later. I will put a link to that interview on my blog once it is available.

3) I started a Facebook page for my novel. You can find a link to it on the upper right hand margin of my blog or click this link:  Quest of the Warrior Maiden Facebook page. 

Please "Like" my page. I plan on uploading many of the pictures I took on my two research trips to France. So far I have three albums that include pictures from Ancient Paris, the Medieval Walls of Paris and a side trip I took to Aachen, Germany, the capital of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire.  Here is a small taste of what you will see there already.

 Aachen Cathedral

 Charlemagne's throne on the second floor of Aachen Cathedral

 The golden reliquary that houses most of Charlemagne's remains inside Aachen Cathedral.

 A close up of that golden reliquary.

 The remaining remants of the medieval walls that once surrounded Paris. 

Here is a side view of the wall with an historical marker affixed on its side.

I hope you enjoy those pictures and please spread the word about the promotional price on the ebook version of my novel and my novel's Facebook page. If you have friends who are Medievalists, tell them about my page so they can see some marvelous photographs.

If you would also like to be Facebook friends with me, just mention in a message that you read my blog. Otherwise, it feels strange getting friend requests from people I don't know.

Thanks and may everyone have a safe and happy new year!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hippogriffs, Harry Potter and Warrior Maidens

The inspiration for my novel Quest of the Warrior Maiden was due to my previous obsession with the Harry Potter series.  No really, it was.

I spent several years re-reading and studying the series before it was complete.  I formulated theories and shared them online with other likewise obsessed fans.  I wrote fanfiction fleshing out my wacky theories as to where I thought things might go in the fifth year. I was also drawn into speculating about the significance of romance in the series. I became convinced that it was not just an amusing subplot, but that the Power of Love was integral to the resolution of the storyline. I became drawn into the shipping debates.

"Shipping" is a slang term used when fans advocate for romantic relationships of characters in a series. I believe the term dates back to the original Star Trek series days when fans wrote their own stories about Spock, Captain Kirk, etc.

As I debated ship in the online debates, I became a notorious defender of the Harry/Hermione (H/Hr ship) with my numerous and lengthy (!) essays. I was even a participant in the only live ship debate held at a Harry Potter symposium in Orlando, Florida back in 2003.
One of the theories floated by my H/Hr shipmates was the idea that hippogriffs were a symbol of love.  (A hippogriff is a mythical creature who is the offspring of a griffin mating with a mare and so the front portion is of an eagle with wings and the back is of a horse.) Some of my shipmates suggested that Harry and Hermione flying alone together on the back of a hippogriff indicated a strong symbolic image of a future romantic pairing.

I decided to follow up on that possibility and read the epic poem Orlando furioso since it was the first time in literature a hippogriff was used as a character.  I doubt that I would ever have read Orlando furioso had I not participated in the online Harry Potter fandom debates.

I had no real expectations when I began reading this classic, but largely forgotten poem.  I discovered a sprawling tale with an immense cast of characters and multiple interweaving plotlines.  Think of it as a medieval fantasy of swords and sorcery set against a backdrop of a holy war between Muslim and Christian forces in the time of Charlemagne.  The poet engaged his audience with one intense duel between famed warriors and then stopped at an exciting part to then pick up where he left off on a different storyline that had been previously paused with something like, "Let us leave Rinaldo and Gradasso's fight here and go back to Orlando who when we last saw him was battling..."

My first attempt at reading this poem was using a public domain version that can be found online for free and translated by William Stewart Rose.  I found the nineteenth century language to be stiff and difficult to follow.  That's being kind, I found it confusing and I became easily lost.  I found the story much easier to understand once I got my hands on the Penguin Classics version translated by Barbara Reynolds.
Reading her translation, I became immersed in a Medieval world of knights.  I was captivated by the love story of the kick-ass heroine Bradamante and the virtuous knight Ruggiero.  I skimmed storylines featuring other characters and anxiously awaited the return of the Bradamante and Ruggiero plotline.

My original intent of reading Orlando furioso was to see the usage of the hippogriff in context and I recognized that this mythical creature symbolized the impossible love between Bradamante and Ruggiero. 

Bradamante is the niece of Charlemagne and Ruggiero is a Saracen warrior descended from Hector of Troy.  They are both respected warriors, but theirs is an impossible love since they sworn to serve opposing leaders in the midst of a holy war.

Hippogriffs are the personification of impossible love.  The first mention of a hippogriff dates back to Virgil's Eclogues where it is mentioned in a few lines in the eighth eclogue:

"soon shall we see mate 
Griffins with mares, and in the coming age 
Shy deer and hounds together come to drink." 
Here is the pertinent background legend:  Griffins were known as fierce protectors of gold and avengers of evil.  The legendary one-eyed Arimaspi rode on horseback while raiding gold guarded by griffins which was the source of the long standing enmity between griffins and horses.  Hippogriffs are the offspring of the impossible love between griffins and mares.

Bradamante is a fierce warrior maid who has the difficult task of maintaining her reputation and honor while at the same time rescuing her beloved who is being held prisoner.  That's right, the maiden rescues a knight who is locked away in a castle.

I loved that reversal in plot conventions and was impressed that literature included such a powerful female character.  That this story featuring such a strong female was written centuries ago by a man impressed me even more.

There were many powerful obstacles to Bradamante and Ruggiero's ultimate union.  I remember being overcome by emotion when I read one of the ending passages of this poem where Ruggiero was willing to die out of love for Bradamante.  I was reading this on my lunch break, and crying on the patio.

Upon finishing the story, I wondered why I had never heard of Bradamante and Ruggiero before.  I felt this literary couple deserved to be as well known as Tristan and Isolde or Arthur and Guinevere.  

After publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the online interview that dispelled all doubt as to JKR's planned romantic pairings, I was disinterested in continuing my same level of active participation with the HP fandom.  I needed a new writing project and it was then that I remembered my desire to see the Bradamante/Ruggiero love story reach a larger audience and became inspired to adapt this classic work.  That was the genesis for the writing of my novel.

I began reading extensively about Medieval history and Charlemagne. To further my research, I traveled to France to see the settings of my story and discovered real life magic in the Midi Pyrenees region. I scoured many museums, trekked hilltop villages and castle ruins.  My novel became infused with detail that I could only learn from being there in person.

Quest of the Warrior Maiden is the first book in the Bradamante and Ruggiero two volume series.  So for those who enjoy epic historic fantasy, please consider reading this saga of chivalry, secret romances, betrayal, revenge and magic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lance Armstrong is without honor

Lance Armstrong is a man without honor.

I used to be a fan of his. I remember my husband saying something about the Texan being someone to watch in the 1996 Olympic games and then a month later hearing of the dreaded diagnosis that Lance had testicular cancer.

It seemed to be a death sentence.

Then somehow miraculously he not only survived, but he was able to return to his sport and excel. Except he didn't just excel, he became the best of the best.

His personal story was one of triumph over adversity. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

My whole family rooted for him. We watched as many days of the Tour de France as possible. This was before I started my novel based in France. I started understanding some of France's varied geography due to the telecasts of the Tour.

I also learned about the various personalities of the riders and developed an understanding of how the sport worked. The politics of the peleton. The concept of chivalry in the sport.

For years there had been accusations swirling about him. Accusations of cheating. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Now after a release of a thousand pages of evidence against Lance Armstrong with twenty-six witnesses including eleven former teammates, I no longer have any doubts about Armstrong's guilt.

One of the reasons why I clung so long to the hope that Lance was telling us the truth is because I read his bestselling book, It's Not About the Bike written with Sally Jenkins. It was inspiring, but it was also BASED ON A LIE.

The book details his battle with cancer and his struggle to return to the sport. He also specifically mentions synthetic erythropoeitin or EPO in his book. It was because he specifically mentioned EPO in two contexts that I gave him the benefit of the doubt for so long.

"I was given a red blood cell booster called Epogen (EPO). In any other situation, taking EPO would get me in trouble with the International Cycling Union and the International Olympic Committee, because it's considered performance-enhancing. But in my case, the EPO was hardly that. It was the only thing that kept me alive."

I decided to address the charges outright, and held a press conference in Saint-Gaudens. "I have been on my deathbed, and I am not stupid," I said. Everyone knows that use of EPO and steroids by healthy people can cause blood disorders and strokes. What's more, I told the press, it wasn't so shocking that I won Sestriere; I was an established former world champion.
 "I can emphatically say I am not on drugs," I said. "I thought a rider with my history and my health situation wouldn't be such a surprise. I'm not a new rider.  I know there's been looking, and prying, and digging, but you're not going to find anything. There's nothing to find...and once everyone has done their due diligence and realizes they have to be professional and can't print a lot of crap, they'll realize they're dealing with a clean guy."

Those were smooth calculated lies, designed to deflect any suspicion from his meteoric rise in ability. In the book he also detailed how due to the cancer treatments that he lost weight. A lot of weight. This he claimed actually helped him as a rider in the mountain stages and not have to pull up so much body weight on his bike. He was known to be scrupulous about his caloric intake to the point of weighing his food.

I believed his lies.

I believed it when he said that he was clean and that rumors and suspicions surrounding him were out of jealousy. I also believed that accusations by former team mates (like Floyd Landis) were personal vendettas.

I knew that Lance Armstrong's personality was arrogant. That came across pretty strong in the book, but I understand in order to compete on the level of a world class athlete it is almost mandatory to have arrogance in your DNA. I accepted Lance's arrogance as being a part of the overall package of a champion. He was an exciting athlete who outperformed his peers and had an amazing life story. He also appeared to be dedicating a good portion of his life and energy to helping people with cancer.

I wore his yellow bracelet. I, along with most people, have had friends and family be diagnosed and die of cancer. It seemed that by supporting the Livestrong Foundation I was helping my loved ones to "live strong."

Now I wonder how much the foundation was due to Lance's benevolence as a cancer survivor and how much of it was calculated to serve as a shield from scrutiny. It helped raise his profile as a celebrity.

Outside of hard core cycling fans, it is hard to think that many average people on the street would be able to identify the names of many professional cyclists. Lance Armstrong has the highest name recognition and is even recognizable to people by sight. How many other cyclists can claim that?

Lance's first wife Kristen also wrote a book for children. I read it to my son when he was little. He was inspired by that story as well. He looked up to Lance and believed the lies.

Now Nike and other sponsors have dropped their endorsement contracts with Lance Armstrong.

The aspect of this scandal that bothers me the most is how Lance treated his former team mates who dared tell the truth. He protected his reputation by engaging in character assassination. He declared them to be "vengeful malcontents" and "serial liars."

Instead, as it turns out, he was the mastermind of the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping ring in cycling history.

His book It's Not About the Bike should be shelved along with other memoirs with embellishments like James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and or even wildly inventive tales such as Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years which detailed a story of a Holocaust survivor being raised by wolves.

The concept of honor is important to me. Writing a novel set in the Medieval period where knights either follow or violate the rules chivalry has honed my own sense of what being honorable means.

My hero, the knight Ruggiero, strives to live up to the image of the perfect knight exemplified by his noble ancestor Hector of Troy. At one point, Ruggiero is engaged in a fight against three other knights. Being outnumbered does not intimidate him, because he believes in his skill. It is when the shield he is using brings about magical intervention and fells all of his opponents, he feels shame.

He won without honor.

Rather than be grateful for the win and feel this magical weapon he possesses can make him invincible, he wants to rid himself of it. He ties rocks to the shield and throws it into a deep well hoping that it will be lost for all time.

He feels that winning without honor is beneath the dignity of a knight.

That is exactly how I see how Lance Armstrong won his titles: without honor.

He is worthy of all the public shaming that he is enduring right now. He lied to people. He engaged in personal attacks against people in order to cover his lies. He also used cancer patients as a moral smokescreen to deflect against his own personal shortcomings.

Now there are accusations that he may have engaged in bribing other riders to allow him to win races.

It seems that he has not yet hit bottom with his fall from public grace.

Perhaps the dictionary definition of hubris should list Lance Armstrong as an example.

Hubris: an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor's ruin

May professional cycling find some worthy men to restore its honor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Podcast recording of interview of Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery writers

In a previous post I mentioned that I was going to be a guest on Gil Mansergh's radio show "Word by Word" broadcast on public radio KRCB.

The show featured four different writers who participated in the serialized murder mystery set in Sonoma County and published online and in the print edition of Santa Rosa's Press Democrat newspaper.

The podcast of that recording is now available online for those interested in hearing the interview, but may have missed it.  The writers in the interview were Ana Manwaring, Chris Coursey and Robert Digitale.

The series itself has finished so those who prefer reading things in their entirety can find it all online here.

It was a fun literary project and one that I hope Robert Digitale might consider doing again.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

News for Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery

There is more news regarding the serialized murder mystery appearing in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Last Sunday, on the front page of the Press Democrat, appeared the first installment of the sixteen chapter story.  An editor decided to run the series in print, a chapter a day.  So today, May 31st, 2012, is the day that my chapter entitled "Why Sandra?" is being run.  I plan on picking up a souvenir copy to keep in my scrapbook.

The series is still being updated online and is up to chapter eleven.  The online and print version will end simultaneously on June 11th.

The winner of the writing contest for chapter 13 has been selected and that chapter will be appearing online this coming Monday, June 4th.

This is a fun literary adventure that Robert Digitale started.  Next week Robert, Chris Coursey, Ana Manwaring and myself will be interviewed by Gil Mansergh on KRCB Radio FM 91.1 about this project.  It will be broadcast on Wednesday, June 6th at 7 pm.  You can also listen to an online audio streaming or a few days later as a podcast.

There is also a possibility that this series will be made available as an ebook once it is all finished.  I will post about that should it come about.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Feminine Archetypes and Symbolism in Carolingian Legends

The following is the text of the paper I gave at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology Conference held in San Francisco on May 11th and 12th.

Like many conferences, it was difficult to choose which session to attend because there were many topics that sounded interesting.  With that in mind, I wanted to share this online for those who were not able to hear my talk.

Deconstructing Carolingian legends to discover feminine archetypes and symbolism
Before I start, I want to get a sense of the room.  How many people here are familiar with Arthurian legends? Now, how about Carolingian legends?
I want to first give an overview of Carolingian legends for those unfamiliar with them.  The word Carolingian comes from the Latin Carolus Magnus, meaning Karl the Great, better known to us as Charlemagne. The legends of Charlemagne are just as luxurious of a source material as the legends of Arthur, but without any debate as to whether or not Charlemagne was an historical figure, he was, and the legends about him were stories created to entertain and not considered as history.
I will touch on the most popular aspect of these legends in art and drama so that you will be able have discussions with people who may only be familiar with the legends of Roland (in French) or Orlando (in Italian). The most famous of the legends of Charlemagne is the Chanson de Roland or the Song of Roland.  Written in the eleventh century by a Frenchman, it was loosely based on a real defeat of Charlemagne's army in 778 in the Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees.  The historical events are rendered into mythology.  There are other stories comprising the Matters of France, not all were written by Frenchmen, but they all deal with legends of Medieval France. Similarly, the Matters of Britain were not all written by British writers, but they concern Medieval Britain.

Some of the largest sources of Carolingian legend, and what I will be discussing today are two epic poems written by Italians. Orlando innamorato (Orlando in love) was written by Matteo Maria Boiardo and the first version was published in 1483 and another version with more cantos was published posthumously in 1495. He stopped writing his story when the French army invaded Italy in 1494.  He found it impossible to lionize the heroic nature of fictional Frankish warriors when real French warriors were attacking the various duchies on the Italian peninsula.
A decade or so later, Ludovico Ariosto was commissioned by the same patrons to continue Boiardo's unfinished tale.  Ariosto's Orlando furioso (Orlando enraged) became more famous than its predecessor and was first published in 1516, so we will soon be celebrating its five hundredth anniversary.

Those poems were pure fiction and written to entertain and flatter the poets' patrons the noble house of Este in the northern Italian city of Ferrara.  The stories depict wars that never took place between Christian and Muslim armies and were undoubtedly influenced by the Crusades, which occurred centuries after Charlemagne's death in 814.
The two poems follow the title character of Orlando, a famous paladin of Charlemagne, and his unrequited love for Angelica the princess of Cathay.  Once Orlando discovers that Angelica has married another, he goes insane.  The story has multiple interweaving plotlines and numerous disparate settings from Europe and North Africa to Asia.
Boiardo's epic featured an invasion of the Frankish Empire by the North African Muslim army and the war was finally finished in Ariosto’s tale.  There were brave knights, scoundrels, bloody sieges, enchanted realms, sorceresses, wizards, a flying hippogriff as well as the brave female warriors, Bradamante and Marfisa.
These stories inspired many artists such as Doré, Fragonard and Ingres. There was a special exhibit in 2009 at the Louvre in Paris featuring the art inspired by Orlando furioso. There are also at least a dozen operas that cover portions of Ariosto's masterpiece. Cervante's classic novel Don Quixote includes mentions of the poem and William Shakespeare even borrowed a dramatic set-up from the fourth canto of Orlando furioso for a scene in his famous comedy "Much Ado about Nothing."

 Most people who are somewhat familiar with these stories know of Orlando's love and madness, but they are not as familiar with Bradamante's story which began as a subplot, but wound up becoming front and center in the story at its conclusion.  In Italian, her name is pronounced Bradamanté, whereas the French pronunciation is Bradamante.  Because she is a Frankish character, I use the French variant, but both are correct.
I feel Bradamante should be as famous and as well examined a character as Guinevere, Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake.
The first time I read Orlando furioso was nearly ten years ago and I was startled to discover such a strong female character in literature. I had a hard time believing that this feminist character was written centuries ago, by a man, and I wondered why I had never heard of her before.
I see Bradamante as being a blend of two similar archetypes:  Joan of Arc and Athena.  Bradamante is depicted as riding on a white horse, bearing a shield and plume of white, having cropped hair and disguising herself as a man.  She also has the nickname "The Maid."  Since Joan of Arc was killed in 1431, it is reasonable to think that Boiardo and Ariosto were inspired by this real life heroine as they were writing their fictional heroine.
The major difference between the Maid of Orléans and Bradamante is that the fictional character was not persecuted for her military prowess, but instead heralded and valued as a military commander.  She was the niece of Charlemagne and came from a distinguished military family. Her interest in warfare was not due to hearing divine voices, but instead military duty was in her blood.  Charlemagne had also been a powerful monarch for many years before his niece was born, so unlike King Charles VII of France, he was not threatened by this warrior maiden's influence with the people.
Similar to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and victory, Bradamante is depicted at the beginning to have a heart unmoved by men.  That is until Ruggiero, a Saracen warrior, performed an uncommon act of chivalry on her behalf on the battlefield.  This led to their talking to one another and experiencing Love at First Sight.  Ruggiero was descended from Hector of Troy and strove to live up to the image of his noble ancestor as the perfect knight. 
Dore's hippogriff
Bradamante and Ruggiero represent an impossible love as they are warriors on opposite sides of a holy war.  Symbolically this impossible love is represented in the story by the hippogriff, a mythical creature that is part eagle and part horse, and first described in Virgil's Ecclogues as being born of the mating of natural enemies of griffins and mares. Griffins were fierce protectors of gold and raiders rode horses in efforts to steal gold, leading to the animals' enmity of each other. Ariosto was the first author to use the hippogriff as a character in literature.
Bradamante and Ruggiero's bliss at finding one another does not last and they are soon cruelly separated.
This love story of Bradamante and Ruggiero shows an inverse on what we have come to expect with the hero cycle as described by Joseph Campbell with his thesis the Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Instead, Bradamante's story arc is more in line with the Heroine's Journey as described by Valerie Estelle Frankel.  Bradamante, a fair damsel, is given the Call to Adventure and is told she must rescue her beloved who is being held captive by a wizard in an enchanted castle.  After rescuing Ruggiero, her next task is to persuade him to be baptized as a Christian and marry her. In so doing, their union will bring forth generations of heroes who will, in time, lead to the noble house d'Este of Ferrara.
This is far different from traditional quest stories with a young man fighting evil in order to save his world from destruction.  Instead, Bradamante is told that her ultimate goal is marriage and motherhood.  There is a tragic element however, for it is also foretold that Ruggiero will be betrayed and killed before the birth of their child.
This next part is not symbolism or archetypes, but I wanted to share with you the qualitative difference in plot structure than what we have become accustomed to. While Ruggiero is the orphaned youth raised in obscurity, it differs from most stories in that there are two prophecies with divergent fates for Ruggiero.  Should he remain a Muslim, he would bring about the defeat of Charlemagne devastating Christendom. These stakes are compounded with dueling magical forces trying to influence which fate will come to pass.
There are other feminine archetypes appearing in these poems that are worth mentioning.  The character Angelica, the object of Orlando's romantic obsession, is described as the most beautiful woman in the world and caused every man to fall violently in love with her.  She is the archetype of Helen of Sparta (and later Troy) who was the catalyst for a war with multiple suitors vying to possess her.
Dore's Alcina
There is also Alcina, a sorceress who uses her magical powers to appear youthful.  After tiring of her lovers, she transforms them into trees and shrubs - retaining them as souvenirs of her conquests.  This echoes the story of Circe from Greek mythology.
Another female character you should know about is the other warrior maiden Marfisa.  She was abducted as a small girl, sold into slavery, and has a deep-rooted hatred of men in general.  She survived a rape attempt by her king by killing him.  She then slaughtered the king's guards until she was declared Queen Marfisa.  That was the first of many kingdoms she conquered.  Marfisa represents a destructive force of womanhood in that she conquers but does not govern. I see her as the archetype of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution.
Marfisa and Bradamante appear to be opposites at first.  Marfisa is a Muslim while Bradamante is a Christian, and they are both attracted to Ruggiero. Only when it is revealed that Marfisa is not a romantic rival for Ruggiero's affections, do the two women put aside their differences and become fast friends and allies.
These legends are also filled with symbolism. The richest symbolic scene is when Bradamante is given the Call to Adventure in a cave, recognized symbolically as the womb.  Melissa, an old enchantress, tells Bradamante of the two prophecies surrounding Ruggiero and what is expected of her.  Melissa represents the Crone.  Bradamante is a warrior maid who is being asked to become a wife and mother.  The two women together comprise the three aspects of the triple headed goddess:  Maiden, Mother, Crone.  Bradamante represents the Blade being transformed into the Chalice by the Power of Love.

National ASWM Board Member Anne R. Key and Linda C. McCabe

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Advice for newbie writers

The other day I received a ping on Facebook chat from one of my FB friends who wanted to ask me about how to go about getting published.

It is a common starting point question for those who have begun the process of writing a book. What do I do after I finish writing?

Well, before you finish your first draft, I recommend that you begin thinking of yourself as a writer.  Start using that term when you refer to yourself.  It is a psychological shift, but one you need to make in order to take yourself seriously as a writer.

You also need to work on your craft.  That means you must write all the time.  You must also read all the time.

Discover what you enjoy reading, and then write the kind of book that you would like to read.

Analyze your favorite books.  Tear them apart.  Dissect them.  Take copious notes. Discover the plot points, the subplots, the plot twists.  Think about the characterizations and settings.  Could the story be set in another place and time?  If so, how would it have changed the story?

Here are a few books on craft that will be thought provoking and help improve your storytelling ability:

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld

Here is another book that I adore for understanding drama:

Audition:  Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff

Beyond working on your craft, you also need to start educating yourself about the business of publishing.  I recommend that you subscribe to two different daily electronic newsletters.

Publishers Lunch and Publishers Weekly Daily

You should also read industry blogs.  If you do not have a reader to help manage blog subscriptions, please remedy that today.  I use Google Reader and I have far too many blogs to comfortably follow, but I do scan them.  If you don't have a Google account, please get one.  It's free and easy to obtain.

Here is one agent's blog that I think is helpful:  Kristen Nelson.

Start there, check out her blogroll.  Try a few others, subscribe to ones you like.  Scour more blogrolls. Rinse, repeat.

You must also find a support network.  Try and find a writers club near you.  Check your Sunday newspaper to see if there are any listings for meetings in their author signings area.  Look in the advertisements in your papers for meetings.  Perhaps you have a writers club that meets that you've never heard of before.

Then again, maybe you'll have to dig a little deeper to find a writing community in your area.

You can also try and utilize a cyber community of writers.  Absolute Writer Water Cooler is a great place to start.

Getting feedback from fellow writers is essential.  Finding a good fit critique group is important in improving your writing skills.  It is helpful to not only hearing from others about what works and what doesn't work in your drafts, but by reviewing others' work you begin to develop stronger editing muscles by identifying strengths and flaws in someone else's writing.

I feel it is more important to find someone you have good chemistry with in your critique group than it is to find a group of same genre writers.

Now onto a word of caution: there are many who will try and take advantage of writers.  Please do not click on any links for "Publish your novel here" that you might see.  It is doubtful that you will be happy with the result.

You should check out a website called Preditors and Editors and familiarize yourself with the various scams that are done to unsuspecting writers.

A companion blog that is entitled:  Writer Beware Blogs!

Another tip is to find a good adhesive to secure your backside to your desk chair or as some of my friends call it:  Butt Glue.

Any other suggestions from my writing friends for those just starting out?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chapter 5 Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery is online

My contribution, or Chapter 5 "Why Sandra?," of the Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery serialized story is now online.

Please check it out here.

And if you would be so kind, like it on Facebook.  There you will also find kind and generous remarks  Robert Digitale wrote about me.

I must admit that trying to cover all the information given me in a short word count was the greatest challenge.  In the final version, most of my dramatic flourishes were lost on the editing room floor, but  it was fun writing a scene where characters refused to answer questions posed to them. It creates tension and drama, plus readers will have unanswered questions that should make your imagination run overtime.

I hope you enjoy this tale of intrigue.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery has begun

The first chapter of the serialized Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery is now available online.

This is a project created and organized by Robert Digitale, a fellow member of Redwood Writers and a reporter with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and author of the YA fantasy novel Horse Stalker.  New chapters will be posted on the blog Digitale Stories on Mondays and Thursdays.

They are short chapters that are fast paced and filled with suspense.

My contribution should be printed on Monday, May 7th.  I hope you enjoy the story, and as a reminder there is the opportunity for you to become a participant as well.  You can check out the details of how to submit your draft for possible inclusion in this literary effort here.

Robert is hoping to turn this online effort into an ebook whose proceeds will go to charity. So, if nothing else, you can get another literary credit to your name which always looks good on cover letters and author bios.

Bonne chance, and happy reading everyone!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Details of how to become a part of the Sonoma Square Murder Mystery team

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was a part of an upcoming serialized murder mystery due out next week online.  There are sixteen chapters to the story and one chapter has yet to be written.

There is a contest to see who will get the honor to be the sixteenth writer.  If you are interested, you can find all the details on the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's blog Digitale Stories  on how to submit with the chance to win.  There is no prize money, but it is a chance to be a part of a cool literary project and a nice writing credit to your name.

The deadline is Friday, May 18th.

The story begins on Monday, April 23rd on the Digitale Stories blog. It will be updated with a new chapter on Mondays and Thursdays.

I wrote chapter five and have read a few chapters (to help me in the course of understanding the context of my contribution) and it is a quick and fun read.

Here is hoping that Robert Digitale gets an overfilled inbox with submissions to be a part of this project he brainstormed and started.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery - Coming Soon!

I will be a part of a literary experiment. One of the members in my writers club, Robert Digitale, is a reporter with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Robert has created a murder mystery to be published online with sixteen different writers. I am honored to say that he invited me to participate in this fun endeavor.

Robert wrote the overview and gave us direction as to what he wanted covered in our assigned chapters, and then he served as the air traffic controller/editor in assuring that the storyline was as seamless as possible.

The story will be available online starting Monday, April 23rd and can be found here. There is one last chapter that has yet to be written and is still up for grabs. Details of how you can apply to write that installment will be posted online this Thursday.

You can find a lineup of the different participating authors here.

Check it out and you can even "Like" the Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery page on Facebook.

I hope you enjoy the story and my small contribution. I found it difficult to try and cover as much ground as Robert wanted in as small of a word limit as he gave. Going from epic historic fantasy with room to elaborate on settings, characterizations, etc. to writing a distilled essence of a scene was challenging.

Should anyone here wish to join the mystery, I wish you the best of luck getting chosen and have fun in the writing if you are!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Upcoming conferences

The next three months are going to be busy for me as I will be at three different conferences.

The first chronologically is the Women's Power and Strategy Conference organized by my friend Patricia V. Davis and being held on Saturday, March 24 from 9-5 pm at the San Domenico School in San Anselmo, California. I will be a vendor at this conference that is billed as "a gathering of leaders from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise who are joining forces to educate and inspire women of all ages to believe and invest in their own talent, skills, and potential.

Speakers include keynote Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, California Arts Council Chair, Founder - Feruzzi Fine Art, Evan Bailyn, Erika Bjune, Christine Bronstein, Nancy Calef, Zoe Fitzgerald Carter, Marisa Churchill, Kaye Cloutman, Deborah Cooper, Verna Dreisbach, Deborah Grabien, Dr. Tamarah McClintock Greenberg, Jeb Harrison, Laura McHale-Holland, Joe Klocek, Dena Kouremetis, Vicki Larson, Linda Lee, Frances Lefkowitz, Monique Lessan, Ivory Madison, Gil Mansergh, Amanda McTigue, Hyla Molander, Kimberly Moore, Justin Oliver, Kim Pipkin, Laurie Berry, Rebecca Rosenberg, Jeannette Sears, Ransom Stephens, Alex Vargas, Niko Volonakis, Jody Weiner, Susanna Solomon, and Mimi Towle.

All registrations of adults at the regular rate of $100 will include a gift registration for a girl. More information and to register for the conference can be found here.

I will be a presenter at my writers club upcoming conference on Saturday, April 28th at the Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California. It is Redwood Writers Next Step Conference where writers are encouraged to take their "next step."

I will be moderating the luncheon panel of four industry experts: Mark Coker founder of Smashwords, Charlotte Cook principal of Adapting Sideways, Joel Friedlander proprietor of Marin Bookworks, and Laurie McLean literary agent with Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents. We will be discussing the rapid changes in the publishing industry in the 21st century and how writers can use those changes to their advantage.

The morning keynote address will be done by the marvelously talented David Corbett.

A description of the talks given by the following presenters can be found here.

Abby Lynn Bogomolny
Catherine Brady
Frances Caballo
Robert Digitale
Verna Dreisbach
Kate Farrell
Jody Gehrman
C.W. Gortner
Deborah Grabien
Suzanne Lang
Rob Loughran
Pete Masterson
Arlene Miller
Kemble Scott
Jeane Slone
Geri Spieler
Lee Stein

A special newsletter created for the conference can be found here.

There is also a banquet the night before the conference with the focus on poetry including the keynote speaker Al Young, California Poet Laureate Emeritus.

And lastly, I will be presenting a paper "Deconstructing Carolingian legends to discover feminine archetypes and symbolism" at the biennial national conference of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology being held in San Francisco from May 11-12. For more information about that conference, please see their website here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Full Metal Jousting: A Review

I have been meaning to review The History Channel's series Full Metal Jousting. It is another 'reality' television series that features the sport of jousting.

This series stands in stark contrast to what the National Geographic Channel presented with their Knights of Mayhem series. Last November, I posted one blog post about that troupe. I considered writing follow up posts, but suffice it to say - things didn't get any better.

The Knights of Mayhem are led by a foul mouthed egotistical man without honor.

The Full Metal Jousting series is led by Shane Adams who is the leader of a professional jousting troupe known as the Knights of Valour. What's in a name? Apparently a lot.

Because Mayhem vs. Valour explains the difference between the two approaches.

They both use solid lances in competitions, but that's about where the similarities end.

Full Metal Jousting shows sixteen different men chosen to enter a competition where the champion will be awarded $100,000. The applicants were screened beforehand to only allow those who had adequate equestrian experience to take part.

That's key.

Making sure that someone knows how to handle themselves on horseback is fundamental before you ask them to don heavy armor then hold and aim a lance.

I have watched five episodes so far and have been impressed with the training they make these athletes undergo to learn the sport of jousting. Some were theatrical jousters with years of experience in choreographed dinner shows, but that didn't mean they would win when they were engaged in an actual competition.

They split the sixteen men into two teams: the Red Team and the Black Team. Each team has their own coach. The participants have their food and lodging provided in two separate dormitories.

A coin toss determined which team had control in the first round. The controlling team's coach not only chooses which of his jousters will compete, but who the competitor will be. They also have first pick of the horses.

Each week shows another preliminary round, but afterward the losing jousters have been asked to remain there and continue training. There will be an additional $25,000 prize to another jouster who had been eliminated in an early round.

I enjoy watching the training and the jousting. The tone of this series is professional and they have physicians on hand during the competitions to assess whether or not jousters can continue if they have been unhorsed.

There appears to be real concern about injury and concussions. That's good. Glorifying injury is something that turned me off about the Knights of Mayhem attitude. I don't want to see blood and gore, I want to see good jousting.

The competitions are comprised of eight passes. The first four passes use an inch and a quarter diameter, eleven foot long solid pine lances. The second four passes the diameter increases to an inch and a half.

The armor was custom made for this show and were designed specifically to fit the jousters. The design is modern and reminds me more of Lego's Knights' Kingdom design than it does of historical armor. Here is a video from The History Channel's website describing the armor.

To compare this with the Lego Knights Kingdom action figures here is Jayko.

(Personal note: My son used to have a complete set of the Lego Knights Kingdom figures and I was always partial to Jayko because he had a golden hawk on a field of blue. It was the closest to my hero Ruggiero's silver eagle on a field of blue than the other knights with their heraldic standards.)

In the fifth episode of Full Metal Jousting my respect for Shane Adams increased when he dismissed a jouster for abusing a horse. During practice a jouster punched his horse in the head when the horse stepped on his foot. I do not know the proper technique to get a horse to move its foot quickly, but imitating Mongo from Blazing Saddles is not it.

His coach witnessed this act and immediately dressed the man down because of it. The next thing shown is the coaches from both the red and black team and Shane Adams taking that jouster aside into a private room. Shane said he had a zero tolerance for abuse of the horses. He then told the jouster to pack his things and go home.

I liked that a lot.

An old Arabic proverb holds that a horse is attached to its master's honor.

This man did not demonstrate respect for his horse and therefore he has no honor.

Abusing a horse is intolerable and I am glad Shane did not give him a second chance.

To sum up:

Full Metal Jousting shows respect for the athletes by giving them proper training in the sport of jousting. It ensured there was adequate equestrian experience beforehand in order for the athletes to enter the process. Proper armor for each contestant was provided and safety measures are put in place to avoid/minimize injury.

Shane Adams as the leader appears that his goals are to increase public attention to the sport of jousting as well as train more jousters to expand the sport.

The Knights of Mayhem on the other hand did not have any such proper precautions for their new recruits. It seemed as if they just looked for individuals who were tough dudes who were looking for a new thrill, and gave them promises of riches and glory.

Then the new recruits were given inadequate training as to how to handle their lances as well as inadequate attention to equestrian handling. The armor the new jousters used was borrowed hand-me-down armor that others had cobbled together. That is pathetic, because if armor doesn't properly fit it is dangerous to use.

Charlie Andrews was the leader of the Knights of Mayhem and he appeared to be a bully in a sandbox. He invited others to play in his sandbox, but then beat them up when they dared touch his toys.

I will continue to watch Full Metal Jousting as I find it entertaining as well as informative.

Should there be a second season of the Knights of Mayhem, I shall not invite that foul mouthed miscreant back into my living room.

For those interested in a summary of the episodes, I found the website Medieval Archives has posts describing what transpired as well as a breakdown of each pass in the competitions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The History Channel Special Becoming Medieval: A Review

The History Channel has changed over the years. I enjoyed watching the channel when it was focused on people and historical events, but now its schedule seems to be filled with all kinds of shows that stretch the meaning of history.

"Engineering an Empire" and "Cities of the Underworld," have been replaced with "Pawn Stars," "Swamp People" and "Ax Men." I scratch my head and wonder about who are the target demographic audience for those shows.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of mine told me about a show called "Going Medieval."

I had to keep asking him to repeat the title, because I was confusing it with the names of the excellent medievalist blogs Getting Medieval and Got Medieval.

My friend had watched the special on the H2 channel (formerly known as the History International Channel, and should not be confused with the chemical formula for hydrogen gas.)

A few months ago we downgraded our selection of channels on our satellite television, so we do not get H2 anymore. However, my friend told me that it was available for online download from and iTunes. He thought that the Amazon version might restrict portable downloads to their proprietary table Amazon Fire, so rather than risk being disappointed I went directly to iTunes so I could get it on my iPad. It was only $3.99. I thought that downloading it directly to my iPad was far more convenient than trying to watch the website to see if it might be rebroadcast on the regular History Channel and futz with programming my fickle DVR.

I wanted to share with my blog readers that I thought the show was wonderful.

Here is the product description:

"In this two-hour H2 special, historian and weapons expert Mike Loades goes medieval diving deep into the world of the Middle Ages. From the 5th to the 15th centuries, Mike battles the realities vs. the myths of this extraordinary time crusading for the core of real life while delivering fun-filled facts. From living, working and fighting to how to keep a knight's armor shiny using a vigorous rub of sand, vinegar and urine, Going Medieval is an expert account of life during medieval times."

Yes, stale male urine was mentioned several times in the show. It was used in making soap and dying wool.

Mike Loades demonstrates those domestic chores as well as plowing fields with oxen, hunting with hounds and falcons, and cooking a medieval feast.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is that a large portion of the show was filmed at the Guédelon castle project in France.

For those unaware, this marvelous project began in 1998 and they are building a castle with only the tools and techniques used in the thirteenth century. In fact, the masthead of my blog shows a picture taken during my first trip to Guédelon back in 2007. My first blog post about Guédelon can be found here.

This past summer we visited the project again and here is a picture for you to see the progress made over four years time.

Here is the other side of the same structure and you can see the tile work as well as two "human hamster wheels" used as cranes to lift heavy stones to the top of the building site.

The host of the show was Mike Loades. He and Gordon Summers demonstrated using Guédelon's archers' slits. I did not realize until this show that one had to stand several feet away from the slit in order for the arrow to go through a sinuous phase before it can fly outside. The two men took turns releasing their arrows and it was instructive as well as entertaining.

There is a picture posted on Mike Loades' official Facebook page showing him and Gordon Summers shooting from within a tower at Guédelon. (Go check it out before it gets moved too far down the front page. There are other photos of Guédelon on his page as well.)

For those who prefer the DVD format, the show will also be available in that manner at a much higher price.

I recommend this show for my medievalist friends and believe you will not be disappointed. I believe it would be good for classrooms as well.

One thing to note, since the DVD or downloads are commercial free, the running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.

Has anyone else watched this special? If so what are some of your thoughts?

Or let me know if there are other specials you would like to recommend for people to watch or Avoid Like The Plague.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ozark Medieval Fortress - Closed for 2012 season

It is with a heavy heart that I bear this sad news.

The owners of the Ozark Medieval Fortress have reached the difficult decision to not reopen in the 2012 season. The Ozark Medieval Fortress had closed for the winter season in November, but now its future is uncertain.

For those who were unaware, the Ozark Medieval Fortress is a construction project using thirteenth century building techniques to build a medieval fortress in Arkansas.

Here is the architect's drawing of what it looked like after one year of construction and when it opened to the general public in 2010.

They had received a lot of notice and publicity for the project, but not enough tourists to make it financially viable to continue.

The History Channel with their program of "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy" filmed an episode which has yet to air about the OMF. I had hoped that such a national broadcast could help generate nationwide interest and tourism, but instead perhaps it will help the owners
who are currently looking for a buyer or an investor.

It is a wonderful project and one that I believe will ultimately be like the Field of Dreams baseball diamond in Kansas where "if you build it they will come."

Unfortunately, the droves of people have not arrived yet in order for the owners to continue.

Please spread the word about this opportunity in your medievalist communities and if you are going to the International Congress on Medieval Studies this coming May, I urge you to mention it there as well.

I hope to speak with the owners of the Ozark Medieval Fortress soon via Skype and will let you know if they ask for anything else in the means of supporting their dream of building a medieval castle in America using traditional methods.

This is the architect's rendering of what the project would look at its completion in twenty years' time. It would be a shame if it were permanently abandoned.