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.