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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I see these things going around the internet all the time: “Name ten things that no one else knows about you.” “Name five books that changed your life.” AND  “Tap ten of your nearest and dearest to answer the same question.” Shades of chain letters past. Although some are fun and others are silly, all are time sucks. I have to choose carefully or I’d never get anything done. But every now and again one comes along that I’m glad to participate in. The Writing Process Blog Tour is one, because it asks the questions that most readers are interested in knowing about their favorite authors. Hand-of-Fire-Cover-Large-203x300Thanks to Judith Starkston for asking me to join in. Judith shares my love of ancient history, penchant for visiting archaeology sites, and mission to highlight forgotten women. She has a wonderful novel coming out this month titled Hand of Fire: “The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.” You can see Judith’s contribution to the blog tour here and contact her through her website, Facebook, or twitter.   So here goes:

What am I working on?

Slow Death coverSeveral projects in various stages.  My most complete projects are two collections of short stories that are currently out as ebooks: Time Again and Other Fantastic Stories and Slow Death and Other Dark Tales. I’m proofing the print versions and recording the audio books. I’m in the final editing process of a historical novel Sword of the Gladiatrix which I’m very excited about. Here’s the back cover blurb: “Two women from the far reaches of the Empire, enslaved and forced to fight for their lives on the hot sands of the Roman amphitheater. They seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other’s arms. But the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.” I hope it’s out by the end of the year. I’m also doing a final rewrite on another novel Twilight Empress (#1 of the Three Augustas series) and a novella prequel which I hope to get out next year. I’m in the early rewrite stages of two other books in the Three Augusta’s series. As far as new writing goes, I’m in the very earliest stages of writing a sequel to Sword of the Gladiatrix—which, unfortunately, has been taking a back seat to all these other projects. (more…)

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WWII PosterReaders of this blog know I like to highlight fiction and non-fiction that present capable women with strong personalities. I read a post in a forum recently that intrigued me. The person was looking for historical fiction recommendations, but “none of those anachronistic modern women dressed up in historical costumes crap.” I don’t think he was disparaging time travel fiction and, yes, I’ve read a few stories where the women seem to have more modern sensibilities than might be warranted. But not all strong females in historical fiction are anachronistic. I’ve read other blog posts by historical fiction writers also deploring recent criticism about strong women described by readers as “too modern” in spite of ample historical evidence that women did and thought as the writers wrote them. Where does the dissonance come from? Why would a reader think a woman couldn’t be a doctor in Late Antiquity, captain a whaling ship, or teach men to fly planes during WWII — all documented events?

I blame school history books. The protagonist in my novel, Selene of Alexandria is a young woman who wants to become a physician in fifth century Alexandria — not a “healer” or midwife — a trained and apprenticed physician. There is ample written and archaeological evidence of women physicians through the ages, including this period. But if you don’t look outside the traditional history texts, you wouldn’t know that. (more…)

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Fresco from PompeiiIn Part I of this two-part series, I talked about using books and libraries in doing historical research. Although print matter is a good place to start, in today’s world you can’t ignore the Internet. But there are two problems: quantity and quality – too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Unlike traditionally published books, which have to go through some screening process (in academic circles that can be quite rigorous), anyone can put anything up on the Net and pass it off as truth.  So what’s a good historical fiction writer to do?

Stick to sites that have some stake in maintaining their reputation for accuracy such as universities and historical, archaeological and professional societies.   Many sites  not only update articles, but blog and twitter as well.  Others aggregate the news. The Archaeological Institute of America has a daily update of archaeology in the news. When you find an interesting one, subscribe to their RSS feed, get email alerts or tweets when new information is posted. Google also has  Google Scholar (click on the “more” button at the Google.com home page) that searches professional and scholarly literature. Many newspapers and local government organizations are digitizing their archives and can be a great source of primary material. (Remember your best friend the research librarian? Tap them for help on accessing those databases.)

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woman scholar frescoSo I’m writing a book set in 5C Alexandria. I know the plot and my characters intimately. I’m typing away at the seduction scene when I think, “Did they have underwear back then? If so, what was it like?” I know the handsome hero doesn’t unzip his pants but does he unbutton, unbuckle, untie, unwrap? Of course I could finesse this with a sentence like, “He dropped his garments onto the floor.” But it won’t be long before readers get impatient with generalities because the devil is in the historical details.

The sights, smells, sounds and descriptions of clothes, food, housing and transportation in a different time make the reader suspend disbelief and join whole-heartedly in the fiction. Valerie Anand, who writes historical mysteries (most recently The Siren Queen), under the pseudonym Fiona Buckley makes this point: “When planning a specific book, I read works on the period, and chase up such details as the layout of particular towns, styles of furniture, fashions of the time, laws in force, and technologies which existed then. I use maps a lot. I had my sitting room floor completely carpeted while I tried to work out whether one could or could not ride a horse from one point to another in a single day. I always try to be accurate, because there is always someone out there who will write in and point out your mistakes.”

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Karen ArmstrongMs. Armstrong, who calls herself a “freelance monotheist,” is among the foremost religious historians, writers, and thinkers in the world.  A former Catholic nun, she’s written biographies of Buddha, the Prophet Mohammed, and St. Peter as well as the best-selling books The Battle for God, A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths. Ms. Armstrong talked to me  about her writing and research process, her struggles with life after leaving the convent, religious fundamentalism in all its many forms, and Islam in the modern world.

FAITH L. JUSTICE: When did you start to write?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: My first book, about my life in the convent, was published in 1981 — it was a long time after leaving.  I found people tended to introduce me at parties and suppers as, “Here’s Karen.  She used to be a nun.”  I would spend the entire meal being questioned about it and I didn’t have time to explain why — the interior stuff and the rationale that made sense of all these things.  So I told funny stories and trivialized the experience.  After awhile, I wanted to remember it as it was and try to deal with it in some way.  The first drafts were very angry.  My agent at the time asked, “If it was that bad, why did you stay so long?”  The book was a way of coming to terms with the experience and seeing the positive side as well as the negative. Now writing is my living.  It’s what I do.

FLJ:  Why did you take up the religious life?

KA: For a number of reasons, because motivation is never simple.  There was a religious aspect to it — I wanted to find God, or what I thought might be God.  I had a teenage oversimplified view: I would find the divine, be filled with peace and serenity, lose all that adolescent anguish and misery, and overnight become a wise saint.  I was also very shy and very uncomfortable socially.  I was okay at lessons and exams, but socially and emotionally?  In the early 60’s, before things loosened up, it was a bad time to be a woman, if you weren’t pretty.   Now you can find your own style.

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Proud Villeins coverThis is Part III of a three-part interview with historical fiction writer Valerie Anand. In Part I, Ms. Anand discussed how she became a historical fiction writer.  In Part II, she discussed her Ursula Blanchard series and her feminist leanings.

FAITH L. JUSTICE: Have you been able to make a living as a fiction writer?

VALERIE ANAND: A lot of people said you’ll never earn a living as a writer, but I’m laughing last.  It was hard in the beginning.  I worked a 4-day week at the office and wrote the whole day on the fifth.  It was physically very demanding.  In 1989 I became redundant just as I received the contract to write the six-book series Bridges Over Time. I said, “Right, take the golden handshake, buy a word processor, convert the garage, and trust to luck.” I’m very pleased to say I’ve earned a living off my writing for quite a long time.

FLJ:  How involved are you in the marketing of your books?

VA: I do occasional book signings.  The marketing scene is not quite as lively over here as in America.  I once went to a seminar run by the Society of Authors and there were a number of marketing Bobs on the panel. The authors gave them such a barraging that the whole thing felt rather like a rout or political meeting.  The whole place was filled with authors who felt they were short changed.

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Valerie Anand Author PhotoPopular British historical fiction and mystery writer Valerie Anand brings past times and conundrums to life with fascinating characters, abundant detail and meticulous research in her twenty-one novels.  In the U.S.  she’s been known under her pen name Fiona Buckley for her historical mystery series set in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign featuring Ursula Blanchard.  Ms. Anand talked to me about her writing, love of history and feminist leanings from her South London home.

FAITH L. JUSTICE: Do you have writing in the blood ?

VALERIE ANAND: For me, writing is a natural function, like breathing. No one can do without breathing and I can’t do without writing. I don’t know why. It satisfies a very deep need. At the age of six, just after I had really learned to write, I suddenly announced that I was going to write books when I grew up and I actually started trying, then and there, on a piece of doubled over paper, with a red crayon. The best moments come when I am trying to transmit something subtle, or very deeply emotional and difficult to express, and feel, after much writing and re-writing that yes, that’s it, I’ve got it right at last, that’s it.

My father was a good teller of stories to small children and so was his aunt, my great aunt Clara. They both made up tales to amuse me. On the same side of the family, I had a cousin (now dead) who although a scientist, was also keen on books and wrote a couple of science fiction paperback novels.

Going back to my father; he loved words. He lost his parents when he was only 14 and after that was cared for by an uncle who, poor man, did his very best for his nephew, but not very successfully. He had apprenticed his own son to the drapery trade so he did the same for my dad. He gave his son and his ward exactly the same chance, in fact. But whereas his own son prospered, my father just loathed drapery. His love of words made him want to work with them – in any capacity. In the end he left the drapers, took to doing part-time proof-reading for national dailies and eventually became permanent. The drive to work with words must have been hugely powerful because he took that risk in the middle of the slump of the 1930s, and was very hard up – in fact unemployed – for a time. Because of that, his first engagement broke up. Luckily for me! He met and married my mother later on.

I was born in 1937, before the war. When war broke out and my father knew he would have to go into the forces, he gave up our rented home in Kent and left my mother and me with his Aunt Clara in Leatherhead, Surrey, just south of London. Dad went into the RAF where he was an Armourer, and we lived in my great aunt’s bungalow which was out of London, but still prone to a few bombs. I can remember being carried into the garden and seeing the glow in the sky, the night the City of London burned.

I can also remember the V1 doodlebugs very well indeed. We used to crouch in the hall of the bungalow, between the strongest walls of the house and away from windows, listening to the beastly things as they droned across the sky, and waiting for the engine to cut out. If it stopped overhead, we were all right, because momentum would carry it onwards. If it stopped before it got near, anything might happen. Fortunately, nothing ever did.

I grew up, didn’t go to university, joined a publishing house as a secretary but turned myself eventually into a trade journalist, specializing at first in business systems and equipment. Later on I became an industrial editor, and ran the house magazine first for Heals, the furniture retailer in Tottenham Court Road, and later for Matthew Hall, a big engineering group. They did everything from put the services into pharmaceutical plants and new office blocks to putting the topsides on oil platforms. It was very interesting.

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