Friday, January 31, 2014

Bones, Baubles, Irrelevancies

The interest we’ve seen, during the past year, in bones of centuries-gone kings such as Richard III and now that possible fragment of Alfred the Great – and, indeed, the perennial interest humankind has in the remains of our dead, has had me thinking about this most singular form of artifact.  One of the most influential religious faiths history has ever seen has institutionalized the reverencing of dead martyrs’ bodies, from proposing incorruption and corpses’ divinely sweet fragrances as evidence of saintliness to prayers offered before knucklebones and holy f*reskins.  It is not merely the entombment, nor even the spiritual care, of the dead which seems to drive us, but that ineffable affinity humans have for transforming the material into the mystical.

Our attraction to “things” and “stuff” has always been a double-edged sword.  There are epochally powerful religions formulated *against* attachments to the material world, warning against earthly attachments.  And yet, even those faiths have yielded art and artifacts throughout history; indeed, the destruction of Buddhist statues can be decried as a crime even as the veneration of relics may be derided as idolatry.

Human beings are a fascinating lot – and so many of us contain both these impulses:  the resistance to materialism we think on one hand ought to guide us … and the pathological desire to collect possessions and experiences with objects, which sometimes also takes on a moral overtone, or gains traction with sentiment.  How many families have we seen, who come to blows over who-gets-what when a loved one (or, at least, a family member) dies?  How many secrets have been kept, protecting some line of inheritance or material “equality” in division of such spoils?  My brother and I both have had conversations with our mom, about concerns she has that each of us should be treated equally.  We might have cared about that when we were kids (or perhaps it was only me …) – but as we’ve grown older, we’re just grateful she’s with us.  In the end, his daughters will get it all anyway – heh.  Much as I love my pets, they won’t do any good with the perfectly baffling array of vintage costume jewelry I’ve amassed in my lifetime (and, indeed, I imagine my nieces won’t have much use for many of the bits, bobs, and baubles of my estate, when it comes to it).  My mom might fret about who will get what, or perhaps what the fate may be of things she has strong emotional associations for, and wants to see those emotional value-settings continued – “this was a ring your grandfather gave me” or “this was your great-great aunt’s piece of farm equipment” and so on – but our family may not have the stamina for attaching the same values to things that were held before us.

One of those things I know we do hold onto, though – is my father’s remains.  This is not a single body in a casket, but a parcel of ashes – each of us has a small amount, and the rest we entombed in a columbarium.  Dad has graced, since his death, the waves off a sacred parcel of coast in Hawai’I, a certain place where his sister lived, my grandmother’s casket, a few baggies, a box with a dragon on it, and whatever sacred vessels my mom and my brother have found for their concrete memory of his person.  I once defiled a piece of furniture owned by my beloved Jewish cousin, my best friend, a table given to me by her and now rather un-kosher, having had a dead man’s ashes sitting on it.  She suggested that the ritual with a spotless red calf would be a bit much to “cleanse” something merely touched by a Gentile she loved so much herself – and yet, even our awareness of this symbolic uncleanliness speaks again to the stuff of death, its ceremony, its – please pardon me, I don’t mean to make a joke – undying presence for us all.

There is a Donald Harington character, Eli Willard, who lives long, long – beyond the normal expectations of our lifetimes – and who, after he passes on at last, is preserved and enshrined in a glass casket.  For the century after his death, Willard’s body is variously exhibited, hidden away, lost, found, treated as a curiosity, as a talisman, and – at long last – he is put to rest.  In that earth to which so many of us expect to return when we die.  Eli’s material presence is thematically, philosophically powerful; magical.

My dad’s presence is closer to the ground, for me – I don’t pray to him; I don’t pray through him.  And yet, the day he died, I came instantly to understand and appreciate many cultures’ practices of ancestor worship.  I pine, sometimes, for the hope he could even only intercede in my life, if we may no longer participate in it together.  But that is selfishness, and vain magic at that.  I don’t turn to his little dragon box when I am in confusion, nor sit with it to the strains of Important Music and tears and candlelight.

But I have that box.

I have the painting of Einstein one of his students once gave him, too.  There are objects, important objects – throughout my life and home – born of the relationships in my life, and born of their own relationships, inherited by me.  My grandparents’ wedding portrait (two separate photos actually, merged and softly hand-tinted, framed, and so long a part of my family I hardly know where all it has hung and hidden), the pictures drawn and painted by my mama’s mother, the furniture which dates back, some of it, something like ninety years.  We are all artifactories, and not least of those Things we leave behind is our bodies themselves.  Even things left long before we die – that box with my hair in it, from when I was a little girl – and some of my mother’s.  Baby teeth, kept in little keepsake boxes.  Fingerprints, baby footprints, plaster casts, bronze baby booties, the lines on a wall showing what child was how tall, when.

We record and enshrine our bodies even before our souls depart them.  We even entomb spirit without body; empty, and false, graves abound around the world, throughout history.

The Cenotaph of Abraham
Image:  Wikimedia

But it is the stuff of death we protect most fiercely.  The furore over Richard’s authenticity, the deep excitement over Alfred’s purported hip … we don’t care because we care so much about the royals themselves.  We care because our stewardship of the dead, itself, never dies.  How many nobles the world over have been buried, exhumed, and reconsecrated unto the ground centuries later?  Why is it Oliver Cromwell’s decapitated noggin has its own Wikipedia page?  Because we use these bodies – these parts – both to mark our care and disposal of those we feel matter for good or ill; and we use our observation of their deaths to mark how it *is* we feel … and how we felt before.  Veneration comes and goes.  Our need to reflect that veneration – or desecration (read that article on Cromwell’s head to understand the power of vengeance, even upon the dead) does not.

I am interested to find out whether the hip bone might be Alfred’s.  Not because of the artifact’s eventual fate (still, intriguingly, unfolding before us, a thousand years and more since his life expired), but because its PATH is itself a fascinating story.  As Eli Willard’s life after death is.  As the paths, and analyses, of every mummy we’ve ever disturbed and peered at with questions beyond the relevancy of those who preserved the remains.  The story of Otzi is riveting, compelling.  It’s science, but it only matters to us because we reach out to Otzi as humans – as those seeking to understand what went before, to reassure ourselves of what may come after.

There are those of us who might relish the idea of being found in a thousand – in ten thousand – years from now, being able to tell, by our persons, something of who we were, of where we lived and what mattered.  There are those for whom the idea is blasphemous, anathema.  Our own studies of the ancient dead are hardly beyond ethical questioning – no matter how fascinating I find these inquiries, I still know what it means to disturb those who should be at rest (to disturb cultures, and dust long settled – the dust to which we all will return).  I would not mind, myself, being the subject of such curiosity.  But I will perhaps leave no anatomical artifact behind – as someone dear to me once pointed out, it’s not like there’s anyone to visit my grave.  And graves themselves are a real estate issue in our world, with implications and ethics all their own.  It might be nice to have myself buried biodegradably, and make such questions moot.  But I may become ashes myself, eventually invisible and un-study-able.  Perhaps I can convince myself there is inscrutable power in being thus ineffable, heh.

What will become of that little dragon box with my father in it.

What will become of me.

When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I care very much at all.  Even vain as I am, it’s not like I’ll be here to enjoy any fate – or revile it – my earthly remains may come to.  The idea of occupying a little clay box, unregarded, at one of my nieces’ homes, seventy years hence, doesn’t appeal to nor revulse me – it just seems irrelevant.  (What THEY need of me, they have always had, and that has nothing to do with Things and Stuff.)  I don’t even think about what my books will mean to anyone, once my body and my estate dissipate and fade away.  Immortality means nothing to me – if it did, I would have had children, I imagine.  (And yet … here I am, blogging my blithering brains away …)  The stuff of my death, as much as the stuff of my life, may go where it will and I’m not going to fret now nor in the hereafter about that.  If there is a hereafter, I’ll hope to see those who may dispose of that stuff, when they are at the point of their own disposal.  I am flotsam, and this doesn’t bother me – it’s as much an irrelevancy as Things and Stuff are supposed to be, according to certain philosophies.  I contain multitudes, but nothing fools me into ascribing immortality to that – and no amount of collecting, holding on to, and curating the artifacts of my life makes me honestly believe that what I imbue with meaning contains that meaning in its own right.  I’m content with my earthbound avarice – and will be just as content, when relieved of the condition, to know it will not survive me.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Rare shillings and Evil Dead references?  Count me in, History Blog!

The History Blog is going to dominate today, I'm afraid.  They've also got a surprising piece on "new old stock" if you will - undiscovered Sappho poems.  Literature unearthed after long ages is irresistible.

THE archaeological story of the week - and as always, HB's coverage is a good read with good resources.  One of the oldest temples thus far ever found in Rome ...

Finally, a friend and a fine advice-giver.  These two posts were interesting to read within five minutes of each other.  I have writer friends who STILL talk about self-pubbing as (a) their "only" option and (b) something of a shamefaced admission.  Leila, of course, knows better than this.  And yet, as always, the Query Shark has the tough-love's-eye-view.  Publishing is in a fascinating place right now, and indie authorship is exciting IF you are the right author for it, and have the right project for it.  My going traditional (well, or trying to ...) has nothing to do with thinking it's better than doing it myself.  I'm not well educated in self pubbing and have not been drawn to it.

Kim Rendfield welcomes Maria Grace to talk about what little boys wore when they outgrew their dresses, in the Regency era.  I'm a sucker for historical costume posts.

Edited to add THIS:  The History Girls are running a nifty little musico-literary contest.  Have fun!

Well, Then

I have to say, the particular request for a full I just got is ... suitably gratifying.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Familiarity Is Contempt(ible)

Today was the first day at the “new” (now approaching six weeks old!) job when I felt like I was doing a lot of work, keeping all the balls in the air, and not spending all my time learning my way around.  Getting oriented is still an ongoing job, but it’s not my full time job anymore, and that feels good.  I still feel dissatisfied with how far I’ve come, but maybe that’s the way I always feel, or people always feel; it’s hard for me to gauge objectively, of course.

The fly in the ointment is finding someone who reminds me most unfortunately of someone I got to know early at my previous gig.  There is no harrassment, but the personality is so dreadfully similar I’m having to control my responses when I run across the guy.  In honor of this, please forgive me for sharing the hideously obvious advice which began composing itself in my head this morning.


If you find out someone you work with is an author:  DO NOT ASK THEM IF THEY WRITE SMUT.  (This isn’t prudent strictly in the case of a woman, but does apply with particular vigor in such cases.)  If you happen to hear their computer beep:  DO NOT PEDANT AT ANYONE THAT THEY NEED TO ADJUST THEIR VOLUME CONTROL.  (if you are not even a cube farm neighbor, unwanted and self-superior feedback of this nature is especially irksome).  If you are looking at a collaborative website on a very large monitor:  DO NOT FEEL YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CROSS ***BEHIND*** SOMEONE’S DESK AND ***LEAN OVER HER*** IN ORDER TO LOOK AT IT.  Period.  Ever.  On that one.  Good lord.  Physical proximity with anyone, like that, just is not necessary, not in an office. NEVER with a stranger, which fortunately I consider myself still to be to this person.  (Yeah, we all lean together to look at things, but if you are less than a foot away, YOU MAY BE TRIGGERING SOMEONE’S ANXIETIES.)  Just do not do this.  Ever.  Are we clear yet?  Just don’t.

Because even someone who hasn’t endured physical assault by someone like you may still have endured more than any administrivia is worth, to endure your utterly unnecessary closeness.  If I can SMELL YOUR COLOGNE (a) you are wearing way too much, and (b) you are far, far, far too close to my person.  Just saying.


If someone tells you they are doing work for the senior executive and you have housekeeping you can’t do for yourself, no amount of “this will take you only five seconds to take care of” will ever endear you to them as you presume to interrupt an SVP’s business.

If you then show up again and lurk at someone while they are clearly on the phone with an executive, and they WAVE YOU AWAY, and you do not leave, nothing at all is going to endear you to this person, AND you will be interfering with their getting work done.

And, finally:  If you find out someone you work with is a writer?  DO NOT ASK THEM IF THEY WRITE SMUT.  Because – seriously – what kind of a moron are you exactly???

All this said, it was actually a good day at the office.  Monday’s more trying bits of ignorance and a minor under-the-bus-being-thrown all done, today I kicked bootay and took names.  Keeping the balls in the air.

And, no:  that is not smut.  So NO TITTERING.  *Eyebrow rounding on everyone, slowly*

Friday, January 24, 2014

Eclectic Collection

For today's collection, I'd like to just start with a quote from Donald Harrington:

“What are others for but to give us something, if only their presence, that we cannot create for ourselves? The secret of enduring is not to harden oneself against loss but to soften oneself in acceptance.”
(Rest in peace, Dawny.)

*** Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the introduction of the Mac … and the 1973rd anniversary of the murder of Caligula.  Do with THAT what you will. ***

And now, for the usual archaeological, art, and other links ...

The Getty launches a free virtual library online.  This will be an artistic trove for research.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art re-gilds Diana.  I always had a soft spot for Augustus Saint-Gauden's golden topper.  In a way the refurbishment deprives her of a certain "antiqued" beauty - at least, in close-up viewing (see the images at the link).  But Diana was made to be gazed at from below, from a distance.  Bright as new, what a sight that must be.

Image:  Wikimedia

The History Girls bring us a truly fascinating post about rag pickers and the artifacts and acts of that trade.  Such a description necessarily beggars (yeah - har) the interest of the information here; truly worth a read.

Finally, Elizabeth Chadwich visits The History Girls to discuss trial by ordeal.  Such methods actually date back to the Salic law laid down by Clovis I, and I was fascinated by the reading there, though none of it made its way into the work.  One of the joys of research - the myriad things you don't even get to/have to use.  (Trial by combat, of course ... is essentially the only reason for pretty much any combat - judicial or not - throughout the history of the world.  Sigh.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fantasies, Furbabies, My Job and My *Work*

Work on the new novel, right now, is necessarily organizational rather than creative – what happened when, what bits of research I already have need to go where in the progression?  As much as many writers hate the research (and organizational) phase, and want only to deal with the creative part, I like this part pretty well.  For one, it’s educational, and knowing the subject is naturally fundamental to the creative bits being worthwhile.  For two, once again I’m finding the parallel tracks of my job and this work – as I am learning (oy gevault) a new organization, I seem also to be learning my “new” world, the one I need to build for myself so I can populate it someday with you, my devoted readers.  As has happened in the past, I find the one enhances the other, too – the better I feel about getting my arms around my job, the better goes this process at home.

I’m an admitted pants-er, a seat-of-the-pants writer, whose process took years of learning, creating Ax.  There’s no question I came to understand the value of many things along the way – both in terms of publishing and being a pre-published author, but also about the work itself.  I had no idea what I was doing when I set out to write a historical, so its coming together as well as it has (even as long as the process took) may be a prouder accomplishment even than it will be once I’m agented, sold, shilling this WIP, and working on #3 (or 4 …).

Then again.  Ax will always be my first baby, of course – but, as I am not so precious about my darlings on the granular level of each delicious little word, passage, even scenes and chapters, I’ve never been more precious about one beloved pet than another either, so maybe someday Ax will just be one of my past loves, no more arresting to my attention than a new work in progress – just as Gossy and Pen have me completely emotionally occupied, now that Sweet Siddy La, Gert, Gossy, and Byshe are gone.  As each pet is encompassing, I imagine, each work will be.  But, of course, the books will always be living – indeed, “more” so as they come to life for other people, though my own work will be done by the time that can occur.

I look forward to finding out how that works, emotionally … and professionally.  (Far be it from me to fantasize about the financial benefits, though it’s not beyond me to have *considerations* …)

This is an exciting time.  As an author, and at work too.  Now, I must run and do some more querying – and perhaps query researching.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Is it the linguistic apocalypse?  I would agree with Arrant Pedantry, that perhaps our anxieties may best be spent elsewhere ... let's blame a physicist for children who can't ride bikes.  (I need a t-shirt, by the way, to remind myself:  "Change is not decay.")

"(T)he truth is that most of those changes from Old English to modern English also came from ignorance or laziness, and we seem to communicate just fine today."

Jeff Sypeck on wonderfully, wilfully outmoded technology, pulling the paper tabs just right, and dreadful free verse.

The animals of cottage and castle ... and the one time on this blog I can use the phrase "dorking cock" without worrying about my mother being scandalized.  (Not that she reads here, but she's still my handy authorial-appropriateness yardstick!  WWMR?  What Would Mama Read?)  Actually a very good starter read for research purposes, courtesy of English Historical Fiction Authors.

English Historical Fiction Authors also brings us a look at clothing as a map to the past, which considers the interesting concept of sumptuary laws.  (Only yesterday, I was discussing the odd experience of someone I know, who found that a positively ruinous luxury tax could be circumvented by the simple expedient of having an item shipped rather than walking out of a store with it.  Sumptuary laws and beard taxes seem odd to us sometimes, but make no mistake that contemporary law is sensible stuff.)  Wardrobe has always been a matter of symbolism and communication.

Two Nerdy History Girls has a good companion post to the first link in the bullet above, from EHF, looking closely at the conspicuous con-sumptuousness of men's clothing in the 18th century.  With some crystal-clear, detailed photos of the detail of a luxuriant suit.

And finally, BBC's History Extra is taking a LOT of looks at Alfred the Great (... ?) lately, what with that hip bone and its tantalizing (hee) implications.

A Bigger Playing Field and The Inevitability of Sound

One of the new things to explore in the second novel is the wider perspective both of an omniscient POV (The Ax and the Vase is first-person), but also the breathing room of spanning generations.  Clovis’ story takes place across thirty years, to be sure – but the new work (it still has no title, but I refuse to refer to it by the extraordinarily cheesy working title it’s borne all this time it has languished on the backburner) takes a look first at the mother, then the queen, then her daughter.  It should cover something like seventy years or so, and ranges much farther afield geographically and culturally as well.

More to the point, it’s a novel focusing on feminine characters.  (No, I don’t mean girly girl wearers-of-pink with dainty hand motions and lots of giggles; “feminine” is a perfectly accurate way to describe characters who are women.)  This is remarkably gratifying, because even in the return to my own gender I will get to explore a manner of living still completely unfamiliar.  Did you know that the Ostrogoths of Late Antiquity operated from a point of view in which sound itself was a different experience than we today would understand?  We often don’t stop to think how unfettered—how, in fact, ostentatiously selfish—our “natural” behavior is.  In a world dominated by court protocols and technologies which did not grind, screech, nor blare common noises into every possible milieu, human sound carried a very different currency.  In one character in particular, I will get to explore a kind of physical and even verbal modulation few women *or* men even imagine today.

I’m at least an occasional user of modulation myself.  Communicating with Penelope, in particular, requires a great deal of consideration of the speed of one’s physical motions, the sharpness—no matter the corresponding volume—of one’s voice.  I’ve joked for twenty years about my Patented Modulated Phone Tones, but I do find it is far easier to be understood on a call at the office when I slow down my speech; and, too, keeping a low voice in a cube farm can be key if it’s possible to remember to try.  Speaking to someone on a cell can render me almost intolerable over cube walls, and I know it; more’s the pity I tend to work for executives who often call from airports or their cars—I hereby apologize to every coworker I’ve ever worked next to.  Even the sound of my typing (I type with my nails, pretty fast, and not gently) has, at least once, been an issue for someone working next to me.

It is an extreme stretch, in many ways, to concentrate on the atmosphere of a world without white noise, without motor vehicles, without even the imaginary, to-us-un-hear-able hum of electronics, climate control (even just an electric fan)—the *inevitability* of *sound*.  For some of us, it may be difficult to imagine never quite being alone of other people.  For others, it may be difficult to imagine *being* alone—completely, truly.

Also curious to us are the peculiarities of behavior in a world so unlike our own—between people whose experiences are so foreign to our perspective, our expectations.  Laughter, that simplest of pleasures, which we seek without encumberance, and usually seek to share, would have been almost an assault on the ears of an Ostrogothic courtier.  Indeed, in many royal palaces through history, tittering would not merely have been rude, but inexplicable.  Even today, it’s hard to imagine the average honoree presented to Emperor Akihito thrusting out a paw for a handshake or greeting His Imperial Majesty with a hearty guffaw.  We created royalty as a rarefied institution wherever it exists, and its rules—its sounds and sights and even its very fragrance—are meant to be uncommon, no matter where in time or in the world we find such a world.

World-building requires research into the setting of time, and into the realities for a gender or an age group and ever role, but it cannot be complete without the sensory understanding that NO world has ever been quite like our own.  The very point of historical fiction is to explore a world other than the one we live in, that we know; indeed, to depart our own and visit the other.

I visited the world of a man with Ax.  Now I am stretching my legs and touring a warmer place, a more exoticized place … a time not so far away from his, and yet a world unlike Clovis’ in almost every way.  It’s a gorgeous experience.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Curated Prism

Am I hopelessly insular, that the link I found to share on this day is to a post by a white woman, talking about MLK Day?  Like her, I recognize my privilege.  I also appreciate the way she puts our (more recent than we like to remember) history - that we view this sterilized, would-be heroic series of events almost devoid of humanity ... through a curated prism.  What a perfect description.

I will log onto Twitter momentarily, and perhaps will find someone without privilege I recognize as my own, giving voice to something deeper about today.  I'll add anything I find there, if I stay on long enough to really listen.  Days like this, it can be highly worth doing.

Saving Some for Later

It is perhaps weak to quit at three queries.  It is perhaps prudent to stop writing crucial correspondence after a day of work and an evening's query-prep.  My instinct is toward the latter.  Deborah Grosvenor will be next up, and there's even a MAN on my list in queue.  Yes, Virginia:  they let men be literary agents, too.

There will be more reason to squee about further progress tomorrow.  For now, I think - a cruise through my Roku box.

I Just Queried ...

... Paige Wheeler at Folio Lit - who was the very first agent I ever pitched in person, and the first to request a partial from me.  I still remember her thoughtful, detailed, and extremely generous rejection (which was so correctly done - the MSS at that point was the typical work of a first-timer imagining she was "complete" ...).  She was far too kind and said my writing, the character, the plot, the setting were good - but she wasn't passionate about the work.  I realized I was still learning what passion meant, myself, as I discovered EDITING.

I Just Queried ...

... Victoria Skurnick (sans interview questions).  Tonight is my night to reach out to one agent I've met in person, who was thoroughly delightful, and one I have read for years, who is indispensable reading for authors interested in publication (not just the "traditional" kind, either).

I Just Queried ...

... Janet Reid, the Query Shark.  Once more, into the chum bucket!  (Okay, just the once for me - this is not a re-query.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Thinking about The Query Shark’s posts on pitch sessions, and my own experiences both with these and with Pitchapalooza, I’ve been ruminating on how useful they are.  The thing is, I’ve had 100% success with in-person pitches – with “success” defined as “agent asks for partial or full” (and fulls are more frequent as electronic delivery improves; as Victoria Skurnick said to me, and part of the reason I asked her for an interview to be published here, “Why ask for a partial, it’s all the same by email”).  There was a time when a full request was a HUGE deal, but either out of my own experience or because technology has changed so much in the industry, even down to these preliminary events, it seems less earth-shaking now than once it did.

As for pitch sessions, part of Janet Reid’s objection is the nervousness and the novice state of so many of the writers she sees during sessions.  Much as I’m little burdened with preciousness about the killing off of my darlings, I was fortunate to have parents who very consciously and explicitly raised me and my brother to be able to talk to people in any walk of life.  Now, for me and my brother, this does NOTHING to actually eliminate nervousness, *but* it does manage the thing – and, frankly, there’s not much interest in a life into which a little nervousness never falls.  Nervousness is close kin to excitement – and, if you’re excited about what you have written, as far as a pitch session goes, that can bring you halfway “there” so to speak.

I pay attention to how I plan to pitch, but I’m not scripted beyond those points about Clovis’ story I personally found so compelling I needed to write it, and which I know make the strongest selling points both literarily and in the market.  Now, if I were blessed to attend conferences more regularly or closely dealing with my particular GENRE, maybe I’d have been agented years ago just off an in-person – but, as much as I love JRW, and as widely worthwhile as I find The Ax and the Vase to be … you may be astonished to learn that, apparently, the trade in ancient Frankish kings is not brisk in fiction currently.

(That’s not to say that the market is not good, but it does speak to Clovis’ relative obscurity next to the ubiquitous Tudors, Rome, and even the odd Plantagenet in histfic alone – and histfic is only one area out of many, when it comes to conference-planning for maximum impact.  Take a look at the fascinating data produced recently by a historical fiction survey; even keeping in mind that this was created by sampling a necessarily skewed sample, the results are interesting and even encouraging.)

I keep getting off discussion of pitching.  One has to be careful, you can do that in a 5-minute session, and POOF it’s all over then.

Another objection Reid has is that the five-minute pre set meeting is all an author gets, at a conference.  This is where my love of JRW forces me to point out that – SOME conferences invite participants/agents/marquee speakers/editors to come AND TO BE THERE THE WHOLE TIME.  Buttonholing agents in the hall is not merely encouraged, but built into the experience.  So, at JRW – yes, they have pitch sessions (as Reid points out, to omit them might cause riots from writers who expect them), but there is also the opportunity to pitch impromptu … and just to have LUNCH with people.  This past conference, I reacquainted myself briefly with Paige Wheeler, the first agent to ever request a partial from me (I need to re-query her ASAP!), and formally pitched both Victoria Skurnick and Deborah Grosvenor, who was incredibly generous in fitting me in at the end of an extraordinarly long day, and even got to just sit and relax for a while at a table off on its own slightly apart from the center of activity, talking cello music and mezzuzahs with Ms. Skurnick, who was so painfully delightful I asked for the interview then and there (and she was enthusiastic and lovely in saying yes, I’d love to).

So, clearly, I would number among those authors whose reaction to Janet Reid’s condemnation of these sessions would be resistant, to say the least.  But then, I’m among those lucky twits whose reaction to nervousness itself seems to be manageable and productive – and I am also smug enough to say to myself, an author who wants to sell a book needs to be able to sell her or himself, so for pete’s sake, pitch sessions are just part of that education we need in order not only to improve our pitches and queries themselves, but to participate in the larger world I am trying to become part of, that of Published Author.

Who the HELL put that soapox there, and how did I trip on it … ?

Um.  So – yeah, I kind of like pitch sessions.  I like being surrounded by friends old and new, sharing these tiny and painful short works, getting feedback, rehearsing, improving them.  Conferences have borne, for me, some of the best marketing work I’ve been able to produce in support of Ax itself.  And, nervous or not, I’ve never been to one where EVERYONE was not completely supportive, no matter the context.  And the agents are not the least of this.  I’ve learned, even those who don’t “do” my genre are generally delightful people, and at times there’ve been those it just hurts me to know don’t work in my area.  (Michelle Brower, I’m looking at you.)

Just thinking about all this makes me want to get a-querying and impress the pants off of those I’ve met – and Janet Reid herself (are you kidding me?  Love Query Shark like I do, and NOT take a chance?  No way – now that she’s open for queries again, she’s on the list, of course she is).  And so I must away, and get cracking.

Even if I can’t vomit on anyone’s shoes.

The Hip of A King?

As many who know me very well are aware, Parke Godwin is one of my favorite novelists, and his somewhat recent death was sad news for many of us.  Godwin produced everything from absurdist science fiction to a very great deal of historical fiction, and for many years I wasn't even aware he was American, not British.

My recent lunch-read has been "Lord of Sunset" - the story of Harold, the last Saxon king of England, who lost the Battle of Hastings and his life in one fell swoop; and who held to Edith Swannesha ("Swan-neck" - a nickname actually not attested in contemporary sources, but arose generations later), his wife outside of canonical law, for all his life.

As I like to do, I read about characters from historicals, and often find myself bouncing from one article to another, and so I've also done a bit of reading here and there about other pre-Conquest kings, particularly of Edward the Confessor's line.

And so, this post about the possibility that one of the bones of Alfred the Great have been found naturally fascinates.  Having grown up on Godwin, the Conquest still feels like a crime.  It's hard not to speculate that Godwin - whose namesake, Harold's father, the formidable noble whom even the Confessor feared - looks at the ancient Godwin family as his own, because his stories turn and turn and turn upon the tragedies of the Conquest of England by the Normans.  For him, in so many of his works, the injustice is still fresh as a bleeding bruise, and reading him when I was young even created in me some prejudice against the Normans.

Pre-Conquest Britain is a fascinating piece of history, prejudice or no.  I'll certainly be watching to see if this comes across the Pond some time soon.

Click through for a better look at the find, and a couple more clips of the upcoming BBC special.

I get a tangential giggle out of the fact that the volume controls on these clips go to eleven.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Less Vomit" - on Pitch Sessions at Conferences

The Query Shark on pitch sessions, in two posts.

I'll sit in a room for 14 hours straight if you feed, water and burp me periodically.  I'll meet with every writer at the conference who has a query letter. I'll read the query and I'll offer suggestions for improving it. I'll read the revisions. I'll help every author there as much as I can. And I'll be GLAD to do it.

I'll query her long before the next Conference of course, but even if that comes to nothing, I'd love to meet her.


I grew up on the swamps between the Tidewater and the Piedmont, and the office complex where I work is a stone’s throw from the home of my childhood.  The land here is where my brother used to go exploring, coming home with odd treasures, from Civil War bullets to contemporary plastic casings, to that one partially skinned deer hide that one time.  People have tried to prettify the term swamp by calling these wetlands, and as much as possible, man has chosen to landscape over the marshy ground and put it to “good use” as we like that term.

Fortunately, there are still a few members of mankind who protect what is necessary to us, and these swamps have not been overdeveloped in the past thirty years.  There’s more than there was out here – and traffic is like nothing I imagined when I was a kid – but the swamps themselves continue, in places, unmolested.

To me, this is absolutely beautiful.

At my last job, which was near here but in a more landscaped/manmade part of the office park, we used to run to the windows like little kids – to watch the weather, to watch eagles fly, to catch a glimpse of deer or the fin of a carp, or the sight which still captivates me, the White Egret.  It was a wonderful moment, here and there, getting to remember what it was like watching Wild Kingdom as little kids – but in our own backyard.

A bit down the road and off the landscaped path, my current building lies on a very low bluff over the swamp proper.  No grass gets mowed outside our windows, the land just drops off after a couple of yards or so out from the building, and it’s bare trees and patches water and dead leaves and squirrels’ nests.

Again – to me, absolute loveliness.  Even now, in winter, the colors muted and the sky drear with leftover snow and rain, the untouched sight (or, at least, if we must be honest and not call this “natural” – at least it is less-touched than almost anything else I can expect to see day-to-day) can be full of peace.  And marvels, too.

This morning, we had snow, and it was a frost-swept wonderland out there.  When I got out of my car, in a corporate parking lot, the air was still and sound muffled, just like it always was when it snowed when I was growing up.  Impossible not to think of that time my dad and I walked to my grandmother’s apartment in the snow, and shared fresh-baked cinnamon rolls with her, just the three of us.  And walking home, dad telling me how snow used to be so cold in his smalltown home in the Midwest, that it crunched, dry, beneath your feet.  Impossible not to remember the time I found a bright feather on the packed snow of our street, on my birthday – a feather, I have to believe, I still have pressed somewhere in an old diary, journal, or book.

Yesterday, the evocative veils and whorls of thick fog.  Not an all-encompassing sky full of mist, but clearly delineated piles of it, walls of it beside the roadways, clinging in the trees, rolling down the gulleys behind the building.  Wondrously pretty.

The swamps make me pause, make me slow down even when I am busy commuting, and take in the odd dead trunk or bed of cattails, the breadth of space not overtaken by *buildings*, the way the light plays in spaces I’ve known all my life – the way, sometimes, it doesn’t, and how that is lovely too.  These quiet spaces lurk, peace between a drugstore and that service station dad used to walk home from after dropping off the car; places where kids explore and find treasures, where birds eat and ignore us and go on about the business of life, which is older – and will outlast (that blessing, that marvelousness) every strip mall and drive-through we erect to sustain our silliness.  There is peace between those townhouses, built in the 1950s or 60s, and the slender grey stalks of trees, of those grown and died since I grew up here myself, of those still coming up, of those dead now and quietly standing, still.

Every day of my job, I come home in a unique way – some days, I feel it powerfully.  Summer, the windows open, a song on the radio which might have played when I was a teenager, the quality of light JUST as it simply *is* in this town, in this place, in this world, which can’t change the way it plays.  I drive home eastward, past places I have known in one hundred different ways, and I’m grateful I get to live in this place that *feels* like home.  In this place that doesn’t reject me, nor change against me, nor spit out its own past like so much disposable trash.

There’s some past around here we must regret, but to do that we must remember it too.

When I was very small indeed, there was this one long road nearby – which went, one way, out to the country where we drove to see my family – and, the other way, into the city where we drove when shopping or some sort of event demanded it.  I conceived an idea that this road, this long, straight byway into the country, into the city, rising and falling over hills but rarely bending, was the route to the past, or to the future.  In the West was the past.  Go far enough beyond the country I knew, past the farms where the red clay lived, where the old grey wood house was, in which my mother was born – far enough, so far as to be inconceivable, where the big red sun set – that was where Jesus lived, where olden times were, where the Revolutionary people and Civil War people were.  Go east – the direction we rarely took to speak of, at least beyond a particular hill – that was the future.

I can still remember when I found out that road – that road that never ended, that went so far it encompassed time itself, had an endpoint in the east.

Where it terminates in the west … I still have never traveled there.

And, to this day, when I drive out of my mid-century, Norman Rockwell neighborhood, coming west on that road, I come every day to my own past, and don’t proceed beyond the land I knew, the land I crawled on, growing up.

And, every night … I drive home.  Eastward.  Toward the future.  Leaving the swamps behind … but only for a little while.  They’ll be there.  They’ll be there tomorrow.  And I’ll be back again.  I’ll never forget.  And I’ll never stop loving the patches, the creeks, the dead trees and cattails.  And the miracle of the birds I still get so excited to watch and wonder at.

Fridays "Off"

Since leaving my previous gig, some have assumed I’ve had a “huge” improvement with a change of schedule to the standard 40-hour work week, and others think it must “suck” to “lose” an afternoon off every week.  I haven’t found the change particularly stressful—nor, for that matter, particularly noticeable at all.  Those afternoons off came after four days every week of nine(-plus) hour days.  Indeed, some days, what with my penchant for showing up early and staying late, those afternoons off came after one or two eleven hour days (twelve and more, if you count commutes and errand-running time as part of your work day – and, sometimes, I did).  Plus, those afternoons off tended to be full of errands themselves, which I used to extol as “being able to do things without having to wait for Saturday or Sunday.”

Truth be told, so far (yes, only four weeks in – tomorrow is my first month-iversary) there’s no inconvenience in having to do things on Saturday or Sunday.  If it comes to car repairs or repairs on my home, I am able to work from home in a pinch, though that’s nobody’s preferred option.

The biggest change, for me, isn’t in the schedule itself, but in what it does(n’t) do to me.  I came home very tired yesterday, but not a bad sort of tired.  Not dispirited and stressed, just – had a busy day, want to meld with my couch a bit, tired.  I knew before I left how much the changes in my job were affecting  me, but now that I’ve left I’m not thinking about stress really at all.  The ballgame’s different, but not in ways that demand lots of attention and analysis and consternated conclusion-reaching.  Which feels, to me, like the right different.  Not feeling the need to think about and talk about my new job constantly means it’s not eating up my attention during my personal life.

In the past, even with good changes professionally (and let’s not forget, throughout the first two years at my previous job, I used to tell everyone – and I MEANT it – they were going to have to pry that job out of my cold, dead hands), I’ve tended to babble on like a girl in love about a new job.  I may be too tired after this change, it may just seem almost unreal now, after so MANY professional changes – or maybe it’s just that I don’t feel any need to sell anyone on this change – but I’m not doing that now.  I’m in the right place.  It’s the right time.  But, apart from discussing with my brother (by far the most sympathetic audience to The Babblings of Diane, particularly about work and writing) what it’s like to work for the first time in my life for an outfit that actually produces and moves actual, real THINGS into the world, I’m not gushing to all and sundry about the neat little benefits and opportunities here.

When I did that at my last job, a great part of the New Job Crush-Babbling was about the pride I felt in becoming a public servant.  It was incredibly hard to leave that subjective, but very real, sense of satisfaction behind – and I actually had some qualms about going to a place which, essentially, is feeding a nation hardly suffering from our lack of food.  But I’ve worked in insurance, y’all.  For sheer moral value, I’m not going to do a lot worse than that without trying fairly hard.  Heh.  (Hey, at least it was life, not health – but still.)  What we provide is at least a voluntary consumption.  And the people I get to work with do “real” things in the real (heh) world, to real results.  My guys run the trucks, the facilities, the infrastructure of a firm which dates back, in my very own hometown, to the 19th century.  I know the ancestral roots of what I do, and I’m contributing to the future of where this place goes.

I also get to do all this with a group of people I am grateful to be getting to know.  Not just the ones I take care of, but the company as a whole.  I’m struck by how many people pointblank state they are glad they get to work here – and, yes, I’m certainly struck by one in particular who left the same public service world I did, to *come* here.  That was a part of what I found compelling when I followed suit, and everything so far is proving out my choices.

So I don’t have my Fridays “off” anymore.  Apparently (so far), I have no reason to miss ‘em …

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bad Author! No Scooby Snack.

Today is the productivity day around this pad - yesterday, I spent my time helping a friend do some packing in pouring rain (believe it or not - a good time - it helps when you love someone to pieces and the company in work is all good).  So today, four loads of laundry and some housekeeping, following on the heels of spending about seventy bucks at the drugstore.  I was running low on everything, and heck if I couldn't have gotten some more cleaning products as it is.  Ah well!

So I'm forgiving myself for not writing questions for the upcoming interview with Victoria Skurnick of Levine Greenberg (keep an eye peeled for this, she is simply delightful), nor completing my queries and re-queries for the agents I met at this year's Conference.  Yesterday's time with my friend and her friends was more important.  There'll be time in the evenings this week.

For now, I need to run and shift the last load and get another one on queue for the dryer.

Y'all have a fine Sunday - I'll check back in soon, and we'll have a good time.

Friday, January 10, 2014


Disorderliness in the soil, or sweet entropy ...

Fight or Flight in the Office … ?  This isn’t supposed to be a blog about work, but it’s often about people and our interrelation, and certainly about science and our behavior.  And so we include this link, which I found both vindicating (everybody in every cube farm knows of these facts, and some of my former colleagues in outright open-plan farms double-know them) and fascinating.  We all know what bugs us, but sometimes it’s good to see these things quantified.  Not that this leads us to much hope for change …

The Pronunciation of Smaug.  Need I comment?  (No.)

Beauty in terrible condition, from the Passion of Former Days photography blog.  There is perhaps as much fascination in the decay of artifacts as in artifacts themselves.

An unexpected peek into the (English) historical perpsective on same-sex marriage - yet another of those ideas/issues humanity didn't wait until the twentieth century to consider.  Courtesy of History Extra - which, while you're considering the link above, also has this piece on homosexuality during WWII.  "Lashes and slap" indeed - and that may not mean what you think.  (Then again, maybe it does.)

For those who admired the gorgeous needle work post (a beautiful video, worth revisiting), English History Authors bring us a new look at Stuart period needlework pieces, with a bit of the history of the stumpwork style - truly wonderful photos at the click-through.

Finally, the proportions (and omissions, yes) given to history and culture are a fascinating study in themselves, in this piece.  This link comes courtesy of Cute Shoes, who sent it to me ages ago and I've only just gotten around to finally watching it.  The images chosen speak to their editor, but they are just as vividly communicative to us.  It's an interesting piece, so I'm including it here (but the link above, should you have the framing issues I know vids come with on this page for some browsers, will take you to a nice copy as well).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Your Thoughts?

I'm so tired right now, I don't honestly know how bad the synopsis over there >>>> actually is.  So here is tonight's re-work.  If you aren't more tired than I am right now, and feel like reading both ... your feedback is most welcome!

At the age of fifteen, Clovis I is hoisted on his shield and acclaimed king of the sea-dwelling Franks.  It is 481, and Rome still rules in Gaul.  Fighting beside his steward Cholwig, and two cousins, Ragnachar and Pharamond, by the age of twenty, he has deposed Roman rule.

This is only the beginning.

Clovis falls in love with Evochilde, who becomes his concubine.  Dying in childbirth, she leaves behind the sickly prince Theuderic.  He battles—and negotiates—for ever-greater territory, and negotiates, too, the treacherous course of a growing court, full of intrigues … and disappointments.  Ragnachar, his first friend, slowly becomes his greatest burden.

In 493, he takes a wife, the Catholic princess Clotilde.  Clotilde becomes Clovis’ queen and his passion.

She makes a formidable mate, but importunes him constantly to accept her Church and her God.

At last, in battle once again, struck by the power of spiritual fervor, gaining a difficult victory … Clovis converts to Christianity on the field.  Because of this moment of inspiration and political savvy, he prospers beyond even his own ambitious hopes.

And yet, as he rises before God and his ever growing peoples, Clovis cuts down his own kinsmen one by one—including, at last, his former commander, Ragnachar.  He unites all the Frankish kingdoms, and the Gallo-Roman populations from Burgundy to the kingdom of the Visigoths.  Theuderic and Clovis’ three sons with the Queen will inherit as patrimony the territory we know today as the nation of France.

He sets down the code of the famous, infamous, long-lived Salic Law, and is the first Catholic king ever to call a Council of the Church.

At last, his legacy immortalized, Clovis dies at forty-five.  He has ruled thirty years, and set a course beyond even his own comprehension.

Clovis’ demonstrations of authority—and revenge—become legend, a tool of his provocative power and charisma.
He was the founder, the first king, of France.


... why didn't anybody TELL me how absolutely rotten that Synopsis is, just right over there >>>>


It stinks!

Working on that.  Sheesh, y'all.  Feedback's always welcome, y'know.  If I wanted a diary I wouldn't be writing here, and all this would be locked in a pretty pink vinyl book under my pillow.  C'mon!

Words Not for the Counting

It's hard not to see from my last several posts - and, for that matter, their lack of blathering content - that The Ax and the Vase, and my writing as a thing itself, took a turn for the productive in recent weeks.  Periods of creativity (and motivation of all kinds) ebb and flow, come and go, but I would be disingenuous not to notice that this period seems to have come upon me just as I shed one job for another.

I'm a bit old for girlish crushes on new jobs (not that I don't do that anyway - shoot, my crush on my last job lasted nearly two and a half years).  The new one hasn't got me scheming with myself to get all my friends to come work there, nor gushing constantly to everyone how gorgeous and what a great cook it is - but, I do have to say, when the BOSS came to my cube today and smilingly said, "Is this week over yet?" I did get a warm fuzzy.  Heh.  And, completely with no-harm/no foul, it's not beyond anyone's comprehension that a job and an employee no longer being a good match is exclusively and unilaterally measured by an employER's satisfaction.  I loved my team so much - but my job itself changed in ways I wasn't coping with.  It happens.

The thing is, I don't actually chalk this new period of productivity up to leaving my old gig.  Two of the greatest stressors in my life, which have not one thing to do with any job, have not gone anywhere.  My work schedule changed, so my sleep patterns and free time throughout the week are on different rhythms - that's got nothing to do with the jobs themselves, it's just a matter of time itself.  The weather's different, the year is all new, the holidays are over.  The surge in my creativity could come from any number of sources, including that one butterfly across the world who beat her wings that one time eight years ago.  Life just acts like that, it's a smarty pants business.  That's why I like it.

The best part of finishing the revision night before last - and taking one day off - is that I've already sent out two queries tonight, and the NEXT novel has already been much on my mind.  As backburnered as that idea has been for years now, it's gratifying to feel energy in that direction.

To be perfectly frank, between stress and the amount of time it's taken me to complete (and complete and complete) The Ax and the Vase, I wouldn't have sworn confidently I had another novel in me.  But now, not only am I excited to get back to early-stage writing work again, I've learned enough that I do feel confident the next work won't take so long.

And I've stuck out this process through all this time.  I have seen this thing through - and will keep on doing so, and producing more.

My confidence in Ax--in Clovis, really--has always been unwavering.  I've learned the degree to which that was ill-advised, in those first years when I believed all that nonsense about editing and revision applied to OTHER people (I may be Diane Thoughtkiller, but from where I sit now the unrealistic precious-baby-ness of my earlier expectations is clear enough; fortunately, I only needed to learn ... not quite be "lessoned" ...).  I've also learned the degree to which my confidence is an asset, and it's the one asset as an author I've never found wanting.  I will do all I can for Ax, and for the WIP, and for that one idea for Novel #3 that never has disappeared either.

Whatever day job I have - and whatever its stressors or distractions or benefits:  I will always be an author.  Published or not, nobody can deny it.  And, soon, a whole lot more than just you guys reading here will know about it, too.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Though the "tracking" posts were a tool to keep me working, I will add ... only one more ... just to note that the final polish is finished.

With the Author's Note, word count is now 126,092.  Novel alone:  118,298.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


With Note:  127,276.  Without:  119,541.  And only a little left to skim through at this point.  If I can't finish tomorrow night, it will be Tuesday.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Psst ... I have this secret hope I may finish the final revision tomorrow.  Don't tell anybody, m'kay?  Thanks.

With Author's Note:  129,603

Without:  121,868

Good night!


As of this morning - with the Author's Note - a nice, satisfying:  129,999!

Without:  122,264.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014


With Author's Note, as of today:  131,066.

Without:  123, 331.

Hey, Look!

New Year's Eve happened this year!  I rather missed out last year, being sick for the better part of a week, and highly oblivious through most of that time.  Being, as I apparently am, someone quite focused on marking the passage of time, missing the mark last year left me with a very long and low-grade case of cognitive dissonance:  the holidays had happened, but not the new year.  I had a strangely difficult time, constantly reminding myself that it was 2013, and feeling mildly displaced in time.  Not a particularly difficult issue to manage, but ongoing, for a surprisingly long time.  It was just odd.

This year, of course, being human, I felt it necessary to overcompensate, so rather than staying home as I often have, and perhaps not even staying up for the midnight hour, but at least being *aware* of the imaginary shift, I went out with friends.  Some issues with my knee kept me from much dancing (and in comfortable boots), but we had a good time - they are lovely company, these particular friends.

After midnight did come and go, I saw an acquaintance of several years, and am hereby able to tell the following anecdote as to how my year began.  We had a little hug, a happy-new-year-ing, and grins, and she said to me, "I am so glad I saw you!  Every time I see you, something good happens in my life!"

Aww.  And wow.  I'm not very good at superstition - I cite 'em all the time, but am rotten at sticking to the fervor about them - so the magic here isn't the point for me.  The point is that it's an extremely lovely thing for someone to say about anyone.  So I started out my year with lovely people, lovely moments, and good/funny music (it hadn't been billed as such, but for a good stretch there, the music was good eighties alternative dance stuff - bummer I *couldn't dance!).  If that is an omen, I will take it with thanksgiving and gratitude.  And if it's not - I still will.