Monday, October 31, 2011

Queen Saint Clotilde

I've posted a great deal about Clovis, the Merovingians, a bit about research, and historical fiction in general.  What I haven't discussed is my first major female lead - and what a lead I had in Clotilde.

The queen who converted her husband to Catholicism, who bore three princes and a princess for the dynasty, who rose to the status of legend - and who became a saint of her Church - was a challenge, but such a joyous one.

I understand well, but tend to shy away from, the tendency to draw feminist characters in a historical setting.  This puts no limit on the strength of personality, but also doesn't do the literary and social disservice of minimizing the extent of difficulty a woman (or any character at all) had, living in The Past.  Clotilde is a fortunate resource to have in my story, because she perhaps ranks with someone like Abigail Adams in both strength of personality, personal appeal, and persuasive capability (if not in her explicit support of women's rights  - heh).  So the challenge with her was to present the power this woman wielded - over a king no less - in the context of a world where feminine power was hardly dominant.

Another challenge, with Clotilde, was to portray the love story between a man and a woman, without disrespect for the fact that this woman - a character I needed to render as fully flesh and blood - happens to have become a Saint of the Catholic faith.  This aspect was not a major factor in my writing as I'm not an eroticist, but it was *there*, it was a thing that factored into Cloti's creation.  The idea of yanking the covers off a religious icon in flagrante delicto seems perhaps disrespectful, even if it doesn't ruffle my personal feathers to contemplate the sacred and human in one.

Clovis was a hell of a guy in this (literal - heh) respect, providing me with reasons not to get too salacious.  The legend of his father, Childeric, was that dad was so handsy with his female subjects that the men of the Salian Franks booted him out of town and offered his seat to the Roman governor.  This gave me a pretty obvious motivation for Clovis' later dispatch of selfsame governor's own son, but also provided compelling reason for the fact that Clovis does not come off, in history or legend, as any kind of letch.  He's known to have had one son before marrying Clotilde at the not insignificant age of about twenty-seven years.  Nothing is known of Theuderic's mother, but it seemed only fair to make her a concubine, if only because I am the writer and I get to indulge my fascinations - and the institute of marriage and concubinage going beyond (a) what I am personally familiar with and (b) the exoticized idea the term "concubine" tends to bring to mind for many Americans fascinates me.  Also, Theuderic is known to have inherited, and the legal status of friedlehe would certainly have conferred on any offspring the rights of any rightful heir.

So the first son gets a mom who freely chose her man, her status, and her child's future legal viability - and promptly exits, stage right.  Nice to know you, mystery first love!

Clotilde comes along significantly later.  Clovis has been on the throne, by the time he marries, a dozen years, not a lot less than half the span of his entire reign.  I bent the legend about their union a little, but put them together at the appropriate time, and with what I hope is appropriate enthusiasm for one another.  Clotilde may be a saint, but nobody ever called the mother of four a virgin - and I allow her the passion to love both her husband and her G-d.  I also allow their marriage enough reality to both contain and sustain conflict.

Such as Ingomer.

Clotilde actually bore not three princes, but four.  Ingomer was the firstborn between king and queen - and Ingomer also represents the major conflict between spouses pagan and Christian.  Clotilde had her son baptized, much against her husband's wishes - and, when he died, Clovis blamed her Christian G-d.  This may not be a Steinem-esque piece of self-actualization, but it was the palpably independent act of a woman within her time - both a figure of faith, and a strong-willed woman.  As a mother, this was a core-deep matter of importance to Clotilde - and yet, taking the step was not a minor infraction.

Likewise, it makes for not a minor piece of dramatic tension, too.  So bless her for being more than a little milquetoast.

Clovis' conversion, far from resulting in an immediate way from discussion with his queen, came while he was far from her - on the battlefield at Zulpich (Tolbiac).  To succumb to someone's influence when they are not directly exhorting someone speaks to both the power of the influence, and the power of the persuader.  Remote success in converting someone to a way of thinking means both that the seller of an idea, and the idea, have taken up residence under the skin.

Clotilde had serious power.  She had this both because her husband trusted and invested in her.  Probably because he was in love with/solicitous of her.  She had the charisma of a queen, as he had that of a king - a woman, like Helen, for whom such a man would do much, and a woman like Abigail, from whom a man would be willing to actually learn anything so fundamental as the matter of faith and religion.

I'll come back to Clotilde again, but had to begin some record of her.  I've been a little ill, so accept my apologies if this is a weak first chapter.  Still, I had to get something out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cover Bots?

Oh yes.  Also good (be sure to enjoy this blogger's captions).

Crude Cover Choices

Now, I'm no prude at all, and some of the art of these covers is perfectly beautiful in the artistic sense, even beyond the drooly - "oh, look, NEKKID GURLS" sense.  But the Huck Finn one is probably the major howler here, and I do not mean via catcalls.


On the other hand - what a great blog!


I spent some time last night performing surgery on my keywords, making sure all the post previously labeled "novel #1" now also have a tag with the actual title included - but also seeing what I could do to optimize searchability.  Leila may know better than to try to get me to Tweet (hee), but that's not because I am against the idea of marketing the blog.  "Research", for instance, has been refined to two categories - one being "historical fiction research" and the other "query research".  Much more useful, much more likely to be search strings, and probably a better organizational tool for the blog itself.

After the usual period of coyness about my subject, once the manuscript was completed I stopped talking so archly about "my barbarian king" and brought him out of the closet, so King Clovis I is now a ubiquitous tag.  One of these days, being the first novelist to get him on the stage of English-language publishing, I will be the major search-results hitter for him - and it is necessary to lay some groundwork for that too.  There'll also be some content upcoming, highlighting Queen/St. Clotilde, the Salian Franks, and some of the research I enjoyed most along the way.

I'm trying to think about what to discuss regarding the work in progress, and - though that is more immediate - it is also something on which I have less perspective, being smack in the middle of that forest.  So content beyond The Ax and the Vase will probably remain less prolific - but I do mean to try to concentrate on my subjects and the work.

And, though nobody here ever seems to want to raise their hand, I will waste they keystrokes to say it:  feedback is welcome and encouraged!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Also Nice

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Ah, Lord.  It is night, but the daylight is beautiful too.

With hours like mine, I scarcely see any of it these days.

But I'm willing to believe Camus' rumors.

Lord it is night.

Lord, it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done.

Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray.


With thanks to Mary.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Three More

Wikiquote and Douglas Adams.  Two great tastes that taste great together.

Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 
I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.  
My absolute favorite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.

Two Adams-isms

It's important to remember that the relationship between different media tends to be complementary. When new media arrive they don't necessarily replace or eradicate previous types. Though we should perhaps observe a half second silence for the eight-track. — There that's done. What usually happens is that older media have to shuffle about a bit to make space for the new one and its particular advantages. Radio did not kill books and television did not kill radio or movies — what television did kill was cinema newsreel. TV does it much better because it can deliver it instantly. Who wants last week's news?  
Generally, old media don't die. They just have to grow old gracefully. Guess what, we still have stone masons. They haven't been the primary purveyors of the written word for a while now of course, but they still have a role because you wouldn't want a TV screen on your headstone. 

As a pending debut author (what a careful turn of phrase) facing all the technological changes to the publishing world I still aspire to enter, I don't especially seek reinforcement of my hidebound (ouch ...) ways.

But it *is* rather pleasant finding reassurance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yeah. I Have Them.

Mom found them somewhere several years ago, and gave me my orthopedic little red shoes.  As low as my pigeon-toed-ness looms in my life (it's something X may not even *know* about me - and X knows almost every possible thing anybody could know about me), I remember these shoes very clearly.  I hated them - of course ... vanity is hardly a new thing for me, and when you are six and stuck in conspicuously hideous, 1940s style red leather brogans when it's the 1970s and ALL the other girls are cute, clopping, stiff brogans are unnecessary to a tantrum-throwing extent.

And so, when they reappeared after thirty-five years of oblivion, I kept them.  They probably mean more to and about me than the little patent leather baby shoes my uncle bought me when I was an infant.  (And yep - I have those too.)  They have the character of wear - and are no less stiff with age than they felt when they were fresh, if never fresh looking, out of the hideous shoe store.  I have an ambivalence to them, now, deeper with age and physical pain, even than the loathing I felt as an unpopular and unfashionable little girl.

My mom didn't understand - they never do, of course.  She was pretty (I didn't know it explicitly, but I sensed she had never been the ugly kid I was).  She was sociable and got to wear good shoes.  I used to play in the shoes she had worn as a young professional lady, working at a bank (shoes I frankly emulate today, and thank goodness for the popularity of vintage styles right now).  She was everything I could not even conceive of hoping to be.  And she was mean, and tried to make me wear ugly shoes - all just because my TOE turned in.  Bitter life.

It's predictable beyond wasting a short story on it, but the shoes above probably contributed powerfully to my obsession with osteo-punishers - and I am unrepentant.

Ahh, but Guess is a pretty well made (amazingly comfortable!) punisher.  I can't call myself a sinner - and they were on sale.


I have downshifted in my workaday shoes.  1930s styles being good to go right now, I am loving a pair of Aerosoles with adorable, short, sturdy heels, good toe boxes, and generous insole cushioning.  And the red Rampage ones with the band across the upper.  And the beautiful sculpted-heel navy Circa Joan and Davids with, again, space for actual toes in the toe boxes - and practically ripped from my mom's single-days stylebook.

Saturday night?  Still goes to things like the Guess pretties above.  But I can't pretend age, taste, fashion, and de-escalating heel heights make an unpalatable style cocktail at this point.

"Poke Out That Toe There, Diskey"

I was born (and remain) a little bit pigeon-toed.  It isn't cosmetically outrageous, and apart from The Red Shoes of my childhood, hasn't really played much part in my life.  Its major presence was in a short script from my dad (seen above in the subject line), accompanied by his sticking a foot between mine, and kicking out my toes.

Not long ago, I realized that the ankle injuries I've had in my life, especially the most recent, seem to favor my right side.  Or disfavor, I suppose.

The pigeon foot happens to be my right, and for the past year I have noticed, too, a pretty astounding amount of pain in this foot.  I've begun to notice that the level of pain in my normal leg and foot is just about nil in comparison with the right.  Many mornings, I get up and actually hobble at least two steps before my right leg can bear any weight.  At work, sitting too long, if I don't stand a few moments in my cube before trying to walk, it can be painful.  I'm no longer convinced it's just normal ageing, is the thing.  The level has increased too fast (particularly since the April Fool's sprain), and too high to seem "right" to me.

Most recently, I spent the day at the fair with my mom, family, and friend B, and by the end of the day - and extensive walking - I was in enough pain that masking it had become impossible, and walking normally simply became impossible.  I was astounded at how bad it was.  And, frankly, pretty embarrassed.

Now, my mom would say I am paying the price for one too many pair of foxy girl heels - and obviously, even if I am right in thinking my misaligned feet are a part of the problem, and also have invited the injuries I've had perhaps more than average over my lifetime, heels are clearly not courting good bone health.  But the worst pain comes when I have gone out walking Siddy (invariably a flat-shod activity) in sneakers with even slightly less than the best cushioning.

And, really - ALL the sneakers have less than perfect shock absorption.  My Sketchers are by far the worst - no arch support, of course (Sketchers are too cute for arch support), but also thinner soles than any of the tennies I have ever owned.  The lawn-mowing Spaldings were once the best shoes I could ask for - but, at something now like nine years of age, and heavily rotated for at least six of those, they're compressed quite a bit.  Their arch support is still good - heh - and they suit well for grass staining.  But at this point, I don't own even one pair of shoes which are actually any good for walking.  See also:  the State Fair.


Anyway, so my thinking is that my ankles are pretty weak, or at least the one is.  I'm not daintily enough built for anyone to think me frail, but this peculiarity isn't even strong enough to really be visible to people.

The foot I fell on on April 1 was my right.  The way I fell was a misstep on the back stairs, and my alignment was off.  On a foot which was built - even if only by the tiniest degree - misaligned.

I think this goes on that list for the imaginary "one of these days" trip I need to make to the doctor.  What about this pain, Dr. M.?  And what about the history of sprains - particularly this most recent, and extraordinary one.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ask Me About My Nap!




The weekend has been eaten away by the same cruel little nanobots which have been eating away at my brain.  As recently as Monday, it was eighty degrees and humid.  This weekend we've gone to overnight lows in the forties.  Friday night in particular was lovely - nice and cold, and I'd never even turned on the heat, so sleep was wonderful.  I love snuggling down under lots of nice warm blankets.  Mmm.

It's been a pleasure, too, to get into sleeves again.  Working out my pashmina collection, wearing sweaters - just breaking out different clothes, after months of wearing my summer adorables.  Seasons are so fashion-helpful.

Unfortunately, when a change in climate happens quite so quickly (low to high pressure is the worst - making some of the first beautiful days in spring pretty painful), the pressure in the sky echoes - and THROBS - in parallel with the pressure in the skull.

To which every single reader in the region is saying "duh" right now - but, of course, headache-having happens to be one of those areas in which my family (my brother and I, particularly) excel.  It sucks.

So yesterday's tally of six ibuprofen, two acetaminophen, and an aspirin (plus many hours of sleep) had precisely no effect.

The headache had the effect of keeping me from feeling like doing anything of use all day.  I didn't clean house, and I didn't work on the revisions.  

So today and this week, the revisions have to be bumped up, on the list of priorities.  Today doesn't have a lot to hold - so far, there's already been a final abortive attempt to insert those d*mned contacts, and what remains includes only a trip to the grocery and the drugstore - so there should be little excuse not to get to work.  I have some great feedback from the MP from JRW (yay again, for his impending success ...), and the existing manuscript is in good hands, and so my job today should start with my opening setpiece.

Boy, though, I still wish the throbbing had gone away, rather than just subsiding.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011



Past experience should be a guide post, not a hitching post
--D. W. Williams

Okay, I am too tired right now to look up who D. W. Williams is, but this one gave me a wry chuckle.  I know more people hitched as surely to past hurt as to a spouse than I do who actually learn from anything.  Don't we all ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Salic Lawdy

The recent hard-hitting news regarding the laws of succesion in Britain offer me the excuse to expound a little on one of the more substantial choices made by Clovis I.

Clovis was the guy who laid down the law a millenium and a half ago.  The codes resulting were a formal recording of traditions both ancient and diverse:  Clovis ruled a domain comprised both of his own people, the Franks, and Gallo Romans - those people in Gaul who were a part of the imperial legacy, then beginning to wane (Clovis' first battle, in The Ax and the Vase, is fought in alliance with Odovakar, who deposed the last Roman emperor), but boasting still a significant local population in what became France.

There was a vogue in any case, at that time, for codification.  The Visigoths had done it, Alaric II having laid down a breviary, and certainly Roman influence had its power.  For Clovis, too, the stipulation of legal terms served to this advantage:  to unite in common policy a disparate set of peoples.  Under Salic Law, the Franks and Gallo Romans were treated as one - both using the ancient northern traditions of his people as a template, and by innovating within those practices.

Salic Law has become a synonym, over time, for male primogeniture, and has been cited for centuries both with fervency and with loathing as the cause to withhold estate from women.  The Plantagenets were born after The Anarchy, a long and bloody war which arose for the sole reason that a woman was given to inherit.  Henry VIII's incomprehension of even the idea of a female HEIR rewrote Clovis' own Catholic legacy in western history.  There's rather a long and delicious post about the irony in that, come to think  of it.

But to my point.  Clovis's code, or the central tenet as contenporary history now sees the phrase as centering upon, is about to be rewritten in Britain.


Of course, it will take the many commonwealths and pieces (again ironic) of a definitely-waned empire to ratify this.  But female primogeniture may at last be legitimized.  Assuming natal legitimacy itself, of course.


I think about the generations and centuries since St. Clotilde swayed a husband ... and I think about the life I live, one and a half thousand years later, and sometimes I see similarities.  Yet the power I own (greater by far than any woman who EVER could have sat on England's throne, or indeed ever has) is unimaginably distant from hers.

More terrifyingly - the autonomy I claim is scarcely a hair's-breadth from the chattel-leine.  From the queen subject to a husband by divine right - and from every one of his thousands upon thousands of feminine subjects, unable to inherit, bereft of personal agency.  From the factory working mother, or daughter, chained up within the Industrial Revolution.  From my grandmother in her own factory.  From the secretary of sixty years ago.  From my mother, who with her coworkers colluded never to let one of their number be alone with the boss in the bank vault.  From even myself - a secretary because, even when I was coming out, there was still a degree to which typing was the way to make money.

My fingers fly now - and I am recognized - and I love what I do.  I no longer apologize for my occupation.

But I know that the impulse is there precisely because its obsolete echo is "this is what a woman can do."  Just because I can write a novel now:  doesn't mean I didn't get this skill as a backup to that interest in theater my parents were nervous about.  I didn't want to be a teacher.  I became a clerical worker.

There are millions of women my age who did "better" - but that is because what I do was anathema.  Terrifying.  I am that same hair's-breadth distant from being a nurse, a housewife, a mother, a whore.  I wonder whether others who entered fields as traditional as secretarying is harbor the same awareness of the conflict of "tradition" in this context.  There ARE still women who become teachers not out of vocation, but because that is the acceptable way for a woman to make enough money for her family to live - because it looks good at church - because mama and daddy said - because they feared to reach for "more" ...

... who feel guilty for not getting a "better" job, because, after all, they are so darn bright.

Who couldn't THINK of anything else to do even in the milieu of college.  Distracted by theater nerds, English classes, and the repulsiveness of business and marketing degrees.  Intimidated by science.  Unable to find the right entry point in history.

I am so much closer to the thousands of years, hundreds of generations of women who make up the history of the world - and whom Salic Law (and those ancient traditions so like it, replicated the world over) prevented inheriting.  Prevented power - by money.  I'm part of the nineteenth-century dust, the primeval red clay, the centuries-old winds of my old-fashioned hometown - my old-fashioned family - my anachronistic (in both directions) self.


And yet.

I have come into ownership.  I am laden with gratitude - and larded with blessings.  Power my mom even marvels at a bit.

The memory of the first time my granny ever visited my house - walking around the lot with her, going around the front yard - when she asked me, "How many husbands do you mean to marry, to keep a house like this?" - and did NOT mean, how will I get myself supported:  but how much of a harem of men would I have, in my beautiful estate.  I remember her glee, and her beautiful nervousness.

Granma had the most luminescent nervousness.  And nothing quite cowed her like accomplishment.  You could see the wonder in her, sometimes - at the extensive family she and my granddaddy amassed, generation on generation.  I remember sitting with her at her 90th.  "Look what you did grandma."  Her amazing smile.  When she was most excited, she was a little bit afraid.  "How many husbands will you have?"

Not a one, Granny.  But not for lack of loving.

I'm soclose to powerlessness.  I'm still just a secretary.  I'm an underachiever at heart.

But ... in action ... I am something so much greater.  Somewhere along the line, that hair's breadth came into existence.  I may not be far from the long history of women in subjection.  But I am not a part of it.  The hair's breadth isn't a wide barrier.

But it lies between me, my mom, my granny.  It lies between me and Clotilde.  Between me and every English queen - regnant, or not.

My grandmother used to exclaim, "Oh my lands!" and it meant something different.

But I have my own land.  I have paid it off, alone, and own a significant swath of a beautiful, enviable lot, a good patch of a cheering, lovely home.  Oh MY lands.

And women will inherit from me.  Only women - my nieces, when they are grown - a fantasy of perfect joy, imagining the women THEY will be.

And they are salish dwellers, themselves.  Like Saint Clotilde.  We all make a circle.

And now  we can own what we all encompass.  It's only a hair's breadth.

It is enough.  In my case - in the end - a bounty.



And another word.

Back when my dad was alive, I started banking with what onceupponatime was a local bank, and which, over the past 16 or however many years, has changed names three times (... I think ...).  When I bought my home, their brand new mortgage department sold it instantly, and when I refinanced, it was sold instantly - and twice, I think, that time.

I started my account so early in that bank's lifetime my number was actually easy enough to memorize.  The main reason I have stayed there is a woman who's been friendly with me through six employers, through multiple layoffs, through severance and restoration - through, even, my divorce.

I realize I haven't been inside the bank to see her in a couple years now.  Hm.  Like changing my oil - like getting the rug cleaned - like dropping those boxes at the Goodwill:  it is time to get to the credit union.  I have Friday afternoons off.  I have enough time, I could *take* some off - and do this job.  I can get it done.

Time to do it.  One friendly acquaintance is no longer reason to stay with a bank even she knows has sold her at the block time and again now.  Join me.  If you beat me:  tell me about it.  The comments have been WAY too quiet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yeah: No.

The vids LOOK like they really should be helpful.

But apparently they are produced by people who (a) have visibly sturdier lenses than the little cellophane numbers I am dealing with and (b) do not blink with any kind of strength at all.


At least it was only $22 bucks.  But I do wish I had purchased several years ago, when they still made hard SFX lenses.  Blah.

Seriously: TELL Me the Magic Trick!

For two days now, I have been attempting to put on the colored contact lenses I bought for Hallowe'en.  At this point, I would gladly pay someone ten bucks to come over to the house and do it for me, because - it's not that I lack for patience.  I have tried something like thirty times.  It's not even the (given) fact that my blink reflex is fast, and strong.  It's that the lens itself is so thin, and so flimsy, I can't even get the thing to adhere to my eye in the first place.  Not once in two days have I even come CLOSE.

How do people do this every single day?  I ask not in the context of "how do you stick something in your EYE?" - but in the context of "how in the heck do you make something so terribly dainty stand up to its own little specialized job at all?"

I think I must have attempted every possible angle known to man.  Cannot manage this.  I'll be YouTube-ing vids on this shortly, it is that pathetic and ridiculous!

I want evil black eyes for Hallowe'en.  I can't seem to manage to insert them.  Blah.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Siddy Scared

I came home yesterday around 2:30 - somewhat late, for a Friday (I had been running errands), but earlier than most days of course.  And Lolly greeted me at the door *trembling* in fear.

Siddy has always had two levels of fear.  One is "I'm a-skeered of storms" and the other is real, deep, bone-shattering terror.  The one is natural; it turns us into a pack and posits me as protector - and she has grown to trust me over our years.

The second, though, is utterly manmade, and incredible in its power - both over my sweet Lol, and in its effect also on me.

NINE YEARS now, I have lived with my Lolly.  Nine years in which she has never been beaten, nor even screamed at, nor disciplined with cruelty.

And nine years during which, whatever her early training in puppy continence was, it still scars her so horribly she fears even me.  Profoundly.

Siddy is over thirteen years old now.  She is blessed with much vigor and health - her only issues as she grows older are waning appetite ... and a slightly waxing inability to hold her water.  I've got a pill she hates to take, and it does seem to do her good - but, at the end of the day, the time is past, when she would sit out thirty-plus hours of hurricane and never mess in the house.

There are ways to deal with this.  A couple baby gates and a good cleaning are obvious adjuncts to the pill and visits "out" every time she shows the slightest inclination.  I'll buy some puppy pads, and see if she can figure out they are for her (and what for).

I'll never.  Ever.  EVER beat her.

I'll still be glad and joyous in her otherwise general state of good health, and will love it when (as we did this morning) she gets me into a good game of growl-wrassle-and-chase.

I will never, ever hurt that dog, if I can possibly protect her.

I will always be sorry for what has been done to her.  That she still has such fear.

And I will always loathe and condemn the people who made her so afraid.  I've got very little hatred to spare in this world:  but whatever portion I have, I spend much of it on Lolly's past owners.

"Does This Battle Scene Make My Butt Look Big?" ...

... or "The Perils of Taking Advice TOO Seriously"

The key revision work I am doing right now includes:  making Clovis more immediate, intimate - bringing that much-discussed charisma to a much more prominent position in the character.  Tightening the plot - though I have been cogitating some ideas on how and where to do this, it is my readers I shall trust for advice on this - this is perhaps the point on which I need the most objective, and savvy, advice.  Finally, working on my first battle scene.

The very very very first draft of that scene was of course extremely different.  I *hate* writing battle scenes, of course - as, I believe, I have mentioned.  Heh.  So the first go at this one consisted of little more than the comment that "this battle happened" with my personal stance of "ew. ick." unstated, but probably pretty obvious.

The essential critiqe of this first mention was, "Um.  Battle scene, please?" - and that was as correct as the current requirement.  Ya can't really have a SCENE without, say, verbs.  Maybe even a noun or two.

So I set to work in creating a setpiece, and the battle scene which had been offstage, came on.  It got big.

Taking advice is great, but one *can* still take even good advice too far.  "You want battle scene?  WE GOT BATTLE SCENE, MAN."  Pow.  Boom.  Crash.

The thing is, I'm not sure the scene as it stands is all *bad* per se - but there is just rather a lot of it.  I've already deleted a good bit, but am aware it still needs to come down.

Ahh, there's nothing like showing your enthusiasm for critique by overdosing on the point at hand.  I said it myself, basically, in that post I linked above:  I held my nose and plunged in.

Bit too deep.  We're working on that.  Working on, actually, quite a number of small things.  Details are coming to me - inspirations - intimations, immediacies.  Good things.  A glint of light on steel, a blur of anticipation in passion, the work of remembering a boy is not a man.  Power, and closeness.

It's been a good week and a half or so.  I love it so much when, being a writer:  I find myself actually writing.

Housecleaning Music

Not much improves on Paul Simon's "Graceland" for making excellent housecleaning music (and listening to "Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes" while sweating and grubbing your way through toilet cleaning and trash takeout makes the whole job better), but today, in the golden sun of autumn, with the wind blowing outside and the maple seeds pelting the house during the more sustained gusts, making the sound of hail against the windows, Type O is hitting the spot.  Tis the season for a good, wildly self-indulgent (and tongue-in-cheek) dirge.  I'll need to dig out my CD of Iggy Pop and others reading the poetry of Poe (Walken, of COURSE, reads "The Raven" ... and it could never be the same after hearing him read it - though, sadly, Homer Simpson's version is not included here).  I'll need to watch Langella.  Oh, Frank, I still love you the most, man.

I love Hallowe'en.  Dork.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Histfic in Theaters

Yep.  Keep 'em coming, Hollywood - it won't hurt me as an author (even if they all seem to be a bit screamy lately!).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Apropos of Niggling Fashion Sense

Why does Deanna Troi always have on copper lipstick when they dress her in a burgundy jumpsuit?  Aieeeee!

Just wonderin'.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Excuses? Excuses!!

I've been thinking, since the Conference, about what should get my focus right now. My instinct is to put the most effort into revisions, to put out a couple more key queries I feel are time sensitive (incuding to meet with Jason Allen Ashlock, when his generosity is matched by his availability) - but to largely curtail the querying process. It's an easy cop-out, of course - but there are a couple of logical points almost demanding the shift in effort.

For one thing, the fact that the manuscript will be in a state of flux for some time means: I no longer have a "finished product" I want to present. Because the revisions I want to do, I don't want to do "only" for this one agent. The feedback is too good to start versioning now. In any case, if I'm committed to The Ax and the Vase, I need to be committed to it as a whole object - not as one thing to one agent and another to another. Versioning is an unnecessary pain in the behind, in any case; who'd want to get involved in that?

As much to the practical point as that: querying right now, while advertising all over my blog and the SBC's, only tells agents - 'hey there, hi there; I'm moist about somebody else right now, but if you're interested, maybe I'll throw you a draft of what I'm shilling ...'

Um. Yeah, no.

As much as anything, and still valid I feel, is the simple fact of life that thre's only so much you can do and expect to manage any of it well. For that matter, there's only so much you WANT to do, barring a martyr complex, really. And I have no martyr complex - so ... not so much.

I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week working on administrative projects, and writing - at least, selling one's writing - is another one. It's not minor, and after the 80% of my working life spent on days dawning at six a.m. and working until almost six, the importance anything must obtain after hours like this to demand and compel further effort out of me is fundamental. Sure, I have half-day Fridays, and there are the weekends: but if you restrict authorial effort to two and a half days a week (or less, if you actually use those days for anything OTHER than the work of writing), you're shortchanging your work, most likely.

So here we are: I will have to backburner querying for some finite period. The revisions offer both the opportunity to shift focus temporarily - AND, for goondess sakes, to get back to *creative* work, which hasn't been extensive with everything going on. What a pleasure - and what a concept, for a writer!

So. The focus shifts - and the work suspends, so other work can be done. Dissenting opinion is welcome; I sort of seek perspectives here, if anyone has one. But this is my instinct. We'll see how it works!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


For over twenty years, but how many I honestly can't remember, Saturday has been a day of worship for me.  It is my housecleaning day, and until recent years, the only ritual rite I ever observed was the stewardship of my hearth and home - the greatest material blessings in my life.  Even since becoming a churchgoer, this is still important to me; worship and religion do go together for me now, but giving up the habit of solitary worship even now I have accepted religion never seems to have occurred to me.  Thinking about it now, it seems wrong.

With worship distinct from religion, I have omitted my solitary observance when there is reason to; a family gathering, some event more important than being alone with my gratitude.  When I was in mourning after my dad died, I had a hard time just getting up the energy for any kind of divine appreciation.  So I'm not religious about this worship, even about the day I hold for it.  It is, after all, a self-centered act, even if it is one of thanksgiving and even offering.  Bust sitting down after a bath in my clean and pleasant home is always a benediction.  I think of these ten years especially, since "home" became something I actually own.  I think about Mr. X with me here, or my family; the times I've shared with so many, here in these cheering walls.

Yesterday, of course, was one of those days I forwent the ritual of Saturday.  Since this weekend is so long for me; I held today for my deferred expressions, and have done most of what needs to be done.  There's still some vacuuming to be done (I always hate vacuuming, and have dreams of getting myself a Roomba), but the winter rug came upstairs just now - and that alone is a massive job.

Siddy will have a nice place to lie down; the hard wood being hard as described, and of course even with beautiful October weather it's cooler to try to nap on.  It'll be a little quieter; it'll be a little warmer.  It'll be cheering - that word X used, looking at pictures of the place last year.

I change the place around seasonally, and sometimes even oftener than that.  The recent experiment with the couch under the front livin room window was a diversion; but not one I felt the need to stick with very long.  Right now, it's in position to receive the longest autumnal light, long golden rays slanting across the kitchen.  Within a couple months, the room will draw in close and cosy, and Christmas will bring with it tree deployments and all the usual winter changes and amusements.

I love my hearth and home - but am no more religious about its arrangement than I am about its cleaning.  It's filled with antiques from my family, art from my friends, little meaningful things and kind of funny things.  It *is* a cheering place, and comfortable and beautiful to me.  The sum of everything between these walls is the accumulation of my relationships - so much to be grateful for.

Time to go upstairs and retrieve my 400-pound vacuum ... and finish off my worship - before the benediction ...

Take the Con II

This holiday weekend has been just the concluding part of what has actually been a vacation; I took off on Thursday and Friday too, so am in the midst of five days off and enjoying it very much.  The highlight, of course, has been JRW's conference.

The marquee guest this year, Kitty Kelly, was unable to attend, as her husband was recently hospitalized, which is more than an understandable reason for a change in plans.  One of the agents, too, had a very late-breaking reversal; after already being on his way to come to Richmond, Jason Allen Ashlock learned of a death in his family and had to turn around.  Apparently, he has committed to reach out to each one of us he had been scheduled to meet with at the Conference, to set up a Skype or phone call or some rain-check meeting.  I call that a pretty incredibly generous gesture, especially given the circumstances, and am duly impressed by commitment like that.  It's unlikely I'm alone in wishing peace and sympathy for his family.

And so I started the conference "off the hook" in a way.  My agent meeting was off, one of the other best agents there I've already queried, and the publishing pros there have nothing to do with historical fiction.  In a way, the years the Conference don't offer me any direct prospects are freeing, because they provide all the benefits of the education, support, and enjoyment the Conference always does, and skip some of the stress.  It's always fun to set a meeting, of course, but with as much work as I've been putting in lately - and with the fact that I am working on some revisions for an agent interested enough to put me to work on them (this is me, totally not squeeing and being 100% insufferable that I am working on revisions for an agent, by the way ...) - it was nice to embark on the event without pressure to perform.

I have to say, thanks to a couple of the Sarcastic Broads, to JRW's excellent Administrative Director, to all the volunteers, and of course to the guests, it was a great conference this year, not missing a beat even if it was missing a planned speaker and agent.  It was relaxed and rich, and went off without a hitch.  Smooth as silk - and fun, to boot.

Perhaps the unique feature of JRW's conference is the accessibility of the participants.  Guests who come for this event are asked to stay for all of it, to eat lunch with everyone, to be available in the halls and between their panels:  you don't necessarily need to have an appointment with an agent to have access to them.  Last year when I talked to Michelle Brower and she asked me to query her, it was not in a formal pitch 5-minute meeting, but just a chat about a colleague of hers after a panel.

I've learned that sitting out the panels, too, can be relaxing.  If one of the ones I am thinking about is overcrowded, or in the dark room with the uncomfortable chairs, or if I have just taken SO many notes at the last one and want to decompress (or, on years I am having a meeting, if I don't want to disrupt a discussion by coming-and-going from it), it can be rewarding to stay out in the lobby and chat with people as they're about to meet with an agent, or - amazingly - actually work on my writing!  The venue is a very nice one, and this year the weather was extraordinarily beautiful, so sitting out a period was a bit of a zen relief.

This year, sitting one out, I met Kevin Hanrahan, whose name I advise everyone to remember.  His novel is one I can't wait to read, and suspect an awful lot of us will embrace.  On top of being a likely success as an author, he's also an active service member, a very nice and generous guy (he agreed to read my battle scene!), and a family man.  It'd be impossible not to wish the guy excesses of success, and with the idea he's pitching, he promises to find it.

I also got to chat with Mike Albo, who, on top of being funny, turns out to be ANOTHER one of those friendly, supportive, enthusiastic, and infectious people the Conference is simply riddled with.  Likewise Joe  Williams, who did not have my dad as a professor (hee), and yet somehow managed to turn out to be a dazzlingly smart and also very nice guy nonetheless.

It's almost a bewildering abundance, the talent and charm JRW seems to attract.

The exception to this statement is notable, actually.  There was one guest this year who put on a show such as I've never seen before at any JRW event.  At one of the largest panels I attended, we were treated to a guest literally positioning herself with her back to the moderator, rolling her eyes at said mod, evincing obvious and 100% unnecessary antipathy quite publicly, and making an immense show of both boredom (whenever she was not speaking) and overdramatic snobbery.  It was pretty amazing, and devastatingly ugly.  The moderator largely on the receiving end of this Mean Girls snottiness evinced zero awareness of it, either because she couldn't see the show (this person's back being firmly to her) or because she is, you know, a GROWNUP and not feeling the need to engage pubescent antics.  I always liked this moderator, but am now firmly On Their Side now, and entirely disgusted by a guest I would hardly have guessed to be a petty, clique-ish little wench.  And, yes - I'm aware this succumbs to the clique dynamic.  But she started it!

I wasn't alone in noting her rather stagey antipathy, nor in being throughly put off by the show.  It was the single most revolting piece of behavior I've ever seen at any JRW event - and it was, in fact, the single piece of revolting behavior I've really ever seen at all.  (Poorly socialized people with unfortunate interpersonal skills really do not hold a candle, though certainly there've been a couple of those.)


The closing event of the weekend was Pitchapalooza - an event not ideal for the faint of heart or weak of knee.  Like the First Pages Critiques, this challenge asks writers to bare their works.  Unlike first pages - Pitchapalooza is not anonymous ... not done for you by readers onstage ... and is utterly direct.

Also unlike first pages ... it turns out that the likelihood of finding your name drawn out of the box, to present your pitch live in front of everybody, aren't so small.  With First Pages, which take a little while to read, and a little while to discuss, if they get to read as many as ten of them, it's a bumper crop.

With Pitchapalooza, there's a one minute limit on each author.

So there is time for a whole lot of people to read.

So the odds go way UP, that you will get chosen.

All of this is irrelevant to me.  Because the odds of being chosen FIRST out of the box ...

Turned out to be 100%, for me.

Leila tells me the look on my face when they read my name FIRST was worth a million dollars.

I can say this:  being chosen first was pretty painful!  But David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut were remarkably generous - they clearly know what this is like for writers - and asked for a round of applause for me before I even began, and were pretty kind (and VERY HELPFUL!) in providing first-feedback.

I'm glad I didn't have to follow Kevin Hanrahan.

I'm sorry I didn't get to hear some of the repeat comments they gave to most participants, so I could edit briefly and address some obviously typical issues with pitches.

I'm interested by the fact that some of what my work overall needs done on it is common to what they observed about the pitch itself!  (It's well written and *rather* engaging, but needs "lusciousness" and really has to grab its audience harder by the lapels.)

I'm embarrassed that I was a bit disheveled at the time we got started, and didn't have time to acclimate to the event and prepare myself for it, and so stood there looking wildly, NAKEDLY nervous, my hair a bit of a mess, and my entire body shaking while everybody watched and at least two cameras TAPED ... heh.

But I was gratified by the kindness of several folks afterward (see also - the comment on my post below, from my Frank-ophilic friend Jeff Sypeck [this is as distinct from francophilic, fella babies]), which included Mike Albo saying the book sounds cool, and a girl named Cathy who said she missed my actual pitch but heard the feedback and wanted to know about the book, and Joe Williams, to whom I said I liked his pitch better and he said he liked mine (... UM ... and can I just say, the White House correspondent for POLITICO liked my pitch better than his - this, a guy so insanely calm and poised I was wishing I'd taken some sort of drug just so I could have appeared less of a trembling wreck and wondering how he did that).

I mean, I stood in front of Karl Marlentes and gave this speech.  I stood in front of Michelle Brower (ON the judging panel, by the way), who's already (so generously!) rejected my query.  I stood in front of all my Broads, and EVERYONE there (including that one Mean Girl) and shook, and faltered, and had trouble breathing, and managed to get through it.


And took ten minutes to come down.  Hee.  My handwritten notes on what they had to say are hilariously quavering, the pen half-digging through the page in physical translation of the mental pressure!

I have to say - Pitchapalooza?  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Woot!

Joe Williams said this, and I will close with it (as we Broads both opened and closed Pitchapalooza itself):  "They say you have to do one thing every day that scares you.  I think we've gotten a month's worth of scare in, doing those pitches."

WORD, Joe.  And a hug and a high five.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Okay, and so the Conference began (for me) today (there actually were some bonus sessions yesterday too), and this is always a major focus for me every year.  This year is my seventh, and by now I know a lot of the Board members (old and new), and even have begun to know many of our partners and guests.

  • Michelle Brower, a wildly intelligent, funny, and wonderful agent every writer can dream of impressing, came back for a second year in a row - and she can enjoy at least the infinitessimal relief of ONE attendee not pitching at her this year; last year I got to her, she graciously took my query even though she doesn't do histfic, and was such a brilliant part of the Con I can't complain that she didn't sign me on.
  • Kirk Ellis is back, too, which for me is a special bonus not strictly because he does histfic, but centrally because he too is inspiringly smart.
  • Jeff Sypeck is one I want to nab in the hallways at some point; he's Karl der Grösse, while I'm Chlodowechus - and, hey, three centuries' division between one ancient monarch and another isn't all that much given "The Dark Ages" and all ...  Seems like a nice guy, from the panel I attended today, which seems to be a contagion with JRW.  Heh.
  • The utterly delightful Meg Medina, who interviewed me about my Conference experience - I'll link the vid if it is ever made public (a risk indeed, if JRW allows it).
  • Mike Albo, who brought us a nice, short burst of humor and energy to start off the Really Big Show, and who was extremely enjoyable to talk to after lunch as well.
  • And my FABULOUS, talented, adored Sarcastic Broads of course!


Seven years ago, my brother asked me to go with him to some conference, and the education and inspiration of just that first attendance actually caused me to write my first novel.  It's given me a good sense of both the job and the professional comportment one needs to cultivate, whether going the traditional route like me, or striking out into newer technological publishing and marketing options.  Every year, it reinvigorates me and inspires me - and the thing is just a pleasure in itself.  Attendees (and I include both us paying types as well as speakers, volunteers, and board members and planners; because at JRW's events, there really doesn't feel like there is a divide between any of the participants) are a fascinating and friendly lot, and it's a nice, different, and fruitful social and creative experience.  The support is second to none, and the networking isn't half bad either.

I owe that brother of mine a massive debt of gratitude, because something he first wanted has led me into something I never knew how to do - and he is as surely to credit for The Ax and the Vase as I have always said JRW is ... as surely as Louise Smith and those who recycled her name.  He had the tinder box that finally lit the fire under me, and I am grateful - to him, to JRW, and to Clovis himself, for the past few years.

Awright Then

Okay, so one of the rejections I got last night was from that dream agent I was pretty wiggly about one month ago.  The thing is, the detailed and constructive, practical feedback is a HUGELY good sign, and if I weren't being so distracted yesterday by the initial "no" I would have remembered two things.  One, detailed feedback from an agent who's had your full is an incredible favor they have given you.

Two:  it's also basically an invitation to re-query.

Detailed feedback - even in the context of a rejection - is INTEREST, boys and girls.  They don't bother with that stuff if they're not interested.  Because it takes time.  And who's got that, with hundreds of queries coming in every month?

So.  The Con has my cramped little brainpan all full of inspiration, and the need to do some writing.  And I have some specific, concrete directions regarding writing and editing I can do.

All told, fella babies:  this is *amazing*.

Per usual:  JRW has me ablaze.

Wondefully unusual:  There's actually an iron we could heat up in this fire.

(Unfortunately, there's no NEW iron as of today - the agent I had been slated to meet with lost a family member yesterday, and could not come after all.  My condolences are with him, but he has apparently committed to reaching out to each and every person he had been set to meet with, and arranging Skype or phone time with all of us who want it.  What an astonishing piece of generosity and dedication that is!  My prayers will be with his family, though, regardless of my expectations there.  He seems a nice guy, and it is such a pity.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


One of the most frustrating things about rejections is those that tell you what a great writer you are - and leave you out in the cold nonetheless.  Got two today; one, while including some encouraging words, also brought on some useful commentary.  The other wasn't quite as practical, but at least it was a response.

The arrival of these responses - one of which I consider to be an enormous disappointment - coming less than fifteen hours before I'll be getting started with this year's Conference isn't ironic, and it sure isn't funny to me in this moment; but the timing does seem to have some sort of key light on it.

I responded to the agent it seemed appropriate to thank for their time, and have been reading up on the one I meet with tomorrow, but this makes the fire this event usually lights both in and under me all the more important for me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Move - It's a Leopard!

The powerlessness of positive thinking - and the radical idea of REALISM.  Literally radical.  In fact:  actually dangerous.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Earning It?

The entire month of September went by so busy and so intense with work that I am unsure how - but I think I missed it!  Even my mom's September birthday, we only really celebrated last night; and, unless I am much mistaken, by last night, October had begun ...  Good gravy.

I've found some new agents to query, worked a little on Novel #2 (yet untitled; I don't mean to be precious about my subject matter this time) - and have done some research on those who will be at the Conference - but actual querying is moving only very slowly at this point.  I tell myself the work of an author does go beyond querying - and I hope nobody would argue the work I've done on the work in progress is hardly a priority! - but with a finished product un-agented and unsold, the querying *should* be getting more of my time.  Fortunately, JRW does have a way with lighting my fire.  Shoot, it got me to write a novel in the first place; I have never been shy to admit that influence.

So as busy as things have become, it is a pleasure to look forward to the next two weeks.  This week, I take Thursday and Friday off; so work will be a three day week this week.  And, the next, with Columbus day, I will have a four-day on my hands (three and a half, with my half-day Fridays).  With one of the major meetings I have been coordinating getting done this week, I can hope to begin to look to year-end, and working on timekeeping issues.  There are a few items outstanding, for one - and there is still training to be scrounged for.  Time is the final frontier in my job.  It certainly sounds profound, doesn't it ... ?

I have a bit to anticipate with a grin, now.  Thursday will be an outing with mom and B, my surprisingly dear new friend  of (I can hardly believe it!) less than a year.  And Friday finally begins the Conference.

With the breezes cooling, and humidity abating at last, October is a pleasant prospect.  Here is hoping I've earned enjoyment with the blurring progress of September!