Sunday, January 30, 2011

#SampleSunday: The Rule of Love, Chap1 - Historical Fiction

In northern India at the height of the Gupta Empire, the noble student Vatsyayana travels to the sacred city of Kausambi, in fulfillment of his dying father’s final wish. The courtesan Chandi awaits him, as do his lessons in the rules of love. A favorite of wealthy clientele, Chandi is devoted to the arts of pleasure, governed by one rule. The dangerous passion of a former lover threatens to destroy her clever control and expose secrets hidden deep in her past. Chandi’s faithful servant, Sarama, relies on acerbic wit and an innate sensuality to have her way, but Vatsyayana’s perceptions challenge her.  In the midst of sensuous pleasures, where every desire is attainable, Vatsyayana, Chandi, and Sarama must learn harsh and cruel lessons about life and love, in The Rule of Love.     

Chapter One – The Garden Courtyard

Kausambi, India – Late Summer

In the Reign of Kumara Gupta I (5th century CE)

Under the myriad colors of early evening, Chandi looked up to the heavens where the first stars glittered and wondered if the god Indra had forgotten the city of Kausambi. Despite the lack of rain since the previous monsoon season, the evergreen towering above her proved resilient against the drought. She doubted the people of Kausambi were as strong as this ancient tree, standing stalwart in seasons of drought and monsoons.

She lingered beneath the shady leaves of the margosa tree at her doorway. The sultry heat of day ended under the influence of a cooling, easterly wind. Lush orchids, musk rose, and balsam scented the air, but no hint of precipitation misted the horizon.

Behind her, at the entrance to the two-storey, wooden residence, the servant Sarama cleared her throat for the third time. “Perhaps he isn’t coming, mistress.”

Chandi ignored Sarama, her attention shifting to the elaborate mehndi designs painted on her palm. She flexed her long fingers, which glittered with gold rings, and admired the reddish-brown paste in the sparkle of sunset. Whenever she moved, gold bangles clinked at her wrists. The wind stirred the pleats of her yellow dhoti, held in place by a waistband of gold incised with agate. She adjusted the folds of cotton draped around her legs and displayed the maroon and green borders edged with gold thread. Beneath a diaphanous, white shawl covering the black ringlets that fell to her rounded shoulders, her firm breasts remained bare. The cool, evening air kissed the mehndi paste coloring the tips of her blush-colored nipples. The auburn paste ran a rippling line between her breasts, down her bare midriff until it disappeared beneath the dhoti.

“Mistress …”

“Sarama, please be silent.” Chandi gripped the hard whitish-grey bark of the margosa though her nails protested. “Have you ever known a Brahmin scholar to speak anything, but the truth? The messenger arrived some time ago, but the Brahmin promised his son would come. And he will.”

“We have awaited him for three days now.”

Chandi swung round. Sarama showed not a hint of fear. With her stick-thin arms folded across her bosom and her bare feet set apart in a defiant stance, she met her mistress’ stare.

Chandi advanced a few steps with her fists closed tight and the nails digging into her palms. “Do you have something else to occupy your time, girl? Perhaps that cowherd whom you think remains a secret. Do you think I know nothing of your rendezvous with him, while I entertained last evening?”

Sarama raised her chin a notch. “I did not think mistress begrudged poor me a little portion of happiness in the world. I am loyal and give devoted service. Mistress has never had to ask me to do anything more than once.”

When Chandi gasped, Sarama continued in a rush. “Except when mistress orders me to be silent when she thinks I give my opinion too freely. But mistress also asked me to always speak the truth to her …”

“And, there is not a day your mistress does not regret that request!”

Sarama clasped her slim hands together and averted her gaze. Silken black curls framed her angular face, nut-brown almond eyes set in a sandalwood complexion.

Chandi sighed and shook her head, before she returned her attention to her fingers. To her dismay, she had chipped a nail against the bark.

Sarama muttered, “If mistress wishes, I will not lie with the cowherd after tonight.”

Chandi raised a dark eyebrow. “Why tonight?”

“Tonight is already promised to him. Mistress has always admonished me to keep my promises.”

Chandi chuckled and turned away. “Be sure you do not find yourself with child. Amravati would not hesitate to turn you and the baby out. I would not stop her, do you hear me?”

Behind her, Sarama’s deceptively soft voice sounded. “I hear you, mistress.”

Chandi looked down the avenue of iron statues, which indicated the entrance to her life-long home. Shady margosa trees overshadowed the towering figures of Kama, the god of love and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. She closed her eyes and recalled how her mother let her play in the shadows of the statues, as a child. When she opened them again, a small entourage approached.

Six men pounded the dry earth beneath their soles. Shuddering with effort, they supported a bamboo litter between quaking limbs. Chandi looked over her shoulder and smiled with a knowing nod at Sarama, who stared wide-eyed before she descended the sandstone steps.

The women waited in silence until the litter bearers halted an arms length away. Coated with grime and sweat, the men’s harsh breaths expelled from their lungs as they set their burden down with a heavy thud.

The figure behind the light cotton curtain coughed and muttered under his breath. Chandi drew closer, curiosity compelling her.

A willowy young man with copper-brown skin emerged from behind the cotton folds. He stumbled on a rock in his path. A giggle escaped Sarama, but Chandi scowled at her, even though she fought against her own bubbling laughter. The stranger raised his dark eyes to hers with a scowl that matched Chandi’s own. When he rose to his full height, he towered over both women. With his aristocratic features marred by a furrowed brow, a leathery complexion, hollow cheeks and gnarled hands, he seemed much older than the sixteen years Chandi knew him to be.

“So, this is the son of the Brahmin sent to us for the completion of his education.” Chandi clasped her hands before her. “It is a wonder your father should imagine I have time to teach you. You are in a brothel, Vatsyayana. All the women here, including myself, work for our living. We do not have time for the whims and fancies of young men. Unless the young man in questions possesses great wealth.”

“My father ordered this. I did not choose to come here.”

Sarama laughed. “This one is too arrogant to be taught.”

Chandi eyed her servant under a withering glance. “Anyone can learn. Even you. One day, I will demonstrate the value of keeping some thoughts in your head.”

Sarama threw back her head, cackling. “If mistress believes I’m worthy of the lesson, I will undertake it just to please her. But not tonight.”

“For tonight is promised to the cowherd,” Chandi whispered between gritted teeth, shaking her head.

“Perhaps not. In truth, he is unremarkable.” Sarama paused and looked past Vatsyayana’s shoulder, toward the lead bearer, who brushed dust from his limbs. When he raised his head and noticed her, she parted her nut-brown lips, and then slowly licked them. His eyes widened, but then he smiled at her, as did the rest of his companions.

Sarama flicked a dark lock of her hair over one shoulder. “Perhaps, he’s not worth my attention after all. He is not a man of strength and vigor. Not like these men.”

Vatsyayana gave a start of surprise, his mouth gaping in stunned silence. His black eyes darted between Chandi, Sarama, and his litter bearers, who lowered their eyes under his scrutiny.

“Vatsyayana,” Chandi said, “my servant can offer your bearers food and drink, and a place to stay for the night.”

“It seems she would offer more than that.”

Chandi laughed. “Come, Vatsyayana.”

With a last look of admonition for his litter bearers, he fell into step beside her.

“Sarama, you too,” she called over her shoulder.

“But, mistress….”

“Your promise, Sarama. Remember your promise.”

“Yes, mistress.”

Chandi preceded them into the wide entryway, supported by red sandstone pillars. Her golden anklets jingled as she sauntered across the cool black tiles of kadapah stone. The parrots in gilded cages set between the pillars made their usual ruckus at her approach.

Beyond the archway, a garden courtyard beckoned, its walls comprised of red sandstone. The scent of flowers in the center greeted them, as did the glow of sun-kissed bodies. Within the courtyard, lit by torchlight, a sensuous tableau unfolded.

A short distance away, a courtesan pressed her lover forcibly against a pillar. She remained clothed but he had disrobed entirely. She framed his chiseled face between her hands and gently suckled at his lower lip, her tongue flicking the corner of his mouth. Each time the man reached for her, she drew away until he stilled. Raspy breaths warned of his desire. Her nail pressed against a corner of his mouth. He nipped at her finger but she pulled away, her eyes locked with his. Her breasts rose and fell against his chest, the tips grazing the black hair coating his chest.

The woman continued gazing at him, while she slid to her knees. Her nails raked a slow trail along his body from his torso, to his hips and down, along the inside of his thigh. Whenever the women pressed her talon-like fingers into his flesh, he moaned and shudders rippled the length of his bronzed body. Her gaze unwavering from his, her nimble fingers now caressed his back and down his waist. Her hands slid slowly over his hips and pressed him closer to her body.

With her teeth, she nibbled at his flesh along the hip. A sigh of pleasure escaped him. She repeated the motion, more forcibly this time, for the skin reddened. When he gasped, a smooth flick of her tongue soothed him.

Chandi gestured Vatsyayana and Sarama closer, as the man groaned. His lingam rose and he rolled his hips toward his lover. She opened her mouth and bestowed a suckling kiss just above it, one that caused his legs to quiver. When the exquisite torture of her tongue and teeth maddened him, the courtesan lapped at the head of his lingam once, then faster. Her lover squirmed and closed his eyes with a sigh of delight, his muscled legs flexed deep beneath the skin. She drew back and pressed her nails into his hip until his feverish gaze met hers.

Then she closed her reddened lips and devoured him, plunging to the nest of dark hair. She drew his lingam deeper and deeper into her mouth. Her lover’s face contorted with pleasure and he pumped his hips shamelessly against her.

Around them, other couples enjoyed similar pleasures, including two courtesans with one man between them. The fairest of the pair, dark brown hair trailing down her arched back, aided her olive skinned counterpart to wrap her legs around the man’s waist. His dark eyes quivered and closed for an instant as the lithe body embraced him. His lover’s hips thudded against the wall behind her as he grasped her waist with both hands. When her arms tightened about him, he forced them back. His greedy mouth on her breasts suckled her, the tongue stabbed at her nipple. She clung to him, her throat straining with pleasure. At his side, the other courtesan rained kisses from his shoulders down to his back, her teeth, and nails marking him. Cries of pleasure-pain spiced the air.

“To what place has my learned father sent me?”

Chandi whirled toward Vatsyayana. He jerked his reddened face away from the erotic scene, trembling hands closed into tight fists.

She shook her head in pity. “Here, you will learn the rule of love. Come, the hour grows late and I cannot keep my guests waiting. Sarama shall show you to the room where you will sleep. Your lessons begin tomorrow.”

Thanks for visiting the blog for another writing sample on #SampleSunday. The Rule of Love is one of my future publication projects.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Voices: Julie K. Rose, author of The Pilgrim Glass


Why do people create? Why do they choose not to create? How do they create, what is their process? The creative urge absolutely fascinates me.

For many years – until I was 31, to be exact – I refused it. I told myself I wasn't creative. And then, I experienced a series of strange and wonderful synchronicities – good, bad, and unsettling. The only way I could make sense of it all – and myself – was to put pen to paper. I've never looked back.

The creative impulse is definitely a theme running through The Pilgrim Glass. What drove the pilgrim to create the offering? Jonas to repair it? What drove Meredith to photograph in black and white, Dubay to morph his creative urge into something more spiritual?

Here are two short passages, which I think illustrate the creative urge, its expression in art, and the great reverence Jonas feels for it, deep down in his bones…and the powerful intimidation in learning to accept your creativity and find your own way and your own voice. These sections are from Chapter Nine, when Jonas first sees Sainte-Chapelle, during a visit with his friend Steve.

The afternoon had been dull and grey, making the windowed walls glow as if lit from within, as if the alchemy of sand and heat and color had created its own spiritual form that hovered over the long chapel. Jonas emerged from the lower chapel's dark spiral staircase into the shivering glow. "Dear God," he muttered, releasing his breath in a sigh, his eyes wide and an astonished grin spreading across his face. He felt strangely as though his eyes were somehow not created to comprehend this, that he must look everywhere and all at once and still not really take it in.

He stood rooted at the threshold, feeling as though time was moving around him in swirling eddies. And then, the sun had broken through clouds and the world had become glittering and his heart expanded into those eddies of time. Even now, ten years later, he could still remember that moment, when it was all new and wondrous, as if he was seeing colors and shapes and light for the first time.

~


A strange feeling came over Jonas, confusion and elation combining, making him dizzy. "Well, look at it. Look!" he said, his voice rising above the stirring plainsong. "Look how they made that figure come to life – really come to life – more than a painting can really do. Do you know what I mean?"

"Um."

"They're lit from within, they're alive, and it's not just trickery of paintwork and brushstrokes. It's genius…"

"Don't tell me you're swearing off painting," Steve said, looking at Jonas. "Who will I share studio time with?"

"And look at the lines, the forms," Jonas continued, ignoring Steve and gesturing to the north lancets, the stories of Genesis and Exodus.

Steve swiveled in his seat to look at Jonas. "Seriously, you're not going to stop painting, are you?"

Jonas ignored him. "How did they do that?"

"I dunno," Steve replied impatiently. "Faith."

"If you say so," Jonas replied, staring around the chapel.

They sat together without speaking, Jonas taking in the chapel, Steve shooting sidelong looks at Jonas.

"You know what?" Jonas asked finally, his voice hollow.

"Hmm?"

"Nothing will ever be as beautiful as this," he'd whispered. "Nothing."
So what drives you to create? What inspires you? What frightens you about creating? How do you express yourself? What blows you away, like stained glass did for Jonas? I'd love to hear your stories.

Julie K. Rose is the Brooklyn Scribbler's inaugural New Voice. She is the author of The Pilgrim Glass, available now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CreateSpace's Cover Creator

I've got covers on the brain because my cover designer, Lance Ganey, sent initial proofs of Sultana, and I'm super-excited! What if you're an independent author looking for a less costly solution to create your own fabulous cover? CreateSpace's Cover Creator is great for authors with a small budget.

To get started, you must have a CreateSpace account. After you have entered your title, upload its physical properties and other details. You can save your progress at varying stages. Now comes the fun part. Launch Cover Creator and you'll see a total 30 design templates like these:


Each template has a fixed position for the title, author name, back blurb, barcode and ISBN. Also, you cannot change the typeface within the template, only its color. With some, you have the option to include an author photo. The book's spine is automatically generated based on the calculation of your total number of pages. Feel free to try different templates. You are not locked into any design until you submit your entire manuscript and cover art to CreateSpace. After you've selected a design, the list of variables you can edit appears in the left navigation pane, including the title, author(s), front cover image, about the author, back cover text, and author photo and bio. You can even add a publisher logo or change the background color. CreateSpace has a library of images you can use, or you can upload your own. Specifications are provided for the size and resolution of your own photos.


Redux: let's try this again. I played around with a few of the templates in Cover Creator and found the designs tasteful and easy to produce. Here are a few samples, in which I've highlighted the frames so you can see the placement of the text along the spine and front cover:







Changing designs was as simple as the click of a button, preserving the text I had already uploaded, while allowing me to swap images. I've been a Create Space client for nearly seven months and I continue to be impressed with how they have simplified the upload process, including the new Cover Creator feature.

What are you waiting for? Go to CreateSpace now and give Cover Creator a try.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

#SampleSunday: Sultana's Legacy, Chapter Fifteen

Part of what I loved about crafting the heroine, Fatima, in Sultana and Sultana's Legacy, is that she is very devoted to her family. Her characterization is based on events of the real Fatima's life, in which she nurtured and tutored her grandchildren. It wasn't hard to imagine her earlier years as a caring mother and daughter, too. She would have been a ruthless protector if someone threatened her loved ones, but what if that threat resulted from an internal family struggle? Here's how I thought Fatima would deal with it:

Chapter 15 - The Watchtower

Princess Fatima

Malaka, al-Andalus: Dhu’l-Hijja 704 AH (Malaga, Andalusia: July 1305 CE)

Fatima returned from her solitary ride in the late afternoon. Faraj was absent, but she did not inquire as to his whereabouts. She dismounted just outside the stables and slapped the reins into the waiting hands of a stable boy. Niranjan approached, bowing stiffly.

She grasped his hands and squeezed with deep affection. “You’ve returned at last. Your trip to the slave market at Madinah Antaqirah was a successful venture?”

“As you knew it must be, my Sultana.”

The gravity of his sullen tone made her withdraw her touch. “You do not approve of my choice.”

“I do not, my Sultana. What will your husband say?”

She drew back. “He should thank me for a show of wifely devotion.”

“Forgive my boldness, my Sultana, but I doubt that very much.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You were ever bold, loyal one. You’ve never needed to ask forgiveness before.”

They walked the pathway together, he in his customary position just at her back. “There is another matter we must discuss, my Sultana. I have kept ties to the servants of your father’s household in Gharnatah. Praise be to God that the Sultan has not murdered them all. One of the eunuchs has informed me of the reason the Sultan shall not attend your daughter’s wedding.”

Fatima slowed and turned to him. “He has refused Faraj’s invitation? I do not know why my husband bothered to extend it.”

“It was the proper thing to do, of which the Sultana is well aware.” Niranjan’s gaze narrowed on her. For a moment, a spark of anger flared at his attempt to chide her, but then she recalled his lifelong devotion. For it, she could forgive him anything.

She continued walking, his footsteps crunching the gravel behind her. “Speak then. Why won’t he come to Malaka?”

“One of his concubines has delivered of a child. It is as the court astrologers predicted, the long-awaited heir.”

Fatima’s heart thudded. “A boy?”

“A boy, my Sultana.”

She grasped the blue-black prayer beads hanging from her belt. A pained breath wheezed between her lips. She stopped and face him. “Then we must do something about him.”

He halted at her side, his sheepish gaze downcast. He mumbled, “I do not see what we can do from here at Malaka.”

She shook her head. “Can you not?”

A long, tense silence passed before Niranjan sighed. “My Sultana, I have done much to aid you against the Sultan. I have kept your secrets from your husband, even from my own sisters. This is a dangerous path you tread. You are advocating the murder of a woman and her child….”

“A child that shall ruin our plans forever! Don’t you see? If this child, a male heir lives, the Sultan shall have what he most desires in life. No one shall dare support my brother Nasr’s claim to the throne, if Gharnatah already has an heir. I cannot allow that to happen! The blood of my father demands an end to the Sultan’s reign.” She paused and cast a glare at him. “You have aided me before….”

“The murder of Ibrahim of Ashqilula was just. The man killed your mother. He owed the debt of blood. But this is different. This innocent child and his mother are….”

“They are simply obstacles to be removed.”

Niranjan drew back with a sharp cry of disgust, but she met his gaze unflinching.

“My Sultana, I marvel at how hard you have become. Where is the good and sweet lady I knew from her childhood? The kind mistress whom I have served and loved?”

She turned away from him. In the privacy of her chamber at night, she had often wondered the same thing. Nothing gave her any pleasure. Not even the celebration of her third daughter’s marriage within a few weeks stirred her heart to joy. She lived only for vengeance now. It comforted her in the lonely dark of night, and gave her the will to survive the Sultan’s tyranny each day.

When Niranjan touched her arm timidly, she jerked away from him. “Do not. I shall tell you where your kind and good mistress is.” Her voice sunk to a low whisper. “She lies dead and buried at Gharnatah, beside her murdered father.” She raised her chin a notch, eyeing him. “I made a sacred vow to avenge him. If you remain loyal to me and my cause, then get rid of the slave and her child.”

“I would not be your dutiful servant if I did not caution you against this move. If you have become so cold and ruthless that you no longer care for the sanctity of life, then the Sultan has already won. He shall have turned you into a likeness of himself.”

She shook her head. “You do not understand, my loyal one. To defeat him, I must be like him. I must be ruthless. I must be without care. How else can I avenge the deaths of those he has taken from me?”

“This cannot bring your noble father, or the kadin Nur-al-Sabah or anyone else back from the grave. This slave girl and her son are blameless….”

“Yes, yet more innocent lives that must suffer because the Sultan! The woman and her son must die if Nasr is to take the throne.” Her chest tightened, rising and falling rapidly with each breath. She clutched at the point where her heart raced.

When she resumed walking the pebble path, he fell into step beside her. They mounted the steps together.

“I shall hasten to Gharnatah, my Sultana. I must first learn whether the slave nurses her child.”

“Why is that important?”

“If she does, there are certain poisons which, if introduced into the mother’s body would slowly weaken her, but shall certainly kill the child.”

Fatima nodded. “I don’t care how you do it, only be certain that it is done before you return to Malaka.”

Niranjan stopped as they reached the portico of columns. “It shall be done, my Sultana. I go to my duty with a heavy heart full of sorrow for you.”

She paused and eyed him over her shoulder. “Save your pity for the Sultan. He shall need it when this is over.”

Niranjan whispered, “It saddens me to see you this way. You risk everything to pursue this course, but it may cost you everyone you hold dear.”


Thanks for stopping by the blog for my last installment of Sultana's Legacy. The book will be out this fall. In the meantime, please re-tweet this post if you liked it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - Key Dates, Requirements & Pitching

Are you entering the ABNA? I am; it's the only contest I've considered this year that is free. Not to rush you or anything, but you have ONE MORE DAY to write that 300-word pitch, ensure your novel is completed at 50,000 to 150,000 words, and select an excerpt of your novel, at least the first 3,000 to 5,000 words. No pressure!

Full details of the contest are here, but this is the first key date to keep in mind.

January 24 - February 6, 2011: The submission period is open, in which you complete your entry form and upload your pitch, completed novel and excerpt. Only the first 5,000 entries in each of the categories, Young Adult Fiction and General Fiction will be accepted.

Requirements include:

A manuscript submitted in Microsoft Word .doc, .docx or .rft format, in Times New Roman and 12-point font; double spaced with 1-inch margins (no "hard" returns to achieve double spacing).

Each manuscript, excerpt, and pitch must be in the English language; not currently or previously published with any publishing house (a self-published novel is okay if you own the worldwide rights); and, can't include the entrant's name anywhere. The manuscript, excerpt and pitch count as part of one entry; you are not allowed other entries.

The hardest part of deciding whether to enter was my concerns about the pitch. Did I mention that the pitch is your only qualifying entry that editors will initially judge? From the 5,000 pitches in each category, the judges will narrow it down to 1,000 of the best selections. So, if the pitch doesn't interest them, the manuscript will not be read. Crap. How in the hellhole do I talk about the characters, conflict, plot development, concept, and audience of a 91K novel in 300 words? Here's my stab at it in 292 words:

SULTANA, a completed historical novel at 91,253 words, is the story of revenge and intrigue, the bonds of family and the redemptive power of love. In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The marriage of a child-bride Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, and the Sultan’s nephew Faraj, has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives. Their interchanging perspectives offer readers and adventurous escape into the past, with rapidly changing events and fascinating historical figures that shaped medieval Spain.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how the union may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their marriage. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and swift intrigues. They change and grow, establishing a powerful bond, often tested by opportunities for mistrust in an atmosphere of deceit and intrigue. Can they unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty in Spain?

Audiences that enjoy historical fiction with universal themes of passionate first love and hope against odds will find the romance in SULTANA appealing, but there are dark elements of danger and grittiness that enhance the sense of danger.


Wish me luck, as I wish you the same if you're entering ABNA.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why authors should love history on TV, even bad history

Tonight one of my favorite franchises, Starz’s Spartacus debuts a new series, Gods of the Arena. I was seriously hooked on Spartacus: Blood and Sand last year - my Starz forum name is iluvcrixus (guess who my favorite character is!) I’m watching for more than the muscle-bound, gladiator eye candy on the screen, though it helps keep me entertained. The portrayal of decadence and vice in Roman society at every level fascinates me, as do the parallels between society today and in the past. I think shows like Spartacus find their niche among fans because the characters resonate with the audience for their good and bad qualities. Every genre fiction writer chases this elusive goal; building worlds and peopling them with memorable characters.

More importantly, historical pieces are good because they make certain periods familiar or easier to understand. Regardless of the quality in the dramatization, they allow people who might be less inclined to read about history to watch it instead. Adaptations like the more recent Pillars of the Earth miniseries, based on Ken Follett’s novel and Robert Graves’ I, Claudius in the 1970s allowed for visual representations of history. As a reader, I’m totally engaged by novels where scenes unfold as if they were on the screen, so it's not hard to understand why visuals may be more appealing than words on a page.

Even a poorly done version of history on television can spur interest in an author’s book. While most try to get it right, screenwriters face the same quandary as authors; how to keep the plot and characters entertaining, while preserving elements of a setting or ancient society. Where they fail, an author might and should do better with an accurate depiction of how life was in another era. The goal of entertaining the audience remains the same, regardless of the mode in which it’s delivered.

Now, I’m going to settle in for an hour of Gods of the Arena, and forget that Barca, the Beast of Carthage, really shouldn’t around in this series unless he’s just a hot 70-year old gladiator.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

DIY with Kindle in 10 Steps

Amazon has a free Kindle download for anyone looking to self publish, Publish on Amazon Kindle with the Digital Text Platform. If you’re an Amazon user, it’s easy to set up your account, complete your author information and upload your JPEG-formatted cover. Remember, you don't need a Kindle to sell your books on Kindle. Amazon has several Kindle applications for various platforms, listed here.

It took me several tries, but I also found steps to ensure a successful upload of my novel on Kindle. Here's how I did it:

1) Open up your manuscript in Word and save it preferably under another name, differentiating it from the original document.

2) Format your new document to standard one inch margins, with single spaced lines. You may have to try several times with the indents; 0.4 - 0.5 inches were best preserved.

3) Remove and/or replace any fancy symbols you’ve used in the document for section breaks. I replaced mine with a simple diamond shape from the Wingdings font.

4) Remove the page numbers, which will not be preserved on a Kindle.

5) Turn on the formatting to view your paragraph marks. It will help you find any errors in the document; weird spacing, blank pages, etc.

6) Now, save the Word document as type: Web Page, filtered (*.htm, *.html).

7) You will receive a popup, “Saving in this format will remove Office specific tags...” Click Yes to save.

8) All formatting, including page breaks, will be invisible because Word displays the new HTML document in Web layout. Go to View, and then click Print Layout to ensure the page breaks are preserved.

9) Sign into Amazon DTP. Follow the steps to enter the product details, confirm rights etc. if you haven’t already completed this process.

10) At the Upload & Preview Book webpage, upload your HTML document. Don't forget to preview online.

That's it! Good luck with your Kindle publishing.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

#SampleSunday: Sultana's Legacy, Chapter Three

As promised, here's a sample chapter from Sultana's Legacy, which will be published in the fall.

Sultana's Legacy begins more than a decade after the events that ended in Sultana. My heroine Fatima faces greater conflicts. Her devotion to her father and husband remains the same, but the family dynamic is shifting, as in this scene:

Three: Fathers and Sons, Part II

Princess Fatima

Gharnatah, al-Andalus: Dhu’l-Qada 691 AH (Granada, Andalusia: November 1292 CE)

Fatima stood alone in the upper storey apartments of her father, awaiting his arrival. She gripped his bejeweled khanjar. Lapis lazuli and gold filigree covered the dagger's leather sheath in ornate, swirling designs. She removed the weapon from its encasing. It had been her grandfather’s dagger. Her father kept it among the possessions he prized for display in his quarters. The metal felt cold but light against her palm. How many people had her grandfather killed with it?

“Are you contemplating murder, daughter?”

Startled by her father’s sudden appearance, her hand closed on the blade. He rushed to her and she opened her hand, revealing a long, bloody gash. He took the dagger, while she dipped her hand in the ornate fountain at the corner of the room. Afterward, she accepted a clean cloth and bound the wound.

“No more playing with daggers for you,” he said. “At least, not until I’m around to save you.”

She mimicked his animated smile, but her mood did not allow for levity. His expression smoothed. He must have sensed the tension roiling inside her.

“Your note was delivered to me just after my meeting with the council. What could be so urgent, Fatima? Has something happened to one of my grandchildren?”

“No, I have had no news from Malaka since my arrival a few days ago. Niranjan knows well enough to write if something is wrong with the children. They miss you and long to see you, again.”

He turned toward the fountain. “Fatima, you know my grandchildren are welcome at any time in Gharnatah.”

“Even if their father is not?”

Her shaking hand closed on his shoulder. He stiffened at her touch. Despite it, she willed courage into her voice.

“Father, this cannot continue. How long shall you remain at odds with my husband?”

He scowled into the basin of the fountain. The ripples of water made the reflection of his face appear blurred and older than his fifty-eight years. Years had passed since they last saw each other, but was it so long that he should now seem decrepit to her eyes?

“Fatima, do not speak of matters that do not concern you.”

She shook her head. “How can you say so? You are my father and Faraj is my husband. Both of you are the two men I love most in this world.”

“His actions have shamed me before the Marinids. I cannot ask you to choose between your father and your husband. You must decide.”

He shuffled toward his writing desk and sank down on the cushioned stool with a grunt. She eyed him through vision blurred by unshed tears.

The years had changed him. His anger rose swiftly these days. He had even shouted at Shams ed-Duna yesterday evening, after her cook burnt his favorite dish of chicken with herbs. Although he apologized later to his queen with a gift of a turquoise and gold filigree necklace, Fatima had never seen her stepmother so hurt.

Over his shoulder, he asked, “Did you come home only to plead for forgiveness for your husband?”

She stared at his rigid back. “No. There is something else. Father, I have always trusted your judgment….”

He turned to her and raised a dismissive hand. “Then, trust it in matters concerning your husband. Consider him lucky that he lives and remains the governor of Malaka. If he were any other man, I would have had him executed for his defiance. It is my right.”

Fatima nodded and bowed before him, though her heart pounded a tattoo behind her chest. He gestured toward a carved cedar stool beside his seat. She settled next to him, gathering the silken folds of her jubba around her. Her stomach knotted and she drew a deep breath before speaking.

“Father, I must talk with you about the Crown Prince.”

He raised one dark russet-colored eyebrow in a questioning slant. “Your brother? What mischief has Muhammad done now?”

“He has done nothing wrong.”

How her heart lurched and tore at that lie, but Muhammad’s petty actions the day before paled in enormity to the risk he posed to her father’s entire legacy.

“Father, you know I would not speak ill against my own brother without just cause. I am concerned for Muhammad and the throne he shall inherit.”

She stood and paced for a time. Her father’s watchful gaze followed her. “Fatima, speak plainly.”

She gathered strength from his obvious interest. If he did not care what she thought, he would have dismissed her curtly without entertaining further discussion. He deserved the truth, even if she went against her stepmother and Nur al-Sabah’s objections. She had to protect them and her father. None of them knew the sort of man Muhammad truly was, but she did. Her own brother had tried to murder her and her unborn son. A man who could do that to a once beloved sister was capable of anything.

“Muhammad should be dearer to me than the sons of Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, because he is the only son of my mother.” She paused, gauging his reaction. When he gave her a look of uneasy puzzlement, she rushed on. “Still, I have long suspected that his reckless nature as a child would make him a dangerous man. He cannot follow you on the throne of Gharnatah.”

Her father stood. “You want me to deny my eldest son the succession? Do you forget the traditions my late father established, that it is the eldest son who should rule?”

Although his tone was even, the words belied his expression; a knitted brow, the veins in his neck standing out in livid ridges while his eyes raked over her face.

“My grandfather chose you as his successor because you are a wise and good man. You have always held the conviction to do what is right and the humility to admit when you are wrong. My brother does not have these qualities. He is not fit to rule.”

He slumped on his seat again, shaking his head. “You have requested an audience only to tell me who should sit on my throne? You dare much, my daughter.”

“Father, I mean no disrespect.”

His gaze narrowed. “Yet, you show me much the same, as your own husband did some years ago in this very place! His bad habits have affected you, too.”

Mistrust darkened his expression. She had seen that look before, directed at other people.

“Do you deny that Muhammad is unpredictable?”

“He is my son, as you are my daughter! Have you no loyalty, even to him, now? Is your only duty to your husband?”

“Father, this matter we speak of has naught to do with the conflict between you and Faraj. The future of your country is at stake. Would you see your son destroy your legacy of learning and just laws, out of some misplaced sentiment towards him?”

“Misplaced sentiment!” His voice thundered through the room. “You dare call my love for him ‘misplaced sentiment’ and expect me to listen. I thought you knew my heart and the honor with which I still revere his mother….”

“She is gone, Father. Gone! Do you think ‘A’isha would know a mother’s love and pride in Muhammad?”

“She never loved him! She never loved anyone of you! She abandoned you for the sake of the Ashqilula. Or, do you forget that, too?”

She turned away, as memories flooded her mind. Now that she was a mother, she understood the complexity of a parent’s emotions. If anything, her experiences as a child had taught her to show each of her children her devotion, so that they might always be certain of her love.

“It is the past, Father, it cannot be undone. ‘A’isha’s son does not honor you. Muhammad squanders the privileges you have given him. If he succeeds you, he shall make a mockery of every achievement you have attained.”

She knelt before him and grasped his hand. He pulled it away, but she reached for him, again. “I do not make these claims with an easy heart, or take pleasure in my warnings. Muhammad can never become Sultan of Gharnatah. If you love your people, if you love this land of your children’s birth, do not allow pride and emotion to sway you. Your great father taught you that the future of Gharnatah is all that matters. If you would see the prosperity of this state continue, do not let Muhammad inherit. Do not leave such a legacy.”

He closed his eyes, blotting out the sight of her. She willed him to open them again, but he did not.

“Father, please think upon all I have said.”

“You have said quite enough, Fatima. Leave me now, before I forget that you are the daughter I have loved and treasured above all your sisters. Just as you have forgotten that I am your honored father, and your duty owed to me.”

She raised the hem of his jubba to her lips and forehead. He opened his eyes then, but stared straight at the alabaster wall, his face like a statue carved of stone. She rose and left him. The door closed with a resounding thud at her back.


Please leave a comment or re-tweet, if you liked this scene. Thanks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Voices

I love this community of writers. Writers are giving and nurturing. Over many years, I've met so many talented writers and new friendships have blossomed that enriched my life. It's also added sobering perspective on why it's so hard for new authors to break in, especially when there is so much talent out there.

Starting this month, during the last week of every month, the blog will feature New Voices, with debut authors across multiple genres and with varied interests. It will be a chance to promote new writers, and give back to the community of writers that has given me so much.

This month's New Voice will be Mirella Patzer, author of the Blighted Troth, which will be available next month.

If you're interested in a guest post on New Voices, contact me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Who are these crazy people?" - The Nasrids of Granada

One of my beta readers for Sultana received the synopsis last night and emailed me, asking, "Who are these crazy people?" The Moorish historical figures in my next novel weren't crazy, per se. I'll admit one of them was definitely nuts but for the most part, the rest just had lots of family issues. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The Moors were Islamic people who invaded the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in the eighth century. Two centuries later, the Spanish Christians had had enough. They were determined to drive out the Moors. By the thirteenth century, only the Nasrid dynasty remained, nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The first Nasrid ruler, Muhammad, was born in 1191, eldest among four brothers. Moorish Spain encompassed the lower half of the Iberian Peninsula. The family of Hud governed a large part of Muhammad's home base, but he was what I like to call ambitious, so he decided on a regime change. He rebelled and soon conquered principal cities, including Guadix in 1232, Granada in 1237, Almeria the following year, and Malaga by 1239. In 1238, Muhammad began construction on his palace in the capital of Granada, which has since become one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the West, the Alhambra. If you've never seen it, it's well worth the trip. A few years back, it was under consideration as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Muhammad had some help in his conquests from powerful allies, the Ashqilula family. They had a nice working relationship, lots of intermarriage between the two families. The only problem with ambitious people is sometimes they don't always share the wealth. The Ashqilula were about to find that out the hard way. When Muhammad wasn't building the Alhambra or stamping out his rivals, he was raising four sons, the eldest of whom he chose to rule after him. The Ashqilula didn't appreciate that choice and rebelled against him. He laid siege to Malaga, one of the cities they governed, in 1266. That pretty much ensured the end to their alliance. A brutal civil war erupted that divided Moorish Spain for several years even after Muhammad's death in 1273. Eventually Muhammad's son, named for his father, dealt with the Ashqilula. That didn't mean things were any better within his family.

The first Muhammad's descendants were just as ambitious as him.  You could say, he set the example and they just followed suit, taking whatever and whomever they wanted. Even if that meant getting their hands a little bloody. At least fourteen of Granada's subsequent rulers were dethroned or murdered, usually by members of their own family. Muhammad III poisoned his father, Muhammad II.  When one of his jailers tried to show mercy to his father's imprisoned servants by bringing them something to drink, Muhammad III cut the jailer's throat and let the blood spray his prisoner's faces. He was definitely the psycho of the bunch, but most of his relatives weren't any better.

Nasr I dethroned Muhammad III, his own half-brother and eventually blinded and killed him. Muhammad II's grandson Ismail was stabbed to death by his cousin in a quarrel over a slave girl. Two of Ismail’s sons, Muhammad IV and Yusuf I, also met violent deaths. When Yusuf's son Muhammad V came to power, his stepmother, half-sister, and her husband conspired and drove him into exile in Morocco. Muhammad V recovered his throne, but his descendants rarely held it for very long. His grandson Muhammad IX lost and regained the Alhambra at least four times during a span of thirty-five years. Also, the jealous mother of Muhammad XII encouraged her son to rebel against his father, Abu'l-Hasan Ali, because the ruler favored his Christian wife and her children. The dynasty came to a close in 1492, more than two violent centuries after it had begun.

Who wouldn't want to write about a crazy family like that?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Everything has its price...

...Especially when you're requesting permission for artwork by an artist that's been dead for over a hundred years. The following says it all:

"For print-on-demand books, the license must specify a maximum number of copies to be printed within a particular time frame. A standard license reads as such: "ONE-TIME NON-EXCLUSIVE WORLDWIDE ENGLISH LANGUAGE PRINT RIGHTS FOR A PERIOD OF FIVE (5) YEARS FROM THE FIRST PUBLICATION (PRINT RUN=UP TO 3,000)." The front cover use fee is $450. There is a surcharge (+$150 per image) to use the images in ebook format for a period of up to ten years only. All images used online must be displayed at a maximum resolution of 72 dpi. All future editions, reprints, translations, or formats (including electronic media) must be negotiated separately. We require that one gratis copy of each book be sent to our office upon publication."

Sigh. The search continues.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

#SampleSunday: Sultana Chapter Twenty-Six

In the last excerpt from my upcoming novel, Sultana, Fatima learns something unexpected about her future:

Chapter Twenty-Six: A Great Divide

Princess Fatima

Gharnatah, al-Andalus: Rabi ath-Thani 677 AH (Granada, Andalusia: September AD 1278)

Fatima endured seven weeks of bitter silence, during which she received no word from Faraj. Her father shared the daily dispatches on the reclamation of the port at al-Jazirah al-Khadra and the defense against the Castillans. Still, no word arrived of her husband’s fate. She retreated into a shell of suffering, filled with self-recrimination. The remembrance of his final words offered little comfort in the emptiness of their bedchamber at night.

“Too often we have stood upon this point. I leave, and you wonder what will become of me. Keep the peace of my house. I shall return soon. Wherever I am, you are in my thoughts and my heart, always.”

On the first cool day of the waning summer, Sultana Shams ed-Duna insisted she accompany her, and the kadin Nur al-Sabah, to the souk of Gharnatah. The queen of Gharnatah would not accept Fatima’s initial refusal.

After prayers, the trio, in the company of Niranjan, the palace guard and some servants, took the route down the Sabika hill and across the bridge of the Hadarro River. The Qaysariyya marketplace spread across the dun-brown plain at the south of the city, extending from the foot of the Sabika hill to the red brick walls of Gharnatah. Jewish and Christian merchants plied their trade alongside their Moorish counterparts, the local goldsmiths, armories, shoemakers, blacksmiths, and textile makers.

The Sultan’s guards jostled everyone and made a clear path for the women. Fatima shrank from the resentful gazes of those displaced by the guards' rough handling. She kept close to Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, who doggedly haggled with the market sellers, while their slaves idled alongside the narrow streets and alleyways. Merchants offered slaves for faraway lands, bartering away their lives as easily as the silk, leather goods, brocades and ivory, and olive oil sold in the souk.

The stench of piss and offal vied with ambergris, musk and incense from a nearby stall. Fatima gripped her stomach, as a wave of dizziness overcame her.

The kadin frowned at her. “Are you unwell?”

“I hadn’t expected it to be so crowded, or smell so bad.”

“Look, it’s a symbol of the Nauar.” Shams pointed to a burnished copper wheel dangling from the tent post under a faded, blue awning. “I have not seen one since I left Fés el-Bali.”

Nur al-Sabah peered over her shoulder. “Hmm, the Gypsies. Is it true they foretell the future?”

Fatima shook her head. “What nonsense they must teach in Christian households. The Nauar speak only in riddles to confuse and delude the mind.”

Shams asked, “How can you be so certain? Have you ever been to one?”

Fatima replied, “I wouldn’t dare. Sorcery and divination is the work of the court astrologer. Ask him anything you’d like. I’m sure Father wouldn’t object.”

Then, a heavily veiled woman followed by two eunuchs exited the shop. One of the slaves pressed two silver dirhams into the olive brown hand of a little girl with bulging, black eyes. She took the coins and disappeared into the tent. The other eunuch handed his mistress a silken kerchief. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes, before bustling through the marketplace, her slaves following.

“I’d like to go in.” Nur al-Sabah cupped the roundness of her belly jutting beneath the green silk robe. “The court astrologer has promised another girl, but I know the Sultan wants a son. Perhaps the Nauar will know for certain.”

Fatima sniffed at this and looked away momentarily. She did not resent Nur al-Sabah’s desire, but what did her father need with more sons, when he already had her brother Muhammad and now Shams ed-Duna’s boy?

Shams ed-Duna tugged at her hand. “Come with us, Fatima. What harm can there be?”

She pulled away. “Absolutely not! I forbid it.”

Shams ed-Duna chuckled and Nur al-Sabah rolled her eyes.

Fatima gritted her teeth together, and then expelled a sighing breath. “Very well, I’ll indulge you both in this foolishness. Come, let us see this fraud.”

They crossed the street, avoiding refuse and excrement, while a cadre of the guards and their servants surrounded the stall. Niranjan held aside the low curtain hanging over the entryway. Fatima glanced at him briefly, but he averted his eyes from her. She entered first and asked the little girl with black eyes for the fortune-teller. She led them behind a cloth curtain and gestured to the lone seat at a table.

Behind it, a shriveled figure with lips drawn tight over her teeth peered at them in silence. A ring of seashells, all oddly shaped, encompassed the edge of the table, with one black pebble in the center. Fatima grinned at this at this poor mockery of mystic symbolism, but Shams ed-Duna urged her forward.

The gypsy woman bowed her head. “Peace be with you.”

Fatima asked, “And with you. Are you the one who speaks of the future?”

“Do you wish to know the future, noble one?”

Ignoring Nur al-Sabah’s gasp, Fatima leaned forward. “Why do you call me that, ‘noble one’?”

“It is what you are.” The woman turned to the girl hovering at her side. Whispering in some language other than Arabic, she waved the girl away. The child soon returned with a cup of fragrant tea, which the woman offered to Fatima. “It will not harm you.”

Fatima glared at her companions, both of whom nodded. She drank the brew, bitter to the tongue at first, but sweeter as she continued. She finished and handed the cup to the woman, who said, “If you would swirl the cup, noble one?"

Fatima gritted her teeth, but complied. She set the vessel down with an abrupt clank. A few of the ground leaves clung to the sides and bottom. Her gaze fixed on the woman who nodded. “We must wait for the tea leaves to settle.”

Shams pressed a hand against Fatima's arm. “Be patient.”

After an interim, the gypsy asked, “What it is you wish to know, noble one?”

“Tell me what you see,” Fatima countered.

The woman stared into the cup, and after a brief interval, she pronounced, “The future of Gharnatah lies within you.”

Fatima smiled at her companions. “You see? An answer, if I can call it such, without meaning. Just as I expected.” She stood and looked down her nose at the gypsy. “Can your leaves tell you anything about me?”

“Nothing you would believe, princess of Gharnatah,” the woman stated.

Nur al-Sabah pecked at her arm, but Fatima stilled her and leaned toward the gypsy. “Why do you call me a princess?”

“It is what you are. The future of Gharnatah lies within you. Already you carry one of its heirs in your womb, your son, who will become the Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Shams ed-Duna pressed her hand against Fatima’s shoulder, but she shrugged her stepmother off. “If you knew anything of me, you would know that no child of mine could ever be Sultan. It’s treason to suggest it, when the Sultan already has an heir. Besides, I should know if I am with child before anyone else.”

“I speak only of what I see, noble one. You are a princess of Gharnatah. You carry a son. One day, he will become the Sultan. Such is the fate that awaits you, whether you would wish it or not.”


As always, feel free to leave a comment or re-tweet if you liked this excerpt. Thank you for visiting the blog. I hope you've enjoyed these scenes from Sultana as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I've used them to show how my heroine Fatima has a great destiny before her. The final flowering of the last Moorish Dynasty to rule in Spain owes some of its remarkable longevity to her actions. Previous excerpts are available here, here and here. Join me next week for another #SampleSunday, with excerpts from the sequel, Sultana's Legacy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Choose that Cover: Sultana

I haven't made up my mind as to the final choice of a cover image for Sultana. Would you like to help me? Here's why the choice is so hard:

Do you agonize over book covers? Have you ever been dazzled by the gorgeous dress of some headless woman or a hunky hero on horseback, and knowing nothing beyond the blurb, rushed headlong to buy the book? Or, have you looked at a cover and assumed that the dreadful imagery and the barely legible typeface meant the book couldn't be an interesting read?

I'm outing myself as an obsessive, cover snob. "Don't judge a book by its cover" - good advice, but impossible. Over decades of reading, I know the exact type of cover that will attract me. Readers have developed expectations based on the cover. The gorgeous dress on a headless woman has been a staple of historical fiction for years, allowing readers to identify the genre on sight alone even before they browse the content.  A good book cover should do several things all at once. The author's name and title should be paramount. It should be appealing. Most importantly, it should convey key elements of the story; something about the setting, characters, key conflict or theme, or the genre. Even the color of the background can be useful to convey the mood.

For my upcoming novels, I'm working with cover artist Lance Ganey again. He did a brilliant job with my first novel, and even those who don't like it have loved the cover. I have very precise ideas in mind for the mood I want to convey. The setting is medieval Spain during its exotic Moorish period, and the themes are dark. While there are gorgeous stock photos out there, they were too modern to really convey story elements. I've decided to go with royalty-free art from the 19th century Orientalists. Most of the artists painted a very Westernized view of Ottoman life in Turkey and Algiers, but their work captures the right mood.

At the outset of Sultana, my heroine is a young princess surrounded by luxury, but her family is beset on all sides by their enemies. Her marriage has precipitated a thirteen-year civil war. I'm looking for an image that conveys a sense of her youth and station in life, but also has a sombre background hinting at the dangers surrounding her. I've sent a few high resolution images to Lance, including:
A Jewish Girl of Tangiers, Charles Landelle  

In The Dressing Room, Ettore Simonetti

La Belle Orientale, Charles Louis Lucien Muller

La Jeune Mauresque, Frederick Arthur Bridgman

The Final Decision, Edouard Frederic Wilhelm Richter

A few favorites won't make the cut unless I locate a high resolution version:

After The Bath, Rudolf Ernst

An Oriental Beauty, Jean Francois Portaels

Guard of the Harem, Rudolf Ernst

Sigh. It's frustrating because some of these latter images are just perfect. Of the high resolution ones, I have a rough idea of which is not quite right, but I'm curious about what others think.

Tell me your choice for a potentail cover image of Sultana and why. Thanks for your help, and for stopping by the blog.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Writing Contests: Worth It?

I've never officially entered a writing contest before - I tried a short story competition, but my check was never cashed. Here are a few contests in the US with a proven track record, which is always important when you're considering entry fees and the validity of particular contests. I have yet to decide whether I'll enter any of these. If you're interested, check them out:

1. Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (entries due January 24 - February 6)

Each year since 2007, Amazon, Penguin Group USA, and Amazon's subsidiary CreateSpace, have co-sponsored a contest to publish the work of an author in General and Young Adult Fiction categories. The grand prize is a publishing contact, which includes a $15,000 advance against future royalties. There is no fee to enter this contest. I'd have to get going with that required pitch pretty soon if I want to participate. This one's open to published, unpublished, and self-published authors.

2. 19th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards (deadline April 15)

This is an annual competition, involving ten categories of submissions. The grand prize is a trip to NYC to meet with agents / editors (wonder how that works for those of us who live in NYC already), and $3000 (yes, that's three thousand US dollars). Entry judging fee of $100 for all books published between 2006 and 2011. Requires a printed, bound copy of your book; no PDF files.

3. Annual Writer's Digest Competition (deadline May 2)

Actually, there's a late deadline on May 20, but let's think positive and avoid procrastinating, shall we? Essentially the same grand prize as the contest above, but again, check the entry requirements for other rules and the lower entry fee. No, I'm not going to comment on why the entry fee for this Writer's Digest contest is lower than the self-publishing contest above. There are times I do get up on my soapbox, but this won't be one of them.   

If you choose to enter any of these contests, as with anything that requires you to fork over some of your hard-earned cash, be sure to check out contest details thoroughly. The Writer Beware Blog has great information and analysis of various writing contests, here and here most recently. And, good luck with your entry!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New year, new goals

I don’t call them resolutions. I’ve tried making New Year resolutions – lose weight and exercise, stop procrastinating, etc. Never gets accomplished. Rather than pressure myself to meet certain expectations and fail miserably in yet another year’s half-hearted attempt, I’ve set long-term goals. I’ve got some big ones in mind.

First, I’d like to have a child of my own. While I have two adorable nephews who I get to see every day, there’s nothing quite like having a kid of your own. For health reasons more than anything else, I’m inclined to adopt. A few friends have been through the process and I’ll be looking to them for support and advice. There are so many kids in the US and throughout the world that need good homes. I think there’s something very special about opening up your home and heart to a child that you didn’t give birth to, but choose to love. Ideally, I’d like a child under the age of seven, no preference as to gender. Wish me luck.

Next on my list is to self-publish two books this year, entitled Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy. I’ve worked on these stories for so long, more years than I would care to admit, that they feel like my children whom I’ve nurtured. Both stories chronicle the struggles within the last Moorish Dynasty to rule Spain, in the city of Granada. Each is told from the perspective of two protagonists, Fatima and Faraj, whose union prompted a civil war that embroiled the country for thirteen years afterward. Both are dark stories, lots of murder and intrigue – just the way I like my historical fiction. Thank God the family was so dysfunctional, perfect fodder for what I hope will be an interesting read. I’ll be asking for beta readers for both books starting in February; already have three lined up but I’m looking for two others. Unfortunately, I have nothing more to offer these people except my undying gratitude and free copies of the books when they’re out. Look for Sultana in mid-spring and Sultana’s Legacy to follow in the fall.

Lastly, in a goal that’s very much tied to the one above, I’ll be visiting Spain again after nearly a ten year absence. This time, I hope to visit Malaga, exploring the site where Fatima and Faraj spent a good portion of their married lives, raising their children. The remnants of Islamic Spain just fascinate me. I hope to also tour Madrid, Toledo, and Lisbon, Portugal for a few days. This particular goal is closer at hand than the others. I’m off in February.

What your new goals now that a new year has begun?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

#SampleSunday: Sultana Chapter Twelve

Its a new year, but #SampleSunday is back. In my new novel, Sultana, coming spring 2011, the protagonists Faraj and Fatima have an arranged marriage. It was a common feature of medieval society. I'm fascinated that Fatima was a child bride, brought up in a world of intrigue, in which her husband played his own part. He was ten years older than her and I don't doubt the disparity in age might have caused some friction between the couple, as in this scene:

CHAPTER TWELVE – A DELICATE PEACE

GHARNATAH, AL-ANDALUS: RAMADAN 671 AH (GRANADA, ANDALUSIA: APRIL AD 1273)

PRINCE FARAJ

On a cool spring day just before dawn, Faraj sat brooding on the steps of the southern terrace at his house. Memories of the past tortured his rambling mind, the thoughts of his birthplace at Malaka and the happiness he once enjoyed there. All of it lost because of the Ashqilula. His mother’s clan. They had murdered her, and his father.

Faraj had never returned home since that terrible night. Yet, Malaka remained unchanged in his thoughts. Even know, he recalled the craggy landscape with perfect clarity, a series of undulating brown hills. Under the sapphire skies that dominated his memories, the sandstone walls of the castle and citadel glowed atop two promontories. Golden beaches fanned out from the base of the slope and greeted the azure-colored waters of the sea. All of it belonged to the Ashqilula. They had stolen it from him.

He gritted his teeth as a memory of the chieftain Abu Muhammad blazed in his mind. He had first seen the chieftain at Gharnatah upon his arrival as a bloodied and frightened boy, one of five refugees escaping the carnage at Malaka.

Abu Muhammad, only son of the Sultan’s sister, Princess Faridah, strongly resembled his maternal uncle. The hawkish nose and brown-gray eyes were the same. The Ashqilula chieftain had come to Gharnatah with many supporters, and received the honor of Malaka. He had taken Faraj’s birthright.

Faraj could hardly fathom it, but the truth overwhelmed him. He had looked on the face of the man who murdered his parents just before that bright morning of the Ashqilula’s triumph. Abu Muhammad bore the full responsibility for everything he had lost that night.

For five years he had not spoken of his discovery, not even to the Sultan, whose hatred for the Ashqilula knew no bounds. Faraj had even more reason to hate them than his master did. He deserved the right of revenge alone. No one would take it away from him, not even his uncle. Yet, he had not moved against his enemy and the knowledge of his failure and lack of action gnawed at him. The blood of his parents demanded justice, but he only wanted retribution. He imagined thick globs of blood pouring from Abu Muhammad’s throat, ripped from ear to ear, as his parents had suffered.

Slaves interrupted the crimson haze of his reverie, clanging porcelain on the low table beside him. When he snapped at them, they scurried like frightened rats. An idle hour later, flies buzzed noisily over a platter of cold, uneaten flatbread and boiled eggs.

Marzuq approached with a rolled parchment. “An invitation to break the fast of Ramadan with the Sultan and his entire family. Princess Fatima will also be there for the celebration of Eid al-Futr.”

“I’m not in the mood!” Faraj growled at his steward.

Marzuq bowed low. “I’ll send your regrets to the Sultan’s household, my master.”

When he was alone again, Faraj muttered a curse under his breath and went to his stables. He ordered a horse saddled, and rode out of Gharnatah, into the hills above al-Qal’at al-Hamra. Showers burst from the morning clouds, catching him by surprise. He turned the beast back, down the sloping hills and entered the courtyard of the citadel.

Thunder rolled before a steady rain soaked him to the bone. With a shudder, he dismounted and found shelter under the redbrick Gate of the Merchants, where he found four other people, including Fatima.

The stick-thin, elfin girl had changed in the seven years since they wed. She stood just shy of his shoulder now. An opaque blue-black veil hid her dark copper-colored hair. Tiny dirhams with holes drilled at the center of each silver coin decorated the fringe of the veil.

“It’s a terrible time to be riding your horse, my prince. The poor animal is soaked.” She rolled her eyes at him and pulled her multicolored linen wrap tighter about her shoulders.

He groaned, in no mood for her droll observations. “I’m pleased you care so much for the beast’s welfare, even if you think so little of mine. Besides, it wasn’t raining when I left home. Why are you outdoors?” He paused and glanced at the slaves sheltering behind her. “And why has your escort not gone onward to arrange for your safe conduct?”

The eunuch edged closer, and cast a baleful stare full of insolence at him, before he bent and whispered to Fatima. She hushed the slave, her fingers alighting on his forearm. “Remain at my side, Niranjan. There is no need for you to be drenched on my behalf.”

The eunuch dared glance at Faraj, who tightened his fingers into a fist, stifling a fervent urge against striking the impertinent wretch. Or, was it the girl who stimulated such a violent reaction in him?

“I had hoped to reach home sooner than this, my prince.” Fatima waved a slim, bejeweled hand toward the gathering puddles at their feet. “My astronomy lesson was not finished until late.”

“Humph. Aren’t you past the age where princesses are tutored?”

She shook her head, mumbling something under her breath. Then she said, “I am fifteen but Father has given permission for the continuation of my lessons.”

He sneered, eyeing her steadily. “How generous the Crown Prince is. Do you enjoy your studies?”

“Just because you didn’t like the princes’ school doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate Ibn Ali’s teachings.”

“How did you know I didn’t like my lessons with Ibn Ali?”

“I asked him about you. He said you were the worst student he had ever had.”

“You questioned the royal tutor about me?”

“You’re my husband. Isn’t it right that I should want to know about you?”

He clenched his fists. “If you want to know anything, I’d prefer if you asked me. I’d never hide anything from you.”

“Humph. I don’t believe you.”

“Are you calling your husband a liar?”

She glanced at him briefly. “You keep secrets. Always, your eyes watching and observing what others do, yet you remain silent. Something lies hidden in you. You do not speak of it, but sadness, and pain haunts your gaze. What secrets are you hiding, Prince Faraj?”

“If I had any secrets, why should they concern you?”

“As I have said, you are my husband. Everything about you is a matter of interest for me.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “I wonder, what provokes this wifely concern? You’ve never shown it before.”

“When have I ever had the chance to do so? As I have said, you keep secrets.”

She turned her gaze to the sky. An arc of lightening illuminated the darkening clouds, highlighting the curve of her cheek. As he continued staring, a deepening blush suffused her skin. Suddenly, he wondered at how the softness and texture of her flesh might feel against his.

She asked, “Why did you refuse Grandfather’s invitation this evening?”

Startled at the impulsive thought of touching her, he forced a quick reply. “How did you know I refused?”

“When your answer arrived, I was with the Sultan, just before my lesson.”

“Are you close to him?”

“He’s my grandfather. I love him best in the world, as much as my own father, and my brother and sisters.”

He looked away. He didn’t have the same sentiments about his own family. His father had treated him like his treasured heir, but duties to Malaka and the governorship had occupied his short existence until death. Faraj had three sisters, whom he had not seen for years since each of them married. He and his half-brother loathed each other.

“Aren’t you close to your family, my prince?”

“I’ve never been.” He wondered why he felt so embittered at the admission. Had she asked the question, intent on belittling him for it, or just as a demonstration of her knowledge about his circumstances?

“It’s unfortunate, as you were all orphaned in your youth. Yes, Father told me about your past. Your eyes betray your surprise. Yet, who should you have clung to except each other?”

Her knowledge astonished him, in particular her pertinent observations. His gaze slid away under her insistent scrutiny, as he worried about what else might she have learned of him.

After a time, he inhaled deeply. “My half-brother has no love for me. I share the same views of him. There was always a little rivalry between us. My younger sisters are married. I suppose their duties as wives and mothers keep them to their respective homes. Not every family can be as fortunate to be close, like yours.”

“Have you ever tried to know your family better?”

He shrugged. “They will never have a high opinion of me, so it’s useless.”

She nodded. “I may not know you as well as I should like, but my instincts tell me you don’t avoid a challenge, if you really want something.”

He drew back, flabbergasted. Damned girl, how did she perceive the worst and best of him? She edged too close to the truth, one he could not confront. Not yet.

He forced a smile. “For the moment, I’m focused on improving your opinion of me.”

Her blush returned. “Why do you say that?”

“You have made many assumptions, some true, but most of them unfair. If I don’t take the trouble to correct you, we shall never have a companionable relationship.”

“Is that what you want from me, a companionable relationship?”

She awaited his answer in silence, her gaze stark, piercing to his very soul.

He sucked in a harsh breath, and looked at her companions, who intently followed the conversation. The women exchanged wary glances with him and each other, before they looked away. The eunuch’s black eyes darted to Faraj’s face before he studied the blackened sky.

Faraj nodded to Fatima. “My parents married according to the wishes of the Sultan, as we did. The shared a delicate peace. If we are fortunate to have a small measure of the happiness they did, it would suit me.”

She lowered her eyelids. “Only a small measure would suffice, humph? If that is what you wish, then it is what you shall have.”

Those sparkling eyes which had intrigued and invited a moment ago were shuttered against him. A chill rippled through his body that had nothing to do with the soaking rain.

He looked down at his muddied, sandaled feet. No words passed between them but thoughts swirled in his head, all revolving around the young girl who stood nearby. How had she stirred his anger, curiosity, and now, regret, in such a short span of time?

He began, “Fatima, I….”

“I believe the rain has stopped, my prince. Please, allow me to return to my father’s harim.”

At the sound of her voice, he looked heavenward. As suddenly as the rain begun, it tapered off.

She curtsied before him. “The blessing and the peace of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate, be with you.”

Her servants bowed, before they all turned away and left him.

He hung his head and kicked a pebble in his path. Snagging the reins of his sodden, snorting horse, he glanced over his shoulder. Fatima’s silken jubba grew fainter in the distance, the thin material of her robe clinging to her smooth hips.

He arrived at the house just before another abrupt downpour started. He bellowed for Marzuq and gave him terse instructions. The steward bowed and departed.

Faraj handed his wet cloak to a waiting slave, and went to his bedchamber. There, he undressed hastily and changed into a woolen caftan and trousers. Dim light illuminated his way as he crossed the corridor.

Entering the cavernous chamber where his women resided in the harim, Faraj beheld a delectable sight. His jawari waited in the center of the room in various stages of undress, their sheer, pastel silk garments betraying and hiding sensuous curves at the same time.

“Master, Marzuq said you were unsettled. Surely we can improve your mood.” Samara looked up at him beneath hooded eyelids painted with malachite.

The trio smiled invitingly, snaking toward him. Yet, even as Baraka nibbled the curve of his ear and pressed the softness of her pale breast to him, and Hayfa and Samara’s hands undid his garments, he stilled the roving hands and stepped back.

“I…I should not have come. I shall return to my room, unaccompanied.”

Baraka frowned, and slipped her supple limbs about him. The tips of her rouged nipples grazed his chest.

He removed her arms and shook his head. “I said, not now, Baraka.”

He left them, frustrated and puzzled like the women who stared in his wake.


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Meet the characters - Sultana Moraima

The character of Moraima becomes one of two protagonists in  Sultana: The White Mountains . She is the beloved wife of her husband, Sultan...