Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy Release Month!

 
Paperback
Woohoo! Yeah! I finally have both the paperback and ebook versions of Sultana available for sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and Smashwords (Amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble.com still have only the ebook as of this post). If I told you how long it's taken me, from the date my research began to finally having this book for sale, it would be a tale of some interesting rejection letters - recall something about "a positive portrayal of Muslim society will never sell post 9/11"- followed by the trials of getting and losing two agents, and a hard-won sale that just wasn't meant to be. I could tell you, but I would have to change the names to protect the not-so-innocent. Or, I could give you all the names and places, but then I would have to kill you. On second thought, how about I never tell you? Instead, I'm just going to celebrate all month long.

Ebook
First, at my website starting tomorrow (April 1, but not an April Fool's joke) I'm giving away five Kindle copies (INTERNATIONAL) and two paperbacks (US and CANADA only) of Sultana. Winners will be asked to review the book on Amazon. What do you have to do to win? Email me at lyarde11751 at verizon dot com and tell me why you want to win this book. Winners will be announced at the end of April. On April 7-11, I'll be at History and Women, with the new Sultana trailer, an excerpt and your chance to win two paperbacks (US and CANADA only) or two Kindle copies. Please leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. Then April 21, I'll be at Unusual Historicals with an excerpt of Sultana and your chance to win one paperback (US and CANADA only) or one Kindle copy. Please also leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. 

For the international giveaways of Kindle copies, you need: A Kindle OR any of the Kindle applications for Windows PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone7.

Now that Sultana is done, surely I must be planning to relax, right? Yeah right. In addition to promoting it, I'm hard at work on the sequel, Sultana's Legacy. The next book begins fifteen years after the events of Sultana. It is brutal and bloody - starts off with a child's throat being cut. I was so worried the first chapter might turn people that I sent it in panic mode to another writer, who said as dark imagery goes, it was fine. I can only hope so because it goes downhill for my protagonists after that. Would you believe all that tragedy actually happened? I hope readers come to understand that and gain an appreciation for the suffering my characters endured. In the meantime, I'm editing steadily the manuscript; I'm about halfway through and hope to find beta readers at the end of spring. Then it's back to my cover artist. As with Sultana, I've decided to go with another Orientalist painting for the cover. I need a somewhat mature figure who looks somewhat sad or contemplative. Early possibilities include Ange Tissier's Algerian Woman and Her Slave

I'm also considering Jean Francois Portael's Femme Orientale.

Both subjects meet the criteria because they capture an older, moodier woman and there are dark undertones in the background that suit the themes of Sultana's Legacy. Also, both resemble the subject I chose for the cover of Sultana, although the earlier painting (Jewish Girl of Tangiers) was done by Charles Landelle. I'm thinking of a fall release for this book, September to November.  Off to make it happen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Voices: Ann Simon, author of Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box

When my husband got a job offer in Russia, I quit my job and we were off. I'd been a public school teacher, a technical writer, and had poems and essay published, but whether from lack of time (between a job and two small children) or lack of energy (between a job and two small children), or lack of opportunity (travel in the days before lap tops), the star in the sky – a novel – eluded me. In Russia, a new life opened before me: learning a new language and culture, a myriad of activities via the American Women’s Organization, a love of vodka.

By the time we'd lived in Moscow for a year and a half, Steve and I had long established the custom of sipping on an after-dinner vodka. One evening we were so engaged, chatting about this and that, when my husband pronounced, “I had an idea for a thriller.”

“What is it?” I asked, amazed. Steve is a scientist and his interest in creative writing was last demonstrated, well, never in the 35 years I'd known him.

“This guy goes to the craft market and buys a lacquer box. Part of the painting on the box is the key to a nuclear weapons smuggling operation.”

Hold the horses! “That’s a great idea! What happens next? How does the box lead to the smugglers?”

“Oh, I don't know; that idea’s the only part I thought up. You should write it.”

So I did.

It wasn't that easy, of course, but Russian winter afternoons are as long and dark and cold as they are described in Russian novels. That makes plenty of time for writing. By the time we returned to the States six months later, I had the better portion of a completed manuscript.

The “guy” morphed into a young woman (Claire) living in Moscow with her scientist husband (Jack). If this sounds familiar, I can only describe Jack and Claire as Steve and I but younger, prettier, and faster. Claire innocently buys the lacquer box and subsequently gets herself and Jack into more trouble than any two people can handle. I gave them help in the form of Claire’s Shamanic power animal, a spirit jaguar. The fun for me became marrying the two worlds: the most up-to-date technology of tactical nuclear weapons with the most ancient of spiritual belief, Shamanism. (Shamanism is fitting in a Russian story as some of the earliest evidence of Shamanism has been found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia). The enigmatic title of the book reflects its intertwining concepts: a fast paced thriller about tactical nuclear weapons smuggling with a paranormal overlay in an exotic setting that jumps from Moscow to a pine forest in Siberia: a little something for everyone. Unsurprisingly, my book is a lot like me: unique, adventurous, and maybe little weird. I prefer to think of it as cutting edge. And just as we are always taught, my plot reflected things about which I was familiar.

I finished the book after our return to the States and then realized that WRITING it was only half the dream. It sat reproaching me from my desktop until I went to Kindle’s KDP (digital publishing) site. I hired a talented young woman to convert Jaguar to HTML format and create the cover from a photo I took from our Moscow apartment. I followed Kindle’s instructions and uploaded the novel. There were a few glitches, but the people at Kindle are extremely responsive and helpful. So there it is, my OWN novel, actually selling with actual people buying it.

People wonder how it feels to have my book published. It feels great, not only because Jaguar is out there roaming in the real world (and Claire and Jack are out there, too), but because I did something I've wanted to do my entire life. There’s no amount of sales, no number of fan letters that top that. Well, okay, the fan letters are really nice to get, but there’s nothing that tops achieving your dream.

Ann Simon is the Scribblers' New Voice. is available at the Amazon Kindle store for electronic readers, Windows 7 phone, i-pads and other i-products. The Kindle app is currently free.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An ancient, magical city: Segovia

Where do we go from here? Oh, I see
Last Sunday, I missed doing my blog post on Segovia, but today I've got my act together (I think). First, I wish I had more pictures from this particular setting, as it was my favorite among all the cities I toured in Spain and later, Portugal. My camera chose to die on me at various points. Damn it all to hell! Oh well. If you missed the earlier related post on Avila, you can view it here. 

Segovia is a city of crumbling eighth-century walls, eighty towers, three imposing gateways, twisting alleys winding their way past Gothic and Romanesque churches with stained glass windows and ornate chapels. It boasts the most amazing views of the Spanish landscape, and apparently has some of the best suckling pig in the country. I wouldn't know. Sorry, but after our tour guide Lisa talked about the little baby pigs being killed after 28 days...it killed my appetite, too. Although I've researched the history of Spain for Sultana, of course my concentration was on events in Andalusia under the rule of Nasrid Dynasty. But I've since learned that events in Segovia played an important role in the final demise of the Nasrids.

Segovia's 2000-year old aqueduct
 The tour bus took us south of Avila while our guide Lisa explained that Segovia, like many other cities of Spain, has an ancient history that predates the Romans. Its name has CeltiIberian origins and means "city of victory" which is appropriate for reasons I'll get to in a bit. When the Romans occupied Segovia, they built a towering monument that has been featured on the city's coat of arms, an ancient aqueduct that has stood since at least 2,000 years. The aqueduct is almost 20 miles long, stretching from the Fuente Fria River until it reaches Segovia. It's comprised of 25,000 granite blocks held together without any mortar, at least by the Romans. Isabella of Castile and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon repaired parts of the aqueduct. It soars to 95 feet at its greatest height and provided water until at least the mid-1900's. They just don't build stuff like the Romans did anymore.

When the Moorish invaders conquered Spain in the eighth century and renamed Segovia, Siqubiyyah, it's unclear whether it was a large settlement. I saw nothing that would indicate Segovia's Moorish past except its eighth century walls. Considering that the Spanish re-conquered the city three hundred years before they defeated the Nasrids in Granada, it makes sense. The Moors held Segovia until the late eleventh century (possibly in 1088) under King Alfonso VI of Castile.

After seeing the aqueduct, I stopped to have some lunch in a nearby homestyle restaurant. The seafood paella was nothing to write home about, which wasn't great since I'd been craving it for two days. Please, my sister makes better paella and she should, having lived in Spain during her college years. Unfortunately, the following was overheard during lunch, from another obviously American tourist (who was thankfully, NOT in my tour group): "You seem like you know Spanish. So, if I wanna order the suckling pig in Spanish, do I ask for roasted cojones?" Dead silence followed. It's not that the Spanish have no sense of humor but some things just don't need a reply. My apologies on behalf of the ugly American in that room. Meh.

Part of the reason the roasted cojones didn't go over so well is that Spain is still a country where religious roots run very deep. It's no surprise that Segovia is dotted with Catholic churches. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see all of them, especially the church of San Miguel, where Queen Isabella was crowned. Here are some I did see:

Segovia's Church of Saint Martin

A Romanesque church, whose name I obviously
didn't get. I love the backdrop of the sky, very
moody and inspiring of some sort of mystery.
It's a writer thing. If you're not a writer, don't even try.
Cathedral at Segovia
The highlight of Segovia's religious architecture is its Gothic cathedral. This is where the darned camera started acting up! So, I have no beautiful stained glass windows streaming light into the cathedral to show you, nor the floor-level crypts where the bishops were buried, or great shots that would give you the full sense of majesty in this place. All I can do is describe what I experienced. I'm not Catholic (although some tenets of my Anglican upbringing make me question that) and I'm not even deeply religious. So, if I tell you Segovia's cathedral blew me away, trust me that it is an amazing sight. You trust me, don't you?

Chapel of Saint Antonio, Segovia
 The cathedral is huge. Inside, an amazing silence reigns over the space. The best time to visit any popular site in Spain is February-March; it's the off-season (except for the Prado Museum maybe, which as I mentioned in the Avila post, does not seem to have an off-season) and it's less likely to be crowded. No one's voice rose above a whisper, which I can only presume means that the entire tour group was as overawed as I was. The floor is stonework and the interior is ringed with golden, ornate chapels dedicated to various saints on behalf of Segovia's nobles. If you can ever see this monument, do yourself a favor and go.

The slate spires of the Alcazar,
which supposedly inspired
the building of the castle at
Walt Disney World
Lastly, the tour stopped at Segovia's Alcazar, which is derived from the Arabic word, al-qasr, meaning fortress. Built by at least 1120, the castle was the favorite of several Spanish monarchs, first used as an official home by King Alfonso VIII and his Queen, Eleanor of Plantagenet. Prior to their residence, presumably a Moorish fortress existed on the site. The Alcazar would have been prime real estate to anyone, situated in a strategic location. It's built atop a rocky promontory that straddles the Eresma and Clamores rivers. The view is breathtaking all-around. Did I happen to mention that Segovia was my favorite stop? I'm sure I must have. The sight of the Alcazar made the trip worthwhile and it has a great history. Queen Isabella took shelter in it while she waited to be crowned. Since its construction, it has been a royal palace (11th - 16th centuries), a state prison (17th - 18th centuries) and home of the Royal Artillery School. In 1864, fire gutted most of the interior and nearly 30 years later, it was re-built.

The tower of John II at Segovia
The approach from the direction of the cathedral brings the soaring edifice of the New Tower or Tower of John II of Castile into view. If you're supposing that a sight like this would make a medieval buff like me squeal like a little girl, you'd be absolutely right. I swear sometimes I was born in the wrong century. Of course, the entryway is accessed via a wooden bridge presumably replacing the drawbridge. Looking down on either side, there's moss growing in what must have been the moat. And here's where the dang blasted camera finally gave up the ghost. Crap! Again, you'll just have to follow along as I describe, or even better, go see it for yourself! You could do worse than spending a few hours exploring Segovia.

After a sharp turn, there's a short hallway featuring walls with a few wooden shields bearing heraldic colors and devices. A turn to the right takes you into the armory room which has, you guessed it, suits of armor, plus flags and pennons, more shields, cannon and mortar. There's even a mounted rider on a carpisoned horse. If this place doesn't stir your imagination of the medieval past, nothing will. Another turn leads you into what is called the throne room (didn't ask the guide how authentic that was). A red velvet canopy and curtains provide the backdrop for two ornamental chairs with velvet cushions. Interestingly enough, to me at least, the ceiling of this room mirrors some of the work found in the Alhambra. Further on, there is the Hall of Kings. The title is appropriate, as it has wall carvings of Spanish Kings and Queens from Pelagius of Austurias down to Queen Juana of the Mad claim, who was Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter. I specifically looked for the image of Alfonso X, as he is one of the adversaries of my protagonists in Sultana. The carving looked like all the other depictions of him that I have seen, except here he was older than in most paintings or statues. The cold wind blowing into this room made us hurry on to a smaller space, featuring a bed with a canopy and what looked like wall tapestries. Our guide informed us it was, in fact, a series of paintings.

In addition to being the place where Queen Isabella was crowned, Segovia is also the site where she spent some of her married life with Ferdinand of Aragon. Except for when they were afield campaigning against the Moors. As I walked the stonework floors they might have also trod, I couldn't help but wonder something. How much of the planning of the eventual overthow of the Nasrid Dynasty might have taken place behind these cold, masonry walls within the 'city of victory'? In the end, I was truly sorry to leave Segovia via the San Andres gate, but if my plans to live in Spain hold true, I know I'll be back.

Next Sunday, it's more pics and views from my trip in Portugal. I'll show you the fascinating stonework at the Jeronimos and Batalha monasteries, the ancient ramparts of medieval Obidos and tell you about a sickeningly sweet drink from ginja berries, the mystical wonder at the cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima and a perfect little coastal village called Nazare. Also, I'll let you in on a secret: the Portuguese make the BEST pastries and bread, and I have the proof. In pictures, of course.  Before I go, some other photos from Madrid.
Agricultural Ministry
Royal Palace / Eastern Palace
National Library
How could I forget? The mariachi band at Plaza del Sol


Fountain at the Plaza del Sol
Plaza Mayor
Fourth century Temple of Debod, a gift from the Egyptian people to Spain in 1968
Don Jamon's tapas bar, one of the best tilework facades
Thanks, as always, for stopping by the blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quarterfinal results of ABNA are in...

...and Sultana made it, based on a 5,000-word excerpt, which can now be found here. It amounted to the first chapter and half of chapter two. Yeah! The contest is down to 500 entrants; 250 each in General and Young Adult Fiction. ABNA started with 5,000 entries in each category. After I got over my initial surprise about the results, I read the feedback from reviewers. They were good and fair, except I'm writing about the 13th, not 11th century. Meh. Both reviewers also made me think of how I should categorize my work - as historical romance or historical with strong romance elements. Here's what they said:

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
I think the characters are the strongest aspects of this excerpt. Specifically the characters of Fatima and her mother. In Fatima you have an angry, young girl forced to marry for reasons she can not understand-but even at eight the author paints her with an intelligence, which I think is the author's way of giving us an idea of what is to come. Fatima's mother on the other hand, is a woman that is loved obsessively by her husband, and yet he has poisoned the mind's of the children-the product of that obsessive love. Prince Faraj is another interesting character. He knows that his forced marriage to an eight year old could very well bring about violence, and yet at the same time his youth is shown in his inability to have done the right thing. I think this is a very interesting set up.

What aspect needs the most work?
I think the direction was a tad unclear. If this is an historical romance, I can see this being very similar to something Johanna Lindsey or Jude Devereux might write. If that is the case, this book could have a very big following. The glitz, the glamour, the excessiveness are all in appealing in a romance novel. On the other hand, if this book has little to know romance in it, I am not sure who the book would be marketed for.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
My opinion on this goes two ways: If this is a work of historical romance I am hooked. I want to know what happens next-and I want to see if Fatima and the Prince fall in love. Does Fatima grow up hating her father? Will she ever love her mother?

On the other hand, if this book is more of a history novel, I believe it can become very dry as it is a fiction story, rather than a history book.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
I love how clearly the author tells his/her story. There's a lot going on: political intrigue, kidnappings, marriages, complicated family relationships. And yet it's all presented with such skill and verve, in concise, beautifully shaped prose that's simple yet poetic. Much to the author's credit, I believe every word. I'm having a great time reading this.

What aspect needs the most work?
There are times when the writing takes on a slightly melodramatic quality, but given the exoticism of the piece and its heightened reality, this isn't the drawback it could have been. And the author has the skill to not let things get too exaggerated or artificial.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
I loved this piece. The author writes with such authority about the 11th century, yet never in a dry or academic way. This is pure entertainment. like a great old Hollywood movie you'd see on TCM. It's authentic, engaging, beautifully written and a whole lot of fun.

I was surprised not to see some others advancing, including one in particular who I was rooting for, but as I told her today it's ever onward and upward from here. I don't know anyone else among the other competitors. It doesn't sound like there's too much historical fiction that made it through. Correction: 44 historical fiction excerpts made it including mine. Damn. I mean, great, wonderful. LOL. I still think that historicals aren't as "sexy" as paranormal or thrillers for others. For me, there's nothing sexier than people behaving badly in the past, doing what they wanted without the constraints of our 21st century morality. IMO, whoever says history is boring is reading the wrong kind of history.

So, what's next in the semifinal round of ABNA? Thanks to the help of two others who submitted to ABNA in the past, if I understood them correctly, Publishers Weekly will now read and score the excerpts manuscripts - apparently I was wrong yesterday in thinking they would review the excerpts. Based on the highest scores, 50 entrants from each category will be chosen in the semifinal round on April 26. Each quarterfinalist will get a PW review (I think), which I've heard can be harsh. Yippee. Excerpts will also be posted on Amazon, where customers can read them. At this point, I'll be grateful if the excerpt leads to more sales and reviews of Sultana. Like any writer, I've invested years in my work and a little recognition would be nice. Ok, money would probably be better, but I'll settle for recognition.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Indie Authors Relief Fund

The harsh reality that Japan faces in the wake of the devastating quake and tsunami on March 11 made me wonder what I could do to help. Sure, I've given money to the Red Cross in the hopes that it will reach those who need it most, but I'd like to do more.

Author Kristie Cook has set up the Indie Authors Relief Fund and invites donations to raise money for those still suffering in Japan. Several indie authors, including me, have contributed items for auction. Bidders must provide an email address and the amount placed for bid in the comments. The auction is live now and ends this Sunday at 11:59pm EST.

How can you help? If you're a writer, please consider donating your books or other items, your time in offering a critique, or even a chance to name a character in one of your future books. If you're not a writer, please consider placing a bid. If you can't do any of those things, please help by spreading the word about this relief fund through your tweets, Facebook posts and emails.

The suffering in Japan won't be turned around overnight. It needs sustained contributions and assistance to rebuild the livelihood of Japan's citizens, many of whom are still without basic necessities, desperately searching for loved ones and fearing a nuclear crisis. If you can, please help.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's done! Sultana paperback available in less than two weeks

I feel just as exhausted as this guy
Seems like forever since I've been working on this book, formatting and getting it posted on Kindle, Smashwords and Barnes&Noble, through their Pubit program. I also did a fresh edit and update, thanks to suggestions from the brilliant Jeanne Kalogridis, who is one of the sweetest, most generous best-selling authors on the planet. If you're on Twitter, follow her. So grateful for her advice, as she's one of two authors who inspired me to write historical fiction in the first place.

There had to be one obstacle in my editing process. My update added six pages to the original file. It also screwed up my paperback file and cover settings. Took all day yesterday and I probably added a few gray hairs, but managed to format everything correctly. I'm now awaiting the proof, which should arrive April 1. That had better not be CreateSpace's version of an April Fool's joke.

To celebrate Sultana's official release, I'll be giving away two paperback copies to US and Canadian residents. The postage costs are just too high elsewhere. Lest other internationals think they're being left out, I'll also give away five Kindle copies internationally. Now Kindle books can be sent as gifts anywhere; I successfully gave a copy of On Falcon's Wings as a gift for a reader in the UK last month. Guess that "read anywhere, anytime" slogan is true. If you'd like to get in on the giveaways, starting April 1, email me at lyarde11751 at Verizon dot net and tell me why you want to read the book. I'll choose winners and send the books out at the end of April. I'll ask that anyone who receives a copy posts a review on Amazon.

It has been an incredibly long journey since I started researching this book in college. It'll be exciting to see it and the sequel in print. I've learned there are no off days for self-published authors - I'm editing the next book each day. I'll have to get back to Lance Ganey on cover concepts soon and line up another round of beta readers. Look for Sultana's Legacy in the fall.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Being There: Avila

 
The medieval walls at Avila, with non-medieval people walking around
Taking a break from SampleSunday on Twitter. Instead, I wanted to devote a few posts to my recent trip to Spain and Portugal. It was one of the best and most memorable vacations I've had in a long time.

I haven't been in Spain since November 2001 and I'd been planning to return. It won't be another 10 years before I'm back. To truly paraphrase Gertrude Stein, Barbados and America are my countries, but Spain is my hometown. Considering that I still speak bastardized Spanish (enough to get me around without looking like an "ugly American" - more on that later!), people are often surprised by my affinity for Spain, its people and culture. Dependent on if I win the lottery or wait for retirement in an odd 30 years, if you want to look me up in the future, I'll be at a white-washed, two-storey house on the Cuesta de las Tomasas, in a hillside neighborhood in Granada called the Albaicin, enjoying an amazing view of the Alhambra every morning.

If you've ever noticed the header of this blog, "The adventures of a struggling New York writer who'd rather be in medieval Spain," you've probably figured out how much a tour of Avila meant to me. First off: getting there. In the comfort of a coach bus, somewhat bleary-eyed, I set off early on the morning of Friday, February 18, leaving the hotel in the urban Madrid town of Torrejon, which has an almost industrial complex feel to it.  
Atocha Station, Madrid. Yes, those are palms.
I headed for Atocha Station in central Madrid. Atocha is not only a metropolitan hub for the local train lines operated by RENFE; you can link to other transportation services throughout Spain. At left, what the people of Madrid think a train station should look like. Grand Central Station has nothing on Atocha.

After a few wrong turns (come on, it's impossible NOT to get lost when you speak a bastardized form of a beautiful language) and a little meandering, met up with the tour guide with the easily remembered name of Lisa. She pointed out various sites along the way as we began our drive down the Gran Via, which looks a lot like any congested street during an early morning commute. Traffic jam? Check. Great, I definitely feel right at home.
La Gran Via, on a normal traffic-clogged day

While Lisa (the tour guide, not me in some weird guise) talked about all the great things we would see on this day trip to Avila, with a second stop at Segovia (next Sunday's blogpost - stay tuned!), I forced myself to wake up and pay attention to my surroundings as we were leaving the city. I'd been in Spain since early Wednesday morning; 3am in New York City, I'll have you know, and had taken a tour bus that day to get acclimated to central Madrid. It is truly one of the most beautiful Spanish cities, home to the Prado Museum, which I'd managed to get a shot of the day before the trip to Avila. You can't tell from this shot but the line around the Prado was ridiculous. Why didn't I go in? If you know me, you know how much I love HATE waiting in long lines. Maybe the next trip to Spain will include a tour of the Prado. Is there like an off-season at that place? Sheesh.
Prado Museum, Madrid
If I wasn't such a medieval buff, I could have found myself happily enjoying the sights of Madrid alone, but part of why I'm so enthralled by this country is its early history. Another thing; Spain has the most fascinating contrasts of colors. Okay, let me stop right there. If I wanted to, I could probably come up with 100 things that make Spain super amazing, but if I had to tick off just a few, I'd start with it's history and geography. It's a land of varying browns, red ochre and greens. I'd never seen sage-green grass before but managed to get a shot of it on the later drive to Segovia, which doesn't quite do it justice. Still, you'd get the general idea. Spain is also a country of amazing mountainous views, with steps hills and wide valleys. The colors and terrain shifts as you move northward. Driving from Madrid up to Avila, you climb slowly, and those reds and browns become more startling. Then, you see this:

Snow-covered mountains on the way to Avila
Again, taking photos with my Blackberry's camera isn't going to quite do this vista justice, but it was truly one of the most amazing sights of the morning sun glinting off pristine, snow-capped mountains. Within 20 minutes, the tour bus was on the outskirts of our first stop.

Avila is one of Spain's oldest cities and, as our tour guide explained, has existed as a major settlement from pre-Roman times. After the Moors invaded Spain from North Africa, Avila remained in their hands until the late eleventh century. The plan for its medieval walls, which encircle the old city limits, started in 1090 to keep out future Moorish incursions. Avila is the birthplace of Saint Teresa, one of only three women recognized by the Catholic Church as a Doctor of the Church. It is also home to many religious monuments, including cathedrals and convents and the mini-palaces of the nobility. Sights include the Basilica of San Vincente, Monastery of Saint Thomas, San Jose Convent, San Juan Bautista Church and Los Davila Palace. A few shots around Avila follow.

Which way to Segovia? Oh, that way!
Next Sunday: Segovia, where Isabella of Castile was crowned and married Ferdinand of Aragon, a city of medieval stained glass and the Alcazar of the Spanish royals.







Thanks, as always, for stopping by the blog.
             

Avila's Medieval gateway
 


Entrance at Avila's 12th century Basilica de San Vicente

Another shot of the Basilica

 

Avila's cathedral tower

Cobblestone streets at Avila

Birth place of Saint Teresa of Avila


Sunday, March 6, 2011

#SampleSunday: The Burning Candle, Chapter 11

Isabel de Vermandois shares a brief meeting with Earl William de Warenne of Surrey.

Chapter Eleven – Parting

Vatteville, Normandy – November 1100

Flames crackled in the open hearth bordered by stone. Drawn to the inviting warmth, Isabel settled on a low stool beside one of the large stone columns that supported the roof. She swept the folds of her mantle back and stared into the fire at the western edge of the hall. Across the chamber, Petronilla looked up from her embroidery lesson, before Claremond gestured for her to return her attention to the task. The maid's weary sighs and stifled groans echoed in the near silence. In a huff, she tugged threads from the cloth, while Claremond urged her to be patient.

A low whimper warned Isabel that the three of them were no longer alone. Then a warm muzzle nosed her hand. An injured alaunt gentil flopped at her side. The poor dog favored her uninjured foreleg, drawing up the other close to her underside. Earl Warenne's boar hunt of three weeks past had ruined her.

Isabel stroked the coarse, white hairs on the dog. The alaunt raised her sleek head for a moment before settling between Isabel and the hearth, her muzzle resting on her forepaws. Her eyelids drooped. Despite an occasional flick of the tail, she remained quiet.

The day after Isabel had resumed her appearances at dinner, she noticed the solitary dog. Unlike the other eager hounds, this one did not tussle over bones and scraps of meat, content to relax beside the hearth. But her ragged state and painful shuffling into the hall each day betrayed an enduring pain. The Earl's master of the hounds had done his best to patch the gaping tear in the left leg but held little hope the bitch would ever hunt again. Isabel doubted his view, believing the dog needed only time and care to heal. Each day, she fed her by hand and chased off any rival who edged too close. She delighted in her renewed appetite and hoped the alaunt might regain her strength soon.

"Milady, aren't you frightened of such a great beast?"

Claremond's raspy voice stirred Isabel from her musings. "Never, for she's as gentle as may be."

"But surely not so in the hunt?"

"I doubt alaunts are bred for gentleness. But she's not hunting now. I've no reason to fear her."

Then the bitch raised her head, her ears cocked, attention on the doorway. William de Warenne entered.

Isabel stared into the flames once more. Her stomach fluttered and clenched as if dinner had soured inside her. She clasped her fingers together in her lap. Unbidden, her thoughts strayed to the evening when they stood alone. She recalled his heated, whispered words in the chapel. “If you belonged to me, I’d never leave your side.”

She closed her eyes to banish the memory of him, which had haunted her for three nights. Yet, that only increased her awareness of him. His heavy, booted feet approached, trampling fresh straw. The scent of horses and the wine served at dinner tinged her nostrils. Her fingers clenched, nails digging into her palms. His footsteps halted at her side. Her skin tingled. Heat that had nothing to do with the nearby fire swept up her spine.

When she glanced upward, the Earl loomed at her side, leaning against the other side of the column. When he bowed, a forelock of dark hair fell over his eyes. He straightened, with a trace of a smile on his lips. Her lips felt dry. She moistened them with a darting flick of her tongue. His smile faded. She shuddered beneath his pertinent gaze. Only when Claremond coughed did his eyes slide away.

“Comtesse, surely it’s unhealthy to sit so close to the flames, inhaling all this smoke. Your vents are aloft, too high to spare you the worst.” He straightened and gestured to the swirling gray wisps.

Isabel snapped her mantle closed around her shoulders and regained her composure. “It’s cold.”

He came around the column and stood directly across from her seat. The hound approached, crawling on her belly. She issued a loud, long-drawn-out whine. The Earl chuckled and crouched beside her. Thick muscles bulged beneath his hose. He patted her head and stroked her coat.

“I’ll miss her. She’s been my strongest hunter for many years, but she deserves her rest now.”

Isabel sniffed and crossed her arms beneath the mantle. “Then, you believe your master of the hounds? You presume she’s outlived her usefulness?”

The Earl raised a darkened gaze before he shrugged. “The injury shall trouble her for the rest of her life. It’s a kindness that she should end her days in relative comfort, instead of dying at the end of a boar’s tusk.”

He returned his attention to the alaunt. The dog raised her head so he could tickle under her chin. She flicked her tail happily.

Earl Warenne said, “I’m grateful for your care, Comtesse. She has long been a favorite of mine, since she was a little pup. You should have seen her then, fierce and daring amongst the litter.”

His generous praise tugged at Isabel’s heart unexpectedly. For the first time, she wished she might have enjoyed such a close bond with an animal. The dog’s proximity offered an odd sense of comfort that she did not understand or question. Her father’s hounds and hunting birds at CrĂ©py-en-Valois were unimportant to the family. After her elder brothers had teased and taunted a dog until it snapped at one of them, her father forbade them from approaching the animals.

“She’ll regain her strength soon, milord, and resume the hunt.”

The dog rolled on her side, inviting him to rub her exposed belly, her tongue lolling out of her gaping jaws. He obliged but looked from her to Isabel.

“Even if she could, I cannot wait. I am leaving Vatteville in the morning. We depart for Gournay, home to my sister Edith and her husband Gerard. He accompanied me here and is eager to return, though his wife may be less eager to see him.”

As he chuckled, Isabel gazed at him in silence and wondered why he chose to share such an intimacy. Then she remembered how her tongue betrayed her during their meeting in the chapel, when she rattled on about how much she missed her husband, to a mere stranger. De Warenne must think her pathetic, starved for attention. Perhaps he pitied her.

Yet, sympathy did not soften his intense gaze. In the dimmed hall, lit only by one window to the north and the vent for the hearth, his look caught the firelight. Beneath a furrowed brow, his candid expression studied her with widened eyes. She leaned forward on the stool, her hands in her lap again. At his feet, the dog enjoyed his slow strokes across her stomach. His fingers smoothed the short white hairs.

Isabel tore her gaze away and folded her hands, suddenly aware she had said nothing in response to his leave-taking. Finally, after three weeks, she would be rid of him. Yet, the news did not bring her the sense of relief she once anticipated. Her thoughts churned as rapidly as her belly did. Nausea roiled inside her stomach anew. Perhaps she had eaten something disagreeable. The eels baked in red wine had tasted a bit more sour than usual. But the Earl had eaten of it and applauded her cook’s efforts.

She shook her head. Why had she been unable to stop thinking of him since he entered the hall? For weeks, she wished nothing more than that he should leave and take his men and dogs with him. The sooner he departed then she could begin preparing for her journey. The long-desired reunion with Robert awaited her.

The alaunt’s plaintive yowl drew her from reverie. When she looked up again, the Earl had stood. His keen expression faded to a placid, stark look. He stared in her direction, but it seemed as though he studied the ground instead of her. He scratched at his chin and took a deep breath before exhaling slowly.

“I would beg milady’s favor…that is, if you would wish it, she may remain here with you. She’s my present to you in thanks for your hospitality, though it’s a mere token.”

Isabel stiffened. “How convenient for you to rid yourself of her in this way. Indeed, your guilt is greatly eased, isn’t it, by making such a gift?”

The Earl’s jaw tightened and his fists curled at his side. She drew back on the stool.

“Do you refuse her, Comtesse?”

“I’ve grown fond of her, milord, as well you know. I accept her with all gratitude.”

“Then why couldn’t you say so without trying to goad me? You try my patience repeatedly….”

He halted in mid-speech and sketched a stiff bow. “Forgive me. I spoke without thinking and beg your favor. Your kindness has not only been to her, but to my men and me. I shall never forget it. I shall always be in your debt.”

“You have no debts unpaid to me, milord. Good Christian charity compelled my kindness. I wish you and your men Godspeed.”

“Then, I thank you for your good Christian charity, Comtesse.”

His clipped tone startled her, almost as much as his abrupt departure. The folds of his mantle snapped his wake.

The bitch dropped her head on her forepaws again and whined.

Isabel’s eyes watered as dark wisps of smoke coiled around her. She swiped at her tears. She should be in high spirits at the hope of de Warenne’s departure. Yet, the sentiment escaped her, replaced by somberness and gloom.

From across the hall, Claremond observed, “Perhaps, milady has lingered too long by the fire.”

Isabel de Vermandois, descended from French Kings, was the beautiful wife and lover of two powerful Anglo-Norman Earls in the early twelfth century. The Burning Candle, a story of her life and loves, will be published in 2012.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Read an E-Book Week at Smashwords Mar 6-12

March 6-12 sees the return of Read an E-Book Week on Smashwords. I'll be participating along with other authors and offering On Falcon's Wings for FREE that week. Stop by and support other E-Book authors, and get a variety of e-books for free or at discounted prices.

Smashwords authors, you can enroll your book(s) here to participate.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Promoting Kindle novels

 Unless you've been living under a rock or don't shop online, you must know that Amazon is one of the biggest online books retailers. That claim has been bolstered by sales of Kindle eBooks. Amazon offers traditional publishers the means to promote their books to the wide-ranging community of readers, by allowing them the ability to set the price to $0.00. I've seen several popular authors do this and it's led to a boost in their ranking and sales of their backlists. I love it as an reader, because it's allowed me to download eBooks from some of my favorite authors and avoid paying the high prices their publishers normally charge, typically $9.99 and above. I've done the Kindle eBook upload myself and firmly believe there is no reason an eBook should cost that much. Yes, I have refused to buy eBooks that are that expensive and will continue to do so until cheaper becomes the standard.

Sadly, this great promotion opportunity doesn't apply to self-published authors like me. Did you know that self-pubbed authors have a minimum price of $0.99 set for their Kindle versions? I learned this yesterday and JA Konrath has also confirmed via his blog. If you know me, you must already be guessing at what I think of this policy from a company that allows self-publishers to get their work out there, but won't allow them to compete and promote along the same terms that the "big boys" do. You're probably waiting for some angry post about how unfair this is. Wait for it....

Ha-ha, fooled you! There are days I get up on my soapbox about the injustices of the publishing world. This isn't one of them. ‘Nuff said.

In other promotional news, I'm giving away FIVE FREE Kindle copies of On Falcon's Wings at LibraryThing, now through March 17. If you're interested, you need to be: a LibraryThing user and have a Kindle device OR any of the applications that allow you to read Kindle books.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do It Now

I promise I'm not morphing into Tony Robbins or any other sort of life coach. I am, instead, very contemplative this morning. Yesterday, a dear friend and I were tweeting and the conversation brought to mind someone in our critique group who passed away earlier this year after battling cancer. She had worked on a medieval time-travel piece for a while, but never saw it published.

None of us knows what's coming, or what God or the fates have decided for us. We each have our own personal fears about where life will take us. I'm challenging you, as I do for myself each day, to choose the path. Whatever it is that you have to do: finish a manuscript, edit or revise, write a query, enter a contest, decide which agent you should go with, etc., just do it. Stop procrastinating or putting off the decision until tomorrow. Stop making excuses. Stop letting fear of failure or the unknown limit your possibilities for the future.

The conversation yesterday reminded me of how fleeting our goals and dreams can be. I can only imagine what it is to see your life end with regrets about the things you should or could have done, if you had a little more time. I'd hate to leave this world, knowing that I never finished a manuscript, never queried an agent or editor, never saw my own books published. Now, I won't have those particular regrets, because I've done those things. Don't let time pass you by. Do it now.

Thank you for seven great years

Today I looked at the newly revised ebook reports in Amazon KDP, to check out the enhancements made, including lifetime sales history. Sinc...