Monday, December 31, 2012

Bring on 2013!

Not that 2012 wasn't a great productive year, personally and professionally. Most goals were attained but a few are still elusive. There's just something about a new year; a new start, beginnings, hopes and prospects. The top things I'm anticipating for next year include:

Mid-year, the third in my series on Moorish Spain, Sultana: Two Sisters will be published. The penultimate draft is going through the critique group, whose members have provided incredible and encouraging feedback. I'm also happy to announce the next title in the series is underway (more on that in 2013) with plans for a total of six books on this topic through the next two years, spanning the history of the Nasrid Dynasty as rulers of Granada.

Audio book versions of On Falcon's Wings, Sultana and The Burning Candle are coming! Each title is currently in production through Audiobook Creation Exchange. The wonderful voice talent of audio book narrator and actress Sherill Turner, voice actress Maureen Boutilier and bilingual voice artist Laurence Krambule will bring the medieval period in England, Spain and France to life in these stories. Each of the narrators provided a perfect audio sample of the respective work, so I'm excited about listening to final versions by the end of winter.

Last but definitely not least, the Turkish translations of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy will be available from Istanbul publisher Beyaz Balina Yayinlari. Something about this bit still feels surreal. Yes, I've read that signed contract a few times. As part of it, the publisher will provide some free copies of the translated works. Do you think I have enough time next year to learn to read in Turkish?

I wish everyone an amazing and inspired New Year. May all your goals for 2013 be fulfilled!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Juan Manuel Gomero

Esperanza and her counterpart Miriam find themselves enslaved in Sultana: Two Sisters, sold by Ahmed al-Qurtubi and his nephew Fadil to a rich merchant, Juan Manuel Gomero. Men like Juan Manuel Gomero would have made their wealth from brokering profitable sales of slaves; men, women and children captured in Moorish raids along the towns that bordered the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Beautiful women, like Esperanza and Miriam, would be considered suitable for concubinage. Private auctions were usually arranged for the female slaves sold to noble families and the Nasrid rulers of Granada, unlike the public display depicted below in Jean-Leon Gerome's Orientalist classic, The Slave Market. In medieval Spain, a bondwoman's origins did not prevent her children from attaining their freedom or prestige, even a crown. The Sultan Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, maternal great uncle of Sultan Yusuf in my latest title, was the product of a union between Sultan Muhammad II and a Christian concubine.

Of all the characters of Sultana: Two Sisters, Juan Manuel caused the most conflicted feelings. He has no qualms about gaining profit from the miserable existence of others. Inspiration for his hardened personality came from knowledge of attitudes during other historic slave-holding periods, including the Roman Empire and the Atlantic slave trade. As Miriam quickly discovers, her plight has no affect on this cultured and tolerant man.

Juan Manuel approached Miriam. He scrutinized her with a frown and then lifted an eyebrow. “You have spoiled this one, Ahmed. Look at these scars, that bruise, and this cut on her face. My patrons have very specific desires. All of my stock must be beautiful and free from blemish. You never mentioned she was pregnant either. I bargained for a midwife to attest to the younger one’s virginity, not for the sake of a breeding woman! Take this one away and make what profit you can in the market.”
Bitterness assailed Miriam. How dare this preening peacock dismiss her, especially after he had shown excessive reflection on Esperanza’s bland appearance?
Ahmed clasped his hands together. “I thought you would be pleased to know she is fertile. I could sell the mother and the unborn child for twenty maravedies less than the agreed upon price. You would gain two slaves at a bargain.”
“Only twenty gold coins less? Bah! You presume I still wish to buy her. You do not fool me when it’s clear you are eager to rid yourself of the woman.”
“You mistake me. She is yours. Do not quibble over a few scratches. They will fade.”
“In a month? I expected to auction both females at that time.” 
Miriam sucked in her breath. Juan Manuel's home would not be their final destination.

In Esperanza's encounter with the man, he teases at knowing more about her heritage than she does. She discovers something enigmatic about him, a side he does not hint at with others.

When she opened her eyes, Esperanza first became aware of the unusual tiling of the floor, another random design. Then she realized the brown-haired man who had inspected her the day before now sat on the stool. His elbows pressed against his knees and his chin propped up his fists. He wore a black silken pellote trimmed with gold braid. Beneath the sideless surcoat, the sleeves of a green tunic hid his fingers.
She tugged the damp cover around her naked form and sat up. “What are you doing here?”
He laughed in a rumbling, throaty voice. “I am master of the house and all who dwell herein.”
“Still, you should not be alone with me.”
“Why? You must know my coin built this bathhouse, provides every comfort you have experienced within it. Your youth cannot excuse ignorance. What is your age?”
“I have lived for fourteen years.”
“Tell me, is your full name Esperanza Peralta?”
“It is! I have no reason to lie.”
His gaze probed her face. Something unexpected glinted in his golden gaze. She thought she recognized sympathy, but his intent gaze suggested another elusive emotion.
. I should have known you by your features.”
Her temple pulsed and her breath quickened. “Why? You have never met me before now. My father never traveled to Andalusia.”
“Perhaps everything is not as you believe. Did he ever tell you how he came by the Peralta name, its origins?”
“If he knew, he did not say.”
“I suppose not. And you were born in Castilla-Leon?”
“At Talavera—”
“De la Reina,” he finished for her. “I should have guessed that too.”

How is a stranger, who has only recently met the heroine, able to discern so much from her looks? I promise Juan Manuel has much more to share with Esperanza as the story progresses!

Devoted to his business, Juan Manuel relies on a trusted slave to introduce the women to Moorish customs and ensure their cooperation. Next time, meet Sadiya, a beautiful French girl entrusted by her master with aiding's Esperanza adjustment to life as a slave in Moorish Spain.         

Monday, December 17, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Fadil al-Qurtubi

In Sultana: Two Sisters, Fadil al-Qurtubi is the chief tormentor of Esperanza and Miriam, after they are captured by Moors on the plains of La Mancha. The paternal nephew of Ahmed al-Qurtubi, Fadil is a child in a man's body, possessing an innate cruel nature coupled with the willingness to act on his impulses. Inspiration for him came from film characters.

Adapted from Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, the film features actor Vincent Gallo as Jeremy Irons' bastard son sired through rape. When the boy first shows up with a demand from his mother that his paternity be recognized, his father dismisses him - a huge mistake. There's a quiet menace about the young man that's fully realized later as he exacts revenge on his father's family, especially his young half-sister Blanca, played by Winona Ryder. This is a character without empathy. Fadil also reminds me of Heath's Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight. With little clear information on his background, the character ramps up the violence from the start of the film and doesn't care how much damage is left in his wake. I went for the same lack of empathy and powerful brutality in the portrayal of Fadil. Like the Joker, his cruelty doesn't derive from any specific cause but he's hell-bent on getting what he wants. As with Vincent Gallo's character, Fadil serves as a reminder of what can happen when a youthful, wayward personality isn't corrected.  

I've often received the feedback from critique groups that every villain should have a cause, just like the protagonist. While Fadil does thwart Esperanza and Miriam's immediate goal of freedom, he isn't the true antagonist of this story - find out who is when this title's released next year. Instead, Fadil drives a wedge between Esperanza and Miriam, by highlighting the differences in their treatment during captivity. While he has a limited goal, the effect of it ensures devastating consequences. Fadil is the kind of villain who does the unexpected simply because he can and in doing so, his actions precipitate other conflicts.

From Esperanza's first meeting with Fadil, she knew she should be afraid. He introduces a capacity for violence with this scene:

Beneath a moonless evening, Esperanza’s captor dragged her from the black stallion. He shoved her next to a large, crumbling rock beside a desiccated stump, the only evidence of trees she had seen across the barren landscape. Her elbow banged against the stone so hard, tears pricked her eyes. She hung her head and bit her lip to stifle a cry. She would never give him the satisfaction of seeing the resultant pain etched in her features.
He licked cracked lips and cocked his head as if studying her. His stubby nose at the center of a pockmarked face disgusted her almost as much as the jagged scar rippling across his left cheek. During the furious ride, he had tied her wrists with hemp. Now, he knelt at her feet and reached for the fastenings of her zapatas
She lifted her leg and kicked him squarely in the chest. “Do not touch me, you ugly savage!”
The knife he had pressed to her ribs earlier reappeared in his copper-colored hand. She shrank against the stone as he raised the blade.

Unfortunately for Miriam, she bears the brunt of Fadil's excesses. She also develops an understanding of the young man's desires coupled with a determination to avenge the losses he has inflicted upon her:

Fadil thwarted Miriam’s contemplation of Esperanza, for he returned in haste and flopped on the ground. Water sloshed from the gourd and fed the parched and broken earth.
The careless fool grinned at her in his idiocy. “I have decided you will be mine. My uncle can have my share of the spoils. All I want is you. After you have delivered of this babe, I shall put another into your belly, one whom my uncle cannot sell as a slave. If you obey me, any children I sire upon you may have their freedom.”
She snatched the vessel from his grasp, tore a strip from the hem of her tattered saya and wadded the cloth before dipping it into the water. She swallowed her grief and sang for the tender child ripped from her clutches, a trilling melody about a mother and daughter preparing a meal on the eve of Shabbat. She used to sing it for Palomba, in days when Miriam imagined how her child might carry on the traditions of their faith. Now that would never be because of the animal lounging beside her.
The muscles in Miriam’s battered body throbbed with a deeper intensity than the yawning ache in her throat, the pain of tears she refused to shed. She scoured her face and arms, which bore reddened marks where Fadil had seized her on the previous night. Fresh bruises from the morning's violence marred her skin. She could count the layers of scratches, discolorations and scabs if she wished, recalling each moment where her captor had gripped her too hard, or shoved or slapped her. She would never permit herself to forget his cruelty.

Find out how these Esperanza and Esperanza attempt to survive their captivity among the Moors in Sultana: Two Sisters. Next time, meet the character Juan Manuel Gomero, who knows more about Esperanza's heritage than she may suspect.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing your readership with Bublish


Are you a writer looking for a free, easy and fun way to gain exposure in this ever-crowded world of published authors? These days when it seems everyone is writing and publishing, it has become increasingly difficult for new authors to reach readers. Serendipite Studios launched the live beta of Bublish at Book Expo America in June 2012, to connect readers with writers and their books.

Bublish is a social book discovery platform used by many authors in a variety of genres. With some practice, you’ll be Bublishing in no time. To get started, go to www.bublish.com and set up Your Profile. Be sure your email and bio information is spelled correctly and add a great headshot. Now, you’ll need to upload an EPUB version of your book. Click on Add a Book and submit the file. Add your website and the all-important tags that help identify your book and genre among the others. Best practice advice: include a linked table of contents in your EPUB too; it will make it easier for you to access relevant sections you’d like to post as book bubbles.

Once you’ve saved the title, now it’s time to create your first book bubble. Scroll to the relevant section of the text and click with your mouse where you would like to begin capturing text. Scroll down until you find the end of the section. Press your Shift key and click where you want to stop. Best practice advice: select a section that is clear and meaningful. You want to highlight your best work, a portion of the text that will intrigue would-be readers

Once you’ve clicked on Submit Excerpt, it’s time to provide Insight into your book bubble. Why did you choose this particular piece? What themes or message do you touch on in the scene? Is your writing funny, sad or thought provoking? What is it about the piece that you think will resonate? Best practice advice: keep it short and to the point. The insight you provide is limited to 200 words.
  

When you’re done, Publish your book bubble via Twitter or Facebook; I rely exclusively on tweets for my book bubbles. Bublish generates a pre-formatted tweet, which you can modify with one caveat: don’t change the shortened URL that is automatically added to your tweet. If you’re using Twitter too, be sure to include hashtags, e.g. #historicalfiction, keywords to help other Twitter users organize and follow your content that is relevant to their interests. 

Promoting my work through Bublish has been a great learning opportunity and a chance to grow my personal website hits and reach new readers. With each book bubble, I’ve discovered how to focus on aspects of the stories that touch individual readers and make them want to know more. In particular, Kathy Meis at Bublish deserves kudos for her time and talent in working with me at each step to navigate all the features the platform has to offer. 

Some of your fellow authors are already using Bublish:




Buy links, the synopsis / blurb of your title and your author website are included with each book bubble. This fall, Bublish debuted a new set of features for both writers and readers. Writers can now add up to 30 book to one author account as well as change their cover art. Readers (and writers exploring Bublish in reader mode) can now filter the bubble stream by genre, and when they discover an author they like see more by that author. Best of all, Bublish is free to all readers and writers!

Need another incentive to start making your connections with readers? Bublish offers a unique opportunity for bublishers only through its Twitter chats, which always occur on Thursdays at 3pm Eastern. The first with Lorna Suzuki is available here through Storify. I’m also scheduled to participate in my first Twitter chat via Bublish today at 3pm Eastern / 2pm Central / 1pm Mountain / 12pm Pacific. Hope you’ll join the discussion.

Want to schedule for your own live Twitter chat with Bublish? Email info@bublish.com. Happy Bublishing!

What I'm Reading: Blood Eye by Giles Kristian


Here's my most recent review of a thrilling Viking tale, Giles Kristian's Blood Eye. Who doesn't love the Vikings? NetGalley has provided the second and third of the series, Sons of Thunder and Odin's Wolves, which I can't wait to get to over the Christmas week. So many books, so little time!
"At the dawn of an age of Scandinavian raiding throughout Western Europe, a young man rediscovers a forgotten heritage that links him to a proud band of Norse warriors in Blood Eye, the first of Giles Kristian’s Raven trilogy. Swept up in their quest to find honor and glory in battle, Raven tests the limits of his endurance and finds companionship among these resilient but brutal warriors.
Raven does not know the name his parents might have given him at birth, where he was born or whether he has any living relations. His entire existence revolves around life in the Wessex settlement of Abbottsend, where he serves the old, mute carpenter Ealhstan and finds himself shunned by others who are suspicious of his blood-red eye. While fishing for his master’s breakfast at dawn, two boats come ashore. The crew wields swords, axes and shields. Their words, suddenly easily understood by Raven, promise trade, but the menace surrounding Jarl Sigurd’s men belies the promise of an easy exchange. Just when it seems the visitors will take their riches and go, treachery brings about a violent end to village life. Raven and Ealhstan become captives of the bloodthirsty crew.
Every event that unfolds in this tale is unexpected, from Jarl Sigurd’s arrival and departure from Abbottsend to his tenuous truce with an English lord whose village he almost destroys. Even the bond Raven forges with the men who have taken him from the only life he remembers is as unpredictable as his ability to survive and forge a new identity among them as an equal. There is no assurance of survival for anyone. Would-be enemies can easily change allegiances, while many a man cannot depend on the loyalty of his own compatriots. Blood Eye is a rich story of adventure told in the style of the Norse sagas, revealing much about the harshness of life in the Scandinavian sailing age and the surprising fellowships forged between people."   

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Ahmed al-Qurtubi


In Sultana: Two Sisters, Efrain Peralta must rescue those under his protection including his only daughter Esperanza from a deadly Moorish raid. The leader of the raiders is Ahmed al-Qurtubi, a man of illustrious origins who finds himself reduced to the role of slaver in the ever-shrinking kingdom of Granada. Ahmed is a practical, determined man ruled by his desire to recapture the lost glory of his family. He will do anything to achieve his goal, including resorting to the capture of innocents along the Christian border with Muslim Granada. Despite his coarse actions, his men revere him, which Esperanza quickly learns.
    
La!” A gravelly tone echoed in the night. Thick leather boots emerged from the shadows. Esperanza’s gaze traipsed up the length of them. They reminded her of similar expensive pairs she had seen on the feet of the Cerda men. The boots rose to the wearer’s knees, stopping at the hem of a voluminous white cloak. Dark eyes in a weather-beaten craggy face with a thin beard peered at her. Other men followed the stranger until at least twenty of them stood over her. 
She drew her knees up to her chest and averted her gaze. The stranger dismissed the man with the knife and took his place. Thin olive-brown fingers went for her chin. She slapped his hand away, seething at his presumption. Those around him stepped back or focused murderous glares on her.
A chuckle rumbled through the stranger’s barrel chest before his stare darkened. His palm swung wide and connected with her cheek. Her shocked tears fell without warning.
He stood. “I have no wish to hurt you.  Never do that again, mi querida.”

When I was imagining Esperanza’s initial encounter with Ahmed, the face of Palestinian actor Ashraf Barhom kept coming to mind. He hasn’t had any breakout roles, but if you’ve watched The Kingdom (with Jaime Fox and Jennifer Garner), Agora (with Rachel Weiss) or Clash of the Titans (with Sam Worthington), you’ve seen Ashraf Barhom appear in pivotal scenes. In each movie, his characters project confidence in their abilities, whether he is portraying as a Saudi Arabian officer, a warrior monk or a bounty hunter, and an easy adaptability to changing circumstances, which perfectly mirrors the forceful personality of Ahmed al-Qurtubi.

The first meeting of Esperanza and Ahmed reveals more of his dangerous nature:
    
The Mohammedan leader stroked his beard as he stood. “There might be more coin for me elsewhere, but I’m uncertain it lies within the old kingdom of Valencia.” He reached beneath a fold in his cloak and withdrew a long curved blade with weaving lines along its surface. He pointed the sword at Esperanza, who shriveled against the rock.
“You see this, little hope? The finest steel from Damascus. I took this from the first man I slaughtered more than twenty years ago. It has never left my hands since then. I remember each person it has killed. I have never beheld another blade of the same quality and craftsmanship, until today.”
He pulled another weapon from within the cloak. The jewel-encrusted handle glittered in the darkness. Esperanza shuddered as he held up the dagger she had last seen in her father’s hands.

Next time, learn more about Fadil al-Qurtubi, Ahmed’s young nephew and the chief tormentor of Esperanza and her counterpart Miriam, in Sultana: Two Sisters.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Efrain Peralta

I'm one of many writers who finds inspiration for bringing their characters to life by imagining the modern-day personages they most resemble. While polishing the penultimate draft of Sultana: Two Sisters, I thought readers who anticipate the next novel would be curious to know how some of characterization and descriptions are derived.  

First among my favorite portrayals is the character of Efrain Peralta. He is the sole remaining parent of the heroine, Esperanza. Efrain once served as personal physician to the princely household of Alfonso de la Cerda. Now disgraced and hiding a personal shame he cannot reveal to his daughter, he ventures into a new life, unaware of the peril awaiting him and his beloved child.


Actor Jordi Mollà Perales, whom I last saw as King Philip II of Spain in The Golden Age with Cate Blanchett, hails from Barcelona. When I imagined the character of Esperanza's father, he had to be a somber man respected and loved by his only daughter, with a hint of some secret torture hidden behind his eyes. There's something very enigmatic in Mollà's features that evokes the exact image of Efrain Peralta that I've had in mind for years. Here's how I describe the character in the first chapter of Sultana: Two Sisters. 

A sinewy ragged man, Efrain Peralta stood a little above the diminutive height of his daughter. The evening glare framing him, he strode toward her. The spurs worn with his zapatos drew furrows across the soil. The dusty tips of the shoes peeked from beneath the hem of his mantle. Lines etched in his olive-brown features betrayed a year’s worth of misfortune and grave concerns of which he would not speak. The dark brown hairs atop his head had lost their luster and begun a steady retreat from his gently sloping forehead. A full beard with myriad flecks of gray almost hid the creases around his mouth. At fifty-six years old, his gnarled fingers and spindly arms coupled with the receding hairline gave him the appearance of a man burdened by age. His prideful gait, the crystalline glimmer in the depths of his eyes and a commanding tone hinted at the strength he retained.

The scenes between Esperanza and her father are brief, requiring brevity for the portrayal of a father's pride and love for his daughter. In the first chapter, Efrain must protect his child from danger in the only way he can, by imbuing her with the strength that has helped him survive personal demons up until this point. It's a mix of determination and tenderness that I hope readers will find satisfying.


Efrain grasped her arms and shook her. “This is no time for your stubbornness. You are the only child God ever granted me and I will not lose you!” He wrenched from her grasp and grabbed the reins. “Get on the horse. Ride west now, the setting sun always ahead of you. At night, you will look for the North Star on your right. Do not stop until you reach the safety of Valdepeñas, where we departed from yesterday. It belongs to the caballeros of the Order of Calatrava. The Cistercians shall protect you for my sake.”
He drew his dagger and cut the strings securing a weighted pouch to his leather belt. He shoved the purse filled with coins into her hand. “For your care and comfort.”
“You want me to ride off alone into the darkness? Papa, I can’t reach Valdepeñas!”
“You can and you will! You have spent more time with horses than I ever did, since you were four years old. I am not asking you to ride on without me. I am telling you! Get on the damned horse! I will not see your life ended by a Moor’s blade. Greater peril may lie ahead, but you will make the attempt to escape.”
That he considered failure a possibility but held hope for her against the obvious threat gave clear indication of his resolve. Still Esperanza stood catatonic. Her gaze watered. 
He captured her face between his withered hands and pressed his lips to her cheeks and forehead in turn. “My most precious life. I beg of you, please go. Do not let me live my last moments knowing you did not try. Whatever happens, you must survive. If I can, I will come for you at Valdepeñas. Wait for me there.”

Look for more each month on the characters of Sultana: Two Sisters through the coming weeks.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Your author media page

"What? I'm supposed to have a media page too? Why?"

I had a similar reaction two years, very much rooted in the moment and my circumstances. Besides, weren't media pages for authors who had made a name for themselves, not newbies like me? Back then, I had too much to do already. On Falcon's Wings had just debuted on Amazon and I didn't have a clue where to begin with promotion. Then a good friend from the critique group, author Wendy Laharnar asked me to do a guest post in her monthly newsletter and mention the book. "You mean I'm supposed to promote it by myself? Writing it wasn't hard enough?" Welcome to Publishing 101. After scrambling to write something (this half-assed approach to promotion continued for two more books), the importance of a media page finally dawned on me. 

If you're wondering how to get started with a media page, especially if you have limited to no skill with websites like me, here's how you can get started. Whatever you call it - your media kit, media resources, make sure the page is clearly labeled 

You need...
A good headshot, cover images (high resolution preferred), your author bio, excerpts, book trailers, if you have them, and contact information if you don't already have it listed. (You do already have this, right?) Quotable blurbs / reviews are a plus - the best ones that showcase how readers have judged your work. This is no time to be shy. You have total control over the content.

I skipped the reviews on my media resources for one reason; I'd like to obtain permission from a  few select reviewers beforehand. Here's my version - always, a work in progress.

You can host everything online...
If you can't host the images on your own site or don't know how, create a Media Fire account. One of the best sites for free cloud storage starting at 50 GB, Media Fire can host your images, documents, audio and video files. I've uploaded my headshot, general interviews on writing, and excerpts, covers and book trailers where applicable for each title. Media Fire also allows you to create specific links to your files, which you can make available for easy download. For instance, the link to my author bio opens up only the PDF version of that document, while all the covers of my titles are available for download in another folder. I can manage everything easily in through my Media Fire account, updating content as needed. 

An updated media page is an important part of your marketing strategy, even in the early stages of your writing career...
Part of the reason I resisted creating a media page was the perceived lack of purpose - who would interested enough in my work to want interviews with me? What I really lacked was knowledge and an understanding of the role of bloggers in publicity. Imagine Blogger A is trying to reach you regarding promoting your latest title. When Blogger A sees you have a media page, with all the information he or she needs, you've just made everyone's life much easier because your material is available and ready to go.      

Don't adopt the short-term thinking I did two years ago. Where do you want to be in your writing journey five or ten years from now? If this is more than a hobby for you, the commitment to promoting your work must rank as high as putting out the best work. Building a media page and keeping it updated allows you to maintain relevant content for the future. Just in case the media does come calling....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Amazon's Author Central and all-new Author Rank

In case writers needed something else to obsess over - cause honestly, how many times can you refresh the KDP sales reports or check your book's ranking - now there's Author Rank. 

Authors on Amazon may have received an email in mid-September asking us to review or update the information in our Author Central profiles. "Author Central? What's that?" Wait; you don't have an Author Central account? Time to get one at Author Central.Amazon.com. From there, you can see all your titles, current rankings, reviews, add videos / book trailers and, as suggested in the Amazon email, establish or review your profile which is then visible to all Amazon customers. So add a nice picture.

You can also create profiles on the Author Central UK, French and German sites too. Is all that necessary; can't Amazon just show the data available in the .com site? No idea.

What does Author Rank indicate? According to Amazon, it's "the definitive list of best-selling authors on Amazon.com.  This list makes it easy for readers to discover the best-selling authors on Amazon.com overall and within a selection of major genres.
Amazon Author Rank is your rank based on the sales of all of your books on Amazon.com.  Just like Amazon Best Sellers, it is updated hourly.  The top 100 authors overall and the top 100 in selected genres will be displayed on Amazon.com.  You can see your Amazon Author Rank trended over time in Author Central.
You can find your Amazon Author Rank in Author Central under the Rank tab.  Historical rank data is available from September 28, 2012."
Why is my rank so low? Congratulations! As with sales rankings, lower is better - #1 means you're the top author in your particular genre.
Why is my rank so high? Congratulations! You've sold at least one book as an author on Amazon. (Don't be sad - just go with it!)
I don't have a rank! Um...um...I bet you will soon! Yeah, that's it.
When I click Rank, I see a genre listed. What does that mean? The categories your books appear in on Amazon. For instance, Amazon has classed my books  as historical fiction, romance and contemporary (more on that later), so Author Rank shows my standing in those genres. Not exactly how I classify my work - all except On Falcon's Wings & Long Way Home are categorized in Amazon KDP as Historical Biographical and would appear on that category if they were in the top 100 related books sold. (How I wish!!!) 

Why should I care about having an Amazon profile? It's one more place for you to be visible and share more about yourself with Amazon customers. Showcase your personality, writing interests, and provide insight into your creative process.     

Where does the profile appear on Amazon? Find your title on Amazon. Click your name next to Author in brackets. If you have an existing profile, it will show the information you've added to the Author Central, your picture and titles, sorted by the last title to decrease in sales rank (remember, low or decreasing is good). You can also link your blog, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts to your profile and see links to the other authors whom your Amazon customers have bought titles from. Looks like:






Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Next Big Thing Challenge: Part II

I’ve been tagged again in the Next Big Thing Challenge again, respectively by Wendy Laharnar  last week and Kim Rendfeld this week. Wendy’s post won’t appear until October 24 but Kim’s is here. Ladies, thank you both for tagging me. This post gives me a chance to share some details of my current WIP.

What is the working title of your book?
Sultana: Two Sisters.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The novel is a sequel to my Moorish Spain series, which started in Sultana and continued in Sultana’s Legacy. It picks up almost ten years after the events of Sultana’s Legacy where Yusuf, the grandson of my main characters in the earlier books, rules in Granada and his wives vie to put each of their sons on the throne. There are two minor characters from the earlier books who make an appearance here. Sorry to disappoint anyone who hoped for more of the earlier characters, but they had died by the time this new novel begins. However, the repercussions of their actions have a profound (you should read that as troubling) effect on Yusuf's reign. Don't say you weren't warned.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical biographical – it’s what I write!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Again, I don’t think of actors in the roles of my characters, but if I must:

Khaled Nabawy would portray Yusuf I, Sultan of Gharnatah.

One of the Sultan’s foremost ministers, Ibn al-Khatib, described Yusuf in part as: “The Sultan was dark-skinned, naturally strong, had a fine figure and an even finer character. His teeth sparkled, he had large eyes and dark straight hair, a thick beard, a handsome face….” I think Khaled Nabawy, whom I last saw in 2005's Kingdom of Heaven with Orlando Bloom, would be a good fit.

Natalie Portman would portray Esperanza Peralta, who becomes Yusuf's first wife Butayna.

I’ve always imagined my female protagonist as a young, lithe but not so beautiful girl. I speculate on her origins in Sultana: Two Sisters, but when the real historical figure entered Yusuf’s harem, she received the name Butayna. The name means “possessing a young and tender body.” Natalie Portman is much prettier than I envision the character, but I think she epitomizes the name ascribed to Yusuf’s first wife and the mother of his heir Muhammad V and his daughter Aisha.

Paz Vega would portray Maryam, Yusuf's second wife.

Ibn al-Khatib describes Yusuf as being under the influence of his second wife Maryam, the mother of his sons Ismail II and Qays and his daughters Fatima, Mumina, Khadija, Shams and Zaynab. In my characterization of Maryam, she enthralls Yusuf with her beauty and charms. Who wouldn’t be fascinated if your wife looked like Paz Vega?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In fourteenth-century Moorish Spain, two former friends become bitter rivals in a contest for the throne. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published, like Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started in March and finished in August, so six months. The groundwork for a lot of this novel came about when I was writing the earlier books, so the story felt almost as if it wrote itself. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Do my own in Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy count?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to see how well my earlier books on the period would do before writing Sultana: Two Sisters. My fascination with Moorish Spain and its rulers continues. I don’t know why this period isn't as popular as that of the Tudors; it’s rife with dynastic rivalry, ambitions, betrayals and vengeance within a kingdom hemmed in on all sides by Christian and Muslim rivals. I have a very small goal in mind: to put Moorish Spain “on the map” and make it as familiar to my readers as other historical eras and locales.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The sensuality and harsh cruelty of harem life is equally as fascinating as the politics outside those secluded walls. Butayna and Maryam shared a life with Yusuf, but each had contrasting ambitions that could only culminate in a violent clash between them. I hope readers will find their rivalry and the dynamics each shares with Yusuf fascinating. 

I tagged some folks before as the Next Big Thing works its way around the internet, so let's try some others: Michelle Davidson Argyle, Victoria Dixon, Heather Domin, Julie K. Rose and Gemi Sasson. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing Challenge

The very cool Tara Chevrestt at Book Babe tagged me to answer some questions about my new title, The Burning Candle. You can check out Tara's interview here. Since I can't have all the fun, I'm tagging five other authors to answer the same questions at the end of this post.

What is the title of your book? 
The Burning Candle; my good friend Anita Davison at The Disorganised Author came up with the title. 

Where did the idea come from for your book?
I wanted to write a follow-up to my first title set in medieval England, On Falcon's Wings, and started researching the period in which the book ended. Originally, I envisioned writing about the daughter of my hero and heroine in that book, a woman torn between two lovers. Then, I discovered the real-life heroine of The Burning Candle, Isabel de Vermandois, faced the same dilemma. The outline of the initial story went into the PC's recycle bin and Isabel became the focus of two years of intensive research. 

What genre does your book fall under?
Biographical historical.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
When I'm writing, pictures of what I imagine the characters might look like are an inspiration. I never imagine actors or actresses in the role, but if I had to:


Eva Green would be the adult Isabel de Vermandois, with auburn hair and gray eyes to match. 


Vincent Cassel would be Isabel's jealous, controlling husband, Robert de Beaumont.



Henry Cavill would be Isabel's lover, William de Warenne.

Actually, that wasn't too hard to decide.  

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Isabel de Vermandois faces a difficult choice between duty to her husband and the desires of her heart. 

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency? 
It's self published. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The idea born in 2008 became fully fleshed out in 2009. I wrote steadily and submitted to critique groups. Then I lost the original files in a fire in 2010. Again, Anita Davison and our good friend Mirella Patzer at History and Women came to the rescue. They had saved some of the submitted chapters and helped salvage Isabel's story when I thought it was lost forever.     

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Tough one - I hate to compare my work to other writers. I've been told it's royalty fiction; does that help? ETA: Having nothing better to do (like revise the next in the Sultana series), I pasted a section of my text into www.booksai.com - try it if you're bored. Apparently, this story is most comparable Alexandra Benedict's The Notorious Scoundrel (that sure sounds like William) or The Devil Wears Plaid by Teresa Medeiros. So, even if I think I don't wrote romance, I do? Hmm.  

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Isabel did. She lived at a remarkable time, where the Normans were altering England's history, government and language. Her husband was critical to these changes as was the king he served. Isabel's lover was the richest man of the period and he risked a great deal to be with her. I imagined life at the side of either of these men can't have been  easy for Isabel.  

What else about your book might peek the readers' interest?
If you want to be immersed in the medieval period, this might be the book for you. The nerd in me loves historical details because they lend authenticity to the story. My characters aren't modern-day figures in fancy dress - they lived, loved and died in tumultuous times. I hope my portrayal reflects the period and its personalities well.

Isabel begins life as someone in the control of others. She surrenders her will to the wishes of her parents and marries a significantly older husband. In the union and its numerous children, she did the duty expected of a medieval woman. With the introduction of her lover William, their relationship becomes a catalyst for Isabel’s growth and change. Her affair with William took some daring. I see it as a moment of decisive action. She went against convention, risking scandal and damnation in a world where people were obsessed with consequences for their immortal souls.  

The Burning Candle is available now on KindleSmashwords and Kobo; Nook and paperback versions are coming soon. Here's the blurb: 

Love is for women who have choices. She has none. 

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert's secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie.

Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal.

Now, to pick some victims friends to share their work. Alison DeLuca, Michelle Gregory, Christine Murray, Mirella Patzer, Kristen Wood: your turn, ladies.
  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"If you think the grass looks greener..."

"...On the other side, water your own lawn." I haven't been able to get this particular message out of my head since hearing it at my cousin's wedding in Wales at the end of August. It's so simple, yet the most profound of life's epiphanies usually are, and can make you wonder why you didn't recognize them as valid truths before.

Here's a little secret about me that will shock many of my dearest writing buds, whom I cheer on and congratulate at each triumph. The bitter truth is: I'm incredibly jealous of you. When you sell thousands of books each month, gain a legion of blog, Twitter and Facebook followers, and score tons of excellent reviews, there's just a little part of me that thinks, "Dammit! Why the hell can't I do what she / he can? No fair!" This doesn't mean I'm not genuinely happy for you - of course, I am. We wouldn't still be friends if I wasn't truly supportive of your hard-won efforts. Still, I'd be lying if I said those heartfelt congratulations aren't tinged with a bit of envy.

It's disappointing / comforting to know that my green-eyed monster is the same one that dwells inside others. Well, my monster might be a much smaller version of others out there. Hearing the words, "If you think the grass looks greener on the other side, water your own lawn," came on the heels of the recent "Locke bought reviews" and Ellory sock-puppetry scandals. No, I won't share my opinion or link to those topics here because quite enough has been said on the internet. Will say both revelations left me amazed at how far people will go to boost themselves, but the news also helped me gain perspective on the insecurities dwelling inside me, and apparently even best-selling authors.

Time for all us to water our own lawns and stop worrying about what others are doing with theirs.      

Monday, August 13, 2012

Resources: More on stock photos

Reading Roni Loren's post last month on the photographer who sued her for using his image should be required for every blogger - if you haven't seen it, go read. I'll wait. Scary, huh? I've been looking for more sites that offer stock images for use on this and other blogs. Here are a few free sites that won't leave you in the poor house or, at the least, spare you the wrath of those who settle stock image use in a litigious manner. 

Free Digital Photos
Another great site, though you're better off going through the menu of categories than searching for a particular image. The organization of photos is the BEST I've seen from most free sites. No registration required. Offers free downloads provided you'll post an attribution license where the downloaded images appears on the web, e.g. Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net". Otherwise, you'll have to purchase a non-exclusive licensed image, starting around $3.

Stock Exchange 
FREE images for personal  use on websites, NOT as part of a promotional piece you intend to sell. An easy registration process and good to high resolution quality photos. Read the section 'Availability' for usage terms before you download any image - some photographers offer their work under an attribution license, e.g., "Image courtesy of XYZ.com" while others, such as the one shown above, fall under the standard license. 

Getty Images bought Stock Exchange so when you're searching, retrieval includes extremely prominent links to somewhat expensive iStockPhoto images (don't say you weren't warned by the huge iStock watermark). I am NOT a fan of iStock, so it's a little annoying.

Stock Vault
This site has a one-step registration process; no email validation required, with an especially helpful FAQ section that explains terms for downloading. The download process is just as simple. Somewhat wearisome - those oh so prominent links to Shutterstock.

Roni Loren's ordeal should serve as a reminder to every blogger never to assume that images on the internet are free to use just because a search of Google Images brings them up. Her post lists great, free sites as well.

Need more resources for stock images? See my earlier post.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Unlikable Protagonist

For the first time in my writing life, my MC is someone I can't stand from the outset. How is that possible? A mother loves all her creations, right? Nope, not this one. Esperanza Peralta, the protagonist of Sultana: Two Sisters is rude and condescending to most people including the ones who risk their lives. She is also judgmental and ignorant of Moorish society, bigoted about medieval Jews and rarely considers detriment to others before she acts. She thinks and says all the things I never would (or nothing I'll admit to here). There are even a few instances, when juxtaposed with the antagonists, the consequences of Esperanza's behavior and attitude are worse than theirs. Writing an unlikable heroine isn't new ground for me, apparently. At some point, the one character I've wanted readers to root for has invariably turned some off. Avicia in On Falcon's Wings is "simpering" and "a victim". Fatima is a "psychotic bitch", "fixated on her father and revenge" in Sultana & Sultana's Legacy. Taka is "just angry all the time" in chapters of Long Way Home. Isabel from The Burning Candle is "frustrating" and "unsympathetic". All this is tantamount to being told your child is one fugly baby. You can imagine how much I enjoyed hearing that.


Now, where is it written that protagonists have to be completely likable? Of course it isn't, or readers wouldn't find anti-heroes and would-be villains like the vampire Lestat, Severus Snape, Gollum and Dexter Morgan so compelling. We also root for characters who are self-righteous, meddling and simply annoying. For me, that's Emma Woodhouse, but I'd be lying to say I didn't cheer for her HEA. Part of the visceral reaction to characters has to do with how readers relate to and perceive themselves in comparison to the character. When I first started George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series, I HATED Sansa Stark. She seemed the the antithesis of 'family, duty, honor', the very words her mother's family exemplified. Being devoted to family myself, I hated her for doing or considering anything selfish. The all-time, unlikable protagonist for me is still Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind - what a bitch! Between manipulating the people around her, always seeking to be the center of attention and hardly caring when her husband died, she is just a hot mess from the start.  


What is it about unlikable characters that keeps readers from being completely alienated? As readers, we each draw a line with unlikable characters: there's some fixed point at which all that bad behavior would become irredeemable. Up until then, we're along for the journey. Do we stick around just for the well-deserved comeuppance and enjoy the train wreak to follow? Are we hoping something good will come from life's harsh lessons, a bit of growth and redemption? While we hope for likable characters we can connect with, someone who reflects our personal values, the unlikable protagonist remains compelling. Someone whose intentions and motives rise above his or her actions or perceived attitudes is irresistible. This person reflects the better nature we (sometimes) strive for in ourselves. We all have our flaws and good qualities, but a few characteristics can tip the balance in either direction. That's where I find the appeal of Scarlett O'Hara.  Scarlett puts all those ruthless skills to use for the good of herself and family.  Protagonists don't have to be completely likable, but there must be some redeeming quality. Therein lies the internal conflict - can an unlikable character triumph overcome the true nemesis, the ugly person living inside?


So, why have I crafted an unlikable heroine? It's a foundation for all possibilities in her life, including triumph over circumstances and perceptions. If I'd written Ms. Perfect Mary Sue in Esperanza, I wouldn't give a rat's ass about her fate nor should readers. The plot gives my main character a chance to rise above, or not. While I don't expect readers to like Esperanza at the outset either, without her imperfections and fears, there would be no reason to care. Without her foibles, she wouldn't seem real. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thanks for a great two years

Today marks another important anniversary for me in a two-year journey of self-publishing. With five thousand copies sold (5,007 to be exact) and earnings totaling just over 12K, the last 24 months have exceeded my expectations at times. The bulk of revenue and associated sales comes from Amazon, specifically through Kindle, which accounts for 89% of earnings. While Amazon has played a huge role for which I'm exceedingly grateful, the coming years will find me trying to break into other markets and extend my reach beyond Kindle. If I have any regrets, it's that I haven't learned everything about self-publishing. Can't deny the gift of perspective.

There are so many people who've helped me along the way and deserve special mention. Anita Davison, whose brilliant story-telling and seven years of continued friendship guided me to Anne Whitfield's dedicated critique group. The group's brilliant members, like my dear friend Mirella Patzer, and Rosemary Morris, helped shape my manuscripts into works that readers have found worthwhile. Other critique groups led me to the naturally talented Gemi Sasson and Sheila Lamb, who've both embarked on their own stellar self-publishing journeys. Participation in ABNA contests earned the friendship of Kristen Wood, a great YA author. Social media tools have led to long Skype chats with Jeanne Kalogridis, whose books I've admired for years. I'm especially grateful to book bloggers like Tara Chevrestt and Deb Gaynor for being incredibly supportive.

I would have never reached this point without the generosity of readers, especially those who have written kind emails with their thoughts about the books. To Cristina, Jen, Beverly, Kathleen & Rae, Julia, Cxandra, Veronica, Deb and Tay, your passion and interest makes all my efforts worthwhile. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why diversity is key in an ever-changing ebook landscape

Changes to ebook distribution channels are coming faster than any author or industry insider can predict. For now, this writer is along for the ride, not prepared to scream, "Let me off of this thing!" Not yet anyway. In fact, I'm incredibly pleased when Amazon isn't the only potent source for monthly writing revenue, because things get a little wonky over there sometimes - more later.

Kobo Writing Life (KWL) premiered this week to the glee of many self-published authors, or maybe just my personal joy. I've been waiting for an announcement about this for over a month and pulled all of my titles then distributed through Smashwords (SW) to Kobo as a result. If you're wondering why have one more site to obsessively check sales maintain, here's why. Until now, SW has distributed titles to its partners including Kobo, which has led to some frustrating delays in pricing or updated content. With KWL, those changes can be made within hours. The time between the upload and sale of each title took less than two hours, not the 24-72 hours as indicated on the site. Best advice I can give about the upload process? An ePub formatted file is ideal. Mobi, text and .doc files are acceptable, but be prepared for huge breaks between paragraphs signifying hard returns in the latter type. Read the FAQ here for more details. KWL should be easy to navigate for any author who has used Amazon KDP.

Speaking of which, there's a slight meltdown happening on Amazon, where rankings have dropped, risen and disappeared altogether. What is Auntie Am up to? Experimenting with new algorithms? Pushing self-pubbed content since some of the Big Six haven't renewed annual contracts? Freaking out over KWL? It's useless to speculate, but whatever the reason, there is always some impact for online visibility and sales when Amazon rankings change abruptly.

Also, I received an email about plans for expanding the distribution of ebooks via mobile phones in Europe, through one of the largest providers of media content. Just waiting for the official announcement. For the future, diversity remains key to exposure.

Ebook Release Day! Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is here!

After a year and a half, the ebook version of the novel is out. It's been like giving birth to a really big baby, who had some troubles...