…How Much is Too Much?

I must be crazy.

I have, going on at this moment:

The A to Z blog.  This is a wonderful event with hundreds of bloggers from all over the map who have committed to a post a day (except Sundays) in April with each day’s theme being a letter of the alphabet, in progression.  Some of them are hysterically funny, some of them are very educational (I am going to visit D.C. shortly, I think) some of them make you think, and all are pretty good.  For more info, check HERE .  It is a lot of work, but enjoyable.  I’m still in it.

The Small Celebrations blog hop.  This is an every Friday post where you celebrate something that might not be earthshaking but is nevertheless something worth noting.  It is the brainchild of VikLit  AT THIS BLOG (do visit the blog and the Friday Hop – well worth while).  I have had to drop out for the past three Fridays because of sheer busyness, but after April grinds to a halt, I’m back.  And perhaps sooner.

MOURNINGTIDE  is set to be published May 15.  I need to get things up and running (would anyone be willing to do a post for me?) and I am finalizing things. 

…and because I am bringing things into line for a series that I am writing (didn’t start out that way, but they’re all connected),  I am giving PHARAOH’S SON  a rewrite. 

I think that’s about enough for now.  We won’t mention a new job or other things.

…and yesterday I had a brainstorm for a story set in the timeline of my series.  After what I’m calling ‘Jubilee’, which is nowhere near being finished, and before LORD OF THE TWO LANDS, which is in the works and about 25% done.

Now, it is delicious to know that I still have ideas, and to see that the ideas are viable and could be very entertaining…  But I think I have enough on my plate.  Still…  The notion of two strong personalities grappling over a suddenly empty throne…  A hint of murder, a hint of betrayal…

And I wasted about an hour last night and today finding photos that would represent the two characters.  (The lady, on the right, seems formidable…)

I am a fool.

Sweet Glory by Lisa Potocar


This link ( below) takes you to Amazon US.  Sweet Glory is also available on Amazon UK and through other booksellers.

Sweet Glory by Lisa Potocar

Years ago, while reading about the American Civil War, I came across an item that I found very interesting even for that heartbreaking, fascinating time.  I retired soldier, living on a government pension and in a home for retired veterans, had been discovered to be a woman rather than a man.  This soldier had fought during the war, had suffered all the privations that were experienced by soldiers in that time, and had been mustered out at the end with an honorable discharge. 

Naturally, the authorities were horrified and canceled the soldier’s pension.  A woman?  She was not a real soldier – she was an impostor!  I was not surprised to read of this.  It was the late 1800’s when ‘women’s work’ was officially circumscribed and severely limited, regardless of what women of that era had to do to survive.  I was thrilled to read that the ‘disgraced’ soldier’s comrades rose up and came to her defense  She WAS a soldier, they said.  She fought alongside them, suffered all they suffered, and had her share in securing their triumphs.  A woman?  Well, they hadn’t known.  One man said that that certainly explained the soldier’s modesty on the subject of going to the ‘sinks’ -a word for latrine.  The pension was reinstated, as was her war credit.   

This was not an isolated incident.  Something like this happened more than once.  And not just with women serving as soldiers.  Anyone with imagination starts wondering Who would do this?  How?  What hindrances would they face?  What temptations?  And how would they feel.
Sweet Glory tells the story of one of these soldiers. 

Jana Brady, from upstate New York, is an accomplished horsewoman, experienced with treating the ailments of humans and animals alike.  Sweet Glory follows her experiences s she joins a Cavalry unit – will she be able to get away and sign up in time? – learns about soldiering, becomes ‘one of the boys’ and finds a way, when it appears that her service must be at an end, to continue to serve. 

I don’t need to outline the plot of Sweet Glory.  The narrative draws you in, and you follow it.  I don’t mind saying that there is a twist toward the end that startled me and made me think, ‘How on earth will she get out of this?’  You’ll have to read Sweet Glory to find out what I mean. 

Lisa Potocar writes well, catching conversations in an authentic voice from that mid-Victorian era.  Her characters have human emotions and conflicts – one scene shows the two sides in a post-battle truce caring for the wounded.  It contains a very touching scene that had me choked up.  A description of a cavalry clash, with fighting in a ditch, was deftly handled, the emotions of the combatants believable and realistic. 

Sweet Glory is not a long book.  It tells the story of Jana’s service with the army – how it came about, how it progressed, and how it ended – and what it did to her.  Jana is a very ‘together’ young woman of intelligence and resolution.  The story follows her timeline, and while it could have paused to dawdle over details of day to day existence, that was not necessary to the intent of the novel, which shows how a woman can engage in a war and emerge from it with her feminine abilities and characteristics intact and deepened by the experience.  Jana uses her abilities and experience to cope ably with all that is involved in war. 

Physically speaking, Sweet Glory is a satisfying book.  And it is pretty.  The cover is beautifully conceived – note the top of the cover with a view of a lady’s slippered foot descending a step – and below it a scene from a battle – the woman stepping into war.  The typeface used is reminiscent of that you might find in a novel of that period. 

I have no hesitation recommending this book for just about any age.  I would have loved it if I had encountered it in when I was in elementary school.  I graduated from college a long time ago and I enjoyed it.  YA readers would enjoy it, too.  There is a love story in it, but I don’t classify this as a romance novel, though Jana’s emotions are well handled.  This is a reread, and I will be loaning it to my niece, aged fourteen, when I see her next. 

I was given a copy of Sweet Glory by the author as a thank you for some assistance with electronic media – blogs, postings and the like.  It was a gift.  I was not asked to review it, nor was it implied that I was expected to.  I read it because the subject interested me, and I am writing this review to reflect my impressions. 

This is, for me, one that I will reread.  Sweet Glory has won awards.  They were well-deserved.  Well done, Ms. Potocar.

NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo is taking place right now.  I’m participating. 

And I am an idiot:  I have a whole lot going on. 
I’m polishing Mourningtide, I am doing a once-over on a (Civil War) novel that will be on KDP Select as a freebie later this month, and I signed up to write a minimum of 1700 words a day to produce 50,000 words in 30 days.  (1700 words works out to about six printed pages).  It’s do-able if you work steadily, but in this case I am also working at a day job. 
I’m giving it my best shot, and I think I can do it, but if one thing or another has to go Kadesh will be the casualty.
Which reminds me: Kadesh is a working title.  Fans of Egyptian history will know that it was the battle that Ramesses II touted as his greatest triumph.  The Hittites, whom he fought, were equally emphatic about their ‘successs’.  My read is that two superpowers met and mauled each other, though Ramesses probably had the shock of his life in the process.  (There’s a strong indication that his father, Seti I, died of a heart condition, and I’ve used that supposition in my own ‘family history’ to account for some deaths.  It would appear, though, based on what happened at Kadesh, that Ramesses did not have a weak heart.  He survived the shock of seeing the Hittite army breaking through the palisades of his camp.)
I’m telling this story from the point of view of lesser characters.  Hori (Amunhorkhepechef) as a nineteen-year-old Crown Prince is given nominal command of one of the armies.  Others of his brothers (Ramses and Montuhirkhopechef, who died prior to the opening of Pharaoh’s Son) are in high command in other armies.  Khaemwaset (‘Khay’ in Pharaoh’s son, and the most well known,  historically, of Ramesses’ sons) is with his father, being all of fifteen years old.
It’s important to understand strategy, but this event shaped Ramesses’ reign and world history.  It turned him from being a ‘warrior king’ (though he tried) to being a true statesman, where his greatness lay.
So I’m writing Kadesh.  I truly must redo the temporary cover, but it’s a decent placeholder for now.
My website has sample chapters that I’ve whacked out.  Hori seems to be taking center stage just at the moment.  (I know him rather well).  Check them out here:

Historical Romance

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to what some people scornfully call ‘Bodice Rippers’.  You know the sort of story I mean.  Sometimes they are called ‘Historical Fiction’, to the dismay of people like me who actually write historical fiction.     
I do not like to use the term ‘bodice ripper’ because while there are two types of stories that fit that slot, the word for, or title of, the second type of ‘bodice ripper’ does not exist, and the first term is a little too sexual.  I will be using the term ‘Historical Romance’ for both in this post because I think it fits the guidelines given by Webster Dictionary for the noun ‘Romance’: 
prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious    

The books are always set against a backdrop of a period of history.  The period is not important; it fluctuates from year to year depending on what is in fashion.  Medieval history is a perennial favorite, though the Scottish Wars for Independence are in the ascendant.  Dark ages Europe is also gaining popularity.  Another dependable standby is the ‘Napoleonic era’ – from about 1790 through about 1816.  The American Civil War also makes an appearance.

The background research varies from nearly nonexistent to substantial.  And there may be a story line found inside the pages.  (In my opinion) what makes these stories ‘bodice rippers’ – or, rather, Historical Romances – is their focus, which is to titillate, to satisfy a hunger or a fancy, with the story line taking second place to that purpose.  To avoid a trip into semantics, here is Webster’s list of synonyms: 
charge, electrify, excite, exhilarate, galvanize, intoxicate, pump up, thrill, turn on
These stories’ descriptions are fairly similar.  The protagonists/antagonists are set forth and the basis for the story.  The dangers that lie along the path are hinted at.  You can choose to read or to pass:

The (band of heroes)  have itchy feet. Battle-hungry and tired of keeping the homestead fires burning, they are restless for action. And… action is what they get. When their homestead is attacked … the (band of heroes) promise bloody revenge. … Packed with epic adventure and bloody action…


“A rollicking, dangerous and often very gory gallop through the largest land empire the world has ever known.”

Contrast that with:

For Gunnar, vengeance is all that matters. He seeks the ultimate price from his enemy’s beautiful young daughter, claiming Raina as his hostage. But the proud beauty defies him at every turn, tempting him like no other. Setting out to break Raina’s glorious spirit, Gunnar instead finds himself bewitched by her goodness, her strength. Can he seize the justice he is due without losing Raina forever. 
 It is obvious that they are different sides of the same coin.

The covers of Historical Romances tend to hint at the items of attraction that will be delivered by the book:

There is no black and white in this life.  Some of the Historical Romances   of either type are close to excellent fiction – The ones whose covers I have shown have been written by people described as ‘award-winning authors’ and have received good reviews from a good many people averaging 4.5 stars.  I remember one series of romances, set in the time of the conflict between Stephen and Matilda (England) that had wonderful plot and excellent research.  The stories did involve men and women and their relationships, but they were secondary to the plot. 
Someone, speaking against his/her notion of ‘Historical ‘Romance’ of one sort expressed it in an interesting fashion.  This is a paraphrase:  

There is the man who loves his woman and longs to see her once more before he is killed on the field of battle.  Or there is the fighter who lives for war, whose love is battle and whose mistress is his sword, who satisfies his physical urges by patronizing the whores that follow in the tail of every army. 

I think both types share a distortion of history or, more accurately, the ‘historical norm’ of the period that they concern.  Human nature and inclination has not changed appreciably over the millennia.  Most people lived at home and interacted with their families.  They had their tiresome tasks, their moments of delight, their festivals and their tragedies.  Not everyone in the Northlands  went i-Viking.  They knew about sex – that is why we are here today – and loving relationships existed as did attachments based solely on monetary payment for physical need.  A love affair between two people or a rousing fight scene does not necessarily make a novel an ‘Historical Romance’.  It all depends on the purpose and focus of the book.

So, What’s With the Ladies Without Heads???

Or, alternatively, When Can We Expect This Silly Cover Trend to End?
The realm of historical novels is being inundated by headless women. Why this should be is something I can’t say, but there it is. I have been looking for historical novels and the trend at the moment is to get a model wearing a period dress and only show her from the neck down.
I am hard put to understand this trend, unless perhaps some cover designer had the bright idea of doing this with a photograph in order to get around the fact that, aside from a Merchant Ivory movie (and sometimes not even then) a modern person photographed in period dress doesn’t work.

Actually, being a writer of historical novels and a nit-picker myself, I could remark on Cicely, Duchess of York (‘Queen by Right’) holding an un-tethered hawk on a lightly gloved hand while bearing a basket of flowers in the other.  Did the hawk  help her pick flowers?  I can’t imagine that he was at all cuddlesome or companionable, especially considering that his pose shows that he is most likely stuffed.  Also, the lady would be wearing a headdress composed of a stiff frame to the face and then a headcloth falling behind.  High-ranking ladies in a public setting did not uncover their hair, as this photo shows.

Catherine De’ Medici (‘The Confessions of Catherine de Medici’) is shown in a garment that would have been several decades out of date, worn around the time of Henry VIII.  Catherine was a contemporary of Elizabeth 1.

I am not as conversant with costumes from the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I will say that the unbound hair looks wrong (‘The Scarlet Lion’).  It would have been braided or otherwise confined or covered.

But wait! The problem appears to have originated in Ptolemaic times and then spread to Rome, based on other covers I’ve seen.  And–Is Selene wearing a toga???  It certainly looks like it.

The other problem with all of these covers, aside from the one about James II’s mistress, is that the facial features – what you can see of them – are wrong.  In the centuries since these people lived, we have seen a blending of the breeds (meaning Celts, Angles, Norman, Tuscan, Palatine).  Bone structure is different.  I remember reading an article, once, by a forensic anthropologist who was discussing how he could tell if a skull came from the Civil War era.  He said that people in the 1860’s in the US were generally more hatchet-faced, with sharper bridges to their noses and generally longer faces,  The influx of late Victorian immigrants brought higher cheekbones and wider faces. 

Let us be reasonable, here.  These are covers for books and are meant to draw attention to the book and, perhaps, draw people in.  The first one I saw was somewhat interesting; they got the costume right.  But this parade of headless ladies has gone beyond interesting and into the banal: they look utterly silly.