It ain’t over…


…till it’s over.  (Thank you, Mr. Berra.)

Done, finished, ready.  Well, almost.  This story is set to be released May 31.  Just over 24 hours from now, give or take.  It will be out of my hands.

…And I still have to finalize the Afterword.  All my books have Afterwords.  With historical fiction (which I claim to write) you absolutely have to explain where you have strayed from the conjectural into the invented.  (For example, one person in a main character’s life, mourned by that character as dead, historically outlived him…)  I have some words…where the story came from, why it had to be written.

It would be interesting to say what I have found to be true: that once you have written something in a universe that you have created, it is set in stone.  The presence of a specific character in the last book, chronologically, of this series – ‘The Memphis Cycle’ – mandates the occurrence that is at the center of this story.  …And then there are my thoughts about what, who, how, why.

Should I write it?  I think perhaps.

I’ll miss this one.  It’s a ‘bright’ story.  There is no mystery in it, nothing dire underlies it.  One of mine is a romp – the characters make it so – but the fact behind the story is a tale of treachery, rapaciousness and self-embraced evil.  This one has a love story, and – a blessing that I had not expected – it has a character whose ultimately bittersweet fate, followed through the entire course of my writing this, suddenly turned, rather like the Mississippi changing its course.  I was left standing there, ankle deep in the tide, filled with delight at the way matters fell together, threads were joined, and the flow of the Cycle went on.  I can only say that while I wrote the story, this character’s fate followed its true path.

There are some truly amusing sections for me, and some quotes my characters came up with that I found touching:

“Our children sometimes leave us too soon,” he said, looking down and away from the sparkle of tears in her eyes.  “You can give them birth, or cause them to quicken in a womb…  You give them the best childhood you can, try to be the father that you should be.  But, ultimately, they will leave you.  A month, a year…  Through marriage, through distance-you do lose them, or part of them you loved.  All that you can do is hold to what you did have, and remember the care you gave them.  And the love.  And also remember, for we sometimes do forget, that what we gave was the best we could at that moment.  And it was sufficient, no matter how we may dream of what we might have done, if only we had known.”


Or this, with (perhaps) a bow to Shakespeare:

Seti looked up at him.  “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’,” he said.  “You say that too often.  Let me tell you, Djedi, you need to hoard your tomorrows, use them wisely, for tomorrows will run out and you will be left with only yesterdays, wondering where the tomorrows went and desperately wishing to have them back, just long enough to say a word, make a gesture, bind a wound, give one last kiss…”

There is this final worry.  (You may laugh at me – go ahead, guffaw, snicker, tee-hee, snort, chortle…)  The thing is too darned short compared to my usual output.  It is (ahem) only 84,700 words compared to my stripped-down 125K. 

Hah!  I’m going to bed!  24 hours!  Afterword or not afterword… Yikes!


 

 

Interview With My Main Character


I have the pleasure to interview His Majesty, King Seti of Egypt, today.  His Majesty has graciously agreed to answer some questions about his role in my latest book, Mourningtide, which will be published May 31.  If it please your majesty-

Please call me Seti.  A character never outranks its author, and I am a character that you created, based on a man in history.  We are not the same, and Mourningtide is not a textbook.  You diverge from what is known in one or two regards, but you do cover those episodes in an afterword, do you not?
I certainly do.  Well…Seti…  I thought it would be interesting to speak with you about the events that are covered in Mourningtide.
By all means.
Tell us about yourself.
I was named for my grandfather, who was a troop commander in the Royal Army.  I came from a non-royal family that had spent generations in the armies.  We did have some wealth, and ours was a position of increasing influence.   By the time of the book – according to the reality of the book – I had succeeded my father, who had been named by Horemheb as his successor, and had ruled for a year.  At the opening of the story, I had been King three years.  Two of those years had been spent on campaign, winning back territory and allies Egypt had lost.  I was in my early fifties with four children – two sons and two daughters – and six grandchildren, with two due to arrive at any moment.
And you were expecting a prosperous reign?
I was hoping for one.  I was ready to do what I could to achieve it for my people.
And your son died through an accident.
Yes. 

I’m sorry.

Don’t be.  He disregarded the warnings of another, more experienced man, walked into a dangerous situation with his eyes wide open, and was killed.  It happens, as we both know.  I was overset for a time, and Mourningtide tells the story of my healing.  You have chapters up for review on your site.  Did you wish to go over the story itself?  Or did you want to chat about other things?

Let’s chat about other things.  This is not your first appearance in one of my stories. 
No, it is not.  My very first appearance in something of yours was a mention, almost in passing, in Pharaoh’s Son.  Prince Thutmose entrusted me with a secret which I, in turn, entrusted to Ramesses as I was dying.  His Highness the High Priest had some very kind things to say about me.  My second appearance was in The City of Refuge. In that story I led a division of the Army of Lower Egypt that served as guards and laborers for Lord Nebamun’s mission to Akhenaten’s capital city. My father and Lord Nebamun were good friends.  I knew nothing of this at that time.
You had quite a large part in that story, didn’t’ you?
It was large enough.  I was considered a major character.  Enough happened to make it clear that Lord Nebamun – the hero of that story, along with my good friend Khonsu – was capable of running rings around anyone who came up against him.  I was thoroughly embarrassed, though I did mean well.  Reading over the book, I found myself laughing.
I enjoyed writing the book.

Did you have to have me locked in an escape-proof courtyard on a stormy night?

I did.  It worked.  

Let me ask you: will I be appearing in any other stories of yours?

You appear as a memory several times in Kadesh.  As to other stories with you as a living person…   I don’t know.  Your conflict was handled in Mourningtide.  There may be other stories, I can’t say.  But not now.
Let’s talk about objections people have to books set in Egypt.  The unpronounceable place and personal names-

Punxsutawney
I beg your pardon?

Kealakakua.  Angkor Wat.  If we are speaking of strange or unpronounceable place names, they might fit.  Or, to go ‘across the pond’ as you Americans and British say it, how about ‘Worcestershire’ – spelled ‘Wore SES ter Shyre’ and pronounced ‘Woostersheer’.
Well, I-
Or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll)  That may be cheating, perhaps, since the name is a sentence describing the location, but it is on the maps.  Looking at it syllable by syllable, I can pronounce it.  Try Pontchartrain.  Neuschwanstein…  How are they worse than ‘Waset’ or ‘Men-Nefer’ or ‘Iunu’?
Those who read fantasy books have no problem with ‘Gormenghast’, ‘Minas Ithil’, the Baranduin, or Dol Amroth.  Prince Imrahil is one of my favorite characters, but his name is no easier  to pronounce than my son’s.  And added to my objections is the fact that modern society does not know how my language sounded.  Like the Hebrew writings, we did not supply vowels.
I see your point.  But some of the Egyptian names can be difficult.  Like Amunhorkhepechef.
Be careful: you are meeting yourself coming.  You said that name was easy to type.  And you know better.  It is a ceremonial name that means ‘Amun Mighty in Battle’.  Your own sources have indicated that that name was altered depending on what city was home for that prince at any given time, so that if he was residing in Iunu (Heliopolis, if you wish), he would have signed his name ‘Rahorkhepechef’, and if in Khemnu (Hermopolis, if you are not a purist) he would have been Tothorkpehechef or Thuthorkhepechef.  You were right to give him the nickname ‘Hori’, by the way.  That’s what they called him.
Speaking as an experienced father, a person’s name must be something an angry parent can yell at the top of his lungs while running after a naughty child.  Amunhorkhepechef does not satisfy that requirement.  Ergo, it was not the boy’s actual name.  It is as silly as someone thinking that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England – may God bless her! – answers to ‘Defender of the Faith’ when that title is used by a grandchild at the dinner table. 
Good point.  Do you have anything else to say on the subject of language difficulties?
Yes.  A Elbereth, Gilthoniel!  Silvirin penna Miriel-  You are laughing!
You meant me to. You read Tolkien!  (ahem)  Let’s talk about that ‘weird Egyptian culture.’
The problem with that perception is that all they know of my era… or, let us say, 85%, comes from tombs and the items taken from them.  I wonder how archaeologists of the future might view North Americans and western Europeans if their only source of information is what they find in Forest Lawn Cemetery or Westminster Abbey.  In fact, there is a hilarious book by David Macauley with the title Motel of the Mysteries that explores what future archaeologists think of a dig in North America.  Their interpretations are very amusing – and they are in line with the folly I see pertaining to my own culture.

Tell me about the hero of your story.
The hero?  There were two.  My son, Ramesses, is one – he showed himself to be like a bell that rings true no matter how you strike it – and Djedi, the young man of the small village that sheltered me.  He saw a need to protect his town from attackers, and he set out to do so.  I helped him as much as I could. 

They had no idea who you were.

Correct.  Lord Nebamun met some ghosts from his past through my inadvertent actions, but he won through, though he did give me a piece of his mind when I returned.
But you were not the hero?
I was the main character, the protagonist.  I did experience hardship and change – but I was not heroic.
We will have to agree to disagree.
You will have to agree.  I did what I always did – though I did mourn the loss of my son.  I had no heights to scale, and falling in love with a wonderful woman required no heroism on my part.  No, Djedi was my hero – and Ramesses.
Djedi.  You helped him.
Yes.  How could I not?  He needed to be coached, they needed to be protected, and I had the experience.  And they were my subjects, after all.
What about Ramesses?
He became the man who would be ‘Ramesses the Great’.  That name is spoken with curled lips by some.  It seems that a great man  or woman is always the target of sneers.  People seem to want to see them taken down, their reputations sullied – their clay feet in evidence.  Ramesses was great.  He ruled for nearly seventy years, and his rule made it possible for that part of the world to enjoy peace and stability in what truly was a golden age.
You started it.
Perhaps.  But my reign was not long, and Ramesses stepped in and did his magnificent best.  Poor lad.
‘Poor’ lad?
Yes.  He is to be pitied.  Think of it:  he saw the deaths of all he loved.  His four oldest sons – three of them serving as Crown Prince – died before him.  Hori after thirty years, Rai – another Ramses – after another twenty-five, Khay (Khaemwaset – one of the heroes of ‘Pharaoh’s Son’)- after another five, when he himself was old.  He watched his children – the children of his youth and his loves – die one after another, themselves old men.  And then he began to fail, himself.  Those people who like to examine corpses and do DNA testing and x-rays have shown that Ramesses had arterial occlusions that probably led, late in life, to senility.  There was, I know, a moment when he stood aghast and realized that he was failing, growing feeble…  I was spared that.
I am sorry.
Don’t be, Diana.  There is nothing to weep over.  All hurts are healed now, but we would do well to take that lesson with us.  There.  You are smiling again.  What else do you wish to ask me?
As a character in historical fiction, what is the one thing you would like to say.
I would say that people don’t change:
You are an historian, as I was (at least in your novel).  In your studies, have you found that people have changed at all?  Time has given us ways to kill more people, or heal more people, ways to suppress our imaginations – all the imagining seems to be done for our children now – but as a species, if you will, there is no change to our fundamental nature.  There is a song by Neil Diamond, with the title, I think, of ‘Done Too Soon’ that ends with this verse:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon…
For being done too soon.

You make a good point.  And I thank you for spending time with me.    I assume you are going back..?

Yes.  To the place you left me this morning.  The village is fighting off the attackers, Djedi leading under my eye.

Does he know you are king?

You must ask him.  And now, if I may, he is down with a spear in his side and I am holding him…

Will he die?

You are the author.  You know already. And if I told, you would never let me forget it.

Probably not.  Thank you for stopping by and speaking with me.

It is not for a character to object to its author’s actions.  Adieu-

Celebrating – A Task Finished


SMALL CELEBRATIONS
It’s good to be able to open your eyes to the things around you that are worth celebrating, even if they are as small (relatively speaking) as a smile from a stranger that you know would easily become a friend.  Stepping into a brisk May breeze, watching the flowers push their way through the soil, even though you know jolly well you’re a terrible gardener.
Today, though, I’m celebrating completing a task I’d been thinking of for a long time.


I’m writing a series of historical fiction set in Egypt and centered around the city of Memphis.  It is known as ‘The Memphis Cycle’, and that city, and the families that lived and ruled there, provide the thread that ties the stories together.  Three are published, one is  coming out the end of May, another should be coming out in November, and four others are in varying stages of development.  
 
Here are covers 1 & 2.  #2 is scheduled to be published May 31:
 
 
The covers fell into a sort of theme – statuary or sculptures against a background that referred to something in the story.  As the series developed, I began to want them to be visible as a related group.  So I redesigned them, keeping the original ‘art’ work, but putting that into a framework specific to the stories..  These are covers #3 and 4.  #3 is projected to be published November.
 

The line under the image is a hieroglyphic text with the name and attributes of the king ruling at the time of the story.  It seems to be working out.  Here are covers 5 and 6.  #5 is in the works, but it is an involved story and will need another year (maybe two) to complete properly.  #7 is out. 

 

 

What really tickles me is that my entire family is artistic and I guess maybe I can pretend to be. (Pretend is the word, too.) For example, while I work with photographic images for my covers, the figure crouching in the corner of Lord of the Two Lands is my own work and is a silhouette drawing. But I’m celebrating, for certain. It’s something I’ve wanted to do in a long time, and it’s coming on the heels of a new release and a reissue.

So join me in a cup of cyber tea, a glass of cyber wine, a stoup of cyber ale, or maybe some cyber lemonade. I’m celebrating!

 

Graphic work: Done


Before:

This had problems; the original was worse

Not a lot to complain of, except that the main character featured on the cover was a man, without a doubt, and the kohl around the eyes and the truly bizarre hair – even to those like me who are somewhat familiar with the society makes you doubt it.

I had wanted it to be moving, the tears in the eyes – the story arises from a bereavement – but while I liked the composition and the color, I had to admit to myself (at the very least) that this was wretched and needed to be adjusted.

I liked the colors and the composition, and, as with the other designs in the cycle, I liked using statuary (in this case a bas-relief) that had some connection with the characters.

The hair was problematic, and there were several reasons why I was dissatisfied.



An improvement, but needs work…

Tonight I sat down, thought things through, and worked for severael hours.  I had an idea for a way to fix things.  Doing the hair differently, for starters.  

 After:


The final version

Better hair.  It looks better.  I may lift his chin a little, though he is mourning (hence the title…)

I adjusted it a little this morning and then the connection failed.  I’ll upload the ‘final’ version this evening.  I made the man larger on the page, and raised his chin, as I had intended.

…and here is the final version.  I also removed the hand from the frame, whihc reduced the ‘noise.

One more step taken.  *Sigh*.  I will miss this story.

September 6, 2015:
I am editing this to show the final cover.  I scrapped the cover image, which I realized was not up to par, and composed a different one completely:

Picture



Six Weeks


I will be releasing Mourningtide in six weeks – April 30, to be precise.  I am posting the current cover, but I have a newer design that will be posted a little closer to release.

It has been an enjoyable story to write.  I am often sad when I finish a project like this.  I will be seeing a favorite character for the last time – he appears only as a memory in the next installment.  And at the end of the next one I will be saying good-bye to my favorite character, ever.
Here is the older cover: 

Sample chapters are HERE

Small Celebrations – Busyness (a guest post)


Good morning, good readers and bloggers.  Diana Wilder, being quite busy with the subject of this post (as you will see) has asked me to step in and post for her, explaining why she is unable personally to post this morning.  It is, of course, a pleasure for me to do so.  The gods know she has done enough for me over the years.
 

She is, as she so divertingly puts it, ‘up to her eyebrows in editing’, and as she is putting the final polish on a story involving His Majesty my father, and myself at a younger age, she is also impatiently looking forward to working on another story set some fifteen years later in which I, unfortunately, make something of an ass of myself.  But it features four of my sons, and that is always enjoyable.  And she describes me, privately, as a ‘bonny fighter, if  distressingly gullible’ – I  call it wishful thinking – ‘and a bit of a doofus as to strategy’.  History shows that I was a statesman, not a strategist.
 
She is also polishing an older story – set in Paris (in my time it was most likely a pile of mud upon which wretched barbarians squatted and squabbled) – with an eye to putting it out on Kindle without a great deal of fanfare.
 
All of this has her, as she says, ‘crazy busy’, but she is also delighted.  She informs me that only those who have gone through extensive dry spells can understand her delight and celebration at running mad in this way.  She will be visiting the other blogs on this ‘hop’ (such an undignified term!) as she can.
 
She makes her apologies, informs you all that she is raising a toast to all your celebrations, and knows that those of you who are running in the same lines of madness will understand and celebrate.  She also directs me to inform you that she is providing one and all with some ‘eye candy’ here.  I am blushing at the compliment.  Now if they could just find a better place to put the sheath for that dagger I would be a happy man.
 
Ramesses
by his own hand and seal.



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Celebrating Sesame Seeds



Today I’m celebrating something very small. Sesame seeds. I love the things. I’m always happy to encounter them, whether in ‘benne candy’ (those oblong rectangles of solidified honey full of sesame seeds that I always try to suck on and end up crunching), sesame chicken or hamburger rolls. I think it’s part of the human condition to chase sesame seeds across our plates, lick our fingers, catch the seeds, and bring them to our mouths.

This is a scene from a story I’m working on. It takes place in Egypt, God save the mark, and the two people are sitting in a plain, dockside tavern and discussing something very serious over a lunch of bread and, perhaps, some fish:

     “There is that.” Intef reached for the jar of beer. “I can send troops over tomorrow, but it will be in a rush.”
     Seti frowned and sat back, absently chasing sesame seeds with a fingertip.  “That might be a good thing,” he said after he licked the seeds off. “As soon as it can be arranged at any rate. Space is limited there – best to set up an encampment.”

     “That may take some time,’ Intef said.
     “That’s what I am afraid of.” He looked for more seeds and then shrugged. “And that is why I am uneasy.” He hooked the gold pendant from beneath his tunic, slipped it over his head, took the ring from the cord and handed it to Intef. “If I need the forces at once I will send to you. This ring is the token I will use. It does not matter who carries it: the request will be coming straight from me.”

They could easily be sitting in McDonald’s chasing sesame seeds across their plates.

There is not a lot that sesame can’t improve in any form. (Toasted) sesame oil adds a lot of flavor, sprinkle a handful in a dish and it adds looks and taste:

I’m going to have a toasted sesame bagel for breakfast, and I’m going to chase all the seeds.

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Moving Right Along…


Things are coming together with Mourningtide.  I finished the cover design (with a few reservations – more below) with a mock up of the book itself in the works.
It is copyrighted and registered with the Library of Congress, with an edit scheduled.  I’d say it’s five months or less away from publication.  I will miss the characters, especially since I know I won’t be dealing with one of my favorites after this.
Here’s the cover mock up.  The back needs more of a blurb, and I’m not sure I like the black spine…
I write historical fiction, with or without fantasy or mysticism, and I have realized once again the big sorrow of dealing with people, whether real or fictional: they don’t stay around forever.
 
I said farewell to my father this summer – and I find myself thinking of things he would love – and realize anew that he isn’t beside me to enjoy them.  In the same way, though not as deep, there are characters who, following my timeline, are making their final appearances in life. 
 
Seti (the main character in Mourningtide) has been dead for five years in the time-setting of Kadesh.  I realized how he died when I was writing backstory about one of the main characters.  Lord Nebamun, who has been one of my favorite non-historical characters in the course of two books, is in his mid-eighties in Kadesh.  Will he be there to welcome the troops home?  I don’t know.  I will miss them both.
 
I suppose I could pick up one or another of my own books and read – but it is not the same.  But when it’s time to say goodbye…

Hurry up!


Ever had a itch between your shoulder-blades? The sort that is driving you nearly mad, but which you know can’t be scratched because the act of scratching will only make matters worse and you will end up itching for the rest of your life?
 
Or, perhaps, wanted to treat yourself to some forbidden dainty – and known – just knownthat you won’t be able to stop eating?
 
That’s a little like my current position with Mourningtide.  The story is nearly finished, it’s almost ready to go – but it just is not quite ready.  There are things to do, things that mustbe done if I don’t want to release a book that is not my best effort.
 
Well, as with any itch, if you ignore it, it will go away.  The story will be finished, people will like it, I’ll like putting it out to be read, the cover will look good and I’ll smile.  It’s happened before, but I’m one of those people who likes to show folks their gifts before the proper date. 

In the mean time, I can laugh at myself, plug in my laptop, fire up Scrivener (did I mention that I love it?), and make corrections, and add scenes that occur to me.

And I can commune with my editor.
 
Have I mentioned my editor?  Everyone needs one, especially one like her.  Even if she is a pain in the neck, she’s about as charming as they come.  …and here she is!
 
I call her my ‘attractive nuisance’.  (Interesting legal concept: something that can cause a lot of annoyance, rage, damage, you name it, while being simply irresistible.)  Notice the position of her posterior?  Yes, on the pile of manuscript.  That is her clever way of keeping me from hurrying too much.

Polishing a Draft


So, you have finished your story.  It is complete.  The tale has been told and was done rather well, if you say so yourself.  You ‘compile’ the manuscript (for, after all, you are using Scrivener) and you then print the thing.  The result is a two-inch thick pile of bright white paper with printing on it.  The manuscript.  Finished!  Hurrah!



Wordsmithing as I do it.  The logic is hidden by the lack of prettiness…
The delight lasts only as long as it takes you to flip to a random page, and read…
“Did I say that?  What a passive construction!  What was I thinking?
You seize a pencil/pen/whatever, circle the offending phrase, write in what you should have written if you had not been under-caffeinated, and then sit back, scowling, and look at the rest of the manuscript.
…And now you are in ‘polish’ mode.
It’s been a while since I did this, and I had forgotten how enjoyable it is.   Wordsmithing, pure and simple, is a pleasure in itself.  It is, however, annoying when you have been envisioning a finished manuscript and, looking down at it, pen in hand, realized that the thing is anything but.
So you sigh, assemble the things you will need, and go to it.
What do you need?

Just the basics, ma’am, but in all available colors…
Pens.  Lots of them.  They tend to grow legs and walk.  I have one that was made by an artisan using chestnut wood salvaged from an colonial-era house on the seacoast.  Chestnut isn’t seen any more since the blight destroyed most of the chestnut trees.  That’s a pity because the wood is very rot-resistant and has a wonderful color.  Then there are the gel pens that are a delight to write with and have thick, visible ink.  The problem is that the ink tends to sink into paper and go through the other side.  Not pretty. 

Authentic Marvin
the Martian Pen

I also have a special Marvin the Martian pen I bought years ago at a Warner Brothers store and carried to various meetings over the years.
You need highlighters in various colors.  Why?  Well, what if you highlight something in pink and then think of something else that needs to be done with the highlighted passage, but is different?  Pink won’t work, it’ll be confusing.  Besides, hot pink is something of which I can only stand so much.  Purple, I think.  Or maybe blue…
Post-it notes, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are very useful for marking places (‘Oh – that’s right!  I edited to here!’), marking thoughts (make sure you don’t get cheap imitations because they’ll fall off, and you will face your greatest fear: that your inspired edit will be lost forever and your powerful intellect, having decayed rather badly, will not be able to retrieve the perfect word in the perfect location.)
But you go cooking along, making corrections – until it suddenly occurs to you that the reason that the beginning of the novel seems to plod just a wee bit, with lots of information being made available rather quickly is that you have been going about it the wrong way, and it would work out better if you start in with the third chapter, scrap the first and second chapters, and then adjust as necessary.  You greet this revelation with a cry torn from your very entrails as you realize that the entire beginning of the @#$%! story has to be reworked.

Is it a disaster if it makes the whole story better but drives the writer mad?
You brew another cup of tea (did you read my post about tea?), get out the materials, and go to work, muttering under your breath even as you see that it truly will do better.  You bid farewell to the end of year release, the editor’s feedback, the new story that has been nudging at your elbow and presenting lusciously tempting scenes…  You buckle down –

Will pester for catnip…
And pray that your work is not interrupted by the dreaded ‘attractive nuisance’ that likes to grab your hand as you mouse…