Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In retreat

For my birthday treat, I'm getting a week in solitary confinement :-)

Well, not quite solitary (Mr Ashbless is allowed conjugal visits, at his own risk). But, a rented apartment far far from home. No dogs, no housework, no visitors, no shopping, and almost no Internet. If I can't get this novel nailed down in that time, there's something wrong with me.

I'll be back on the 9th December, assuming it's not actually possible to die from writing sex scenes.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Eyecandy Monday

I'm taking forever to wake up this morning. I could probably do with some coffee...

A shower would help...

But really, I just need to pull my finger out and write.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ol' Man River

It's a beautiful song, but you sure shouldn't listen to it if you're feeling down, because it's really bleak. Existential despair for the musical-going audience.

Luckily for me, I'm having a happy week, so I can listen all I like :-)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wielding the sword on Heart of Flame

It doesn't mean anything. It's not an official review, and it'll never appear on any public romance site. But my editor at Samhain passed on this note from the Final Line Editor, about Heart of Flame, during prep for publication:

"Fantastic storyline. The world-building and mythos were extremely well done. The pattern of the writing was flowing and in keeping with the storyline. One of the most unique ebooks I’ve had the privilege to not only work with but read."

Which made me happy!

In case you're interested in the nitty-gritty of the editing process...
At each stage I have to read through and okay the changes. We've been through 4 stages in the last month, speeding up as we went along, until it's been a gallop over the last week:

  • 1st edit: Switching UK punctuation to USA (' to "). Dedicated editor checks word choice and continuity, suggests clarifications for meaning or plot. A million semicolons die a bloody death. Commas disappear from before "then" and reappear before "and". Much muttering from the author about "crazy American punctuation."
  • 2nd edit: Same again, but more stringent. Second round of spelling conversion - I had a lot of "honour"s and "colour"s that needed their "U"s culling."Caliph" and "Amir" lose their capitals.
  • Final Line Edit: New, specialist editor, mostly checking punctuation and fiddly technical stuff like margins and spacing, I think. Lots of "try ands" converted to "try to"s.
  • ARC edit: This is to check that the text, which has now been re-formatted into an e-version, hasn't had any lines deleted or transposed by digital formatting. No, I don't know what "ARC" means! At this stage you can correct typos and mistakes, but no further tweaks of the text.
I'm knocked out by the high standards demanded by this e-publisher. The book has been polished to within an inch of its life ;-) And yes - I now have the final PDF version in my (virtual) hands!

Oh - and what did my lovely and incredibly hard-working editor think of the novel?

"You must be so incredibly proud of this story – the world building, the characters, two love stories running simultaneously, and not a single flat spot in 93K. It is quite simply amazing!"

Yeah .. I think I am proud. Exhausted and a bit shell-shocked too, but happy. Samhain rocks.

Heart of Flame out 20th December 2011 from Samhain as an e-book
6th November 2012 in paperback

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

USA Today

HOLY COW!! I couldn't wait untill Wednesday to post this!
My e-novel The King's Viper has had a great big mention (with picture!) in USA Today!

Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Ellora's Cave, says:
"The first and last chapters, which frame the story, sold me on the whole book when the author submitted it. It's a dark, angsty story. The hero starts out not very likable or admirable, but the reader comes to learn about him and his life as the heroine does so, and by the last chapter you'll love this tortured, honorable, loyal man."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

TftD: Strong

I've just written a (future) post snippet on balancing strong female and male characters, and I was reminded of this. Go Joss!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Homework crisis

Heart of Flame is out on the 20th December, and Samhain prodded me till I squealed and agreed to do a blog tour for publicity purposes. In fact I'm doing two, in parallel. But not starting on 20th December - who the heck is on t'internet trawling for books over the holiday period? It all kicks off in the New Year.

This one is being organised by Goddess Fish, who - thank goodness - know what they're doing far better than I.

Of course I have to write all the posts (topics set by the hosts) well in advance and get them in ASAP. Which leaves me in the peculiar position of writing a post about my New Year Resolutions in November! It's like being back at school again and trying to get my homework in for all these subjects at once...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Witch Wednesday ... part 2

John William Waterhouse: Jason and Medea (1907)

So here we are for a second week with Victorian and Edwardian witch paintings.
Having paid our respects to Circe, we're still with Greek mythology for the moment, but looking at an even scarier witch. Medea was actually Circe's niece, a priestess of the underworld/witchcraft goddess Hecate, and daughter of the king of Colchis (now Georgia). When Jason and the Argonauts arrived at her father's palace in search of the Golden Fleece, Medea fell in love and agreed to help him.

Anthony Frederick Sandys: Medea (1868)

She brewed up a sleeping potion to defeat the dragon that guarded the Fleece. What I like about this particular picture (which has some great magical detail, like the toad with the stone in its forehead, and the circle of red thread) is the sense of premonition - the look on Medea's face suggesting she sees the dark events ahead. The bright necklace suggesting blood.

Herbert Draper: The Golden Fleece (1904)

Fleeing with the stolen Fleece, the Argonauts are pursued by Medea's father. To slow him down, she kills her younger brother - in some versions she hacks him to pieces as they will take longer to retrieve - and dumps the body overboard, knowing that the king will have to stop and give the corpse a proper funeral.

Medea is brick-hard. To the Victorian artist she epitomises woman as terrifying, psychotic and ruthlessly possessive,

Alphonse Mucha: Medee (1898)

This is an episode from nearer the end of Medea's story, as depicted on a theatrical poster. It's Art Nouveau style rather than Pre-Raphaelite. Medea finds that Jason has deserted her for an advantageous marriage to a princess. So she kills both their children as an act of revenge, and flies off in a chariot drawn by dragons. I've got a full-sized repro of this poster on my stairs at home!

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898): The Beguiling of Merlin

Moving on from Greek myth to Arthurian legend, the witch Nimue comes a bit of light relief, relatively speaking. She seduces the wizard Merlin, learns his magic, and uses his own spells to bind him forever into a tree. I used to love this picture (I think Merlin looks hot!) until I realised how distorted are the proportions of Nimue's body. Sadly, I can't stop noticing that now and I find it just too irritating to look at :-(

I used this legend as a central plot device in my novel Wildwood.

Anthony Frederick Sandys: Morgan le Fay (1864)

This is Morgan le Fay, another Arthurian witch: Arthur's antagonistic half-sister and the mother of Mordred, who kills him. Blimey, standards of behaviour in the Good Old Days...

Take a look at the embroidery on her overdress. Those are genuine Pictish symbols copied from standing stones in Scotland. I presume the artist used antiquarian travel-books as his source, but it's still a splendid piece of research.

John Collier: The Oracle or The Priestess of Delphi (1891)

The Pythia - the priestess of Delphi - wasn't really a witch, more a shaman-type. She would sit on the tripod chair as depicted, breathing in the poisonous fumes from  a fissure in the earth (supplemented by the burning of laurel leaves sacred to Apollo, also poisonous) and - completely stoned - she would prophesy in ecstatic gibberish which was interpreted by priests, to enquirers, in exchange for cash.

John William Godward: The Delphic Oracle (1899)

I think Godward has pretty much abandoned all pretence that the interest in these depictions lies in mysticism and ancient history. 

George Wilson: The Spring Witch (1880)

Ditto Wilson. Interesting that the background is almost medieval in style - reminiscent of Bruegel.The witch is depicted as a semi-divine figure bringing Spring to a wintery world.

Arthur Wardle: The Enchantress (1901)

Whereas this is most reminiscent of a Sunlight Soap advert. I think her flushed face would probably have been considered rosy and attractive at the time.

John William Waterhouse: The Crystal Ball (1902)

Of course Waterhouse would have to make an appearance in this post somewhere! In fact, twice. The subject of the painting above is definitely a witch and, judging by her accoutrements, not necessarily a very nice one either ... just the way Waterhouse likes them. Actually, it may have been a a bit too menacing for some tastes - in the 1950s a purchaser of this picture had the skull painted out! This was discovered by use of X-ray in 1994 and it's been restored since.

John William Waterhouse: The Magic Circle (1886)

But oh, this is my favourite witch painting. The realism, the detail - note the ancient Greek style figures embroidered on her robe, and the wild herbs she's gathered - the grim Mediterranean setting among the tombs and discarded bones, the sense that she really means what she's doing. See how the magic circle burns as she inscribes it! Just a brilliant picture. And she doesn't even have the usual Waterhouse Face.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Eyecandy Monday

If you've a fondness for edgy BDSM romance then you may be looking forward to the Bound by Lust anthology, out in April next year (edited by Shanna Germain and including my story Being His Bitch among many other wickedly naughty contributions). Well, the cover has been changed!

Old cover here.
Here's the spiffy new version:

Still the same lucious contents!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Friday, 11 November 2011

Movie review: Machine Gun Preacher

What?! What are the evil fiends of Hollywood trying to do to me? A new Gerard Butler movie? - yes! With him punching people and shooting them, not just some shite rom-com? - YES!
Playing a Born Again Christian missionary????

You understand my sense of conflict here, I hope.

Stop talking about the Baby Jesus and get your kit off

What actually swung it was the fact that it's a true story, about a real guy called Sam Childers, who sounds ... interesting. And pretty conflicted himself.

The real Sam Childers

The movie is an action biopic, covering several years of Childers' life. He starts out emerging from prison. He's a career criminal, a junkie, and a violent piece of trailer-trash with no apparent redeeming features at all. He undergoes a conversion experience, cleans his life up, sets up a successful construction company and pops out to East Africa to do some charity work for a couple of weeks - where he discovers the awful mess going on on the Uganda/South Sudan border, and in particular the plight of children coming under nightly attack from the LRA rebel militia. Horrified, Childers starts an orphange out there. Protecting the children involves taking up arms against their oppressors - something Childers is strikingly good at. A violent man, he just needs the right cause to fight for. Unfortunately the enemy in this instance is way too big for him to handle. He becomes increasingly obsessed and angry at the situation and how little people in the outside world are doing to help, and eventually undergoes a crisis of faith and abandons his wife and child in the USA in order to carry on his humanitarian work. However a small child reminds him of the good side of human nature, he is reconciled with his family, and the movie ends with them carrying on the good work. Which, in real life, Childers is still doing.

The controversial (and interesting) bit about Childers' mission is that it involves leading armed rescue missions into LRA-held territory. With extreme prejudice. Hence his "machine-gun preacher" sobriquet.

Well, frankly I found this fascinating - but frustrating too. The movie covers quite a long period in Childers' life, so is inevitably episodic. The director also seems wedded to the idea of "show not tell," which means that nobody explains anything. So it's really hard to get under the skin of the main character - you don't hear him talk about how he feels, except in the content-free Christian jargon of "fighting the Devil." And the successive scenes can feel really disconnected from one another. For example, the film leaves it terribly ambiguous as to whether Childers falls off the wagon and goes back to shooting up heroin at one point. It doesn't give him space to explain how he feels about the death of his best friend, or how that affects his beliefs, or how that crisis affects his congregation. It doesn't even tell you whether he recovers his faith in God by the end.

Most frustrating of all, there is no background or context given for the actions of the LRA, who are the villains of the piece and by anyone's standards a bunch of utter bastards. They abduct children and turn them into child soldiers and sex slaves. They kill indiscriminately. But why were they founded? What are their aims? Who are they? Criminally, the movie even gives the (inadvertant) impression that the LRA are Muslims, which is just SO wrong - the Lord's Resistance Army originated as a Christian militia of exactly the sort of muscular, charismatic stripe that Childers espouses. (And a secular aid worker points out to Childers just how much in danger he is of looking just like the LRA leader.)

So as a narrative this movie had me tearing my hair out. As a window into a physical and moral battleground, it was gripping and humbling. The themes in Machine Gun Preacher should be a challenge to everyone. To cynical atheists who sneer that all Christians are just complacent hypocrites. To Christians who believe that all that you have to do is have faith, and that God will intervene to fix everything. To anyone who holds that violence is never the answer. To anyone with any humanity at all, as we sit in our peaceful Western countries, and all this goes on, and we do nothing.

Sam Childers website
Sam Childers talks about the movie

P.S: The Catholic News Service described this film as "morally offensive."

P.P.S: Eloise has pointed out that this review makes it sound like I didn't like the movie. On the contrary, I give it 5 stars. I'm just frustrated I couldn't give it the max 6.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Witch Wednesday

John William Waterhouse: Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891)

Well, I rather missed my cue for Hallowe'en, but a day with a  "W" in it is as much excuse as anyone should need for posting beautiful Victorian paintings of Witches. Those Pre-Raphaelites love their witches! Mysterious, powerful, sexually independent, threatening ... they play into all sorts of male fantasies. Especially as  - in the example above - they seem to have a tendency to under-dress in public. I love the transparent muslin in that picture, and the sneaky depiction of her nipples .. as well as the fantastic use of the mirror. Naughty and gorgeous.

John William Waterhouse: Circe Invidiosa (1892)

Circe is the one of the oldest witches in literature, though technically she's a  minor goddess. Here she is using a magical potion to turn her love-rival Scylla into a hideous man-eating monster. This painting is particularly striking for the palpable malevolence, and the use of colour.

 John Melhuish Strudwick: Circe and Scylla (1886)

 A gentler version of that poison-in-the-bath scene.

Wright Barker (1864-1941): Circe

But her most famous appearance is in the Odyssey, where she is found holding court on the island of Aeaea with an entourage of lions and wild beasts, and transforms Odyssus' exhausted sailors into swine (insert your own metaphorical interpretation here).

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898): The Wine of Circe

I love the fawning great cats in these pictures. In dog circles the action below is known as "counter-surfing." You look away for a moment, distracted by contemplation of the Black Arts, and they're straight in there lapping up the magic potion.

John William Waterhouse (yes, again - obsessed or what?): Circe or The Sorceress

Okay, moving on from Circe...
No, actually I think I'll do the other witches next Wednesday. Circe is a jealous sort and I don't want to start a fight ...

Damn, I'm going to have to write a Circe story sometime, aren't I?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

TftD: It happens

So, are we in the mood for a little comparative theology?

The "Shit Happens" list has a been round for a long time, in different incarnations and variations (I swear I've seen it on a tea-towel), but it still makes me smile. At its best it is a wry look at the way different philosophies and religions have attempted to deal with the age-old Problem of Evil:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
(Epicurus, 341-270 BCE) 

So here's the version I like best:

Atheism:                    Shit happens.
"New" Atheism:        Look - shit just happens. Why is that so hard to grasp, dimwits?
Agnosticism:             Shit probably just happens, but if there’s more to it than that we aren’t qualified to comment.
Confucianism:           Confucius says, "If shit has to happen, let it happen PROPERLY."
Buddhism:                 Shit happens, but try not to care.
Zen Buddhism:          Shit is, and is not.
Taoism:                       Shit happens, so flow with it.
Catholicism:               Shit happens because it’s good for you.  Anyway, you deserve it.
Protestantism:           Let shit happen to someone else!
Islam:                          Shit happens if it is the will of Allah.
Hinduism:                   All this shit has happened before.
Moonies:                    Only really happy shit happens.
Televangelism:           Shit happens because you aren’t Born Again. If shit is still happening, it’s because you haven’t sent me enough money.
Darwinism:                 Survival of the shittiest.
Unitarianism:              Shit happens. Have coffee and biscuits.
Church of England:   Shit happens. Have a cup of tea.
Quaker:                       Please, let's not fight over this shit…
New Age:                    Visualise shit not happening. That’ll be $300, thanks.
Christian Science:     Shit is all in your mind.
Scientology:               Shit happens if you're on our shit-list.
Judaism:                     Why does shit always happen to us?

and, of course..

Writer:                       My head is full of shit – let me share.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Peru: the Dead

[Human corpse picture warning. Possibly a bit late.]

One of the really fascinating things about visiting Peru, as far as I'm concerned, is that it has the world's longest tradition of deliberate mummification. They're all over the place.

Peruvian cultures had a tendency to mummification because of the climate. They have miles of hot dry desert and miles of cold dry mountain-tops, both of which will naturally desiccate a body. Unlike among the ancient Egyptians, the corpse was generally not disembowelled but remained intact. They were almost always set in a foetal postion too, as that represents a return to the womb of life.

This is the cemetery of Chauchilla (AD 1000-1400). Most of the grave pits were robbed out this century for their gold and textiles. The remaining bodies have been reassembled by archaeologists, put back in the tombs and left visible but under shelter. Each mummy-bundle consists of a crouched, wrapped, body with an exposed head.

During Inca times, mummies of kings and ancestors were kept in the palaces and temples in special niches. They were dressed, "fed," taken out for a look round at festivals, "consulted" on important matters, and generally treated as revered relatives who still had a lot to contibute to the family. Like OAPs, just quieter.

This is a local guide with an Incan mummy-niche, probably used in the preparation stage - it is noticably colder inside than the surrounding area.

Sadly the Spanish invaders burned most of these Incan mummies as they found the practice offensive. (Which, given the Catholic habit of keeping dead saints on display in churches, is just a tad hypocritical.)

Which means that most of the extant mummies in Peru are pre-Incan, from the Nazca Culture (AD 100-800) for example.

This skull is an example of cranial deformation caused by binding the head from a very young age. (Pictures like this are occasionally hocked around the internet as "alien skulls" but that's rubbish). It was done to mark ethnic identity and social caste. Rather surprisingly, there's no evidence it caused brain damage. Nowadays, tribes that used to bind skulls just use distinctive hats.

Cool wig.

We also saw the very famous Juanita the Ice-Maiden in a museum in Arequipa. She's not actually a true mummy, just deep-frozen. Great museum, but no photography allowed there.