Sunday, January 31, 2021

Happy Birthday, Baby! Sultana, Book 1 is officially ten years old

Time flies when you're having fun. Hard to believe this book baby is a whopping ten years old! I can still remember everything that led to its publication and all that has come afterward.

Years of obsessive research among dusty library stacks and across the internet. The first perfect night in Spain where not even the frigid temperature or an undercooked meal of paella and sour sangria could have ruined my initial sight of Alhambra Palace from the Cuesta de Los Tomasas. Long hours of writing and revisions, coupled with some key advice from my critique group, whose members helped shaped Sultana into the novel it is today. The support of the best writing friends and the encouragement of readers, who responded so well to the book, they inspired me to write a series. Speaking and reading engagements at libraries and presentations for the Historical Novel Society.  The first offer of translation and the others that followed. The delight on my mother's face as I shared my love of Moorish Spain during our stay in Granada - her approval and praise after she read the book meant the world to me.

All that has occurred because of a novel some said would never be successful once self-published. Still amazes me.

In celebration of its tenth anniversary, I'm pleased to offer Sultana for FREE all month long starting February 1, exclusively.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Here's what you may have missed from me in 2020

 This year has changed all of our routines and for me, that meant missing out on some opportunities to connect with writers and readers in person. Thank goodness for Zoom and Google Meet, where I was able to make those connections online.

Here are two events in which I participated. If you didn't get the opportunity to attend, this is what you missed:

December 9, 2 pm: Zoom Presentation with al-Andalus Authors John D. Cressler, Joan Cook, David Penny.

October 6, 12 - 2 pm: Zoom Presentation with authors of We All Fall Down anthology through Historical Novel Society, NYC Chapter. 

I suspect covid-19 will be with us far longer than anyone anticipates, but at least, we can still be connected online.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Heretical Doctor, Ibn al-Khatib (Part 3)

Ibn al-Khatib's story did end, unexpectedly and tragically as I mentioned in The Heretic, one of the stories within the anthology We All Fall Down. The cause can be found within that partly fictionalized account of his life during the plague.

In my previous post, I mentioned Ibn Khatima, who had documented the arrival of the Black Death in his home of Almería during the summer of 1438. He also wrote a treatise on the subject. Ibn al-Khatib also did the same, which he concluded in 1362. Within his observations, he indicated, “The existence of contagion is established by experience [and] by trustworthy reports on transmission by garments, vessels, ear-rings; by the spread of it by persons from one house, by infection of a healthy sea-port by an arrival from an infected land [and] by the immunity of isolated individuals.” This was the basis for his theory of contagion; the idea that persons could spread the disease to each other by their actions.

But the following line may have led to his brutal demise many years later, because he also wrote contradicting Muslim traditions as passed down by Prophet Muhammad regarding plague. “…A proof taken from the traditions has to undergo modification when in manifest contradiction with the evidence of the perception of the senses.” This line alone would have damned him in the view of the Islamic clerics and jurists who deemed the words of the Prophet as irrefutable.

Would Ibn al-Khatib have dared question any precept of his religion if he had not thought himself untouchable? He certainly had reason to believe no one could rival him.

Ibn al-Khatib ascends to the pinnacle of power, but the Black Death intrudes

After the death of his mentor, foster father and former tutor Ibn al-Jayyab, Ibn al-Khatib attained all the honors that man had held. Within Islamic Spain, the viziers who served the monarchs possessed power superseded only by the sovereigns. Ibn al-Khatib became the vizier or chief minister of the Nasrid Dynasty’s Sultan Yusuf I in January 1349 and would hold the position into the reign of Yusuf’s eldest son and successor, Muhammad V.

Among his responsibilities, Ibn al-Khatib oversaw the completion of the new religious school at the capital of Granada in April 1439. Some weeks earlier, he had received the great honor of composing an elegy to the family matriarch, Yusuf’s grandmother Fatima when she died in her nineties. During the autumn of the same year, the plague ravaged Morocco and claimed Ibn al-Khatib’s mother at Taza. However he might have felt about the loss, his responsibilities remained. He kept up correspondence with foreign potentates and dignitaries, writing to the Sultan of Morocco Abu Inan, requesting military assistance against the Nasrids foes in Castile on March 13, 1350. Fifteen months later he served as an ambassador to the Moroccan court, departing and returning in July 1351.

The assassination of Yusuf I occurred on October 19, 1354, cutting short the life of the ruler whom Ibn al-Khatib had served for 21 years. The enthronement of Yusuf’s firstborn as Muhammad V at the age of 16 allowed Ibn al-Khatib to exercise influence over the youngster’s policies and understanding of government. Alongside his fellow ministers, the courtiers, and nobles, Ibn al-Khatib publicly swore his oath of allegiance to his new master on November 9 and also secured the appointment of the Moroccan garrison commander. A month later, he visited Sultan Abu Inan at Fez, arriving to great pomp and an audience on December 14.

There he had an opportunity to meet with a man of similar age who would become a good companion and later, a rival. Ibn Khaldun’s family hailed from Yemen and like Ibn al-Khatib, he held a prestigious position among the Moroccan ministers, serving as Abu Inan’s private secretary. Ibn al-Khatib and Ibn Khaldun established and maintained a friendship after the former returned to Granada on January 30, 1355.

Ibn al-Khatib dabbles in Sufi mysticism and life becomes precarious

According to his enemies, Ibn al-Khatib made another misstep that put him on the path to charges of heresy. On May 1, 1356, he and his three sons arrived at a Sufi lodge outside Granada. Sufism is defined as Islamic mysticism, characterized in Ibn al-Khatib’s time by asceticism and rejection of the worldliness of Muslim regions. The orthodox, Maliki school of Sharia law held sway over Islamic Spain and saw Sufism as a direct threat. For his adherence to Sufi doctrine, the majority of Ibn al-Khatib’s writings went up in flames just before his death.

The monarchs of Granada’s Nasrid dynasty had known for several generations since the time of Muhammad V’s great-great-grandfather Muhammad II that at any moment, their fortunes could change. Ibn al-Khatib’s young master soon learned this lesson. During the month of holy fasting on August 21, 1359, over 100 conspirators scaled the walls. At night, they drove Muhammad V from Alhambra Palace, alongside his mother and toddler son, before installing Muhammad’s younger brother Ismail as the new sovereign.

The conspiracy between Muhammad's stepmother and his cousin / brother-in-law jeopardized Ibn al-Khatib, too. Dragged from his house, he endured his first bout of torture and imprisonment. A sister of his in their birthplace of Loja offered to pay a hefty ransom. But without the intercession of Moroccan Sultan Abu Inan’s son, Abu Salim, Ibn al-Khatib might have remained locked away forever. He rejoined his young master at Guadix and together with their families, they departed for Morocco. The exiles arrived at Fez on November 28.

Ibn al-Khatib travels preceded the return of the Black Death

Two and a half years followed, during which Ibn al-Khatib saw much of his new host country. While he served Sultan Muhammad diligently, writing letters on his behalf to the king of Castile who favored the legitimate ruler, Ibn al-Khatib earned a living at the behest of the Moroccan ruler. On March 11, 1360, he gave permission for the Nasrid minister to tour the kingdom. Ibn al-Khatib visited the Atlas Mountains that month and then went on to Marrakesh. The port of Salé seems to have suited him well, for he settled there in May and wrote a history of the Nasrid dynasty, poetry, and his plague treatise.

The Black Death returned later that year and might have cast its long shadow again. In The Heretic, I’ve speculated about the next victim it claimed, one whom Ibn al-Khatib held dear. His wife Iqbal died suddenly on September 7, 1361. I’ve found no indication of the cause for her demise, but given the prevalence of the disease from 1360 to 1364 in the region, plague seemed a possibility to me.

Although widowed with three sons, Ibn al-Khatib would have had little time for grief. Muhammad V gave him direct charge of his household, the mother, wife, and children he had left behind before returning to Spain in the quest for the throne. Ibn al-Khatib would have secured the Nasrid royal family from upheaval, as their Moroccan hosts fell at the command of a local minister, who placed three rulers upon the throne at Fez during the Nasrid exile.

Ibn al-Khatib’s return to Spain

On April 20, 1362, Muhammad wrote to Ibn al-Khatib with instructions to bring the royal family home to Granada. They departed on May 18 and arrived at Alhambra Palace on June 15. Ten days later, Ibn al-Khatib again ascended to the highest office in the land. With the power of his pen, he saw to the appointments of two men, Al-Bunnahi as the chief judge of Granada and Ibn al-Khatib’s young apprentice within the council of ministers, Ibn Zamrak, both in October 1362. Ibn al-Khatib would soon come to regret those choices.

Jubilant, he completed his treatise on the Black Death before celebrating the arrival of his friend from Morocco, Ibn Khaldun, along with the observation of the Prophet’s birthday at a great feast. But he also engaged in intrigue, seeing to the removal of the Moroccan garrison commander whom he had appointed in November 1354 from Almuñécar and the exile of the man and his entire family back to North Africa. The reason for a rivalry between the two men is unclear. Even Ibn Khaldun seemed a threat to Ibn al-Khatib and at his suggestion, Muhammad V sent Ibn Khaldun on a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Castile, in February 1365.

The next four years indicated that Ibn al-Khatib spent much time devoted to his duties, but somehow, he had run afoul of the chief judge Al-Bunnahi and even Muhammad V. Was it because of the plague treatise, or the indulgence in Sufism, or something else history has not recorded? Regardless of the reasons, Ibn al-Khatib may not have had much time to reflect on them. Muhammad V had enjoyed friendly relations with King Pedro of Castile, but that all changed when the king’s bastard brother, the count of Trastamara called Enrique, murdered Pedro and took the crown. His line would eventually sire the first Queen Isabella of Spain. The Nasrid dynasty went to war with Castile once more, but soon, Ibn al-Khatib found himself embroiled in conflict with his master Muhammad.

Outskirts of Bab al-Mahruq cemetery, Fez, Morocco
Ibn al-Khatib’s story comes to a tragic end

Aggrieved by growing accusations of heresy and malfeasance against him, Ibn al-Khatib then lived in fear of his life. On December 10, 1370, with his youngest son Ali, he fled the kingdom of Granada forever. He sailed for the court of yet another Moroccan ruler, but not before writing Muhammad V a terse letter in which he laid bare all of his grievances against those whom he saw as conspirators against him. Had his former master threatened his life, too?

Ibn al-Khatib still had friends. The Moroccan sovereign welcomed him to court in February 1371 and even Ibn Khaldun forgave his old friend’s jealousy and pleaded with Muhammad V to send Ibn al-Khatib’s movable property and family across the sea, in a letter dated April 18, 1371. The rest of the family did arrive on the North African shore eight months later. But for Ibn al-Khatib, the worse remained.

In November 1371, the chief judge of Granada Al-Bunnahi condemned Ibn al-Khatib as a Sufi heretic and disbeliever. The judgment could not have come without the assent of Muhammad V. That month, Ibn al-Khatib’s manuscripts written on philosophy and Sufi mysticism became ashes among the pyres of Granada's central square. By the following summer, Muhammad V demanded his extradition from Morocco and received its ruler’s refusal, but at the start of fall that year, that same sovereign died. In November 1372, Ibn Khaldun spent some time with his beleaguered companion. Perhaps the last occasion in which the old friends would see each other alive.

The new Moroccan Sultan Abu al-Abbas Ahmad came to the throne in September 1373. He established good relations with Muhammad V of Granada and depended on him militarily. Their alliance sealed Ibn al-Khatib’s fate. In June 1374, he suffered arrest and imprisonment again. He sought help from other North African rulers, but to no avail. Two months later, men working on behalf of his enemies, Al-Bunnahi and Ibn Zamrak, whose career he had nurtured, entered Ibn al-Khatib’s cell where he awaited trial. They strangled him at the age of nearly 61. Dumped into an unmarked grave at first, his remains became disinterred and burnt to ashes, like so many of his manuscripts. Sometime afterward the ashes went into a grave at the Bab al-Mahruq cemetery in Fez.

So ended the life and story of Ibn al-Khatib, who once rose to the heights of power, only to have charges of heresy bring about his demise.
Ibn al-Khatib's monument at Loja

Read a fictionalized account of his years during the Black Death in We All Fall Down, available now.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Heretical Doctor, Ibn al-Khatib (Part 2)

We All Fall Down, my latest release, features the central character Ibn al-Khatib in The Heretic. As revealed in my previous post, he suffered a great tragedy just when his star seemed poised to rise. But luckily for him, Ibn al-Khatib had a mentor on whom he could rely.

Ibn al-Khatib overcomes his first great adversity

Were it not for the aid of his former teacher Ibn al-Jayyab, a young Ibn al-Khatib might not have achieved his goals. Born approximately in November 1274, Ibn al-Jayyab came from a prominent family of Granada, the capital of the Nasrid Dynasty. He served among the ministerial body which advised the sultans through the reigns of Muhammad II, his sons Muhammad III and Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, their maternal nephew Ismail I and his sons Muhammad IV and Yusuf IV.

The Nasrid council chamber
Having been one of Ibn al-Khatib's tutors, Ibn al-Jayyab then became a comfort to his disciple. Ibn al-Jayyab had also endured his own terrible loss at some indeterminate time; the death of his son Abu'-l-Qasim. The pair bereft of beloved family members relied upon each other, the mutual, spiritual adoption of a foster father and son. With the aid of Ibn al-Jayyab, Ibn al-Khatib ascended to his first important role. He became the personal secretary of Sultan Yusuf I, responsible for the monarch's correspondence. Alongside his duties, Ibn al-Khatib wrote about the origins of the royal family based at Granada's Alhambra Palace; he completed the work around August 1341. He also continued recitations of poetry in honor of Yusuf on special occasions.

Ibn al-Khatib's family

While the life of a courtier and ministerial responsibilities must have kept him busy, Ibn al-Khatib had another personal important role; ensuring the continuation of his family line. With the loss of his elder brother in battle, he needed a wife. Unfortunately, he could not rely on the proposed match between his foster father and that man's daughter. Instead, Ibn al-Khatib married a woman named Iqbal.

Little is known of her except the sons she provided her husband and her likely date of death. Since his contrivance to marry into the families of Granada's ruling elite had failed, we can assume Iqbal did not number among their ranks. The union must have occurred at least by the autumn of 1342, because on July 22 of the following year, Iqbal gave birth to Ibn al-Khatib's first son, Abd Allah. Two other boys followed, Muhammad and Ali. Records of their names survive because of their circumcisions, an important ritual for medieval Muslim boys, which took place on November 8, 1348. No doubt, Ibn al-Khatib would have made certain each of his sons pursued the same scholarly path he had taken.

Ibn al-Khatib's evolving role at court

While in service to the sultan, Ibn al-Khatib became closer to Yusuf I. At his side for two major Nasrid military campaigns against Christians forces southeast of Sevilla, Ibn al-Khatib celebrated the ruler's victory during April 1343. In the spring of 1347, from April 29 until May 20, he accompanied the monarch on a tour of the eastern portion of the Nasrid kingdom and wrote of their travels. He gave vivid descriptions of the Moors in his land.

Alhambra Palace's southern gate
Ibn al-Khatib and his fellow council members would have ensured the planning for Alhambra Palace's great southernmost gate, known erroneously now as the Gate of Justice, which later opened in June 1348. The ministers also knew of construction of the sultan's new religious school, which would end April 1349. The relic still stands near the entrance of what was once Muslim Granada's silk marketplace, Alcaiceria.

The arrival of the Black Death

Something happened that likely interfered with the plans of Yusuf I. Whether or not the Moors anticipated, an invasion of their land would soon begin, which would terrify them and their Christian adversaries. Off Spain's southeastern coast in December 1347, the Balearic island of Mallorca witnessed the first ravages of a new virulent plague that had spread eastward. By May 1348, Barcelona and Tarragona became affected, before the disease entered Valencia. Nobles, clergy, and ordinary citizens died.

The Muslims of Granada must have heard of these incidents of the Black Death, but what did they think of them? They were familiar with earlier instances of plague. By March and April, there were also deaths in places where seaborne trade occurred with Morocco. It seemed the Moorish people would be resigned to their fates if the Black Death encroached on them because of their religious beliefs, which included the following about plague, "It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whoever he wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him but what Allah has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.”

The summer of 1348 showed the Muslims of Spain were as unprepared as anyone else for the horrific toll the epidemic took. The Black Death arrived on the eastern coast of the Iberian peninsula at the town of Almería. There, a native of the town and another disciple of Ibn al-Jayyab, called Ibn Khatima, observed the first deaths and wrote about the occurrence in a treatise, which also survives in Spain's Escorial library. Ten years younger than Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Khatima had been born in 1324 at Almería, where he practiced as a medical doctor. He indicated that on May 30, 1348, the Black Death claimed victims in a poor section of his birthplace. Eventually in his city alone, at least 70 persons died daily. At the time, the kingdom of Granada's inhabitants numbered 1.5 million.

In his subsequent treatise, Ibn Khatima wrote about the causes and symptoms of the plague. He also proposed some methods of treatment. Like many of their medieval counterparts, Islamic doctors believed in the theory of humors that could alter a person's physical condition. Ibn Khatima described the Black Death origins as "a consequence of a corruption of the humor or cardiac temperament, caused by the air alteration from its natural and innate state to heat and humidity...."

Ibn al-Khatib suffers a second personal loss

Whatever the source of the plague, its consequences would soon devastate Ibn Khatima and Ibn al-Khatib. From Almería, the Black Death cut across the peninsula, striking at Málaga in full through April to July 1439 and later Algeciras. Before the disease spread to those places, it may have claimed a victim in Granada, Ibn al-Khatib's beloved foster father and mentor, Ibn al-Jayyab. He died around January 15, 1349, in his 70's. Historians remain divided on whether he passed away because of the Black Death or during the time in which it befell the population of Spain.

The demise of the man who had nurtured his intellect, brought him into prominence at the side of Sultan Yusuf I, and treated him like a son must have burdened Ibn al-Khatib. In his grief, he composed an elegy for the master to whom he had devoted years of his life, which he recited at the grave side.

Yet, this incident would also not mean the end of Ibn al-Khatib's story.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Heretical Doctor, Ibn al-Khatib

Readers of my Moorish Spain series may recall the secondary character, Ibn al-Khatib. In my most recent publication, the anthology We All Fall Down, he plays a prominent role in The Heretic. Ibn al-Khatib was a natural choice as the central figure in a tale about 14th century medieval Spain's struggle with the Black Death. 

In the novels Sultana: The Bride Price and Sultana: The Pomegranate TreeIbn al-Khatib served as a court minister and close confidante of the father and son duo, the Nasrid Dynasty's most celebrated Sultans Yusuf I and Muhammad V of Granada. But with the series focused on machinations within the royal family, I never had the opportunity to explore one important aspect of Ibn al-Khatib's life: his treatise on the Black Death. 

That his work has survived for almost 700 years and may be found in Spain's Biblioteca del Real Monasterio de El Escorial is a miracle. For when he began the treatise, he also promulgated what was then thought to be a radical, even dangerous idea, in the Islamic world: the transmission of disease through contagion. This occurred five centuries before Louis Pasteur's experiments in which he proved that a cell's environment could increase the likelihood of contagion, leading to the creation of sterilization methods in hospitals. 

Ibn al-Khatib was not the first Muslim doctor to propose the theory of contagion. In 1025, the Persian physician Ibn Sina, known in the west as Avicenna, had suggested that people could transmit diseases to each other through the air. But unlike him, Ibn al-Khatib's thoughts would ultimately cause his downfall. 

The origins of Ibn al-Khatib's family

When little Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Abd Allah ibn Said al-Salamani, the man we know as Ibn al-Khatib, entered the world on the night of November 14 /15 in 1313, his family might not have imagined his spectacular rise to prominence or the tragic fall that would ensue. But they may have had reason to expect greatness from him. 

Like many Islamic families across the Iberian Peninsula, they traced their roots back to the conquest of then Visigothic Spain. Ibn al-Khatib's ancestors settled in Cordoba until the 9th century when they moved to Toledo. In 1085 when King Alfonso VI of Castile captured the region, the family's land passed into the hands of Christians. Thereafter, they moved to Loja. 
The Islamic citadel at Loja

Ibn al-Khatib's great-great-grandfather served as an Islamic preacher there; hence the name Ibn al-Khatib, which meant son or descendant of the preacher in Arabic. His grandfather Said married the daughter of a Muslim governor and moved to the Nasrid capital of Granada, where he became one of the tutors of Sultan Muhammad II's children until the summer of 1284, dying of heatstroke.

While I've found nothing but a brief mention of Ibn al-Khatib's mother at the occurrence of her death, incidentally because of plague, his 30-year old father Abd Allah ibn Said al-Salamani already enjoyed a good living that boded well for his new son. The family still lived in Loja when in 1314 the new Sultan Ismail I, the son of Muhammad II's notable daughter Fatima, invited Ibn al-Khatib's father to take a post among the ministerial body that advised Granada's monarchs. 

Ibn al-Khatib's entry into Granada's high society

The toddler accompanied his father to the capital and grew up with access to the finest education. Ibn al-Khatib's earliest studies would have included his native Arabic and the Islamic religion, then broadened to knowledge of history, poetry, Sharia law, and medicine. His most prominent teacher became Ibn al-Jayyab, Sultan Ismail's personal secretary.

Granada's Alhambra Palace
At the age of 18, Ibn al-Khatib officially gained notice within court circles when he recited a poem before Sultan Ismail's eldest son and successor Muhammad IV in the city of Málaga. Perhaps Ibn al-Khatib seemed destined even then to take a place among the sovereign's ministers. He certainly enjoyed the continued support of his former tutor Ibn al-Jayyab, who at some indeterminate time also offered his own daughter in marriage to Ibn al-Khatib. For some unknown reason, Ibn al-Jayyab's father objected and the union between the disciple and his mentor's daughter never occurred. 

This unfortunate circumstance did not stymie Ibn al-Khatib's hopes to make a good match. Frankly, familial and marital connections were key to advancement among Granada's ruling elite. And what would Ibn al-Khatib have considered the most important factor in his choice of a wife? Her father's status, of course. He needed a bride of noble birth, with a parent who supported the Nasrid Sultans. While monarchs held the highest authority, they depended on the nobles to maintain their seat of power at Granada's Alhambra Palace. Fickle politics and discontented nobles had driven Sultan Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, the maternal uncle of Sultan Ismail I from his throne in 1314. With an awareness of the importance of the ruling elite, Ibn al-Khatib naturally contrived to join them.      

Then tragedy struck. Due to their proximity with Granada's early rulers, Ibn al-Khatib and his family must have understood how sudden calamities could affect their fortunes and futures. His father would have known this when the assassinations of Sultan Ismail happened in 1325 and the murder of his son Sultan Muhammad IV occurred eight years later. 

17th-century depiction of the Battle of Salado
This time, Ibn al-Khatib personally suffered. A month before his twenty-seventh birthday would have taken place, he lost his father and an unnamed elder brother on October 30, 1340. They died in the Battle of Rio Salado near Tarifa. Castile's King Alfonso XI allied with Afonso IV of Portugal fought against Granada's master, Sultan Yusuf I, the second son of Sultan Ismail I and his cohort Abu al-Hasan Ali of Morocco's Marinid Dynasty. We can only guess at how Ibn al-Khatib internalized this great loss based on the funerary elegy he composed for his father, of which only four lines have survived.

But that would not be the end of Ibn al-Khatib's story.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

We All Fall Down launches today!

Two years in the making, but finally, We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience is here. This new anthology includes stories by acclaimed writers of historical fiction; David Blixt, Jean Gill, Kristin Gleeson, Jessica Knauss, Laura Morelli, Katherine Pym, Deborah Swift, Melodie Winawer, and yours truly. 

The concept

I've always been intrigued by the Black Death. Not merely because my interests tend to border on the macabre, but because I'm fascinated by the human will. That resolute determination to ensure survive at all costs, even when it seems hopeless. Those who faced such a harrowing time as during the plague must have thought the world was at its end. How could they not while whole families died off and European towns lost so much of their populations?

When I first discussed the idea of writing about the plague, those who knew about the period responded almost universally, "What? Why would you want to write about something so horrifying?" But I knew within the truly terrible, dark moments of human history, there were always people whose actions provided a beacon of hope.

How the authors became involved

I also knew I couldn't do justice to the breadth and scale with which the Black Death impacted Europe. A single story from me would not do. So naturally, I sought other authors who might be interested in a partnership, a collection of short stories. And I'm so grateful to the authors who accepted and contributed their brilliant tales to the anthology. I'd met and admired David, Laura and Melodie through the Historical Novel Society. Jessica and I both write about Spain in the Middle Ages. I knew of Jean through her excellent Troubadours series and I had read Kristin's The Pursuit of the Unicorn. Katherine and Deborah are also well-known for their 17th century novels.With enthusiasm, each of them plunged into their stories. As I secretly hoped, common themes began to emerge, no matter how different each of our contributions ultimately would be. Among the themes, hope, love, and importantly, life after death.

Working together as a team 

At the outset, assembling a team of authors for a project like this can seem daunting. Unless, you already know you're dealing with professionals focused on the success of the story. For anyone else who is considering working with others on any collection of stories, I heartily recommend it and hope you'll be as fortunate to form connections with a talented group of writers. Teamwork has made this project so worthwhile and it's been an excellent opportunity to learn more about other unique skill sets each author brought to the anthology. 

Kristin, Melodie, David, Katherine, Jessica, Laura, Deborah, Jean, here's to us! Like you, I look forward to the success of our great work. 

About We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience 

Plague has no favorites.

In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown.
Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.
* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property—
* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost—
* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future—
* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—
* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante's son—
* In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—
* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—
* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—
* And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate. 
Nine tales bound together by humanity's fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time.
In dark and deadly times, love and courage shine bright. 
Available Now

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Cover Reveal: We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience

From authors David Blixt, Jean Gill, Kristin Gleeson, J.K. Knauss, Laura Morelli, Katherine Pym, Deborah Swift, Melodie Winawer & Lisa J. Yarde

Plague has no favorites.

In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown.

Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.

* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property

* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost

* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future

* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—

* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante’s son

In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—

* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—

* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—

And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate. 

Nine tales bound together by humanity’s fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time.

In dark and deadly times, love and courage shine bright. 
Pre-orders available now, just click the banner

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Meet the Author: Wendy Dunn

Today, I'm so pleased to welcome author Wendy Dunn, whose novel Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is set in Spain,  a place near and dear to my heart. While the story occurs during the time of England's future queen Katherine of Aragon, Wendy has not chosen her as the narrator. Wendy shares her history and insights with us.

Welcome, Wendy, and thanks for being my guest at The Bajan Scribbler. Please share some insight on your novel, Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters.

Thank you for having me as your guest, Lisa.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is my third Tudor novel, and the first part of my Katherine of Aragon story, which charts her early life at the court of her mother, Isabel of Castile.

I am now completing its sequel: Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things.

In Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, I decided to give voice to Beatriz Galindo, a real historical personage, to tell this fictionalised story of Katherine’s early years. Beatriz was a scholar, a poet – sadly, like so many talented women of the past, her work is lost to us – and a lecturer at the University of Salamanca. She was not only a Latin scholar, but also studied the philosophy of Aristotle, medicine and rhetoric. In addition to this, she was married, and a mother and step-mother.

Beatriz offered a perfect subject for me as a writer of fiction. I could only find these fascinating facts attached to her life story. That meant there was huge gaps to fill with the use of my imagination. The bones I possessed of her story also opened up a lot of ‘what if’ questions. My imagination was fired by wondering about this woman who lived a life denied to most women in the Medieval period.

Why did you choose to write about this period in history?

I love history, and utterly love those times when my study of history causes a person from history step forward in my imagination. Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters is set during a particularly fascinating period and place of history. This was the time which saw Columbus discovering the “New World” and Isabel and her husband Ferdinand engaged in their Holy War.

Married to Francisco Ramírez, master of the King Ferdinand’s artillery, who died in one of the king’s battles, Beatriz Galindo was likely an eyewitness to the fall of Granada. She was also part of Queen Isabel’s court when Isabel exiled her Jewish subjects, after first giving them an ultimatum to convert to Christianity. With her passion for learning, I suspect the expulsion the Moors and Jews would have shaken Beatriz to her core. As an educated woman, she would have known so much of their knowledge came from Jewish and Islamic cultures. As part of this cleansing, they also burned countless and priceless Islamic manuscripts, which erased centuries of knowledge. I am a teacher as well as a writer. I cannot believe Beatriz Galindo would have been happy to witness the burning of books.

Beatriz Galindo lived in a time of great change and upheaval. As a member of Queen Isabel’s court, she frequently accompanied the queen in her court’s peripatetic journey around her kingdom while employed as Katherine of Aragon’s tutor, and likely the tutor to Katherine’s three sisters too. Beatriz was also a personal friend and advisor to the Queen. It appears like she would have accompanied her Queen during the ‘Holy War’, Queen Isabel’s campaign to ‘cleanse’ her country of the Moors, which closed the door upon hundreds of years of Islamic influence in Castile.

Envisioning Beatriz made me wonder and then imagine what it may have cost her to claim her own life.

My imagination also opened the door to Katherine of Aragon, as both child and girl. The youngest child of five children, Katherine suffered sorrow after sorrow before leaving her home to begin her life of exile in England. But she came to England trained and ready to be a queen. Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters imagines how that happened.

That this period was rich, complicated, turbulent and fascinating.

Were you surprised by the role or actions of historical female figures as you researched the period?

The actions of historical women, indeed, of all women, never really surprise me, but I was surprised when I discovered myself growing to respect and like Isabel of Castile. At the start of my research, what I knew about her made me not like her at all, but the biographies I read about her life and times turned that view around. She was an amazing Queen, and recognized as such by the people of her time. But what really changed my opinion of her was Isabel the mother. She did love her children, and suffered deeply when they were taken from her by death. I have studied history long enough now to know L.P Hartley was very right when he wrote:  "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."  My study of Isabel reminded me I cannot judge people through the context of my own times.

Do you have a favorite character in the novel? What makes him or her most compelling?

I love Beatriz.  She is my point of view character, so I had to love her to write this novel. What makes her compelling? In a male dominated society, Beatriz somehow, and extraordinarily so, rewrote her life story. She appeared to have both worked with and resisted a society which could have easily prevented her from reaching her true potential. Knowing this helped me construct and give voice to a compelling character.

The film option rights have been purchased and the movie is about to be produced. Who stars in the film version of your novel?

Now, you have really made me start to dream.  Hmmm – who for Beatriz.  I like Keira Knightley – she has the right balance of strength and vulnerability.

Robert Downey Jr. for Ferdinand, Angelina Jolie would be quite interesting for Isabel I. As for the child and teenage Katherine of Aragon…she would have to be paled skin, redhead and blue eyed, and her friend, Maria de Salinas, dark haired, dark eyed and with the promise of real beauty.

Thanks again, Wendy!

Thank YOU, Lisa!

Learn more about author Wendy Dunn and read Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, available now.

An Excerpt from 
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters

“Follow your star and you will never fail to find your glorious port,” he said to me.
~ Dante Alighieri

Burgos, 1490

Doña Beatriz Galindo caught her breath and tidied her hábito. She shook her head a little when she noticed ink-stained fingers and several spots of black ink on the front of her green gown. She sighed. Too late now to check my face. “The queen has sent for me,” she told the lone guard at the door of the chambers provided for Queen Isabel’s short stay at Burgos. The young hidalgo straightened his stance, then knocked once with the back of his halberd on the door, his eyes fixed on the white, bare wall across from him. The door opened and a female servant peeked out at Beatriz, gesturing to her to come in.

In spite of the hours since dawn, the queen sat in bed, her back against oversized cushions. She still wore her white night rail, a red shawl slung around her shoulders, edged with embroidery of gold thread depicting her device of arrows. A sheer, white toca covered her bent head, a thick, auburn plait falling over her shoulder. Princess Isabel, a title she bore alone as the queen’s eldest daughter, and named for both her mother and grandmother, sat on a chair beside her mother, twirling a spindle. Her golden red hair was rolled and wrapped in a cream scarf criss-crossed with black lines, a wry grin of frustration formed dimples in her cheeks before she discarded the spindle in the basket at her feet with the others. She nodded to Beatriz with a slight smile. “Good morning, Latina,” she murmured, using the nickname bestowed on Beatriz by the queen. Beatriz hid her stained fingers behind her back and curtseyed her acknowledgement.

Straightening up, Beatriz gazed at the bed-hangings, unfurled behind Queen Isabel. His wooden club on the ground beside him, a naked Hercules wrestled with a golden, giant lion. Turning to her queen, she fought back a smile and lowered her eyes, pretending little interest in Hercules, especially one depicted in his fullest virility.

Queen Isabel balanced her writing desk across her lap, scratching her quill against the parchment, writing with speed and ease. A pile of documents lay beside her. An open one, bearing the seal of the king, topped all the rest. Beatriz’s stomach knotted, and not just through worry. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. I am free; I am always free while the king is elsewhere. Pray, it is not bad news about the queen’s Holy War. The knot in her stomach became a roaring fire. Holy War? Jesu’ how I hate calling any war that. Pray God, just keep my beloved safe.

She almost laughed out loud then; as one of the king’s most important artillery officers, Francisco Ramirez, the man Beatriz loved and had promised to marry, did not live to be safe but lived to live. His zest for life was what first made her fall in love with him. Waiting to hear the reason for her summons, she gazed around the spacious bedchamber, composing in her mind the letter she would write to him tonight:
  My love, my days are long without you...

No she couldn’t write that. If she did, it would be a lie. Her days were full most mornings she spent tutoring the girls before relishing in the long afternoons free for her own studies. She missed Francisco, but still lived a rich life without him, a richer one when he was at court.

What to write to him then? She could not tell him of her hatred of the Holy War. She could never name as holy a war stamping out any hope of another golden age, when Jews, Moors and Christians lived and worked together in peace. Francisco was a learned man, but a man who used his learning to win this war. Her learning taught her otherwise. It taught her to keep silent about what she really felt to protect the freedoms of her life. Could she tell him then of her joy of teaching the infanta Catalina and her companion María de Salinas? For six months now she had been given full responsibility for their learning. She looked at the queen. Surely the queen was happy with the infanta’s progress?

As if Beatriz had spoken out her thought aloud the queen said, “I want to speak to you about my youngest daughter.” She waved a hand to a nearby stool. “Please sit.”

The queen put aside her quill and pushed away her paperwork. She lifted bloodshot, sore-looking eyes. A yellow crust coated her long, thick lashes.

Seated on the stool, Beatriz gazed at the queen in concern. If there was no improvement by tomorrow,  she would prepare  a treatment of warm milk and honey for her eyes, even at the risk of once again upsetting those fools calling themselves the queen’s physicians.

“Si, my queen?” she murmured.

“Tell me, how do you find my Catalina and our  little cousin María?”

Beatriz began breathing easier. Just another summons to do with the infanta’s learning. “Both girls are good students, my queen,” Beatriz smiled. “The infanta Catalina is a natural scholar. She relishes learning even when the subject is difficult, but that does not surprise me. Your daughter is very intelligent, just like her royal mother. María too, is a bright child. Slower than the infanta, but already the child reads simple books written in our native tongue, as well as some Latin. The method of having books written in Latin and Castilian placed side-by-side is working well.” Beatriz straightened and lifted her head. “It was the method used to teach me when I was the same age as the infanta.”

The queen exchanged a look with her listening daughter.

“I have been pleased to see how much my Catalina, my sweet chiquitina, enjoys her mornings with you.” Queen Isabel brought her hands together, drumming her fingertips together for a moment. “Latina, I believe the infantas Juana and María can be given over to other tutors now that you have provided them with an excellent grounding in Latin and philosophy, but I desire you to be Catalina’s main tutor, of course that includes María, her companion.” Queen Isabel twisted the ring on her swollen finger.

“One day, my Catalina will be England’s queen. It will be not an easy task – not in a country that has known such unrest for many, many years. I want to make certain my daughter is as prepared as I can make her, but I need your help. Can I rely on you to stay with us, and teach Catalina what she needs to know of England’s history, its customs, its laws?”

“My queen, of course...” Beatriz halted her acceptance when the queen raised her hand.

“Think before you commit yourself. You are betrothed. What will happen when you are wed and, God willing, have the blessing of children? We talk of an obligation of at least ten years, and for you to be not only my daughter’s tutor, but act also as her dueña.”

Beatriz smiled at Queen Isabel. “Francisco and I are both your loyal servants. When the time comes, we will do what needs to be

done for our marriage and children, but I will confess to you that my real life is here, and as a teacher at the University of Salamanca. I am honoured that you wish me to continue in that role for the infanta. And to be entrusted with teaching your daughter, now and in the future... my queen, words can not describe what that means to me.”

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