Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Everyone's a Critic

Some reviews are in for On Falcon's Wings from Goodreads and I wanted to share them. I don't put much stock in reviews as a whole; strange that I should enjoy doing book reviews so much at the HNR blog, but I never claimed to be a very logical person. I believe that each reader's experience is different because our expectations vary, as the following will illustrate:

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars: I won this book from Goodreads First Reads. It was an interesting story. The only problem I had was the difficulty with the names and trying to keep all of the characters clear in my mind. But, overall, a good book.

Rating: 2 of 5 Stars: I hate to do this to a giveaway book, but the writing is just not up to par. It needs more polishing - better characterization (I shouldn't be wondering how old the main characters are after 30 pages - they are called "boy" and "girl" by other characters, but already kissed and are married off very shortly after - how old are they? 10? 13? 17? I have no clue); less info-dumping of everyone's back stories with lengthy unpronounceable names and languages they speak in and who they are related to; less emphasis on describing everyone's outfits and instead on creating of the atmosphere of a certain time and place in history; less recounting and repeating of the same events from various POVs.

The book might interest some fans of historical bodice-rippers - the love story is dominant here, but as a work of historical fiction this novel is weak.

On the other hand, the cover is gorgeous and pretty much the only reason I am giving this book 2-star rating instead of 1-star.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars: I thought this was a great book. I didn't want to put it down. Had just enough sorrow and loss but also happiness to make you want to finish it and see what does happen between Edric and Avicia. A great non-stop read for teens.I definitely recommend it.

Of course, I naturally zeroed in on the 2 out of 5 star rating and my WTF radar started blaring. But, then I decided to act like a grown woman of nearly thirty-five years, instead of a five year old child, and congratulated myself on having joined the ranks of other authors, who find some people like their work and others don't. I've thanked the reader for the effort and the comment. The book was clearly not up that person's standards. I understand that sentiment; I've read books that have nothing but five star reviews, but the writing leaves me feeling as though I wasted my time. Who's right, me or the five-star reviewers? We all are; it's all up to individual taste and perspective. So who am I to say that particular reviewer for my book is wrong?

For those of us who put so much into our work and offer it up for review, keep in mind that you can't and won't please everyone. Keep on writing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

1066: The fading of a bright star

If you've read my book, or my book reviews of anything to do with 1066, or listened to me rant and rave about the Norman Conquest, you'll know I wear a big heart on my sleeve for the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. Those Normans and their bastard duke? Boo! Boo! Boo! Wonder why I'm always so P.O.'d about an event that took place more than nine hundred years before my parents even thought of having me? Allow me to explain.

In January of 1066, Harold Godwinson ascended the throne of England. Handsome and brave as he was, or so the chroniclers of the period tell us, Harold seemed to also be the shining star of his family. At least compared to some of his brothers, one a rapist and murderer exiled from England for part of his life, the other turned traitor to his family. Harold's father Godwin was a powerful earl of Wessex, but also the sort of man who followed favorable winds. He could be counted on to support whoever ensured the best for him and his family. The family had a great fortune and owned at least half of England between them. So, how did things go so horribly wrong for Harold?

First, he made an enemy of his brother Tostig, the traitor I mentioned above, by not supporting him when the people of his domain rebelled. A brother holding a grudge, with strong connections to the Continent and in the Scandinavian area, almost guaranteed that Harold's reign would never be easy.

Second, Harold also made an enemy of Duke William the Bastard in Normandy, who counted on Harold's support of his "claim" to England. Trust me, people; William deserves the appellation of "bastard", not just in the 11th century sense but the 21st century one as well. I call B.S. on William's claim, argued in the folds of the Bayeux Tapestry, that Harold had sworn an oath on holy relics to support him. Why an ambitious man like Harold from an ambitious family would support the claims of an outsider for the English throne defies all logic. Weren't there enough good Englishmen better suited to ruling England?

1066 was not going to be a good year for Harold. His brother enjoined the Viking king Harald Hardrada in an attack on England in September. Harold pinned his hopes on two northern earls, related to him by marriage to their sister, but unfortunately, the brothers were more interested in their own survival than protecting the English people. Harold had to take care of the invaders himself. Just when he defeated them at Stamford Bridge, a battle in which his brother Tostig died, he received word of Duke William's invasion. He marched his depleted force south to the outskirts of the town of Hastings, and on October 14, met his end there.

Harold, we barely knew you! If I could, I'd love to have a conversation with him, something like, "So, um, exactly what were you thinking when you marched a battered force south to meet William? Did it ever occur to you to wait, muster all your forces and then meet that flipping jackass? WTF, Harold!" Of course, that conversation would be very one-sided, since he wouldn't understand a word of my modern English, and there's that whole nine hundred year gap between us, him being dead and all. But it is something I wonder about, which historians have debated for centuries. I'm reading a book on the period, The History of England from the Norman Conquest to the Death of John by George Burton Adams. It's old and could be a good read, except for the ideas it promulgates that the conquest wasn't such a bad thing. It brought England into the fold with the Catholic Church, and into a more Continental, rather than Scandinavian sphere of influence. Yeah, I'm sure the Saxons who lost their families and lands were consoled by those facts. Basically, if I could, I would throw this book at the wall, except I'm not destroying my Kindle that way.

To grasp the full scale of how much 1066 changed England, imagine if Mexico invaded the United States. After a long battle, the Mexican army decimated U.S. forces and killed the president, who happened to be present in his role as commander-in-chief. They also killed most of his generals and some cabinet ministers, leaving a few still in Washington. The Mexican army decimates U.S. cities in their path to Washington. Their president claims the U.S. for his own. The new official language of the U.S. becomes Spanish, rather than English and almost all U.S. citizens who own great wealth and property lose it to the Mexican elite. That is precisely what happened to the English after 1066, when they lost against the Normans.

So, on this nine hundredth and forty-fourth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, I give a virtual salute to the brave and brash King Harold, the last of the Saxon kings, and a stiff middle finger to William the Bastard for stealing his crown and country.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Resources: Reenactment Societies

Research has been a hot button topic for me lately. Sounds like it should be a misnomer - research as a hot issue? Yes, strangely enough. After reading On Falcon's Wings, a few people have asked about the research process itself. British history is very accessible, even for the Middle Ages. One of the best resources I've found for research isn't in history books. If you want to see living history, find out about reenactment societies.

There are hundreds of reenactment societies across the globe, covering everything from the classical Roman Age to the World War II period. Of course, some of the best societies on the Anglo-Saxon and later Norman periods are found in England. The members of these organizations have a detailed knowledge of the period and society, everything from costuming to weaponry, foods and customs. Groups like Regia Anglorum immerse themselves in the Anglo-Saxon and earlier Viking age, and offer the historical novelist a wealth of information and detail that supports historical record. Regia Anglorum also maintains a permanent site at Wychurst in Kent, offering views of Anglo-Saxon village life.

Groups like Regia also participate in reenactments of famous battles, including the Anglo-Saxon defeat at Hastings. It's an event sponsored by the English Heritage society. Each October in the second weekend of the month closest to the October 14 date of the battle, reenactors gather at Battle Abbey to recreate the Hastings battlefield. And those damn Normans win every time! Boo! It was held this past weekend, and I am so jealous of everyone who got the chance to go and be part of living history. The Guardian has posted some great images online about the event, in which 350 reenactors participated. Check out this photo: if this guy didn't have brown hair, he would be my Edric in On Falcon's Wings. He's got the animal skin on and everything.

If you want to enhance the authenticity of your historical novel, reenactment societies can be a great help. You can find a list of them here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Researching the Historical Novel

A huge thanks to a dear friend, Wendy Laharnar, for inviting me to be Author of the Month in her newsletter, Calamity's Corner. Read the article here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Random Acts

Sometimes, really good things can come out of a disaster. That's hard to believe or take encouragement from when you're in the midst of a crisis, but trust me, it's true. Here's a list of random things that came to me this weekend:
  • Kindness can come from people who are practically strangers, those whom you've lived next door to for several years and never spoken to a day in your life.   
  • Backup your important files regularly. In fact, do triple backups, preferably at two different physical locations, or including at least one, online, easily retrievable location.
  • Value your friends and they will always be there to support you. I know I said that a couple days ago, in the blog post about writing friends. It truly hit home today, when my dearest writing friends took the trouble to find portions of my writing that I had not backed up in recent months. Anita and Mirella, you are my angels. 
  • Cultivate great relationships all around. You never know when you'll need a generous boss, sympathetic co-workers, or those great neighbors and friends.
  • And last but not least - to the druggies: don't cook your drugs in the basement, just in case something catches fire and burns your house to the ground. You don't want to be homeless and then subsequently hauled off by the cops with the entire block looking on.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Things I've Learned, But Needed Reminders

This week, I had two important reminders, life lessons that I've learned along the way that could always do with a little reinforcing. One: don't warm up boiled eggs in the microwave, at least not for thirty-five seconds. They can, and will, explode in your face; spewing hot flecks of yolk into your eyes and leaving a burn on your top lip that looks like a shark took a bite out of it. Yes, folks, I have the burn mark to prove this. Two, a pain-free lesson compared to the first one: never take the friendships you've made with other writers for granted. Since this is a blog about writing, guess what I'm going to discuss further.

It's so easy, terribly easy when you're bogged down in writing and editing, blogging, tweeting, the always-looming deadline, and all that other real-world stuff you do, to forget your friends. They've read and commented on your work in critique groups, validated your skills as a writer, subscribed to your blog, followed you on Facebook and Twitter, cheered each request for partial and full, listened to you cry on the phone over your latest rejection, and given loads of helpful advice. Yet, when you just need to get that last chapter done, you retreat into your writer's cave. Don't. The best writer friends will understand that you need time to yourself, because they do as well, but they will also be there whenever you decide to stop acting like a hermit. I am so blessed to have writing friends, whose lovely voices I get to hear on Skype every weekend, who trade emails with me almost every week, who have maintained long distance friendships with me, even though we've never met in person.

Thank you to all my writing friends. Your support and encouragement keeps me going in this crazy business we've all chosen.

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...