Monday, December 31, 2012

Bring on 2013!

Not that 2012 wasn't a great productive year, personally and professionally. Most goals were attained but a few are still elusive. There's just something about a new year; a new start, beginnings, hopes and prospects. The top things I'm anticipating for next year include:

Mid-year, the third in my series on Moorish Spain, Sultana: Two Sisters will be published. The penultimate draft is going through the critique group, whose members have provided incredible and encouraging feedback. I'm also happy to announce the next title in the series is underway (more on that in 2013) with plans for a total of six books on this topic through the next two years, spanning the history of the Nasrid Dynasty as rulers of Granada.

Audio book versions of On Falcon's Wings, Sultana and The Burning Candle are coming! Each title is currently in production through Audiobook Creation Exchange. The wonderful voice talent of audio book narrator and actress Sherill Turner, voice actress Maureen Boutilier and bilingual voice artist Laurence Krambule will bring the medieval period in England, Spain and France to life in these stories. Each of the narrators provided a perfect audio sample of the respective work, so I'm excited about listening to final versions by the end of winter.

Last but definitely not least, the Turkish translations of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy will be available from Istanbul publisher Beyaz Balina Yayinlari. Something about this bit still feels surreal. Yes, I've read that signed contract a few times. As part of it, the publisher will provide some free copies of the translated works. Do you think I have enough time next year to learn to read in Turkish?

I wish everyone an amazing and inspired New Year. May all your goals for 2013 be fulfilled!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Juan Manuel Gomero

Esperanza and her counterpart Miriam find themselves enslaved in Sultana: Two Sisters, sold by Ahmed al-Qurtubi and his nephew Fadil to a rich merchant, Juan Manuel Gomero. Men like Juan Manuel Gomero would have made their wealth from brokering profitable sales of slaves; men, women and children captured in Moorish raids along the towns that bordered the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Beautiful women, like Esperanza and Miriam, would be considered suitable for concubinage. Private auctions were usually arranged for the female slaves sold to noble families and the Nasrid rulers of Granada, unlike the public display depicted below in Jean-Leon Gerome's Orientalist classic, The Slave Market. In medieval Spain, a bondwoman's origins did not prevent her children from attaining their freedom or prestige, even a crown. The Sultan Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, maternal great uncle of Sultan Yusuf in my latest title, was the product of a union between Sultan Muhammad II and a Christian concubine.

Of all the characters of Sultana: Two Sisters, Juan Manuel caused the most conflicted feelings. He has no qualms about gaining profit from the miserable existence of others. Inspiration for his hardened personality came from knowledge of attitudes during other historic slave-holding periods, including the Roman Empire and the Atlantic slave trade. As Miriam quickly discovers, her plight has no affect on this cultured and tolerant man.

Juan Manuel approached Miriam. He scrutinized her with a frown and then lifted an eyebrow. “You have spoiled this one, Ahmed. Look at these scars, that bruise, and this cut on her face. My patrons have very specific desires. All of my stock must be beautiful and free from blemish. You never mentioned she was pregnant either. I bargained for a midwife to attest to the younger one’s virginity, not for the sake of a breeding woman! Take this one away and make what profit you can in the market.”
Bitterness assailed Miriam. How dare this preening peacock dismiss her, especially after he had shown excessive reflection on Esperanza’s bland appearance?
Ahmed clasped his hands together. “I thought you would be pleased to know she is fertile. I could sell the mother and the unborn child for twenty maravedies less than the agreed upon price. You would gain two slaves at a bargain.”
“Only twenty gold coins less? Bah! You presume I still wish to buy her. You do not fool me when it’s clear you are eager to rid yourself of the woman.”
“You mistake me. She is yours. Do not quibble over a few scratches. They will fade.”
“In a month? I expected to auction both females at that time.” 
Miriam sucked in her breath. Juan Manuel's home would not be their final destination.

In Esperanza's encounter with the man, he teases at knowing more about her heritage than she does. She discovers something enigmatic about him, a side he does not hint at with others.

When she opened her eyes, Esperanza first became aware of the unusual tiling of the floor, another random design. Then she realized the brown-haired man who had inspected her the day before now sat on the stool. His elbows pressed against his knees and his chin propped up his fists. He wore a black silken pellote trimmed with gold braid. Beneath the sideless surcoat, the sleeves of a green tunic hid his fingers.
She tugged the damp cover around her naked form and sat up. “What are you doing here?”
He laughed in a rumbling, throaty voice. “I am master of the house and all who dwell herein.”
“Still, you should not be alone with me.”
“Why? You must know my coin built this bathhouse, provides every comfort you have experienced within it. Your youth cannot excuse ignorance. What is your age?”
“I have lived for fourteen years.”
“Tell me, is your full name Esperanza Peralta?”
“It is! I have no reason to lie.”
His gaze probed her face. Something unexpected glinted in his golden gaze. She thought she recognized sympathy, but his intent gaze suggested another elusive emotion.
. I should have known you by your features.”
Her temple pulsed and her breath quickened. “Why? You have never met me before now. My father never traveled to Andalusia.”
“Perhaps everything is not as you believe. Did he ever tell you how he came by the Peralta name, its origins?”
“If he knew, he did not say.”
“I suppose not. And you were born in Castilla-Leon?”
“At Talavera—”
“De la Reina,” he finished for her. “I should have guessed that too.”

How is a stranger, who has only recently met the heroine, able to discern so much from her looks? I promise Juan Manuel has much more to share with Esperanza as the story progresses!

Devoted to his business, Juan Manuel relies on a trusted slave to introduce the women to Moorish customs and ensure their cooperation. Next time, meet Sadiya, a beautiful French girl entrusted by her master with aiding's Esperanza adjustment to life as a slave in Moorish Spain.         

Monday, December 17, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Fadil al-Qurtubi

In Sultana: Two Sisters, Fadil al-Qurtubi is the chief tormentor of Esperanza and Miriam, after they are captured by Moors on the plains of La Mancha. The paternal nephew of Ahmed al-Qurtubi, Fadil is a child in a man's body, possessing an innate cruel nature coupled with the willingness to act on his impulses. Inspiration for him came from film characters.

Adapted from Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, the film features actor Vincent Gallo as Jeremy Irons' bastard son sired through rape. When the boy first shows up with a demand from his mother that his paternity be recognized, his father dismisses him - a huge mistake. There's a quiet menace about the young man that's fully realized later as he exacts revenge on his father's family, especially his young half-sister Blanca, played by Winona Ryder. This is a character without empathy. Fadil also reminds me of Heath's Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight. With little clear information on his background, the character ramps up the violence from the start of the film and doesn't care how much damage is left in his wake. I went for the same lack of empathy and powerful brutality in the portrayal of Fadil. Like the Joker, his cruelty doesn't derive from any specific cause but he's hell-bent on getting what he wants. As with Vincent Gallo's character, Fadil serves as a reminder of what can happen when a youthful, wayward personality isn't corrected.  

I've often received the feedback from critique groups that every villain should have a cause, just like the protagonist. While Fadil does thwart Esperanza and Miriam's immediate goal of freedom, he isn't the true antagonist of this story - find out who is when this title's released next year. Instead, Fadil drives a wedge between Esperanza and Miriam, by highlighting the differences in their treatment during captivity. While he has a limited goal, the effect of it ensures devastating consequences. Fadil is the kind of villain who does the unexpected simply because he can and in doing so, his actions precipitate other conflicts.

From Esperanza's first meeting with Fadil, she knew she should be afraid. He introduces a capacity for violence with this scene:

Beneath a moonless evening, Esperanza’s captor dragged her from the black stallion. He shoved her next to a large, crumbling rock beside a desiccated stump, the only evidence of trees she had seen across the barren landscape. Her elbow banged against the stone so hard, tears pricked her eyes. She hung her head and bit her lip to stifle a cry. She would never give him the satisfaction of seeing the resultant pain etched in her features.
He licked cracked lips and cocked his head as if studying her. His stubby nose at the center of a pockmarked face disgusted her almost as much as the jagged scar rippling across his left cheek. During the furious ride, he had tied her wrists with hemp. Now, he knelt at her feet and reached for the fastenings of her zapatas
She lifted her leg and kicked him squarely in the chest. “Do not touch me, you ugly savage!”
The knife he had pressed to her ribs earlier reappeared in his copper-colored hand. She shrank against the stone as he raised the blade.

Unfortunately for Miriam, she bears the brunt of Fadil's excesses. She also develops an understanding of the young man's desires coupled with a determination to avenge the losses he has inflicted upon her:

Fadil thwarted Miriam’s contemplation of Esperanza, for he returned in haste and flopped on the ground. Water sloshed from the gourd and fed the parched and broken earth.
The careless fool grinned at her in his idiocy. “I have decided you will be mine. My uncle can have my share of the spoils. All I want is you. After you have delivered of this babe, I shall put another into your belly, one whom my uncle cannot sell as a slave. If you obey me, any children I sire upon you may have their freedom.”
She snatched the vessel from his grasp, tore a strip from the hem of her tattered saya and wadded the cloth before dipping it into the water. She swallowed her grief and sang for the tender child ripped from her clutches, a trilling melody about a mother and daughter preparing a meal on the eve of Shabbat. She used to sing it for Palomba, in days when Miriam imagined how her child might carry on the traditions of their faith. Now that would never be because of the animal lounging beside her.
The muscles in Miriam’s battered body throbbed with a deeper intensity than the yawning ache in her throat, the pain of tears she refused to shed. She scoured her face and arms, which bore reddened marks where Fadil had seized her on the previous night. Fresh bruises from the morning's violence marred her skin. She could count the layers of scratches, discolorations and scabs if she wished, recalling each moment where her captor had gripped her too hard, or shoved or slapped her. She would never permit herself to forget his cruelty.

Find out how these Esperanza and Esperanza attempt to survive their captivity among the Moors in Sultana: Two Sisters. Next time, meet the character Juan Manuel Gomero, who knows more about Esperanza's heritage than she may suspect.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing your readership with Bublish

Are you a writer looking for a free, easy and fun way to gain exposure in this ever-crowded world of published authors? These days when it seems everyone is writing and publishing, it has become increasingly difficult for new authors to reach readers. Serendipite Studios launched the live beta of Bublish at Book Expo America in June 2012, to connect readers with writers and their books.

Bublish is a social book discovery platform used by many authors in a variety of genres. With some practice, you’ll be Bublishing in no time. To get started, go to and set up Your Profile. Be sure your email and bio information is spelled correctly and add a great headshot. Now, you’ll need to upload an EPUB version of your book. Click on Add a Book and submit the file. Add your website and the all-important tags that help identify your book and genre among the others. Best practice advice: include a linked table of contents in your EPUB too; it will make it easier for you to access relevant sections you’d like to post as book bubbles.

Once you’ve saved the title, now it’s time to create your first book bubble. Scroll to the relevant section of the text and click with your mouse where you would like to begin capturing text. Scroll down until you find the end of the section. Press your Shift key and click where you want to stop. Best practice advice: select a section that is clear and meaningful. You want to highlight your best work, a portion of the text that will intrigue would-be readers

Once you’ve clicked on Submit Excerpt, it’s time to provide Insight into your book bubble. Why did you choose this particular piece? What themes or message do you touch on in the scene? Is your writing funny, sad or thought provoking? What is it about the piece that you think will resonate? Best practice advice: keep it short and to the point. The insight you provide is limited to 200 words.

When you’re done, Publish your book bubble via Twitter or Facebook; I rely exclusively on tweets for my book bubbles. Bublish generates a pre-formatted tweet, which you can modify with one caveat: don’t change the shortened URL that is automatically added to your tweet. If you’re using Twitter too, be sure to include hashtags, e.g. #historicalfiction, keywords to help other Twitter users organize and follow your content that is relevant to their interests. 

Promoting my work through Bublish has been a great learning opportunity and a chance to grow my personal website hits and reach new readers. With each book bubble, I’ve discovered how to focus on aspects of the stories that touch individual readers and make them want to know more. In particular, Kathy Meis at Bublish deserves kudos for her time and talent in working with me at each step to navigate all the features the platform has to offer. 

Some of your fellow authors are already using Bublish:

Buy links, the synopsis / blurb of your title and your author website are included with each book bubble. This fall, Bublish debuted a new set of features for both writers and readers. Writers can now add up to 30 book to one author account as well as change their cover art. Readers (and writers exploring Bublish in reader mode) can now filter the bubble stream by genre, and when they discover an author they like see more by that author. Best of all, Bublish is free to all readers and writers!

Need another incentive to start making your connections with readers? Bublish offers a unique opportunity for bublishers only through its Twitter chats, which always occur on Thursdays at 3pm Eastern. The first with Lorna Suzuki is available here through Storify. I’m also scheduled to participate in my first Twitter chat via Bublish today at 3pm Eastern / 2pm Central / 1pm Mountain / 12pm Pacific. Hope you’ll join the discussion.

Want to schedule for your own live Twitter chat with Bublish? Email Happy Bublishing!

What I'm Reading: Blood Eye by Giles Kristian

Here's my most recent review of a thrilling Viking tale, Giles Kristian's Blood Eye. Who doesn't love the Vikings? NetGalley has provided the second and third of the series, Sons of Thunder and Odin's Wolves, which I can't wait to get to over the Christmas week. So many books, so little time!
"At the dawn of an age of Scandinavian raiding throughout Western Europe, a young man rediscovers a forgotten heritage that links him to a proud band of Norse warriors in Blood Eye, the first of Giles Kristian’s Raven trilogy. Swept up in their quest to find honor and glory in battle, Raven tests the limits of his endurance and finds companionship among these resilient but brutal warriors.
Raven does not know the name his parents might have given him at birth, where he was born or whether he has any living relations. His entire existence revolves around life in the Wessex settlement of Abbottsend, where he serves the old, mute carpenter Ealhstan and finds himself shunned by others who are suspicious of his blood-red eye. While fishing for his master’s breakfast at dawn, two boats come ashore. The crew wields swords, axes and shields. Their words, suddenly easily understood by Raven, promise trade, but the menace surrounding Jarl Sigurd’s men belies the promise of an easy exchange. Just when it seems the visitors will take their riches and go, treachery brings about a violent end to village life. Raven and Ealhstan become captives of the bloodthirsty crew.
Every event that unfolds in this tale is unexpected, from Jarl Sigurd’s arrival and departure from Abbottsend to his tenuous truce with an English lord whose village he almost destroys. Even the bond Raven forges with the men who have taken him from the only life he remembers is as unpredictable as his ability to survive and forge a new identity among them as an equal. There is no assurance of survival for anyone. Would-be enemies can easily change allegiances, while many a man cannot depend on the loyalty of his own compatriots. Blood Eye is a rich story of adventure told in the style of the Norse sagas, revealing much about the harshness of life in the Scandinavian sailing age and the surprising fellowships forged between people."   

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Ahmed al-Qurtubi

In Sultana: Two Sisters, Efrain Peralta must rescue those under his protection including his only daughter Esperanza from a deadly Moorish raid. The leader of the raiders is Ahmed al-Qurtubi, a man of illustrious origins who finds himself reduced to the role of slaver in the ever-shrinking kingdom of Granada. Ahmed is a practical, determined man ruled by his desire to recapture the lost glory of his family. He will do anything to achieve his goal, including resorting to the capture of innocents along the Christian border with Muslim Granada. Despite his coarse actions, his men revere him, which Esperanza quickly learns.
La!” A gravelly tone echoed in the night. Thick leather boots emerged from the shadows. Esperanza’s gaze traipsed up the length of them. They reminded her of similar expensive pairs she had seen on the feet of the Cerda men. The boots rose to the wearer’s knees, stopping at the hem of a voluminous white cloak. Dark eyes in a weather-beaten craggy face with a thin beard peered at her. Other men followed the stranger until at least twenty of them stood over her. 
She drew her knees up to her chest and averted her gaze. The stranger dismissed the man with the knife and took his place. Thin olive-brown fingers went for her chin. She slapped his hand away, seething at his presumption. Those around him stepped back or focused murderous glares on her.
A chuckle rumbled through the stranger’s barrel chest before his stare darkened. His palm swung wide and connected with her cheek. Her shocked tears fell without warning.
He stood. “I have no wish to hurt you.  Never do that again, mi querida.”

When I was imagining Esperanza’s initial encounter with Ahmed, the face of Palestinian actor Ashraf Barhom kept coming to mind. He hasn’t had any breakout roles, but if you’ve watched The Kingdom (with Jaime Fox and Jennifer Garner), Agora (with Rachel Weiss) or Clash of the Titans (with Sam Worthington), you’ve seen Ashraf Barhom appear in pivotal scenes. In each movie, his characters project confidence in their abilities, whether he is portraying as a Saudi Arabian officer, a warrior monk or a bounty hunter, and an easy adaptability to changing circumstances, which perfectly mirrors the forceful personality of Ahmed al-Qurtubi.

The first meeting of Esperanza and Ahmed reveals more of his dangerous nature:
The Mohammedan leader stroked his beard as he stood. “There might be more coin for me elsewhere, but I’m uncertain it lies within the old kingdom of Valencia.” He reached beneath a fold in his cloak and withdrew a long curved blade with weaving lines along its surface. He pointed the sword at Esperanza, who shriveled against the rock.
“You see this, little hope? The finest steel from Damascus. I took this from the first man I slaughtered more than twenty years ago. It has never left my hands since then. I remember each person it has killed. I have never beheld another blade of the same quality and craftsmanship, until today.”
He pulled another weapon from within the cloak. The jewel-encrusted handle glittered in the darkness. Esperanza shuddered as he held up the dagger she had last seen in her father’s hands.

Next time, learn more about Fadil al-Qurtubi, Ahmed’s young nephew and the chief tormentor of Esperanza and her counterpart Miriam, in Sultana: Two Sisters.

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...