Monday, March 25, 2013

Leibster Blog Award Challenge: 11 Random Facts & Questions

I've been nominated for the Leibster Blog Award Challenge. Thanks to Judith Arnopp for the tag. Judith is the author of historical novels and short stories, whose writing spans the medieval and Tudors era and immerses readers in the particular period. According to Judith, I'm supposed to list 11 random facts about myself, answer 11 questions Judith posed at her blog and then nominate 11 other blogs that deserve more notice.

First off, 11 random facts about me.

1) I was born in the parish of Christ Church, Barbados to two nurses. No kids of my own, but I'd love two or five. I have an older sister and two brilliant tween nephews. Grew up in an extended family of grandparents and lots (and I do mean lots) of cousins. We're all scattered now, with a few still in Barbados, the majority in the US and others in England and Wales. Family is very important to me and I love it when we get together. There are four countries and three US states represented in this family pic. (Can you spot me?)

2) I am not a morning person! Used to be, but the daily grind has sucked that out of me. My ideal job would start at 1pm and end around 9 at night. I'd only willingly wake up at the crack of dawn everyday to write.

3) While I use the middle initial J for my publications, I have two middle names: Janine Michelle. Why do I only use the first one? Official government forms forced me to pick one middle initial or middle name for my documentation. Janine came first, so that's what stuck. Sorry, Mum!

4) I'm soft-spoken. naturally shy and inhibited, unless a) there's no time to retreat into my shell, b) the person I'm with is a dear friend or loved one, or c) someone has really managed to piss me off and bring out the hell-fire in me.

5) Speaking of personality, I talk to myself on a regular basis and have answered too. Helps to reason things out. Anyone who knows me well doesn't judge. At least, not out loud or within earshot.

6) Cupcakes are my addiction, but I'm kind of a snob, as only the pretty ones will do. Being a diabetic doesn't go well with loving cupcakes, so more often than not, what I really have is cupcake envy.

7) I am not a cat person. Nuff said.

8) The writer I most admire in this world is Frank Herbert, who introduced the concept that's key to everything I write: world-building. Since his Dune series hooked me, I haven't found anything to equal it. George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series comes a distant second, but Herbert is a master at political intrigue and tenuous relationships. So I want to be Frank Herbert when I grow up.

9) I'm a serious PC gamer, as in  long weekends glued to my computer building and blowing stuff up. If it can be played on  a PC, I think I've played it. Even better, the nephews are hooked and looking forward to test-driving new games at ComicCon in October. Once the next book is done, I'm taking a much-needed break for Bioshock.

10) At the age of eight, I decided to become a lawyer. Fifteen years later, I started to regret that decision. Now, I wish I'd never made it. I was born to write, but it doesn't pay the bills. Not yet.

11) If I had the time, I'd finish studying Portuguese and learn Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Japanese. If I had the money, I'd buy vacation homes and split my year between Barbados, Brazil, Italy, Morocco, New Mexico, Spain, Turkey and Wales.

How's that for random? 

The questions Judith asked are:

1. When you aren't blogging or writing what do you like to do best?
See the aforementioned gaming. I've embraced my geekdom. Don't judge me.

2. How did you become a writer?

Not on purpose. Several things converged; my love of reading history and stories of the past, and traveling to beautiful,  forgotten places. A historical fiction writer was born.

3. Which 11 people from history would you invite to dinner and why?

My writing revolved around the underdogs, the people who never got to tell their side because they lost, they were prevented from speaking because of race or gender, or their cause was misunderstood. So, I'd invite people like that to dinner.
  • Fatima, the heroine from the first two Sultana books, so she could tell me how much of her history I got right or wrong 
  • Genghis Khan, because I'd love to know what spurred his ambitions. He would have to promise not to kidnap or kill anyone at the table before, during or after dinner.
  • Gwenllian of Gwynedd, of whom I've also written, so I could tell her how much I admire her sacrifice.
  • Spartacus, whose struggle fascinates and whose choices mystify. 
  • Queen Elizabeth I of England, so I could admire her jewels and wigs.
  • Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, just to see what she really looked like. 
  • Nat Turner, so he could tell what he hoped to accomplish.
  • Boadicea, because I want to hear her side of the fight against Rome.
  • Leonidas of Sparta, for reasons that have nothing to do with history and everything to do with comparing his abs to those Gerard Butler sported in 300. Shallow, I know.
  • Harold Godwinsson, mostly to yell at him for force-marching a bedraggled army south when he should have rested them, and then to give him a hug for being so brave at Hastings. 
4. Tell us about your favorite place and what makes it so special. 

I have several, but my new favorite place is anywhere I can relax and read or write, without any distractions.

5. If  you were Prime Minister President what would you change?

My do-nothing Congress. There would be a special election to get some new members in who don't play games with American taxpayers' lives. Does that tell you how I feel about one branch of the US government right now?

6. What did  you do before you had the internet? - if you were born then of course :)

Played more outdoors as a kid and invented lots of games.

7. What people have influenced you in your life?

Hard to say, as I believe many people have shaped who I am as a person, a woman, a writer, a friend.

8. Can you remember what you wanted to be when you were five years old?

Happy and carefree. I'm still looking for just that.

9. If you were a character in a fictional classic, which would you choose to be?

I'd like to say I'd be Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I suspect my Charlotte Lucas brand of practicality might get in the way of waiting too long for my own Mr. Darcy. Either that, or I'd end a less miserable version of Mary Bennett. I'd smile more than she ever could.

10. Do you prefer wine or spirits, chocolate or cheese?

None. All make my belly hurt when I overindulge. No thanks. I'll have a cupcake.

11. Of all the blog posts you have ever written which is your favorite and why. Put a link to it here.

Two years ago, I wrote about the Ottoman Turk "reign of women" for Unusual Historicals; still one of my favorites because it helped me imagine how life must have been like for the medieval women I've chosen to write about and the moves they could have made behind the scenes.

Thanks again to Judith for the nod. Now I'm tagging in no particular order:

And here are those questions for my fellow writers victims:

1. Who is your favorite writer and why?
2. If you had to pick any one spot on a map and move there, where would you go and why?
3. Who are your top real-life and fictional heroes / heroines?
4. How long does it take from first draft to published work?
5. Among your own books, who's your favorite character and what's your favorite book?
6. Why do you write about certain characters, settings or in a particular genre?
7. Who knows you best in life?
8. What's your earliest memory and why does it stick with you?
9. How did your first job impact what you do professionally today?
10. What did you buy with the first royalty payment?
11. If you weren't writing, what would you be doing instead?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Music of Sultana: Two Sisters

How many authors out there listen to music when you're writing? I can't be the only one. Writing is a preferably solitary activity; seriously, I cannot think of what comes next, much less type one letter on the keyboard if anyone else is in the room. I'm not one of those writers who needs absolute quiet while at my computer; I just need the right kind of music to craft one good scene or several.

It's vital to the process, keeps the sometimes fickle Muse close at hand and ensures I stay focused and energized for long hours of writing and editing. The words, the feelings and thoughts of the characters just flow across the page when I'm inspired by background music. There, now you know my best secret for "getting in the zone" and evoking certain moods in scenes. While working books from the Sultana series, the rich musical traditions inherited from Moorish Andalusia connected me with each story even more. Apologies to the family and the neighbors for playing Juan Martin's Musica Alhambra every morning and the loud flamenco music on Sunday evenings. But how could anyone not be captivated or stirred by the oud or guitar?

With Sultana: Two Sisters, I began an exploration of the role of Jewish people in Moorish society. Naturally, my listening tastes now include music that evokes the Sephardi experience in Spain. One of my favorites is the most haunting song I've ever heard, "Nani Nani" by Hadass Pal-Yarden from the album Yahudice. It's supposed to be a lullaby sung by a betrayed woman for her young son, telling him of the sorrow his father has inflicted. Sets the perfect mood for a certain scene in Two Sisters. There's also Massel Klezmorim's "Sephardic Elegy" from Jewish Travels - A Historical Voyage in Music and Song, which emphasizes the guitar throughout. Most of what I listen to tends to be instrumental, but as with my favorite, "Nani Nani", that's not a rule set in stone. The vocals on that particular track are really stirring. Almost everything in my inspirational collection is available via Spotify and Youtube, both great resources for finding music that fits the mood.             

So what's most often on my playlist while I work on this title? Listen HERE for some of what sustains me.  If you'd like to create your own free playlist, visit PodSnack, which lets you compile collections from Youtube and / or your computer. Happy writing (and listening)!  

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's here! HerStory: Fiction Honoring Women’s History Month

In ancient times, women were regarded as sacred. They were thought to hold the mystical power of creation—responsible for the continuation of our species. With the rise of Science and Religion, these myths were dispelled and their plight began.

HerStory: Fiction Honoring Women’s History Month is a collection of Flash Fiction and Short Stories from today's top authors featuring female characters that exemplify strong strength of mind, body, and character. Some of these tales are based on real people while others are purely fictional. However, all are standing up for themselves and what they believe in.

Grab yourself a glass of wine or favorite hot beverage and get comfortable as you read about the lives of women who will light the fire in your soul.

It's finally here. HerStory. Available to the masses. And to honor release day, we're having a party. Use the Rafflecopter below to enter to win some terrific prizes. *U.S. residents only*

Here's what's up for grabs.


First Grand Prize
First Grand Prize
Because they have the same agenda: empowering girls/women, Keira's Kollection owner Mr. Wagstaff has graciously agreed to donate a Strong is Beautiful T-shirt. One very lucky woman is not only going to walk away with a paperback copy of HerStory and be empowered through words, but she will also be showing her empowerment right there on her shirt.

And that's not all, the grand prize winner also gets a pair of earrings from Cathy from Etsy, who runs Yesware. The earrings sparkle one side and have a message on the other side: the greatest story never told.
Only, we're telling it, the authors of HerStory. We are telling it.


Author Laura DeLuca has donated an incense diffuser to go along with some handmade soap from Greenchild Creations.

And we're throwing an e-book into this mix. Why soap and diffusers? What does that have to do with women's history?

In HerStory, Mathilda of Ringelheim runs a bath house. It seems appropriate to honor herstory this way.

AND as Mathilda seems to know, every woman needs soap and every woman needs time to relax. So one lucky winner will take a nice long shower with her fantastic handmade soap, set her diffuser on a table, and curl up with HerStory on her kindle. Who says you can't be relaxed and empowered at the same time? (and smell good)


Another donation from Laura DeLuca: an ebook, a Japanese tea set, and an Oriental incense diffuser. How does this tie into HerStory?

In Please Stay, Asuka, a Japanese wife of the 1600s, is preparing the evening meal while awkwardly trying to discuss a matter--somewhat delicate--but of great importance with her husband.

As you get lost in your ebook, in Asuka's story (penned by Becca Diane), you can pretend you are there. Perhaps you feel your husband's penetrating stare. But you serve him his tea, straighten your spine, and say what needs to be said...then wait, breath held, for his reply, incense lightening the tension in the air...


One lucky winner will have a chance to make their voice heard on the radio...with a $25 Amazon gift card burning a hole in their pocket!

HerStory goes behind the scenes to locate the stories of women who lived, laughed, and touched the lives of generations...

Now, here is your chance to have your story told to the world....or your mother''s your chance to talk about the most inspiring woman or women in YOUR life. Shout it out! Tell listeners everywhere about this amazing person. Honor her!

This prize is being donated by Indie Reviews Behind the Scenes.


Four of these tins of mints are being donated by the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. That means four lucky winners are going to win a tin of mints to carry around in their pockets and every time they look at the tin, they'll be empowered!

The tin is also the perfect size to serve as a pillbox once the mints are gone. This is something you can keep for a LONG time.


Author and editor Tara Chevrestt has a secret addiction and hobby. It makes her feel like an old lady, so she keeps it under wraps, but now the truth is out...

She likes to cross stitch!!!

And with the suffragette tales (Sister Suffragettes by Dahlia DeWinters and Chevrestt's own From You No and Silent Suffragette) in the back of her mind, she found a pattern on Etsy by Patternbird and set to stitching.

Two lucky winners will walk away with these. They are 3.25" by 6" and have a hard backing so they may be placed on a wall.


Donated from Rakestraw Book Design.

Toni Rakestraw, one of the HerStory contributors, is stitching this hat so one lucky reader can--in her mind--march in a suffragette parade as she reads HerStory. Or perhaps this is something Margaret Sanger would have worn as she leaves the workhouse in The Woman Rebel.


You've heard the term multi-published and many of HerStory's authors can place that before their name, but how about multi-talented?

Author Morgan Summerfield can not only write as she shoes us in Adella, but she can paint too! She is kindly donating a painting 27" wide by 11" high, titled Morning Poppies. The frame is handmade with real wood and she stretches all her own canvases. It is hand-painted-by her!-in multi media.

And last, but certainly not least, we have a lovely Coco Chanel quote pendant donated by the lovely Jewelry Designs by Lula. One winner will win this delightful pendant that says  A girl should be things: WHO and WHAT she wants.

We could not have said it better.

Enter for all prizes using the Rafflecopter form below. Giveaway is for three weeks. Winners will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to respond with their snail mail addresses. After 48 hours, new winners will be chosen.

Thank you and enjoy HerStory! Be empowered! Learn something. Believe in yourself and womankind.

I'm so pleased that my contribution to this anthology is The Legend Risesthe story of the twelfth-century Welsh princess Gwenllian, who led a valiant attack against English invaders. This short story is only one among twenty-seven such tales of bold and brilliant women who displayed their courage and helped shape our history. 

Buy links:
Barnes and Noble

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Meet Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Safa and Leila

In the house of the slave merchant Juan Manuel Gomero, his trusted servant Sadiya prepares the captives Esperanza and Miriam for a private auction. Two women will arrive shortly to consider purchasing Esperanza and Miriam as slaves for the royal harem in Granada. They are the Sultanas Leila and Safa, the sister and mother respectively of the ruler Yusuf. Readers of Sultana's Legacy may remember both women as minor figures, but both play major roles in the events that develop in Sultana: Two Sisters. They are the only characters from the earlier books who return in this third installment of the series. When last readers heard of them, Leila as the eldest daughter of Sultan Ismail, Yusuf's father, anticipated a marriage before her father's shocking ending unfolded. Safa, the third of Ismail's wives, devoted herself to her son Yusuf, but her role soon became eclipsed by the presence of Yusuf's honored grandmother, the Sultana Fatima.

Before an encounter with the powerful women of Yusuf's court occurs, the slave dealer cautions Esperanza:

Juan Manuel lifted her chin and framed her face between his long fingers. “I require perfection from you today, for the Sultanas. Can you do this?”
Esperanza answered his question with her own. “Who are these women?”
“They are the relations of Sultan Yusuf, the Sultana Safa and the Sultana Leila. Both share equal power in the harem, but if the gossip is true, theirs is a tenuous peace. The harem can be a dangerous place for those who are not careful. Slaves who pass beyond the walls remain there at the mercy of the royal women, for it is their domain. Believe me when I say these women possess power over life and death. With a few words, they can change your circumstances for better or worse in an instant. You must be cautious and clever. Subdue your impetuous nature and learn from them, if you hope to survive.”
“What will they want from me?”
He shrugged. “They will accept nothing less than your obedience at the start. Perhaps in time, they will demand an heir for Yusuf. The possibilities are limitless, as you shall discover.”
“Who is this Yusuf?”
“He is a son of the Sultan Ismail, a proud and cultured man assassinated by his kinsmen almost eleven years ago. Yusuf is much like his father. He is the seventh ruler of Granada from his family line, the Nasrids. He became the sovereign when his elder brother Muhammad was also murdered, two years past.”
Esperanza sucked in her breath. “You expect me to live among such barbarous people.”
Juan Manuel’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “I suggest tempering those misguided words. The Nasrids do not forgive easily and none would relish your opinion of them. They have been among my benefactors since the time of Yusuf’s grandmother. Theirs is an illustrious heritage.”
“One also mired in blood.”
He mused, “Perhaps. Perhaps more than their fair share. So, I ask you, tread carefully with these Nasrid Sultanas. They are women of influence and advantage, whose collective will dominates the existence of everyone in the harem. The only person they do not exercise authority over is the Sultan, the master of all.”

Chroniclers of the period have offered scant details about the women of the Nasrid Dynasty, whose husbands, fathers and sons ruled from the Alhambra in Granada. I  have a few notes that claim Yusuf's mother was a pious woman, still alive when he ascended the throne. It's interesting to consider what life for her would have been like when she existed in the shadow of Yusuf 's indomitable grandmother Fatima. At Fatima's death, Yusuf's mother could have finally exercised a dominant role in his life and within the harem. Any sisters Yusuf might have had are never mentioned, so the character of Leila is completely from my own imagination.

In the scene where Esperanza meets the Sultanas for the first time, her perception of both leads to an intuitive understanding of the troubles she may face in Yusuf's harem.

Two women strolled into the room, their footfalls in unison. If Esperanza did not already possess some familiarity with their identities, she would have known them for royal women anywhere. The pair took their seats on the high-backed chairs. Female slaves arranged themselves at the women’s feet, arrayed in bright silks with their faces uncovered, unlike their mistresses.
The slender lady closest to the doorway raised bejeweled, creased fingers painted with intricate patterns in henna. She loosened the white gossamer folds of the veil and tugged it below her pointed chin. Prominent blue-black veins ridged the back of her hand. Her thin eyebrows arched like crescents over large brown eyes, crinkled at the corners. High cheekbones flared in a narrow face. The yellow light cast by braziers caught and reflected in her stare, which flitted to her companion, who also removed an opaque indigo veil from the lower half of her face. The material on her head slipped a little and exposed black curly tendrils at her forehead.
She appeared younger than her counterpart did. Her heavy-lidded gaze, lined with thick kohl, alighted on Esperanza and the eyes widened. Her tapered brows rose for an instant before she leaned forward. Voluptuous lips parted and curved in a smile. Dimples appeared and her olive-brown cheeks became flushed. The elder woman beside her with her sharp features in profile now followed the direction of her stare. Esperanza peered at the carpeted dais, but not before she marked a sudden exchange of glowers between the women. Had the younger woman’s obvious interest sparked some jealousy?
A harsh breath escaped Esperanza’s lips. She fisted her hands in the folds of her delicate robe. Juan Manuel’s caution regarding a possible rivalry between the Sultanas raised concerns. Life among such women would be dangerous. If power resided with them, when they conspired against each other, neither woman would consider the consequences for the harem's occupants least of all her.   
She focused on the present moment and took in their rich garments. Black ankle-length leather boots peeked out from beneath the women’s clothes. Both wore brocaded robes covering them from the neckline downward. Gold thread shot through the blue-green material of the younger Sultana’s dress, dotted with turquoise, emerald and gold beads in bird motifs. The other royal woman wore a black silken robe, turned back to display a red damask lining edged with gold filigree. Where their robes parted at the knees, the same flowing trousers as Sadiya had donned also covered the women’s lower legs to the top of their footwear. All of Juan Manuel’s finery paled in comparison to their attire.                      

A fascinating and treacherous world awaits Esperanza within the Alhambra palace. She is determined to survive, but can she avoid the consequences of the ensuing power struggle between the two most influential women in Yusuf's life? Find out when Sultana: Two Sisters debuts in June.  

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...