Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Novel translations: From the translator's perspective

Can you guess the name of this title
translated into Spanish? I'll give
you one good guess.
Back in the summer, I mentioned looking into translations of the Sultana series. I'm so pleased and proud to announce that not only is the translation of the first novel complete, but I'm equally thrilled to have my translator Maria J. Manzano as a guest on the blog today. Maria worked so hard on the novel, which is now available via Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple, and her translations reads beautifully. For now, she had agreed to work with me on promotional materials in Spanish, but she will also translate more books in the series. Here's Maria's perspective on the process:

Lisa: Thank you so much for agreeing to do a guest post. Is this your first foray into translation work?

MARIA: No, it is not. I started working as a freelance translator a year ago and I have already carried out some major translation assignments. One of them was an historical essay on presidential assassinations and assassination attempts on the life of American presidents and the other assignment was a novel by an American author. I have also carried out other minor projects for some Spanish translation agencies both in English and French.

Lisa: What drew you to the opportunity to translate?

MARIA: I worked as a secretary for an international financial firm for a number of years so when I decided to explore other fields and to change careers I thought that working on the translation sector would be compelling.


Lisa: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of language translation?

MARIA: I think it is the fact that when you work with a language that is not your mother tongue you encounter some difficulties. The fact that you are capable of overcoming these difficulties it is extremely gratifying. I also enjoy the research that sometimes I need to conduct to carry out my work.

Lisa: Are you an avid reader?

MARIA: I am indeed. I read French and English literature as well as historical books and biographies in Spanish, French and English but at present I read mostly works in both French and English.

Any advice you would give to anyone looking into providing language translation.

MARIA: Above all, I strongly believe that a translator should be very inquisitive and have a natural thirst for knowledge, being a fervent reader will allow him or her to have a good command of the language too. Also a translator should be very consistent throughout the translation of the text and as close to the original document as possible. From my point of view that is essential. It is also worth considering to get specialized in some types of texts since a translator is not necessarily good at all kind of texts. That is usually the case. He or she may feel particularly confident when working on literary texts but not so much when working on legal texts, whereas others may be very skillful at the translation of technical texts. I personally enjoy working on financial and economic texts too. 

Thank you so much, Maria, for making this experience so rewarding and I look forward to our future projects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Writing Path Blog Tour from IC Publishing

The lovely Kristen Taber, YA fantasy author and a great friend, invited me to participate in IC Publishing's writing path blog tour - thank you, Kristen. Please check out her answers to the tour questions. As I'm composing mine, I'm actually in the spot where most of my writing endeavors take place, next to the corner window of my bedroom complete with cluttered desk and PC. The clutter is necessary; it's how I write. Speaking of writing....

1. How do you start your writing projects?

With history as inspiration. I write historical fiction of the medieval period. Those European settings and people of the era call to me like a siren song. I also write about historical figures, typically the lesser-known characters who lost the battle and never got to tell their side of the story, or those for whom their religion, gender, or socioeconomic status kept them marginalized in the annals. I love history! It can teach us more than details of the past; the topic informs who we are as a society, how our worldviews formed, and illuminate the roots of today's conflicts. Seriously, I do NOT get people who think history is boring - they're obviously reading the wrong kind.

Once an idea blossoms, I think of the characters; especially, the supporting characters since not every main character can’t have been at a certain place and time. I learn as much of the history of the central figures; where they lived and died, their children and dependents, their perspectives on larger societal and religious issues, and their roles in society of their time. Then it's off to the books - I've amassed tons of research on the medieval period, simply hoping that I might write about a particular era. If I don't have the titles I need, Amazon.com is a mouse click away. Once the history and characters are set, it's easy to plan the number of chapters I'll need to tell the story and to sketch my outline, which is more like a chapter-by-chapter summary incorporating major dates and events. There it is, no magic, no mystery.

2. How do you continue your writing process?

I'm obsessive, in case no one could tell, so that facet of my personality guarantees once I’ve started something, I'll finish it. The story may change from conception to completion - I've written two outlines / chapter summaries only to alter the stories significantly about two-thirds in. But the novels still reach the same conclusion. Perseverance takes commitment and sacrifice; sometimes, that means a lack of sleep, or less time with my loved ones. I never miss the important stuff with them for writing's sake and one day, I'll cure my self-imposed insomnia. Ultimately, the end goal keeps me motivated.

3. How do you finish your writing project?

Speaking of which, The End is the most satisfying phrase I have ever typed, even better than Chapter 1. Like all other writers dedicated to their craft, I pour my heart and soul into my stories. That doesn't mean I have any problem trimming the fat wherever my editor tells me to, or I'm so in love with my own words. I have looked at a chapter in one of my books and thought, 'I could have phrased that better.' I know my writing's not to everyone's taste or interest, and frankly, I have never thought my stories would have mass appeal. Fear of negative reviews doesn’t bother me, not when I still enjoy those emails and comments from readers, one at time, as they share how much they enjoyed a story, the characters, or the history. Truly makes typing The End so worthwhile.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

I challenge my fellow writers to do one thing. Publish. I don't care if you spend the rest of your life querying agents and editors, or self-publishing your work. Stop talking about the book you're going to publish and get it published. Work hard at this endeavor, make it the best you can, believe in it and yourself, and put your words out there for consumption and criticism. Take the advice that works for you, as well as some you may not like - sometimes, the best criticism is the one no writer wants to hear. Query until you drop or sell, or upload your work to any of the self-publishing distribution channels you've researched, ensuring you have the best cover and cover copy you can achieve. Too often, many unpublished writers spend too much time bemoaning the process. Just get it done in the best way you know how. If you make a mistake, you can learn from it, but you'll never know if publishing your work isn't the start of your greatest venture.

Next up, I'm inviting some other writing buds, my dear friends Anita DavisonMirella Patzer and Sheila Lamb. Want to participate? Email me at lyarde1175 at gmail dot com so I can note your name here and link to your future post.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Translations of a novel: thinking global

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I'm looking into translations of the novels of the Sultana series. My foray into foreign rights sales has spurred a serious interest in seeing these books in other languages. My first choice of Spanish seems especially appropriate; not only because of the setting of the stories, but the number of Spanish speakers worldwide. In Spanish bookstores (yes, they still exist outside the US), particularly at the bookshop of the Alhambra, I saw lots of historical fiction titles revolving around the Moorish period - guess what language they were in? Not English. Years ago, I started learning some basics of Spanish using Fluenz, in part because the country is such a fun destination for me, but also to aid my understanding of the research materials I've depended on to write the series. My foray is little help in preparing for the task of translating half a million words into a language spoken by 400 million people worldwide. Why?  

With all the native speakers, there are regional variations in the language. Beyond that, there are simply different ways in which someone can choose to express themselves, with the use of idiomatic phrases in a certain context. Ideally, I would like the person who undertakes the first translation to do so for all the books, which would be a huge commitment, but would hopefully reduce some of the variation. In reviewing the possibilities for translation, I asked potential translators of Sultana to provide a sample of the following section from the first novel:
Aisha smiled again, but it seemed sad. “Hush now, child, listen well. Understanding shall come. Even when you must do what others command, never forget the power of your own reasoning. One day, your husband may rule your body, he may even come to rule your heart, but your mind is and always must be your own, where none but you may rule. Promise me that you shall never forget these words.” 

Fatima swayed slightly. Her throat hurt, but she whispered, “I promise.” 

She returned Aisha’s intent stare, for the first time, unafraid. Aisha’s eyes glistened like gems in the lamplight. 

“This is the only measure of advice I can give you, Fatima. You must learn the ways of men, as I have. Do not trust in men alone. Love, be dutiful and respectful, but trust yourself and your instincts first. They shall always guide you rightly.”
Here are the samples from two translators born in Spain.

Sample 1

Aisha sonrió de nuevo, pero su sonrisa parecía triste. 

-Ahora guarda silencio, niña, y escucha atentamente. La comprensión vendrá. Aunque tengas que hacer lo que otros te ordenen nunca olvides el poder de tu propio razonamiento. Un día, tu esposo puede que controle tu cuerpo, puede incluso que quiera mandar en tu corazón, pero tu mente es y siempre deberá ser tuya y nadie más que tú debe mandar sobre ella. Prométeme que nunca olvidarás estas palabras.

Fátima se balanceó ligeramente. Le dolía la garganta pero susurró:

-Lo prometo.

Ella devolvió la mirada decidida de Aisha en la que por primera vez no aparecía el miedo. Los ojos de Aisha brillaban como piedras preciosas a la luz de una lámpara.

-Este es el único consejo que puedo darte, Fátima. Debes aprender cómo actúan los hombres de la misma manera que yo lo he hecho. No confíes solo en los hombres. Ama, sé obediente y respetuosa, pero confía en ti misma y en tus instintos primero. Ellos serán siempre los que mejor te guiarán.

Sample 2

Aisha esbozó una sonrisa, pero era incapaz de ocultar su tristeza.
–Guarda silencio, niña mía, y escucha con atención. Lo que te voy a decir a continuación lo entenderás a su debido tiempo. Incluso cuando debas hacer lo que te ordenen, nunca olvides el poder que la razón te otorga. Algún día tu marido será el dueño de tu cuerpo e incluso puede que se apropie de tu corazón. Pero tu mente es y deberá ser siempre tuya, es el lugar donde nadie más tiene el control. Ahora, prométeme que nunca olvidarás éstas mis palabras.
Fatima se balanceó levemente y, a pesar del nudo que tomó forma en su garganta, suspiró:
–Lo prometo.
Y le devolvió a Aisha su intensa mirada que, por vez primera, transmitía temor: sus ojos brillaban como gemas a la luz de las velas.
–Fatima, este es el único consejo que te puedo dar. Debes ser capaz de entender a los hombres tal y como yo lo hago. Nunca debes de depositar tu confianza solo ellos. Ama, sé responsable  a la par que respetable, pero antes de nada ten confianza en ti misma y en tus instintos ya que te guiarán por el camino correcto.

Wish me luck as I go about deciding on the right person to tackle the novel. If you're an author considering translations of your work, hiring a translator isn't cheap. I've received a great offer on the existing series, but it's still in the range of thousands of dollars. Consider the following resources:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Release Day for Sultana: The Bride Price

It's finally here! Sultana: The Bride Price went live on Amazon and Scribd today; I expect Barnes & Noble and Kobo later. Apple will take the longest, as it always does. Huge thanks to everyone who put the novel on this list on its first day of availability at Amazon:#87 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Biographical. During the first two weeks of publication, I'll offer the title at 99 cents. Save $3 before the price updates to $3.99. Why am I launching at 99 cents? To generate reader interest, to get some visibility online where it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so without shelling out hundreds of dollars with sites that will lists books, and because the series is not part of KDP Select, which lifts some titles out of obscurity.

Here's the description:

Sultana: The Bride Price (A Novel of Moorish Spain) [Kindle Edition] 

Book #4 of the Sultana series.

In fourteenth-century Moorish Spain, a marriage of convenience for the sake of peace leads to disaster in the medieval kingdom of Granada. The young queen Jazirah, caught up in a dynastic struggle between warring brothers, fights for her survival. Wed to a husband who looks at her with more suspicion than lust in his eyes, she must escape reminders of a brutal past in a quest to find forgiveness, hope, and love. 

Her husband Muhammad faces greater peril than union with a wife he cannot trust. Surrounded by enemies within his family who seek the throne and undermined by ministers who would alter the course of his country’s future, he intends to rule the land of his ancestors alone. How can he endure against his most bitter opponents, not least among them, the woman whom he has chosen for a bride?


“Why do you speak of me as if I am not here?” Jazirah demanded. Despite the collective gasps from everyone in attendance, she continued, “We may address each other as equals for we are both the grandchildren of a Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Her father admonished, “Jazirah, you are not the equal of a man, least of all the Sultan! You will apologize and beg his forgiveness. Now!”

Muhammad raised a hand. While Ismail fell silent and glared at Jazirah, she returned his narrowed stare with intense regard.

The Sultan said, “Let her keep false words behind her teeth. I would not believe them. What else could I expect, but this behavior from the daughter of a traitor to his people and my father?”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Update on the Sultana series

The official release date of Sultana: The Bride Price is Monday, June 30. At long last and after a little consternation and probably too much nit-picking, I'm finally able to offer the title as an ebook. The paperback will be ready one month later.

One of the changes made in Sultana: The Bride Price was the exclusion of the historical events from my Author's Note. For readers who are really interested, those details will be posted on The Sultana Series page of my website by June 30. The link will be embedded in all digital versions. While many readers have told me how much they appreciated the details of the past, the historical notes for The Bride Price added nearly twenty pages to the manuscript. In addition to the histories of the main characters, I've included information on the prominent ministers who served Muhammad V, as well as some of his descendants. Unfortunately for the Moors, the reign of Muhammad V was the last glorious heyday of the Nasrid dynasty before family squabbles began the downward spiral. The Nasrids proved too adept at destroying themselves from within, long before the intentions of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand came to fruition. That doesn't mean I plan to end this series on a somber note, but if there's been one consistent theme of each book, it has been that the bonds between family are very important and when those bonds begin to fray, disaster often follows. 

In other series' news, I'm looking into Arabic, German, and Spanish translations of each novel, and I've finished the outline and character list of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, which I'll start writing in 11 days. Wow, 11 days. The next novel makes a huge leap of eight decades from the time of Muhammad V to the tail end of the fractured reign of his grandson, Muhammad IX. Not that interesting stuff didn't happen in that 80 year  span - the problem is that too much happened! More importantly, no truly strong queen of the caliber of Fatima, Butayna or Maryam has come down through history for me to write about her in those times. Four books down, two more to go! Once the series is done in 2015, all six books will be bundled as an ebook only. Lastly, I'm working out a snafu with Amazon whereby Sultana has not been available as a paperback sold directly from their website since September 2013. Resolving this hasn't been fun, but I'm nothing if not persistent.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Meet the characters - Haziyya al-Riyad

HRH Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco,
inspiration for Haziyya al-Riyad
In Sultana: The Bride Price, the love of Muhammad V's life is not his future bride Jazirah, but a woman of Tuareg / Berber heritage from the Rif mountains of Morocco. Haziyya al-Riyad, whose name translates as "garden favorite" is a purely fictionalized character. The histories I have of Muhammad V don't mention another wife or any concubines by name, but it is likely he had some favored woman or women at his side as his Nasrid ancestors did. When I was writing, I imagined Muhammad as a young ruler seeking not only the pleasures of women in his life, but a companion with whom he could share his life. Haziyya is a strong character, among other strong characters, with a Berber father and a Tuareg mother whose cultural dress and beliefs she favors.    

The physical description of the character was inspired by a photo I had seen of the royal consort of Morocco, Princess Lalla Salma, who is from the capital at Rabat. The queen is a natural redhead; a small percentage of people of Berber descent in the north of her birthplace have red and blond hair. Berbers were part of the first wave of Muslim invaders that Spain faced in the eighth century. One of the most famous rulers of  the country, Abd al-Rahman I of the Umayyad dynasty (whom I'll talk about much more in the future) supposedly had blond or reddish-blond hair inherited from his Berber mother. One of the Berber dynasties I have featured prominently in the novels of the Sultana series are the Marinids, who ruled Morocco from 1248 to 1465. In Sultana: The Bride Price, the Marinids are key allies of Muhammad V.

The Tuareg are a Berber people, who have typically survived in a nomadic lifestyle ranging throughout the Sahara. They have lived in the region for centuries, surviving Arab and later colonial incursions, while maintaining a fascinating culture with enduring rituals. They are sometimes referred to as the 'Blue People' for their garments often dyed a deep shade of indigo, which then rubs off on their skin. The men of their tribes veil their faces, but the women do not. For several centuries, the Tuareg held beliefs in the spiritual properties of plants and animals, but with the advent of Christianity and Islam, those later beliefs have been incorporated.

The character of Haziyya al-Riyad embodies the pride of the Tuareg people and a Berber heritage. Learn more about her in Sultana: The Bride Price. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Meet the characters - Muhammad V

At the same time as the Meet My Main Character theme had become popular on the blogs of other writers of historical fiction, I had planned to introduce the others in my cast of characters from Sultana: The Bride Price. Here's the hero of the novel, Sultan Muhammad V.

Rudolf Swoboda's "Portrait of Abdul Karim: The Mushni" (1888)
reminds me of Muhammad V. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Readers of Sultana: Two Sisters while remember Muhammad as the only son of Sultan Yusuf and his former Christian slave, Butayna. At the abrupt end of his father's life, Muhammad came to the throne. The novel opens with him at fourteen months into his reign, where he is contemplating more than just the marriage offer made to his cousin Jazirah, which I talked about in a previous post. I imagine Muhammad's physical appearance as similar to this painting; he's dark-haired, a bit burly, always well-dressed, but saddled with a brooding personality.

As the eldest of the three sons of Yusuf, Muhammad faces turmoil within his harem. He's plagued by worry that his stepmother Maryam, the villainess of Two Sisters, is plotting against him along with the governors of his province. Since Yusuf did not officially name an heir before his death, leaving it to high ranking ministers to select Muhammad, his position is a little precarious. The continued rivalry between his mother Butayna and Maryam becomes dangerous, as each women develops factions for support within and outside the palace. Muhammad's been burdened by duty for so long that he can't even contemplate marriage to the woman he truly loves, a Berber concubine named Haziyya al-Riyad. Even more perplexing, Haziyya nor any other concubine in his harem has managed to conceive a son for him in years. Coupled with the fact that his future bride's father numbers among malcontents who wonder whether Muhammad's ministers made the right choice of an heir, he doesn't start off the novel in a very happy place.    

Muhammad is, as with most of my characters, based on the historical figure of Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V of the Nasrid Dynasty, based within Granada's Alhambra. Born January 4, 1338, he ascended the throne when he was sixteen immediately after his father's death. In writing about him, I didn't have to dig too deep to imagine what life would have been like for a teenager to lose a parent - my father died when I was the same age. Luckily, I didn't have even one quarter of the responsibilities Muhammad would have faced at the time. As the new ruler of a kingdom slowly shrinking while the Castilians and Aragonese nibbled away at Granadine territory in the north and the Muslims of Morocco tried to influence Granada's politics and future, Muhammad needed counselors at his side. He relied upon two men from his father's reign in particular, each of whom play strong secondary characters, the ministers Ridwan and Ibn al-Khatib. But there comes a time in every young person's life when you want to step out from the shadows cast by the adults in your life, and Muhammad's experience wasn't any different.

He was one of the most enlightened rulers of Moorish Spain. He is largely responsible for the beauty within Alhambra that we are fortunate to see today. He ordered the construction of one of the best hospitals in fourteenth century Spain, the Maristan. When the Castilians under Enrique II began a relentless persecution of Jews, Muhammad welcomed them into Granada. He met or knew many of the famed scholars of the time, including Ibn Battuta who visited during Yusuf's reign and Ibn Khaldun, who would later serve as an ambassador to Castile on Muhammad's behalf. He regained much of the territory lost by his ancestors to other rulers, including a major victory at the port city of Algeciras in 1369. During his reign, he sired at least four sons and one daughter, leaving his kingdom and his heir poised to continue with great achievements.

How does my portrayal square with the real Muhammad V? The factual accounts of his life certainly influenced the events I've written about in The Bride Price, but historical fiction isn't just names, dates and places. It's about people. In the novel, Muhammad is shrewd beyond his years, but also a very suspicious young man who sees traitors hiding in every darkened corner. The sudden loss of his father shapes his perspective, as does his relationship with his mother, who as a Christian and a former slave, is viewed with some merited suspicion by others in the kingdom. When she exhibits very secretive behavior while insisting on her son's marriage to a traitor's daughter, Muhammad can't help but wonder whether his mother has his best interests at heart. I don't doubt the real ruler must have faced similar quandaries, not knowing whom to trust. Find out how the fictionalized Muhammad resolves his difficulties in Sultana: The Bride Price.                   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sultana: free for 3 days on Kindle

Sultana: A Novel of Moorish Spain (Sultana: Book 1) is free on Kindle April 17 - 19. Get caught up on the series before the fourth book, Sultana: The Bride Price, makes its debut in May. http://authl.it/16r.

In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.


Aisha smiled again, but it seemed sad. “Hush now, child, listen well. Understanding shall come. Even when you must do what others command, never forget the power of your own reasoning. One day, your husband may rule your body, he may even come to rule your heart, but your mind is and always must be your own, where none but you may rule. Promise me that you shall never forget these words.”

Fatima swayed slightly. Her throat hurt, but she whispered, “I promise.”

She returned Aisha’s intent stare, for the first time, unafraid. Aisha’s eyes glistened like gems in the lamplight.

“This is the only measure of advice I can give you, Fatima. You must learn the ways of men, as I have. Do not trust in men alone. Love, be dutiful and respectful, but trust yourself and your instincts first. They shall always guide you rightly.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meet My Main Character

Earlier this spring, author Debra Brown started this series of posts from writers of historical fiction, "Meet My Main Character" and my good friend and fellow author Anita Davison tagged me. So, it's time to introduce readers to the title character of Sultana: The Bride Price.

What is the name of your character? Is she fictional or a historic person?

Her full name is Sultana Jazirah bint Ismail of the Nasrid Dynasty. She is based on a historic personage, the wife and paternal cousin of Sultan Muhammad V. Although historians know several details of her life, one of the most important facts went missing over the centuries; her real name.  

When and where is the story set?

The story is set in Moorish Spain within Granada's Alhambra palace mostly, during a ten-year period of 1357 to 1367, which was a turbulent time during Muhammad V's reign.

What should we know about Jazirah?

She lives a remarkable life in adverse times. When she was six, her father was imprisoned by his brother for treason, so Jazirah did not enjoy the pampered existence one might expect for a princess. When she is sixteen, she receives a marriage proposal from Muhammad V, an opportunity to seal the breach in the family caused by her father's imprisonment. She eventually accepts, but even after the marriage, peace does not follow. While Jazirah and Muhammad share a deep attraction and understanding of each other's natures, neither has reason to trust or rely upon the other. 

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

How does a woman who has no reason to trust her new husband and no hope of a bright future with him learn to embrace new possibilities? Jazirah has lived with the consequences of betrayal all of her life, so she struggles with an inability to understand the intentions and motives of almost everyone around her. While she is perceptive, she's also judgmental and guided by the bitter past. Jazirah's difficulty in reconciling past and present dims her future prospects.

What is the personal goal of the character?

To find her own path toward forgiveness and faith in her marriage, to let go of old hurts and to secure the future for her and Muhammad's children.

When can we expect Sultana: The Bride Price to be published?

Late May. I'm making some changes based on feedback from members of the NYC chapter of the Historical Novel Society.

I'm passing this on to three writers of historical fiction (in the hopes they haven't already been tapped for a Meet My Main Character post)

Mirella Patzer, Heather Domin and Jessica Knauss.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guest Post: Exercise and Be Fit for any Writing Problem

I once knew a woman who was famous in her local gym. This lady was reminiscent of a female Ironman.  She is whom you want to know when you need to open a stubborn pickle jar.  She works out four times a week.  So I asked her one-day for advice on my abs.  In reality, I was just making conversation.  I anticipated that she would tell me to do a couple hundred crunches and to stop eating so much Taco Bell.

I will never forget her reply.  She said, and I quote:  “Do you want to work on your obliques, or your abdominus muscles? “  Apparently, there are six different muscles that make up the stomach region.  Each muscle has a specific function.  In order to target the desired region, I would need to alter my exercise regimen to concentrate my efforts.  Well, in just you were wondering, it was my rectus abdominus that I wanted to tone.   However, to get the chiseled look that I was hoping for, it would take a daily routine of consistent effort.

Writing is much the same.  It takes a concentrated, regular effort.  In the course of my duties at Grammarly, I have been able to talk to many successful writers.  They have shared some writing exercises that have helped them to overcome writing problem areas.  Here are a few exercises that will have you metaphorically opening pickle jars with the best of them.

Problem 1: Flabby Phrases
Target Exercises:  On the website of The Purdue Online Writing Lab, three activities are featured that are designed to help you to identify and eliminate wordiness from writing.   The previous sentence is wordy, right?  After practicing with the activities, I am more aware of unnecessary and redundant information.  A better sentence:  The Purdue Online Writing Lab features three activities designed to help you eliminate wordiness.  Try your hand: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/6/9/

Problem 2: Zits and Imperfections
Target Exercises:  Spelling and grammar errors do more than detract from a document.  These small errors can cost time and money.  If you send a manuscript full of errors to a publisher, it will decrease its chances of being accepted.   If you become aware of errors that you regularly make, you can seek to avoid these negative habits.  Use this free proofreading service.   Cut and paste a paragraph or two into the box.  The free version provides a list of probable errors that have been detected in your document.  For example, it may suggest that a subject and verb agreement error exists.   Check each sentence in the paragraph until you find the problem.  As after a workout, you can reward yourself to a banana.  I am sure potassium is good for writers, too.                                                 
Problem 3: Flat characters
Target Exercise:  The Writer’s Craft offers seventeen ways to get in touch with your characters.  They cheated a bit, because the first four are really the same: Read, read, read, and reread books.  When you choose a few books to focus on for this activity, include a couple that you did not like or did not finish.  By doing character sketches, you will notice what characteristics attract and repel you. Once you have researched the characters in several published novels, you will have a better idea of what types of characters maintain and repel the interest of the reader.  Jodi Cushing posted a list of one hundred questions.  After 100 questions, you will probably know your character better than you know your partner!

If you are willing to do the work, you can tone your writing muscles.  These are only a few of the most common problems that writers face.   Do not suffer through rejections without investigating whether a little exercise might not help you.   Consult with a developmental editor and ask them to make suggestions for improvement.   Equipped with the knowledge of your flaws, you can target each one with the appropriate exercises.  You won’t even need to buy a gym membership!

Bio: Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.

A guest post from Grammarly.
All images courtesy of Fotolia

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Flash sale - Sultana series, each book at $0.99, only on Feb. 1

Sultana: The Bride Price, book four of the Moorish Spain series, makes its debut in spring 2014. Just for one day, get caught up on the first three ebooks in the series, each 99 cents,only on February 1. That's right, all three books in the series including; last summer's release, Sultana: Two Sisters, are on sale today only at my website and all the retailers below

Sultana, book one
Barnes and Noble's Nook

Sultana's Legacybook two
Barnes and Noble's Nook

Sultana: Two Sistersbook three
Barnes and Noble's Nook

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Final cover art - Sultana: The Bride Price

It's finally here; the cover artwork for the next in my Moorish Spain series, entitled Sultana: The Bride Price, which will be available in the spring.

Sultana: The Bride Price is the story of Sultan Muhammad V of the Nasrid Dynasty, the only son of Yusuf I and his Christian wife Butayna, as told in Sultana: Two Sisters. The novel follows the course of history in which Muhammad V married his paternal first cousin, a woman whose name was not recorded in any of the sources, whom I have called Jazirah. As the novel opens, Jazirah is a headstrong and determined fourteen year-old; I expect any descendant of Fatima, the heroine of the first two novels would have been little different from her stalwart ancestress. Needless to say, Jazirah and her new husband don't fare very well at the start; if you've read my previous work, you know this already because you also know I don't write about historical figures with rosy, happy lives. Returning for this novel are several of the characters from Two Sisters, most importantly, Butayna and Maryam, whose continued conflicts are resolved in a dramatic way that aligns with their history. Muhammad V also has his own drama to survive within and outside of the harem's walls of Alhambra.

As with my other historical fiction works, the credit for this cover goes to Lance Ganey, whom I have the joy of working with for four years now. The original, public-domain artwork I sent him was Ferdinand Max Bredt's In a courtyard, Tunis (1921). The central figure drew me because she's much as I envisioned a young and beautiful teen-aged Jazirah. Lance superimposed the figure over a beautiful background of Alhambra's Court of Lions, which Muhammad V ordered construction on beginning in the early 1360's.

The ebook and paperback versions of the newest novel will be available within a short span of each other; ebook always first on all sales channels, followed by the paperback assuming all goes well with Ingram Spark. Four books down  and two more to go before I wrap up this series that has meant so much to me. I hope readers will be as excited as I am when Sultana: The Bride Price makes its debut.     

Friday, January 3, 2014

$25 Amazon gift card: About Sultana-Two Sisters


Time for the final giveaway of a $25 #Amazon gift card by email to a lucky reader of Sultana: Two Sisters, the latest in my Moorish Spain series set within Granada's Alhambra. You must be able to answer the following 3 questions to win  -  the gift card can be used for anything you may purchase from Amazon. This giveaway is open internationally. 

Here are the rules:

  • First person to provide the correct answers to all 3 questions in a comment on this blog post OR my Facebook page wins
  • Leave your email address in the comments section to be considered in the drawing. 
  • This contest doesn't require you to follow The Brooklyn Scribbler blog or Like my Facebook page (although I'd love it if you did!), but you must have read the book. 
Now, questions from Sultana: Two Sisters.

In Sultana: Two Sisters (2013), former friends face off in a deadly rivalry, each fighting for the love of one man and the right to place a son on the throne.

1. Where was the heroine Esperanza Peralta born?

A. In northern Spain, at Pamplona
B. In southern France, at Toulouse
C. In central Spain, at Talavera de la Reina

2. Esperanza and her friend Miriam each enter the Sultan's harem as slaves, but which of the women arrives there first?  

3. What is the relationship of the hero of this novel to the heroine Fatima from the first two novels in the series?   

Thank you for playing and good luck! All the best in the New Year! 

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...