Playing God

Two orphans, Amara (11), a servant, and Tadpole (8), a reluctant and hunted royal, escape and find their way through the Gallic countryside to Britannia.

It’s a classic story, fun to write. So I wrote the whole thing, some 40 plus chapters, rewrote the first 12, sent it to Elaine the Reader, got it back, rewrote those chapters, then the next 12, and then stopped. That’s where I am now after several weeks (could it be six or more?) of realizing the kids got off too easily.

Real children don’t have it easy. Last week, three of my grandchildren came to live with me while their parents took a work vacation. Children argue, fight, like each other, joke around, tease, and get hurt. They try out independence. Jon (barely 9) reveled in riding his bike all around the far reaches of our desert acreage, forbidden territory until now for him. They cheat, too. Indoor hide-and-seek became a lesson in peeking, faking the count, changing hiding places, and helping the seeker when you weren’t supposed to.

They also made characters out of plastic clay and we took pictures. The children were not doubtful about the one that lost a leg and then an arm. “He fell down the cliff!” “He got run over!” These little guys (aliens of some sort) had a rough time in the desert but finally found a place to rest.

An author is the god of his/her world, decreeing choices and plot. If the characters are to have a chance of becoming real to the readers (and hopefully there are some), their lives have to follow a pattern that fits them. Often the author is surprised by their choices, but allows them their independence. If the plot and characters have been reasonably set up, then the surprises will strengthen the story and make it more believable.

During the six weeks of not writing, I came to realize I’d let my two orphans off too easily. I’m a protective mother and grandmother. I love Amara and Tadpole. Why would I put them in real danger? What would they do out there in the woods if one of them was badly injured or sick? How could I do that to them?
If they didn’t encounter real danger, there would be no reason to write about them, would there? Why read a fictional travelogue? To be meaningful and perhaps even memorable, they had to have conflict, work to resolve it, and emerge changed for the better.

I’m ready for it. Just a couple of projects to finish up at home and then I’m back to four or more daily hours at the keyboard, drowning, eating wild poisonous berries, losing the boat, and being attacked by this and that.

Finally Done!

The Amulet, in both paperback and e-book, is officially for sale on Amazon now, with mistakes corrected and looking good. As for those who already bought the e-version, Amazon is deciding whether or not you can get a free “upgrade.” Why they don’t automatically upload the new version is beyond me.

If you have read it and liked it enough to recommend it to a friend, that would be great. If you didn’t like it, wait for the next one which isn’t a sequel but a parallel story.

To find The Amulet, go to Amazon and search for Victoria Paulsen. Thanks, everyone, for your support and patience!

The Amulet – Almost Time

The Amulet, first of the series, is almost ready to go to Amazon for e-publishing!  I have tweaked and formatted and agonized enough.  So why am I scared?

It doesn’t fit comfortably into a category.  How will the right audience find it?

Young Adult, yes, but its audience will be women between 15 and 95+.  Some men will like it, too.   Most novels in the YA category are either Vampire, Fantasy, Paranormal, or Romance (with sex more often than not).  The Amulet isn’t any of those.  A bit of paranormal helps the plot along, but doesn’t dominate in any way.  A bit of romance heightens the fun, but is secondary to the main plot.

A lot of people like me don’t like books reeking with lurid, provocative sex scenes.  That’s why we go to YA instead of Adult fiction.  I guess we’re not grown-up enough for the heavy stuff.

Historical Fiction.  I wish there was a subcategory called Light Historical Fiction, indicating that the reader won’t get bogged down with a lot of facts and foreign terms.  Who cares what the Latin title of the treasurer is?  Using a Latin term means the reader has to remember what it refers to.  Or social norms.  If I say my characters can ride horses and wander safely (more or less) all over Gaul, I shouldn’t have to include a treatise on society’s treatment of women in Rome vs Britannia.  The research has been done, so you can be confident that if I say it could happen, it could.

Have you read Roman or Greek plays?  They are fascinating studies of humanity, and just like Shakespeare, they are relevant today because the human condition does not change.  You understand what’s happening by watching the characters act out their lives, not by having a lot of justifications and explanations thrown at you.

My books are like that.  I put you into the time period, 2nd Century AD, and then get on with the story.

Buying The AmuletYes, please do buy it.  It’s cheap!  I’ll post the info on how to get it as soon as I send it in to Amazon.  If you like it even a little bit, please tell your friends so they can try it out.  Remember, what strikes one reader as superb, may not seem so to another, and vice versa.  Just so you know, of those who have pre-read The Amulet, over half have been over-the-top enthusiastic about it.  The others have kept silent, thank goodness.

PIGS

A friend calls it “synchronicity” when several connected ideas, events, and encounters happen fortuitously within a reasonable time of each other.  My synchronicity this week is pigs.

Writing leads me into unforeseen territory.  I sometimes feel as if I’m following a path in a maze where each corner leads off in an unexpected direction.  (I don’t play computer games, except I played Pac Man a few times when it was new.  The weirdest thing happened.  After playing, I went to the grocery store and was stunned to find that I felt like a Pac Man, racing down aisles, turning at corners, chasing my kids with an open mouth.  I don’t know what those games do to other people’s minds, but my mind immediately knew I’d better stay away from them!)

Back to the synchronicity of pigs.  First, a friend of mine was raising pigs.  “Was” replaced “is” only this week because her sow killed the litter by rolling on them and other ghastly things (like eating, because pigs love meat).  Sorry.  It was also very cold, and the one surviving piglet died from the cold.

Second, in the book, two travelers meet up with an old friend who has become a pig farmer.  That meant I needed to learn about pig farming in ancient times.

Here are some daunting facts:

Piglets need temperatures around 90 degrees for the first two weeks.

Sows frequently roll over onto piglets.

Some sows don’t give much milk so the piglets die from malnourishment.

Piglets need a place separate from the sow to stay warm.  Sows are hot anyway, and certainly don’t like the 90 degrees the piglets need, but piglets still need to get to mom for milk.

Pigs are usually slaughtered in the fall as the weather turns colder because there isn’t so much food for them, and/or they will get too big if kept alive.  Producing boars and sows are kept, of course, sometimes for years, as long as they produce.

Pigs can eat almost anything and are good for keeping pastures clear of parasites and other range animals’ manure.  They also get rid of weeds, bushes, trees, whatever.

Pork needs to be aged at 40 degrees for a couple of weeks in order to be tender.

Where are you going to find a place in a Mediterranean country (i.e., Gaul) where the temperature is 40 degrees or a bit less (but not too much less because that prolongs the process), for weeks at a time?  And where do they store the pork after it’s aged?

I know that pigs can be raised in warm places, even the tropics.  Surely you’ve seen photos of a pig walking down a dirt street somewhere where the temperatures are hot?

I’m glad you wanted to know so much about pigs.  There’s still a lot more research to be done but Mozilla was dark yesterday so I had to go to Google Chrome which wasn’t nearly as smooth and didn’t let me cut and paste.  Maybe it does for you, but not for me.  (Please, no complicated directions on how to make GC behave.)

Back to synchronicity!  First was my decision to have the characters stop at a pig farm.  Second was my friends’ pigs dying.  Third was substituting in an English class yesterday and today where the chosen book to read aloud was A Day When No Pigs Died by Robert Peck.   Aha!  Three unexpected encounters with PIGS.

“It’s a sign!” – as several characters in “Sleepless in Seattle” would have exclaimed.  Sychronicity so far keeps me committed to pigs rather than easier animals like sheep or goats for this part of the story.  Besides, we’ve already had sheep and sheep cheese.  By sticking to pigs, we get to have superb savory sausages!

Blame Reincarnation

Chariot race mosaic at Roman museum in Lyon, France

I can’t let you think (if you do, after reading the first entry) that Greece was the only precursor to the Fall of the United States, should that actually happen.   Long before the U.S. ever was born, there was another nation that ignored history, and that was Rome.

Rome is a city, not a nation, you say?  No, of course you don’t say that because you know that Italy had a jillion city states, or nations, only one of which was Rome, and only one of which, Rome, grew up to conquer the world.  And then have a great Fall.

This link is the source of the following list of reasons for the fall of  Rome (and perhaps the U.S.):

  • Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor [read President]
  • Decline in Morals
  • Political Corruption
  • Fast expansion of the Empire [remember your history lessons about the 18th & 19th centuries?]
  • Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending
  • Barbarian Knowledge of Roman Military Tactics [today’s news told of the Iranians capturing a spy drone with all sorts of high tech important stuff, and of course there’s always espionage in the scientific places]
  • Failing Economy
  • Unemployment of the Working Classes
  • The ‘Mob’ and the cost of the ‘Games’ [The politicians had to pay to keep the ordinary people entertained, as in chariot races]
  • Decline in Ethics and Values
  • Slave Labor [insert “illegals”]
  • Natural Disasters
  • Christianity [taught peace, not war; one god, not many]
  • Barbarian Invasion [So far, no Huns overrunning us, unless you can think of some.]

So there is the writing on the wall.  Doomsday 2012 as forecast (supposedly) by the Mayan calendar.  Facebook had a cartoon showing a few Mayans watching another sculpt the Calendar.  He was showing them what he put in for the year 2012, saying  something like, “Just wait until they read this!  They’ll freak!”

Being born on December 31 in an unnamed year, I am used to apocalyptic prognostications [I think that’s the first time I’ve ever written that word].  I am hardened against them by now.  I do believe in history, though.  If I believed in reincarnation, I would say that the same spirits get born over and over again and make the same mess each time.

Maybe the rest of us are also born over and over again, and make the same mistake of letting the others get away with doing what they do.

Yep, History Repeats Itself

I love having the time and resources to resurrect my college education.  “Resurrect” because there were classes like Classical Literature I glossed over, barely attending enough times to pass.  Now, thanks to researching my novels, the classics are coming to life for me!   Here are a few things gleaned from Meyer Reinhold:

1)       Greece never recovered from the loss of wealth and manpower caused by the Peloponnesian War which lasted 27 years from 431-404 BC.

2)      There was a growing gap between the large number of poor and the few rich.

3)      Disillusionment with government caused a greater concern for self and family.

4)      The rise of professional politicians let others avoid civic responsibility.

Re: 1)  The U.S. has surpassed the 27-year war by 3.  For 30 years, since 1981, there has been continual involvement in military conflicts.  Some have been huge, like the Persian Gulf war (1990-1991), and some small like “peacekeeping” operations.  Before 1981, a whole generation had been demoralized by the Vietnam War and before that, the Korean War.  [Click this link for a good website about this.]

Greece may have lost wealth in their ancient wars, but the U.S. seems to depend on wars for gaining wealth.  There is higher employment, more manufacturing, more scientific research, and more support programs when we are fighting somewhere.  I could add that there is also more graft and corruption because of the temptation to grab some of the wealth.  The current economic wreckage  is not because of war but because of financial greed by bankers and investors worldwide who followed the example of the U.S.

Re: 2)  Doesn’t the Occupy movement all over the world, pitting the 99% against the 1% , confirm that the gap exists now?  There’s not only an economic gap but an idealogical gap, a huge one.  Studies have shown that even the extremely rich don’t think they are.  There’s always someone richer, someone with more houses, more planes, more everything.  They are thus compelled to keep amassing wealth, to be at the top.

Croesus, the enormously rich king of Lydia (560-547 BC), was told by Solon that wealth was not the key to happiness.  Croesus dismissed Solon as a fool, but by the end of his reign he realized it was true.  [Told by Herodotus.]

Re: 3)  When people live together in larger numbers than families, like towns or cities or states, they usually develop a civilized way of cooperating with each other.  It is necessary for life.  Governments are set up to help people help each other by sharing resources, ideals, and working together.  When a government is run by selfish people, corruption inevitably follows.

When politicians parade their love of “family” for show, for gain, that’s selfish.  Families are the first building block of a nation because they are the smallest unit of people living and working together.  In a good nation, one that genuinely cherishes and supports the family unit, things go well.  Some of the more successful nations in this regard are the Scandinavian countries and others who tax heavily so all can benefit.

Here’s an example of non-civilized order.  It’s a Somali saying:

I and Somalia against the world.

I and my clan against Somalia.

I and my family against the clan.

I and my brother against the family.

I against my brother.

Re: 4)  Good people are often elected to office.  After a few years, surrounded by temptations of all kinds, many are corrupted and begin to think more about themselves and their cohorts than about the larger constituency who elected them.

Sometimes I think that there should be no politicians.  The responsibility for governing would be entrusted to every adult.  Each year, a certain number of names would be drawn from a hat (a large hat) and those chosen would be in charge for one year.  Each state would provide housing and per diem so these people could live in Washington D.C. and run the nation during their time in office.  No-one could repeat the same job.  The Athenians tried something like this and it was successful for a time, but eventually people lost interest and governing fell into the hands of the wealthier few.

It would also be a good idea to move the nation’s capitol to the geographic center so that the East Coasters would learn some humility.  Students near D.C. grow up with politics in their backyard.  Students west of the Mississippi rarely get a chance to see government in action or feel a part of it.

Roman gladiators, from the museum in Nimes, France.

If this blog has been too serious, don’t give up.  Humor is coming with the Greek comedies!

 

It Began in Boulder, Colorado

Plato wrote,  “Lying is in general wrong, but it is permissible for the ruling classes to tell ‘white lies’ when it is for the benefit of society.”  [Greek and Roman Classics, by Meyer Reinhold]

In researching my novels which take place during the Roman empire (196-198 so far), I’ve found so many captivating and unexpected “Eureka!” moments like that quote from Plato, that I thought it would be fun to share them with others who are intrigued, but not fanatical, about the stories  commonly known as “history.”

Around twenty-five years ago, in Boulder, Colorado, I started writing a novel.  Every morning I would leave the house at 5:30 a.m., so early that the raccoons were still out searching through garbage cans, and walk three miles to work, arriving two hours before my actual job began.

I worked at JILA, a scientific institute at the University of Colorado.  It’s one of the best in the world, with a governing body of Fellows that includes physicists, chemists, astrophysicists, astronomers, and variations such as physical chemists and chemical physicists, and of course theorists who collaborate with all of them.  A really counter-intuitive thing is that the arrangement is half NIST

Me and two of the grandchildren
Me with Vancouver, BC, grandchildren

(U.S. Dept. of Commerce) and half University!  Administrative duties are divvied up between the two!  It works so well that numerous prestigious awards are common – Nobel Prizes, MacArthur “Genius” awards, Gold Medals, grants, etc.

Best of all, for me, was an atmosphere that allowed me to mold my administrative assistant job to fit me, rather than the other way around.  What a concept!  It was a great place to work.

The university let employees attend classes for free.  One year, I took Latin from a graduate student named Gerald.  The hardest class I ever had, but I loved it!

That class inspired me to find out more about the Romans, and eventually to write The Amulet .  It is about a young girl from Britannia whose actions help determine who will become emperor, Albinus or Septimius (196-197 AD).

I would write for two hours, then work for six or seven.  After work, I’d take the bus home, do the family things (three children and a baby), and then write for another couple of hours or so if I could.

With family traffic swirling around, I’d sketch out the next scenes by pen and paper on the dining room table.  In the morning, I’d take the notes in to transcribe and flesh out on the computer.  It amazes me now that none of the kids suffered from this compulsion of mine.

The book grew and grew until it was finally finished.  I sent it out to a few publishers and a few agents.  In those days before the Internet, big manila envelopes held manuscript pages and SASE envelopes for the inevitable rejection letters.

Discouraged, I put The Amulet away for 25 years until last year.  Gosh, it was embarrassing to read some of the passages I’d been so proud of before.  Not just one but several rewrites later, I sent it off to Elaine, a friend and poet who had also worked at JILA.  She helped enormously by finding things that didn’t fit, by asking questions, and by making suggestions about things like the care of horses and the spinning of wool.

We went back and forth for months until finally I thought The Amulet was ready.  So far, no agent has taken it up, but I’m writing the second book now.

Whatever happens, it’s exciting to keep finding correlations between the Romans and us.    They and the Greeks whose culture and literature they adopted – and adapted – are surprisingly relevant to our time.  Half of the expressions we use every day seem to be quotes from Plato or Sophocles or one of those guys.

I promise that you will enjoy what is coming!