Grovel, grovel

Reading a paper proof of The Amulet, I am finding way too many typos and silly errors (like Britannica for Britannia). Apologies all over the place to those who have read or are reading it. Never again will I publish the e form before the paper form. Trust me, the sequel won’t have these problems!

At least the paper version will be correct from the start. That’s something.

Shameless Commerce Division

(Title borrowed from The Car Guys on NPR, the Mariacci brothers (spelling, my own, probably)).

Here’s the Amazon link for The Amulet. It’s only $2.99. Here’s the “description:”

Lydia (17) isn’t interested in politics, power, or religion, but when her little brother is kidnapped from Britannia and made a slave, she finds herself embroiled in all three. Searching for him, she encounters love, murder, betrayal and war. It is 196 AD. Two would-be Emperors compete for the Roman world. The actions of Lydia and her brother help determine the winner, but also put Lydia’s own future in doubt.

I hope you like it and tell your friends. There will be some who don’t like it, but they will still be my friends. Maybe they’ll like the sequel better.

If you’ve already been bombarded by this on Facebook or emails, I apologize. There’s almost always a “but” after “apologize.” This “but” is like my potted tomato plants near the back door. They were growing beautifully, full and green, and seemed to have weathered the big frost and the strong winds we’ve had recently. I watered them every morning until today when I was rushing off to a substitute teaching job. I knew they could survive one day without a morning drink. The ones out front planted in the ground could do it. I got home and as soon as I walked in the front door I could hear them gasping, making hoarse peeping cries through the back door. I rushed out, preceeded by Dawg, of course, and those poor things were on the cusp of wilting. Grabbing the hose, I soaked them! They cried, they were so happy. Then I checked the ones in the front yard. The tomatoes looked OK, but the young spinach and kale were lying flat our on the ground, beaten by the sun and heat. Watered them, too, and apologized.

The point is that if I don’t keep watering The Amulet now that it’s out in the cold cruel world of millions and millions of books to read, it will wilt away. What can I do?

By the way, it was super easy to publish on Amazon. I know that many, like me, don’t have e-readers, so I’m working on formatting the paper version. It will cost quite a bit more than $2.99, but each order is custom printed! You order, they print and send. What a great concept! I’m doing that through CreateSpace, an Amazon-connected business. It, too, seems easy but not as easy as the electronic version. Many of us do prefer to have a book in hand, don’t we?

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.

First Draft Done!

Last Tuesday, 2/21/2012, I finished the first draft of Amara, the sequel to The Amulet.  Now I wait a few weeks before reading it through to see if it holds together at all well.  And then start the first revision.

I spent so many hours writing and researching almost every day, that at first I didn’t know how to handle the extra time I gained by finishing.

Fortunately, I got work calls, then the weather warmed and the garden called.  Weeks before, I had planted seeds – carrots and spinach.  Maybe it was Wednesday morning – no, I was subbing that day and Thursday, so it must have been Friday morning that I went out to check if the seedlings had come up and saw a little fat lizard in the middle of where I expected seedlings to sprout.

Hurrying inside, I googled about lizards in the desert and discovered that they’ll eat most anything, including seeds.  Aaarrrgh!  The netting over the garden bed probably deters the little critters and such who wander in, but nothing can keep a lizard out!

Saturday Thrim and I drove in to Barstow and went to Home Depot where he got cement to keep the new fence posts in place, at least the corner ones, and I bought spinach plants and a rosemary.  Giving up is a form of winning.  At least the result will be edible.

I’m including a picture of my violets which are blooming idiotically.  I first tried violets in Champaign IL where we lived for six years.  Our house had a south-facing windowed sunporch, perfect for violets.  This is the first time since then that I’ve had such good conditions, including an air-conditioned house.  Good results, right?

Researching Amara was so much fun!  Like hair coloring.  I needed the mixed-background Tadpole (mom northern Europe, dad northern Africa) to get his tightly curled light-brown hair darker.  Romans used boiled walnut shells!  One recipe said to add leek, probably as a fixative.  In calligraphy, we use walnut ink for a delicious dark-brown color, so it was a kick to find another use for it.  I need to address the running of the dye onto the boy’s face and Amara’s hands.  How easily is it removed?  How long does the hair retain the color, especially if the kids are boating on the river and getting wet?

Note for today:  Mix up some walnut ink with an onion and test it on my hands – and a tiny bit of hair.

A huge discovery for me was finding that the Loire river has its beginning about 80 miles south of Roanne, which is 54 miles west of Lyon.  The kids needed to escape somewhere, so I sent them west.  There’s also a Roman road going north from Roanne because the kids need to get to the port of Juliobone.  Web photos of Roanne show the Loire to be calm and wide, so I decided to put Optimus on the road and let the kids go by boat like people do now, when they rent barges to float down the river.

It’s odd to write “floating down” when you’re going north, because I always consider north to be “up” and south to be “down.”  The Nile always confused me – Upper Nile and Lower Nile flowing south to north.

I guess it’s like mountain ranges.  If you grow up with mountains going east-west, that’s how you know your directions.  Then if you move to where mountains go north-south, it takes years to unwind your instincts, so you are constantly getting lost.  It’s true.  I grew up with east-west and moved to north-south (Colorado).  It’s a wonder I ever got the kids to school (north) those first years.

Exclamation Points!

Amazon’s recent novel-writing contest accepted “only” 5000 entries.  Imagine!  Five-thousand people have written full-length novels they hope to have published.  Many more than 5000 did not enter the contest.  All these voices yearning to be heard!  All these men and women spending untold hours typing away on their computers far into the night and early in the morning, squeezing creative time into the corners of their busy days.  See the list of entries now pared to 2000 at

In the Young Adult category, the 1000 chosen to go on to the second round were mostly written by women, whereas in the General Fiction category, the split was more even.  With women writing them, YA books are geared more toward girls than boys.  Look through any book store and you’ll see the evidence – romance and fantasy for girls fill the YA shelves.  Could it be that girls are reading while the boys play video games?

Here are some titles, chosen at random, that made the 1000 YA cut – Black Myst, The Waters of Nyra, Light Dancer, Into the Hourglass.  They look like fantasy to me.  Probably others deal with teenage angst, boyfriends, and girl jealousy.  But they steer clear of graphic sex scenes, brutality toward women, and things like that which drive most adult fiction, especially that written by men.  Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

This may be why women write YA novels.  We want to write and read about strong, independent, free-thinking girls who will become positive contributors to society after they go through all the scenes that the novelist throws at them.  (The too-popular Twilight series negates this argument, making some of us cringe at the implications of it.)

After my initial minor disappointment at not making the cut (The Amulet is historical fiction about a girl in the Roman empire, definitely not a winning subject), I went for a walk in my desert and found that I was absolutely glowing with joy knowing that thousands of women have been writing their books, just like I have, with no promise at all of ever reaching the millions of readers we dream about!

What oddly magnificent women we are!  Creative dreamers!  Not just dreamers, but dreamers who bring to pass the actuality of the dream!  Days, weeks, months after the dream begins, we find that the end has come.  We have written a staggering number of words, weaving them into a story that’s never been told by anyone in the whole history of the world!

For this achievement, no matter what the future of our stories is, we deserve exclamation points!!!!


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!

Thieves and Cheese


I began Book 2 of the series early in December and am now (12/29) over halfway through!  First draft, that is.  Once I had the main character and sort of a plot, things fell into place.

For Christmas, Thrim gave me a 7-dvd set of the History Channel’s series on Ancient Rome.  All I can say is, I’m glad my story takes place in Gaul and Britannia, far from Rome.  Not that the Roman influence isn’t there.  It is, because conquerors always try to spread their way of life.  The Romans, unlike some others, allowed the local population to continue their customs as long as they conformed to certain Roman ways, such as honoring the Roman gods.

The legal system often had elements of Roman law and local law, as shown in the New Testament during Christ’s trial.  The Jews and the Romans were at odds with one another, but finally the Roman leader gave up, saying, “Do what you want.  I’m not handling this.”

One of my new characters, Fortius, is a farmer who sells his sheep cheese [remember sheep and cheese from the last blog entry?] in Lyon.  He has a sideline of hiring thieves to steal from people who leave their belongings in the baths while they are bathing.  It was quite common to be robbed while you were at the baths.  I wonder why the rich people didn’t take more precautions.  They probably did, such as bringing a slave along to guard the goods.  But if the slave had friends among thieves who gave kickbacks for fine jewels and money, most likely he’d risk the wrath of his master by helping the robber.

Fortius is found out because one of his thieves squeals on him.  He is taken to prison where he will be whipped with the flagellum, a wicked instrument with three to twelve leather thongs studded with lead spikes and weights.  A few blows with that could tear up a guy’s back real badly.  I feel sorry for Fortius, but I’m also upset with him because to save his own hide, he’s going to snitch and get some main characters in big trouble.

It seems from the dvd that there wasn’t a lot of justice for those who were not wealthy, and Fortius is not.  He makes good cheese, though, so maybe he’ll get off.  I don’t know.  I do know that his wife, Marcia, is going to try to persuade him to do whatever it takes to get free.  I can’t blame her.  She’s got her family to think about, and he’s their breadwinner.

France, still the home of superb cheese!