Monthly Archives: December 2011

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One Year Ago Today …

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Categories: Research

One year ago today, I uploaded my first book to Amazon.com, The Last Pendragon (not, however, with my beautiful new cover :)).  I had decided to take the plunge into indie authordom, after nearly five years of writing and querying and being rejected by publishers large and small.  I have a wonderful agent, Jacques de Spoelberch, who did his best for me, but no publisher wanted to take a chance on historical fantasy set in Wales.

I had been giving the book away for free at other sites up until then, but two things happened the last week in December 2010 to change my perspective: 1) my writing partner, Anna Elliott, sent me to Joe Konrath’s blog; and 2) a reader sent me an email asking about the sequel and said, “Just for the record, I would happily have paid for the first book and hope you do not give away the second one.  You deserve to earn your living too!  Thanks again for a very good book!”

So I put The Last Pendragon up myself.

In January, it sold 13 copies.  Truthfully, that was a triumph in and of itself.  It changed my life to know that people besides the handful of family and friends who were interested in my work were reading my book–and willing to pay for it.

Then, in a fit of recklessness, I went back to the After Cilmeri series, the books I’d devoted most of the last five years to, but which had never sparked the imagination of any editor.  I cut 15,000 words out of Footsteps in Time, reworked Prince of Time so the flow was better, and uploaded them at the end of January.  I sold five Footsteps and four Prince of Time’s in the last week of January, and I know for a fact that eight of those nine were bought either by me, my mom, my daughter, or Anna.

In February, I hit the big time … not only did I sell 50 books overall, but my husband bought me a smart phone so I could tweet and facebook and do all the rest of the marketing author-type things I needed to do, even when not at home.  I’m sure he regretted this gift immediately, as I was glued to it from the start :)

One of the very best things about being an indie author, however, and what the smart phone represented, is the opportunity to connect with other authors.  Facebook, the Writer’s Cafe, Twitter–they all have brought me in touch with people doing the same thing I am, the vast majority of whom take the view that we’re all in this together.  I have dozens of friends I didn’t have a year ago, and am richer for it.

The best thing about being an indie author is, of course, my readers.  That I have sold over 35,000 books this year is mind-blowing–and humbling.  I’m not writing for myself anymore, or for my kids, but for all the people who have loved my books and taken the time to tell me about it.

Going from 50 books sold to 35,000 didn’t happen over night.  It began when I uploaded Daughter of Time, the prequel to Footsteps in Time on March 19th.  It sold 75 copies in the last 11 days in March, and then 869 in April.  And for those of you who’ve read it, I have to tell you that I wrote it on a whim, because I wanted to know Meg and Llywelyn’s story, and then published it because I really liked it.  I’m glad so many people have liked it too :)

Even after the publication of Daughter of Time, my agent was still trying to sell Cold My Heart, and then later in the summer, The Good Knight.  In the end, I decided not to spend the fall waiting for editor responses, and published the latter as my seventh book in September.  All signs indicate this is the right path!

Thank you all for making this journey with me.

 

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Surprise Holy Day Attack!

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Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , ,

One of the most famous instances of one army attacking another on a holiday was when George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day:  “During the night of December 25, Washington led his troops across the ice-swollen Delaware about 9 miles north of Trenton. The weather was horrendous and the river treacherous. Raging winds combined with snow, sleet and rain to produce almost impossible conditions. To add to the difficulties, a significant number of Washington’s force marched through the snow without shoes.  The next morning they attacked to the south, taking the Hessian garrison by surprise and over-running the town. After fierce fighting, and the loss of their commander, the Hessians surrendered.”

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/washingtondelaware.htm

This attack gave Washington a much needed victory and gave his troops a reason to reenlist for 1777.

Five hundred years earlier, on the morning of 22 March 1282, Palm Sunday, Welsh insurgents attacked the English castles at Hawarden,  Flint, Rhuddlan, and the borough of Oswestry.  Three days later, on the Feast of St. Mary’s, Aberystwythe Castle fell.  J. Beverley Smith writes:  “Gruffydd ap Maredudd, acting in association with Rhys Fychan ap Rhys ap Maelgwn came to the constable and invited him to dinner.  The constable could hardly have been aware of the happenings in the north-east [of the country] and accepted the invitation, only to be taken captive by his host while a force of Gruffydd’s men took possession of the castle” (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, pg. 452).

The desperation that drove the Welsh to attack during the Christian Holy Week was similar in many ways to what drove George Washington to violate the peace of Christmas.  Unfortunately, for the Welsh, Edward I took their violation as evidence of their barbarism and his divine right to rule them.

Other notable Holy Day attacks include:

6 October 1973–Egypt and Syria attack Israel on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

7 December 1944 (8 December in Japan)–Attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces.  This was not a holy day to Americans, but it was to the Japanese, as the day on which Shakyamuni realised the Way.  For this reason, it had been a day for commemorating the liberation of humankind in Japan.  http://vishvapaniswriting.blogspot.com/2007/02/rude-awakenings-zen-at-war.html

31 May 1918–German long-range bombers attacked Cologne, France on Corpus Christi Day, which is/was a very, holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, prompting outrage on both sides of the Atlantic.

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9D03E2DB163EE433A25752C0A9609C946996D6CF

It has become fairly common in recent years for terrorist attacks on both Islamic and Christian Holy Days.

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A Child’s Christmas in Wales

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Dylan Thomas wrote A Child’s Christmas in Wales in 1954.  It begins:  “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.  All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find . . .”

For the full text:  http://www.bfsmedia.com/MAS/Dylan/Christmas.html

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The Last Pendragon/The Pendragon’s Quest/Cold My Heart

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Categories: Research

Thanks to Christine DeMaio-Rice at Flip-City Books (http://flipcitybooks.com/), I have new book covers for The Last Pendragon, The Pendragon’s Quest, and Cold My Heart.  I just have to show them off …

One of the wonderful things about being an indie author is that it is possible to shift and change within a very short time period.   I decided I needed new book covers two weeks ago and Christine fit my books into her schedule.

To give you an idea of the transformation of The Last Pendragon, here are it’s previous book covers in reverse order:

We’ve come a long way!

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Pixel of Ink today!

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Categories: Research

Footsteps in Time is being featured on Pixel of Ink today!

http://www.pixelofink.com/bargain-ebook-footsteps-in-time-a-time-travel-fantasy/

https://www.facebook.com/PixelofInk

As always, it’s available everywhere :)

Buy at:  Amazon

At Apple Ibooks:  Footsteps in Time

At Barnes and Noble:  Footsteps in Time

Amazon UK:  Footsteps in Time

For international customers:

ebook:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/38722

paperback:  https://www.createspace.com/3566163

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Medieval Martial Arts

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There is a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting called Reclaiming the Blade, available on Netflix, if you subscribe:  http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Reclaiming_the_Blade/70111112?trkid=2361637

It begins by talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once they stripped away the honor and righteous talk, it had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my children learn karate. How cool is that?

A society now exists to promote it.  http://www.aemma.org/  with lots of resources to promote this lost art  (http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=) is one example–the Journal of Western Martial Arts.

Two of my children are black belts in Shodukan Karate (a third has his brown belt and is working toward his black belt, and the fourth has just started and is a white belt). My eldest son, in particular, helps me choreograph many of the fights that I write into my books. He has always suggested (perhaps instinctively due to his training) that my characters employ the whole of the sword (hilt, crossguard, and blade), wrestling techniques, and moves which are more akin to karate than you might find in movie depictions of sword fighting. Interestingly, this documentary suggests that he is correct—that these techniques were actually common practice in the Middle Ages.

Our view of sword fighting has been colored by fencing, which has rules, or by movies whose sole purpose is to put on a good show, but not to kill an opponent. In battle, there were no rules. A man in battle was likely to use his sword as a bludgeon, swing his sword like a baseball bat with two hands on the blade and smash his opponent in the face with the hilt, or hold it with two hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade of his sword (with his gauntleted left hand) and thrust it into his opponent’s midsection like a pike. A fight was likely to last less than a minute, and as Viggo Mortensen pointed out, a man wouldn’t pull his sword from its sheath unless he intended to use it, and kill with it as quickly as possible.

Fiore dei Liberi (born c. 1350) was a master of Western martial arts.  His book, Flos Duellatorum (http://thearma.org/Manuals/Liberi.htm) or The Flower of Fencing is the oldest and most complete document of its type. The fighting system he recorded, apparently for the benefit of Niccolo III d’Este, is complex and beautiful in its efficiency and symmetry. The artwork is clear, the instructions direct, and the lessons valuable. While the fighting system itself is the subject of many dynamic projects, little has been uncovered about the author of this fascinating work.”  http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=

As a side note for those writing about swords, when a man did draw his sword from its sheath, the sword did not make that distinctive scraping noise that you hear movies. Metal on leather is silent.

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The Invention of the Chimney

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Maybe this seems like a strange topic for a blog post, but I’m sitting here by my nice warm fire, typing into my laptop, while it’s about 15 degrees outside (F).  I am not a medieval person, but I hate being cold and get grumpy if my house is below 68 degrees (and with the fire, I can get it a lot warmer than that).

Saxon huts did not have chimneys.  They had fire pits in the center of the room and a hole in the roof for the smoke (ideally) to leave.  In the winter, then, people lived and worked in smoke-filled rooms, with a fire that constantly had to be stoked and was also a danger to the whole household.  Can you imagine raising a toddler in a hut like that?  Or the constant danger of a spark lighting the thatch?  “Buildings were square, rectangular, and round in plan. A central fire pit provided warmth and light, with smoke making its imperfect escape through a hole in the (typically) thatched roof above.”  http://www.octavia.net/anglosaxon/earlyEnglishArchitecture.htm

Typically, the Romans did have the knowledge of chimneys (for baking), and otherwise had a hypocaust venting system. “During the Roman era, some houses were warmed with interior pipes laid under floors and within walls, and bakeries had flues that piped smoke outside the building.” http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ny/retrospect/quick-history-chimneys-162580   They also used braziers, which could be moved from room to room and to which you could sit closer than a real fire.

“With the Norman Invasion (in 1066) came a new concept: two-story houses. An upstairs meant that you couldn’t have a fire in the middle of the floor anymore, and you needed to draw the smoke outside instead of straight up, so the fire was moved to a niche in the wall. (In stone houses, walls were so thick that the excavation of a fireplace did not effect the external appearance at all.) At first, holes were poked in the exterior wall to allow smoke to escape; eventually, flues were constructed to help control the downdraft. During the Gothic era, up to the end of the 14th century, some grander homes installed stone hoods to facilitate ventilation.”  http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ny/retrospect/quick-history-chimneys-16258

The first chimneys were constructed in castles.  The first one we know of is from the 12th century.

“If the later Middle Ages had made only slight improvements in lighting over earlier centuries, a major technical advance had come in heating: the fireplace, an invention of deceptive simplicity. The fireplace provided heat both directly and by radiation from the stones at the back, from the hearth, and finally, from the opposite wall, which was given extra thickness to absorb the heat and warm the room after the fire had burned low. The ancestor of the fireplace was the central open hearth, used in ground-level halls in Saxon times and often into later centuries. Such a hearth may have heated one of the two halls of Chepstow’s 13th-century domestic range, where there are no traces of a fireplace. Square, circular, or octagonal, the central hearth was bordered by stone or tile and sometimes had a backing of tile, brick or stone. Smoke rose through a louver, a lantern-like structure in the roof with side openings that were covered with sloping boards to exclude rain and snow, and that could be closed by pulling strings, like venetian blinds. There were also roof ventilators. A couvre-feu (fire cover) made of tile or china was placed over the hearth at night to reduce the fire hazard.

When the hall was raised to the second story, a fireplace in one wall took the place of the central hearth, dangerous on an upper level, especially with a timber floor. The hearth was moved to a location against a wall with a funnel or hood to collect and control the smoke, and finally, funnel and all, was incorporated into the wall. This early type of fireplace was arched, and set into the wall at a point where it was thickened by an external buttress, with the smoke venting through the buttress. Toward the end of the 12th century, the fireplace began to be protected by a projecting hood of stone or plaster which controlled the smoke more effectively and allowed for a shallower recess. Flues ascended vertically through the walls to a chimney, cylindrical with an open top, or with side vents and a conical cap.”  http://www.wtv-zone.com/Castle_Keep/castle_castle/Great_Hall/Hall-2/1.html

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A Thank You and Book Give-Away!

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Categories: Research

The 28th of December will be my one-year anniversary as an indie author and to express my thanks to all of my readers, whether of my books, my blog, or both, I’d like to give you a gift of a free book!

Between now and January 10th, you can download a copy of Daughter of Time or The Last Pendragon from Smashwords for FREE!

Click on the book cover for the Smashwords web page for Daughter of Time: 

 

Coupon code for The Last Pendragon:  GN59S

 

 

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The Wildwood — the lost forest of the UK

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Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Imagine all of the UK covered in a thickly wooded landscape, much like portions of the western United States. 

I just spent the last 1/2 an hour looking up native plants in Wales, trying to come up with a couple that would have reliably flourished in Gwynedd in the 13th century.  My sister-in-law is a botanist, and she agreed that agrimony and juniper would good choices.  What has been difficult to determine, as with the Roman and ancient roads, is what the landscape looked like in the Middle Ages.  England was mostly denuded of trees by then, but it is possible that wasn’t the case in Wales.  So when we see these broad lanscapes in the uplands with no trees, was that what they looked like eight hundred years ago?  How do we find that out?

According to scientists, only 1% of The Wildwood, the vast expanse of forest that once covered Britain, remains today.  “‘The Wildwood’ is the scholarly though dramatic name introduced by Oliver Rackham, author of the History Of The Countryside, and today used by historical geographers to refer to Britain’s dominant type of landscape when there were as yet no separate, named (and soon to be ‘managed’) pockets of ‘greenwood’ like Robin Hood’s refuge, Sherwood Forest. There was only one great uncultivated, completely wild mass of trees and bushes, stretching almost from coast to coast, which was, in a famous historian’s remark, enveloped in a silence broken only by the singing of innumerable birds.”  http://www.south-coast-central.co.uk/wildwood.htm

“By the time the Romans disembarked on these shores, their predecessors had cleared perhaps half of the forest and many of the hills and Downs were as bare as they are now.”  http://www.rfs.org.uk/learning/wildwood

Most of the forests in Wales have been planted within the last century, but given that the trees grow, it’s possible that at one time, the forests grew across the entire region where there is now only moorland.  The question remains, when were they cut down?  Gerald of Wales makes two comments:  “It is a country very strongly defended by high mountains, deep valleys, extensive woods, rivers, and marshes;” and  “North Wales is better defended by nature, is more productive of men distinguished for bodily strength, and more fertile in the nature of its soil; for, as the mountains of Eryri (Snowdon) could supply pasturage for all the herds of cattle in Wales, if collected together . . .”  http://www.buildinghistory.org/primary/gerald.shtml

Edward I, in his conquest of Wales, had teams of hired laborers and soldiers clear a path for him across Wales so that he could not be ambushed from the trees by archers.

A similar practice occurred in Scotland:  “The Wildwood was deliberately broken up and burnt off also to get rid of outlaws and wolves. The very last known British wolf was killed in Scotland in 1745, about the time of Culloden. All forest cover has disappeared from vast areas due to clearance projects done for one reason or another, as in the Highland Clearances, in which the woods were first burnt off to drive out wolf and outlaw alike, the land unable to return to forest because of the Great Cheviot Sheep and later the deer herds kept for stag-shooting.”  http://www.south-coast-central.co.uk/wildwood.htm

This has prompted the Carrifan project, begun because of a 6000 year old yew bow found in a bog.  It’s discovery prompted a quest to determine the biodiversity of the area in the past.   The mission now is to:  “re-create in the Southern Uplands of Scotland an extensive tract of mainly forested wilderness, with most of the rich diversity of native species present in the area before human activities became dominant.”  http://www.carrifran.org.uk/about/our-mission-statement/

 

 

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A Good Meal–Food in the Middle Ages

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Diana Wynne Jones’ book Tough Guide to Fantasy Land (recommended for any fantasy/historical fantasy writer) is a hilarious riff on the fantasy genre.  At one point, she mocks fantasy authors’ tendency for their adventurers to eat ‘stew’ in great quantity, which travelers would for the most part never do.

The classic example of this is when Sam, in Lord of the Rings, hauls those pots all the way to Mordor.  A much more likely scenario would for him to have stashed a couple of sticks in his backpack to poke through those poor rabbits he takes from Gollum in order to roast them over the fire.  Stew is far too much work.

So if not stew, then what?

Roasted meat over a spit, when possible.  Stale bread.  Berries or root vegetables gathered from the surrounding area.  Salted, smoked, and dried meat that keeps for weeks (and tastes like it).  Pioneers taking the Oregon trail across the country, where admittedly they had wagons, made corn pancakes on a griddle–but once again, that’s a heavy piece of equipment to carry.

People in the middle ages did eat a lot of stew, however.  “The Vikings ate two main meals a day, one of which usually consisted of some kind of meal or porridge. The mainstay of everyday eating was the big kettle of stew (or skause- a Norse word!) containing whatever vegetables and meat were available, and added to day by day.”  http://www.ydalir.co.uk/crafts/cook.htm

In Europe, “most medieval commoners cooked with only a large cauldron, known as the pot au feu, in the fireplace. Whatever they could find, they mixed it together in the pot and called it “stew.” Sometimes, it would be served with a slab of meat or even frumety. Frumety was a type of wheat pudding that surpassed bread in popularity during the Middle Ages, probably because it went so well with stew.”  http://library.thinkquest.org/C005446/Food/English/middle_ages.html

For a long list of possible foods and dishes:  http://shenanchie.tripod.com/medieval/med_3.htm

Medieval people also ate a lot of bread, but there is some question as to when the use of yeast became widespread.  Peoples all over the world have eaten bread for thousands of years, since the cultivation of wheat.

This site states:  “The custom of leavening the dough by the addition of a ferment was not universally adopted. For this reason, as the dough without leaven could only produce a heavy and indigestible bread, they made the bread very thin. These loaves served as plates for cutting up the other food upon, and when they became saturated with the sauce and gravy they were eaten as cakes. These were called trenchers. The use of trenchers remained long in fashion even at the most splendid banquets. It would be difficult to point out the exact period at which leavening bread was adopted in Europe, but we can assert that in the Middle Ages it was anything but general. Yeast was reserved for pastry, and it was only at the end of the sixteenth century that bakers used it for bread.”

At the same time, another site argues (http://www.breadinfo.com/history.shtml) that wheat was grown in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where it was first chewed, but then later pulverized it to make a paste.  “Set over a fire, the paste hardened into a flat bread that kept for several days. It did not take much of a leap to discover leavened (raised) bread when yeast was accidentally introduced to the paste.

Instead of waiting for fortuitous circumstances to leaven their bread, people found that they could save a piece of dough from a batch of bread to put into the next day’s dough. This was the origin of sour-dough, a process still used today.

In Egypt, around 1000 BC, inquiring minds isolated yeast and were able to introduce the culture directly to their breads. Also a new strain of wheat was developed that allowed for refined white bread. This was the first truly modern bread. Up to thirty varieties of bread may have been popular in ancient Egypt.

It was also during this time that bread beer was developed. The bread was soaked in water and sweetened and the foamy liquor run off. Beer was as popular in ancient Egypt as it is in America today.”   Bread was hugely important to the Roman Empire, and if nothing else, the mechanism for making it was brought to Britain and northern Europe with their conquest.

This opinion appears to be confirmed by this site:  http://www.guglhupf.com/breaduca/history.html

For the Vikings:  “Bread was made in great quantity and variety, both flat and risen. It’s uncertain if the Vikings had cultivated yeast as we know it, but they certainly made use of wild yeasts, raising agents such as buttermilk and sour milk, and the leftover yeast from brewing. They also used the ‘sourdough’ method, where a flour and water starter is left for several days to ferment. The most commonly grown cereal crops were oats, rye, and barley, but wheat was also widely used. Flour was also made from nuts (including acorns) or pulses (peas and beans), and even from tree bark. The inner layer of Birch bark, dried and ground, produces a flour with a sweet flavour and is highly nutritious. Bread could be flavoured with nuts, seeds, herbs, or cheese (yes, pizza is authentic!); or used to enclose fish or meat for baking it to succulent tenderness.”  http://www.ydalir.co.uk/crafts/cook.htm