Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Wishing all my friends, readers, fans and random blog visitors a wonderful and magical Christmas.

I hope your new year will be a great one, with lots of great things to read! 

Books coming up in 2014...
'The Sworn Virgin'
'Big Girl' 

...I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Warrior Women II - Wu Chao

Child Concubine to self-proclaimed Supreme Ruler
This week, in the second in our Warrior Women series, I'm focussing on the infamous;
625-705 AD

And readers... she seriously was quite a piece of work.

China's First and Only Female Emperor.
Name: Wu Chao was known by several names throughout her fascinating life including Wu Zetian , Wu Hou (武后) and Tian Hou (天后)
Childhood: Wu Chao was the daughter of a Chinese General Wu Shi Huo, and supported Li Yuan who eventually became the First Tang Dynasty Emperor Gaozu. As a result, her father became the Emperor's Minister which resulted in Wu Chao being given an excellent education. She was highly literate, clever and well read. She did not have much interest in sewing and other traditionally feminine pursuits. She travelled extensively with her parents and as a result had a greater understanding of the world and its mechinations than many girls of her time. Much of her warlike temperament and skills as a tactician are said to have been inherited from her father.
Adolescence: Due to her talent, beauty and privileged position, she caught the eye of her mother's cousin, an Imperial Concubine who supplied 'the little lotus blossoms' (child concubines) to the then Emperor Taizong.  She spoke to the Emperor about Wu Chao,  and naturally he insisted she become his concubine. Thus, at the age of thirteen, Wu became one of the Emperor's Consorts and he refered to her as Mei (媚) - which meant pretty. She was given the title Cairen which meant 5th ranking concubine. 

Wu Chao's mother was apparently unhappy with her young daughter joining the concubines, however and wept when her daughter left. As testament to her inner strength and political ambitions, Wu Chao responded "How do you know that it is not my fortune to meet the Son of Heaven?" - and with that, her mother understood that her daughter had ambitions beyond those of an ordinary child concubine.
It appears that the Emperor did have sexual relations with Wu Chao, but he wasn't particularly interested in her.
There is an interesting story however, that tells of the Emperor's particularly wild and untameable stallion. He jokingly suggested that perhaps he get a concubine to try and train the beast. To this, Wu Chao responded that she could tame the horse, but she would need three things...
"I only need three things to subordinate it: an iron whip, an iron hammer, and a sharp dagger. I will whip it with the iron whip. If it does not submit, I will hammer its head with the iron hammer. If it still does not submit, I will cut its throat with the dagger." Emperor Taizong praised my bravery. Do you really believe that you are qualified to dirty my dagger?
From these words, it became apparent that the Emperor's little 'Mei' wasn't so little or gentle after all - and she was one to keep an eye on. They also foreshadowed some of the brutal and disturbing incidents that would take place later in her life.
Young Adulthood: Little of note happened for several years until Emperor Taizong died in 649, when Wu Chao was 26.  He left behind 14 sons (though none to Wu Chao). As was custom the concubines of deceased Emperors were sent to monasteries to live out their lives as nuns. Wu Chao was no different, and thus became a nun at the Ganye Temple.
Wu Chao was very unhappy with this quiet dull life, and one day, Emperor Taizong's son, the 2nd Emperor of Tang - Gaozong came to pray for his father at the temple.
Wu Chao saw him, and started crying - and for whatever reason (I think you can guess) he took pity on her and brought her back to the Palace. This is really quite scandalous because having relations with your father's concubines was considered incest... However, this didn't seem to both Wu Chao or her Emperor - but it did bother some other people.
Back at the Palace, the Empress Wang and another concubine Lady Xiao were at war trying to oust each other. Empress Wang thought that Wu Chao may be an ally for her and together they could oust Lady Xiao. However,  Wu Chao had the Emperor on her mind, and made sure he was madly in love with her. Empress Wang realised then, that they had perhaps brought a viper into the nest, and so she then allied herself with her previous nemesis Lady Xiao and tried to sabotage Wu Chao's position in the palace.
Emperor Gaozong was having none of this. He was in love. He would hear no nonsense being spoken about his beloved Wu Chao.
So begins a vicious and bloody battle for power behind the silk veiled walls of the Palace.
In 651 and 652 Wu Chao gives birth to two sons, who are not in direct line to the throne due to an arrangement the childless Empress Wang had made with her uncle (Liu Shi).
The backstabbing and intrigue continues and heightens in 654 when Wu Chao gives birth to a daughter who mysteriously dies of strangulation shortly after. Wu Chao alleges to the Emperor that it was Empress Wang and Lady Xiao who had organised the murder of their newborn daughter (though... horribly many historians suspect that Wu Chao may indeed have committed the crime herself to frame her rivals.) However, Empress Wang and Lady Xiao were not deposed due to complicated political arrangements.
The following year however, Wu Chao alleged that Empress Wang was using witchcraft with her mother. A lot of political bickering followed, but eventually the Emperor placed Empress Wang and Lady Xiao under arrest. Amidst much scandle, Wu Chao was made Empress!
 Eventually, Empress Wu had Empress Wang and Lady Xiao killed - and quite horribly too. They were whipped over a hundred times and had their hands and feet chopped off. When Lady Xiao was dying she cursed Wu Chao 'When I am reincarnated, I'll come back as a cat - and you will be a rat! Subject to my torture!'. Allegedly she was haunted by these words the rest of her life - and refused to allow cats in court.
Adulthood as the Empress Consort: Empress Wu had work to do. Her first thing done was to place her son as heir apparent and depose the man Empress Wang and her uncle had chosen.
A man called Chu Suiliang went to the Emperor to try and talk some sense into him. He wanted to warn the Emperor that Wu Chao was wicked, and that it was wrong to have the former Empress deposed and then killed, not to mention the amorality of having relations with one's father's concubine - and while he ranted, the Empress Wu was listening.
The Emperor was angry that Chu Suiliang was defaming his love, and had him punished. Empress Wu didn't think this was good enough, and said that Chu Suiliang should die for his slander - he was not killed, but demoted and sent away. Eventually and suspiciously however, he  later commited suicide.
Empress Wu starts getting nasty....
During the next few years, the majority of the Emperor's supportive ministers died or were killed. A state of fear hung over the palace and during her young adulthood has six children.

Empress Wu appears to have completely dominated the Emperor, who seemed completely unable to
defy her. He also was becoming increasingly sick. Some historians suggest that Empress Wu was slowly poisoning him. She even hired a sorcerer to help her gain power. The Emperor was horrified by the use of sorcery, and told her to stop it, but she refused. One day, the Emperor was lamenting his lack of power to one of his few living counsels - Shangguan Yi - who said that Empress Wu should be deposed.
Of course, Wu Chao found out and was very cross indeed. Only a few days later Shangguan Yi was accused of plotting a rebellion and put to death with his two sons. The remainder of his family and decendants were forced into slavery at the palace.
Now Empress Wu had even MORE power and she wasn't afraid to use it. Eventually she became regent, and ruled in lieu of her husband.
When her ailing husband eventually died, she placed her son as Emperor, but retained her position as Empress Doweger.
Although she was utterly brutal against her rivals, Empress Wu did some fascinating things.
  • She recruited talented individuals from around China to come to the palace and take places amongst her staff. These individuals were not necessarily from high ranking families, but people with genuine talent whether it be for literature of military tactics. As she chose from those who were not traditionally chosen for positions of prestige she gathered very loyal people around her.
  • She promoted Buddhism to the dominant religion. Her type of Buddhism was a tolerant one and it encouraged people of different religions to come and trade with China. It also gave her the support of a lot of Buddhist who saw her as the legitimate ruler.
  • She encouraged agriculture: by reclaiming land to set up a system that rewarded areas that were able to produce surplus crops. The officials who governed regions that had too many people or little food would be punished. She also re-distributed land  and offered able-bodied people more so they could enhance production. The officials who governed productive areas were rewarded and thus it was encouragement to grow enough food for trade, and the people of the region too.
  • She made allies. Unlike most Emperors of the time, Empress Wu was more interested in trade than conquering. So instead of battling for territory she sent out traders to makes allies of the neighbours which resulted in an enormous boost of wealth to the Tang Dynasty.

For a time, Empress Wu reigned from behind her sons - and this was not a tidy system either. Ultimately she ends up using her son's against each other - and she forces at least one of them to commit suicide...

Emperor Wu - till death:Then finally sick of ruling from behind a man, she names herself Emperor and was Supreme Ruler for fifteen years until her death. During this time she had a team of secret police who would brutally suppress any who spoke against her.

As the Emperor she also had quite a number of lovers, one of whom allegedly had quite a spectacular appendage 'which was worth more than the kingdom' to her.

Eventually, the Emperor became sick and died in 705.

There is a lot of contention about Wu Chao, she is alternately praised and vilified by historians world wide.

The year that Lady Wu declared herself regent, heroic individuals were all mournful of the unfortunate turn of events, worried that the dynasty would fall, and concerned that they could not repay the grace of the deceased emperor [i.e., Emperor Gaozong] and protect his sons. Soon thereafter, great accusations arose, and many innocent people were falsely accused and stuck their necks out in waiting for execution. Heaven and earth became like a huge cage, and even if one could escape it, where could he go? That was lamentable. In the past, the trick of covering the nose surprised the realm in its poisonousness, and the disaster of the human pig caused the entire state to mourn. In order to take over as empress, Empress Wu strangled her own infant daughter; her willingness to crush her own flesh and blood showed how great her viciousness and vile nature was, although this is nothing more than what evil individuals and jealous women might do. However, she accepted the words of righteousness and honored the upright. Although she was like a hen that crowed, she eventually returned the rightful rule to her son. She quickly dispelled the accusation against Wei Yuanzhong, comforted Di Renjie with kind words, respected the will of the times and suppressed her favorites, and listened to honest words and ended the terror of the secret police officials. This was good, this was good. Liu Xu, the lead editor of the Book of Tang
"Wu Zetian (690–705) was an extraordinary woman, attractive, exceptionally gifted, politically astute and an excellent judge of men. With single minded determination, she overcame the opposition of the Confucian establishment through her own efforts, unique among palace women by not using her own family.
Her rise to power was steeped in blood...." Ann Paludan
"To the horror of traditional Chinese historians, all members of the shih class, the continued success of the T'ang was in large measure due to an ex-concubine who finally usurped the throne itself....Though she was ruthless towards her enemies, the period of her ascendency was a good one for China. Government was sound, no rebellions occurred, abuses in the army and administration were stamped out and Korea was annexed, an achievement no previous Chinese had ever managed." Yong Yap Cotterell and Arthur Cotterell.
"China's only woman ruler, Empress Wu was a remarkably skilled and able politician, but her murderous and illicit methods of maintaining power gave her a bad reputation among male bureaucrats. It also fostered overstaffing and many kinds of corruption." John King Fairbank.
I have obviously omitted massive portions of information about this amazing, horrifying and impressive woman - because otherwise I'd need to write a thesis.
If you'd like to read more about her here are some links and books that I've used in my research.

Cross, R., Miles, R., (2011) Warrior Women, Quercus Press, London.

Next time on Warrior Women we'll be looking at
Mochizuki Chiyome - Ninja and Dark Heart of the Samurai

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Warrior Women I - The Amazons

I am starting a series of Warrior Women posts. I love a good kick-ass heroine in a book and thought that my readers might be interested in some of the 'real' kick-ass women of times past.

Today's Warrior women are those most iconic...


We've all heard of them to some degree - and I know you're all thinking Xena Warrior Princess - or maybe you're envisioning Hercules with Amazons? Either way, with very little variation the Amazons are known as group of ancient, tall, strong, powerful and fiercely independent warrior women...

 But did they really exist?

'Golden shielded, silver-sworded, man loving, male-child killing Amazons,' wrote the 5th Century BC Greek historian Hellanicus.

Bands of fierce female warriors are mentioned throughout the ages in various countries around the world - yet are most persistent in legend around the Mediterranean and Near East.

Herodotus (who should never be taken all too seriously) placed them as coming from the Slavic regions of Europe (Ukraine / Southern Russia / Kazakstan).

Described primarily as women warriors who took men only for the purpose of siring children, killed their male babies and kept their female ones - the original myth seems to have hailed from Libya[Cross & Miles, 2011, Warrior Women, Quercus, pp 8). Here rock drawing has been found that appear to depict women fighting with bow and arrow, and date to approximately 2000BC. From there, carvings and memorials are seen in Greece from 1600BC, yet their heyday appears to have been in the age of the Greek Heroes 1250BC.

According to myth and legend, Amazons were famous horse tamers and allegedly were the first people to actually fight from horseback.

Ironically however, the famous Amazon's during the Greek Heroic age seem to have met with rather dismal and brutal ends.

Also it pays to remember that there are multiple versions of these myths out there and today I am just retelling one.

 Meaning: Stampeding Horse
 (many of the Amazon's have 'hippos' (Greek: Horse) in their name)

Hippolyta was an Amazon Queen who caught the notice of the famous Greek Hero Heracles somewhere around 1250BC. (FYI, Heracles is the Greek version of the Roman Hercules... as if you didn't know!)
Heracles quested for Hypolyta's girdle (it was one of his labors)  - the girdle being a symbol of sacred feminine sexual power and symbolic of Amazon royalty. Typically, he initially simply demands she hand over her girdle to him  The Amazons were incensed by this sleight and rose up against him. Hippolyta fought him in a pitched battle. Alas, she was thrown from her horse - landing most unfortunately at the 'hero's' feet. Naturally a gentleman, Heracles offered to spare her life if she had sex and submitted to him.
Hippolyta was no fool, she knew such submission would be rape and result in a lifetime of slavery to the man. She declared she would rather die than submit to him.
Enraged, Heracles killed her immediately, stripped her girdle and began to slaughter her Amazon bretheren.

When almost all the best warrior women were killed, Hippolyta's commander Melanippe (meaning: Black Mare), sought a truce with Heracles.
True to form, Heracles demanded her girdle. Knowing to refuse meant death, Melanippe handed over her girdle. Heracles then raped her and let her go - to continue a life a humiliation until her natural death.

(There are other versions of Hippolyta's death; where it is Hippolyta's sister Penthesilea who accidently kills her - which leads Penthesilea to quest later on.)

The Greeks however, lead many more such assaults upon the Amazons - in a brutal attempt to impose their patriarchal systems over them.

(meaning: compelling men to mourn)
Penthesilea was one of Hippolyta's sisters, who for varying reasons (depending on which myth you read) caused her to travel to battle at Troy soon after Hippolyta's death.
Here she fights with great distinction on the Trojan side against the Greeks. It is here, on a number of occasions she fought against the hero Achilles. (Penthesilea it is important to remember is the one who ultimately stabbed Achilles in the heel eventually resulting in his death.)
In Achilles' final horrific encounter with Penthesilea at Troy, he stabs the Amazon and kills her. Then, surprisingly, and most of all disturbingly, it is alleged he strips her dying body of its armour. He then discovers that his long time adversary was actually... a woman.
In most accounts, it is noted that Achilles falls in love with her corpse...  and then has sex with it while it was still warm. He then continued to grieve and fixate on the dead Amazon. For many years after, Achilles was taunted for his sexual perversion (necrophilia) particularly by his fellow Greek Thersites.
There are other versions of the this tale that suggest that Thersites gouged out Penthesilea's eyes whilst she was alive... to which Achille's then killed Thersites for the insult.
Yet another version suggests that Diomedes (a relative of Thersites) mutilated Penthesilea's body and tied it to his horse and proceeded to drag it around the battlefield.  Achilles came to the body's rescue an gave her a proper burial - all because he was in love the corpse.
It is said that Penthesilea was the last true Amazon.
So, are these just stories? Or is there a grain of truth here?
(let's hope not for Penthesilea's corpse anyway)
The actual term Amazon, some say comes from the Greek a (without) and mazos (breast), and this fits in the myth that Amazon women sliced off a breast to allow greater ease in shooting arrows and throwing javelins - though this is hotly contested.
Many historians throughout the ages have dismissed these tales for what they appear to be - myths.
However, it has been suggested that due to the prolific nature of Amazon mythology there may well be grains of truth to the stories. Famous ancient historians such as Plutarch, Aeschylus, Strabo, Pliny all take the Amazon's existence as fact.
In later Roman times, Roman commanders record encountering women in the ranks of their enemies especially the Scythians whose women regularly fought along side their men. Were these the real Amazons perhaps?
Who knows...
But one thing is certain, equality for women has been a tricky path ever since.
 In fact the Athenians, who coined the term democracy - deliberately omitted women and slaves from its definition. There was, from this time forth, a notable move towards the subjugation of women in society.  Where once, in the early days of ancient Greece and Sparta, girls were free, fit and trained in the arts of war, they slowly became property, cossetted pretty things to be protected as they became socially and physically less able to protect themselves.
As civilization grew, the fixation on the masculine grew too, and it left no place for the free, powerful independent Amazons. Thus, they have faded into myth - their very existence now questioned. 
Whether you believe in them or not, it cannot be understated that they are a poignant reminder to the women of today - not to take for granted the freedoms we have, and not to fall into the highly sexualised world that has we now live in (particularly in the West). Where once the world was masculinised, now it is sexualised, and this, in my humble opinion is just as damaging - but not just for women but men too.
WU CHAO - from child concubine to self proclaimed ''Supreme God"
Have a great day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Warlord Cain Dath... Giveaway & Character Interview

He's exotic, he's powerful, he's loyal and misunderstood, what's not to love about my Lao Warlord?

The reviews and mail for 'A Warlord's Lady' have been coming in thick and fast  and I'd like to thank all my readers who've spent the time reviewing and commenting on my latest release.

So at the suggestion of a friend, I've decided to post an interview with the hero of the book... and will give away one e-copy of the book to a commenter.

* * *

Interviewer: 'Good Morning.'
Dath: 'Good morning.'

Interviewer: 'First thing first, how do you pronounce your name?'
Dath: *smiles* 'Cain - as in the biblical character and Dath as in Dat. The 'th' in Lao is pronounced 't'.
Interviewer: 'I bet a lot of people get that wrong,'
Dath: *shrugs*

Interveiwer: 'What do you think of the book cover?'
Dath:*blushes*  'Err, I like the book cover.'

Interviewer: 'Is it strange seeing books written about you?'
Dath: 'I'm getting used to it, I suppose.'
Interviewer: 'You don't sound very convincing.'
Dath: 'That's a shame, I meant to be.'

Interviewer: *laughs* 'OK then, you are a Warlord from Laos, what exactly does that mean?'
Dath: 'The title Warlord has historically been used in Laos to describe individuals who fight against the central power systems. It is something people call me, rather than what I call myself.'

Interviewer: 'In your position as 'warlord' what do you do?'
Dath: 'I work to help protect the interests of magical beings with the ultimate aim of lessening unfair government restrictions and impositions on them.'
Interviewer: 'How do you protect them?'
Dath: 'Sometimes it simply requires talking to the right people, other times it requires guns and bullets,' *shrugs* 'Governments can be stubborn and deaf to common sense - particularly when it comes to things they don't understand. I'm here to make them listen any which way I can.'

Interviewer: 'Would you like to tell the readers a little about yourself, and your childhood?'
Dath: *visibly stiffens* 'I grew up in Vientiane in a tumultuous time, the Lao Civil War and its aftermaths had left the country in a difficult place, it was not an idyllic childhood.'

Interviewer: 'The question everyone is dying to hear is what is so special about Sabra Westwood?'
Dath: 'What isn't special about her? She is strong but still vulnerable, funny, down to earth and amazing with people. She's the most lovable person I've ever met. She makes me feel like I'm a man not just a misconstrued public identity. No one ever made me feel like that until I met her.
Interviewer: 'You have a beautiful love story with Sabra, what went through your head the first time you saw her?'
Dath: 'I was worried that she was in the company of a very dangerous individual. Her skin blushed rainbow, and, well, it's hard to explain, but I simply had to do something. She looked so vulnerable, I wanted to help her - I'm glad I did.'

Interviewer: 'We've all heard about the Laos Prophecy, what do think of it now that the excitement of the past few months is over?'
Dath: 'I don't know I suppose it's a part of my cultural history and that's what it should remain. If I have learned anything, it is to follow your instinct rather than words on paper.'

Interviewer: 'Where will you and Sabra settle? Laos or Australia?'
Dath: There is much work still to be done in Laos, but Sabra still likes Australia so I am happy to divide our time between both.'
Interviewer: 'Will their be children in the future?'
Dath: 'I certainly hope so.'

Interviewer: Jurgen had a lot of chemistry with both Mags and Christy, so I have to ask, who will he end up with?
Dath: *laughs* 'You'd have to ask him.'

Interviewer: 'You seem to have a great number of mythical and magical beings in residence at your compound. Do you have a favourite type?'
Dath: *raises an eyebrow* 'That would be like asking do I have a favourite race of people. The answer is no, I don't. Whether aufhocker, thriae, rakshasa or naga, every one has their good side and bad - it's not up to me to judge them. If they come to me in good faith and friendship, that's what I will give them in return.'
Interviewer: 'What about Shadow Men, does that opinion apply to them as well?'
Dath: *hesitates* 'I am yet to meet a Shadow Man who isn't out to harm someone, however, if one came to me asking for my help or protection, I would not turn my back.'
Interviewer: 'You're a better man than many.'
Dath: *shrugs* 'I try.'

Interviewer: 'Thank you Mr Cain Dath, good luck in your future endeavours - and for coming today.'
Dath: *smiles* 'It was my pleasure.'

I hope you enjoyed that little look into Laos' sexiest Warlord, if you've got other questions you just need to know the answer to, or just want to go into the running for a copy of the book leave a comment below.

A Warlord's Lady, is on sale now at all good e-book retailers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tough Mudder - so much more than just an obstacle course.

Shona Husk & Nicola E. Sheridan, two tough mudders.

You may (or may not) be aware that recently I completed Tough Mudder with my friend and fellow author Shona Husk. Tough Mudder is a gruelling 20 km course filled with difficult obstacles and it was quite frankly, one of the most inspiring and empowering things I have ever done for myself.

It has also given me countless scenes, scenarios, experiences, feelings, sensations and human interactions that I am bursting to weave in to my writing.  

Yet, there was one particular experience I had during Tough Mudder, that I feel has been most poignant for me personally.

This was one of the final obstacles, known as Everest. A hideous 1/4 pipe that you need to run up, and miraculously get over, for someone of my modest height, there was no way on this goodly earth that I could reach the top without some serious help. Enter the chivalrous gentlemen. The top of Everest was lined with (usually) guys hanging half over, so they can help people get over.  Those guys are there purely to help, they could have finished, and be drinking beer  in the beer tent by that stage, and yet they stay simply to help other people, people they do not even know, conquer this obstacle - and they do so in the most elemental way.

 By the time you have got to Everest you have run nearly 20 km, so you're tired and sore.
It took me six attempts before I finally made it.

At every failure, I skidded / fell / slid back down the 1/4 and landed arse in the mud. At every failure I got back up, wiped off my hands and ran it again. I was literally missing the guy's hands by millimetres, and yet... I did not give up, and nor did the guys trying to catch me.

It was amazing.
Then finally, finally after five, knee and bum numbing failures, on my sixth attempt, the guy with the Mohawk caught me.

Even though I am a writer, and words are my art, I cannot find words sufficient to explain the sensation of having my hand caught by unknown guy - gratitude, exhilaration, joy, amazement all come to mind.

As Mr Mohawk tried to haul me up, I found my other hand clasped in another man's hand and together these two strangers worked together to hoist me to the summit. Alas, I was too heavy, so another chivalrous gentlemen joined the fray. 'Give me your leg!' he yelled. Though some incredible contortionist act of yoga I managed to swing my leg up for him to catch, which he did. Then all three of these guys lifted me to the top.

When I got to the top, I thanked the guys and headed down for the last run to the finish - thankful, exhilarated and ebullient.

In a world where the hardest thing I have to do is work in in an air-conditioned room and teach well loved, well cared for children, or mediate between my own children - this particular experience offered me a glimpse into the beautiful side of humanity we rarely get to see in daily life. People helping people with no sinister ulterior motive, just for the joy in helping someone else succeed. It was beautiful, just beautiful.

Below are some photos from the Tough Mudder Australia sight of other people conquering Everest. I don't know if anyone got of photo of me doing this obstacle (maybe I'm in a Tough Mudder Epic Fail video somewhere) an the official TM photos are not available yet.

If you'd like to know more about the Tough Mudder event, here's the Perth Tough Mudder Official video.

Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Darkside Down Under Give Away

Happy Halloween!

I am a member of the Dark Side Down Under Blog, and to celebrate Halloween we're doing a massive giveaway! To enter just follow the rafflecopter instructions!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Magic in the mundane

I am a paranormal romance writer, so I dabble in a fair bit of magic. Yet, it is not the literal kind of magic I’m talking about today, because all writers dabble in a kind of magic -the magic of making the mundane in something readable and engaging.

So much of writing involves descriptions of the potentially very boring. From a description of a house or someone’s paisley carpet to the drudgery of walking down a shopping aisle – it is important to build the scene for your characters, the magic is making what is ordinary still interesting to read.

Showing and not telling is mantra often repeated by writers, but how is it done? Let me show you…
I am currently sitting in a large draughty gymnasium on a Saturday afternoon, whilst my child does sport. This gymnasium is a pretty worn, bog standard suburban community centre.

There, I’ve “described” it at least superficially, and you’ve probably got a little bit of a picture in your mind, but… there’s no magic in that is there? Not really.
To really take a reader into the scene, you need to consider three things;
1. What it looks like – lighting, structure, surfaces.
2. What it smells like – this is so often neglected by authors, but really packs a punch when used well!
3. What it feels like: this is important both physically (temperature etc) and emotionally.
Details of the mundane however, should never be dumped in a single paragraph – that would be boring. The reader should ideally discover these things as the character does. A character noticing the scratched wooden floor, or the smell of something nasty in the air as she passes will quickly pique a reader’s interest.

So here is a gymnasium scene:

She sat on the hard pine bench, the bones in her butt beginning to throb
Damn, it was cold.
The bleak fluroescent lighting of the gymnasium made her eyes water, and not a soul graced the scratched parquetry basketball courts – at least not a soul she could see, anyway.

She wanted to leave. She wanted to go home, but she couldn’t. So she’d just have to patient and breathe the faint unsanitary stink of old sweat and feet left by the countless sportmen over the years a little bit longer. Yes, she would wait, wait until it was over…


And that is how the writer can put magic into a dull, boring scene to bring it to life!
Have a fabulous Sunday!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to write a story - my way...

I get asked these two question all the time.
'Where do you get the ideas?'
'How do you start these stories?'
Allow me to explain how the initial creative process works for me....

Where do I get the ideas?

Basically, everywhere and anywhere, but there are two main ways I get ideas for stories.

1. Seeing something.

  • Sometimes, I will see something, that sparks an idea in my mind. The most random inspiration I had was from seeing a greasy hand mark on a bus window, from where someone had clearly tried to bang on the bus window to stop it from leaving without them... or at least that is what I imagined. From this, my flash fiction (one day to be a full story) Good Girls Don't Talk to Satyrs, was formed. That germ of a concept was formed well over eleven years ago, when I was catching a bus to work, and happened to sit at seat next to which the window had a greasy hand print on. When I looked at that hand print I remember imagining some poor sweaty soul racing after the bus, as it takes off, leaving him behind... it often happens, I'm sure you've seen it yourself.

  • I have long said that I'm frequently manspired, so I don't think I need to re-hash how inspiring I find watching male characters on TV interact with others. Contrary to popular belief, I don't simply focus on the males because I like to perv (which may have a small ounce of truth to it - but no more)... I believe I focus more on the male side because as a woman, I'm more familiar with the ways in which a woman would typically react in a certain situation, whereas the men take more research... So watching how men react and interact with others either in real life or on screen is very helpful and inspiring as a writer.

  • Or I just open a mythical creatures book and choose a creature at random and then think of all the different kinds of ways I could incorporate them into a book.

2. Feelings and memories.

This is kind of hard to describe, but I often go to a place and get a "feeling" about it.  I travel a lot, and sometimes when I'm passing through a worn, empty, dry  outback Australian town I get a sad feeling about the place, and I think about all the things that may have been there, eg: it might have been a vibrant growing community once, but now is run-down; home only to a few die-hards who have no where else to go, or don't want to leave. Remembering how places and situations felt emotionally, is powerful fodder for a book.

Another example of this was when I was down in Margaret River. This area is an increasingly trendy place to be, with surf competitions, wineries, breweries, vineyards, forests.... It really is quite a lovely place to visit. Yet allow me to recall a particular scene that has long fascinated my writing mind. My family and I were having an uber expensive coffee at a trendy café. This café appeared to be run solely by teenagers who seemed to care more for conversing with each other than the coffees they were supposed to be brewing... Anyway, as we sat there drinking our luke-warm coffee, a woman  walked in. She was dressed in black and white striped tights with black shiny boots, a green tunic with a black belt cinched around her waist and shocking orange dyed hair. As I attempted to discretely observe her, I heard my husband mutter; "If we do not leave this café now, I'm going to grab that leprechaun and find out where she keeps her gold...."
Obviously he was joking, but I nearly spilt my coffee laughing. She did indeed look like a leprechaun - and it shows just how much living with paranormal writer has affected my husband! However, the situation got me thinking about how ridiculous the 'trendiness' was getting in the area. I looked at the leprechaun lady, she no doubt thought she looked fab-oh!  But really she looked quite bizarre.  The feeling and thoughts that this strange scene evoked however were very inspiring. The dichotomy between reality and individual perception is fascinating.  It then becomes something of muse, as I am able to think about where I could place that kind of plurality in a book.
So, how do I start the story?

I am perhaps unusual in that I find it incredibly easy to start stories, I actually have 9 stories that are on hold at the moment, and I could start countless more if I let myself... It's choosing which one to finish that is the problem.
I start with imagining my main character (male or female)
Then I think about what would be one of the worst things that could happen to them. Then I consider what would have happened to them to find themselves in that situation.

For example;
I have just opened my 'Mythical Creatures Bible' by Brenda Rosen to the page entitled Vila.
A Vila is a nature spirit / fairy hailing from Eastern Europe. They are very beautiful, live in the forest, great healers, but incredibly vengeful against humans who harm them.
It then takes me all of two seconds to create a heroine.

Name: Beata (nice Polish name)
Worst thing that could happen: She's in a terrible accident, has a horrible facial injury and is no longer beautiful and due to the nature of her accident is unable to heal herself and is scarred for life. Who would ever love a Vila so disfigured? This might call for a little vengeance and salvation from guess who? Your sexy hero of course! (who also has a few demons of his own)!

From this idea, I can then write the first paragraph.

Her eyes were heavy as she struggled to focus, but the world appeared white and gauzy. Her eyelashes brushed against material pressed close against her face, obscuring the world from sight. Unfamiliar voices sounded around her, they seemed distant and muffled.
What the hell?
Beata's throat tightened, panic made her heart lurch.
Where am I?
Her hands flew to her face, trying to remove the cloth that blinded her, but found her hands swiftly captured by others.
'Miss Myszka, please stop.'
The sound of her own name made her freeze.
'Where am I?' she asked.
There was a long hesitation, 'You're in hospital, there has been an accident.'

And that, is how I start a story!
Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Manspiration V - Anson Mount and Hell on Wheels

manspiration; /mæn-spəreʃən/ noun (abstract);
The process of being mentally stimulated by a man (either visually or otherwise) to write something creative: eg:  "flashes of manspiration".
I'm frequently manspired, all too frequently in fact, but I don't like to complain ;P

I've just watched the first series of Hell On Wheels, and have found freshly myself manspired by the rather grittily handsome Anson Mount.

Here's a little clip from youtube to show you what I mean...

Yes, on the outset his does appear to be a drunk, murdering, self-pitying, reprobate... but there is one other resounding feature. He is gorgeous, he is ripped, and aside from the (sometimes) corny one liners he has a certain je nais se quoi that flatly floats my little writers boat.

When watching a show I spend a great deal of time watching the actors carefully in their interactions with their female colleagues. A quick glance away, a gesture repressed, the tightening of a jaw - Anson Mount does those beautifully in this series. Plus he has a rather attractive beard.

[I would have liked a bit of chest hair for realism though!]
Now as I'm totally on a roll about Hell on Wheels, I feel I should mention that there are a few other delectable men on the show... Namely Common and Eddie Spears.... a veritable banquet one could say...

Eddie Spears


I have long been fascinated with this era in American history, I used to read romances set in this era rapaciously as a late-teen. So it's little wonder that I'm loving the discovery shows such as Hell on Wheels, Deadwood and the like.

I don't think I'll be setting a book in America anytime soon, but it's all food for muse and you never know... one day...

And now, I bid you all good day :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Six Line Sunday - A Warlord's Lady

Well, I have just got the cover for 'A Warlord's Lady', and I love it!
So to celebrate I'm posting up a six-line Sunday, although it's a little more than six lines... because I couldn't help myself!

Magic, murder and mayhem collide when an ordinary woman meets a powerful warlord — and writes a bestselling, tell-all book...

‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Why did you write it?’ His voice was soft, and casual, as if they had all the time in the world.

Sabra couldn’t speak. Her throat felt constricted and her breathing limited.

‘I’m flattered, of course, that you enjoyed my…prowess so greatly. But still, a lady should not divulge…such…secrets.’ A smile tugged at the corner of his arched lips, flashing a hint of white teeth in a way Sabra had secretly thought was beyond sexy. Still she couldn’t form words, so dry was her throat, so wet were her loins and so bewildered was her mind.

For another long drawn-out moment, Sabra stared at Cain; it was like standing next to a god he was so unutterably perfect. Yet, as she looked closer, there were slight dark shadows marring the smooth, brown skin of his face, and lines of tiredness she’d not seen before.
‘Do I pass your muster, Sabra?’

A Warlord's Lady is up for pre-order now!
Here's the official blurb:
Magic, murder and mayhem collide when an ordinary woman meets a powerful warlord — and writes a bestselling, tell-all book...
Eighteen fateful months ago, Sabra was kidnapped by the infamous magician warlord Cain Dath, and her body just won't let her forget. Hidden in the humid depths of the Laos jungle, she shared everything with him, but he never shared his heart.

In his position of power, Cain cannot show weakness. He must lead his people to freedom and no one — not even the woman he's fast becoming obsessed with — can stand in his way.

Then Sabra sells her story of love slavery in a tell-all exposé and brings fame, fortune, and every one of his enemies down upon them both. Now, she is open to attack on all fronts, and he can no longer stay away. The man who enslaved her may well be the only man who can save her.
Have a great Sunday!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Art of recieving criticism....

Once you have reached publication, your book, your work, your love, your passions are on public display, ready to be critiqued by all and sundry. This means you will be laying yourself open for some wonderful accolades but also the inevitable criticisms. I have seen over the internet some truly disturbing accounts of authors attacking reviewers and reviewers attacking authors.... so how does one avoid this negativity?

Well, firstly understanding that you can't you can't help what people think about your work, goes a long way to steering clear from the potentially nasty. Just like everyone likes a different flavour of icecream, there will be some who hate all icecream.... and basically so what? That's life, people are free to like and dislike whatever they want. So you must realise, that once your book is out in the public domain... you have opened the door to the critics...

Yes, I know this... I hear you mutter, but how do you deal with the bad ones?

Foster a level of understanding and empathy with your readers and critics alike - in understanding that we're all different, it's easier to accept the critics.

1.Understand that even though it may be 'your best work', realistically it won't be without it's faults and flaws... No one's plot, grammar, punctuation, character arc, GMC etc is ever completely perfect. Jane Austen comes close, but you could still pick holes in it if you wished to do so!

2. Understand that your readers are unique people, and so to them, a heroine you think is kick ass and cool may come across as a bully. Similarly the Alpha hero you wrote to be powerfully sexy has come across as a narcissistic psychopath to your reader. You can't help how people interpret your characters. You just can't.

3. Understand that some people just like being critical, just as some like being mean. There may be very good reasons for them doing so, or there may not be. Ultimately, why someone chooses to write negatively about your work is entirely up to them. Even though it may offend you, it is their prerogative. Be magnanimous about it.  That's not to say, however, that sometimes, (or all the time) it doesn't hurt. A hard review inevitably causes that pain-filled swelling of self doubt and you may well find yourself worrying; "was it really that bad?". Or you may feel very angry, the review may seem like a personal attack, and those feelings are perfectly OK too... What is not OK, is to react to it. Even though a negative review has your name it connected with hurtful comments. It isn't really personal, all though it may feel like it. That person doesn't know how you take your tea, or that you secretly had a weird cartoon crush on Astro Boy as a kid. They don't know you. All they know what you write, and that they didn't like it. So what? Ultimately it doesn't matter, and heck, at least they read it, and hopefully paid for the privilege!

4. Never, EVER, respond to negative reviews. It may be difficult if you believe yourself to have been unjustly attacked over your writing. Yes, you will want to defend yourself, but the best defence is to say nothing at all, and let that review disappear into the ether.

Remember that your readers ARE NOT you.
They aren't going to connect with your fictional world like you do, love your characters like you do. They might still like or love your writing; but no one, and I mean NO ONE will have the same connection with your fictional world and its inhabitants like you do.

Try and take criticism constructively, see if you can understand their point. If not, shrug and go have a cup of tea safe in the knowledge that all people are different, just like the guy with halitosis on the bus. No judgements.

Simply knowing and truly understanding this will lessen the sting of that negative review.

And on that note, I bid you happy Friday the 13th, may your day be a good one, and reviews always kind!

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Fossegrim... the what?!

Imagine if you will, a stunningly handsome man, semi clad; a sculpted body rivalling the perfection of some ancient Greek god.  He sits alone, playing a violin in the forest, luring and tempting women by his enchanted music...

(David Garrett, Violinist)

Is this some twisted erotic Pied Piper?

Well, yes, kind of...
Meet the Fossegrim (also known as näcken, strömkarlennäck, nøkk, nøkken, strömkarl )
Hailing from Scandinavian Legend, the Fossegrim, is most often depicted as semi clad (or naked) male faerie playing an enchanted violin. His amazing music lures women (and children) to lakes and streams, where they drown.
However, not all Fossegrim legends are bad. There are some accounts that suggest he may choose to teach a human how to play the violin as beautifully as he does, so that they may be successful as musicians.
Additionally; "Not all of these spirits were necessarily malevolent; in fact, many stories exist that indicate at the very least that Fossegrim were entirely harmless to their audience and attracted not only women and children, but men as well with their sweet songs. Stories also exist wherein the Fossegrim agreed to live with a human who had fallen in love with him, but many of these stories ended with the Fossegrim returning to his home, usually a nearby waterfall or brook. Fossegrim are said to grow despondent if they do not have free, regular contact with a water source. "
Read more:
There are some variations in the physical descriptions of the Fossegrim as well. Some suggest he is a beautiful but ordinary shaped man, another suggests he is a smaller, and in stead of feet moves about on a mist of water vapour. Finally, some legendary tales speak of the Fossegrim's unique ability to shift genders, which could be awkward!
In 2009  there was a competition in Sweden called "Water Fairy of the Year", in which naked men stood in a picturesque stream and played music before crowds of onlookers. The best musician won the title. Ironically perhaps, the winner was playing a horn...not actually a violin at all.
 **male nudity viewer discretion required!**
All I can say, is that the water must be terribly cold...
And on that totally bizarre note, if you happen to hear strange music in the forest, use your discretion before going to investigate. It could be any number of things including:
a) some strange naked Swedish musician trying to win a competition.
b) a sexy mythical male fossegrim trying to drown you.
c) a sexy mythical, transgender fossegrim also trying to drown you.
d) a fossegrim trying to teach you how to play the violin.
Or most likely
e) a disturbing hallucination.
Have a marvellous week!

Monday, August 26, 2013

An interesting history of Vampire Hunters...

Many people love the subgenre of vampire romance. I myself have recently found myself re-addicted to it through reading Jeaniene Frost's books

It will come therefore as no surprise that many vampire romances are centred around a vampire hunter.

When most people think 'vampire hunter' or 'vampireologist' they'll think Abraham Van Helsing, who originally hails from Bram Stoker's, Dracula (but has been re-incarnated countless times in other media)They might think 'Anita Blake' from Laurell K. Hamilton's series. They might think kick ass, gun's blazing, go-get-em types... But you would be quite wrong.
As you are no  doubt aware, many things in the paranormal genre have a factual base. So it is with the vampire hunter, but the historical vampire hunters were a far cry from to the vampire hunter we envision in film and literature today...

Allow me to introduce you to the wild and wacky world of Montague Summers (1880 - 1947).
He was also known as Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers .

 Inspired by Augustin Calmet's 18th Century studies of vampires (a two-volume behemoth tome Treaty on the Apparitions of spirits and Vampires, or ghosts of Hungary, Moravia, & c., published in 1751) Summers wrote several fascinating, and exhaustive texts relating to witches, vampires and werewolves.
~ The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926)
He was also the author of the first English translation of the 15th Century witch hunting manual the Malleus Maleficarum (which promoted the inhumane treatment of women suspected of witchery.)
It isn't really necessary to state it, but I will anyway, Montague Summer's was an ardent believer in the subject he studied. He was a known eccentric amongst his peers. He was a self professed 'witch hunter and vampireologist'. He believed most fervently that the belief in the existence of witches was an essential part of the Catholic doctrine.
Suffice to say, Montague Summer's career in the church is as strange as it is controversial. He initially studied Theology with the intent of becoming a priest in the Church of England, and was ordained a deacon. This career was short-lived as rumours abounded about his interest in Satanism, the occult, and his rather unsavoury interest in inappropriate relations with teenage boys. 
Not one to let things like that stop him, he converted to Catholicism in 1909, and shortly after began to pass himself off as a Catholic priest - though it appears he was never actually ordained. Some suggest he was not ordained because of his suspected involvement in the Order of Chaeronea...
For those of you  unaware, the Order of Chaeronea  was a secret society for the cultivation of a homosexual, moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual ethos. It was founded by George Cecil Ives  in 1897, who believed that homosexuals would never be accepted by society, and therefore created the Order as a means of  developing a secret community for like minded individuals.
 Still, not deterred Summers by his lack of official ordination, he began to dress as a priest in clerical robes. Yet he proceeded to carry a cane, on which the image of a swan Zeus raping Leda was a prominent feature...eccentric indeed.
Despite being a 'witch hunter', it does not appear that Summers actually went out to hunt witches or indeed, vampires. No, his hunting was much more in the literary sense. 
He spent his time researching and studying the paranormal phenomena and some suggest he even tried it.
"Despite his cherubic demeanour and affability some people found him sinister, a view he delighted in encouraging. It was always hard to tell how much Summers was putting on a show when in company, particularly in his early life, but he does appear to have been driven by demons, not least of them being those arising from having homosexual tendencies in an intolerant age. And although in everyday life he was kind and considerate, when engaged in academic debate he was furiously intolerant. There were also rumours that in his youth Summers had dabbled in black magic. If true, the only effect seems to have been to turn him completely against such meddling later. He may have been fascinated, even obsessed by witches, vampires and the like but the tone of his writings is consistently hostile towards them." Reference: Unicorngarden
Much of Montague Summers life however, remains a mystery as his correspondences and diaries have been lost in time. He died of a heart attack in 1948. Two years after his death, Summers’ longstanding friend, Hector Stuart-Forbes, joined him in the then unmarked plot in Richmond UK.
Despite the scandals, the eccentricity, the astounding lack of actual 'hunting'; Montegue Summers remains the author of some of the most famous and detailed accounts of vampirism written to date.
So when you next pick up that book about vampire hunters, witch hunters or the like, spare a thought for the real and bizarre vampireologists, who spent their lives researching the lore on which some of our favourite movies and novels are based.

Enjoy your week.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Romance Writers of Australia Annual Conference 2013

How much fun did I have?
A lot.

I love attending conferences, I love meeting the editors, the agents and fellow writers (it's always good to talk to other people who think like you do).

It was held in Fremantle (fantastic location for me as it's not a to long drive!) at the Esplanade Hotel.

Interestingly for those who have read my book Mimosa Black, the Esplanade Hotel is opposite the Esplanade park, the pine tree strewn nature reserve that my heroine Mimosa finds herself in one very hot but awkward position!

During the weekend I went to some great sessions, but the most fun I had was actually presenting our session 'Beating the Trends in Paranormal Romance". I had so much fun that Shona and I are planning to present together at other conferences...

For those of you who were unfortunate enough not have attended, I'll give you a super brief lo-down ( I am supposed to be editing A Warlord's Lady today!)

We introduced attendees to a number of different mythical creatures from around the world. We discussed transcontinental lore, and looked at the similarities between undead and living mythological beasts from different continents. There are many more out there than most people realise.

My personal favourites were mosquito man, hailing from Native North American myth and the Draugr, from Norse. Though lets face it, the Asiman / Obayifu from Africa with his glowing anus is pretty cool, if not amusing.

We then spent some time looking at the rise of the cryptid and subsequently cryptozoology in modern culture, and looked at the cryptid's potential for use in paranormal / urban fantasy.

Finally, we talked about the need and importance of cultural sensitivity. Some cultures still hold myths and their beasts sacred, so it pays to be cautious when using a lesser known mythological creature in your writing...

I also created a video, backed up by some heart pumping Rob Zombie, Dragula. Which got every body in the mood :)

Anyway, I really must complete my edits, if A Warlord's Lady waits for no author to blog...

Have a great remainder of the week.