Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Miscellany- Optimistic Cookies & Book Blogger Appreciation Week

I have two fun and exciting items to report today. Drum roll please!

1. Yesterday my two-year-old and I were munching some Chinese food for dinner. And what's the best part of Chinese food? The fortune cookies, of course! My daughter picked one, really just interested in breaking the cookies. And the fortune?

Focus on your long-term goal. Your wish will be granted next year.

Okay, so I know this was technically my daughter's cookie, but what long-term goals does a toddler have? I think I might borrow this one- my little monkey got to eat as much of the cookies as she wanted so I don't think she'll mind. Is it kosher to borrow fortune cookies? I don't know, but it would be great to have an agent for my finished manuscript by Christmas 2010!


2. I just discovered that September 14-18 is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. So if you're a book blogger, check it out here. Book Bloggers Unite!

And maybe win prizes too. Prizes are always good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Editing With a New Pair of Eyes

I just finished Chapter 18 in Hatshepsut's story, bringing the total page count to 417. Woo hoo! People always ask me for the word count, something that's totally understandable as it's what agents require. At this point I'm not sure about the word count- I've broken the book into chapters for easy access and editing, but my rough guestimate is that it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 103,000.

Yeah, you know that makes me feel pretty good.

We're leaving for our Mediterranean extravaganza Saturday (decided to go to the Pyramids, in case you were wondering) so I'm going to compile the whole caboodle into one Word document, single-space it (save the trees!), and print the whole baby out. I've never edited my own work on paper, always preferring to do it directly in Word, but I thought two weeks without the laptop would be a golden opportunity to get some nitty-gritty editing done. When I grade my students' papers they come back dripping with blood... er... ink, so I figure I can probably manage the same feat for my own work. And I don't know about you, but I read differently on paper versus a screen- sometimes I gloss over things when reading them on a computer. So I'm hoping this will give me a more detailed perspective in addition to it feeling more like reading a printed book.

Also, after recently reading Query Tracker's post on curing, I realized that's what needs to happen with Hatshepsut's ending. I've only got one more chapter to go plus an epilogue, but the ending of Chapter 18 isn't sitting well with me. I have a feeling that it's going to need a major rewrite, but I now realize I need to distance myself from it.

As for the rest of the novel, some of it I haven't looked at since March. Now I can comb through the early pages, fine tune, and then by the time I get back I should be ready to take a look at what I've just written with a new pair of eyes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Angry Music

I've been writing the second to last chapter of my book for a few days now. Everything was humming along quite nicely- I had the rough plot outlined in my head and a couple scenes that I'd been envisioning for months now. I plugged away, got those two pieces written, and then?

Everything stalled.

To backtrack for a second, my book is written in third-person, mostly due to the fact that I need an omniscient narrator. There are times when I need to leave Hatshepsut so the reader can see something else that is happening that she's unaware of. That's virtually impossible to accomplish with third person. So I'm mostly inside Hatshepsut's head, but occasionally I have to jump to someone else.

The problem I'm having now is that I'm still in Hat's head, but there's an integral scene with her nephew/stepson (those royal ancient Egyptians did love to keep marriage in the family, you know) that is proving rather tricky. I can't give away the details, but suffice to say this young man, Tutmose, is in a very awkward position. And the problem? I honestly don't know how he would react.

I think what I might need to do is rewrite the scene from his perspective. I know how Hatshepsut would act, but looking at Tutmose from her eyes isn't working. But before I do that, I've got one more trick up my sleeve.

Music!

I love writing to music. So I'm going for some angry music from my playlist- I think Muse's Supermassive Black Hole might work nicely. And if that doesn't get Tutmose in the mood, I'll just have to dig into his head and rewrite the scene. I should probably do that anyway- it would at least prove a good character exercise!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Prologue: Keep It or Cut It?

Now I recognize that prologues are on the top of every list out there about what not to do if you want to get published. However, I've wracked my brain trying to figure out a better way to include these three pages of back-story that are pretty integral to the rest of my book.

The plot in a nutshell is this: Hatshepsut is Egypt's only female pharaoh who successfully declared herself king during a time of peace and then continued to rule until her death, reigning over a time of peace and prosperity in Egypt's history. In my version of this history, Hatshepsut is going to have a rocky relationship with her mother due to Hatshepsut being born a girl. In the prologue I introduce three characters that will be integral through the rest of the story- Ahmose, Hatshepsut's mother; Sitre, Hatshepsut's nurse; and Hatshepsut herself. It also helps explain why Ahmose never had another child- more showing, not telling.

What I'm hoping is that by reading this, some of you might be willing to comment on whether you think it can be one of those prologues that breaks the rules and can stand with the rest of the novel or whether it really seems superfluous. If an agent asks for the first page of my novel (or the first three chapters), is this something I should send?

And of course, all other comments are happily accepted as well. Be ruthless! I need to grow a thicker skin and promise I won't make voodoo dolls of any of you! *G*

Here it is!

----------------------------------------------------------------


Prologue

The birthing chamber was rank with the stench of sweat and blood. The tiny room was already an oven, despite the fact that Re wouldn’t rise for several more hours, leaving the few attendants and the ancient midwife continuously wiping sweat from their brows. Draped across the birthing blocks was the inanimate form of the young queen, Ahmose. Rather than scream or clutch the blocks as each spasm of pain stretched across her belly, the girl barely moaned, her eyes now permanently rolled back in her head. She had been at this work, the work of women, for two full days now and still the child refused to show its face to the world. Spells to Taweret, that hippo patroness of all pregnant women, had already been chanted countless times. Magical amulets had been invoked to assist the girl and every potion Teti had ever seen used in a birth brewed, but all to no avail.

The midwife checked the girl, the lines on her face etched deeper with worry. This was no peasant girl delivering another fellahin child to toil in the world. Amun willing, this child would be the next Horus-in-the-nest. But only if he lived to be born. And should the mother die, this young slip of a girl it was rumored the Pharaoh loved above all else, that was blood Teti would not want on her hands.

She murmured something unintelligible to Ahmose, but the girl didn't respond. If Teti didn't hurry she would lose this one to the West. She was already drifting to the darkness and soon she would be past rescue.

Teti motioned to one of the birthing attendants. "It's now or never."

"Where do you want me?" Sitre asked, the giant black Nubian already moving to take her place at Ahmose's swollen abdomen.

"You push," Teti said as the woman squatted, cradling Ahmose's head in her massive lap. She put her palms on the queen's taut belly and nodded her head. Teti pulled the metal instrument from her bag and then bent down between Ahmoses' legs.

"Now." Teti gave the signal to Sitre. Without looking at the attendant, the midwife could tell that she was pushing down hard. After several moments, a tiny head appeared and upon sight of the swirls of dark hair ringing the babe’s head Teti deftly maneuvered the forceps into the queen. Ahmose made not a sound- she was sunk so deep in her own oblivion. It took only a breath for Teti to make sure she had the metal positioned in the right spot.

"Push!"

The miracle Ahmose had been trying to produce for two full days suddenly emerged and then slid from her body. Teti caught the child- blue in the face and not breathing.

"I need linen!"

A heap of stark white linen was suddenly produced and she wrapped the baby, rubbing its skin quickly to warm it in the hopes of enticing its ba to stay and not flee the waiting arms of Anubis, that greedy dog of death. The room was entirely silent as she tilted the child at an angle and suctioned its nose, still rubbing it profusely.

"Please, open that precious little mouth and cry," Teti said, prodding the baby.

The silence of the room was suddenly shattered as the child's mouth opened and it let out its first yell- a howling little sound of shock and anger at having been so rudely brought into the world. Teti couldn't help the relieved chuckle that escaped from her throat.

"Is that... my child?" Ahmose stirred at the cry and searched the chamber bleary-eyed for Teti and the baby.

The midwife moved to the queen's side, a smile on her crone's face. "Yes, Hemet, that lusty cry belonged to your babe."

She tilted the baby so the queen could see, delighting in the happy light that she now saw dancing in Ahmose's eyes. It appeared Anubis would be lonely today, just as it should be.

"My son." Ahmose reached out weakly to take her child. Teti gingerly shifted the precious bundle to place it in Ahmose's arms.

"Your daughter," she gently corrected the queen.

The light in Ahmose's eyes was suddenly extinguished, leaving her brown eyes flat and emotionless.

"My daughter," she whispered, her arms dropping back to her sides. Ahmose rolled to face the wall, her back to Teti.

As if realizing that she had just been rejected by the woman from whose womb she had just been expelled, the baby now began howling in earnest. Teti cradled the child close, unsure of what to do.

"Hemet?" she asked hesitantly.

"Take her away!" Ahmose cried, dry heaving sobs wracking her already exhausted body. "My own body betrays me! The whore bears a son and I birth only another girl? Get her away from me!"

Horrified by the wild look in the queen’s eyes, Teti clutched the princess to her chest and ran from the room.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Pyramids or Luxor?

I'm going on a Mediterranean cruise in a couple weeks which is incredibly exciting. There are a whole slew of wonderful ports we'll be stopping at- Athens, Rhodes, and Ephesus to name just a few. But the real reason I chose this particular itinerary is because we have one full day to spend in Egypt. It's a rare cruise that goes outside of Italy, Greece, Croatia, or Turkey so when I saw this one I knew it was the one we needed to book.

We spent two weeks in Egypt back in 2005. To say it was the trip of a lifetime is quite the understatement. I swore we had to get to Egypt before spawning (read: having kids) and we did- my daughter was born a little over a year later. And since she's only two, it's hard to fathom going back for such an extended trip anytime soon. Egypt is wonderful, but it's not exactly kid-friendly.

So here's the dilemma. We have one day that can be spent in Cairo or we can go to Luxor. In Cairo we're looking at doing a tour of the medieval parts of the city, mostly Ottoman, going to a mosque and market, and taking a felucca ride. And seeing the Pyramids, of course. All this would be wonderful and the excursion is relatively inexpensive.

Or we could go to Luxor to revisit the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor, and Deir el-Bahri. The latter is the site of Hatshepsut's magnificent mortuary temple. I shed a few tears of joy when we were there last time, but we were only able to finagle 45 minutes out of our tour director to visit the site. (Another good reason to travel independently.) Unfortunately, this cruise excursion is painfully expensive and no one from the cruise line can definitively tell us whether we get to get out to see Deir el-Bahri. The tour description only vaguely states that you get to "view" the temple. I promise it will be pretty ugly on that bus if I'm trapped inside and only able to see Hatshepsut's temple without being allowed to get out.

And while I still have my travel journal from our past trip, going to Karnak and Deir el-Bahri right now would certainly garner some great details for various chapters in my novel. I remember the general layouts of the temple, but the nitty gritty details have escaped in the years since I last visited.

Of course, my husband tells me that if I get this novel published we'll go back to Egypt for a full trip. But that's not very helpful for the book writing process, now is it?

So, I'm still stuck deciding- the Pyramids or Luxor? What a decision, right?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why Am I Blogging?

Almost a year and a half ago, I started writing a novel. It's been a long (and sometimes painful) process, but I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel now that I'm close to the 400 page mark.

Writing a novel is a big change for me- I've been writing fiction for years, mostly at a wonderful (and supportive) collaborative fiction site called Panhistoria. Before that I wrote at Ancient Sites, but the site crashed (through no fault of mine, I promise!). When I decided to set my mind to writing a novel there was a huge learning curve to go from writing pithy, 500 word posts to plugging steadily away at a 500 page manuscript.

But this is a labor of love.

Since 8th grade I've been entirely enamored of Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. In fact, I doubt that obsession would be too strong a word. Over the years, Hatshepsut has been lombasted as a usurper and various other nasty labels by various archaeologists and historians. But as the years tick by, the historical record is yielding more and more of her secrets, proving that she was a strong and capable leader who led Egypt through a golden age of peace and prosperity.

I think her tale deserves to be told.

Am I the most qualified person to do it? Certainly not. But everyone should do something they're passionate about and I am most certainly passionate about this woman, my hero. So I think Hatshepsut would approve, even if I don't get her story exactly right.

So why am I blogging about all this? After all, shouldn't I be dedicating myself to writing a novel instead of blogging? Yes and no. I discovered a while ago via Panhistoria that blogging about my writing is cathartic. (And often provides a handy outlet when I come down with a case of writer's block!) It helps me air thoughts and ideas and sometimes just vent. I also enjoy hearing ideas from people who've read my blog, but Panhistoria keeps posts private unless you're a member. That's a wonderful feature and one that I've been thankful for many times in the past. But if I'm looking for feedback and suggestions, it occurred to me that I should open my blog for more people to read.

And so here it is.

I'm not sure exactly where this will take me, but it certainly can't hurt!