Monday, October 31, 2011

The winner, my review of THE IONIA SANCTION, and a spooooooky interview with author Gary Corby!

I am going to try my best to do this without spoilers.

Okay. So. Some of you may have heard recently that I managed to get my eager little paws on a copy of Gary Corby's upcoming second mystery, THE IONIA SANCTION. Which I then proceeded to read in three nights (fast for me, lately), staying up until 1:30 AM the last night trying not to wake up my husband so I could finish it.

Because, you guys, I LOVED IT. Gary has such an easy way of writing history. I'm sure it's not easy for him, but he makes it look easy. I love how his books fit neatly into these little spaces between real events (more on that later!)

One of the things that I really like about Gary's books is that he doesn't shy away from being historically accurate to soothe modern sensibilities. The main character, Nico, acts exactly as a young Hellene male should: like he's in charge. There's one part in the story where Nico buys a young girl as a slave, and despite the fact that he does this to save her from a much worse fate, he still expects her to treat him with the respect due a master. This dynamic is both comical within the setting of the story and appreciable from a historical point of view. Nico only acts as he would be expected to. In Ancient times, slaves were property, animals were tools, and men couldn't marry without their father's permission.

The mystery in this story is well-crafted, with an appropriate body count and an even-more appropriate exposure to the brutality of the ancient world. I think Gary does an excellent job of brushing up to the bad/gory parts but not focusing on them to the point that the book gets gruesome and loses focus. The plot is clear and easy to follow, and the twists are well-spaced. The pacing is compelling (obviously, since I couldn't put it down), and I love the historical lessons woven throughout the narrative without feeling forced.

My favorite part? Well, as a horse person, I loved the part where Nico tries to impress a lady and ride a horse. Actually, I just loved that horse. And Gary's inclusion of said horse in the cast of characters at the beginning of the book.

I also really liked the relationship between Diotima and Nico, which only gets better in this book.

So while I could probably go on and on and on about THE IONIA SANCTION, I think I will stop there and let Gary speak for himself a little bit.

Me: What's your favorite death in the book?

Gary: A father never has favorites among his children! I guess that's a weird way to talk about killing people, but welcome to the demented world of mystery authors.

I don't know that it's a favorite, but the very first murder in the first book seems to have become the stuff of legend (A dead man fell from the sky, etc.). There's a death in the second book, The Ionia Sanction, that I had lots of fun writing. That killing appears about halfway through, but in early drafts, it was the first in the book. I was told in no uncertain terms that scene had to be moved back! It seems I did a good job of evoking reader reaction.

The importance of a death in a mystery isn't the ick factor, it's what it means to the reader. I once disemboweled three women, and no one batted an eyelid. But then I wrote a scene in which a woman was merely punched unconscious, and I couldn't get it past the editor. Context is everything.

Me: Did the Greeks have a holiday like or similar to Halloween?

Gary: Anthesteria!

The Greeks had a zillion more festival days than us. That's because their calendar didn't have weeks, so there were no weekends. The only way to get time off work was to hold festivals in honor of the gods.

Four of them were in honor of Dionysos, the god of wine and fun parties, and of these the oldest festival -- so old it was considered ancient even in classical times -- was Anthesteria. It went over three days.

The first day was the Day of the Jars. The previous year's wine was opened and everyone had a taste. Children were adorned in flowers.

The second day was the Day of the Libations. Everyone partied. People dressed up in costumes.

Weirdly, both days were considered hugely unholy. During this time, the psyches of the dead rose from Hades to walk the earth.

The third day was the Day of Pots. It was a festival of the dead, designed to drive the psyches back to Hades. People offered food sacrifices to the dead, and to Hermes Chthonios. You probably won't have much trouble working out where Lovecraft's Cthulhu comes from.

Me: One of my very favorite parts of your books is how you find little pockets of intrigue in real history to tuck your stories into. Has it been hard finding those pockets and putting Nico in them? Of THE PERICLES COMMISSION and THE IONIA SANCTION, what is your favorite coincidence that worked out this way?

Gary: Searching for intrigue in ancient Athens is like looking for toys in a playroom. You only have to take one step inside to get Lego embedded in your foot.

Inserting Nico into ancient conspiracies is more of a challenge, because I don't want to break history. So I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to do it. In the case of The Pericles Commission, because the assassination of Ephialtes was so little documented, I had room to move. (I certainly didn't think so at the time, but I do now!). The Ionia Sanction was much more of a challenge because one of the central characters, a fellow named Themistocles, was extremely famous and thoroughly well documented. I must have spent a month doing nothing but think about how to thread my plot into known history. This sort of puzzle is one of the most fun parts of the writing.

The best coincidence is a toughie, because it's surprising how often coincidence comes to my aid. Here's an example: that death I mentioned before, in the middle of Ionia Sanction...I put that in because the plot required it, but then I discovered while doing research that a real historical person had died exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, almost exactly 60 years before the events of my story. Needless to say I wrote that into the plot!

Me: If Nico could dress up as anything or anyone he wanted for a day, what/ who do you think he would pick?

Gary: Diotima's the one who's into wearing disguises. She'll dress as a man to get into places she's not supposed to go.

Somehow I can see Nico dressed as James Bond. In fact they'd make a terrific partnership. Nico would almost certainly do something that got Bond killed.

Thanks so much, Gary, for taking the time to answer these questions (and write such a fun book)!

And congratulations to Amalia T., who won the IONIA SANCTION ARC prize pack! Thanks to everyone who entered!

THE IONIA SANCTION comes out on November 8th. Pre-order at or B&

Happy Anthesteria, everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Need writing counseling? The Doctor is (preposition)


Ah, who am I kidding, I know this thing's on. I just haven't been here in a while. While my fellow Alliterati have been banging away faithfully on their keyboards with great topics, I've been dark. Sure, I've been moving, but moving doesn't take six weeks. C'mon.

To be honest, people, I've had a serious case of writer's block.

Like, identity crisis serious. Everything I managed to squeak out of my keyboard or pen was disastrously bad or incongruous with the rest of the story's tone or Just. Plain. Weird. I had a bit of a breakdown. I felt like a poseur trying to write about writing when I had nothing to write about, right? I had a serious case of the fakers, and I didn't know what to do.

Except take a little time off. I forced myself to get my butt OUT of the chair (apologies Jane Yolen!) and I forced myself NOT to stare at the great, uncomfortably white screen of death that is an empty word document. When baby's naptime and my regular writing time came around, I did anything BUT write: I read books, I worked out, I (sob!) cleaned the house, I filled up my canteen of thoughts and quotes and quips and experiences from which we all drink in order to write what we know. When the itch came to write, I settled down and tapped out a few things...but as far as forcing myself to pen out a thousand words a day? I couldn't do it.

It took a long while and a lot of rereading past WIPs that I loved to reconcile our breakup. And I'm still working my way up to a full recovery! Writing and I have made an unsteady truce (mostly in the form of a really motivational crit partner and a renewed interest in an old WIP) but I know I can crawl out of it. Because despite the fact that writing was a joyless drudge for a few months, it wasn't before that. I loved it. I LIVED for it.

And I know we can get back to that.

What about you? How are you and your writing getting along? Any suggestions on overcoming a massive writing conflict? What your form of counseling/therapy?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Candy from Strangers and Other Ghostly Traditions

In four days is the only day of the year that children are allowed to take candy from strangers. The only day of the year when most pranks are not only tolerated, but laughed at. The only day of the year when someone comes toward you with an ax and you laugh instead of scream.

In short, it is the only topsy tury, role reversal holiday we have left in modern America.

If we lived in europe some thousand years ago, or even today we would have more. May day, Twelfth night, the feast of fools, even the way they celebrate new years with mummury. Medivial holidays were a chance to dress in silly clothes and parade through the streets with your neighbors, handing out and recieving treats. They were a day when the drab, normal, work filled life that everybody lived was put aside and new rules where established. The serf was master for a day or the a choir boy was served by the bishop.

Are you noticing any parralells? Strange clothing? Parading through streets? Pretending to be someone else?

But Holloween (or All Hollow's Eve), which has been celebrated since the Medivial period, takes it all a step further. Not only do we change roles but we become what we most fear. In a sense, for one night at least, we conquer those fears. We define them and then we make a mockery of them. We turn them into a game.

And that is why, even though children are told every other night of the year not to take candy from strangers, this night they do.

And that is why I love celebrating Holloween.

Oh, yeah, and the costumes *evil grin*. Can't keep a ren faire geek away from her costumes. I finally have everything I need for mine.

What about you? Do you prefer not to celebrate Halloween? Do you take the kids out trick-or-treating or throw elaborate marsquarade balls? Why or why not?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If you want something done, give it to the busy guy

Or at least that's how the old saying goes. I'm honestly not sure how that's supposed to work though, because lord knows I'm crazy busy and it doesn't feel like I get anything done.

However, this isn't supposed to be me whinging about working full time, and attempting to write fiction while also growing a media empire ...

It's more a curiosity as to how you fine folks deal when your to-do list gets entirely too massive. So ... how do you cope with a large workload?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My NaNoWriMo Pledge

I should be scolded. I've been a bad, bad writer. You see, I have a horrible, dirty confession:

I've only worked on my WiP maybe three times in the last month.

Dun dun DUUUUUN! And even when I sat down to write, I put in MAYBE 500 words - if that. Well, it all stops here. No more excuses. No more "But Hubs wants to watch a show with me" or "My Spidey senses are tingling and I need to go save someone." Because seriously, they can take care of themselves. I have no muscle to save them from whatever predicament they're in anyway.

So, you are all my witnesses. I PLEDGE to work on my WiP as often as possible during NaNoWriMo next month. Should I be so bold as to set a goal? There's no way I can write a full novel. I'm still working on my first one ever, and I have the day job.

Should I say 50 pages? Or about 15,000 words? That's a lot for me, guys. SOME people *cough, cough, L.T. Host - cough* can write 15k in a couple days. But I move at a slower pace. Yes, this feels about right. That means I'll have to put in 3,750 words a week. Once I wrote about that much in a single day!

Woo! I feel better already. I really enjoy writing. I do. Life just gets in the way sometimes. And then I get lazy. It happens to everyone. But I love my story and my characters. I want them to be more than just thoughts in my head. I want other people to read about them and give them life.

So who's with me? What are you pledging to do during NaNoWriMo? Let's all stick together and be each other's cheering squad. Without my fellow writers, I'd probably still be saying "yeah, maybe I'll write a novel - someday."


Monday, October 24, 2011

WIN an ARC of Gary Corby's second book, THE IONIA SANCTION!!!

Okay, so--

Guys, I don't mean to brag, but I know some people.

I know some people (like Gary Corby) who were awesome enough to think of me when it came time to send out ARCs of their (his) second book in their (his) awesome historical mystery series. And that's how I happen to have a copy of this book, a few weeks before its release date.

I'm betting there are some historical mystery fans out there who would also like to have a copy of this book, a week or two before its release date, amiright? gives this description of THE IONIA SANCTION:

"Athens, 460 B.C. Life's tough for Nicolaos, the only investigating agent in ancient Athens. His girlfriend's left him and his boss wants to fire him. But when an Athenian official is murdered, the brilliant statesman Pericles has no choice but to put Nico on the job.

The case takes Nico, in the company of a beautiful slave girl, to the land of Ionia within the Persian Empire. The Persians will execute him on the spot if they think he's a spy. Beyond that, there are only a few minor problems:

He's being chased by brigands who are only waiting for the right price before they kill him.

Somehow he has to placate his girlfriend, who is very angry about that slave girl.

He must meet Themistocles, the military genius who saved Greece during the Persian Wars, and then defected to the hated enemy.

And to solve the crime, Nico must uncover a secret that could not only destroy Athens, but will force him to choose between love, and ambition, and his own life."

Now, you guys may have noticed that I am a huge fan of Gary's work, considering that I put his first book up for grabs every time we have a contest here at the Archives. Frankly, I love how Gary makes the ancient world come to life in his books. The plots are twisted, and classic mystery in and of themselves, but they come with a helping of a history lesson that, for a history buff like me, is extremely interesting.

And I think you'll love his work too.

So! On to business. I have an ARC of the next book in the series, THE IONIA SANCTION, due out November 8th, 2011, to give away to one VERY lucky Archives reader.

But! I'm not JUST giving away an ARC of THE IONIA SANCTION. No sirree. I'm ALSO giving away a copy of the first book in the series, THE PERICLES COMMISSION, just in case you've never heard about a mystery series set in ancient Greece and need to catch up. (If you already have THE PERICLES COMMISSION in your possession, we'll talk. I've got some other books I can send along, as well). I am also giving away two THE PERICLES COMMISSION bookmarks that Gary gave me on his tour stop in San Diego last year, along with three mini replica Greek-style statues to adorn your desk in the highest Hellenistic style. Or maybe Roman. Let's be honest. I really have no clue what they're supposed to be.

(They didn't come labeled, okay?)

So! Here's a picture of what you could win:

The statues are two busts, and one Angsty Leaning Guy. (Perhaps if Gary stops by the comment section, he might be able to shed some light on these).

Now on to the contest itself:

All you have to do to enter to win is leave a comment on this post, telling me what I should do with the leftover Vegemite I also have from Gary's visit last year. (Preferably besides eating it). Or not. Just commenting will be fine. But it would entertain me to hear your answers. I'd also really like it if you followed this blog, so I'll give you one more entry for that. And if you tweet or blog about it, I'll give you one more entry for that.

So, in an easier to read format:

+1 for commenting telling me what to do with leftover Vegemite (besides eating it)
+1 for following the Archives
+1 for tweeting/ blogging about the contest

But you need to hurry up and do this because I am going to draw a winner on THURSDAY, October 27th, 2011. I will accept entries until noon Pacific on that day.


I'd REALLY like you to get this ARC before the book actually comes out. So, if you enter, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE come back and check the comments section of THIS POST on Thursday afternoon to see if you're the winner, and email me your address so I can send it out ASAP. If I don't hear from you, I'm going to assume you don't care about getting it before the book comes out, which is also fine, but yeah. There you have it.

Minor note: Due to FTC blah blah blah, I should probably tell you Gary's publisher did send me this ARC, along with one to review. It does not change this blog post, nor will it affect the review I will do of THE IONIA SANCTION next week.

Happy contesting!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Harry Potter to the Rescue

I don't really have much to say today. I had a long and stressful day, and I'm winding down with a California burrito and I lit all of my Halloween candles. Even though it's really hot in my house. But the ambiance is perfect.

One great thing to come out of today is that I ran across a video that reignites my passion for Harry Potter. Which is appropriate because Halloween is so close. It almost makes me want to confront a troll on Halloween night with nothing but a wand and wingardium leviosa as my best spell. ALMOST.

Anyway, this is what I'd like to share with you today (grab the tissues) ...

*sniff, sniff* So much love right now. I can't wait to be swept up by something as much as I was by this magical world. I hope that something does, but it's hard to imagine.

What made you happy today?

(By the way, guess what we're going to be for Halloween??)

Monday, October 17, 2011

My kingdom for a horse

I would have given anything to have my horse in San Francisco.

Don't get me wrong; she probably would have been terrified. It's a very busy city, which scared me at times. I guess it would be more appropriate to say I would have given anything to have A horse in San Francisco. One used to the city.


Well, mostly, because travel by car, bike, and foot are nigh impossible in that place. Public transportation wasn't actually convenient for us. And there are SO. MANY. HILLS. But a well-trained, well-shod horse?

Easy as eating pie. (I don't like saying "easy as pie" because it implies that making pie is easy. Have you ever made a pie? It's a lot of work!)

It would have made our two days in the city a lot less stressful, that's for sure.

But the city had some great architecture; neat little unexpected pockets of "ooh, pretty!" that kept me pretty well entertained whenever we walked somewhere. At one point, after we managed to spring our car from parking jail, we drove by this massive stone cathedral that looked like it had been dropped from Europe into a neighborhood where I totally would NOT have expected to see it. It had buttresses and everything! Unfortunately, because we were driving, I did not get to take any pictures of it. Yet another situation where being on horseback would have been awesome.

And of course, a horse would have been useless in getting to Alcatraz, where one of the best parts of our vacation happened. But that's a story for another time.

Anyway, I got a lot of exciting news/ potential news while I was on my vacation, which means some great stuff will be coming up on this blog! Stay tuned, Alliterati! I'm back!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Art of Words: Form

Something I don't like to think about very much when I write is . . . form.

That isn't to say I don't think ahead or know where my story is going. I just don't like to feel locked in and the more order and symetry I start to see the more I stomp my feet, shake my head, and stray from the path laid out for me.

Likewise, almost the first thing I notice when I am reading a new book is . . . form.

I am more than unusually impressed if the cliax is well planned out, if it pulls things together from all corners of the story, if every little tangent the story seems to run off on eventually has a direct purpose I was too distracted to notice at the time and the themes are consistent but not immediately obvious.

If you are sensing a problem here you are not the only one.

Fortunately, as un-fond as I am of form and structure (*shudder*) I am very fond of what I like to call Asymmetrical Form.

In other words, "What feels right" or "The story pull".

In a painting or sculpure a sense of unity and balance can be achieved by a combination of repetition (of shapes, colors, etc.)and rhythym, usually centered around a focal point. Paintings would be boring, however, if their rhythym was strictyly symetrical. Imagine music with the same notes in every measure.

Thus, we have Asymetry. A counter balence of wieght but not identical images. Also, the center focus doesn't always have to be in the actual center.

So, in fiction, you probably want more weight (let's say instead of brighter colors and larger or more complex forms, more detailed descriptions, tension, and colorful language) toward the end of the book or centered around themes you want to draw out. Hopefully some of those themes will repeat, but will not necisarily be evenly spaced. The climax can begin as early on or as late as you like so long as its intensity is enough to balance out the rest of the book. As long as there are still connections of similar "shapes" and "colors" that have already been used and won't take the reader by surprise.

Assymetry done right, looks like chaos but is actually strategically structured order.

Not that you have to be thinking about it the whole time. Most of the time it boils down to "What feels right". And if it doesn't quite yet . . . That's what editing is for. Writing is a much more forgiving medium than paint or marble. We have a delete button. And back up files.

So, rather than ask the usual choas vs. order question of panster vs. plotter, I would like to know:

How do you balance chaos and order within the manuscript itself? How do you know when things are too tidy and when they are just out of control?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

All right, I've got nothing ...

Because my brain is teh fried with work, I can't possibly come up with intelligent things to blog about this week. So as a result, I leave you with some pictures of writer humor.

You know the following exchange has gone on in your head (Sure has in mine!).