Sunday, January 29, 2012

Menagerie Monday

The Maya

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think historical fiction; historical romance, suspense or paranormal? A story in Europe somewhere? Most probably, because they have a long detailed history in writing to draw from?

For a moment let’s get a sense of where the European world was in terms of their view of the earth and stars before I go into the Mayan world.

Pythagoras (6th century BC) developed the paradigm of a spherical Earth. Pre-Socratics retained the flat Earth model. Aristotle accepted the spherical shape around 330 BC.

Even though we were taught in school that Columbus had to overcome the belief that the earth was flat in order to get his expedition going, almost all scholars in the early Middle Ages maintained the spherical earth viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. By the 14th century, belief in a flat earth among the educated was essentially dead even though the artists of the day continued to depict a flat earth.

So, even though the Greeks believed the earth was round or spherical, they held to the theory that the Earth was at the center of the universe and all objects in the heavens revolved around it.

Figure of the heavenly bodiesAn illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric system by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho, 1568 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

Now, let’s sail on over to the new world and land on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to visit the Maya and compare what they knew to the Europeans.

The archaeological record first shows evidence of the Maya people as early as 1100 BC. They hunted local game and developed agricultural subsistence techniques until about 900 BC. Around this time, farmers of the Maya people built permanent residences (Schele and Freidel 1990: 306-307).

Archaeologists have deciphered three major periods of Mayan Civilization; the Pre--classic, Classic and Post-classic periods. For perspective, the flowering of the Mayan civilization corresponds to the later years of the Roman Empire.

So, at the earliest, while the Greeks were concerned with planets going around the earth, the Mayans were concerned with the Milky Way and the universe. They noted on their stone calendar the start of their 5th Mayan era or world which began August 13, 3114 BC

In AD 775, the Maya lord  K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yoat (Fire Burning Sky Lightning God) set up an immense stone monument in the center of his city, Quiriguá, in Izabal, Guatemala. The unimaginative archaeologists who discovered the stone called it Stela C. This monument bears the longest single hieroglyphic description of the Maya Creation ‘Myth’, noting that it took place on the Maya calendar's day, 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumk’u, a date corresponding to August 13, 3114 BC on our calendar. This date appears over and over in other inscriptions throughout the Maya world.

August 13, 3114 BC is as precise and accurate as one can get for a beginning of history: the first Egyptian dynasty is dated to ca 3100 BC; the first 'city,' Uruk, in Mesopotamia, also ca 3100 BC; the Hindu Kali Yuga, 3102 BC; and most interestingly, the division of time into 24 hours of 60 minutes each and each minute into 60 seconds [and the division of the circle into 360 degrees], also around 3100 BC, in Sumeria.

So why this history lesson on the Maya when we were talking about historical fiction? I wondered how many people realize that the historical world (of novels) is bigger than just the European world? Knowledge of the Maya is mostly a mystery because the Spanish conquerors burned all their books (I always shudder at the thought of burning a whole culture’s books). I hardly want to mention Diego de Landa Calderón who after he destroyed the mayan books, then wrote down what was in them--and who knows what he left out or how accurate he interpreted what he saw. I'm just grateful the Maya also left record of their world in stone.

What was your first thought when I mentioned historical fiction at the beginning? My first novel is crossover fiction (historical, romantic, suspense, paranormal) set with a back story in that Mayan world (awaiting publication) so I was wondering what you thought of when hearing the phrase, historical fiction,  (romance or suspense)?

I’d be very interested if you would share your comments and let me know.

#coraramos #writer #fiction #Mayan #historical fiction #suspense #paranormal

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's Your Genre?

Today I welcome friend and co-author of our shared anthology of short stories, Sunny Frazier. She is multi-talented when it comes to all things writing. She knows whereof she speaks. Welcome Sunny:

Although I do astrology, I no longer ask people “What's your sign?” As an acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press, I now ask authors, “What's your genre?”
The worst thing a writer can do is give me a blank stare. “Genre” is an essential part of the lingo in publishing lexicon. It's how we classify a book and decide if it fits our line.

Labeling books has practical reasons. Bookstores (when they existed) found it useful to put books of the same sort together on one shelf. That's why there's the romance section, sci fi, fantasy, horror, Westerns and mystery. Sometimes the classifications were wrong because of all the crossovers. But, anything's better than dumping the titles under General Fiction, which is the kiss of death.  

The genre I write in is mystery. My Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries are defined by several sub-genres: police procedural/amateur sleuth/paranormal. Crossovers in all genres are widely accepted. It's a great way for authors to expand their fan base.              

For years, literary writers looked down on genre writers. The word conjured up cheap reads for the mildly illiterate. Also known as “popular fiction,” these are books average people want to read. Call it commercial fiction—books that sell and make money.

On the reverse, genre writers have tagged literary works “A whole lot of words about nothing.” Pretty words, insightful, meaningful, intellectual. But, we ask, where's the plot?

Don't get me wrong: genre writers can get a little literary. I love to let readers coast along with the plot I've woven before slipping in a sentence or paragraph to make the astute reader sit up and pay attention. I know my craft. Elizabeth George and P.D. James can certainly be called literary. Even Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, noir hacks in their time, are now respectable. With time comes veneration.        

When I received mystery manuscripts from two professors on both sides of the USA, I noted the terrific prose but wondered: Where are the bodies? Personally, I like a corpse to show up on the second page to get the ball rolling. Long intros and endless description went out with the Bronte sisters. Tough to reject these teachers, but that's what I did.

Both instructors not only listened but brought my novels to the classroom to teach genre fiction. In New Jersey and California, students are learning from my books. I was invited to speak at Mt. San Antonio, the largest junior college in the states. Reality meets the Ivory Tower. I left with several student submissions and rewrites from the teacher.

I recommend authors define their intent before writing. Whether you write Steam Punk or Zombies, hold your head high and claim your genre.

Sunny Frazier

What do you write? Are you writing cross genre? Or literary?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing 101

 Lesson 1: 
Write what you know

Really? All along, I’ve been writing about what I didn’t know, after all, I’m a fiction writer.

Let’s think about this a moment. If I write what I know—borrring—because you probably know a lot of what I know, too. After all I’m not a rocket scientist, a dog whisperer or even very knowledgeable about lattes—can never remember if it’s suppose to be a grande or a venti. And was that half-caff or ….well you get the idea.

So, if I don’t know about something, does that mean I can’t write about it? Then what’s the purpose of research? Do we have a set amount of knowledge we can draw from and never learn anything new? That sounds catawampus to me; chicken or egg conundrum.

I like to read mysteries—you know murder, serial killers, detectives, guns, etc. Do I have to know a serial killer if I want to write a book about one? We have a famous profiler here in town I can ask if there’s something I need to know. Do I have to have a gun and practice at a shooting range to include it in my mystery? There are detectives here in my town (I'm assuming in yours as well) to interview for facts and details if I need them—you know research.

But I write paranormal suspense, so should I have seen a ghost, or a werewolf, or a magical occurrence to write about it? And, when was the last time you saw an alien—uh, well, that one I might have seen.

The point is it’s a ridiculous instruction. New writers take everything “an expert” tells them and they try to abide by it, without question, squashing their creativity. I think it can produce very boring stuff—I know I’d be bored writing only what I know. I want to entertain myself while I’m writing or why do it?

Maybe you don’t agree—I’m okay with that. Tell me.

(Picture by Maggie Smith

#coraramos #writer #paranormal #suspense

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Not All Thorns Are Scary but They Still Hurt

In the 1960’s, the Munsters were the beloved monster family on television. In a later version, Angelica Houston played Morticia. I always got a kick out of Morticia’s care of her roses—cutting off the buds, then standing back to admire the thorny stems she’d placed in a vase shown here.

I had art instructor at college who hated pruning the family roses every year. It really irked him. (I’ve never been able to prune mine without getting pricked at best, or gouged and bloodied at worst, so I understood). He had a gallery exhibit that year—of roses with lots of thorns and blood.

But on the serious side (?), there is a very proper way to prune roses that I’d like to share with you in case you need to know. Visit Natasha for all the details (after the short Bill Maher ad.) I never knew about the Elmer’s Glue!! After watching this video, I felt like I needed to brew a pot of proper tea to have with crumpets or cucumber sandwiches.

So, why do roses have thorns anyway? Well, here’s an edited version of the Salteaux Indian legend explaining it, found in its totality at First People website. Great story for the kiddies.

Long, long ago, Wild Roses had no thorns. They grew on bushes the stems of which were smooth and fragrant and the leaves a delicate green. The sweet-smelling pink blossoms covered the bushes. Oh, they were beautiful to see!

But they made such delicious eating, that the Rabbits and other creatures who loved grass and herbs, nibbled the pink petals and green leaves, and sometimes ate up the bushes. By and by there were only a few Rose-Bushes left in the whole world.

They met together to see what they could do about it, and decided to go and find Nanahboozhoo, who had magic power, and ask him for help. They met a little animal who told them, "Nanahboozhoo is in a valley among the mountains, where he is planting and taking care of a flower-garden."

The Rose-Bushes told the wind to blow them to that valley, and it did. As they drew near the flower-garden, they heard Nanahboozhoo shouting, for he was in a great rage. At this the Rose-Bushes were dreadfully frightened, and hid among some Balsam Trees. But they soon learned that some weeks before he had planted a hedge of Wild Roses around his garden, and when they were covered with spicy pink blossoms, he had gone away for a few days. When he returned he found that the Rabbits and other creatures had eaten up his hedge of Wild Roses, and trampled down all his flowers.

Now, when the Rose-Bushes knew why Nanahboozhoo was shouting with rage, they left their hiding-place, and a puff of wind blew them straight to Nanahboozhoo's feet. He was surprised to see them, for he thought that all Rose-Bushes had been eaten up; but before he could say a word, they told him their troubles.

Nanahboozhoo listened, and, after talking things over with the Rose-Bushes, he gave them a lot of small, thorn like prickles to cover their branches and stems close up to the flowers, so that the animals would not be able to eat them. After that Nanahboozhoo sent the Rose-Bushes to their home, on the back of the wind.
And ever since that day all Wild Roses have had many thorns.
What is your experience with roses? Do you suit up, or wing it and get pricked?
And how many of you remember Morticia? (You can claim the later version if you don’t want to reveal your age.)

#coraramos #paranormal #legends

Friday, January 13, 2012

Not All Wolves Are Scary

All About Wolfs
This past Monday was a Full Wolf Moon. I love knowing that. There was a time when it was important to know when the wolves were about. Now, it just sends pleasant shivers down my spine at the thought of standing at the edge of a forest listening to the howls of wolves within. (Notice I said standing at the edge, I'm not crazy) So evocative of our wilder nature, of freedom and unfettered dancing under the full moon.

Werewolf : Moonlit night.I was exploring my new Nook Color and downloaded a free book. I didn't expect much, thinking if it was free it probably wasn't very good. I had a pleasant surprise. Although the book wasn't well written, the plot grabbed me and pulled me through to the end--you know the kind, where you take it everywhere so you can keep reading; the bathroom, in the car in case you have a long stop light, to the kitchen while you're cooking so you can continue reading while waiting for the pasta to boil.

wolf computer backgrounds
It was a werewolf story and by the time I finished, I wanted to go sign up at the werewolf registry and find out where these guys lived. Maybe they'd let me stay in their pack for a while. These were no slasher werewolves, they were lovers. So I went back to the Nook store to see if this writer had any more books. I found two more in the series and was amazed that they were also free. Free? What? I was prepared to pay this time but the author notes that she just writes for pleasure.

To her praise, the next one was written better. I wondered what it was, if not being well written, that kept me reading? Characters and an interesting plot (take note new writers). I devoured the next two as well, but alas, that was the end of the series--and I am so hooked. The end is always like having a lover leave. Hard to let go even though you know it's over.

I love the myth of the wolf as well as watching them in their group dynamic. I found these links for wolf stories and fables: and a Kiowa legend of wolf boy: if you are interested.

So, do you read the werewolf sub-genre? Want to know who this author is? Leave a comment and I'll tell.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Acceptance Speech

  I was honored to receive the Versatile Blogger award from fellow classmate SJ Driscoll over at Kristen  Lamb’s Twitter Class, I mean Social Media class. No sooner do we have our first lesson and we are off to the races.

There is no free ride so a few rules go along with accepting the award. I have to (and want to, I think) thank the person who shared the award with me, link back to her in my acceptance post, tell my readers seven things about myself and then pass the award on to fourteen fellow bloggers to do the same. Yikes.

About myself:
1.                  As soon as I learned to read (It took my third grade teacher to make it stick—thank you Mrs. Diffenbach), I began devouring fairy tales. I read every one I could find. I think the Grimm’s brothers gave me the boot down the road to my love of noir and dark things that linger just at the edge. (I’ve written mystery, suspense, paranormal and sci-fi).

2.                  At ten years old, my younger cousins begged me to tell them so I made up stories on the spot. I never remember writing stories and in high school I got turned off to writing by a devastating critique by a teacher. I only took it up again when I had a déjà vu experience while on a visit to a pyramid at Coba in the Yucatan. It became the impetus for my first novel—a past life intruding into the present one.

3.                  I have two dogs—a Lhasa Apso and a five pound Ratcha (rat terrier and chihuahua mix). I think sometimes I would like to have the traditional writer’s animal, a cat, but I am allergic to cat fur. It ain’t pretty when I break out and start sneezing and tearing up. After reading a romantic werewolf novel this past week, I think I am a pack animal anyway. Dogs suit me.

4.                  Born in New York, I traveled to Maryland before coming to California. Landed in Pomona, then LA, Venus Beach, then San Francisco where I met my hubby. Now we’re hanging out in the San Joaquin Valley.

5.                  I love to garden. I used to have a gift and indoor potted plant shop. I loved to travel to the coast near Half Moon Bay to pick up plants for my shop from the greenhouses there. My young daughter came with me and we’d do a round trip in our VW van, sometimes stopping in Santa Cruz for a while, before returning with the van filled with hanging plants.

6.                  I am a one of the founding members and past president of the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters-in-Crime.

7.                  I love to take pictures, especially nature and trees. I share it with friends and family on another blog. Yosemite is a great place for pictures and painting.

Now it’s your turn:

1. Rebecca Stanfel
2. Kay McFarland
4. Tracey Livesay
6. Karen Rose Smith
9. Alvarado Frazier
10 Shay Fabbro
12 Ann Foweraker

Start your engines. . . .  
Link back here, tell your readers seven things about yourself and then pass the award on to fourteen fellow bloggers.

Have fun!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fear Can Bite You In The Book

Sometimes I fight with myself at being a perfectionist. Not in all areas, mind you—I’m selective. My house is not spotless—dust isn’t a bad thing I tell myself, after all, the world is full of it and some of it is bound to get in so why waste all my time fighting it. My car seems to be a magnet for dust, leaves and bird droppings. My office is messy—but organized—I know which pile holds what. Tradeoffs. I rationalize that creativity is messy.

But when it comes to my novel, I am never satisfied that it is good enough. Partially because I am timid of what people will think of it and partially because I know it could be better (anybody’s writing could be better). It boils down to fear. My novel is not perfect. Logically I know it will never be perfect—after all the times I have rewritten it and perfected it ad nauseum, I always find something else to improve. At some point I’ve had to say, enough! It’s as good as I can make it and it’s time to get it out there.
I am now onto the next stage—building a platform (one of the new key words for writers along with brand, blog and Twitter) and I’m on the lower end of the learning curve. Now we get to the 1st lesson question (from Kristen Lamb's blog  -see my previous blog for details) that helps define me as a writer:

What kind of author am I? After careful analysis I define myself (at this present moment—because my perfectionist self is telling me I could be clearer, better, smarter, etc.) as follows:
            (Attempting to be) An engaging story teller. I bring the unexpected, the twist, or a surprise at the edge of reality. I define what I write as paranormal; “not in accordance with scientific laws or denoting events or phenomena beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.” I don’t define paranormal narrowly, as some do, as werewolf and vampire stories (although there’s nothing wrong with those—I just finished reading a fascinating werewolf story myself). My goal as a writer is to intrigue you; weave a tale you can’t put down and get you thinking about possibilities.
Some of my favorite fiction writers this year are:
Dan Brown (he pulls you through a story at breakneck speed)
Mystery writers Lee Child & Robert Crais (engaging, sexy protagonists with a bit of humor)
Suzanna Kearsley (historical past life/time shift with romantic elements)
Erin Morgenstern (mystical, magical world).
-All have the ability to grab or engage your attention and keep you reading. The latter two would fit my definition of paranormal.
I would love to know what authors grab your attention and keep you reading. Have you read paranormal stories? Do you like them?

* The werewolf series I just finished was by Nicky Charles and are free downloads to your e-readers. The first in the series was not as well written but very engaging.
#coraramos #writer #fiction #paranormal #blog