Thursday, December 7, 2017

Meet the characters - Sultana Moraima

The character of Moraima becomes one of two protagonists in Sultana: The White Mountains. She is the beloved wife of her husband, Sultan Muhammad XI, who's come down through Spanish history with the name Boabdil. Like her spouse and so many of the characters in the series, she is based on a real historical figure who was the daughter of the governor and war hero known as Ali al-Attar. She married when she was fifteen, and had two sons Ahmad and Yusuf and possibly a daughter named Aisha. I've seen one unverified reference to the meaning of her name as "she who is as beautiful as the blueberry tree." In Spanish history, she’s always described as having been beautiful, I suppose a prerequisite for having captured the heart of a prince. She certainly was in season two of the Spanish series, Isabel. 

There is no reference to another wife of Muhammad XI except Moraima. Sometimes, the historical figure strangely gets conflated in the legends about Sultanas purportedly loved by men of the Abencerrage clan, whose chieftains died by the order of Moraima's father-in-law Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali at some banquet twenty years before her union with Muhammad XI. By all accounts, theirs was a love match, whereas past Nasrids tended to marry royal cousins. 

Readers of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, the preceding novel in which she first appears, will recall Moraima's unhappy state at the start of the marriage when her father-in-law Abu’l-Hasan Ali imprisons and separates her from her husband for a time. On her wedding day, Spanish historians described her as having been so poor, she borrowed simple wedding garments - quite unlikely since her father governed their birthplace of Loja, Spain by such time AND she was about to join the ruling family of a shrinking Moorish Spain. She's come down through history as a long-suffering woman, like the statue of her in Loja. She remains a sympathetic figure, never having been a queen in her own right. That's not quite true; when her husband reigned over Moorish Granada, she would have enjoyed a queenly status, although perhaps overshadowed by her mother-in-law, Sultana Aisha. As I've imagined her life in the new novel, she's no wilting wallflower content to remain in the background. Few women of the Nasrid Dynasty could afford to be. Not when life and death or the survival of the Moors affected their choices.

How does the image of Moraima in the annals compare with my portrayal of her? My readers would know of the Sultanas I depict that each of them is strong in her own way. But this was the first royal woman I've written about as someone who had to dig deep within herself to tap into that wellspring of strength. At first, she's uncomfortable giving orders to servants and sees herself in a lesser role compared to Aisha and Soraya, the wives of Abu'l-Hasan Ali. I imagined the daughter of a provincial governor might have felt somewhat overwhelmed in her new position as the sole companion of a dynasty member. But there isn't much chance for Moraima to allow others influence for long – she’d be a boring protagonist if she did! Historical events in the novel force her into the spotlight and give her many opportunities to impact the future of Moorish Spain. Find out how in Sultana: The White Mountains, available now.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Happy Release Day - Sultana: The White Mountains

It's finally here!

I'm pleased to announce the publication of  Sultana: The White Mountains in ebook format, book #6 and the final novel in the Sultana series, available now on Amazon for Kindle and at Smashwords! More retailers coming online soon.

What does this publication mean for readers? An opportunity to learn the final fate of the historical figures and characters they were introduced to in the preceding novel, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree. This new novel spans an eleven-year period from 1482 to 1493 and features three of the last Sultans of Muslim Granada and their wives. Readers of the earlier novels may notice the callbacks to the Sultans and Sultanas who were the heroines and villains of those books. In the coming year, I'll also share the history behind the story on my website; don't want to spoil it for anyone. I hope those who read will find a satisfying conclusion to the story of Muhammad XI and his Sultana Moraima in the pages of Sultana: The White Mountains.

What does this publication mean for me? It's thrilling to share Muhammad and Moraima's story with readers, but it's also a bittersweet moment. The culmination of more than twenty years of research into the lives of historical figures who became my characters, as real to me in my thoughts as the time in which they lived. It's a fond farewell to them for their lives inspired my imagination.

So as I say farewell, I want to say THANK YOU to every reader who has shared in the journey thus far. Your feedback has meant the world to me. I also want to thank my longtime editor Jessica Lux and cover artist Lance Ganey. This book is not only dedicated to them and to the readers but lastly to the Sultanas themselves. For without the history of Moraima, Soraya, Aisha, Jazirah, Maryam, Butayna and Fatima, the Sultana series would not have been possible.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Announcing: SULTANA: THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, available December 2, 2017

It's been a monumental journey....

But Sultana: The White Mountains is almost here. The e-book will debut on December 2, 2017. Pre-orders are available now on Kindle- get your copy HERE. More retailers coming soon.

About this novel: Book #6 of the Sultana series. In fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, Moraima, wife of the last Sultan of Granada faces an uncertain future. Her husband’s realm endures terrible odds in battles against dangerous foes. The united Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon gain ground steadily, encroaching upon Granada, while dynastic rivalries fracture the Moorish kingdom from within the palace. How can Moraima ensure the survival of her family, shattered by warfare and betrayal?

If you've visited my website or read this blog, you know much about my journey to publication of the Sultana series. These books have meant so much to me and I'm delighted to share this last in the series with readers. I hope you'll find it interesting, too!

What's next for me? After much consideration, I'm putting together an omnibus edition of all the novels in the series, with a few bonus exclusive for future readers, including a completed genealogy tree of the Nasrid Dynasty and a map of the last Moorish kingdom of Spain and its one-time North African allies. I'll also be sharing the full details of all of my research into the historical figures in this final novel. Was Moraima's husband Sultan Muhammad XI truly as unlucky as the historians indicated? What's the origin of "the Moor's last sigh" legend? Where are the bodies of the rulers of Granada buried? One certainty: not at Alhambra Palace! 

Then, I shall bid a fond farewell to Moorish Spain, but I will come back to the setting at a much earlier time when the Moors began their conquest. Stay tuned for future news of my progress. My next undertaking will be a series about the father and brothers of Prince Vlad Dracula of Wallachia; his beleaguered parent Vlad Dracul in Order of the Dragon and the princes Mircea and Radu the Handsome in Sons of the Dragon. Prepare to be immersed in late medieval history, legends and superstitions on a journey through the forests and river fortresses of Romania to the regal but dangerous courts of Hungary, and the Turkish city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. I'm excited to share my decades-long fascination with the historical figures who knew Dracula well. Look for those novels in late 2018 and late 2019.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thank you for seven great years

Today I looked at the newly revised ebook reports in Amazon KDP, to check out the enhancements made, including lifetime sales history. Since February 2010, I've sold over 45,000 ebooks. At first, the number didn't impact me so much; I know of authors who've achieved that amount in much shorter spans of time, including sales per month. Much of my sales as expected are generated by the first book in the Sultana series. Six years since its debut, that novel still does far better than all the others before or after it. If I died tomorrow, that fact alone would be enough because the series has been a part of my life for more than twenty years. The fulfillment of a dream.

So how do I feel 45,000 ebooks later? Grateful. When I consider every difficulty that's gone into my novels. The years of tireless research chasing down the smallest details and the most elusive facts, while struggling to find an agent who would help me traditionally publish. Finding agents, losing agents. Being told the books I wrote were too niche to ever sell more than 100 copies at most. Ha! Bad reviews that made me want to curl up under the covers and never write again. The slings and shots of a few historical fiction authors I once admired who believed that because I was self-published, my work didn't deserve any recognition. Add to that, the never-ending bid for an audience who would appreciate the novels. My promotions of the work are minimal, almost non-existent; I would rather just write and publish. But who can buy a book if the author won't let them know it exists?

Contrasting all those difficulties have been the joys and small victories that come with a writer's life. What do I look forward to most? Emails from readers. Each one still gives me a thrill. The offer of my first translation deal, something that once seemed elusive as a self-published author. The times I've spoken about the books or read to an audience at conferences, libraries, and universities. The connections I've made with fellow writers in the historical fiction community, especially those whose work is so stirring, I know I'll never write anything half as good as they have. The majority of whom are incredibly supportive and share my love of the past. The backing of others outside that group, especially my mom and other loved ones, including a trusted editor and a talented cover artist.

For every person among the naysayers who pushed me to strive for better and every supporter who has encouraged my writing, I have the same two words in reply:


Monday, June 12, 2017

Farewell to the Sultana series

It's been six years of hard work and challenges, but at last, the end of the Sultana series is on the horizon. Sultana: The White Mountains - book #6 is the story of Moraima, the young queen of Granada and her husband, Muhammad XI, also known as Boabdil in the medieval Castilian sources. Here's the blurb:

"In fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, Moraima, wife of the last Sultan of Granada faces an uncertain future.

Her husband’s realm endures terrible odds in battles against dangerous foes. The united Catholic monarchs gain ground steadily, encroaching upon Granada, while rivalries fracture the Moorish kingdom from within. How can Moraima ensure the survival of her family, shattered by warfare and betrayal?"

And the book trailer:

And in celebration of this final novel and the creation of an omnibus edition of the series, all e-book versions of the novels are discounted to $1.99 (a savings of 50% off the regular price of $3.99 at all online retailers). Except for the first book in the series, which is FREE. With every purchase, there's a bonus. Click here for more.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ebook Release Day! Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is here!

After a year and a half, the ebook version of the novel is out. It's been like giving birth to a really big baby, who had some troubles along the way. But I'm pleased this fifth novel in the Sultana series is done. It's a bittersweet moment, but also a simple reminder that I need to work on the last book in the series, Sultana: The White Mountains.

This latest novel is the story of the historical figure of Sultana Aisha, who's come down through history as Aisha la-Hurra, the mother of the last Moorish ruler of Granada called Boabdil in Spanish sources and the first wife of Muley Hacen. She's also known for her rivalry with Muley Hacen's second wife Isabel de Solis shaped Spain's future. Aisha also has a reputation as one of the great patriots of Moorish history. As her world altered, she wanted the women and children of Granada fighting to preserve the kingdom. Anyone who's familiar with fifteenth century Spain or watched the Spanish television series, Isabel, season two knows about these characters. Or so you think. As an aside, one of the things that has always disappointed me about the portrayal of Aisha on screen and frankly throughout history is that it's often presumed she was a jealous bitch, a harridan, a disloyal wife to her eventual husband. She was a woman with a cause, and justification for what she did can be found in her terrifying experiences.
In Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, Aisha is more than a mother, wife, or patriot. She's a complex character, one of three sisters born to a Sultan without sons. She's born in a time where the borders of Moorish Spain have dramatically shrunk. The union of Aragon and Castile by the marriage of their respective monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella threatens Aisha's world. She endures drastic changes, but also initiates some of her own with varied consequences. She often finds herself torn between making the right or wrong choice, guided by her head and heart. She supported and thwarted by a cast of other characters including her own father Muhammad IX, her would-be-husband and lover Muhammad X, her enemies the Sultans Saad and Abu'l-Hasan Ali, and a slave girl from Castile, Isabel de Solis who later takes the name Soraya. There are powerful ministers, brutal clan rivalries, and strained relationships within Aisha's immediate family.

I've written about a period in Spanish history that is more popular and well-researched than the earlier periods of the first four novels. I hope readers will enjoy their time spent in Aisha's world. More information and links to ebook retailers can be found here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New cover for the Spanish translation of Sultana

I was finally able to accomplish one of many projects I had wanted to do for some time; update the cover art of the e-book only, Spanish translation of Sultana. As often happens, life got in the way, but it's finally finished. One of the most helpful tools I've found is the Adobe Creative Cloud, which offers a year's access to the Adobe suite of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. Even better, there's now an added feature called Adobe Stock where subscribers can download high-quality royalty-free images such as those found at Dreamstime, Fotolia and Shutterstock. The following images captured elements of what I was looking for in a new cover:



To which I added one purchased years ago from another site:


Over time, I've learned to manipulate images with GIMP, PhotoScape and; each of these is photo editing software, which has its strengths and drawbacks when you're interested in cover design. I love them because they're free tools that anyone with the patience and perseverance to try can work with; trust me. I haven't attempted any design work in PhotoShop as yet, but expect my learning curve to soar dramatically once I give the program a try.

In, I cropped image #1 of the Muslim woman praying and saved it as my foreground image. Then I opened up picture #3 of the Lion Court of Alhambra in GIMP and saved that as my background. I can't say enough great things about the GIMP program, as it allows you to select just the sections you want and copy / paste or layer them into another photo.

Later, I opened a second window with the woman's image and selected just her figure. Then I layered my selection in the Lion Court photo, scaling it so she would appear in the foreground in the most naturalistic pose. Saving this new image as the base, I went back to and selected one of the beautiful gold borders from image #2. Then I elongated these borders at the top and bottom of the new image:

Afterward, in PhotoScape, I added the text. Finally, I used GIMP again to clean up areas around the figure, where blotches had occurred.
And here's the final version:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HNS 2015 Denver presentation: Midwifery in Moorish Spain

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Historical Novel Society's Denver conference. Joining me were excellent fellow panelists Sam Thomas (The Midwife's Tale), Kim Rendfeld (The Cross and The Dragon), and Judith Starkston (Hand of Fire), with Diana Gabaldon (Outlander - but I didn't really need to tell you that!) serving as our gracious moderator. Sam spoke about the practice in England during the 17th century (where midwives rooted out witches - betcha thought different), Kim covered 8th century France (childbirth was a dangerous business), and Judith focused on the 13th century BC (so unfortunate she couldn't demonstrate the importance of livestock in the ancient birthing ritual). Learn more of Kim and Judith's presentations at the links above. One good guess as to my presentation:


But first some trivia:

QUESTION 1: How did families select their midwives and who paid the fees – the mother or father-to-be?

QUESTION 2: How long did new mothers undergo confinement – 0, 7, 40 or 60 days?

QUESTION 3: Which of the following types of metals and materials held magical properties as amulets for the protection of mothers and newborns – gold, silver, leather or all of the above?

Here's my full presentation, which was condensed down to 10 minutes and major pints:


·         The Islamic religion, tradition, and culture influenced the fictional portrayal of mothers and their roles.
·         Religion: In religious views of women’s bodies, blood was one of the impure substances, so any show of blood through menstruation or at childbirth meant women had to undergo a period of confinement, just like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, followed by ritual purification through a full bath. Midwives were on hand to verify that a woman’s confinement period, her bleeding, had ended.
·         Tradition: In the Prophetic tradition attributed to Muhammad regarding mothers, there is the belief that ‘Paradise lies beneath her feet.”
·         Culture: The concept of women’s modesty in the Islamic religion also influenced me, because only women should see other women’s bodies, which would have required a midwife’s presence.


·         The right sources are important for providing a sense of time and setting in historical fiction. There are so few sources, which detail Islamic practices and of those available, men have provided the information on midwifery practices; how is that possible especially if they were not in the birthing room?

·         The Sultana series includes child-birthing practices in Islamic Spain from minimal sources on medieval midwifery practices. Initial research reflected practices in Christian and sometimes Jewish settings, but what did the Moors do? They were Islamic rulers, who governed most of Spain and Portugal and part of Sicily during a 700-year period, which meant lots of time for their Moorish, Christian, and Jewish wives to have many babies!

·         Religion influenced so many aspects of Islamic life. One of the first rituals a father performed upon the presentation of his newborn would be to whisper in the baby’s ear the Adhan or call to prayer and the Shahadah or profession of faith. In keeping with practice of the time, none of the new fathers in the series has their child or mother attended by a non-Muslim midwife.

·         Where sources come from: Luckily, the surviving records from Islamic writers who detailed the practices of midwifery served as guides for writing about the period. Most of the literature is from the Golden Age of Islam, a period covering the 8th to 13th centuries of the Common Era. Scholars throughout the Islamic East and West trained at Islamic universities in Baghdad, Iraq to Fez, Morocco, men like the 10th century Persian doctor we call Avicenna, the Spanish-born doctor Averroes from the 12th century, and the 14th century Yemenite Ibn Khaldun, who was not a doctor, but provided extensive details about Islamic life.

·         Accuracy: While women did receive education in Muslim societies, but male doctors received training in gynecology and obstetrics. The absence of men from the birthing rituals begs the question of the accuracy of male sources on women’s roles as midwives. Where Avicenna and Averroes mention midwives, they were professionally inferior to male doctors, trained to aid easy deliveries. In complex deliveries, such as breech babies or extracting stillbirths, midwives were subordinate to doctors, who would attend difficult cases. Although Ibn Khaldun was not a doctor, he gave information about female anatomy and physiology, as well areas in which a midwife would have had expertise; he likely gained such details from midwives or their assistants.

Societal views of midwives

If a family found a good midwife, they retained her services. The majority of the male and female characters of the Sultana series valued the midwives who attended them, consulting them on everything from conception to child rearing. In general, midwives commanded respect in their communities. However, that wasn’t always the most prevalent view at the time the novels take place.

·         Views of midwifery in Muslim sources: Two different views of midwifery in medieval Muslim society helped illustrate how fictional fathers regarded midwives in the Sultana series and show the extremes; I'm betting the most common view fell in the middle. Compare Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction to History or al- Muqadimmah, specifically the section on the craft of midwifery with the writing of his contemporary, the jurist Ibn al-Hajj from Cairo who wrote Introduction to Religious Law or al-Madkhal.

·         The noble art: Ibn Khaldun viewed midwifery as not only a necessary but noble art, because it was so important to ensure the life of mother and child for the survival of the human race. Midwifery was the exclusive domain of women, in part because of female modesty as mentioned earlier, but also midwives were better acquainted with treating childhood illnesses children might develop before their weaning around two years of age. Without university training, midwives gained expertise in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.

·         Not-so noble art: On the extreme opposite, Ibn al-Hajj who actually began his chapter on midwifery by saying he should have placed it before a previous one concerning death, but did not do so because “females were placed behind, just where God placed them.” He said midwives endangered mother and children’s lives, touching newborns even when they had not washed off the bloody secretions of their mothers. He also accused midwives of stealing silk or linen swaddling, ignoring sacred law, resorting to magic and superstition, and ignoring the purification rituals required. As a result, he suggested that males should constantly supervise midwives. In the fifth book of the series, which is the latest available, a father to-be delayed the arrival of a midwife and interfered with her advice, leading to consequences for his wife and first child. 
The role of Ritual and magic in midwifery practicE

Despite the superstitions Ibn al-Hajj feared, magic influenced midwives and the requests of mothers-to-be for treatment. While medieval Islam proscribed magic for evil purposes, Muslims recognized that evil existed. Magic was integral to the practice of midwifery, with no perceived contradiction between science, medicine and the necessity of magical ritual.

·         Harm to mother and baby: Muslim believed pregnant and postpartum mothers remained susceptible in their weakened states as did their children, especially to attacks by the jinn or evil spirits summoned to do another harm. In terms of what could cause harm, there were superstitions about menstrual and childbirth blood, placentas, and umbilical cords used for black magic.

·         Protection: Families sought protections against black magic through the scattering of a handful of salt and the wearing of amulets of blue beads. Blue is a lucky color in Islam. Protection occurred through recitations of individual verses of the Qur’an, spoken aloud or written in saffron, which was a very expensive spice. An expectant mother had the written words tucked next to or under, hung over her bed, or written on her body, as the heroine of the sixth book of the series (in progress) chooses,  to serve as talismans at childbirth and in the weeks afterward. For newborns and young children, the danger of the evil eye loomed. The evil eye derived from two sources, humankind, and the jinn. To ward off the evil eye, mothers and children wore amulets.
Portraying the midwife in her practice

Although cultural behavior varied across regions of the Islamic East and West, there were commonplace practices among midwives. The Sultana novels reflect how the status and wealth of a royal or noblewoman afforded the best care for her and baby.

·         Birthing rituals: required the mother to enter confinement in a room already prepared for her use. Female relatives and friends who had already given birth would have been on hand to offer encouragement. When the midwife arrived, she would examine the expectant mother. When the mother-to-be appeared ready to give birth, she would sit in a birthing chair. The other women in the room assisted or there were one or two assistants of the midwife, who were training to take on the same role. They would sit, kneel, or stand behind the birthing chair to offer support. After delivery, the midwife and any assistants removed all traces of the birth.

·         The unexpected: Midwives also had to deal with unexpected dangers for mother and baby. Death in childbirth or caused by infection after birth could occur. In situations where the mother was too weak to expel afterbirth or it didn’t come out whole, the mother might bleed to death. In such cases, a male doctor attended. During the first book of the series, the heroine’s first child presented as a breech birth. The midwife had the skill to perform delivery on her own as the daughter and wife of doctors through massaging the heroine’s belly and turning the fetus. It’s also the only scene in the series where the father to-be was present during the delivery, as the midwife asked him to make a choice between the life of his wife or their child.

·         After a successful delivery: the midwife lit a fire in the room to keep away evil spirits. No one passed between the fire and the baby’s bed for three days. The midwife helped organize the female-only celebration that typically occurred seven days after the birth of a son. While the father held a public ceremony with the sacrifice of a sheep or goat to express gratitude for the child and affirm a father’s responsibility, the midwife led the women of the household in offering protections for the newborn. On the evening before the festivities, they placed items representing spiritual and material well-being around the baby like a copy of the Qur’an, and inkstands and reeds for writing. On the day of the celebration, the mother would get dressed in all her finery, with lit candles around her and incense burning to ward off evil spirits, while someone sprinkled cumin and saffron over the participants’ heads. 
            What other roles did Moorish midwives undertake: Outside of their practices, midwives came to court as required to give evidence about proof of menstruation, virginity at the time of marriage, fertility problems, and miscarriage and the likely age of the miscarried fetus, as often the female modesty code of Islam would have prevented male doctors from such intimate knowledge. One scene in the fifth book of the series showed the royal midwife in court as part of the defense for the heroine, accused by her husband of secretly using contraception. A midwife’s testimony was one area of Islamic jurisprudence

Now for the answers to those questions above:

ANSWER 1: The influence of religion and culture determined that fathers and male guardians selected midwives and paid all fees beforehand.

ANSWER 2: In the period the novels cover, after the births, the characters have followed the then prevailing Islamic law and custom, which stated mothers had a confinement of typically up to 40 days, paralleling most Christian and Jewish practice of the time. It could not exceed 60 days. If the series had been set earlier, perhaps in the 11th century, scenes would have been different because Muslim jurists believed the confinement should not exceed 7 days and in cases where a woman did not bleed during birth, she had no confinement.

ANSWER 3: All of the above, gold, silver, and leather, served as amulets in the medieval period.

It was great fun to present with such wonderful panelists and to receive the feedback from attendees, who seemed to learn a lot. If anyone's interested in my setting and time for midwifery practices, here's where you can learn more:

resources on Islamic practice of midwifery FOR HISTORICAL FICTION AUTHORS

Muslim Midwives – The Craft of Birthing in the Premodern Middle East by Avner Giladi
Arab Women in the Middle Ages: Private Lives and Public Roles by Shirley Guthrie
The Muqadimmah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun, translated by Franz Rosenthal

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Novel translations: From the translator's perspective

Can you guess the name of this title
translated into Spanish? I'll give
you one good guess.
Back in the summer, I mentioned looking into translations of the Sultana series. I'm so pleased and proud to announce that not only is the translation of the first novel complete, but I'm equally thrilled to have my translator Maria J. Manzano as a guest on the blog today. Maria worked so hard on the novel, which is now available via Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple, and her translations reads beautifully. For now, she had agreed to work with me on promotional materials in Spanish, but she will also translate more books in the series. Here's Maria's perspective on the process:

Lisa: Thank you so much for agreeing to do a guest post. Is this your first foray into translation work?

MARIA: No, it is not. I started working as a freelance translator a year ago and I have already carried out some major translation assignments. One of them was an historical essay on presidential assassinations and assassination attempts on the life of American presidents and the other assignment was a novel by an American author. I have also carried out other minor projects for some Spanish translation agencies both in English and French.

Lisa: What drew you to the opportunity to translate?

MARIA: I worked as a secretary for an international financial firm for a number of years so when I decided to explore other fields and to change careers I thought that working on the translation sector would be compelling.


Lisa: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of language translation?

MARIA: I think it is the fact that when you work with a language that is not your mother tongue you encounter some difficulties. The fact that you are capable of overcoming these difficulties it is extremely gratifying. I also enjoy the research that sometimes I need to conduct to carry out my work.

Lisa: Are you an avid reader?

MARIA: I am indeed. I read French and English literature as well as historical books and biographies in Spanish, French and English but at present I read mostly works in both French and English.

Any advice you would give to anyone looking into providing language translation.

MARIA: Above all, I strongly believe that a translator should be very inquisitive and have a natural thirst for knowledge, being a fervent reader will allow him or her to have a good command of the language too. Also a translator should be very consistent throughout the translation of the text and as close to the original document as possible. From my point of view that is essential. It is also worth considering to get specialized in some types of texts since a translator is not necessarily good at all kind of texts. That is usually the case. He or she may feel particularly confident when working on literary texts but not so much when working on legal texts, whereas others may be very skillful at the translation of technical texts. I personally enjoy working on financial and economic texts too. 

Thank you so much, Maria, for making this experience so rewarding and I look forward to our future projects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Writing Path Blog Tour from IC Publishing

The lovely Kristen Taber, YA fantasy author and a great friend, invited me to participate in IC Publishing's writing path blog tour - thank you, Kristen. Please check out her answers to the tour questions. As I'm composing mine, I'm actually in the spot where most of my writing endeavors take place, next to the corner window of my bedroom complete with cluttered desk and PC. The clutter is necessary; it's how I write. Speaking of writing....

1. How do you start your writing projects?

With history as inspiration. I write historical fiction of the medieval period. Those European settings and people of the era call to me like a siren song. I also write about historical figures, typically the lesser-known characters who lost the battle and never got to tell their side of the story, or those for whom their religion, gender, or socioeconomic status kept them marginalized in the annals. I love history! It can teach us more than details of the past; the topic informs who we are as a society, how our worldviews formed, and illuminate the roots of today's conflicts. Seriously, I do NOT get people who think history is boring - they're obviously reading the wrong kind.

Once an idea blossoms, I think of the characters; especially, the supporting characters since not every main character can’t have been at a certain place and time. I learn as much of the history of the central figures; where they lived and died, their children and dependents, their perspectives on larger societal and religious issues, and their roles in society of their time. Then it's off to the books - I've amassed tons of research on the medieval period, simply hoping that I might write about a particular era. If I don't have the titles I need, is a mouse click away. Once the history and characters are set, it's easy to plan the number of chapters I'll need to tell the story and to sketch my outline, which is more like a chapter-by-chapter summary incorporating major dates and events. There it is, no magic, no mystery.

2. How do you continue your writing process?

I'm obsessive, in case no one could tell, so that facet of my personality guarantees once I’ve started something, I'll finish it. The story may change from conception to completion - I've written two outlines / chapter summaries only to alter the stories significantly about two-thirds in. But the novels still reach the same conclusion. Perseverance takes commitment and sacrifice; sometimes, that means a lack of sleep, or less time with my loved ones. I never miss the important stuff with them for writing's sake and one day, I'll cure my self-imposed insomnia. Ultimately, the end goal keeps me motivated.

3. How do you finish your writing project?

Speaking of which, The End is the most satisfying phrase I have ever typed, even better than Chapter 1. Like all other writers dedicated to their craft, I pour my heart and soul into my stories. That doesn't mean I have any problem trimming the fat wherever my editor tells me to, or I'm so in love with my own words. I have looked at a chapter in one of my books and thought, 'I could have phrased that better.' I know my writing's not to everyone's taste or interest, and frankly, I have never thought my stories would have mass appeal. Fear of negative reviews doesn’t bother me, not when I still enjoy those emails and comments from readers, one at time, as they share how much they enjoyed a story, the characters, or the history. Truly makes typing The End so worthwhile.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

I challenge my fellow writers to do one thing. Publish. I don't care if you spend the rest of your life querying agents and editors, or self-publishing your work. Stop talking about the book you're going to publish and get it published. Work hard at this endeavor, make it the best you can, believe in it and yourself, and put your words out there for consumption and criticism. Take the advice that works for you, as well as some you may not like - sometimes, the best criticism is the one no writer wants to hear. Query until you drop or sell, or upload your work to any of the self-publishing distribution channels you've researched, ensuring you have the best cover and cover copy you can achieve. Too often, many unpublished writers spend too much time bemoaning the process. Just get it done in the best way you know how. If you make a mistake, you can learn from it, but you'll never know if publishing your work isn't the start of your greatest venture.

Next up, I'm inviting some other writing buds, my dear friends Anita DavisonMirella Patzer and Sheila Lamb. Want to participate? Email me at lyarde1175 at gmail dot com so I can note your name here and link to your future post.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Translations of a novel: thinking global

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I'm looking into translations of the novels of the Sultana series. My foray into foreign rights sales has spurred a serious interest in seeing these books in other languages. My first choice of Spanish seems especially appropriate; not only because of the setting of the stories, but the number of Spanish speakers worldwide. In Spanish bookstores (yes, they still exist outside the US), particularly at the bookshop of the Alhambra, I saw lots of historical fiction titles revolving around the Moorish period - guess what language they were in? Not English. Years ago, I started learning some basics of Spanish using Fluenz, in part because the country is such a fun destination for me, but also to aid my understanding of the research materials I've depended on to write the series. My foray is little help in preparing for the task of translating half a million words into a language spoken by 400 million people worldwide. Why?  

With all the native speakers, there are regional variations in the language. Beyond that, there are simply different ways in which someone can choose to express themselves, with the use of idiomatic phrases in a certain context. Ideally, I would like the person who undertakes the first translation to do so for all the books, which would be a huge commitment, but would hopefully reduce some of the variation. In reviewing the possibilities for translation, I asked potential translators of Sultana to provide a sample of the following section from the first novel:
Aisha smiled again, but it seemed sad. “Hush now, child, listen well. Understanding shall come. Even when you must do what others command, never forget the power of your own reasoning. One day, your husband may rule your body, he may even come to rule your heart, but your mind is and always must be your own, where none but you may rule. Promise me that you shall never forget these words.” 

Fatima swayed slightly. Her throat hurt, but she whispered, “I promise.” 

She returned Aisha’s intent stare, for the first time, unafraid. Aisha’s eyes glistened like gems in the lamplight. 

“This is the only measure of advice I can give you, Fatima. You must learn the ways of men, as I have. Do not trust in men alone. Love, be dutiful and respectful, but trust yourself and your instincts first. They shall always guide you rightly.”
Here are the samples from two translators born in Spain.

Sample 1

Aisha sonrió de nuevo, pero su sonrisa parecía triste. 

-Ahora guarda silencio, niña, y escucha atentamente. La comprensión vendrá. Aunque tengas que hacer lo que otros te ordenen nunca olvides el poder de tu propio razonamiento. Un día, tu esposo puede que controle tu cuerpo, puede incluso que quiera mandar en tu corazón, pero tu mente es y siempre deberá ser tuya y nadie más que tú debe mandar sobre ella. Prométeme que nunca olvidarás estas palabras.

Fátima se balanceó ligeramente. Le dolía la garganta pero susurró:

-Lo prometo.

Ella devolvió la mirada decidida de Aisha en la que por primera vez no aparecía el miedo. Los ojos de Aisha brillaban como piedras preciosas a la luz de una lámpara.

-Este es el único consejo que puedo darte, Fátima. Debes aprender cómo actúan los hombres de la misma manera que yo lo he hecho. No confíes solo en los hombres. Ama, sé obediente y respetuosa, pero confía en ti misma y en tus instintos primero. Ellos serán siempre los que mejor te guiarán.

Sample 2

Aisha esbozó una sonrisa, pero era incapaz de ocultar su tristeza.
–Guarda silencio, niña mía, y escucha con atención. Lo que te voy a decir a continuación lo entenderás a su debido tiempo. Incluso cuando debas hacer lo que te ordenen, nunca olvides el poder que la razón te otorga. Algún día tu marido será el dueño de tu cuerpo e incluso puede que se apropie de tu corazón. Pero tu mente es y deberá ser siempre tuya, es el lugar donde nadie más tiene el control. Ahora, prométeme que nunca olvidarás éstas mis palabras.
Fatima se balanceó levemente y, a pesar del nudo que tomó forma en su garganta, suspiró:
–Lo prometo.
Y le devolvió a Aisha su intensa mirada que, por vez primera, transmitía temor: sus ojos brillaban como gemas a la luz de las velas.
–Fatima, este es el único consejo que te puedo dar. Debes ser capaz de entender a los hombres tal y como yo lo hago. Nunca debes de depositar tu confianza solo ellos. Ama, sé responsable  a la par que respetable, pero antes de nada ten confianza en ti misma y en tus instintos ya que te guiarán por el camino correcto.

Wish me luck as I go about deciding on the right person to tackle the novel. If you're an author considering translations of your work, hiring a translator isn't cheap. I've received a great offer on the existing series, but it's still in the range of thousands of dollars. Consider the following resources:

Meet the characters - Sultana Moraima

The character of Moraima becomes one of two protagonists in  Sultana: The White Mountains . She is the beloved wife of her husband, Sultan...