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It’s About Time: proper formatting of the Timelines in the Legendary Women of World History series

The Legendary Women of World History series is the best selling narrative biography series written by Laurel A. Rockefeller. With the exception of “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni,” each biography features a detailed timeline designed to help streamline the main narrative by keeping most of the dates out of the story.  The timelines are designed to be as easy to read as possible, offering the maximum of information with a quick scan of the page.

For that reason, the timelines do not use the standard date format.  In the USA, the standard date format is (including all possible variables):

  • Day of the week
  • Month
  • Date
  • Year
  • Time of day.

Listing historical events this way however would be confusing and make it very difficult to locate a specific event.  For that reason, I use the following structure and organization in each timeline:

  • Year usually followed by BCE (Before the Common Era — aka “BC”) or CE (Common Era — aka “AD”)
  • Season (if known) OR
  • Day of the month (if known) AND
  • Month.

Events occurring in the same year are organized from the most general to the most specific in chronological order.  For example:

  • 1619; King Louis XIII and Queen Anne of Austria finally consummate their marriage four years after their wedding.
  • 1619, 10th February; Christine Marie of France marries Victor Amadeus of Savoy.
  • 1619, 22nd February; Marie de Medici escapes Blois and establishes her new court in Angoulême. Charles d’Albert de Luynes begins working with Bishop Richelieu on a diplomatic solution to the Medici problem.
  • 1619, spring-summer; Bishop Richelieu arrives in Angoulême to negotiate with Marie de Medici in person.
  • 1619, 8th July; the marquis of Thémines, captain of Queen Marie de Medici’s guards challenges Seigneur Henri de Richelieu to a duel, killing Richelieu. The family debt from both François and Henri du Plessis passes to Armand Richelieu to discharge and repay.
  • 1619, 10th August; thanks to careful negotiations by Bishop Richelieu, Queen Marie de Medici and King Louis XIII sign the Treaty of Angoulême. Du Luynes assigns Richelieu to de Medici’s court to contain and control her.

As you can see from this example from “His Red Eminence,” the year 1619 was a busy year filled with events we both know happened sometime that year but no more specific than the year, one where we know within a six-month span approximately when in the year it happened, and several where we know the exact date.

Though other countries structure their dates differently than in the United States, it is very important for each translated edition to follow the same structure as I present in the English in order to preserve this organization of events and keep it as readable as possible.

 

 

 

Spoilers! The importance of letting your readers’ imagination flourish

good omensThis spring I couldn’t wait for Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens” to release on Amazon Prime Video.  After seeing so many tantalizing tweets showing David Tennant in costume as the demon Crowley, the Whovian in me just had to be the first to watch it.  As soon as it hit Amazon I binged watched the entire thing and 36 hours later I was treated to Tori Amos singing the final song.  I absolutely loved the miniseries.  It was clever, well-written, and all the actors, but especially David Tennant, were amazing.

 

Then, about three or four weeks later, tweets and quotes from interviews with Neil Gaiman, David Tennant, and other principles from the show started appearing.  In these interviews, Gaiman, Tennant, and others revealed all sorts of behind-the-scenes information — including discussion about Crowley’s relationship with Aziraphale.

For me, the pleasure of watching the show was watching the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale.  It wasn’t a show so much about stopping the end of the world as it was about how an angel and a demon overcame their understandable differences to become very good friends who are able to work together for a common goal.  This was my interpretation of what was happening on screen. My imagination at work that allowed me to enjoy what I was watching.

spoilers season 5 finaleSo imagine my shock when these interviews revealed that what I interpreted and imagined the relationship to be was completely wrong. That what I loved best about the interactions between Crowley and Aziraphale had a completely different context and difference nuance than I imagined.  The very things that helped me have a great time watching it in the first place did not actually exist for the characters.  I was completely wrong about both Crowley and Aziraphale — writer Neil Gaiman said so!

It was and still is heartbreaking.  Now I find myself unwilling to watch the show again.  It’s even become a touchy subject.  I want my version of the story to be the story.  I want my fairy tale.

christmas candle finaleThe same need for the story to be the story of my imagination applies to other beloved books and films, including one of my favourites, “The Christmas Candle” by Max Lucado and featuring Hans Matheson (The Tudors), Samantha Barks, and Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor, Doctor Who).  The Christmas Candle is a very sweet Christmas film set in turn of the 20th century England. Until of course you look deeper and read interviews by Max Lucado to find that what he intends for the book and for the film is quite different than the way the film plays in my mind.

 

These are but two examples showing how and why giving the audience spoilers is a bad thing for authors. The key to enjoying a book or film is in the audience’s imagination.  It doesn’t matter whether or not what the audience picks up from a book or film matches what you the author intends. What matters is what the individual reading or watching your work perceives.  Readers want to enjoy their experience, the time invested with your work.  Unless compelled in some way, they always start out on your side and will stay with you only as long as they are enjoying that time with your work.

 

Whether it’s in your book description or in interviews later, it is critically important to preserve the audience’s imagination — even when what they get from your work is very different from what you intend.  Yes, this can be hard.  As a biographical historian I can feel frustrated when the audience comes away not getting the facts of the subject’s life correct.  But as frustrating as it can be when the audience gets it wrong, it is vital to not contradict them — unless asked and, sometimes, unless you make them aware that what you tell them could be a spoiler.

 

As writers, we want our ideas to come through clearly.  When they don’t, we want to shout from the rooftops all sorts of background information.  But while we like our background information, it is important for us to be mindful that background information may in fact destroy the reading or viewing experience.

Let us then be mindful about spoilers and let the reader/audience decide.

In the mood for art

Sometimes independent authors simply don’t want to write, research, or promote. The last few days I’ve been in that category much of the time, spurred perhaps by first the completion and release of “Cleopatra VII: Egypt’s Last Pharaoh” on 10 October followed by the Audible release of “Empress Wu Zetian” on 23 October.  It’s been a good month, but naturally a busy one with two new releases.  And sometimes, a girl just wants to have fun!

What did I find myself doing? I have no children at this time. No husband. My friends all live hundreds or thousands of miles away (at least the ones I talk to regularly). I feel like I am a terrible cook.  What is a girl to do when she’s not in the mood to work?

Apparently for me, it’s playing in Photoshop.  A few days ago a special offer at Depositphotos.com prompted me to buy a 100 image pack — way more than I think I need in a year — for $100. Usually you have to subscribe to get $1/image with them. But knowing that as I continue to work, I continue to need book covers I went ahead and invested.  That itself becomes a toy — there’s always so many interesting images to find and download.  Unexpectedly my brain has jumped ahead and decided that I need to create the cover art on planned books for the series that I have no started yet.  So, being in the mood for art, I sat down and played.  First on the 25th and now this morning.  Here are the results.

In the Hildegard cover I take a photo of an abbey and put onto it a carefully extracted and sized nun. The portal image of the abbey originally shows a courtyard behind it, but I replaced that with the bright sun to represent heaven and signal that Hildegard was a mystic renown for her visions.  Likewise, the gold text is designed to represent to you that she is a canonized saint.

 

The Margaret of Wessex cover uses a stained glass window rendering of Margaret that you can visit in Edinburgh. I pick up the gold from her skirt and black outline the title to resemble the window behind it.

 

None of these books are started yet. But when you are in the mood to create art – you gotta create!

Language Switching and why I do it so much

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History biographies or period dramas, you have no doubt noticed that I tend to bounce around languages a great deal, sometimes at the expense of being directly understandable in a given point in the book.  So why do I do it and why will I not simply put the whole damn thing in English like normal people do?

In a word, PARALINGUISTICS.  Paralinguistics is a social science term for the parts of verbal communication that are not inherent in the meaning of the words we use.  Paralinguistics is the HOW of our speech: its melody, its pace, its inflection and so forth.  Dialect and specific word choice is also paralinguistic. It conveys to listeners a great deal of information about a person and in particular information about gender, ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, socio-economic class, even race sometimes.  Different places have different names for the same thing.

soda-pop

The labels we use for objects varies greatly with our geography and our dialect. A classic example of this is our word for a sweetened carbonated beverage.

One classic example I studied in university in my “non-verbal communication” class was the word we use to refer to a sweetened carbonated beverage. No, it is not the same word everywhere.  In the southern United States, the word “coke” is used to refer to such beverages, regardless of brand (I heard this myself during my stay in Louisville, Kentucky).  In many Midwestern states such as Nebraska where I was born and raised, the word is “pop.”  In New England the preferred word is “soda” which is the word I default to. In fact I often very purposely avoid the word “pop,” much to the annoyance of my now late mother who complained that I “didn’t talk like a Nebraskan.” That’s because I had so thoroughly adjusted my dialect to what is normal in the greater New York City metropolitan area that I no longer sounded like someone from the Midwest.

crawdad crayfish

Is it a crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish?  The word you use is largely determined by where you are from.

Beyond geography, our paralinguistics tell listeners a great deal about our socio-economic status and education.  A person with a third grade education talks differently than a person with a university degree.  A person who has traveled a great deal also talks differently from a person who has never left her own town or village. The languages one speaks is a powerful communicator of this information and how that person is perceived.  As a rule, speaking multiple languages is a mark of education, travel, and often class.  It tells you very concisely who that person is and what her or his background is.

No where is this more evident than in the use of honorifics.

What is an honorific?  It’s a word we use to convey respect to another person.  A classic example is when we address a judge “your honour” and a member of a royal family as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” In medieval societies it was especially important to show proper respect with these honorifics which include “your grace,” “my lord/milord,” “my lady/milady,” “my liege,” “sire,” “master,” “mistress,” and so forth.

Honorifics in the Legendary Women of World History biographies almost always follow the person’s nationality or adopted nationality.  So Princess Nest ferch Gruffydd respectfully greets King Gruffydd ap Cynan with the Welsh “f’arglwydd” which means “milord.” Use of “f’arglwydd” (or its feminine form “f’arglwyddes”) instantly tells you the speaker is Welsh. Likewise French Princess Catherine de Valois (book two) periodically speaks French, both to her family members and to the monolingual King Henry V, particularly during their many arguments.

When Matilda of England returns to London after the death of her husband, Kaiser Heinrich V, her persistent use of German and German forms of people’s names is there to tell you very concisely that she identifies herself as “empress” (German, Kaiserin; Latin, Imperatrix).  This is absolutely historical and it is a major reason why the Anglo-Norman nobility found her impossible to work with. Using German powerfully conveys how Matilda saw herself and how she insisted on being treated.

The use of language therefore tells you who the person is and how s/he self-identifies.  The actual meaning of the individual words is far less important than what the use of them says about the person as a whole and in the given moment.  Queen Elizabeth Tudor spoke at least six languages and therefore very fluently moved across them as she desired and the situation merited.  The immediate descendants of William the Conqueror spoke both English and French with the same fluency as many Canadians do today.  By necessity they used English, French, and Latin in the day-to-day administration of their vast realms.  Medieval Europeans prayed in Latin so all of the prayers found in the LWWH are in Latin as well.

Language switching in the Legendary Women of World History series is therefore essential in accurately communicating who these people were and the societies in which they lived.  It might be easier to render a prayer in English from a reader point of view, but it would not be historically accurate to do so. It might be more comfortable for some readers if all dialogue were in English, but doing so would strip out all of the paralinguistics that we all use everyday when communicating with other people.  It would be akin to writers universally using the word “coke” to refer to a soft drink without considering if that word is what a historical person or character would actually label the beverage.  A person from the southern United States most certainly would — but not all people in the United States are from the southern region nor are all English speakers from that region either.

 

Whether we realize it or not our word choices are an essential part of our daily communication.  More than simply which words we use, our dialects and use of borrowed words from other languages communicates a great deal about who we are to people.  Fluency in many languages is driven by many factors in our lives:  social, economic, educational, and professional to name just a few. How we speak is a major part of the tapestry of our lives.  Embrace that tapestry in your own life and use your understanding of it to enhance your understanding of other people.

 

 

 

How to Format Paperbacks Without Createspace’s Interior Templates

Formatting is one of those things every independent author must learn to do.  For most independent authors this means learning the quirks of publishing with kindle direct publishing, Smashwords, and Createspace.

In the last five years since the initial publication of the first edition of “The Great Succession Crisis” I have published dozens of paperback editions, including an experiment with QR coded paperbacks connected to an elaborate website built around the Complete Data Files.

Across the years I would typically create paperbacks by first creating the kindle edition, then copying/pasting the contents into a pre-formatted template file generated by createspace for my chosen trim size (usually 5.06″ x 7.81″ or 6″ x 9″).  No doubt many of you do the same.

But what do you do when that template no longer works and scrambles your book content when you paste it in?

When this happened to me in February 2017 while publishing “Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd: A Play in Five Acts” I went nuclear–as in the nuclear method of formatting where you copy your book into a plain text editor and then back again into MS Word.

On a regular book that uses the same basic format across every paragraph, the nuclear method is more or less a minor annoyance.  However on books like stage plays where formatting is rigid and complex, the nuclear method means weeks of tedious work restoring the formatting on a line by line basis.  I did this once; I will never do it again.

So what is the alternative?  Simple: change the page layout in your original kindle file to match your chosen trim size.

When making this change you want to go into Layout tab of Word.  You will be changing two parts of the layout:  page size and margins.

 

How-to-paperback-layout 3Begin by deciding on your trim size. The above graphic from the Createspace website shows your options and the page constraints of each trim size.

Next go into the Layout tab in Word and set the paper size.  This needs to match your trim size exactly.

 

How-to-paperback-layout 1

Finally with the page setup screen still open choose “margins” (also found at layout – margins – custom margins).

How-to-paperback-layout 2

First set “pages” to “mirror margins” generate the correct margin options of top, bottom, inside, and outside. Set your top and bottom margins to 0.75″, your inside margin to 0.75″, your outside margin to 0.5″, and your gutter to 0.13″ and apply to the entire document.

These margins are the same regardless what trim size you choose which is why setting your paper size first is so important to formatting your paperback.

Once both of these are set your document will change from its default 8.5″ x 11″ with 1″ margins that you are using on your digital book interior to the correct settings for your paperback — no separate template required and no scrambling of your book file. Create your front matter table of contents, copyright, and ISBN front matter as usual, add in whatever headers and footers you prefer, insert page breaks as needed, and viola! You are ready to save your book to pdf and upload for publication.

This method works equally well for both Createspace and Babelcube and should work with other paperback publishing platforms as well.

 

Formatting your book can seem daunting.  But with a little creativity and patience anyone can format a professional-grade paperback book.  It’s all in the layout!

 

 

 

The Peers of Beinan: A Literary Journey

Castle Fantasy BackdropThere is a lot of science fiction on the market from independent authors published these last five years since I first published “The Great Succession Crisis.”  It is a crowded field where it is easy to get lost in. As with many popular genres, a huge number of books seek to emulate the plot and character elements of mega hits on the assumption of that what works for one highly profitable author must work for them as well. We’ve seen this with “Twilight” style paranormal romances.  We’ve seen this with “Five Shades of Grey” styled erotica.  The list goes on and on.

As moderator of a book promo group on facebook, I get to see the copycats almost ad nauseam. Books all look the same after a while. And while the premise of copying another’s ideas is repulsive to me as both a science fiction author and as a dedicated historian, I do genuinely see some success in these authors following those formulas — if the measure of success is Amazon rankings in any event.

But open these books and the blandness of copycatting shows itself. The writing lacks the sort of literary luster of the books and authors whose work holds the test of time. That is, perhaps, the best distinction one makes between commercial and literary fiction.  Commercial fiction is about today’s sale.  Literary fiction is about creating timeless works of art.  My fiction is literary fiction.

The Peers of Beinan Series is everything I love about the classics. As a free thinker and intellectual with a life-long passion for learning, it has never been my habit to follow the crowd – on anything. Whatever was “hot” or “trendy” was never of interest to me.  I always liked to be different. On occasion what I’ve liked and what the greater society is into have coincided — but never by my conscious design and rarely in precisely the same way.

I started my writing career with the Peers of Beinan because I saw an America becoming more and more socially and politically divided, an America where it was becoming more and more difficult to engage in civil conversations about the stuff that matters. I saw an America that was increasingly creating false equivalences between fact and opinion and where acts of hate against those who are different was going unpunished and ignored. Sound familiar?

I wanted to engage in an honest discussion with people about the subjects that matter to me most. Looking to the great science fiction/fantasy authors I like best — Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Ray Bradberry, Frank Herbert, Issac Asimov to name just a few — what I noticed is they often tackled some really big social and sometimes political subjects in their books — without offending people in the process.

I wanted to do the same.  I wanted to talk to people and encourage people to really think about things that matter to me. And I wanted people to open their minds to ideas and possibilities that put a different way to them they would never listen to.

And that is, in essence, what the Peers of Beinan Series is. It’s my reaching out across the universe and saying “this is important, please think it about it” from a group of stories that don’t ask that question directly of people.

house-personal-heraldry-collage

In personal interactions I am known for my point-blank directness. I don’t play the stereotypical gender roles game — not any more at least. And so I am “bold” as a woman and a writer. The Peers of Beinan is less point-blank than I usually am. It seeks to provoke thought without being confrontational. And just as important to me personally:  it seeks to bring you hope. For in the greatest darkness and despair, there is always Light. That’s how I overcame the great adversities of my life and how you will too.

 

Language switching and “Empress Matilda of England”

empress-matilda-of-england-full-cover

As Matilda prayed King Henry quietly slipped into the chapel, “You are still in mourning, Matilda.”

Matilda turned to him and bowed her head respectfully, “Mein König!”

“You are not empress and this is not Germany.”

“Ja, mein König.”

“Stop calling me that and speak English, Matilda,” growled King Henry sternly.

“Pourquoi?”

“Parce que je suis le roi d’Angleterre et vous êtes ma fille!”

“Oui, sa est ta fille, Henri,” confirmed Queen Adeliza as she strode out from behind one of the chapel’s many columns. Adeliza curtsied to Matilda, “Guten Morgen, meine Kaiserin. Fröhliche Weihnachten.”

“Fröhliche Weihnachten,” smiled Matilda before switching to English, “You must be my step-mother.”

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History Series, you are probably familiar with quick language switching from the above except from “Empress Matilda of England” that hallmarks the series. Historical persons speak many languages in the Legendary Women of World History, a reflection of their personal histories and the world around him. Speaking in one’s native tongue, at least occasionally, helps us remember who people are.  Language is a core part of our identity, our psychology, even when we are not conscious of it. Words carry not only their direct meaning, but a cultural subtext that literally alters how we think.  One of the many benefits of speaking multiple languages, at least partially, is the way each language forces us to work from a different point of view.

Chinese, for example, uses the same verb form regardless of singular, plural, or when something happened.  In Chinese things these are signaled through nearby words. For example 我说中文 means “I speak Chinese.” 说 is the verb “to speak.” 她们过说中文 means “they [female] used to speak Chinese. In spoken Chinese the words “he” and “she” are pronounced exactly the same. The ideas of “he” and “she” are contextual in Chinese. 她们过说中文 and 他们过说中文 sound exactly the same and in English are translated the same since English does not distinguish gender in the third person plural unlike French which does (ils sont verses elles sont).

Specific traits from our native language shape our view of the world. Gender is not immediately obvious in spoken Chinese (only in written Chinese) unlike many Western European languages where gender is instantly recognizable. Welsh often begins sentences with the direct object and puts the subject last. A famous example of that from Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd is my favourite line, “Cymraes dw i,” which means I am a Welsh woman. Cymraes means Welsh (person) in the feminine form (the masculine is Cymraeg which is the same word as you use for the Welsh language). Dw i means “I am.” Welsh often mutates. “Gymraeg” is the same word as “Cymraeg” and which one you use depends on context — and is one reason why the language is best learned in person with native Welsh speakers.

It is this massive role that language plays in our lives that requires the persons in the Legendary Women of World History series to occasionally speak a few words of her or his native tongue.  When Baron William Fitzgerald calls Matilda, “F’arglwyddes!” she and you along with her immediately know that William is Welsh. F’arglwyddes, if you haven’t guessed, means “Milady.” Incidentally “Fitz” in a name means “son of” and is the French equivalent of Welsh “ap” in a name.

Fortunately, most of the non-English in the LWWH can be figured out through context. Contextual reading is not usually the way Americans are taught to read, but it is critical skill to develop and one more reason why the LWWH make excellent texts for home schools. Contextual reading means you are working not only on the word level, but the sentence and paragraph level to discern meaning. In chapter one of Empress Matilda, I kick this up a notch in a single scene.

“Guten morgen. Sie müssen Matilda sein. Ich bin Heinrich, der römisch-deutsche Kaiser.” Smiling Emperor Heinrich looked into Matilda’s grey eyes, the blankness on her face making clear to him that she did not understand what he just said. Slowly Heinrich knelt beside her to meet her eyes, his voice soft and reassuring. “Ich werde dich nicht verletzen. Hab keine Angst. Ich bin derjenige, der dein Mann sein wird. Ich bin jetzt dein Kaiser und wenn du alt genug bist, wirst du meine Kaiserin.”

Here we are confused and meant to be confused. Matilda is eight years old and suddenly ripped from her home and family in London to be presented to Kaiser (Kaiser means “emperor” in German) Heinrich V to whom she is to be wed. Like most royal brides of the middle ages and early renaissance, she does not speak a word of her future husband’s language. Because we do not understand on a sentence level what he is saying to her, we share in her terror and confusion and in her relief when, soon after in the scene, the English ambassador steps forward and summarizes what Heinrich just said, telling her that this is the emperor to whom she is to be wed and conveying to her his reassurances that he means her no harm.

This is context on the scenic level which is the level that we operate on when in social situations. For example, a simple “Merry Christmas” can express completely different ideas and intentions depending on who we are speaking to, when, our tone of voice, and our histories with the person or persons we are saying it to.

This is the level you are sometimes asked to work on when reading Empress Matilda of England. This is a major reason why Matilda is for ages twelve and up; it requires a more advanced reading proficiency than the six previous books in the series.

Whether Empress Matilda of England becomes your next favourite book or not, it is my sincerest wish that you will never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop seeking to make tomorrow better than today. Let’s roar!