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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Process: Copyedits (of Doom)

Copyedits for DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS have arrived, so I'm diving into the editing cave to tackle them, which means you'll be hearing a little bit less from me for the next week or so. But I thought I'd give you a little peek into a day in the life of author me during Copyedits before I disappear entirely. (If you're curious, I already talked about the process of developmental edits, which obviously come first.)

When the copyedits arrive, the first thing I do is pour over the style sheet. This is basically an extra document that discusses everything unique to the manuscript, presenting the house's standard style choices for those elements and generally making sure we're all on the same page for everything from grammar rules I've ignored utterly to how we're planning on spelling landvættir throughout the text. (For this dual-narrative manuscript, the expression "stupid crying (v.)" made it onto the style sheet -- they find everything!)

Once I'm familiar with the style sheet I move on to the manuscript itself, surfing through the larger comments to make sure there are no surprises
and correcting or accepting the super easy stuff that jumps out at me. (So far, in every manuscript I've had to explain my irregular use of scene break markers -- because I'm kind of the worst about remembering to put them in consistently.)

Then the real work begins. I count up the days I have to get my copyedits done and divide the number of pages by the number of days I have to work with and then add in a little bit of a cushion -- so for this manuscript which is a robust 465 pages, I'm giving myself an assignment of at least 55 pages a day -- because I try really hard, always, to finish early and I usually do.

Then I start cleaning my house.

No, really.

By the time I get to copyedits on a manuscript, I'm mightily sick of reading and rereading and parsing my sentence structure and comma usage. But it isn't just that, either. For me, Copyedits are the most exhaustive and agonizing part of the process -- they make me second guess my choice to be a writer at all, and wonder if I even know how to write anything or if I'm only deluding myself into thinking I can write books. Basically, copyedits make me feel like utter crap, so I will do everything I possibly can to put off the copyediting.

I will wash dishes, swiff the hardwood floors, put away my laundry, pay the bills, write a conference panel proposal, shower, brush my cats, help El Husband with odd jobs, go grocery shopping, cook dinner for my cousins, turn making a sandwich into an art form, shoot the breeze with my fellow writers on our forum, reorganize my bookshelves and unpack boxes of even El Husband's books which don't really deserve premium shelfspace, go through all the accumulated junk mail, and write unnecessary blogposts just so I can Not Copyedit.

Which is why I won't be blogging again until I've turned these bad boys in -- because the last thing I need is another excuse to procrastinate. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Catalpa Blossoms
Summer is always busier than I expect it to be. June is nearly finished, and I can barely believe May is so far behind us. Part of it is the sheer quantity of social engagements -- Memorial Day kicks things off with a big family picnic, which we followed up with another smaller picnic and then a trip to South Dakota to see more family and friends, and catch a couple of hours of rodeo.

Now Summer Solstice has come and gone and I have a brother to help move, an Outlander binge-watch to host, and I'm staring the 4th of July in the face. I don't know how I got here, or how it's been almost 6 weeks since BY HELEN'S HAND released, and a month since I turned in edits on DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS, and I have only one sad sorry paragraph of a short story and the still only hand-written opening scene of my next Amalia Dillin novel to show for it.

Photo ©Gayle Dillin. Please do not reuse without permission.
July, I promise myself, will be the month I buckle down. July will be serious back to work drafting Orc 3 and copy edits and proofs, probably, for my next Amalia Carosella books, and maybe if we're very lucky, glimpses of cover art before August. (I've seen some concepts for DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS already and they are beautiful.) July is when I have to quit my dinking and aim for a solid 2K a day, because the Summer Olympics are coming in August...

Summer is always busier than I expect it to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Musing On: Amazon Abductions

Sometimes I wonder how much of the raping and abduction of Amazons is the boasting of later writers/descendants/cultures looking to justify their then-current patriarchal way of life, because to suggest these heroes met their equals and recognized a woman as a PERSON by falling in love didn't fit their cultural agenda/understanding of the world.

Is it wrong to turn a mythic abduction into a romance in which the woman has agency? In which the woman has choice, and the man recognizes her as his equal, and offers her a place at his side without violence? Or is this the natural evolution of what these myths should become, now that women are not simply seen (or only seen) as property and prizes?

How much misogyny do we read back into the myths because we're expecting it to be there, or even assuming that it is the only possible interpretation? For Classical Athens, yes, there certainly was a good bit of it -- but these stories predate Classical Athens. Is it possible the Mycenaeans with their imagery of women seated upon thrones accepting offerings, their goddesses accepting gifts, their daughters through which kingdoms were inherited, might have lived differently?

One of the things I loved about writing Tamer of Horses after Helen of Sparta and By Helen's Hand was the difference in upbringing between Hippodamia and Helen -- Hippodamia, as a foundling child raised by centaurs, did not have to be Greek the way that Helen was. She wasn't raised in a palace, she isn't bound by the same kind of cultural restrictions we would expect of an ancient Greek civilization. And while I found for Helen some amount of agency even writing within those strictures, Hippodamia was a woman whose agency didn't have to be carved out or shoehorned into a pre-existing mythic structure that demands her passivity.

I'm going to keep carving and shoehorning. I'm going to keep spinning agency and equality into my retellings of myth. I'm going to keep fighting the idea that the Amazon must be Abducted as a metaphor for the triumph of "natural order" over the chaotic force of women leading their own lives, and opt instead for a narrative of recognition and understanding. Because in the end, I still believe that these myths are living things -- and in order to keep them relevant to our world today, they need that kind of bending and stretching. But also because, completely honestly, those are the stories I want to read.

We're blogtouring May 16-June 24th to celebrate the release of BY HELEN'S HAND (Helen of Sparta #2) -- available NOW in paperback, audio (cd, mp3, and audible), and for kindle. I hope you'll join us by sharing your own reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you like to talk books!

And if you enjoyed my take on Helen, don't forget to subscribe to THE AMALIAD for a free short story prequel to HELEN OF SPARTA: Ariadne and the Beast!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Read Around the World Tour: Bronze Age Greece

Hosted by Aimie K. Runyan, author of Promised to the Crown, we're traveling the world (and history) with ten great historical fiction books and giving away signed copies of ALL of them at the end! The tour begins Here.

Don’t forget to bring plenty of guest-gifts with you when you travel through Bronze Age Greece. Guest-friendship was one of the most sacred bonds, and your best bet for traveling unmolested in and out of the incredible palaces of the Achaean kings. You won’t want to miss the imposing Lion Gate of Mycenae, or the sprawling palace at Knossos on the island nation of Crete – perhaps not quite so impressive as it was during its height, before the Minotaur was defeated and Minos fell, but worth the journey all the same.

The Rock of Athens has weathered every storm, an impenetrable walled fortress upon the Acropolis from which King Theseus rules Attica and Crete with the advice and counsel of his assembly. Be sure not to snub King Nestor of Pylos, either – an entertaining host with a story for every occasion, you’ll find your poor reputation precedes you if he feels that he’s been slighted.

And of course, across the sea, there is the golden city of Troy, its walls the work of Poseidon himself. You’ll find no finer palaces, no grander treasures than those inside Troy’s towering walls – at least not outside of Egypt. But tread carefully if your curiosity draws you to the Nile Valley, for Egypt is not often known for its kindness to foreign travelers, even when they come with rank and riches aplenty.

...Even if you're Helen of Sparta.

With divine beauty comes dangerous power.

Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Celebrating By Helen's Hand with Livetweets

In case you missed my livetweeting events of TROY and  Helen of Troy (The made for tv miniseries) I've storified them for you!

Helen of Troy, first because it is by far much less painful:

(You can also find my thoughts on the [inferior] second half from a previous livetweeting endeavor HERE.)

And now, the unfortunate TROY, which made such a HASH of Achilles's character that I cannot even:

You can SEE me running out of outraged steam as that movie goes on and on and on and on... If I never livetweet it again it will be too soon, you guys. These are the sacrifices I make for you. I hope you appreciate them.

By Helen's Hand is getting some fantastic reviews (thank you!!!) and June's issue of The Amaliad is going to have some fun news for you all, as well as a small Helen and Menelaus cut scene from Helen of Sparta, so if you haven't subscribed (and gotten to read the FREE short story prequel, Ariadne and the Beast, just for signing up!) definitely do so!

And don't forget that HELEN OF SPARTA is on sale for just $1.99 for kindle this month!

We're blogtouring May 16-June 24th to celebrate the release of BY HELEN'S HAND (Helen of Sparta #2) -- available NOW in paperback, audio (cd, mp3, and audible), and for kindle. I hope you'll join us by sharing your own reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you like to talk books!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Paris and Oenone

Idylle: famille antique by Bouguereau
via wikimedia commons
(It's always shouted Paris and Oenone to me!)
As anyone familiar with the myths knows, before Paris become a prince of Troy, he was a shepherd boy on Mount Ida, and while living upon Mount Ida, caring for his father's flock and earning the name Alexandros for his bravery in defending the livestock against raiders, he carried on a relationship with a nymph by the name of Oenone and had a child, a son by her, named Corythus. Perhaps Oenone was even his wife.

In the retelling of Paris's story, and his single-minded abduction of Helen, Oenone is often forgotten. Perhaps that's fitting, since Paris appears to forget her completely the moment that the lure of Helen is set before him -- perhaps it's only natural that we, also, would then be inclined to overlook her, in our zeal to get to the Action of the story and the Trojan War itself. But poor Oenone -- poor Oenone does not forget. She doesn't forget the love she had for Paris, their days spent hunting and herding and traipsing up and down the mountain together. She doesn't have the luxury of forgetting after she's left behind on Mount Ida, the proof of their relationship in the child she holds in her arms.

In Ovid's Heroides (5), Oenone writes a letter to Paris after he's returned from Sparta with Helen, giving us a glimpse of her sorrow and pain:

"...I was the first to spy and know the sails of your bark, and my heart’s impulse was to rush through the waves to you. While I delayed, on the highest of the prow I saw the gleam of purple – fear seized upon me; that was not the manner of your garb. The craft comes nearer, borne on a freshening breeze, and touches the shore; with trembling heart I have caught the sight of a woman’s face. And this was not enough – why was I mad enough to stay and see? – in your embrace that shameless woman clung! Then indeed did I rend my bosom and beat my breast, and with the hard nail furrowed my streaming cheeks, and filled holy Ida with wailing cries of lamentation; yonder to the rocks I love I bore my tears. So may Helen’s grief be, and so her lamentation, when she is deserted by her love; and what she was first to bring on me may she herself endure!"

Poor Oenone was not a woman who was content to be set aside. Nor do I imagine does a nymph often find herself in the position of spurned lover. And I can only imagine what their life must have been before -- before Helen, before the goddesses and the cursed apple, before Zeus decided that he would have his war to end the age of heroes and cleanse them from the earth. Certainly it must have been happy, for her to be so heartbroken at its lose. Oenone loved Paris, unquestionably. And it seems, too, that she believed Paris loved her back.

It's a shame it couldn't last.

We're blogtouring May 16-June 24th to celebrate the release of BY HELEN'S HAND (Helen of Sparta #2) -- available NOW in paperback, audio (cd, mp3, and audible), and for kindle. I hope you'll join us by sharing your own reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you like to talk books!

And if you enjoyed my take on Helen, don't forget to subscribe to THE AMALIAD for a free short story prequel to HELEN OF SPARTA: Ariadne and the Beast!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Menelaus in Helen of Sparta

There are two characters in my Helen of Sparta books who kind of got short shrift after all the trimming and cutting and editing was done: Menelaus and Clytemnestra. I really wish I'd been able to give a little bit more space to both of them, on the page, but for pacing and other reasons, I just couldn't quite make it work. For both of them, the cuts that left them behind took place long before the book even reached my agent, never mind my publisher. It was just part of the process of winnowing the book down to its core and finding its focus -- part of making Helen of Sparta a book about Helen and Theseus, rather than a book which addressed the entirety of Helen's story.

For Menelaus, particularly, this meant losing part of his character arc and some smaller moments illustrating his relationship with Helen before he goes off to war at his brother's side to reclaim Mycenae. Exchanges that showed my own desire to see Menelaus as a hero -- because in spite of everything that happens in Helen of Sparta and By Helen's Hand (which I can't promise not to spoiler as I write this post, BEWARE!), I don't think Menelaus himself ever wants to be anything else. I think he genuinely tried to be the love of Helen's life, and I don't think it's entirely his fault that he falls short.

This is part of why I say that more than anything, these books are A story of Helen, not necessarily meant to be The Definitive story of Helen -- because the small changes I made to the myths in my retelling created ripples, and I think a great many of those ripples washed over Menelaus. The man who began as Helen's best friend, as the prime contender for Hero of the Story slowly started to change and shift beneath my fingers with every word written. Because each time Helen pushed her best friend away to save her people, each time she made the choice to fight against her fate, I realized that she was rejecting not just the demands of the gods, but also Menelaus himself. And how long could I expect Menelaus to endure that very personal (and very impersonal) rejection without being hurt by it? Without fighting back, grasping desperately to keep hold of the woman he loved? The woman he was fated to marry and lose?

And this on top of what was already a clearly difficult relationship with his brother, Agamemnon -- the man who would later claim the title of High King and lead the great army of Greeks against the Trojans to reclaim Menelaus's own wife. The man who competed in his brother's place to win her at all. On top of an early life spent in exile from his own home. His own kingdom. How could the foundations of Menelaus's character not crack under so much pressure, so much strain?

In the Odyssey, Menelaus cannot think about the Trojan War without incredible distress. Understandably, those events left their mark upon his psyche. Perhaps the war, the devastating losses broke him. I don't doubt that after the war, after he had won Helen back and found security in her affections at last, that he loved her. Maybe she loved him back, too. Maybe having suffered and survived those events together, they were bound to one another in ways they themselves didn't understand, and that was, at last, what united them completely.

I'm inclined to believe that he loved her before the war, too. That he was devastated, too, by her loss -- stolen or abandoned, and he could not have known if she had gone willingly or been taken by force. I'm inclined to believe, too, that having Helen of Sparta as a wife was not all glory and sunshine and flowers. That the prize of her beauty had a cost. I'm inclined to believe that even for the best of men, knowing your wife inspires deep desire and overpowering lust in every other man who looks upon her -- and knowing intimately just how powerful those emotions are, as one entrapped by them as well -- is unlikely to be a foundation for a happy marriage or a peaceful union. And that's without all the rest of the complications and conflict embedded in the myths.

So did I treat Menelaus harshly in my Helen of Sparta books? Perhaps. Perhaps I didn't give him as much credit as he deserved. Perhaps he was a better man, a stronger man.

But I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that even the strongest man could not have stood for long against the power of Helen.

And as Theseus says in Helen of Sparta: 

Only a fool seeks to hold a daughter of Zeus against her will.

We're blogtouring May 16-June 24th to celebrate the release of BY HELEN'S HAND (Helen of Sparta #2) -- available NOW in paperback, audio (cd, mp3, and audible), and for kindle. I hope you'll join us by sharing your own reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you like to talk books!

And if you enjoyed my take on Helen, don't forget to subscribe to THE AMALIAD for a free short story prequel to HELEN OF SPARTA: Ariadne and the Beast!