Saturday, December 28, 2013

Boundaries / No Boundaries

What better time for an artist than the beginning of a new year to set boundaries as well as – much more importantly – explore new horizons without boundaries. The emphasis here is on artist, as I include not only us writers, but painters, musicians and all those who create something emerging from their talent, passion and perseverance.

Today, my admiration jumps from the written word to the painter’s canvas. I have a wonderful long-time friend, whom I knew first from our workplace where we both spent our days (and many late nights) hammering out bureaucratic and legal documents. It paid the rent and allowed us to retire.

And it was then that our true souls emerged and our creative juices urged us to escape the boundaries of our formerly productive yet restrictive lives.

I am so proud to introduce not only a wonderful friend, but

Victoria Smith Porcello,
The Painter

“Pele” 30 x 30 Acrylic on Canvas
© Victoria Smith Porcello

(Posted by Special Permission from the Artist)

This is my favorite painting of Victoria’s.

Victoria also has a way with words. This is her own definition of respecting boundaries while fearlessly also soaring above them:

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Boundaries may create safety and security, or they can restrict and isolate.  A lack of boundaries creates chaos, while stretching or reaching beyond our boundaries can be fun, exciting, and sometimes dangerous.

Boundaries are made by the physical, a fence or wall for instance, or political, such as the borders drawn by different states or even ideas.  Boundaries can be cultural and societal, determined by history or by the march of modernity.

As we mature in our lives, our sense of boundaries changes, our experience of boundaries changes.  Our challenge is to look within and without and ask ourselves, are these our boundaries or someone else’s that I have been asked, or forced, to accept.

As an artist, I am challenged with each painting I create to assess whether to accept or possibly change and expand my artistic boundaries.  Each painting is also an invitation to explore my own life boundaries.  This exhibit is just such an invitation for each of us.

Victoria Smith Porcello © 2014

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Through February, Victoria will be the Featured Artist at the Sandstone Gallery in Laguna, California.
That's a great honor. I only wish I could be there.

Congratulations, my Friend,
and Much Continued Success for 2014.

Please, visit Victoria Smith Porcello’s amazing Gallery
on her personal website:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ancient Egyptian Historical Fiction: Deep, Dark and Dramatic

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world.

Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf.

Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today.

She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Newsletter | Twitter | Website & Blog | Goodreads | Facebook

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I hesitated to contact Ms. Dray. Would she even answer me? But true to form, Stephanie graciously agreed to let us get into her writer’s brain so that her fans can get to know her better. Here are the questions I posed to her:

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Stephanie, was there “an epiphany” that led you to write about Selene (Cleopatra’s daughter) in particular?

Cleopatra VII of Egypt was the most powerful woman in the history of the world. I don’t say that lightly. There have been other queens and female secretaries of state and prime ministers, too. But none of them had the same relative wealth, geographic dominion and unfettered power enjoyed by this iconic woman. That her legacy could have ended with her was something that always saddened me, so when I discovered that she had a daughter--one who carried on that legacy--I had to write about her.

Considering that Selene was brought up in Rome, not only did you have to do research about Egypt’s history, but Rome’s as well. Emperor Augustus’s reign is well-documented. Hence, there could be no fudging the facts (or widely accepted fiction, as it were). That the reign of Augustus is relatively well-documented was a big help to me because Selene’s life could only be reconstructed by using the information we know about the men in her life, including Rome’s first emperor.

Though there are touches of magic realism in my story, I was constrained by the facts. Luckily, the facts surrounding the Julio-Claudian dynasty are deliciously operatic, complete with wife-swapping, superstition and political plotting. As I explain in my author’s note, the most outrageous things that happen in the book are actually true.

You have had an astounding success with your books. Did you first go the painful traditional route (querying agents, etc.), or self-publish to begin with?

Thank you for your kind words; I hope my publisher agrees with you about the success of my books! I did go the traditional route of querying agents and going out on submission and suffering rejections, etcetera. My self-publishing ventures have, so far, been quite limited.

I am currently giving away THE PRINCESS OF EGYPT MUST DIE, a short young adult novelette, for readers to get a sense of my storytelling, and I intend, at some point, to follow that up with a full-length book about Queen Arsinoe II, which I might publish myself!

How would you describe your writing style?

Deep, dark, and dramatic.

Apart from the Selene books, you have other historical fiction novels, also about Ancient Egypt.

Just the one novelette, but I intend to do more! And, lastly, can you tell us what you are working on now? This year I’m taking a brief detour away from the ancient world and into the Revolutionary War era. I’m so excited about this new project! Together with the brilliant and talented colonial historian Laura Kamoie (aka NYT Bestselling author Laura Kaye), I’ll be writing the story of Patsy Jefferson, whose loving but deeply destructive relationship with her father, the third president of the United States, defined her life and our national legacy.

Fascinating! And if that doesn’t want anyone to pick your books off from under the tree, I don’t know what will. Stephanie, a great thanks for sharing a writer’s insight and process with us. And I am certain, your fans can’t wait for more of that “deep, dark and dramatic” story-telling you do so beautifully.

Thanks so much for having me!

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Somewhere on her own blog, Stephanie vows to “hibernate for the Holidays.” A commendable effort; I say effort because it is so difficult to keep away from our passion, especially when those great ideas spawned at two AM cry out to be put to paper. But for the time being, I will take her advice – and hibernate as well (for a while, anyway).

Happy Holidays, everyone.

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Now, go and cuddle up with Stephanie Dray’s wonderful Nile Trilogy:

Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...

To Isis worshippers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?
Buy Lily of the Nile

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra's daughter is the emperor's most unlikely apprentice and one woman with the power to destroy his empire...

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land. The magic of Isis flowing through her veins is what makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra's daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother's throne be more than she's willing to pay?
Buy Song of the Nile

Based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter…

After years of abuse as the emperor's captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe-harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II, and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both.

But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved-ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

And for a Bonus Free Sample of Stephanie’s Work….

Before she became one of Egypt's greatest queens, she was a lonely princess who ached to belong... Princess Arsinoe came of age in the glittering court of Ptolemaic Egypt. Abused by her ruthless sister, a pawn in the dynastic ambitions of her father, and dismissed by the king who claimed her for a bride, young Arsinoe finds herself falling in love with a young man forbidden to her. She dreams of a great destiny, but if she is ever to rule Egypt, she must first survive the nest of vipers otherwise known as her family.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christoph Fischer Gets 5 Stars from the Bookish Owl

You already know that Christoph Fischer is one of my favorite authors as I have featured him several times on this blog. Hence, I simply had to reblog this from his own website; His book Sebastian a must-read for anyone interested in WW I as well as the human condition during desperate times.
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The following is a review of Sebastian by the Bookish Owl.

Publication Date: May 2013 by CreateSpace
Format Acquired: Digital copy from the author

Sebastian is the story of a young man who has his leg amputated before World War I. When his father is drafted to the war it falls on to him to run the family grocery store in Vienna, to grow into his responsibilities, bear loss and uncertainty and hopefully find love.
Sebastian Schreiber, his extended family, their friends and the store employees experience the ‘golden days’ of pre-war Vienna and the timed of the war and the end of the Monarchy while trying to make a living and to preserve what they hold dear.
Fischer convincingly describes life in Vienna during the war, how it affected the people in an otherwise safe and prosperous location, the beginning of the end for the Monarchy, the arrival of modern thoughts and trends, the Viennese class system and the end of an era.
As in the first part of the trilogy, “The Luck of The Weissensteiners” we are confronted again with themes of identity, Nationality and borders. The step back in time made from Book 1 and the change of location from Slovakia to Austria enables the reader to see the parallels and the differences deliberately out of the sequential order. This helps to see one not as the consequence of the other, but to experience them as the momentary reality as it must have felt for the people at the time.
Thank you Christoph for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 
The second book in Christoph Fischer’s Three Nations trilogy is even better than the first. My information about World War I is very limited, going only as far as the knowledge that it was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Reading Sebastian made me learn a lot of things about World War I and while I couldn’t understand some of the political aspects due to perhaps my age and disinterest in politics, Sebastian was definitely a fascinating learning experience.
‘“Us old ones, we have already lived our lives, now let the young ones lead theirs.”’
Here’s the thing about this book; there is a wide variety of characters with their own personalities that are so different from each other that it was never a tedious read. Their individuality made it easier for me to empathize with them especially when it came to Sebastian. I loved how the author put a subtle twist of irony in the plot; Sebastian was a Jew, albeit a non-practicing one, who survived the war due to his mother’s Christian friends supporting them while Margit was a Christian living in Jewish charity. It really showed the stark reality of war, while nations may be fighting and grappling for power, individuals set aside their own differences due to a sense of duty towards another human being. It was a very small plot-bunny but beautiful nonetheless.
‘”Sometimes in life you have to compromise and realize that something which is merely good enough is good and enough. Keep reaching for the stars and see what it will get you.”’
Christoph created such realistic people that I could totally understand where they were coming from even if I live in such a wholly different era from them. Vera and Piroska were two characters so brilliantly written that they felt like actual breathing figures instead of ink on paper. I thought that Vera was a very weak woman with loads of self-pity while Piroska was just plain hateful with her brainwashing and paranoid disposition. It is weird that I both loved and hated these characters. Although I disliked them initially, their complexity was very endearing.
‘”Fear of bad news is sometimes worse than knowing the worst has come true.”’
While I couldn’t comprehend most of the political elements Sebastian had to offer, the author’s research was really commendable. He was able to paint a clear picture of Austria during World War I and it wasn’t difficult to visualize the lives Sebastian and his family led during these trying times.
Christoph Fischer’s Sebastian is a bittersweet piece of historical fiction filled with flawed characters that made my heart melt and realize that desperate times make us more humans. The Three Nations trilogy was much better with the second book and I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion to the series. I can’t wait to see what Christoph Fischer has up his sleeve!


5 owls

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Congratulations, Christoph!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mask of M. Robertson

M. Robertson wears a mask – not to cover the face; rather, it is a sacred jade mask and the subject of the exciting debut-novel “Mask Among the Bones.”

I usually feature history and archaeology on my blog and this adventure-thriller deals precisely with both. But its location is on the other side of the world from Ancient Egypt. The breathtaking action takes place in the jungles of Belize.

As someone always threatening to move to a warmer climate, I again became curious about Central America and had to ask a few questions of my own:

M. Robertson, how did you come up with Belize?
My spouse and I had been fantasizing about retiring somewhere warm and tropical. We started looking at Belize after a friend raved about a vacation on one of the islands. The more we looked the more we loved what we saw.

Without giving away a spoiler, tell us about the Mask in your title and its history.
While researching Belize I began reading about the Mayan civilization. That lead on another path and I wandered off into the mystical powers of crystal skulls and found a beautiful photo of a mosaic mask that peaked my curiosity. While poking through information on the skulls I read a tiny little paragraph about jaguar priests in Belize and that some still practiced today. I loved James Clavell’s Shogun and remembered that he had based his entire book on one sentence he had read about a British samurai.

Mask among the Bones has been simmering for a long time. When I first started research for my story Desert Storm was going on in the Middle East. I was horrified as I watched their museums being looted knowing that the public would never again see their historical treasures.

How difficult was it to research real locations and historical facts?
I read everything I could find on the early civilizations in Central America and combined information on multiple digs in and around Belize. Does this particular jade jaguar mask really exist? Who knows. The Tikal funeral mask made of jade, jasper, serpentine, obsidian and shell was discovered in northern Guatemala in 1963, and later featured on the cover of National Geographic.

I love your writing style. Are you planning a sequel?
Thank you. I know I left it open for a possible sequel, but some other characters are running around in my head screaming for their day on the page. One takes place in a little town called Hardly, Arkansas and the other is based on our time spent living in a haunted house. We’ll have to see who keeps me up at night the most.

Thank you so much for telling us about your debut-novel. I am sure you will soon have a following of readers clamoring for a sequel; so, think about it.

For an intriguing Look-Inside, visit M. Robertson’s Amazon Page:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Interview with Diana Wilder, Author of The Memphis Cycle

First of all, thank you for spending your valuable time with us today. But more so, for telling us about the books in your fascinating Memphis Cycle. As you know, Ancient Egypt is of great interest to many in general (as it is to me in particular).

Your covers are what attracted me to your writing first. Do you design them yourself?
Why thank you.  Yes, I do design them myself.  It is a great source of grief and frustration that I can’t draw or paint because I have the perfect ideas for covers and I simply can’t make them.  So… I fall back on graphic design.

How did you wind up focusing on Ancient Egypt
I studied ancient and medieval history in college, and discovered that the Egyptians were not the weird, death-obsessed folk I had thought them.  Around that time I stumbled across Barbara Mertz’ great book Red Land, Black Land.  Her humorous, commonsense approach was delicious, and it put the seal on my affinity with the Land of the Nile.

Did you ever worry that “the experts” might contradict your research
Everything we think we know is based on someone’s interpretation of an event.  Just cast an eye over the theories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  It all depends on how you interpret things.

With Egypt specifically, that part of the world has been so marched over and fought over and despoiled (Cairo used Memphis and Heliopolis – Iunu -  as its quarries) it is nearly anyone’s guess what happened.  If you can ‘defend your thesis’, then by all means carry on.  But in the interest of honesty and truth, say where you have passed from the facts as we know them into the realm of imagination.

Sometimes projections turn out to be accurate.  I never published anything about Hatshepsut.  I did write some stories in which she and Thutmose got along, he governed the north under her, and succeeded to sole rule after her death.  The destruction of her monuments was done by someone other than him.  I was interested to see that later research tended to show this to be true. 

One person had written a long story about Hatshepsut that ended, I suspect, in her being murdered by her nephew, Thutmose the Great.  The discovery of her body put paid to that theory, and the poor author completely rewrote her story.  Well…  I would have settled for a disclaimer and a direction to good history books.

Did you ever write furious away and then find that the latest research superseded whatever you told in your story?
Most of the discoveries have confirmed what I already thought (thinking here of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun). 

The Crown Prince in Kadesh and Pharaoh’s Son, Amunhorkhepechef ('Hori'), disappears from the public record around year 25 of Ramesses’ reign, to be succeeded by his half-brother Ramses, who was Crown Prince for 25 years.  Pharaoh’s Son takes place in year 22, which gives Hori three years to live..  My story line had been developed already when I ran across that bit of information, so I chose to move forward.  My Afterword addresses any issues with history as we know it at the moment.

Did you settle for the Greek names of many Egyptian towns and gods, according to
Herodotus? Or did you stick to what we perceive as true Egyptian names—which can have endless interpretations?
The problem with the ‘true’ Egyptian names are that we don’t know what they are.  As I said in the Afterword  to The City of Refuge, we do not know how the words were pronounced because like Hebrew, Egyptian writing did not have vowels.  Thutmose III’s name is spelled ‘Dwty-Nt’.  Ah… Dooty-Nit?  Dawty-Nut?  Djehooty-Not?  We have a letter from the Hittites that phonetically spelled Ramesses’ and Nefertari’s names as ‘Riamasassa’ and ‘Naptera’.

I tend to do what is more comfortable.  I chose ‘Memphis’ because it has very powerful associations.  The fall of Memphis; the Memphite Theology…  Men-Nefer (WAS it spelled that way?) is more accurate, but it is not more recognizable.  To I chose to use the names that were most familiar – Ramesses, Memphis, with an edge to giving historical names when possible.  The temple of Amun in Waset (which I call Thebes because of its associations) is called ‘Opet’.  It is an unfamiliar name, but ‘Karnak’ is completely inaccurate.

Time is always of the essence. How do you manage it?
I don’t. There is never enough time.

I happen to know that you have a few more up your sleeve or – better – in your head. Can you give us a glimpse?
What is in the works?  Kadesh set in year 4 of Ramesses II’s reign, is well on the way to being finished.  It should be finished around mid 2014.  It centers on the Kadesh campaign, and deals with the desire many of us have to somehow match or exceed the doings of others, whether a parent, a sibling, a character in history.  I have some sample chapters up on my website, and some familiar people make an appearance.

Moving toward the end of the period I am writing about, I have Lord of the Two Lands, which tells the story of the last Ramesses – Ramesses XI.  This is shaping up to be a trilogy, but it involves drawing conclusions from fragmented history.  It follows some of my own deductions regarding the end of the Ramesside dynasty – kings died one after another, a king being succeeded by his son, then by his brother, then another brother… And so on.  Was there an endemic disease like malaria?  Who was Ramesses XI?   (The son of Ramesses VI, actually; but what of the rest of his ancestry?  His throne name included ‘Khaemwaset’ – the name of one of Ramesses the Great’s most famous sons, who was crown prince for five years, and who had sons and grandsons that were High Priests of Ptah in Memphis and Viziers of the north.  Hm…  Interesting…)  That won’t be out for a couple years.

There’s also a fable about a giant crocodile that I am finishing up for NaNoWriMo… That will be a short piece.

And most recently I had a mental picture of an act of random violence.  A man comes into a marketplace, set up around the gates of the Temple of Ptah.  He lifts his bow and begins to shoot arrows, moving into the temple through the hallways, through the increasingly dark corridors.  Two other archers intersect him, one an older man, another of an age to be his son.  They pursue the attacker to an outer courtyard where he is killed.  Who was he?  Why is the High Priest so upset?  What lies behind this act of violence?  I don’t know.  But I’m going to find out.  It’ll be a while, though.

When might your fans expect another to be published?
Mid 2014 is my (hopeful) date for t Kadesh, my fingers, my editors and my (very kind) beta-readers willing!
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Thank you, Diana. That was so fascinating. And, as usual, you gave us excellent insight into your muse. I am inspired.

Inge, as always, it is a delight to ‘chat’ with you.  Long life to your Ka!

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Be sure to check out Diana Wilder’s books on

The City of Refuge:


Pharaoh's Son:

A Killing Among the Dead:

Diana Wilder’s Website: