Barefoot in Iberia…

A friend of mine, Sue Burke, recently posted a link to this article:

10 WAYS TO TOTALLY HUMILIATE YOURSELF IN SPAIN

Now, Sue lives in Madrid, working away at translations of old Spanish texts into English and her own fiction as well, so she knows how the Spanish operate. And apparently, most of these are true.

Fortunately, when we were in Spain a couple of years ago, we didn’t violate any of these.  We struggled with eating dinner late. (We’re early eaters here in the US, too. Early to bed and early to rise, you know.)  As tourists, we looked kinda scruffy ALL the time, making it obvious we weren’t Spanish.  They really don’t dress down.

The one of the ten that I know I broke?  The Barefoot thing.  Not in the streets, of course, but in the apartments we rented.  I’m sure I must have walked around barefoot a bit.

I didn’t know about the barefoot thing.  Just a cultural tidbit that I missed.  I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

My next thought was, How does this affect my writing?

I asked myself that because there are a few references to bare feet in my books.

Oriana and Duilio meet in the hallway at one point, both without slippers (his because his valet is hiding them and hers because she’d rushed out of her bedroom without thinking.) In Book 3 there’s a bit where Joaquim says something about being comfortable with bare feet (on the islands, where bare feet are the norm due to mild weather.)

Now, at the time, barefootedness in Portugal was pretty…well, normal.  Especially in the more rural parts on the country. Why wear out the single pair of shoes you had when you have feet?portugal2

The cities were a different matter, and after the founding of the Republic in 1910, the cities began several rounds of campaigns to get people to WEAR SHOES.  a+pe+descalco

(Rough translation:  Shoeless Feet become Lost Feet.)

It was always an uphill battle. But the government argued that bare feet were not only dangerous, but that…

Everybody must wear shoes because the sight of an unshod foot and leg is repulsive to many foreigners, is unhealthy and unesthetic. It furthermore suggested backwardness in the country.

(Click on the photograph  of the two women above to go to the source of that quote: a barefoot running site, Ancuah).

Yes, we want to look classy, so put on some shoes, dang it!

After all this checking, I’ve decided that I’m not going to worry overmuch about my tiny little references to bare feet.  After all, if the government couldn’t get people in the city to wear shoes on the streets, I’m not going to force my characters to wear them in the bedroom!

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Book of the Week: Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

I have been waiting to see one of Cat Rambo’s novels published for a long time, so I’m really pumped that this one is out now!

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From the blurb:

When countryboy Teo arrives in the coastal city of Tabat, he finds it a hostile place, particularly to a boy hiding an enormous secret. It’s also a city in turmoil, thanks to an ancient accord to change governments and the rising demands of Beasts, the Unicorns, Dryads, Minotaurs and other magical creature on whose labor and bodies Tabat depends. And worst of all, it’s a city dedicated to killing Shifters, the race whose blood Teo bears. When his fate becomes woven with that of Tabat’s most famous gladiator, Bella Kanto, his existence becomes even more imperiled. Kanto’s magical battle determines the weather each year, and the wealthy merchants are tired of the long winters she’s brought. Can Teo and Bella save each other from the plots that are closing in on them from all sides?

Buy it here: 

Amazon (hardcopy) : (Kindle) : B&N : Smashwords

Here’s a little bit that you need to know. It’s Cat Rambo’s debut novel, but  she’s published a -lot- of short fiction in the past. You can find a listing/discussion of those over on her website.  She’s also been putting up a bunch of free fiction recently as part of the book release–a list with pointers to all of them can be found on that same page.

And just so you know that I’m not alone in my love of Cat’s work, here’s a few of the early reviews:

I can honestly say that Cat Rambo’s Beasts of Tabat is one of the best and most interesting fantasy novels I’ve had the pleasure to read during recent years. -Risingshadow.net

This was a fantastic introduction to Rambo’s writing, and I can say without a shred of doubt that her worldbuilding is outstanding, wrought with care and full of fine detail that makes it all pop on the pages and come alive for the reader. – Bibliotropic

This book is just tremendously written. It’s evocative, and intense, and uncomfortable, and utterly unlike most of the fantasy being produced today. – Amazon review

So go out and  get your copy today!!!

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Office Art, Redux

I’ve finally got most of my art back on the office walls. Although I left off a few pieces, it still looks cluttered, I’m afraid.

Here’s my reading spot…some Doc Smith and Julie Barrett along with my garage sale settee…

100_2183My purple/burgundy wall (I obviously cannot use a camera properly.)
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My corner of work by KiriMoth
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And, of course, all my bulletin boards. The pictures are never ‘perfect’ matches (clothing is almost always wrong, age is iffy, coloring can be reconsidered), but each one has something about it that helps me gound the character in question.
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And there’s my Birds in Hats calendar in the middle. Overall I’m pleased with how the office turned out post resetting, but I’m sure I’ll tinker with things…

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Historical Research goes Scholarly

As yesterday was Sunday, I was working on the Alejandro novella rather than the normal WIP.*  (Sunday’s my day to ‘play’.)

The Alejandro novella will be set post WWI (early 1921), and for that setting I need some rather specific information about the Portuguese army in WWI.  Not too surprisingly, English language sources pay very little attention to the Portuguese, and very little Portuguese information has been translated into English.

That’s been a constant source of research angst for me. I don’t read Portuguese well enough to do serious research in that language, and those things that are translated into English have a strong bias to them (that’s often anti-Portuguese.)

So in researching for this particular novella, I was despairing of finding any real specific information about the 2 Portuguese divisions involved in the Battle of La Lys.  (This is, BTW, not the setting of the novella, but it does provide some backdrop, so it would help to know dates and locations, etc.)

And then I googled the Battle of La Lys and came up with this:

THE PORTUGUESE EXPEDITIONARY CORPS IN WORLD WAR I:

FROM INCEPTION TO COMBAT DESTRUCTION, 1914-1918

Jesse Pyles, B.A

It’s a Master’s Thesis from 2012, made available online by UNT. AWESOME!!!!!

Not only is it well-written and -sourced, it’s actually just what I need, providing numbers and locations and dates of the battles and skirmishes the Portuguese found themselves in. That helps me set up the date of the timeline for Alejandro’s personal history.  It also includes names of officers, a good deal about the relationship between the British and the Portuguese on the battlefield, and some racial slurs that I can use**. (The British seemed to prefer goose-related insults for the Portuguese soldiers. Go figure.)

Sadly, I doubt that the author intended his work to be used by a silly Historical Fantasy author….

But still, whenever I do get this novella finished, I’ll definitely be in debt to this guy!

(I may also go after some of the sources that Pyles used for further data, which is why such clear sourcing is invaluable to a reader!)

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*I posted about the Alejandro novella just the other day.

ETA: ** I finally figured out the goose slurs. It’s because the English called them the Portu-GEESE.  Get it?  That took me longer than if should have…..

Friday Catch-up + Tiny Snippet

I’ve rearranged my office finally, but since I haven’t hung any of my art yet, I don’t have any pictures.

Despite the clean office, I’m taking a couple of hours to work in the bagel cafe, since it’s raining.  Rain is Alwyn’s favorite weather, so he’s constantly pestering me to go outside.  By pestering I mean barking. Loudly and near-continually.  :;sighs::

So I’ve come to the cafe to do a quick blog post and get to work.

I’m currently working on The Sins of the Fathers, the sequel  to Dreaming Death. Unfortunately, when Shironne goes down to live in the Fortress, she can’t describe it for the reader. She’s blind, so it’s a real challenge for me to describe the place.

Tiny snippet:

So she allowed Tabita to lead her out into that first vast area–the commons. According to Mikael, the Fortress was very bland, with gray walls, gray floors, and glowing ceilings that provided the light within its depths. The walls held no paintings or tapestries, no wallpaper. There were, in a few places, geometric designs painted in shades of gray that were meant to give the unruly minds of children something to think about. It was commonplace to Mikael, nothing worth noticing.

To Shironne it was different, a place where breezes blew oddly clean air about. Where the walls sang to themselves, air and water moving through them like a human’s veins. Legend claimed that the Fortress was alive, and she believed it.

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Book of the Week: Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein (+ Author Interview)

This week I’m featuring the newest book from my friend Steve Bein, the third in his Fated Blades series!

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From the cover:
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.

Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.

Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….

 

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Sounds great, huh?

Well, I thought I’d talk to Steve about his work here to celebrate it’s release.

 

1) So Steve, Disciple of the Wind is the third novel in your Fated Blades series (I should note here for readers that there are two novellas as well), all of which are set in Japan.  Can you tell us a bit about why you chose that setting?

I’m a Japanophile, plain and simple. I was in grade school when the ninja craze really swept the US. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sho Kosugi, all of them captivated me. By junior high my tastes matured a little and I got into Akira Kurosawa, then James Clavell. In college I found martial arts, which got me reading Miyamoto Musashi, which eventually led me to a whole shelf of books on bushidō.

Around thirteen or fourteen I read my first book on Zen Buddhism, and it really spoke to me. (I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but Zen made more sense to me—and still does, really—than any other philosophical tradition I know.) It wasn’t until college that I started studying Japanese philosophy in earnest, and as I progressed there, I also I got deeper into martial arts. Those two created a kind of virtuous circle, each one encouraging the study of the other. From there I went off to grad school, specializing in Japanese philosophy. Then came a couple of years living in Nagoya and Tokyo, where I was suffused in the culture in a way none of my academic studies could ever duplicate. So today it’s fair to say that Japan is in my blood. I’ve never lost my fascination with it.

2) And you chose as your main character a Narcotics Detective. That’s a pretty specific niche!  How or why did you choose to go that route?

I had a couple of choices with Mariko. The Fated Blades books are multi-layered, with the modern day police thriller serving both as the primary storyline and the lens through which we get to look back at episodes in Japanese history. All the historical pieces follow the exploits of the Inazuma blades, the deadliest swords ever forged. Whoever the contemporary character was going to be, she had to have good reason to investigate the past, or else she couldn’t fulfill her purpose as a lens.

The first and most obvious choice was a historian, but I wanted to write a more exciting protagonist than some professor sitting in a study reading books. (The historian ultimately did make it into the book: he’s Mariko’s sensei when she takes up swordfighting.) The next obvious choice was a journalist, but again, I wanted a more exciting book than that. Settling on a police detective wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have any natural connection to the past, but at last I figured out what now seems inevitable: the crimes she investigates would revolve around the mysterious Inazuma blades.

As for her Narcotics assignment, that actually didn’t come until the very last draft of Daughter of the Sword. My editor observed that Mariko’s relationship with her sister Saori hadn’t been fleshed out yet. At the same time, I wanted to tease out the already-existing themes of obsession and addiction. One of the Inazuma blades has an effect on its wielder quite similar to—well, let’s be blunt: it’s an homage to—the One Ring. Gollum is an addict, as are the characters who take up this sword. Making Saori an addict afforded me another opportunity to bring out that theme in the book, and it complicated the relationship between the Oshiro sisters. Once Saori became an addict, Mariko suddenly had her mission in life: she knows she can’t make her sister sober up—only Saori can do that—so instead she dedicates herself to bringing down the people who sell the poison that ruined her sister’s life.

3) How do you feel your main character (Mariko) has changed in the process of these stories?

At the beginning of her career she wasn’t as confident as she needed to be. Throughout the three books she’s her own harshest critic, but in Daughter of the Sword she sees herself as too small, too weak, too easily pushed aside to be an effective cop. In Japan law enforcement is still very much a male-dominated profession, so every day is another attack on Mariko’s self-esteem. She has to outperform everyone just to be seen as an equal.

As the books progress, her martial training doesn’t just make her more effective in a fight; she’s also more confident, more self-assured. By the time we get to Disciple of the Wind, Mariko is officially a Certified Ass-Kicker. We get to see her take on a skilled knife-fighter with nothing other than an arm cast. But there’s a downside too. Right from the start she had trouble minding her tongue, and the more confident she comes, the easier it becomes for her to shoot her mouth off. That tends to get her in a lot of trouble.

4) Your novels feature entwined stories, one concerning Mariko and her present day trials, but others feature characters in Japan’s past. This had to take a ton of research, especially since they weren’t all in the same period.  What’s your favorite of those past eras, and is it possible that we might see you focusing on one of them in the future?

The Warring States period (1467-1603) is an era of constant turmoil. The emperor doesn’t even rate as a figurehead, and the rule of law is utterly shattered, replaced by 100 years of civil war. Then, in just forty years, Japan transforms from a rabble of feuding fiefdoms to a unified empire. It’s a fascinating time, and with the lone exception of World War II, I think more books have been written on the Warring States period than any other era of Japanese history.

I do have several characters living in this period. In Daughter of the Sword it’s Daigoro Okuma, a fledgling samurai who returns throughout the series. In Year of the Demon it’s Kaida, a young pearl diver who reappears in my new novella, Streaming Dawn. They’re my favorites to write, in large part because the research is so much fun. The truth is, I’m just as enamored with samurai and ninja stories today as I was when I first discovered them in the fourth grade. I could write a hundred books in this period and never get bored.

5) Since this is your third Fated Blades novel, I wondered whether there will be more. What can we expect from you next?

When my agent asked that question, I said what I really want more than anything else right now is to write a simple book. One era, one storyline, one set of characters. So that’s what I’m going to do, but this one is going to test me in entirely new ways. It’s hard SF, but the POV characters don’t understand enough science to know that. To them it looks like steampunk with a healthy dose of magic stirred in. Think Firefly meets Robinson Crusoe. It’s a story of space-faring people who have lost their way, forgetting so much that now they can’t get back into space. But trouble from space can still get to them, which they discover in the worst way possible.

6) And where can we find you in person this summer?  Will you be appearing at any cons or readings?

A bunch, actually. I’ll be speaking on the “Reinventing the Hero(ine)” panel at C2E2, also known as Chicago Comic Con (April 24-26). I’m on a couple of panels at Comicpalooza in Houston (May 22-25), moderating one (“Writing Tips and Tricks: How to Create Believable Worlds”) and speaking on another (“Multiculturalism in Science Fiction and Fantasy”). I’m also on at least three panels at ArmadilloCon in Austin (July 24-26, no topics announced yet). I’ll post all the details and updates—and, when the time comes, pictures—on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future , and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword , was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal . Steve’s newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn , is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s , Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.

Steve teaches philosophy at Texas State University. He lives in Austin with his partner Michele and their Black Lab, Kane. On the web he lives at http://www.philosofiction.com.

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Alejandro novella

More for record keeping than anything else: Alejandro, Serafina, and a dress.  Hey, what can I say….I liked the dress. alejandro Serafina tumblr_nmjurbYkb01tzm4feo1_500

I’m not entirely sure I can work it in, but I’m definitely hoping to get in a scene in the Cafe Majestic (The Elite Cafe at the time, actually.)

IMG_2808Of course, who knows when I’ll get this done.  Pipe dreams….