Today I have the grand pleasure of having Nancy M. Bell on RTF!
Nancy had the dubious honor of editing my first book for publication years ago, and despite those first awkward interactions, our friendship has grown along with our shared love of writing, research, magic, reading, and of course attending writing conferences. Nancy is still editing, but due to an injury (bad bad horse) she made lemonade and finished two more books in her Cornwall Adventure Series. Then Nancy went on to write, and recently publish, a horror novel with a fresh new twist on Jack the Ripper. Nancy is also the author of Storm’s Refuge, A Longview Romance, and several books of poetry. Welcome Nancy, and thank you so much for agreeing to visit RTF this week. Nancy: Hello, Sara. Thank you for inviting me to Rockin’ The Fodder. It’s always a pleasure to visit with you. Might I also add it has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with Sara on her wonderful novels.
RTF: Thank you for that:) RTF: I’ve finished two out of three of The Cornwall Adventures Series so I'd like to start with some questions regarding the research that went into writing these enchanting middle grade books. ~Cornwall, England with its rocky coast and its quaint villages draws the mind toward mystery and magic. Did you know all along you would write a story in this setting? And what type of research did your story entail? Nancy: Years ago I heard someone talking about the musical Pirates of Penzance and immediately it piqued my interest. It was almost as if I recognized the name or something. The ancient stone megaliths and arrangements have always fascinated me and I tend toward an animistic world view, so the idea that elements of nature like stones, trees, etc. are sentient beings comes rather naturally. I’ve always believed in magic, it’s all around us. While things like the Fibonocci sequence can scientifically, or mathematically, explain the way things grow the way they do, the fact that they do grow and multiply is surely magic. Writing about and visiting Cornwall is like visiting the home of my heart. RTF: I love the characters that you’ve created for this series, Laurel, the tough Alberta girl who at times is vulnerable and unsure of herself, Aisling who at first appears quiet and timid, yet has an inner strength of her own, Gort who has his own personal battles to overcome, Coll, the staid young man and Cornwall native that befriends Laurel, and then there is Chance, the childhood friend back at home, who wants to be more than friends with Laurel (which is a source of conflict in the third book). And we cannot forget those unique and clever magical creatures you’ve brought to life in these adventures! Tell us a little about how your character’s come to you. Do they just pop into your thoughts, or do they come after the story idea has seeded in your mind? Nancy: Lucky for me my characters tend to just show up, jump in, and take over. I have to type pretty fast sometimes to keep up with them. There are times when certain characters have just shown up without any notice. Case in point is Morgawr in Laurel’s Quest. He’s the flying sea monster who gives his friend Vear Du a ride to the Cheesewring to meet with Laurel. He just appeared out of nowhere along with his penchant for gossiping and eavesdropping. And even though he has no wings he can fly. I was asked why this creature from the ocean could fly and the simple answer is because he wanted to. Belerion, the fire elemental, is also one of those who jumped into the breach and showed up in Sarie’s fire to give Laurel another clue to her riddle in Laurel’s Quest. He’s one of the cuter characters who have graced me with their presence. I’m a pantster, I just kind of start writing and see where it goes. The Cornwall Adventures took some planning because I had to get Laurel and her friends from point A to point B and so on, following the earth energy line across South West England, but other than mapping out the points I needed to have her get to, we just flew by the seat of my pants. RTF: There is a fair bit of mythology and legend that is touched upon in the Cornwall Adventures. What research did you do for the story regarding these legends? Or did the research find you? Nancy: Oh, man! I did tons of research for this series. Most of it while I was working on Laurel’s Quest. I spent hours on the internet and tracking down reference books which I waited impatiently for Amazon to deliver. My bookcases are stuffed full of research books and my favorites list on the computer is very long. One of the very pleasant things that happened while I was scouring the internet was that I met some wonderful people who have become friends. On my last trip to Cornwall I met up with some of them and John Watts was kind enough to take us out to Carn les Boels where the Michael and Mary lines come to earth in England. From there we followed the South West Cornish Coastal Path down to Nanjizal Bay. The cover of Go Gently has a picture I took there as the background. I also made the acquaintance of renowned dowser Hamish Miller. I was having trouble tracking down his book The Sun and The Serpent so I emailed the publisher ~ Penwith Press~ and lo and behold Hamish himself emailed me back. We corresponded until his death a few years ago. I’m hoping to return to Cornwall in the next year or two. We rented a taxi for the day the last visit and Jamie our intrepid driver took us to Port Isaac where Doc Marten is filmed, and he also took us to Minions and the Hurlers Stone Circle. Jamie was interested in my quest to visit all these ancient stone arrangements and asked if we minded if he tagged along with us. He even crawled through the holed stone when we trekked to the Men an Tol. Walking along the Promenade in Penzance and then walking along the edge of the sea to Mousehole was incredible. And Saint Michael’s Mount… it’s hard to put into words. RTF: Are you planning on writing more books in this series? Any other character’s who are demanding their story to be told? Nancy: Oh yes. Aisling has a story to be told still. And Coll, of course. I’m halfway through Gramma Bella’s story. This is where she first meets Vear Du and Gwin Scawen. Uncle Daniel is there too, in his younger days. I’m toying with the idea of another series set in Alberta. Writing on Stone down near Milk River, and the Sweet Grass Hills keep coming to mind as possible settings. Also there are some stone sun dials or medicine wheels hidden on the prairie that could come in handy for mysterious backdrops for the stories. I have to finish Arabella’s Secret first. That’s the working title, I’m not sure if it will be the final choice. Maybe simply… Secrets or oh, I don’t know. RTF: It took me a few years before I realized you not only write stories, but write poetry as well. Was poetry your first love? Or was writing? Nancy: I’ve always loved poetry. I can’t remember when I haven’t been playing around with putting words together. So I guess poetry came first. It’s nice when I can merge the two together on a project. RTF: Now I’m going to take a left turn and ask you about Jack the Ripper. What drew you to this dark villain, and made you want to tell his story? Nancy: You know, I honestly don’t know. It actually started as a joint project with another author. She was writing every other chapter from a female protagonist point of view and I wrote the male villain point of view. It kind of fell apart and after letting it sit for a while I found that the character wouldn’t be quiet. So I decided I’d better just write his story to shut him up and appease my muse. The Jack character changed a lot from my original vision of him. He became much grittier and unsettling. I gave him an overbearing father figure who haunts him in ghost form as the catalyst for his crimes and to counter balance his mother’s ghost who tries to appeal to his better side. I think it works. It is certainly not something that I usually write and I’m really not sure where it came from. I do know I was very conscious of not ‘channelling’ the actual Jack the Ripper, whoever he was. While we were in England, we spent a few days in London and took the tube to Spitalsfield and walked down Commercial Road into the heart of Jack the Ripper territory. It was very interesting to say the least. I read tons of stuff about Jack, both in books and on the web. I took what I could use and ignored all the “I know who he was” stuff. I created my own Jack, not based entirely on any one of the usual suspects. I did a fair bit of research on the actual area, using correct street names as well as local landmarks like churches and public houses. I also used events like the fire at the dry docks the night Polly Nichols was murdered and inserted them into my sequence of events. It’s not something I think I will do again. My venture into the Historical Fiction – Horror genre will most likely be my first and last. RTF: I mentioned earlier that we met over the painful first edits of a newbie writer/author (me). When did you start editing professionally? Do you still edit part time? And do you have any words of wisdom for writers starting out? Or for writers who’ve been at it for awhile and still struggle with getting their story published? Nancy: Hmmm Advice for new or unpublished writers Most important, I think, is believe in yourself and your stories. No one can tell your stories but you. Use your own judgement and don't get too hung up on crit group comments. Yes, they are great sounding boards and wonderful for an outside opinion on your craft, but trust your gut. Please, please, don't pay tons of dollars for editing. I talked to one gentleman a few years ago at a conference. He'd self pubbed and told me he paid $1500.00 USD for an editor. He gave me a copy to consider and oh my, the editing was terrible. Find an editor you trust if you intend to self-publish and stay within a budget. I usually let the author tell me what they can afford, and depending on the length of the manuscript, I decide if I can do it for that amount. Generally, it seems to be around $250.00 USD for around 30 to 35K word count. I can live with that and I don't feel the author is being take advantage of. Edits include content and line edits for as many rounds as the author and I feel are necessary. Finding an editor by word of mouth or recommendation from someone you trust is the best way to go. Also do your research on potential publishers. See if there are authors who are published by them grousing on line about things like late or no royalty statements, or lack of communication etc. When you are offered a contract, don't sign it right away. Wait for the euphoria to die down and then go over it carefully. Be sure you can live with the terms. If you and the publisher/editor have an irreconcilable difference, is there a way to get your rights back or are you locked in. How long is the initial term of the contract, does it automatically renew at the end of the term, is there a date stipulated that the book will be published by, and if that is not met do the rights revert back to the author? You don't want your work tied up with an iron clad contract and have it never see the light of day. In the event of an insolvency or the company goes out of business is there a trustee to handle returning the rights to contracted authors? If not, you could end up with your work tied to a company that doesn't operate anymore, but that still owns your rights. It can be easy to solve this, or it can be costly and time consuming. Better to know up front what you're agreeing to. Most of all, please keep writing. If you're hoping to make a living at writing, you have to view it as a job, but never lose the thrill of putting words on paper and watching your characters come alive. And yes, I do some freelance editing at very reasonable rates. I also do editing for my current publisher Books We Love. It leaves me plenty of time to work on my own stuff. I love editing and working with authors on their stories. A lot of my authors have become good friends who I value very much. RTF: In your personal life you are a champion of animals, birds, cats, dogs, horses (I’m sure I’ve missed a few) and you have been known to take in more than a few fosters. Tell us a little about that and how it shows up in your stories. Nancy: I just can’t say no to an animal in trouble. I always think ‘what if I was the one who was left out in the cold” and I just have to make room. All of my stories have animals in them, even No Absolution with Jack the Ripper. There’s a rescued puppy and an old tom cat in that one. Storm’s Refuge centers around a rescued dog who is a composite of a lot of dogs I’ve known. One of my own rescued dogs is called Storm after the momma dog who never made it to safety. I work with an animal rescue here in Calgary, called Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society. They take in dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, even turtles and lizards. I foster for them, and I am on the Medical Team and do three shifts a week as a Cat Caregiver. RTF: Anything else you’d like to share? Nancy: Thank you so much for hosting me, Sara. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with you. On May 14th I was featured on Rave Reviews Book Club Blog Talk radio show called Bring On The Spotlight. In October I’ll be attending the Surrey International Writers Conference again. It’s a great event and one of the highlights of my year. It’s always special because I get to spend time with friends like Sara and our other cronies. Dressing up for the Friday night costume dinner is great fun. I hope I get to wear my big red hat again this year! I’m also hoping that the Arabella book will be out sometime this summer. On June 12, 2015 I’m at Pandora’s Boox and Tea in Olds, in Alberta for a book signing and then on June 17, 2015 at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, Alberta for another signing. I hope to see some of you there! There’ll be goodies and giveaways. Thank you again Nancy for taking time to be here today and sharing your writing/editing life! It’s wonderful to see you have been so busy writing, and I ‘m looking forward to whatever stories come next! ***Contest*** Nancy would like to invite the readers to make a comment for a chance to win copies of all three in The Cornwall Adventure Series: Laurel’s Quest, A Step Beyond, and Go Gently. Announcement of winners will be May 30th. (be sure and leave an email in comment section!) Where to find Nancy: On Twitter: https://twitter.com/emilypikkasso Webpage: http://www.nancymbell.ca Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyMBell Blog: http://nancymariebell.blogspot.ca/ Publisher’s Webpage: http://bookswelove.net/authors/bell-nancy/ Books We Love blog on the 18th of every month: http://bwlauthors.blogspot.ca/ *Nancy's Books*
Writing as Nancy M. Bell: Laurel’s Quest, The Cornwall Adventures Book 1 (formerly: Laurel’s Miracle)
A Step Beyond, The Cornwall Adventures Book 2 (formerly: A Step Sideways)
Go Gently, The Cornwall Adventures Book 3
Storm’s Refuge, A Longview Romance, Book 1 (formerly: Christmas Storm)
Irish Fireside Tales- retelling of Irish myths and legends ~ Writing as N. M. Bell: No Absolution
Poetry Books: Through This Door: available on Amazon and from the author
It probably won’t surprise you that it took me several days to wind down from this year’s Surrey International Writers Conference (#siwc2014), so caught up in the whirlwind of insights, inspirations, personal revelations, and general awesomeness of it all, that I had to take a few deep breaths and let the mother lode of information settle. Now that the wisdom of so many presenters has been absorbed and mostly processed, I will share a few highlights. This year (as in years past) SIWC offered a delectable smorgasbord of topics to be explored and savored by all attendees, unless that is, you know everything there is to know about writing, publishing, promoting, and pitching to an agent or publisher, in which case you wouldn’t be here reading my blog, but instead might be in some European paradise basking in your New York Times Bestselling status!
The Master Classes:
Eileen Cook - The Final Push: Mastering Editing Funny funny girl, she makes you laugh out loud while sharing a comprehensive revision checklist that is bound to tighten up the most unwieldy of stories. Did I say she was funny? The hilarious anecdotes she slips in along the way make a somewhat painful topic well worth the three hours in the chair. Absolutely a delightful woman, and maybe was a comedian in another life?
Susanna Kearsley - Depth of Character Well being one of my favorite authors aside, Ms. Kearsley is a master at researching her novels (having been a museum curator at one time). She is meticulous in her details regarding everything from her character’s occupation, to their achilles’ heel, and everything in between. It was a joy listening to her process and how she goes about building a character from the outside in.
Sean Cranbury - Owning Your own Online Space A dynamic speaker who makes it clear that social media should be used primarily for just that, socializing, engaging readers and other writers, and generally building an audience (rather than just using it as a marketing vehicle). The take away is that the world of social media has only been around since 2004, and because of the way it has evolved over the last ten years, the question is: how different will it look in the years to come? Mr. Cranbury is definitely a blogger to watch and follow. He has some surprising opinions on digital piracy as well!
Building a Romance Novel - Elizabeth Boyle Thoroughly enjoyed this workshop and learned a few tips in the process. Ms. Boyle even shared with us the humorous plight that opened the door to her romance writing career. Can’t wait to dive into one of her books and see how she translates her plots to the page!
A Dozen Stories: Writer and an Agent Discuss What Works - Peter Rubie Ahh so remember when I mentioned personal revelations above? Well here’s where I tell you that I sat in the front row and raised my hand to go first. I know, I know, some burst of misplaced bravado must have come over me, only to flee the moment I stood up. But I soldiered on because darn it I wanted to know what a big New York agent would think about my story. So after a few stuttering moments I managed to get the gist of my story out to Mr. Rubie, and the twenty or so people in the room. To add to my discomfort he instructed me to stand at the microphone because my voice was too soft! To my credit I stood tall and did not let my knees give out, even though they felt a little rubbery:) I finished the pitch, and hoped nobody detected the quaver in my voice. Umm not. Then Mr. Rubie proceeded to explain (very nicely) that my problem wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t have a viable story, but that there was a structure problem, and that I needed to decide where to start the story, (as written, it probably needed to start at about a third of the way in). So even though the process felt like daggers to the heart (okay it wasn’t quite that bad) I came away with a genuine aha moment and felt Mr. Rubie’s assessment had been extremely helpful and spot on! So thank you Mr. Rubie! Now the work begins.
Could Self-Publishing Be the Perfect Solution for You? - Laura Bradbury Again I just want to cheer for how much awesomeness there is to be had at SIWC! Ms. Bradbury shared her story and her navigational foray into the self publishing world, where she has successfully published her two travel memoirs: My Grape Escape and My Grape Village, both of which have hit the bestselling lists here and internationally. Her story is an inspiration, and her generosity in answering all of our questions was amazing. Praying great things come this lady’s way!
The Way through the Woods: Restoring Lost Settings, Imagining New Ones - Susanna Kearsley Okay, what can I say, I could listen to Ms. Kearsley all day long. Fascinating! And her best piece of advice. “Just ask.” Meaning don’t be afraid to ask someone who works in a particular field that you might be researching or to ask someone what it’s like to be in their chosen occupation, etc. See...more awesomeness!
Diversity in Historical Fiction - Mary Robinette Kowal A passionate author and speaker, Ms Kowal’s presentation evoked further revelation regarding the ‘white washing of history’ that is so prevalent in today’s fiction as well as the pitfalls of incorporating racism and sexism into your stories. She made me think about things I’d never thought of before, and increased my personal awareness of these ideas in my own writing. And now of course I need to go buy one of her books...
Research to Reality - Andrea MacPherson I really enjoyed Ms. MacPherson’s workshop, and who knew you could derive so much from studying old photographs. A wonderful tool for the historical writer! I had to leave this one early but I still garnered some valuable tips!
Tension: More Than the Edge of Your Seat - Panel: Moderated by Susanna Kearsley, with authors: Hallie Ephron, Chevy Stevens, and Robert Wiersema A well balanced and highly effective conversation between authors discussing tricks of the trade for keeping tension throughout their stories, developing a rhythm in narrative and dialogue that propels the story forward, and the use of point of view to make the story structure stronger. Every one of these authors offered valuable insights and shared their different techniques when writing a compelling story. More awesomeness!
And last but certainly not least... How to Read Like a Writer - Diana Gabaldon Well this was the whip cream on top of a hot fudge brownie sundae! And she read excerpts (some very steamy ones) from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Can you say huzzah!
The Fun ~
For seven years running Michael Slade has written and narrated Shock Theater, a Friday night delight. And this years installment: A Most Dangerous Game starred the usual suspects, K.C. Dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry and Jack Whyte. In addition, snicker worthy sound effects were provided by Donald Maass, Susanna Kearsley, Hallie Ephron, and for the climatic scene...Mary Robinette Kowal dropped a scream to rival Janet Leigh in Psycho!
Making new friends and connecting with old ones is also highlight of the conference. Who doesn’t want to spend time with people who “get you”. Oooh and here is Nancy Bell in her Mata Hari costume with that memorable Red Hat!
Oh and the book signing Saturday evening hummed with energy, and what a hoot to be a part of it this year!
The Silent Auction Basket
From the energizing keynote speakers to the beloved emcee (Carol), and the fabulous staff and volunteers, the Surrey Writer’s Conference is an event to be savored and then digested slowly, because you never know when one or several nuggets of all this collective wisdom will blossom and unfold within your own story. For more information on SIWC ~ http://www.siwc.ca
When I recently finished The Devil at my Heels, by Charles Mossop, I couldn’t wait to ask Charles questions regarding the historical detail of his novel, and how he went about his research. And when Charles graciously agreed to an interview, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I hope you’ll join me today in welcoming Charles Mossop, multi-published author of a number of short stories, numerous articles on historical fiction, and two historical novels, with a third historical novel, entitled The Golden Phoenix, recently accepted by Muse It Up Publishing to be released this summer! RTF: Thank you Charles for taking time out of your busy life to answer my questions regarding your novel The Devil at my Heels, and for sharing some of your writing savvy with myself and the readers. As you know I am interested in the research that goes into a story, and what process the author uses to gather, sort, and refine their research to ultimately weave it into the finished manuscript. For instance I loved the minute detail with which you describe Brother Robert’s preparation of the materials he uses to illuminate the gospel of Saint John. The mordant, the gold and silver leafing, and the boiling of fish bones, all fascinating. And that is merely the beginning. The way you bring vivid life to your historical characters and describe the setting is wonderfully achieved, transporting the reader back in time as if we are actually there, whether in 1216 at the All Saints Priory in southern Lincolnshire, or in Germany in 1944. In your author’s note you explain that except for a few key historical events and well known historical figures, the characters and events are otherwise fictitious, which means you possess a fabulous imagination! Please tell us what resources you use in your research, how much of your writing day is spent on research, and where you find inspiration for your stories. Oh, and what about the treasure? Was that bit based on real events or a complete fabrication? Charles: Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you, Sara, for this invitation and for your very generous words about The Devil At My Heels. I feel both gratified and humbled by your high praise. It’s a truism to say historical fiction is all about the research. Personally, I love it. I think you have to if you intend to tackle historical fiction of any length, and I do have an advantage in that I have undergraduate and Graduate degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Asian History, with a minor in European History. This background gives me a perspective in breadth, and also provides me with guidelines on where to go when I need depth. I have a fairly large personal library which is always where I turn first, and then I go to the Internet. However, using the Web can be perilous. I spend almost as much time cross-referencing my information as I do finding it in the first place. I try to find out who has written articles I find on the Internet, where they obtained their information, and what their background is. I have, on occasion, emailed people and asked them these things after telling them I want to use something they have written. For example, you mentioned the descriptions of Brother Robert’s preparing his materials. There is a vast amount about the production of medieval manuscripts, but I tried to narrow it all down to reliable sources such as professional journal articles, museums and galleries. I have seen and read such manuscripts, and so that gave me a feeling for it to start with. I was born in Britain and lived there for several years on a couple of occasions, so when I write about Lincolnshire, old priories and so on, I can do it from first-hand experience. I try to take a lot of care when I create my characters, and I believe one of the most important elements is dialogue. Put simply, it has to sound right. I use diaries and journals written by people who lived in the times I am portraying to find out how they said things. If I’m writing about the 18th and early 19th centuries, which I often do, I turn to writers such as Jane Austen who lived during that period, because in her books, she accurately portrays the speech habits of her time. Her narrative passages also provide clues on how people perceived the actions of others, and how events were described. I am also careful to include details on what people wear (I often use old portraits for that), the food they eat, the money they used, and so on. I also find it helpful to create ambiance in speech and narration through the occasional use of archaic words – so long as they aren’t so obscure as to be incomprehensible. I also read as much historical fiction as I can get my hands on! As to the treasure, well, in fact, as George Randall says, it has always been believed that King John lost the crown jewels somewhere in southern Lincolnshire or Norfolk during the baronial wars of 1213 to 1216, but whatever happened to them, they disappeared. It occurred to me that a story could be woven around that on the premise he didn’t lose them, he hid them. And thus the novel was born. I debated the idea of having them found at the end, but decided against it. They were actually lost, and I left them lost. RTF: Charles you’ve written and published several novels, how long does it typically take you to finish the first draft of a story? Charles: That varies a lot. It took me four years to produce the first draft of my first novel, Jade Hunter, but only about a year for The Devil At My Heels. I have on occasion taken a year on a short story, but have also finished them in as little as a month. However, that’s only the first draft. In addition there is all the research time, and I tend to do the research both before and during the preparation of the first draft. As I go through the revision process, I do further research to add more detail or refine what’s there already. RTF: Many of us writers sometimes find we’ve written ourselves into a corner. Does that ever happen to you? If so how do you work through it? Charles: Ha! Yes, it happens all the time. I often get my characters into scrapes and have to spend time working out how to extricate them. The only way I have ever found doing that is simply to think about where they are, who and what they are as people, and decide how they would react to being where I put them. And if that doesn’t work, then I find I have to go back and adjust things a bit to give them some wiggle room, so to speak. RTF: Though you make your home in Canada, you were born in England, and spent some of your academic life there. In what way did your years in England influence your writing? Charles: They are a huge influence. I have never written a novel or short story that has not been set in Britain, for at least some of the time. I studied and taught British History, I was involved in archaeological excavations there and had the opportunity to explore the great cathedrals, monasteries and other buildings, whether still intact or in ruins. Such things always fascinated me, and I suppose they were what drew me to History as a profession. The writing of historical fiction has been a sort of natural outgrowth of that now that I am retired. RTF: You’re retired from a career in education. What did you love about teaching? Charles: I taught at the post-secondary level, but all teaching is a great privilege and a great responsibility. To see one’s students light up with interest in a certain thing, or hear them questioning conventional wisdom and asking why things are the way they are is, quite simply, wonderful. I think teaching has made it easier for me to understand what my readers might be interested in, what sorts of detail I should include. I can still hear students in my history classes asking, “Why did they do that?” I answered them as factually as I could, and in writing historical fiction, I see myself still answering them, but in a slightly different way; still as factually as I can, but at the personal level, creating a sense and feeling of what it was actually like to live in times past. My students were always interested in the human side of history, and I used to sometimes recommend certain novels for them to read and gain a different perspective. I taught for thirteen years and then took over responsibility for my University’s international activities: international students, overseas programming, consultancies, development projects and so on. It gave me an unparalleled opportunity to travel the world and that has made it possible for me to write about China, India, Thailand and so many other countries from first-hand observation. RTF: Charles, I understand you are a champion of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and that you yourself have been partially sighted since age nineteen. Would you be willing to tell us more about that, and how it has affected your writing process (if at all). Charles: That's correct, Sara. I began to lose some sight when I was in my late teens, and from time to time since then there has been deterioration due to an incurable, genetically-based, degenerative condition which has slowly reduced all my central vision until now I have only very limited peripheral sight. This reduction in sight was the primary cause of my early retirement at age fifty-six, but I did manage to have a thirty-two-year career, and do some part-time consulting for twelve years after that. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind helped me a great deal over the years in all kinds of ways, which is why I began volunteering with them right after I retired in 1999. Through them I learned about screen magnification applications for my computer which enlarge what I’m reading or writing. I also have a program which makes it possible for my computer to read what’s on the screen to me out loud (Optical Character Recognition, or OCR). I also have device called a CCTV which is, in effect, a vertically mounted camera with a zoom lens that magnifies anything placed beneath it. The image appears on a screen mounted just in front of the camera. I use that to read print material. In addition to all that, I have a scanning camera with which I can scan a printed page, and then, with the aid of special software, turn that scanned Image into a Word document I can save, make notes on, and refer to whenever I want without having to use the printed document again. The more I can use the computer directly, the easier it is. Without those aids, I could not do my research or even use a computer at all, since I have not been able to read normal print since about 1980 or so. I wrote a novel in the late 1970s and that was the last time I could read the print from a typewriter; thank goodness for word processing, because without it, I could not write at all. By the way, the novel was called Dragon’s Pearl, and I submitted it to a publisher, whereupon it achieved instant oblivion. Nevertheless, I was determined to write, although I could not find enough time for it until I retired. The eyesight problem certainly slows everything down, but with these devices and software, I am able to continue to write and accomplish my volunteer work. I am also a member of the executive of the World Blind Union (WBU) which is a global association of blindness organizations which works as a consulting agency to the United Nations. The WBU work keeps me traveling, although not as much as I used to. I now have to rely on airline staff for assistance at airports, but I still have an opportunity to experience other lands and peoples, and in my hotel room I make notes on my laptop about what I see (to some extent), hear, feel and smell. It’s all grist to the writing mill. I tell people that going blind is a tragedy, but being blind doesn’t have to be in this day and age. I tell people, especially young people, coping with vision loss that although they may have no control over their sight, they do have control over their vision – their vision of themselves, the world, and their place in it. And after all, when I or those like me go to a party, there is never any danger of having to be the designated driver, and we can still mix a good drink if the power goes out. RTF: :) RTF: Now for a tough question:) The publishing industry has gone through vast changes in the last decade, do you have any thoughts on the future of publishing? Charles: Good question, Sara. The publishing industry is experiencing a revolutionary transformation, and it is very hard to know what the end results might be. Self-publishing is increasing at a phenomenal rate, and many large traditional houses have people scanning the Web full time to find self-published authors who are good enough to be approached to sign contracts. Print on demand (POD) has reduced production and storage costs, and the rise of eBooks is nothing short of astounding. Not too long ago, self-publishing was seen as something writers did if they couldn’t find a traditional publisher to accept their work, eBooks were thought of as not being real books, but no more. I think we’ll continue to see print books for many years yet, but basically, what’s happening is that reading of all kinds will become possible in many more ways and the publishing industry will have to adapt or die out in its present form. The industry is changing all right, but in some ways it’s still very conservative. From a writer’s point of view, I see all these changes as increasing opportunities to reach more and more readers. Small, Web-based publishing houses have proliferated astoundingly in recent years, and the successful ones seem to be those who embrace the changes and use them to their advantage. RTF: When you aren’t writing, rumor has it you have a sailboat? Do you take full advantage of living on the Canadian west coast? Charles: I certainly try to. My wife and I love to sail. I deal with the sails, and Louise handles the helm. Putting me on the helm is not a good strategy! We are not ocean sailors; we just potter about in local waters, but there is plenty to see on a coastline as rich and diverse as this. Louise and I also love our garden. We have a half-acre lot which is fully landscaped in lawns, flower beds, pathways and paved areas. We bought the lot and had the house built ten years ago, and we have developed the garden from bare ground. Louise does the design work and is the one who knows all about the flowers, trees and shrubs, and I manage wheelbarrows (more carefully these days) and dig holes where requested. Fortunately I am still able to do a lot of things in the garden, and I really enjoy that. When I am outside, I often find I am thinking about a plot or a story I have on the go at the time. The great thing about writing is that there is a great deal you can do when you are not actually at your desk. We have a long growing season here, so garden work is almost a seven-month occupation. RTF: Now for fun... What was your first job? Charles: The very first thing I ever got paid for was doing a paper route for a friend while he was on holiday. I got four bucks for the two weeks, but then I was only twelve and it was way back in the early Paleolithic. Later, I worked a day as a delivery boy for a local drug store and pharmacy; I don’t remember what they paid me, but it was a terrifying way to earn money. Going to all those strange houses. After finishing High School in Britain at a boarding school on the east coast, I worked in London for a large manufacturing company in their accounting office. This experience convinced me I never wanted to be an accountant, but I saved a lot of money which I brought with me to Canada and used at University. RTF: Do you have any favorite authors, and did they influence your writing? Charles: Well, in actual fact, I’d have to say I really don’t have any favorite authors. I read a lot of historical fiction, of course, but many other genres as well. I read non-fiction for pleasure as well as for research purposes, but my reading is constrained by the fact that I have to use audiobooks. More audiobooks are being produced all the time, but their numbers remain minuscule compared to the amount of print material out there. I make use of libraries for the blind, such as that maintained by the CNIB, but in addition these days its possible to download books from many sources in digital form which can then be read electronically on computers, tablets, smartphones and other such devices. That has made a huge difference to the availability of material accessible to people who are blind, partially sighted or have some other form of print disability. Up until last year, a major problem was that if a book appeared in Britain, say, in audio format, I, in Canada, could not access it unless a Canadian publisher acquired the rights and produced it here. However, last year, after protracted negotiations over several years, over a hundred-and-fifty countries signed a treaty allowing for the free movement around the world of all books and other materials produced anywhere for the use of people with print disabilities. This will make a huge difference to availability, especially for those in developing countries whose situation is far worse than anything in the industrialized nations. The World Blind Union was centrally involved in the preparation and negotiation of the treaty. RTF: I love music, and I understand you play the guitar? Do you have any favorite artists, or songs? Any that have influenced your writing? Charles: I have played classical and flamenco guitar since I was about fifteen, taking my first lessons from my French teacher at that boarding school I mentioned earlier. Prior to that I had studied the trumpet, and played in a junior orchestra, but the school had no orchestra, and since it’s difficult to play the trumpet quietly to oneself, I took up the guitar. My two inspirations were the great Andres Segovia for classical guitar and Carlos Montoya for flamenco. I never met Segovia, but did meet Montoya once and spent a wonderful evening talking to him about the guitar and his music. My love of history led me also to traditional folk music and I enjoy singing the songs of England, Ireland, and Scotland. My mother was of Scottish descent, so I come by it honestly. I had difficulty keeping up the classical music because by age twenty-three or so, my sight loss was preventing me from reading music. This was a tough blow, but I have been able to continue to play and learn new works and songs by ear. In recent years I have also begun to play the piano which has been a lifelong ambition. I think music does influence my writing. Before humans invented writing, all literature was spoken, or sung, and much of it was in rhyme because that made it easier to remember. I always read everything I write out loud, and I am not satisfied with it until it sounds right as well as conveys its proper meaning. This is especially true for dialogue, and I always speak dialogue before, during, or after I write it. Sometimes, I let the computer read things back to me, and that way I can really concentrate on the sound, the rhythm and the pacing. I believe the written word should flow easily, and should have a meter and cadence of its own. I do my best to put that into my writing. As a final word, Sara, in addition to thanking you for this opportunity, I’d simply like to say that writing gives me a way to grow. I don’t intend to grow old, but I know I will become old if I don’t grow.
RTF: Oh such wise words:)Charles, it’s truly been a pleasure to have you at RTF today! Your in depth answers to my questions are hugely appreciated, not to mention fascinating. The fact that you’ve overcome obstacles in your life to do everything you love is inspiring to myself, and no doubt will be to anyone else who might stop by. Thank you again for taking your valuable time (out of a very busy life:) to share your writing life with all of us. Now here is more about the Author:
Charles Mossop, now retired from a forty-two year career as a post-secondary educator, administrator and private consultant, lives on Vancouver Island where he enjoys hobbies of gardening and playing classical guitar when he is not writing. A long-time lover of mystery and adventure stories, Charles has become a professional writer and using his background as a social scientist and historian has published a number of short stories as well as numerous articles on historical fiction. His first novel, Jade Hunter, appeared in 2007
The Devil at my Heels: Following the murder of his friend, Dr. Michael Stuart, George Randall, mild-mannered professor of History, finds himself caught up in a dangerous race to uncover the killer’s identity and find the solution to an eight-hundred-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a priceless royal treasure. Randall’s search takes him from England to Italy, Austria and Germany as he is confronted by a tangled riddle reaching back from the thirteenth century to the final months of the Second World War. Randall employs his research skills as well as deception and fast footwork as he searches for an ancient manuscript that holds within its illuminated pages the secret of a treasure long thought lost. In spite of attempts on his life and the lives if his daughter and his fiancée, Randall remains determined to unravel the secret and find his friend’s murderer. Excerpt: Dr. Michael Stuart, red-bearded and in his early fifties, closed the door behind the last of his dinner guests and sighed in satisfaction. Thank heavens they've gone, he thought. He went quickly to his study, opened the small, fireproof safe he kept under his desk and withdrew a plain brown file folder. Relocking the safe, he put the folder on his desk and sat down. This is it, he thought, looking at the sheet of yellowing parchment the folder contained. The first definite proof in eight hundred years. That stuff will be worth a fortune, and the publicity will be incredible. Could get me a knighthood. When I publish this, we'll have to rewrite the history books. Thank you so much, good King John. He looked up and frowned as the sound of footsteps reached him. He rose, walked out of the study and stopped abruptly at the sight of a man in dark jacket and slacks standing in the hallway. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. “How did you get in?” “Easy. You left the front door unlocked after you saw your guests off. Very careless of you.” Stuart heard the cold menace in the intruder's voice and suddenly realized the danger he could be facing. He strove to keep his voice steady as he tried to take control of the situation. “Get out. Now.” “I want that parchment back. I only asked you to authenticate it; I didn't give it to you.” “I've told you. I've got it in safekeeping. I can look after it for you.” “Bollocks. You just want the glory. That document belongs to me, and I want it back.” Cold-fisted fear squeezed Stuart's vitals as in the dim light of the hallway he could see the intruder carried the heavy iron poker from the front room fireplace. The man took a step closer. “Give me that letter, Stuart. I'm through playing games.” A bead of sweat snaked coldly down Stuart's spine. There's a phone in the study, he thought. If I can get in there I can lock the door and call the police. They'll believe me, not him. He spun on his heel and made a dash for the open study door. He heard a yell of anger and felt his shirt rip as a strong hand tried to hold him back. He stumbled, half turned. “No!” The heavy poker struck the side of his head. Its thunderous impact was the last sound he heard. An Act of Treason
It is 1799, and England is at war with France on land and at sea. Napoleon is laying waste to Europe, and England herself is preparing to repel an invasion. Aboard the frigate HMS Invincible, on blockade duty off Bordeaux in the Bay of Biscay, Admiral Lord Hayward is murdered, and Captain Sir Robert Foster finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of lies, sedition and treachery which threaten England’s very existence. If he cannot find the murderer, the war with France may be lost and Bonaparte crowned king of England. As he fights off attacks by French ships, he must use all his skill in the search for the traitor aboard his ship. Jade Hunter
In the mid-fifteenth century a unique piece of jade is discovered in south-western China. Within days its discoverer is murdered. The jade is stolen, but the thieves themselves die at the hands of a cousin of the emperor Dai Zong, a powerful military leader, who sends the jade to Beijing where is it carved into a masterpiece depicting two identical dragons. Identical, that is, but for one remarkable feature. The sculpture is presented to the emperor by his kinsman but he spurns the gift and the jade is stolen once again and sold out of China along the Silk Road to Arabia. From Baghdad the sculpture crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Italy where it becomes the property of the mighty Medici family of Florence, but eventually even they are forced by the Church to relinquish it. The sculpture travels north to Bruges from where it is acquired by English merchants who try to sell it to King Henry VIII. The attempt proves catastrophic, however, due to wholly unexpected circumstances, and an enraged King Henry orders it destroyed, a fate only narrowly escaped through the intervention of a nobleman who sends the carving away from London. Descendants of that aristocrat re-discover the sculpture after centuries of concealment, neglect, war and rebellion, and it is placed aboard an English warship which sails the high seas before going to war against Napoleon. Its rightful ownership disputed at the end of the war, the sculpture is hidden and remains lost for over a hundred years. This sweeping tale of mystery and adventure is played our against the backdrop story of Jill Howard, a young British sinologist, who discovers the story of the carving in an ancient Chinese text and determines to find it and return it to China. She finally discovers a report that it has been destroyed in a fire, but is that truly the end of its colourful history? Amazon~Canada My review:
The Magician’s Pyramid (Temple I) Uxmal 592 AD The smell of limestone sent his heart thumping like a deer drum as he ascended the steep steps. It was said by the elders that the top of this great structure scraped the sky and sparked the stars. ~Xtoloc as he climbs The Pyramid of the Magician ~The Jaguar Sun
Steep steps indeed, The Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal, Yucatan rises approximately 115 feet high into the blue. And though, on a recent trip to Mexico, I wasn’t able to travel far enough south to see the pyramid at Uxmal, I did have the good fortune to visit Teotihuacan, just 48 kilometers northeast of Mexico City, and ascend The Pyramid of the Sun which stands nearly 240 feet in height, and is reputedly the largest pyramid in Mesoamerica, and the third largest in the world.
With the assistance of Hilario, our gracious guide, we found ourselves fully immersed in the history of Teotihuacan. At least what is known of this once thriving culture. You see it's still not clear who these people really were that predated the Aztecs by at least nine centuries. This vast civilization which blossomed and peaked by the fifth century, and began its decline in the seventh century, had far reaching influence throughout Mesoamerica, and was known as "the dwelling place of the gods." An integrated metropolis with priests as administrators, architects, artisans, farmers, and military. At over 7000 feet above sea level, under a partially clouded azure sky, the air crisp with a breeze whispering over the grounds and weaving through the mystifying structures, this well visited archeological site is nothing short of transcendent. And though our guide would occasionally slip into Spanish while speaking with our son, Hilario’s softly accented English narration kept us spellbound throughout our time at Teotihuacan.
We began our tour of this ancient urban grid at the southern end, with the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (or the Temple of Quetzalcoatl) most notable for its stone sculpted heads of Quetzalcoatl (otherwise known as the Plumed Serpent) and Tlaloc, the Rain/Storm/Fire god (Chac, in Mayan). At one time, before the temple was partially destroyed and built over, there were seven tiers to this structure, and 365 of those stone heads, which no doubt represented the calendar year. If you look closely you can see the scaled serpents and their coiled tails, as well as fangs, feline eyes, and feathers framing Quetzalcoatl's head. In detailed relief to the right of the sculptures are limestone painted conch shells that (we are told) not only represent marine life and the wind, but the human heart, which served as a sacrificial offering to the mighty gods. In fact, during a 1980s excavation of the pyramid, over a hundred skeletons, with hands tied behind their backs, were found; solidifying evidence of ritual sacrifices.
View of The Citadel from atop of The Feathered Serpent Pyramid (Temple of Quetzalcoatl). The Citadel was believed to be the main gathering area for the population. At it's zenith, around 550 AD, the Teotihuacanans were 150,000 to 200,000 people strong.
If you look to the right of my husband, you will see The Temple of the Moon rising up in the distance.
After taking several pictures we descended to the base of the temple where a few natives were selling wares to the tourists. I resisted the large obsidian knife, a vendor turned this way and that, telling myself I would return later in the day to buy it. The knife was eerily reminiscent of Chac’s sacrificial knife in The Jaguar Sun. Alas, at the end of the day when I returned to purchase the knife, the man was gone.
Next we meandered down The Avenue of the Dead, originally mis-named because the stone structures on either side of the wide path were thought to be tombs. Later, it was determined that the raised platforms are what is left of residences, most likely that of the richer classes. The lengthy avenue (1.2 miles long) served as a main thoroughfare that divided the east and west residential sprawl, and farther down the avenue a long dry river bed marks where the San Juan River bisected this grand cultural center. Along the way Hilario informed us that only a small percentage of the ruins have been excavated to date, and that there is still much to be unearthed to the east and west, but, he added, the country is too poor to finance such an undertaking. Most of the complex relies on outside funding for ongoing restorations, excavations, and further research.
Avenue of the Dead
The remnant foundations of the bordering residences
Areas are still preserved of the highly polished limestone floors, not unlike today's marble floors
The layout of an apartment, most likely inhabited by a wealthy citizen.
An upper class residence
Puma fresco with residual ochre tint
The Pyramid of the Moon on the horizon
On the left is the Palacio de los Jaguares and adjacent to The Pyramid of the Moon is the Palacio de Quetzal-Mariposa (the Palace of the Quetzal Bird-Butterfly) where the priests were thought to reside.
The restoration project
Plumbed Jaguar, Palacio de los Jaguares
Plaza of the Moon, where large gatherings also took place
Stairs leading up to The Pyramid of the Moon
(138 feet in height)
Ascending The Pyramid of the Sun
Happy New Year
For more information on Teotihuacan and Mesoamerican History ~