Friday, December 11, 2015

Ebook Release Day! Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is here!

After a year and a half, the ebook version of the novel is out. It's been like giving birth to a really big baby, who had some troubles along the way. But I'm pleased this fifth novel in the Sultana series is done. It's a bittersweet moment, but also a simple reminder that I need to work on the last book in the series, Sultana: The White Mountains.

This latest novel is the story of the historical figure of Sultana Aisha, who's come down through history as Aisha la-Hurra, the mother of the last Moorish ruler of Granada called Boabdil in Spanish sources and the first wife of Muley Hacen. She's also known for her rivalry with Muley Hacen's second wife Isabel de Solis shaped Spain's future. Aisha also has a reputation as one of the great patriots of Moorish history. As her world altered, she wanted the women and children of Granada fighting to preserve the kingdom. Anyone who's familiar with fifteenth century Spain or watched the Spanish television series, Isabel, season two knows about these characters. Or so you think. As an aside, one of the things that has always disappointed me about the portrayal of Aisha on screen and frankly throughout history is that it's often presumed she was a jealous bitch, a harridan, a disloyal wife to her eventual husband. She was a woman with a cause, and justification for what she did can be found in her terrifying experiences.
In Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, Aisha is more than a mother, wife, or patriot. She's a complex character, one of three sisters born to a Sultan without sons. She's born in a time where the borders of Moorish Spain have dramatically shrunk. The union of Aragon and Castile by the marriage of their respective monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella threatens Aisha's world. She endures drastic changes, but also initiates some of her own with varied consequences. She often finds herself torn between making the right or wrong choice, guided by her head and heart. She supported and thwarted by a cast of other characters including her own father Muhammad IX, her would-be-husband and lover Muhammad X, her enemies the Sultans Saad and Abu'l-Hasan Ali, and a slave girl from Castile, Isabel de Solis who later takes the name Soraya. There are powerful ministers, brutal clan rivalries, and strained relationships within Aisha's immediate family.

I've written about a period in Spanish history that is more popular and well-researched than the earlier periods of the first four novels. I hope readers will enjoy their time spent in Aisha's world. More information and links to ebook retailers can be found here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New cover for the Spanish translation of Sultana

I was finally able to accomplish one of many projects I had wanted to do for some time; update the cover art of the e-book only, Spanish translation of Sultana. As often happens, life got in the way, but it's finally finished. One of the most helpful tools I've found is the Adobe Creative Cloud, which offers a year's access to the Adobe suite of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. Even better, there's now an added feature called Adobe Stock where subscribers can download high-quality royalty-free images such as those found at Dreamstime, Fotolia and Shutterstock. The following images captured elements of what I was looking for in a new cover:



To which I added one purchased years ago from another site:


Over time, I've learned to manipulate images with GIMP, PhotoScape and; each of these is photo editing software, which has its strengths and drawbacks when you're interested in cover design. I love them because they're free tools that anyone with the patience and perseverance to try can work with; trust me. I haven't attempted any design work in PhotoShop as yet, but expect my learning curve to soar dramatically once I give the program a try.

In, I cropped image #1 of the Muslim woman praying and saved it as my foreground image. Then I opened up picture #3 of the Lion Court of Alhambra in GIMP and saved that as my background. I can't say enough great things about the GIMP program, as it allows you to select just the sections you want and copy / paste or layer them into another photo.

Later, I opened a second window with the woman's image and selected just her figure. Then I layered my selection in the Lion Court photo, scaling it so she would appear in the foreground in the most naturalistic pose. Saving this new image as the base, I went back to and selected one of the beautiful gold borders from image #2. Then I elongated these borders at the top and bottom of the new image:

Afterward, in PhotoScape, I added the text. Finally, I used GIMP again to clean up areas around the figure, where blotches had occurred.
And here's the final version:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HNS 2015 Denver presentation: Midwifery in Moorish Spain

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Historical Novel Society's Denver conference. Joining me were excellent fellow panelists Sam Thomas (The Midwife's Tale), Kim Rendfeld (The Cross and The Dragon), and Judith Starkston (Hand of Fire), with Diana Gabaldon (Outlander - but I didn't really need to tell you that!) serving as our gracious moderator. Sam spoke about the practice in England during the 17th century (where midwives rooted out witches - betcha thought different), Kim covered 8th century France (childbirth was a dangerous business), and Judith focused on the 13th century BC (so unfortunate she couldn't demonstrate the importance of livestock in the ancient birthing ritual). Learn more of Kim and Judith's presentations at the links above. One good guess as to my presentation:


But first some trivia:

QUESTION 1: How did families select their midwives and who paid the fees – the mother or father-to-be?

QUESTION 2: How long did new mothers undergo confinement – 0, 7, 40 or 60 days?

QUESTION 3: Which of the following types of metals and materials held magical properties as amulets for the protection of mothers and newborns – gold, silver, leather or all of the above?

Here's my full presentation, which was condensed down to 10 minutes and major pints:


·         The Islamic religion, tradition, and culture influenced the fictional portrayal of mothers and their roles.
·         Religion: In religious views of women’s bodies, blood was one of the impure substances, so any show of blood through menstruation or at childbirth meant women had to undergo a period of confinement, just like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, followed by ritual purification through a full bath. Midwives were on hand to verify that a woman’s confinement period, her bleeding, had ended.
·         Tradition: In the Prophetic tradition attributed to Muhammad regarding mothers, there is the belief that ‘Paradise lies beneath her feet.”
·         Culture: The concept of women’s modesty in the Islamic religion also influenced me, because only women should see other women’s bodies, which would have required a midwife’s presence.


·         The right sources are important for providing a sense of time and setting in historical fiction. There are so few sources, which detail Islamic practices and of those available, men have provided the information on midwifery practices; how is that possible especially if they were not in the birthing room?

·         The Sultana series includes child-birthing practices in Islamic Spain from minimal sources on medieval midwifery practices. Initial research reflected practices in Christian and sometimes Jewish settings, but what did the Moors do? They were Islamic rulers, who governed most of Spain and Portugal and part of Sicily during a 700-year period, which meant lots of time for their Moorish, Christian, and Jewish wives to have many babies!

·         Religion influenced so many aspects of Islamic life. One of the first rituals a father performed upon the presentation of his newborn would be to whisper in the baby’s ear the Adhan or call to prayer and the Shahadah or profession of faith. In keeping with practice of the time, none of the new fathers in the series has their child or mother attended by a non-Muslim midwife.

·         Where sources come from: Luckily, the surviving records from Islamic writers who detailed the practices of midwifery served as guides for writing about the period. Most of the literature is from the Golden Age of Islam, a period covering the 8th to 13th centuries of the Common Era. Scholars throughout the Islamic East and West trained at Islamic universities in Baghdad, Iraq to Fez, Morocco, men like the 10th century Persian doctor we call Avicenna, the Spanish-born doctor Averroes from the 12th century, and the 14th century Yemenite Ibn Khaldun, who was not a doctor, but provided extensive details about Islamic life.

·         Accuracy: While women did receive education in Muslim societies, but male doctors received training in gynecology and obstetrics. The absence of men from the birthing rituals begs the question of the accuracy of male sources on women’s roles as midwives. Where Avicenna and Averroes mention midwives, they were professionally inferior to male doctors, trained to aid easy deliveries. In complex deliveries, such as breech babies or extracting stillbirths, midwives were subordinate to doctors, who would attend difficult cases. Although Ibn Khaldun was not a doctor, he gave information about female anatomy and physiology, as well areas in which a midwife would have had expertise; he likely gained such details from midwives or their assistants.

Societal views of midwives

If a family found a good midwife, they retained her services. The majority of the male and female characters of the Sultana series valued the midwives who attended them, consulting them on everything from conception to child rearing. In general, midwives commanded respect in their communities. However, that wasn’t always the most prevalent view at the time the novels take place.

·         Views of midwifery in Muslim sources: Two different views of midwifery in medieval Muslim society helped illustrate how fictional fathers regarded midwives in the Sultana series and show the extremes; I'm betting the most common view fell in the middle. Compare Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction to History or al- Muqadimmah, specifically the section on the craft of midwifery with the writing of his contemporary, the jurist Ibn al-Hajj from Cairo who wrote Introduction to Religious Law or al-Madkhal.

·         The noble art: Ibn Khaldun viewed midwifery as not only a necessary but noble art, because it was so important to ensure the life of mother and child for the survival of the human race. Midwifery was the exclusive domain of women, in part because of female modesty as mentioned earlier, but also midwives were better acquainted with treating childhood illnesses children might develop before their weaning around two years of age. Without university training, midwives gained expertise in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.

·         Not-so noble art: On the extreme opposite, Ibn al-Hajj who actually began his chapter on midwifery by saying he should have placed it before a previous one concerning death, but did not do so because “females were placed behind, just where God placed them.” He said midwives endangered mother and children’s lives, touching newborns even when they had not washed off the bloody secretions of their mothers. He also accused midwives of stealing silk or linen swaddling, ignoring sacred law, resorting to magic and superstition, and ignoring the purification rituals required. As a result, he suggested that males should constantly supervise midwives. In the fifth book of the series, which is the latest available, a father to-be delayed the arrival of a midwife and interfered with her advice, leading to consequences for his wife and first child. 
The role of Ritual and magic in midwifery practicE

Despite the superstitions Ibn al-Hajj feared, magic influenced midwives and the requests of mothers-to-be for treatment. While medieval Islam proscribed magic for evil purposes, Muslims recognized that evil existed. Magic was integral to the practice of midwifery, with no perceived contradiction between science, medicine and the necessity of magical ritual.

·         Harm to mother and baby: Muslim believed pregnant and postpartum mothers remained susceptible in their weakened states as did their children, especially to attacks by the jinn or evil spirits summoned to do another harm. In terms of what could cause harm, there were superstitions about menstrual and childbirth blood, placentas, and umbilical cords used for black magic.

·         Protection: Families sought protections against black magic through the scattering of a handful of salt and the wearing of amulets of blue beads. Blue is a lucky color in Islam. Protection occurred through recitations of individual verses of the Qur’an, spoken aloud or written in saffron, which was a very expensive spice. An expectant mother had the written words tucked next to or under, hung over her bed, or written on her body, as the heroine of the sixth book of the series (in progress) chooses,  to serve as talismans at childbirth and in the weeks afterward. For newborns and young children, the danger of the evil eye loomed. The evil eye derived from two sources, humankind, and the jinn. To ward off the evil eye, mothers and children wore amulets.
Portraying the midwife in her practice

Although cultural behavior varied across regions of the Islamic East and West, there were commonplace practices among midwives. The Sultana novels reflect how the status and wealth of a royal or noblewoman afforded the best care for her and baby.

·         Birthing rituals: required the mother to enter confinement in a room already prepared for her use. Female relatives and friends who had already given birth would have been on hand to offer encouragement. When the midwife arrived, she would examine the expectant mother. When the mother-to-be appeared ready to give birth, she would sit in a birthing chair. The other women in the room assisted or there were one or two assistants of the midwife, who were training to take on the same role. They would sit, kneel, or stand behind the birthing chair to offer support. After delivery, the midwife and any assistants removed all traces of the birth.

·         The unexpected: Midwives also had to deal with unexpected dangers for mother and baby. Death in childbirth or caused by infection after birth could occur. In situations where the mother was too weak to expel afterbirth or it didn’t come out whole, the mother might bleed to death. In such cases, a male doctor attended. During the first book of the series, the heroine’s first child presented as a breech birth. The midwife had the skill to perform delivery on her own as the daughter and wife of doctors through massaging the heroine’s belly and turning the fetus. It’s also the only scene in the series where the father to-be was present during the delivery, as the midwife asked him to make a choice between the life of his wife or their child.

·         After a successful delivery: the midwife lit a fire in the room to keep away evil spirits. No one passed between the fire and the baby’s bed for three days. The midwife helped organize the female-only celebration that typically occurred seven days after the birth of a son. While the father held a public ceremony with the sacrifice of a sheep or goat to express gratitude for the child and affirm a father’s responsibility, the midwife led the women of the household in offering protections for the newborn. On the evening before the festivities, they placed items representing spiritual and material well-being around the baby like a copy of the Qur’an, and inkstands and reeds for writing. On the day of the celebration, the mother would get dressed in all her finery, with lit candles around her and incense burning to ward off evil spirits, while someone sprinkled cumin and saffron over the participants’ heads. 
            What other roles did Moorish midwives undertake: Outside of their practices, midwives came to court as required to give evidence about proof of menstruation, virginity at the time of marriage, fertility problems, and miscarriage and the likely age of the miscarried fetus, as often the female modesty code of Islam would have prevented male doctors from such intimate knowledge. One scene in the fifth book of the series showed the royal midwife in court as part of the defense for the heroine, accused by her husband of secretly using contraception. A midwife’s testimony was one area of Islamic jurisprudence

Now for the answers to those questions above:

ANSWER 1: The influence of religion and culture determined that fathers and male guardians selected midwives and paid all fees beforehand.

ANSWER 2: In the period the novels cover, after the births, the characters have followed the then prevailing Islamic law and custom, which stated mothers had a confinement of typically up to 40 days, paralleling most Christian and Jewish practice of the time. It could not exceed 60 days. If the series had been set earlier, perhaps in the 11th century, scenes would have been different because Muslim jurists believed the confinement should not exceed 7 days and in cases where a woman did not bleed during birth, she had no confinement.

ANSWER 3: All of the above, gold, silver, and leather, served as amulets in the medieval period.

It was great fun to present with such wonderful panelists and to receive the feedback from attendees, who seemed to learn a lot. If anyone's interested in my setting and time for midwifery practices, here's where you can learn more:

resources on Islamic practice of midwifery FOR HISTORICAL FICTION AUTHORS

Muslim Midwives – The Craft of Birthing in the Premodern Middle East by Avner Giladi
Arab Women in the Middle Ages: Private Lives and Public Roles by Shirley Guthrie
The Muqadimmah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun, translated by Franz Rosenthal

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Novel translations: From the translator's perspective

Can you guess the name of this title
translated into Spanish? I'll give
you one good guess.
Back in the summer, I mentioned looking into translations of the Sultana series. I'm so pleased and proud to announce that not only is the translation of the first novel complete, but I'm equally thrilled to have my translator Maria J. Manzano as a guest on the blog today. Maria worked so hard on the novel, which is now available via Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple, and her translations reads beautifully. For now, she had agreed to work with me on promotional materials in Spanish, but she will also translate more books in the series. Here's Maria's perspective on the process:

Lisa: Thank you so much for agreeing to do a guest post. Is this your first foray into translation work?

MARIA: No, it is not. I started working as a freelance translator a year ago and I have already carried out some major translation assignments. One of them was an historical essay on presidential assassinations and assassination attempts on the life of American presidents and the other assignment was a novel by an American author. I have also carried out other minor projects for some Spanish translation agencies both in English and French.

Lisa: What drew you to the opportunity to translate?

MARIA: I worked as a secretary for an international financial firm for a number of years so when I decided to explore other fields and to change careers I thought that working on the translation sector would be compelling.


Lisa: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of language translation?

MARIA: I think it is the fact that when you work with a language that is not your mother tongue you encounter some difficulties. The fact that you are capable of overcoming these difficulties it is extremely gratifying. I also enjoy the research that sometimes I need to conduct to carry out my work.

Lisa: Are you an avid reader?

MARIA: I am indeed. I read French and English literature as well as historical books and biographies in Spanish, French and English but at present I read mostly works in both French and English.

Any advice you would give to anyone looking into providing language translation.

MARIA: Above all, I strongly believe that a translator should be very inquisitive and have a natural thirst for knowledge, being a fervent reader will allow him or her to have a good command of the language too. Also a translator should be very consistent throughout the translation of the text and as close to the original document as possible. From my point of view that is essential. It is also worth considering to get specialized in some types of texts since a translator is not necessarily good at all kind of texts. That is usually the case. He or she may feel particularly confident when working on literary texts but not so much when working on legal texts, whereas others may be very skillful at the translation of technical texts. I personally enjoy working on financial and economic texts too. 

Thank you so much, Maria, for making this experience so rewarding and I look forward to our future projects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Writing Path Blog Tour from IC Publishing

The lovely Kristen Taber, YA fantasy author and a great friend, invited me to participate in IC Publishing's writing path blog tour - thank you, Kristen. Please check out her answers to the tour questions. As I'm composing mine, I'm actually in the spot where most of my writing endeavors take place, next to the corner window of my bedroom complete with cluttered desk and PC. The clutter is necessary; it's how I write. Speaking of writing....

1. How do you start your writing projects?

With history as inspiration. I write historical fiction of the medieval period. Those European settings and people of the era call to me like a siren song. I also write about historical figures, typically the lesser-known characters who lost the battle and never got to tell their side of the story, or those for whom their religion, gender, or socioeconomic status kept them marginalized in the annals. I love history! It can teach us more than details of the past; the topic informs who we are as a society, how our worldviews formed, and illuminate the roots of today's conflicts. Seriously, I do NOT get people who think history is boring - they're obviously reading the wrong kind.

Once an idea blossoms, I think of the characters; especially, the supporting characters since not every main character can’t have been at a certain place and time. I learn as much of the history of the central figures; where they lived and died, their children and dependents, their perspectives on larger societal and religious issues, and their roles in society of their time. Then it's off to the books - I've amassed tons of research on the medieval period, simply hoping that I might write about a particular era. If I don't have the titles I need, is a mouse click away. Once the history and characters are set, it's easy to plan the number of chapters I'll need to tell the story and to sketch my outline, which is more like a chapter-by-chapter summary incorporating major dates and events. There it is, no magic, no mystery.

2. How do you continue your writing process?

I'm obsessive, in case no one could tell, so that facet of my personality guarantees once I’ve started something, I'll finish it. The story may change from conception to completion - I've written two outlines / chapter summaries only to alter the stories significantly about two-thirds in. But the novels still reach the same conclusion. Perseverance takes commitment and sacrifice; sometimes, that means a lack of sleep, or less time with my loved ones. I never miss the important stuff with them for writing's sake and one day, I'll cure my self-imposed insomnia. Ultimately, the end goal keeps me motivated.

3. How do you finish your writing project?

Speaking of which, The End is the most satisfying phrase I have ever typed, even better than Chapter 1. Like all other writers dedicated to their craft, I pour my heart and soul into my stories. That doesn't mean I have any problem trimming the fat wherever my editor tells me to, or I'm so in love with my own words. I have looked at a chapter in one of my books and thought, 'I could have phrased that better.' I know my writing's not to everyone's taste or interest, and frankly, I have never thought my stories would have mass appeal. Fear of negative reviews doesn’t bother me, not when I still enjoy those emails and comments from readers, one at time, as they share how much they enjoyed a story, the characters, or the history. Truly makes typing The End so worthwhile.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

I challenge my fellow writers to do one thing. Publish. I don't care if you spend the rest of your life querying agents and editors, or self-publishing your work. Stop talking about the book you're going to publish and get it published. Work hard at this endeavor, make it the best you can, believe in it and yourself, and put your words out there for consumption and criticism. Take the advice that works for you, as well as some you may not like - sometimes, the best criticism is the one no writer wants to hear. Query until you drop or sell, or upload your work to any of the self-publishing distribution channels you've researched, ensuring you have the best cover and cover copy you can achieve. Too often, many unpublished writers spend too much time bemoaning the process. Just get it done in the best way you know how. If you make a mistake, you can learn from it, but you'll never know if publishing your work isn't the start of your greatest venture.

Next up, I'm inviting some other writing buds, my dear friends Anita DavisonMirella Patzer and Sheila Lamb. Want to participate? Email me at lyarde1175 at gmail dot com so I can note your name here and link to your future post.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Translations of a novel: thinking global

I've mentioned in an earlier post that I'm looking into translations of the novels of the Sultana series. My foray into foreign rights sales has spurred a serious interest in seeing these books in other languages. My first choice of Spanish seems especially appropriate; not only because of the setting of the stories, but the number of Spanish speakers worldwide. In Spanish bookstores (yes, they still exist outside the US), particularly at the bookshop of the Alhambra, I saw lots of historical fiction titles revolving around the Moorish period - guess what language they were in? Not English. Years ago, I started learning some basics of Spanish using Fluenz, in part because the country is such a fun destination for me, but also to aid my understanding of the research materials I've depended on to write the series. My foray is little help in preparing for the task of translating half a million words into a language spoken by 400 million people worldwide. Why?  

With all the native speakers, there are regional variations in the language. Beyond that, there are simply different ways in which someone can choose to express themselves, with the use of idiomatic phrases in a certain context. Ideally, I would like the person who undertakes the first translation to do so for all the books, which would be a huge commitment, but would hopefully reduce some of the variation. In reviewing the possibilities for translation, I asked potential translators of Sultana to provide a sample of the following section from the first novel:
Aisha smiled again, but it seemed sad. “Hush now, child, listen well. Understanding shall come. Even when you must do what others command, never forget the power of your own reasoning. One day, your husband may rule your body, he may even come to rule your heart, but your mind is and always must be your own, where none but you may rule. Promise me that you shall never forget these words.” 

Fatima swayed slightly. Her throat hurt, but she whispered, “I promise.” 

She returned Aisha’s intent stare, for the first time, unafraid. Aisha’s eyes glistened like gems in the lamplight. 

“This is the only measure of advice I can give you, Fatima. You must learn the ways of men, as I have. Do not trust in men alone. Love, be dutiful and respectful, but trust yourself and your instincts first. They shall always guide you rightly.”
Here are the samples from two translators born in Spain.

Sample 1

Aisha sonrió de nuevo, pero su sonrisa parecía triste. 

-Ahora guarda silencio, niña, y escucha atentamente. La comprensión vendrá. Aunque tengas que hacer lo que otros te ordenen nunca olvides el poder de tu propio razonamiento. Un día, tu esposo puede que controle tu cuerpo, puede incluso que quiera mandar en tu corazón, pero tu mente es y siempre deberá ser tuya y nadie más que tú debe mandar sobre ella. Prométeme que nunca olvidarás estas palabras.

Fátima se balanceó ligeramente. Le dolía la garganta pero susurró:

-Lo prometo.

Ella devolvió la mirada decidida de Aisha en la que por primera vez no aparecía el miedo. Los ojos de Aisha brillaban como piedras preciosas a la luz de una lámpara.

-Este es el único consejo que puedo darte, Fátima. Debes aprender cómo actúan los hombres de la misma manera que yo lo he hecho. No confíes solo en los hombres. Ama, sé obediente y respetuosa, pero confía en ti misma y en tus instintos primero. Ellos serán siempre los que mejor te guiarán.

Sample 2

Aisha esbozó una sonrisa, pero era incapaz de ocultar su tristeza.
–Guarda silencio, niña mía, y escucha con atención. Lo que te voy a decir a continuación lo entenderás a su debido tiempo. Incluso cuando debas hacer lo que te ordenen, nunca olvides el poder que la razón te otorga. Algún día tu marido será el dueño de tu cuerpo e incluso puede que se apropie de tu corazón. Pero tu mente es y deberá ser siempre tuya, es el lugar donde nadie más tiene el control. Ahora, prométeme que nunca olvidarás éstas mis palabras.
Fatima se balanceó levemente y, a pesar del nudo que tomó forma en su garganta, suspiró:
–Lo prometo.
Y le devolvió a Aisha su intensa mirada que, por vez primera, transmitía temor: sus ojos brillaban como gemas a la luz de las velas.
–Fatima, este es el único consejo que te puedo dar. Debes ser capaz de entender a los hombres tal y como yo lo hago. Nunca debes de depositar tu confianza solo ellos. Ama, sé responsable  a la par que respetable, pero antes de nada ten confianza en ti misma y en tus instintos ya que te guiarán por el camino correcto.

Wish me luck as I go about deciding on the right person to tackle the novel. If you're an author considering translations of your work, hiring a translator isn't cheap. I've received a great offer on the existing series, but it's still in the range of thousands of dollars. Consider the following resources:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Release Day for Sultana: The Bride Price

It's finally here! Sultana: The Bride Price went live on Amazon and Scribd today; I expect Barnes & Noble and Kobo later. Apple will take the longest, as it always does. Huge thanks to everyone who put the novel on this list on its first day of availability at Amazon:#87 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Biographical. During the first two weeks of publication, I'll offer the title at 99 cents. Save $3 before the price updates to $3.99. Why am I launching at 99 cents? To generate reader interest, to get some visibility online where it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so without shelling out hundreds of dollars with sites that will lists books, and because the series is not part of KDP Select, which lifts some titles out of obscurity.

Here's the description:

Sultana: The Bride Price (A Novel of Moorish Spain) [Kindle Edition] 

Book #4 of the Sultana series.

In fourteenth-century Moorish Spain, a marriage of convenience for the sake of peace leads to disaster in the medieval kingdom of Granada. The young queen Jazirah, caught up in a dynastic struggle between warring brothers, fights for her survival. Wed to a husband who looks at her with more suspicion than lust in his eyes, she must escape reminders of a brutal past in a quest to find forgiveness, hope, and love. 

Her husband Muhammad faces greater peril than union with a wife he cannot trust. Surrounded by enemies within his family who seek the throne and undermined by ministers who would alter the course of his country’s future, he intends to rule the land of his ancestors alone. How can he endure against his most bitter opponents, not least among them, the woman whom he has chosen for a bride?


“Why do you speak of me as if I am not here?” Jazirah demanded. Despite the collective gasps from everyone in attendance, she continued, “We may address each other as equals for we are both the grandchildren of a Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Her father admonished, “Jazirah, you are not the equal of a man, least of all the Sultan! You will apologize and beg his forgiveness. Now!”

Muhammad raised a hand. While Ismail fell silent and glared at Jazirah, she returned his narrowed stare with intense regard.

The Sultan said, “Let her keep false words behind her teeth. I would not believe them. What else could I expect, but this behavior from the daughter of a traitor to his people and my father?”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Update on the Sultana series

The official release date of Sultana: The Bride Price is Monday, June 30. At long last and after a little consternation and probably too much nit-picking, I'm finally able to offer the title as an ebook. The paperback will be ready one month later.

One of the changes made in Sultana: The Bride Price was the exclusion of the historical events from my Author's Note. For readers who are really interested, those details will be posted on The Sultana Series page of my website by June 30. The link will be embedded in all digital versions. While many readers have told me how much they appreciated the details of the past, the historical notes for The Bride Price added nearly twenty pages to the manuscript. In addition to the histories of the main characters, I've included information on the prominent ministers who served Muhammad V, as well as some of his descendants. Unfortunately for the Moors, the reign of Muhammad V was the last glorious heyday of the Nasrid dynasty before family squabbles began the downward spiral. The Nasrids proved too adept at destroying themselves from within, long before the intentions of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand came to fruition. That doesn't mean I plan to end this series on a somber note, but if there's been one consistent theme of each book, it has been that the bonds between family are very important and when those bonds begin to fray, disaster often follows. 

In other series' news, I'm looking into Arabic, German, and Spanish translations of each novel, and I've finished the outline and character list of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, which I'll start writing in 11 days. Wow, 11 days. The next novel makes a huge leap of eight decades from the time of Muhammad V to the tail end of the fractured reign of his grandson, Muhammad IX. Not that interesting stuff didn't happen in that 80 year  span - the problem is that too much happened! More importantly, no truly strong queen of the caliber of Fatima, Butayna or Maryam has come down through history for me to write about her in those times. Four books down, two more to go! Once the series is done in 2015, all six books will be bundled as an ebook only. Lastly, I'm working out a snafu with Amazon whereby Sultana has not been available as a paperback sold directly from their website since September 2013. Resolving this hasn't been fun, but I'm nothing if not persistent.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Meet the characters - Haziyya al-Riyad

HRH Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco,
inspiration for Haziyya al-Riyad
In Sultana: The Bride Price, the love of Muhammad V's life is not his future bride Jazirah, but a woman of Tuareg / Berber heritage from the Rif mountains of Morocco. Haziyya al-Riyad, whose name translates as "garden favorite" is a purely fictionalized character. The histories I have of Muhammad V don't mention another wife or any concubines by name, but it is likely he had some favored woman or women at his side as his Nasrid ancestors did. When I was writing, I imagined Muhammad as a young ruler seeking not only the pleasures of women in his life, but a companion with whom he could share his life. Haziyya is a strong character, among other strong characters, with a Berber father and a Tuareg mother whose cultural dress and beliefs she favors.    

The physical description of the character was inspired by a photo I had seen of the royal consort of Morocco, Princess Lalla Salma, who is from the capital at Rabat. The queen is a natural redhead; a small percentage of people of Berber descent in the north of her birthplace have red and blond hair. Berbers were part of the first wave of Muslim invaders that Spain faced in the eighth century. One of the most famous rulers of  the country, Abd al-Rahman I of the Umayyad dynasty (whom I'll talk about much more in the future) supposedly had blond or reddish-blond hair inherited from his Berber mother. One of the Berber dynasties I have featured prominently in the novels of the Sultana series are the Marinids, who ruled Morocco from 1248 to 1465. In Sultana: The Bride Price, the Marinids are key allies of Muhammad V.

The Tuareg are a Berber people, who have typically survived in a nomadic lifestyle ranging throughout the Sahara. They have lived in the region for centuries, surviving Arab and later colonial incursions, while maintaining a fascinating culture with enduring rituals. They are sometimes referred to as the 'Blue People' for their garments often dyed a deep shade of indigo, which then rubs off on their skin. The men of their tribes veil their faces, but the women do not. For several centuries, the Tuareg held beliefs in the spiritual properties of plants and animals, but with the advent of Christianity and Islam, those later beliefs have been incorporated.

The character of Haziyya al-Riyad embodies the pride of the Tuareg people and a Berber heritage. Learn more about her in Sultana: The Bride Price. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Meet the characters - Muhammad V

At the same time as the Meet My Main Character theme had become popular on the blogs of other writers of historical fiction, I had planned to introduce the others in my cast of characters from Sultana: The Bride Price. Here's the hero of the novel, Sultan Muhammad V.

Rudolf Swoboda's "Portrait of Abdul Karim: The Mushni" (1888)
reminds me of Muhammad V. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Readers of Sultana: Two Sisters while remember Muhammad as the only son of Sultan Yusuf and his former Christian slave, Butayna. At the abrupt end of his father's life, Muhammad came to the throne. The novel opens with him at fourteen months into his reign, where he is contemplating more than just the marriage offer made to his cousin Jazirah, which I talked about in a previous post. I imagine Muhammad's physical appearance as similar to this painting; he's dark-haired, a bit burly, always well-dressed, but saddled with a brooding personality.

As the eldest of the three sons of Yusuf, Muhammad faces turmoil within his harem. He's plagued by worry that his stepmother Maryam, the villainess of Two Sisters, is plotting against him along with the governors of his province. Since Yusuf did not officially name an heir before his death, leaving it to high ranking ministers to select Muhammad, his position is a little precarious. The continued rivalry between his mother Butayna and Maryam becomes dangerous, as each women develops factions for support within and outside the palace. Muhammad's been burdened by duty for so long that he can't even contemplate marriage to the woman he truly loves, a Berber concubine named Haziyya al-Riyad. Even more perplexing, Haziyya nor any other concubine in his harem has managed to conceive a son for him in years. Coupled with the fact that his future bride's father numbers among malcontents who wonder whether Muhammad's ministers made the right choice of an heir, he doesn't start off the novel in a very happy place.    

Muhammad is, as with most of my characters, based on the historical figure of Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V of the Nasrid Dynasty, based within Granada's Alhambra. Born January 4, 1338, he ascended the throne when he was sixteen immediately after his father's death. In writing about him, I didn't have to dig too deep to imagine what life would have been like for a teenager to lose a parent - my father died when I was the same age. Luckily, I didn't have even one quarter of the responsibilities Muhammad would have faced at the time. As the new ruler of a kingdom slowly shrinking while the Castilians and Aragonese nibbled away at Granadine territory in the north and the Muslims of Morocco tried to influence Granada's politics and future, Muhammad needed counselors at his side. He relied upon two men from his father's reign in particular, each of whom play strong secondary characters, the ministers Ridwan and Ibn al-Khatib. But there comes a time in every young person's life when you want to step out from the shadows cast by the adults in your life, and Muhammad's experience wasn't any different.

He was one of the most enlightened rulers of Moorish Spain. He is largely responsible for the beauty within Alhambra that we are fortunate to see today. He ordered the construction of one of the best hospitals in fourteenth century Spain, the Maristan. When the Castilians under Enrique II began a relentless persecution of Jews, Muhammad welcomed them into Granada. He met or knew many of the famed scholars of the time, including Ibn Battuta who visited during Yusuf's reign and Ibn Khaldun, who would later serve as an ambassador to Castile on Muhammad's behalf. He regained much of the territory lost by his ancestors to other rulers, including a major victory at the port city of Algeciras in 1369. During his reign, he sired at least four sons and one daughter, leaving his kingdom and his heir poised to continue with great achievements.

How does my portrayal square with the real Muhammad V? The factual accounts of his life certainly influenced the events I've written about in The Bride Price, but historical fiction isn't just names, dates and places. It's about people. In the novel, Muhammad is shrewd beyond his years, but also a very suspicious young man who sees traitors hiding in every darkened corner. The sudden loss of his father shapes his perspective, as does his relationship with his mother, who as a Christian and a former slave, is viewed with some merited suspicion by others in the kingdom. When she exhibits very secretive behavior while insisting on her son's marriage to a traitor's daughter, Muhammad can't help but wonder whether his mother has his best interests at heart. I don't doubt the real ruler must have faced similar quandaries, not knowing whom to trust. Find out how the fictionalized Muhammad resolves his difficulties in Sultana: The Bride Price.                   

Ebook Release Day! Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is here!

After a year and a half, the ebook version of the novel is out. It's been like giving birth to a really big baby, who had some troubles...