December 18 is World Arabic Language Day. It's a day to celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity in our world. By recognizing the Arabic language, we become aware of the contribution of the Arab culture to science, philosophy and the arts.
When I was an Art History student, I studied Islamic text as an art form. Our class learned about Horreur Vacue - a term meaning fear of the blank space. Indeed, a quick glance at Arab and Islamic art shows no space uncovered by art-like design and text. Examples of the art were both lyrical and beautiful in appearance . While I engaged in further research for the writing and in many cases the validation of ideas in Children of Stone, I noticed a shocking similarity in the writing style of ancient Egyptian and Modern Arab text.
Most people think of Ancient Egyptian writing as a pictographic text. That means the use of little pictures that stand for words or parts of words. An example is at the right.
What I didn't know was that this form of writing was not the only form used in Egypt. There was also Hieratic writing - a form of CURSIVE used from the 1st dynasty (c. 2925-c. 2775 BC) until about 200 BC. The pictographic style is seen on monuments and in stone. The hieratic formis created with reeds and ink and set on papyrus.
After about 660 BC demotic script replaced hieratic in most secular writings, but hieratic continued to be used by priests in the transcription of religious texts for several more centuries. The latter was a shorthand form.
Notice in these examples how similar it is to modern Arabic text. The one at the left is from a papyrus text. The one below is on ostraca - a practice piece on a broken pot.
Writing was not one, but two inventions.
First, the script itself was developed. It represented all human sounds. The second was the development of materials (papyrus, pen, ink) to record, transmit and preserve the script along with an education system to pass the system on, from generation to generation.
Likely, the Egyptian school was called or located in "The House of Life" (Per-Ankh), because writing bestowed a kind of immortality. As my character Count Prince Hordjedtef observes, the spreading of wisdom gives more immortality than the finest monuments.
At a very early date, by 3000 BC, Egyptians had already made extraordinary advances in writing. Egypt was a great center of early literacy.
The god of writing was Djehuti who was later called Thoth, a lunar deity represented by a baboon and alternately a black-beaked ibis.
Priests who served in the worship of Djehuti were scholars who spent their time reading and translating older works or transcribing oral traditions, much like the medieval Christian priests did later. They tutored princes and sons of nobles. Noble women were taught or tutored privately. They were also literate, but most of their training was in domestic and social management of a home or estate and conducted by women of the temples.
One of the characters in Children of Stone, as mentioned earlier is Count Prince Hordjedtef, an early scholar based on a legendary figure of the time.
I do not know if the real Hordjedtef was the Great One of Five (High Priest) in the worship of Djehuti, but I make him the "Great One" in my story. I've detailed him in earlier blogs as a scholar and teacher of an assistant Prince Wserkaf. The plot bunny? Hordjedtef believes that education should be only for those of divine or semi-divine ancestry (The royalty or the nobles). When Marai arrives,(and is clearly neither royal or divine, but still gifted with high spiritual skills) the fact that he knows many things and learns easily upsets him.
Here is a sequence from Voices in Crystal in which Marai, as a student at Hordjedtef's feet amazes him with writing. The elder has decided to "test" Marai's skill and intelligence. This turns into a session of automatic writing with messages from the Children of Stone.
--The old man craned forward, balanced on his canes, to see what Marai was writing. Marai took a deep breath, shut his eyes, and contemplated a silent, self-made invocation.
We will do what we will do.
It will be beauty beyond compare...
Sweet Child in me, help me.
He felt the reed begin to fly across the page, spilling out characters shaped quite unlike the pictographs he'd learned from the tablets and the walls. At first, the writing scrolled right to left in a curvilinear style.
An astonished murmur rose from the elder's chair.
Although Marai's eyes were lightly shut and his thoughts at peace in a different world, he sensed the priest creeping closer toward him.
"What in the name of the devourer..." The old man hissed at first. "This writing. How did you learn..."
Then... "By Wisdom! It is the Ntr spirits. They're doing it through him..."
Marai heard the whisper of the younger priest and other voices presently, all murmuring in quiet but urgent tones. At some point he felt the first page being lifted by others in attendance and another being placed beneath the floating reed. New paint pots were magically placed so he could dip the reed without fully rousing himself.
Even less aware of his surroundings, Marai continued. Everything in his world felt like a dream of floating -- as if he was in the warm water of the pond at his childhood home or the pool in the bath house here. He wanted to swim all the way to his apartment, magically extending the water as he did so he could scoop up the women and have them bathe with him. He knew it wasn't possible.
The child stone in his forehead influenced the movement of his hand, as if it's spirit guided a group of children. Together, their combined voices whispered the words they were writing as he wrote them.
Everything was as Prince Hordjedtef taught: Life and the worlds above and below, the magic and powers of all of the spirits of the universe, the creator...Woman... Love... Ultimate sensuality as food of the universe through the sacred womb.
When the children spoke these truths through Marai's heart, their words weren't dried and factual. Their words and thoughts carried a passion that Marai had only come to understand while lying in his Naibe's arms.
He sensed his writing change. The careful and precise scrawl loosened and tightened at varying intervals. It clambered in all directions, taking on the feeling of a fluid drawing rather than writing. Through him, the children related the story of souls coming to Earth to observe the beasts lifting wing and fin from the first ocean. Some, they whispered, came to watch and record, because they were record keepers of the Universe.
The longer these beings observed the earthly creatures, the more they felt a desire to experience what they could not in their own realm.
Though not mortal in an earthly sense, their fascination with fragile mortals became a source of such profound ecstasy and yet such loneliness that they were swept down into that ascent and combined with it's energy. They became a new being. Once inside flesh, they forgot they were once of air and fire and purely soul.
Others were sent to wake them from their forgetfulness and yet...
His left shoulder ached a little. He really didn't care if the children were telling great truths or spinning a wild tale through him. He understood his mission was only through them. He was the conduit of truth. He understood intimately that truth is often perceived as lies when it is feared or if its message can't be controlled. A low, guttural laugh welled up in Marai's throat when he sensed what his hand was writing:
They thirst to their downfall
To be all-knowing and godly,
Just as the bright souls of wisdom and truth once fell
thirsting for physical things and fleshly separations from one another...
To be something one is not…
That is the real hunger, and never filled---
Ariennu of Tyre, Wise MaMa, my inner Crazy Lady
From time to time I'm asked what character is most like myself in my series Children of Stone. I usually answer that it's Ariennu of Tyre. For those who know me, that sometimes comes as a shock because, although I am quirky, I'm an often sedate and reflective grandmother with a lot of stories to tell. Ariennu, is my storyteller. She's my inner crazy and wild self that never got to run free in this life and consequently was never as greatly damaged. She's rowdy, drunk, randy, forward and ribald. She's done everything unacceptable that I might had thought about but didn't dare do. She's the devil on my shoulder...you know...the fun one.
In my story she had been an ancient version of a 1930's gun moll, a pirate queen, a tramp, a girl of the street, wildly independent, a thief, a gang leader and a lost soul. She had become hard but, as the story begins, she is near death from the wages of her life. We learn later that she often did strangely "good" things if she saw any personal gain in them. She's later renovated by the Children of Stone and becomes oddly maternal without losing an ounce of her brashness. She's Marai's brightness and sense of humor, his dirty mouth and inspiration but mostly his good companion and the glue that keeps everyone going when times are bad. Here's her interview. It takes place near the end of Voices in Crystal
1. Go Ahead and Introduce yourself.
Ariennu. I don't know that I have a last name. I have a from. Some call me Red or Red Ari. Others call me Wise MaMa.
2.Tell us where and when were you born.
When? I don’t know. A while ago. I was born on the beach in Tyre. I think it's called Lebanon in your time.
3. How would you describe yourself?
Tall, strong, dark curly hair with red lights, black eyes, tawny skin. Big wide shoulders, fine breasts but they don’t get in my way, even when I’ve been in fights. and I've been in plenty of them. I'm bigger than most women. All my mother remembers was that he was this big Keftian raider. They were together until they weren't. I dress like the kuna from Keftiu because it shows what I have in a prettier way than just going around with breast straps like the women here.
4. Tell us about where you grew up.
Tyre and other cities around the Green Sea until I got a price on my head. Then the boys (there was a group of them and we did what we could to get by and make good) and I headed into the southern wilderness and finally got to the foot of God’s Mountain.
5. How old are you? About 95 sun years. I was 45 old and sick when Marai found me but he took me to the underground where it was white and glowing and I fell asleep for 50 or so years. Now I look like a fine and smooth grown woman about 25 or so.
6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not? I was fine until I was about 11 just doing girl things, when MaMa’s man at the time decided to see what I was like. I wasn’t strong enough to fight him off me, and It felt kinda good the second time he did it. MaMa got mad and tried to kill me when she caught us, She almost did, but I woke up on the road and went my own way. Couldn’t hear so good after that, but I guess I was thought of as grown because of what happened.
7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you? The bastard that raped me was first "relationship" as you want to call what happens to girls of my background, but I knew he liked it with me, so I just got better at it. Had five babies but couldn't support them and none of the men ever stayed. I gave them to other people who wanted babies until I learned about Heart seeds which I could eat after a night of partying. They make the belly slick so no seed can take hold.
I found a gang of homeless boys and we all grew up drinking and fighting. N’ahab-atall was the one I decided to make my partner but when I started getting sick, he got tired of me. I got him back though. I called any god who still knew my name and just like magic Marai showed up, killed the ungrateful bastard, got me cured. I'm with him now. Marai’s different. It’s not about sex with him, even though it’s glorious. It’s about love. Who would have thought I would ever love a thing…
8. What do you value above all else in life? People I can depend on; that won't turn on me or abandon me when something else comes along.
9. What are you obsessed with? Good times. I get bored easily. I like men. Marai knows that and allows me to be free. I don’t want to go around with others so much anymore, not since him.
<--- Me as Ariennu (before transformation)
10. Biggest fear? That it’s all a dream and I’m gonna wake up sick and gasping out blood and bile; begging for N’ahab to come and cut my throat to stop the misery.
11. How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about? Beliefs? Good one! No god or goddess - not really, although I'll call out to one if I am ever out of ideas. I think mostly I believe in me or making my life better for me. As for the people I care about? Marai, Deka, Naibe. That's about it. I don't know if any belief I have makes their lives better.
12. What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
Marai. End of story there.
That he’s gone off to study with these priests across the river. I have a bad feeling about this. Every day it gets worse. Wish he would get home.
13. What line will you never cross? Hah! Hasn't been one yet...except maybe I wouldn't kill myself on purpose. No matter how bad it gets, I like being alive.
14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Embarrassing? You jest. I embarrass others, I don’t get embarrassed.
15. Biggest secret?
Have quite a few. I am a Keeper of Secrets. I’d be a failure if I told wouldn’t I?
16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?
17. What is your current goal?
I regret asking the Children of Stone to make me barren. I'm good with Marai. I’d like to have a child again one day, …Maybe a girl like me.
In another life she was just as drunk...
Malle Babbe is a painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, painted between 1633 and 1635 and is now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. The painting has also been titled as Hille Bobbe or the Witch of Haarlem. It was traditionally interpreted as a tronie, or genre painting in a portrait format, depicting a mythic witch-figure. The painting is now often identified as a genre-style portrait of a specific individual from Haarlem, known as Malle (meaning "crazy") Babbe, who may have been an alcoholic or a woman who suffered from a mental illness.
There really was a Malle Babbe in an asylum in Haarlem. Hals son had been there, and that is where he met the legendary wild woman... old and sick. The owl is either her familiar, or goes with an old epithet "Drunk as an Owl"
A Review of Akrad's Children
Akrad’s Children by Jeanette O’Hagan is a richly written and detailed work of fantasy. There is much to see and experience in the world she has created. The main characters who drive the story are children who have been orphaned and become servants in a royal household. They grow up, adapting to the customs of their new surroundings and befriend a young prince of similar age.
Relationships change and the young people become involved in palace intrigue, during which quite a few family secrets are revealed. While Akrad’s Children is very well written, with excellent world-building and character development, it seemed to get in the way of the story. I was as one dropped down into a well-developed world filled with crowds of people, customs, and names. The glossary, cast of characters, family genealogy and maps are in the back.
The novel asks to be read again with these notes at hand.
At first, it was hard to sort the main characters from those in the background. The story moves well and picks up speed in the last half of the book as the young people are caught up in the events happening around them. The conclusion leads the reader to expect and even hope for another novel in the series where the unanswered questions and drama will be resolved.
A Book Launch Plan for First-Time Authors Without an Online Presence
Posted on December 12, 2017 by Jane Friedman (a re-blog. This article is also good for a re-check if your other launches fell short.
Full article here: https://www.janefriedman.com/book-launch-plan/)
While it’s not easy to launch a book without any kind of online presence, many first-time authors are in exactly that position. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in frustration to launch one’s online presence—and get up to speed on social media—in conjunction with a book release. It’s like trying to drive a car at the same time you’re building it. At some point, you’ll end up on the side of the road.
I recommend authors who are starting from “online zero” to look at their strengths and opportunities that exist outside of their own newly started (or nonexistent) website, blog, or social media. If done well, the book launch will help draw people to you online because they’ve read your book and enjoyed it, not because you’ve tweeted at them to buy it. When your book achieves a reasonable foundation of readership or success, so too will your online presence; the two go hand in hand. (Note: Prior to the book launch, I do recommend you establish sites or accounts you plan to be active on for the long term—just be aware they’ll be most useful, marketing-wise, for your next launch, whenever it is.)
Here’s a high-level view of the plan, which works for both traditionally published and self-published authors.
Market and promote to the people who know you (existing readers or fans, even if there are only a couple).
Encourage existing readers and fans to share your book with their network.
Get influencers to help spread the word.
Market to strangers or readers who don’t know you yet—but have demonstrated interest in work similar to yours.
Before you begin
Consider creating a page at your author website or a media kit stored at Google Drive (or somewhere in the cloud) that has all the needed publicity information about the book and you. Then you’ll have a link you can share via email or elsewhere whenever people want to know more, have info requests, etc. Here’s a good example that is more extensive than what most authors need, but gives you an idea of what to include.
To know whom you should target (or advertise to), it helps to come up with a list of comparable authors or titles, then analyze the activity, reviews, and readers around those titles at Goodreads and Amazon.
How do people talk about these books? What keywords or keyword phrases consistently come up? And where do the readers of these books tend to find out about new books? This kind of information often surfaces when you start looking closely at who is actively reading/reviewing books like your own, and provides additional leads as to what sites, blogs, communities, social media sites, etc., would be a good target for any kind of paid promotion—or to approach for editorial coverage.
Big warning: Most paid advertising does not work out well unless you have deep knowledge of the publication’s audience (you know for sure they will be interested in your book), or you have experience and insight into digital advertising strategies on sites like Facebook, Amazon, etc.—and are willing to experiment over a period of weeks and months. It’s very easy to blow a lot of money on online advertising without any results, and too many authors are running ads that are amateurish, with poor imagery, poor marketing copy, and poor design.
I've just heard from folks!
Among them the fabulously talented Mara Reitsma!
Back to our usual bits and re-bits from me, and others.
Til then, keep on reading, Writing & reviewing!
And have a Merry Christmas and all the Winter Holidays