Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Map It Out!

One of the first things my publisher asked for when they accepted Seven Noble Knights for publication was a map showing the locations mentioned in the novel. I had always hoped to have something like that, to orient the reader and because I love maps. I knew I wouldn't be able to cobble together anything that met my artistic standards or that was specific enough to Seven Noble Knights, so I looked for a map artist who could include everything I wanted.

Nuno Alexandre Vieira has a lot of impressive artistic credentials under his belt. He won me over when he said he was from Portugal and knew the Iberian Peninsula well.

The map is now complete. Without further ado:

It's exciting to see the places in Seven Noble Knights, to have this artifact in the real world that attests to the presence of my beloved story. It's black and white because the book won't be printed in color—that may contribute to the aged feel. The lettering was done by hand and I can't imagine anything about this map being any better. I hope the artist wins an award for it.

Now that I can imagine opening Seven Noble Knights to the first few pages and turning the book to orient this map and pore over it, the publication of the biggest project of my life is that much more real. Thanks for sharing my excitement!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The End of One Journey, The Beginning of an Even More Exciting One

The crest of Salas de los Infantes tells the Lara side of the story. 
I spent two years writing my darling baby novel and more years revising it (see some of that saga here and here), but nothing happens before its time. All the elements have finally aligned for Seven Noble Knights. Bagwyn Books will publish it in late 2016.

It was the day of my and my husband's return from ten days in Spain, our favorite place in the world. It's a long flight, but because of the time zones, we left Madrid a bit after noon and arrived stateside at about 2:30 pm. Having breakfast in Madrid and landing, only a little later in the day, somewhere so different it gives you culture shock even though you recognize everything—it creates severe nostalgic ache to go along with the raw fatigue. Moaning and groaning ensues. We took in the scenery, my husband kept reaching for the clutch in our automatic transmission, and we made it home to unpack in less than ten minutes, our few souvenirs bizarrely out of context now.

Yet some of the euphoria of the journey had imprinted on our minds and would be extended by an unexpected but long-hoped-for email. I was taking care of business when at 6:44 pm, a message came in with the subject SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS from the publisher I had so jubilantly submitted the full manuscript to in February. Up until now, these messages have been disappointing, so I braced myself.

"Dear Jessica," it began. "We have now finished our preliminary review of SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS..."

Yes, yes, but... I waited for the punch.

"...and have decided we are indeed interested in publishing."

Did I read that right?

This is a yes?

I never knew it would be so beautiful.

"This novel is very well done and hard to put down!"

That's when the tears welled up. To see my hard work pay off!

My husband entered the room and I squeaked, "I think my dreams are coming true."

It's taken a few weeks to iron out the legal mumbo-jumbo, but I can now look forward to working with professionals who specialize in medieval and renaissance fiction... on even more revisions. But really, when I came across Bagwyn, I was impressed that it's the fiction imprint of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I already own a few of their books! I can't imagine a more appropriate publisher for Seven Noble Knights.

Thanks to all the writers and historical fiction lovers who helped me through the drafts and the many revisions. You know who you are. I'll name names in the published acknowledgments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Seven Noble Knights in Modern Life

My recent trip to Spain had many life-changing moments. Most relevant to my writing, I got to see the legend upon which I based my novel Seven Noble Knights "out in the world." The events, if they ever really took place, happened more than 1000 years ago. That's a lot of time for historians, minstrels, and everyone else to make the story their own.

Most amusing to me was the way entrepreneurs could use the characters' names and count on their buying public to know what they're referring to. For example:

Mudarra Café and Grill in Salas de los Infantes
This restaurant is named for the hero of the second part of the saga, who redeems the González family after fifteen years.

Los Infantes Bakery in Salas de los Infantes
An enterprising pastry chef knew "Los Infantes" (the seven noble knights of my title) would lend his wares credibility.

Doña Lambra Hotel and Restaurant
More surprisingly, this hotel and restaurant flaunts the name of the legend's supervillain, Doña Lambra. Granted, it's located in Barbadillo del Mercado, her territory.

Barbadillo also boasts a Lambra Street!

And a twentieth-century sculptor was moved to honor Barbadillo's most notorious ruler with a rather nice statue. The inscription reads, "Doña Lambra. Between history and legend, she ruled this village in the high Middle Ages, immersed in the events that would end with the betrayal of the seven noble knights and Mudarra's revenge (10th century)." Behind Lambra, on the left, is an impression of her husband, Ruy Blásquez, the seven noble knights' uncle. On the other side, Mudarra, the great hero. The statue tells a lot of the legend with no need for reference elsewhere. My husband and I weren't sure where the statue was, so we walked what we thought was the whole town with no luck, and then asked a couple of different residents before we found it. I was thrilled to be able to speak the name of the antagonist of my novel and see recognition on people's faces. They needed no explanation!

Stories are powerful, and apparently they last through time. I'm proud to continue the legend of the seven noble knights.

My book of stories, Unpredictable Worlds, releases for Kindle on May 15 with a softcover edition available the same day. Unpredictable Worlds is already available for preorder for only 99 cents. Once it’s out there in the world, the price will go up, so save at least 66% now and have this strangely amazing book delivered to your device on release day. 

(Originally posted at

Monday, March 9, 2015


Yes, I killed some of my darlings. 
It took a number of months of intense writing and fretting, but at last I completed the revisions and rewrites planned out in the previous post. I was pleased to think I was cutting down the word count, but that was before I reintegrated the important details from the gutted chapters and added some more great scenes to move the story and character development along. Seven Noble Knights ended up being just about as long as it had been before the extreme cuts.

The strangest thing happened when I was nearing the home stretch of revisions: a publisher I had queried before I had my epiphany requested the full manuscript. Well, that's flattering! The first bad sign was that their website indicated a month to six weeks for such a response, and in reality it took six months. The second bad sign was that I wrote back to explain that I was currently revising and would send the full manuscript by a certain date, and never had any response one way or the other. I happened to know a couple of authors with that publisher, so I asked one of them to confirm or disprove the qualms that were awakening in me with those signs.

I'm glad I did it, but it was an unexpected roller coaster! My author friend wanted to let me make my own decision, but gave me the unvarnished truth of her experience with the publisher. A general carelessness, a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, not being taken seriously in the business because of a consistent lack of professionalism, a poor contract, no promotions budget, and the most egregious of all, no proof copy for the author to inspect resulting in glaring copyediting issues in the finished product—all this made me glad they hadn't gotten back to me sooner. I might have just sent the manuscript right off to a destiny of schlocky obscurity.

I stuck to the deadline I'd imposed on myself in the one-way correspondence with this publisher, and when I had Seven Noble Knights just about the way I wanted it, complete with trusted feedback and an objective copyedit, I looked back in my records and found a different publisher. I felt in my heart and confirmed with research that they were a great fit, so I prepared the query and sent.

They requested the full manuscript the same day.

I cried tears of joy.

And now it's back to the waiting and hoping. I've been doing a lot of that lately! It would be a dream come true for this publisher to take on Seven Noble Knights. Oh, the validation!

In the meantime, the wait is over for one important part of my life: soon I'll be heading to Spain. I plan to take loads of photos of places in Seven Noble Knights and other historical novels in planning and share them with you here! ¡Olé!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Okay, I Finally Get It

I don't usually learn the hard way. But the tenacity needed by a writer these days seems to have dulled my previously incisive perception. Or it's simply true that even an editor needs an editor...

As partially chronicled here, although I hit a sweet spot after a year of writing, I had a terrible time figuring out how to start Seven Noble Knights in a way that would draw readers in and do justice to the rest of the story. The version I debuted at the Muse conference session was already the fourth or fifth complete rewrite, so along with the shock, I felt disappointed I wasn't a little closer to right after all that thinking and rethinking and redoing.

Here are the latest facts: I sent the best query letter I could come up with to 144 literary agents. I never dreamed I'd find that many in the first place, much less tap all of them! A few have yet to get back to me, but my record for agents requesting to see the full manuscript stands at a fraction of a percent. I felt a tad like the man with the raised arms in the picture above: those are the heads of his sons being presented to him. (It's an illustration from a nineteenth-century Spanish pulp version of the Seven Noble Knights story: more on that later.)

The most gut-wrenching experience involved my sending a chapter from Part II as a sample. The agent enthusiastically requested to see the entire manuscript. A disturbing silence followed, to be capped off by a severe disappointment when she declined to move forward.

I thought I might have better luck with publishers who accept submissions directly from authors, and while tweaking the query letter for suitability to this new audience, I had something of an epiphany: my synopsis starts at the wedding, my trailer starts at the wedding, the medieval sources I drew from start at the wedding. The only thing that does not start at the wedding is, in fact, Seven Noble Knights, the novel itself.

The problems with the beginning of what is, after all, my first novel, run much deeper than I could have imagined.

How had I gone so far wrong? Why did it take me so long to see it? Shouldn't I have realized something was awry when the agent loved the chapter from Part II and rejected Part I, even knowing that Part II was coming?

Simultaneously with this reeling, I began to forge a new plan. I consulted with Kim Rendfeld, author of two excellent historical novels, refined the plan, and am now following it.

I'm deleting Chapters 2 and 3 and rewriting the important material from young Gonzalo's point of view. This should pick the pace up significantly and reduce confusion as to who the reader is supposed to root for. It will also provide opportunities to develop male egos and make for a convincing Chapter 4, the bloody wedding.

Chapter 4 will become Chapter 3 and will be quite a bit jazzier after the new Chapter 2, but also in its own right with planned additional emotional resonance.

Chapter 5, currently from the point of view of Doña Lambra, will be cut down and redrawn from the point of view of Justa, the long-suffering servant. Chapter 6 will be rewritten. It may be from Gonzalo's point of view to increase reader sympathy, or I may decide to integrate it into Chapter 5 (now Chapter 4) and keep it from Justa's perspective.

Extreme changes will take place in one third of all the chapters in Part I.

Since I'm juggling two other writing projects, taking a class for six weeks, working ongoing editing/publishing projects, and working a full time job, these changes may take a while. Submissions are on hold so I can present the first part of the novel knowing it's the best thing since the printing press. Please bear with me.

In the meantime, that Spanish pulp novel is sure to make another appearance!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Unusual Historicals: The Cantigas de Santa Maria

Today at Unusual Historicals I get to share with you the medieval phenomenon that occupied my every waking moment for three years, all told: the Cantigas de Santa Maria. This unique collection of songs and artwork is the single most influential reason I became a medievalist. I hope you can glimpse why there's so much to love about these thirteenth-century songs. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Glimpse into the Life of My Hero

Imagine for a moment that you are Mudarra González. You’ve just come of age, having been raised in tenth-century Medina Azahara among splendor the world hasn’t seen for a thousand years. You’ve met Christian travelers before, but they all seemed kind of dumb to you because they walk your palace city with mouths agape. Now you’re traveling in Christian lands, having to interact intimately with Christians for the first time, and a woman who claims to be your new mother takes you across an icy bridge to a small stone chapel, the likes of which you never imagined you’d see inside.

It’s as dark as night, with only a few candles before the altars and tiny windows letting the smallest bit of winter light in. A priest comes from some dark corner to greet your “mother” briefly before drawing back a curtain.

In the gloom, you can make out the shapes of a painting very much like this one:

I went to the local art museum this weekend. The place is impressive in the context of this area, and only makes sense when you consider that it was established during the city’s industrial heyday. It holds remarkable treasures from every corner of the globe. Of course, I’m partial to the medieval galleries. They even transported a chapter house and reassembled it just off the main atrium, complete with medieval stained glass windows. (My fondest hope is to make a presentation of Seven Noble Knights in that setting once it’s published.)

The painting above resides in the darkest gallery in the building. When I came upon it, I felt as if I had been transported into my own novel!

It’s a Catalan altar frontal from the late eleventh century (about 100 years in the future of Seven Noble Knights). It shows the ascension of Jesus, while in Seven Noble Knights I had imagined a dynamic portrait of a "Moor-slaying" saint. But the colors, the cartoonish outlines, and the presence of crosses and gesturing hands are exactly what I had in mind. Mudarra finds the red and yellow garish, but I recognize these shades as the favorites in northern Spain for hundreds of years. The serious expressions and outstretched hands are the dramatic expressions of a visual story, meant to instruct anyone, whether or not they could read, whether or not they’d had previous instruction.

I wanted to take this piece of art with me because it accomplishes in an instant what I’m attempting to do with more than 100,000 words: it brings anyone who sees it close enough to my characters to imagine themselves in their shoes.