World-building through Historical Characters: Gnaius and Galen

My goal throughout the series has been to create a world that feels familiar to a reader brought up on the history of Britain and northern Europe, but has enough dissonance to make readers think about the questions raised by the conflicts with which the characters must deal, both personal and political.

“Exactly so,” Gnaius agreed. “May I say more? I have lived in many of Casil’s provinces over the years. A physician travels with the army, if he wishes to become a skilled surgeon.”

– from Oraiáphon: A Novella of the Empire, 2020.

In my Empire’s Legacy series and its sequels (both completed and planned), the supporting character Gnaius plays, and will play, an important role. Gnaius is a physician, erudite and highly skilled, who has held many positions with both the army and to the Empress of Casil. He is a product of my imagination, of course, but he is based on the historical physician Claudius Galenus, best known to the modern West as Galen.

Galen (public domain)

I want to talk about Galen not so much in terms of the historical person, but as an example of how, in my alternate-world historical fiction, I use history to inform my world without being bound by it. The city in my world, Casil, is physically based on 4th century Rome, but politically it’s a blend of Rome and Byzantium. However, many of the conflicts that occur are from later in Europe’s history, between about 600 and 1000.

Galen lived in the 2nd century of the common era, at the same time as the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who appears as a figure from the past in my series (under a different name, of course). But this doesn’t matter: I’m not writing history. What matters is that Galen did almost everything I wanted Gnaius to have done: travelled extensively, learned about surgery and wound treatment in the field, practiced medicine in the capital city and became the personal physician to Emperors. So I have, effectively, lifted Galen out of the 2nd century and inserted him into my world at a later date.

There are both pros and cons to doing this. Readers will fall roughly into three categories: those who know nothing about early-medieval medicine, and will assume I’ve made Gnaius up entirely; those who have some knowledge of Galen, may well recognize consciously or unconsciously that Gnaius seems familiar, or right for the times; and those who know a fair bit about the subject, and may object to him being dragged forward several centuries.

My goal throughout the series has been to create a world that feels familiar to a reader brought up on the history of Britain and northern Europe, but has enough dissonance to make readers think about the questions raised by the conflicts with which the characters must deal, both personal and political. The real-life Galen fits neatly into the world, he’s just in the wrong century. (Certain readers may throw the book across the room in disgust at recognizing Gnaius as more-or-less Galen, although if they are that wedded to historical accuracy, they’ve probably given up on the series long before Gnaius makes his appearance 2/3 of the way through the third book.)

By some combination of serendipity and synchronicity, I learned in my research trip to Rome last week that Galen had lectured extensively at The Temple of Peace in the Forum, and indeed had stored his writings there for safekeeping. This plays right into the plot outline for the book (#5) I was there to research…and then I learned a fire at the Temple destroyed a fair number of those works. I’d already considered a fire in that general location as a plot device; now I have a historical occurrence to build around. The fire is not just plausible, it happened, and the destruction of some of Galen/Gnaius’s writings may well feed part of the plot of book #6, which is now little more than a concept.

The Temple of Peace in 1749 (public domain)

Gnaius is a minor character, although an important one. But by using Galen’s life as the basis for his, the verisimilitude of setting, character and plot is strengthened. Reviewers frequently comment on the depth and quality of world-building in my books: this is one way I do it. What are your methods for creating believable worlds?

Five Years an Author

I don’t regret the years I spent in my other careers, the years spent absorbing and practicing how to use words to convey a message precisely, concisely, and with impact. They helped make me the writer I am now.

Five years ago this month, Empire’s Daughter was published, the first book of my Empire’s Legacy trilogy. (Not that I knew, at that point, it was the first of a trilogy. I’d written it as a stand-alone.) I was 56.

I’d wanted to be a writer all my life, and I’d written all my life. And, to be fair, I was a writer, just not of fiction. In my first career, I wrote scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals, and procedural manuals, and monographs and chapters in highly technical books. Then I moved away from research and into education, and I wrote curriculum for the entire province, and a textbook, and many presentations and more technical manuals. Oh, and grant applications, in both careers: I was very good at grant applications.

All the writing I did in my previous two careers was very structured; there were protocols to follow. In scientific writing, precision of language was required: the exact scientific or technical term had to be used and the explanations needed to be accurate, unembellished, and follow a logical, clear, order. In writing grant applications, all those restrictions still applied, but I also needed to know what the ‘buzz’ words were, the terms that met the priorities of the granting agencies. Those terms had to be included in a natural way, not forced into the wording of the application.

In my career in education, I had to write for different audiences. A middle grade textbook uses different language than a guide to assistive technology for parents. A curriculum written for high school teachers, following the template provided by the province, is different again. I learned to match my word choice and sentence structure and the layout of the project to the audience.

Very importantly, none of this was done alone. I might be – and often was – responsible for the actual writing, but the final product had always gone through peer review, editing, rewriting, more review….and from that I learned the value of other eyes and minds, and how to take feedback (leave your ego at the door) and how to throw out something I loved.

So by the time I’d written Empire’s Daughter, and decided it was worth sending out to the world, I’d already learned a lot of the lessons a writer of fiction needs. (I’d written two previous novels during this time, too. They’ll never be published: they were practice in the craft.) I’d learned about structure and tailoring language to an audience. I’d learned ways to describe concisely and accurately. I’d learned about embedding concepts seamlessly into narrative. And most importantly, I’d learned about listening to those within my field charged with improving the work, and how even a competent and confident writer needs an editor.

The editors I worked with at the small, now-defunct press that first accepted Empire’s Daughter for publication taught me more about writing fiction, but much of what I learned was an extension of what I already knew about writing. I have four books behind me now, and I continue to learn: I hope I always will. But I don’t regret the years I spent in my other careers, the years spent absorbing and practicing how to use words to convey a message precisely, concisely, and with impact. They helped make me the writer I am now. Something else did, too, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Of Bere and Beer

I demand historical accuracy of my alternate-Europe: its geography, social constructs, and history may differ somewhat from the real world, but the background is as correct as my research allows. (And my interpretation of that research, of course.) But this conversation between two characters in the work-in-progress, Empire’s Reckoning, led me down a research path I hadn’t expected.

 “Should I put the meadows along the water to the plough, if I can find seed? They’ve been grazed, but we’ll not have sheep in numbers for a few years yet.”

“If those meadows are like the Ti’ach’s, they’re wet,” I said. “Better leave them to the sheep, and plough better drained land, if you can.”  He’d be late getting the barley in…

And then I stopped. This scene is taking place in early May, in a land that is an analogue of lowland Scotland, in more-or-less the 7th century.  Was this TOO late to plant barley?  Would it mature before winter came? (I have a graduate degree in crop science, and so I think about these sorts of things.)

I googled  ‘medieval Scotland planting date barley’…and discovered something I didn’t know. (Not terribly surprising, that, except that due to the aforementioned graduate degree in crop science, I actually do know a fair bit about the origins of cereal grains. And the professor who taught that bit was not only a Scot, but a whisky aficionado…which will become relevant.)

What I discovered was ‘bere’ (pronounced bear): a barley race introduced to northern Scotland by the Vikings in the 8th century or earlier (earlier was good). Peter Martin, director of the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), says, ‘Bere is probably the oldest cultivated barley, definitely in Britain and probably one of the oldest still in cultivation in Europe.’ Adapted to the climate and soils of the far north, it matures in 90 days. Plenty of time for my character to plant it in lowland Scotland in mid-May (or even June by the time he gets those fields under plough) and harvest it in late summer.

It’s also taller than modern varieties, which means it has an unfortunate tendency to lodge, or fall flat on the ground near to harvest in heavy rain or wind. I knew this about older barley varieties, so I’d already written this later scene, a different landholder and a different year than the earlier one.

In the long summer twilight, the clouds and rain now blown eastward, we walked up to the barley fields. Much of the grain lay flat. Roghan clicked his tongue. “Harder work for the men,” he said. At the greener field, he shook his head. “It will mould before it ripens. We’ll try to rake it, but likely I’ll turn the cattle out on it in the end.”

At the start of this century, there may have been less than 10 hectares of bere left in Scotland, grown only in small fields in the far northern and western islands. What has saved it is its unique flavour when used to brew beer or whisky. Small breweries and small distilleries produce short-run, expensive beverages with it, aimed at the increasing market for local-provenance food and drink. Barony Mill, a watermill on Orkney, produces flour (beremeal) from it as well. It’s a tough grain, difficult for modern machinery to handle — and would likely have ground down the teeth of people who ate it regularly (that and the flakes of stone from the grinding).

I’m visiting Orkney  in April, too early to see bere growing. I’ll look for the whisky, if it doesn’t break the bank. Well, maybe one glass, somewhere on that northern island, in honour of my constructed world and the real one it’s based on.

A Writer’s Life…or at least a morning.

Sticky notes decorate the frame of my external screen like mustard fields in flower seen from a plane.

Full-time? You’re a full-time writer?

Well, yes, I am – writer, editor, press coordinator –  but it’s not what you think. A thousand words per day, and time for leisurely lunches and long walks to get the creative juices flowing? Ha!

Most days I wake up at six, without an alarm or the cat encouraging me. I get up, yawn, wander into my study, wake up the computer, and sit down to do social media for an hour. The cat helps, or hinders; mostly she hinders, walking on the keyboard and blocking the external screen. I persuade her to settle on my left shoulder and type one-handed. I update and respond on Twitter and Facebook. I answer emails. I find news stories related to writing or to my historical period and add them to my feeds. I update Twitter again.

Then it’s coffee and breakfast. My husband and I may have exchanged a few words by now. Then I look at my very long to-do list, and my week’s priorities, and due dates and deadlines, and decide what I’m actually doing today. The collective press I coordinate has a book launch coming up in three weeks, and we’re attending a book fair in two. I’ve dealt with most of the immediate issues for both of those, and it’s too early to send out press releases about the book launch. Posters can wait until next week – more than two weeks’ notice, and they get lost in the huge number of events happening in our artsy town. But I still have to design those posters, so I can’t wait too long. I star that on my to-do list for Monday.

I have a semi-annual report to write for the community newsletter I chair, but that too can wait a few days. My priority today is to read the revised chapter one of our authors has sent me: we are meeting tomorrow to discuss her book. In our collective, she’s our face-to-face publicity person, our extrovert who MC’s book launches and fronts the table at book fairs. Her book is our first foray into non-fiction: it’s a look at using improv in the workplace to build teams. It needs a very different internal layout than a novel, and I’m doing a lot of research and consulting, both into appropriate layouts and programs with which to do this.

That will take a couple of hours. The cat will attempt to help. My ADHD mind will generate random thoughts and ideas and snippets of dialogue related to my own work-in-progress at any moment, so I have sticky notes to hand; they decorate the frame of my external screen like mustard fields in flower seen from a plane.

I try to get up every half-hour or so. Usually I stay in my pajamas till mid-morning, then shower and dress. I do laundry; I do bits of dinner prep, I water plants or pick tomatoes. Sitting for long periods is NOT good. The Pomodoro method more-or-less works for me, unless I’m so focused I just turn off or tune out the alarm.

Having written this blog entry, I’m off to start the focaccia I’m making for tonight’s dinner, and have my shower while the yeast is rising. Then I’ll jot down any thoughts that occurred while I was showering, put on some music, and make the bread. Then I’ll begin the chapter review.  Once I’ve analyzed the chapter, written notes and the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, I’ll take a longer break, for coffee; maybe I’ll read an article in Medieval Warfare or another few pages in the research paper on land rights in early-medieval England I’m slowly getting through.

And then I get to work on my book for an hour!

Antonius, Son of Rome, by Brook Allen: A Review

Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately.

Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately. So I had to read Brook Allen’s debut novel, and I also invited her to contribute a guest post to this blog. So, here’s my review, and her piece, and some of her photos, too!

My Review

Marc Antony is a familiar historical figure. Whether it’s from Shakespeare, film, video games or history class, his basic story as Julius Caesar’s right-hand man, Cleopatra’s lover, and a key figure in the transformation of Rome from a republic to an imperial state is known to many. But how did he become this man? What drove him?

Brook Allen’s Antonius, Son of Rome, the first book in a planned trilogy about Marc Antony’s life. Beginning when Marcus is in early adolescence, the story intertwines known information with imaginative situations. Impeccably researched and richly described, Allen brings the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic to life. Her characterization of the young Antonius gives insight into and motivation for later actions.

Last year, in research for my own books, I took a course on the fall of the Roman republic. I rather wish I hadn’t bothered: reading Allen’s series will be a far more entertaining way of reminding myself of the history!  But even though the personalities and actions of this period are fresh in my mind, I wasn’t the least bit bored by Son of Rome. Creating suspense when the outcome is known is a difficult task, and one well-managed in this novel. When an author can vitalize known history and familiar characters as well as Allen has in this book, I know I’m onto a writer I’m going to want to follow.

Highly recommended for readers interested in the period, or who would like to know more about this tumultuous, influential time in the history of Rome and its empire. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!

Antonius: Son of Rome is available from Amazon.

Just Like Us

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Pompeii.


I entered through the Marina Gate and as I walked slowly toward the Forum, it was as though I was going back into time with each and every step. And the place still possesses its very human story through its various buildings—some of which still stand complete—and it’s wall frescoes and plaster-cast molds of victims. The site is a world treasure. Though people and animals tragically died here, it’s a veritable time-capsule of information on just how ancient Romans lived and died. And perhaps the most surprising thing that a visitor takes with them upon leaving is the thought that, “They were just like us!”


In Rome itself, apartment buildings called insulae (islands) were often up

Insulae at Ostia Antica: A typical insula (apartment building).

to seven or even eight stories high. Plutarch, an ancient biographer who liked to tell the stories of famous Greeks and Romans, told about Marcus Licinius Crassus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Crassus became rich through vast purchases of properties in Rome—specifically insulae. Since Rome had no fire brigade at the time, Crassus trained a band of his own slaves to be firemen. If there was a fire in an insula, which occurred regularly, due to people trying to cook in their apartments, Crassus would show up with his firemen. He’d offer to buy the insula for a ridiculously low price and the poor, panicked owner would either have to sell his enflamed property or watch it burn, as Crassus would only order his firemen into action if he sealed a deal.


And—hey! McDonald’s anyone? Common plebians typically ate their meals at fast food stalls, located on the streets and sometimes even built into insulae. Americans might think they invented fast-food, but these tiny eateries would serve up steaming veggies and meats onto husks of bread for a filling meal two-thousand years ago. It was only the upper middle classes and families of noble descent who could really afford to recline in their painted triclinia, served by slaves.

Ancient fast food restaurant: 
This little taverna is in Pompeii. It’s very typical of the sorts of fast food establishments that existed in the ancient world.


Lastly, I have to mention the Roman passion for games. Now their tastes were different than ours—bloody beast and gladiator shows were the norm. But this enormous public park easily lends to our imaginations what mighty structure once stood there. The Circus Maximus was the place to go for gladiator shows, public executions of criminals, and the favorite Roman pastime—chariot racing!

Circus Maximus Painting: As it may have been.


The Circus Maximus is HUGE and worth a visit. Visitors can still walk where the original track was laid out and see where the spina—the “spine” of the complex—once was. By Julius Caesar’s day, this enormous arena seated over one-hundred-fifty THOUSAND people! As the Republic morphed into Empire, several Emperors renovated and improved the mighty Circus Maximus, and other hippodromes similar to it were added in notable cities throughout the Roman Empire.


I am of the opinion that there’s NOTHING boring about history. People who poo-poo the study of other cultures from the past simply haven’t gotten INTO the spirits of the people who once lived so long ago. Tourists who visit Pompeii and experience the many similarities between ancient Roman culture and ours are right. In many regards, they were “just like us.”

Brook Allen (Click on Brook’s name to go to her blog, full of more information about Rome and its inhabitants.)

Beauregard and the Beast, by Evie Drae

An ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and iwritten with a deft hand.

Evie’s thoughts on writing the story:

I’ve had the idea of writing a series of fairy tale re-imaginings with LGBTQ+ characters for longer than I can remember. However, because the concept felt so daunting, it wasn’t one I’d put a lot of focus or thought into. That is until I submitted another manuscript to a Romance Writers of America contest and received a full request from Sue Brown-Moore, the acquisitions editor for Dreamspinner Press’s category romance line, Dreamspun Desires. She enjoyed my voice, but the manuscript I’d given her didn’t fit with the angst-free guidelines of her line.

After chatting with her—and darn near falling in love, because she’s a wonderful human—I decided to take a crack at writing the first in my fairy tale re-imaginings series with the Dreamspun Desires guidelines in mind. Around this time, I was offered representation by Eva Scalzo from Speilburg Literary. I signed with her, and we were off and running almost immediately with a proposal to Sue for a Beauty and the Beast retelling starring Adam Littrell, a grumpy MMA fighter nicknamed “The Beast,” and his sweet personal assistant Beauregard Wilkins.

I had an absolute blast writing Adam and Bo’s story. Once I got the green light from Sue, I dove in and wrote all 55K of the manuscript in less than six weeks. A few rounds of editing with my agent later and Beauregard and the Beast found itself in Sue’s hands. Much to my delight, she offered a contract less than a week later.

Truly, my experience in writing these characters was a magical one. I had to fight some of my most basic creative instincts to avoid the angst that so typically becomes an integral part of my plots. Every time my characters tried to steer me toward a plot bunny that would undoubtedly gum up the fluffy romance works, I’d pop back to the outline I’d created during the proposal stage and crack the whip until they fell back into line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a labor of love and taught me a great deal about the art of writing and about myself as a writer.

I have several more stories already pinging around my brain to continue the series, including a Little Mermaid retelling with an Olympic swimmer I’m hoping to publish during the 2020 Olympics! 

My review:

Adam is the Beast, a mixed-martial-arts champion who has never let anyone close to him: his career’s always come first. But he isn’t a youngster any more, and his ring persona has very little to do with who he really is.

One thing Adam truly is, however, is disorganized, which is why he needs a personal assistant. Enter Beauregard, a bookish guy with a sister in college to support. He’s also almost irresistibly cute. The attraction between them is immediate, but inappropriate: Adam is Bo’s employer. How long will they be able to keep the relationship professional?

In this updated version of Beauty and the Beast, written as a male/male romance, Evie Drae has given us a sweet, sexy story. It’s an ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and it’s written with a deft hand. I laughed out loud several times (to the consternation of my cat). The sex scenes are detailed, so if you prefer love-making in a book to be more veiled, be aware. There are stumbling blocks in the road to love, as there must be any romance, but without spoilers I’ll say the ending does not disappoint.

5 stars for this charming story.

Where to find Beauregard and the Beast:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2IGmc0N

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2UCn8oo

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2Vv1Q0Q

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2DxeW3s

Dreamspinner Press: https://bit.ly/2VnRb7L

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2Ro3VH6

The Healing Power of Words: Audrey Semprum on finding your way through writing.

Words have the power to bring about healing if allowed to flow out of a painful or confusing situation

Time and circumstance have a way of challenging a person beyond what they feel like they can endure or overcome. As a seasoned writer, the greatest breakthrough I have ever experienced is when I came to the realization that there is viable healing that can be gleaned from addressing a situation with the power and permanence of words.

I have discovered time and again that using words as an anchor grounds me, and helps me come to the place of peace – knowing that somehow everything is going to be okay. I had been a leader for several years in different capacities in my local church, but I had never been so challenged. It was during this time of great trial that I first realized the power of overcoming adversity with words. I was dealt a harsh life blow and I had nothing to stabilize me – mentally and emotionally. I was caught in a perpetual state of anguish and despair. I couldn’t change a thing. The whole situation was out of my control, and just awful.

With great effort on my husband’s part, I was coaxed to come out of my room. I had stowed away in despair and felt powerless to battle the hopelessness that was enveloping me. My husband convinced me to take a ride with him.  As my husband and I quietly headed down the highway, which was our norm, I began to feel a song rise up in my spirit. I wasn’t trying to create anything. I was just trying to survive. I grabbed a pen and a notebook and I began to write down the song. As the words flowed onto the paper a healing washed over me.

When I returned home that day I was changed by the power of the words in the song that I had penned. I had discovered that as I released the hope and the words that were tucked down deep inside that I was able to actualize them as I applied my stored faith from deep within. It wasn’t a momentary breakthrough, but a monumental breakthrough. When I returned home that day I was able to pick up the shattered pieces of my life and move on – no longer broken beyond repair.

Through the years I have applied the same principle when I am faced with other challenging situations. I sit down and I start writing, and as I face my adversities by writing about them I find answers that I hadn’t previously been able to see because of the circumstances. As I write away my problems I find a great release. I am able to tap into an inner strength and peace.  Words indeed, have the power to bring about healing if allowed to flow out of a painful or confusing situation. As a writer, I am grateful for the opportunity that writing allows and I am always amazed at the healing power of words.


Twitter: @audreysemprun

Blog hub – Singular Multiplicities in Art   – links to several online social media sites:  https://audreysemprun.wordpress.com

Pinterest:    https://www.pinterest.com/joyfulnoizministries/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/joyfulnoizministries/

Book Link:  http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/creativepreacher 

Email for Public: audrey@audreysemprun.com 

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Brief Biography:

Audrey Semprun lives with her husband in the high desert terrain of Prescott, Arizona. Audrey enjoys the peacefulness that living in a small mountain community allows. She gleans inspiration from not only the small town atmosphere, but also from the beauty that surrounds her. She is passionate about her faith, her large family, and about writing. Audrey uses her creativity to relay life lessons in a down to earth and meaningful way – always trying to bring light, love, and hope by means of the poetry and the stories that she shares.

Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt: J.C. Salazar on the journey to become a writer.

I published my first book at the age of 61. So what took me so long? Fear and self-doubt.

I want to write. I have always wanted to write. I published my first book at the age of 61. So what took me so long? Fear and self-doubt. I’ll explain later. I am a late bloomer. As such, I came late to writing. My path to the place where I could don the title of writer with full confidence was a long and frustrating one.

I won’t go into the myriad of personal setbacks, though there were many, so I will just give an overview of my journey. I was an immigrant child at the age of nine. I arrived in Houston, along with my family of seven, in 1965. My life seemingly began that summer.

In reality I had been a dreamer of a child, with notions of creativity since infancy in my family’s farm in Mexico. I discovered this, along with a richness of other facts about myself and other family members once I embarked in writing my first book in earnest. I wrote Of Dreams & Thorns much later than 1965. It wasn’t till after my retirement as a college professor and administrator of a federal college program that I was able to clear my head and heart of all negativity regarding my proclamation that I was indeed a writer.

Of course, in reality I had been writing Dreams since my adolescence, at least. It came to me as vague notions of something that ought to be written down and shared. Aspects of it, bits and pieces, phrases, images, characters speaking their mind, shouting out for attention. I kept telling them I wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t the one. I was afraid to let them down if I lacked skill. After all, I had studied the best writers in the world. How could I presume to join their ranks?

I studied writing even as I taught freshman composition. I eventually learned about a pathetic disconnection between academic and creative writing. I studied poetry (last year I published my book of poems, states of unitedness) and I attended a couple of courses in fiction, taught by members of our University of Houston’s award-winning creative writing program. Alas, it seemed the more I studied, formally and independently, the more I knew that the best way to write and finish a book is to just do it, to borrow from Nike. So I began my book in 2017.

Before that, I wrote lots of poetry and ideas that I never threw away. Forty years wasted, it seems like sometimes. But more often than not, I believe that, for me with my history and circumstances, those 40 years were necessary preparation. Of course, I could have cut that time in half had I made a conscious assessment and decision to just get started. By the time of my retirement, and finally embracing my total freedom of choice, it was 2014.

It took a year to get reacquainted with myself and sort out all types of elements that defined me. All that assessment pointed indubitably to my being a writer. I finally had no more excuses not to act on my truest impulses. I wrote the book in six months, but in reality I had been writing it for forty years, at least at some basic level. The writing experience unleashed a pent-up craving to master the novel form. I made myself go beyond most basic writing book advice, and I assumed the mantle of writer in my own right.

With that, it was as if I gave myself permission to never again let self-doubt or fear of criticism slow me down. When you are a Mexican immigrant child, when you see yourself as a poor country peasant, when you doubt if you have mastered the English language enough to use it creatively, it builds up self-doubt and insecurities. Well, I somehow managed to shed all that garbage. I was well accomplished in many other areas, after all; I certainly had the wherewithal to do it.

I wrote, and I studied, and I wrote. I edited, and edited, and edited. I hired professional cover and book interior designers, and I hired two professional editors. I was investing in my book as if I were a minor “traditional” publisher. I learned the business, and it taught me that my route was to be an independent publisher. The aspects of publishing a book and getting it to market, or “in shelves,” end up falling into a category of business that we creative types seem to hate. I certainly do.

I will not expound much on the trials and tribulations of the modern status of publishing as regards novice writers, but I do recommend a thorough study of it if you are planning to embark in a writing career or adventure of your own.

So there it is — My short version of how I became a writer late in life as opposed to the more ideal time of my twenties through forties. I do regret that I started late, but only because with age come health issues and other things that slow me down. I have so many projects I want to complete. I have grown considerably as a writer since first publishing my two books, but that is part of the process.

Of Dreams and Thorns is available on Amazon in Kindle, paperback, and audiobook formats.

You May Say that I’m a Dreamer

What was Dianna Hammond to think when she awoke one September morning after a dream with a title, characters and story arc in her head?

Like many baby-boomers, Dianna Hammond remembers watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Too young to really crush on them, she grew up appreciating the music, and their seemingly unlimited talent. She reads a lot, but mostly non-fiction. So what was she to think when she awoke one September morning after a dream with a title, characters and story arc in her head?

Time X 2 is a time travel love story involving Paul McCartney, pre-1966. Now, that date doesn’t mean a lot to some people, but others firmly believe Paul McCartney was killed in 1966 and replaced with the person currently portraying him. Dianna wasn’t in that camp when the dream came to her; she had to look up the term “PIDer” (one who believes Paul Is Dead), although she does remember thinking “That’s not Paul” when Sergeant Pepper came out in 1967.

Dianna began listening to interviews, watching videos, using the things she saw to make Paul as authentic as she could in her story. In the process, she became convinced that Paul is indeed dead, saying, “I can in seconds flat tell you which picture is Paul or his replacement. The mannerisms of Paul pre-1966 and the current one are inconsistent, as are their speaking voices.”

Why is this important so many years later?

It shows the cognitive dissonance that we all exhibit as we look at life. In the book I use John Lennon’s lyric, ‘Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.’ Written in late 1966 early 1967, coincidence?

What would you like people to take away from the book?

I hope to bring some ‘ah-ha’ moments to people who read it much as Dan Brown did with The DaVinci Code. Please understand, I am in no way comparing myself to him, just using the fact that his book sparked conversation.

Have your life experiences influenced what you are writing in any way?

Yes and no, Paul and Emily have a very healthy relationship even though they come from different times. Personally, my relationships have been one-sided. I’ve been married twice, but I am not sure I have ever been truly in love, so I observed couples who are, mainly my son and his wife, to understand what it must be like to give yourself to another but still hold on to your own individuality.

What do your family and friends think of this new venture? Are they supportive, dismissive, neutral?

My family and friends are very supportive and encouraging. Some (the younger generation) have mocked me for writing about Paul McCartney, but that’s alright, at least they know who he is. My son is currently reading the book to help in mechanics of it. I have had friends read it and they seem to enjoy it. My 91-year-old father says I’m the ‘Grandma Moses’ of writing. I don’t know about that but it has given me enjoyment and I feel as if Paul and Emily are my other children.

Do you have a real-life writing community? 

No, I don’t at the moment. I am looking to reach out to local writers here in Atlanta and join a group soon.

Are you going to pursue an agent, a traditional publishing contract, a smaller indie house, or self-publication…and what’s driving that choice? Or is it too soon to tell?

I am on the 4th draft and final editing. I plan to pursue traditional publishing through an agent. I think I would feel more comfortable with an agent guiding my way. Let the querying begin!.

What’s next?

I retired early at the age of 61, I am now 63. I am single so I have unlimited freedom to pursue this new adventure. I’ve been thankful that this has given me a purpose in retirement I am outlining the second in the series which will be called Time X 4. Keeping the theme going.

Dianna can be found on Twitter @DiannaHammond90

In our arts we find our bliss

The relationship between cats and writers is as old as writing and domesticated cats.

Cats and writing go together. Hemingway famously had polydactyl cats, their descendants still inhabiting his house at Key West. William S. Burroughs led an unconventional life, but he loved his cats. Macavity the Mystery Cat, a verse written by T.S. Eliot to amuse his godchildren, is one of the first poems I remember delighting in as a child.

My own cat, Pye, keeps me company most of the hours I write. She’s licking my forearm as I type now. Sometimes she’ll curl up beside the laptop; sometimes she installs herself in the good-on-one-side-paper basket that sits on top of my printer.  Mostly, she drapes herself across a shoulder.

This relationship – cats and writers – is as old as writing and domesticated cats, I think. Medieval manuscripts frequently include cats, as marginalia, as decoration, as accidental contributors to the text. In my own medieval historical fantasy series, one of the characters is a scholar and a writer. In the current book of the series, the one I’m writing now, there will be a scene involving a white kitten that has adopted him.The scholar’s friend comes in after a time away, sees that he is writing a poem, and asks what it is.

What it is, with all the artistic license writers can use, is an imagining of a scene from the 9th century, a little later than my setting, but no matter. In the Reichenau Primer, an early 9th century manuscript written almost entirely in Old Irish, is a poem about a writer and his cat and the parallels between their lives. It is this poem that my character Cillian is writing, to his white cat.

Here is the best-known translation, by Robin Flowers*, the one I learned as a child:

I and Pangur Bàn my cat, 
‘Tis a like task we are at: 
Hunting mice is his delight, 
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men 
‘Tis to sit with book and pen; 
Pangur bears me no ill-will, 
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see 
At our tasks how glad are we, 
When at home we sit and find 
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray 
In the hero Pangur’s way; 
Oftentimes my keen thought set 
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye 
Full and fierce and sharp and sly; 
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I 
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den, 
O how glad is Pangur then! 
O what gladness do I prove 
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply, 
Pangur Bàn, my cat, and I; 
In our arts we find our bliss, 
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made 
Pangur perfect in his trade; 
I get wisdom day and night 
Turning darkness into light.

This small scene is a conceit, a darling I won’t kill. It adds to the world-building for some, to Cillian’s character for others, and will, I suppose, do nothing at all for some readers. But it’s a tribute to my Pye, and all the other cats who have kept me company over the years.

* https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/pangur-ban.html