Cover reveal, photography, travel, Uncategorized, writing

A Potpourri of Stuff

I meant to post yesterday, but I was completely fried. A friend and I went to see the free National Geographic Photography Exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Highly recommended! It ends on 4/27/14, though, so if you’re in the area don’t wait too long to see it.

So, in no particular order, are some updates:

  • For WIPpet, the weekly work in progress challenge hosted by KL Schwengel: I finished a major edit of City of Ages, and now I’m on to a short story for which I have a rough and wretched first draft written. This needs to be 90% trashed, but luckily, I have managed to plot out the story and I will be rewriting it as soon as possible. As of now I have only written the title, however. “The Pomegranate Tree.” Lovely, isn’t it? A more substantial post for next week’s WIPpet, I promise.
  • I’ve finished the audio version of The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior and am now waiting for it to clear the QC process at ACX. Here is the cover art for that.
  • Cat's_Guide_Final
  • I am ridiculously excited about my recently hatched cockatiels. They live in a gazebo in my back yard, nicely separated from the cat and dogs. Here is a picture of these frightfully ugly little guys. The two biggest ones are about a week older than the other little balls of fluff. There’s a total of six. This also serves as my first entry into Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge.

Baby cockatiels




  • Finally, what is the below? Why, my wardrobe for WonderCon in Anaheim, of course! It starts tomorrow and I will be there in all my (ahem) glory. For those who have never been, WonderCon is a mini-Comic Con. I rambled about Comic Con over thisaway.
  • dress
inspiration, Uncategorized, writing

My Writing Process Blog Hop

K.L. Schwengel, fantasy author extraordinaire and founder of the weekly WIPpet (work in progress snippet) challenge, tagged me here to participate in a writing process blog tour. So here goes!

1. What am I working on?

Currently, I am finishing up the next to the last draft of the first book in my new historical adventure series, called City of Ages. I will be finished with that draft within a matter of days, and then it goes out to my beta readers and back to me for final fixes. I met some agents and an editor at last year’s Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida and I’d really like to get the book out to them sooner rather than later. I’ve written about 50,000 words of Book 2 in the series, but it’s a rather a rough state, so as soon as I hear back from the various agents and editors and figure out how the book will be published – hopefully via a traditional publisher, since that’s what I think would be the best fit for this particular project – then I will continue on with the rest of the books in the series. In the meantime, I will be researching and researching and researching some more.

Picture of books and files.
This is some of the research I have for City of Ages – the hard copy stuff anyhow.

I also have a fantasy series that I wrote 20+ years ago that I’m determined will see the light of day this year. So that will be my next major project, rewriting and editing and sweating blood over that one. It’s exciting, though, because I spent so much of my life, passion, and energy dwelling on it over the years, so the fact that might bear fruit soon makes me happy.

2. How does my work different from others of its genre?

Well, I guess that is different for two reasons:

a. Intense focus on characterizations and an accompanying fascination with their emotional journeys, which always forms the core of whatever I’m working on. I try not to be too heavy-handed with it, because such a thing is more of a theme than a plot device, but some sort of transformation and emotional journey/quest really forms the core of my work  more than anything.

b. Historical detail and setting/details in general. Throughout my life I’ve also kind of swung between obsession with history — which utilizes the more analytical, critical thinking centers of my brain — and writing — which utilizes the creative part of my brain. At this point they have merged together to produce historical fiction. I have a master’s degree in history with a focus on the Ancient Mediterranean, so the ancient world and its influence on the Early Middle Ages really floats my boat. The world and setting of my first novel Necropolis really has been influenced by this, although it is not a straight historical book but rather a fantasy world. It’s based on the societies of the Ancient Mediterranean rather than those of many fantasies, which are based on the societies of Western Europe.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because there’s only one me, and despite the fact that I am only one small flickering light in the blazing sun of the universe, I have a unique take on certain things, or so I would like to think, anyhow. Because of that hopefully my work will appeal to other like-minded people. I had a rather difficult childhood and a lot of health problems in adulthood so reading has really been a wonderful escape for me from the pain of daily existence. I would like to bring that same escape and wonder to others.

4. How does my writing process work?

Sam and Dean Winchester from season 6 Supernatural
This bag from Comic Con hangs over my computer monitors as … inspiration.

Well, work wouldn’t exactly be the term I’d use for it LOL. Back in the day when I first started writing it was like falling in love, effortless and exciting and all-consuming. I wrote and wrote and wrote with nary a thought for passive verbs, run-on sentences, and stupid plot lines. Then I grew up and obsessed over those things for so long that I didn’t get any writing done for many years.

My latest book City of Ages started its life as fanfic, believe it or not. I’ve been heavily involved in a fandom which I will not name here, although you can figure it out if you look at the accompanying photograph, and I used the two lovely leads as inspiration for the main characters in this book. Justus’s physical appearance is based on the physical appearance of the blonde dude here, and Tristan’s is based on the physical appearance of the dark-haired guy. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, because their personalities are original, as is the storyline of the novel.

Anyhow, I participated in a fandom challenge that provided me with support and a deadline that I really needed to crank out the first draft of the book. It was quite a painful experience. I literally only wrote 100 to 200 words a day for months on end and it was like pulling teeth. I collapsed into a dramatic weeping heap upon finishing it because it had been such a difficult experience. Yeah, I wish I was kidding about that, but sadly, I’m not.

Upon reflection, I think that is because I allowed my critical mind – my editor’s mind – too much hold over me when I was trying to write the first draft. Plus I find plotting really difficult, and my process until now has been to just jump in feet first, and wander around like a lost little puppy trying to find the signposts that make for a satisfying story. Afterward, then, I figure out the book’s theme and write the one to two sentence logline describing what happens therein, and generally just figure out what it’s all about. My dear friend Cheryl Dyson introduced me to a different way of setting up and plotting a book called the Snowflake Method, which basically does this process in reverse. You figure out your book’s theme, then create a short description, in-depth profiles of characters, scenes that fill up the book, and then you write. It seems like a much more efficient and – hopefully – quicker means of writing. I’m going to give it a shot. Wish me luck!


So here’s the place where I tag three other writers to continue on with the Writing Process Blog Hop. Since one of these writers is currently on vacation, I’m going to put the deadline for their blog posts out at April 21, 2014.

  • Cheryl Dyson’s father’s occupation as an actual cowboy caused the family to move around a lot – in fact, she’s lived in so many Western towns that she can’t remember them all. As a youngster, she competed in professional Appaloosa horse shows, winning numerous ribbons and trophies in varied events. Her favorite thing to do was ride a horse (at a dead gallop) to a nice, secluded spot where she could read in peace. When she eventually ran out of books, this habit led her to writing. Adulthood brought experience working in various accounting positions, all the while writing novels, short stories, and screenplays. Cheryl lives in Washington state where she spends her free time cooking, crafting, and—of course—reading and writing. Her status as Commander of the Universe, coupled with her prolific writing of Harry Potter fan fiction, has garnered her many groveling peons (and several marriage proposals) in the U.S., Russia, and China. Cheryl’s available ebooks include The Gauntlet Thrown and The Challenge Accepted, Books One and Two of the Gauntlet Trilogy.
  • Janet Loftis – Born and raised in the Midwest, Janet fled to sunny California to escape the cold, dark winters, only to now explore the colder and darker sides of human nature in her horror and fantasy fiction. With a BA in Anthropology and Archaeology, and a MA combining Cultural Anthropology with Creative Writing, Janet’s stories are inspired by the mythos of cultures around the world. From science-fiction to fantasy to horror, and from short stories to screenplays, Janet has seen her fiction published in a variety of online and print magazines, and placed in the finals and semi-finals of screenplay competitions. Next on Janet’s agenda are more horror shorts, a horror screenplay, and the marketing of (believe it or not) a family-friendly screenplay! Janet’s available story collections include Skin and BonesZombies and AliensMother’s Day, and Gnomes & Aliens.
  • Deb Ochery has had an interesting and vaguely checkered history, although it probably more closely resembles paisley than checkers. She has roamed the earth searching for suitable converts to add to her growing stable of sturdy boytoys and like-minded friends. She loves to meet new people and spends most of her non-writing time studying unsuspecting humans for fiction fodder, or sometimes bedroom fodder, or occasionally both. Deb has a deep and abiding interest in all things erotic with a particular slant towards romantic erotica. Let’s face it, sex is much more enjoyable with some nice foreplay, whether it be a glass of wine and dinner out or choosing a selection of silk ties and lubricants for the bedroom. Deb is very open-minded when it comes to sex and her books and stories reflect that. She believes human sexuality is fluid and ever-evolving and her characters often face some unexpected attractions that lead to difficult, albeit ultimately rewarding, choices. Getting there is half the fun. Her erotica novel Be Careful What You Wish For, the first book of The Kendra Chronicles, is available now.
history, travel, Uncategorized, writing

Travel East, Travel West

I’m still working on my 2nd to last edit of City of Ages and it continues to proceed at glacial speeds. I had to come up with a spreadsheet to motivate my butt because I tend to lose interest and enthusiasm as I’m plugging along. For some reason, tracking how many pages I’ve completed per day, or words I’ve pumped out really makes this whole novel thing concrete.

Today is the day of the week where I share a little snippet of my work in progress, thus, a WIPpet. It is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. My WIPpet needs to have something to do with today’s date. And so …

Today in 1595, Cornelis de Houtman’s fleet of ships set sail to Asia by traveling through the Cape of Good Hope. Just who is this gentleman, you might ask? It turns out that Cornelis ended up discovering a new sea route from Europe to Indonesia, an achievement that began the Dutch spice trade. This was a big deal since at the time the Portuguese held a monopoly on it. The voyage itself, though, was none too fun. Insufficiently supplied, scurvy set in after a few weeks. By the time they made it to Madagascar seventy sailors were dead. Further on, quarrels ensued and pirates attacked the vessels. De Houtman and his men decided to wreak vengeance on the locals for the pirate attacks, raping and savaging to their heart’s content. The voyage continued on, establishing trade relations to subvert the Portuguese. By the time the ships returned home only 87 of the original 249 crew remained alive.

Sailing was quite the dangerous enterprise back in the day, making modern-day cruise ship disasters seem ridiculously tame in comparison.

Anyhow, this snippet is ship-related, and focuses on landing just 50 miles from Jerusalem:

Docking had been more troublesome in Jaffa than anywhere else. Richende had watched from the deck as three dusky-skinned, robed port authorities inspected their papers and letters with suspicion. They clustered together to confer using fast Arabic and abrupt gesticulations for entirely too long. At last they called Justus over and demanded an entry fee so large that Justus’s eyes bulged. His voice became both deeper and louder as he spent nearly an hour negotiating and arguing in a broken mishmash of Latin, Frankish, Greek, and Arabic. Finally, Richende, hungry, impatient, and drooping with exhaustion, called to him.

                Justus came after a moment, long legs striding up the gangplank in a manner that betrayed the frustration he had been dealing with over the past hour. When he spoke to her, however, his voice held no rancor.

“My lady?”

          “Dear Commander, your efforts to reduce the port fees are duly noted, and greatly appreciated. But in this instance I’m begging you to relent to their demands.”



          He gave an irascible grunt, his lips twisting into a frown. “I truly believe that another hour or so will profit us much.”

          Cristina, who had been watching the whole exchange near Richende, gasped and shot her mistress an exaggeratedly alarmed look. Richende ignored her.

          “Thank you, dear Justus. But no. Please.”            

Justus made a gesture of frustrated surrender and walked back into the office to follow her wishes. Once he had his fee in hand, the head portmaster’s mood brightened, and at once he became the soul of hospitality. He greeted Richende at the end of the gangplank, eyes gleaming, his smile solicitous.

Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them.Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:




history, writing

Lighting Up the Dark Ages

Good morning! Please bear with me as I try something a little different this morning. Wednesdays are the days that I participate in a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel that has me providing a snippet of my work in progress (a WIPpet). This snippet is supposed to be related in some way to the date, whether it be some sort of convoluted math equation (26th line of the 3rd chapter or 18 words arrived at by adding 3+2+6+2+0+1+4) or something which happened on this day in history (my personal favorite).

Last week I was visiting my chiropractor getting my back cracked back into alignment while he regaled me with writing ideas and suggestions. These usually involve something I am not in the least interested in, i.e. “You should write a 23 volume encyclopedia on the history of library cats in Idaho.” However, this day he began quizzing me about the setting of my new novel series, which occurs in the Dark Ages. It soon became apparent that he knew close to nothing about the age. He prides himself on a passing familiarity with history, so he suggested that I come up with an explanatory note at the beginning of my book orienting the reader in time and place. Have you seen other historical novelists include notes on the time period? What do you think of this idea? My main concern is that it would throw people out of the story. I worked up the following summary, which I can always use in my communications with agents and editors if nothing else. Your comments and impressions are greatly appreciated!

700 ad. It falls squarely in the middle the Dark Ages, an early medieval period whose lack of source material – letters, histories, accounts, and more – have conspired to veil the time in an obscurity lacking in other eras. Little is known about the inner workings of the surviving peoples of Western Europe.

The prevailing power in the Mediterranean, the Roman Empire, had crumbled away into dust, trampled beneath the feet of crude and desperate barbarian peoples from northern wastelands. The Christian church stepped into the void left by Rome, taking on the role of arbiter and agent for society, leading the flock by providing a bastion of law, charity, and education against the rough-hewn forces of chaos.

And while times were grim in Western Europe, the other frogs about the pond of the Mediterranean thrived. Islam united diverse desert tribesmen with Muhammad’s revolutionary teachings. Together, they exploded out of the Middle East in a conquering fury. The Roman Empire, while fallen and dissolute in the West, thrived in the East, around the bulwark of civilization that we know as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines, despite the fact that they spoke Greek, called themselves Romans, for they were the rightful heirs of the Roman Empire. For a thousand years beyond the accepted date of Rome’s fall – 476 ad — Constantinople glittered on, a jewel of wealth, culture, debauchery and intrigue. So also did other, lesser known forces carry on with daily life – pirate fleets, tribesmen from the steppe, gangs of bandits, and more. The collision of cultures is evident everywhere the young knight Justus and his companions travel, for just because the age was dark does not mean it lacked spirit and vitality. Instead, it served as rich peat for the blossoming of power, passion, and adventure that begins in City of Ages.

Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:


Cover Redesign, Sale, and WIPpet Wednesday

Good morning everyone! Well, “morning” might be an exaggeration. I’m not quite awake despite the fact that it’s closing on 10. Still, hurrah! Lots of news today:

Necropolis has a shiny, brand new cover AND a limited time $.99 price tag. What could be better?

Cover art for Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl

When prison guard Conyr rescues a young priest from execution, he sets off a dangerous adventure that brings allies in a scheming politician, a mischievous urchin, and a beautiful tavern server. Together, the group must navigate a maze of power-hungry rivals, skilled assassins, and deadly sorcery. For the young priest’s lost memory holds the key to more than his past, but the fate of two cities.

Regular price – $3.99 / on sale for $.99 through 3/16

While I absolutely LOVED my last cover, I received very good feedback that it didn’t communicate “epic fantasy” to readers. I’m hoping that this one does, and that sales will improve forthwith. *keeping fingers crossed*

WIPpet … whip it good

Today is the day of the week where I share a little snippet of my work in progress, thus, a WIPpet. It is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. tells me that on this day in 538 AD Witiges, king of the Ostrogoths, gave over his siege of Rome, and retreated to Italy’s capital of the day, Ravenna. He left the city in the hands of Belisarius, that most wily and talented of Byzantine generals. Alas, Justinian’s generals did recapture a good part of the old Roman Empire for the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) but it was not to last long before the barbarian hordes reasserted themselves. While I do not feature any Ostrogoths (the name means “eastern Goths”) in City of Ages, I do feature some Visigoths (the name meaning “western Goths”). Our intrepid hero Justus has just met one, Gundemar, who complements him on his “obvious” riches. At first Justus thinks he is referring to his horse …

Gundemar made an appreciative clucking sound. “Yes, he is strong and sturdy, indeed. But that is not what I speak of.” A sly look came over his features. His eyes, large and hazel, combined with his defined cheekbones, gave him the air of a crafty, wild creature – a fox, perhaps, or maybe a cougar. The woman who sat next to him – thin and smudged with old, oily dirt – tittered.

 “Then what, my armor?”

“Yes, of course your armor! Well-oiled and obviously labored over by your young man.” He indicated Tristan, who lurked in the shadows behind Justus, finding the heat of the fire too intense, not to mention the light. The shadows suited him better. “Yet that is not all, for many have armor that is finer, or better fitting. Perhaps even some of your own men.”

At this, several of the mercenaries who were standing around the fire, listening or relaxing or poking at the fire with sticks, elbowed one another and laughed.

“What, then?” asked Justus.

“Have you no more guesses?”

“I suspect that whatever I come up with next will be similarly discarded. Come now, sir. I grow impatient.”

“Why, it is your hair and your bare chin, of course! Not only have you obviously bathed most recently –” at this he gave an exaggerated sniff and sighed with pleasure at the smell, much to the amusement of the two young boys who flitted back and forth, playing some sort of loud, shrieking game that everyone ignored. “—but it is clear that your hair has been shaped by someone who caters to the wealthy.” He gestured at the mercenaries. “In other words, you did not shear it off yourself with your cooking knife like these fellows.” He regarded Justus critically. “This same person shaved your beard, did he not? It is cut most nicely, and what little has grown back since this grooming seems entirely lacking in lice and fleas!”

Justus laughed. “This is your evidence? That I am not swarming with insects?”

Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:


A Moment on the Road

It’s Wednesday again, and thus the day of the week where I share a little snippet of my work in progress, thus, a WIPpet. It is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them.

Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:


I am, yet again, too lazy to look up what happened today in history, and will instead post a few lines from the fifth page of the third chapter (3/5). Usually I post on Wednesday evenings, but I’ve got a long day in store for me tomorrow so I’m posting early for once.

With no further adieu, a little from the newly christened City of Ages:


They traveled ten miles that first day, slow miles over gentle, rolling hills, following the rock paving on the old Roman road, passing by the vivid green trees and lush undergrowth of the forest. Tristan led a long-eared, long-faced mule that he called Henry.

“Henry?” Justus asked, dubious and amused. Tristan was less apt to take offense to him lately, but Justus tried not to goad him too much since that might change at any moment.

“Henry is a strong name,” Tristan declared, patting Henry’s thick brown neck.

“It is well that you have such affection for him, since you are responsible for his care,” Justus pointed out.

“So it is,” Tristan agreed. “Would that I had such affection for all my duties.” He slid a sly glance at Justus.

“Hmmph,” Justus replied, then aimed a light kick at the back of Tristan’s head, the doing of which caused a minor scuffle as they swatted at one another, laughing, until Justus remembered that his place as leader of this expedition probably did not allow for such foolishness, and he better comported himself.


Two paragraphs from page 26 …

… because it’s late and I’m tired and I won’t be looking up the significance of this date in history today. I’ll just use some wippet math – two paragraphs from page 26 (2/26).

I’m deep in the throes of editing now, which is progressing at a snail’s pace since I’m trying to get all the details right. Is anyone out there using Liquid Story Binder instead of Scrivener? A friend turned me on to it and I’m loving it. Still have lots to learn, though.

Anyhow, without further adieu, a little bit from City of Ages:

Tristan came slowly, stiffly, blinking and groggy as he awakened. He poked about in the garbage heap that was his dwelling place before rising to his full height and smoothing back the crazy mass of his hair. A battered old rucksack hung from his shoulder, all the possessions he had in the world.

Justus looked about with a frown. He had not expected that Tristan lived in a palace, to be sure, but this was hardly more than a den, stinking, cold, and pitiful. Tristan’s mouth flattened in a tight line when he noticed Justus’s gaze. He turned aside without a word and headed toward Morden’s villa. Justus followed him, comforted by the knowledge that at least Tristan would sleep more comfortably tonight, on the road.

This snippet of my work in progress (thus, WIPpet) is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:


Shaken to the Core

On February 5, 1783, a 7.5 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake  struck southern Italy, leveling over 100 villages and creating a 100 foot wide mile-long ravine. A second tremor hit at midnight, prompting a tsunami which killed thousands of people who lived along the Italian coast. All told about 80,000 people died.

Although my novel (which at last has a title!) City of Ages, does not include any earthquakes, it starts with a disaster of even greater magnitude.

In September, during a harvest moon, the plague came. It struck first in the home of a cloth merchant, and spread with deadly efficiency, jumping from child to adult in what seemed like hours. A headache and general feeling of weakness came first, followed by the sweats and tormenting body aches, and then, in the latter stages, fits of trembling, difficulty breathing, and the final stillness of death. One by one the villagers of Justus’s family’s estate died in agony, and the white-swathed corpses lined the pathways in increasing numbers until at last he directed them to cease digging individual graves and dig communal graves instead. All day and into the night the church bells tolled and weeping could be heard from the white-washed chapel.

When his family fell ill – his mother, father, and three brothers – he nursed them as best as he could. By then the doctors with their potions and poultices and the wise-women with their herbs and infusions had all died off, the first of many. He watched in increasing horror as his dear ones writhed in pain, pleading for him to quench their thirst and cool their fevered brows, weeping and trembling even as he wept and trembled alongside them in grief. He waited for the symptoms to show up on his own body, the lethargy and the sweating, and the violent death. He waited, hollow with loss, moving slowly but surely as he tended the goats and cattle, ground the grain for bread, and made soup to quench the thirst that afflicted him. With some relief, he fell ill a week after his youngest brother died. But then, to his astonishment, he recovered quickly and with no lingering aftereffects.

Death had passed him by.

This snippet of my work in progress (thus, WIPpet) is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself: