Monday, July 30, 2012

What I Did This Weekend

Besides watching hours of Olympics, I went to this:

Yep, an all-female fight card held in Kansas City.  I've been doing some research for a second series and wanted to attend a mixed martial arts event.  I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this, but I did want to absorb the atmosphere (pulsating heavy metal music and flashing red, white and blue lights - for FIVE hours) and see how these things are run.  Girls in tight black dresses roaming around taking drink orders.  Men in suits.  Families.  Groups of well-dressed women in their sixties chugging margaritas.  Scary looking dudes with muscles and tattoos.

I thought this would be something I'd watch for an hour or two and then leave early.  It's one thing to write light-hearted fight scenes but quite another to actually watch two women (or men, for that matter) go after each other.  Guess what?  I could not take my eyes off the action.  After the first few fights, I forgot I was watching women and just got into it.  As the fights progressed to the main event, the skill levels increased dramatically and I was mesmerized by the fluidity and speed of the takedowns and escapes, not to mention the flying kicks and brutal punches.  I thought I'd do this for research, but I'm on the road to being a fangirl.

India could learn a few lessons from these ladies, but I doubt she could execute some of the moves in those long skirts she's forced to wear.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tough Victorian Women - Mary Kingsley

The first of an occasionally recurring series of unusual women of the Victorian Era.  Requirement:  India would approve of their exploits.

Mary Kingsley

Student of Medicine, African Explorer, and "the queerest object they'd ever seen."

In an era where women were expected to be content with sketching, needlework, music and other pursuits, Mary Kingsley stands out.  Following the death of her parents, she used her inheritance to finance explorations of West Africa, traveling alone with the assistance of native bearers and guides.  She died of typhus in 1900, contracted while nursing prisoners of war during the Second Boer War.  You can learn more at Wikipedia and at this site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scenes from India #3

In India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy, India attempts to thwart an anarchist plot.  I though it would be fun to find a few images of Victorian London which relate to scenes in the book.

India spends some time in the Seven Dials area of London, a notorious cesspool of whores, thieves and drunkards, not to mention anarchists.

She frequents a tavern there, called the Bag o'Nails, which might have looked something like this:

London's streets team with anarchists and their potential victims:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rule, Britannia

You can't count yourself a true Anglophile unless you can hum this tune.  Britannia has been the female personification of Great Britain for centuries.  Here's a Victorian era version of the valiant lady:

And here's an interesting paragraph from the Wikipedia article regarding Britannia:

"By the time of Queen Victoria, Britannia had been renewed. Still depicted as a young woman with brown or golden hair, she kept her Corinthian helmet and her white robes, but now she held Poseidon's three-pronged trident and often sat or stood before the ocean and tall-masted ships representing British naval power. She also usually held or stood beside a Greek hoplite shield, which sported the British Union Flag: also at her feet was often the BritishLion, an animal found on the arms of England, Scotland and the Prince of Wales."

The version shown here contains the helmet, white robes and hoplite shield with the Union flag, but there's no trident, ocean, ship or lion to be seen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Freelance Penmonkey

10:17 a.m., CST.  I've read the NY Times, checked out the 30 odd blogs I follow, responded to an email from my editor (Question: what's the title of India #4?  Answer:  Umm, the dog ate my homework?) and am now drawing deep breaths in preparation for churning out the 2,000 words I need to write today.  Which reminded me that Chuck Wendig (the freelance penmonkey of the blog post) writes a very funny blog.   In particular, his post "25 Reasons You Should Quit Writing" is hilarious and reading it is a great way to procrastinate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Last Vintage Mystery

ARMS FOR ADONIS – Charlotte Jay (1961)

 As it turns out, I thought I had concluded my eight books in the Golden Girls category of Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge but I was one book short. I decided to finish the challenge by trying a second book by Charlotte Jay, whose superb Beat Not the Bones had delighted me.  Arms for Adonis did not disappoint. This book is set in Beirut, a city so beautifully described by Jay that I could almost smell the hibiscus blooming.

Sarah Smith has decided to leave Marcel, her lover, and return to England. She is not an ideal heroine, being far too dreamy and distracted to take charge of her life. She drifts from man to man and situation to situation. As she wanders through the market on her way to the airport, a bomb explodes. In short order, Sarah is kidnapped by a handsome Syrian, sees him shot down, and finds herself delivering a message from him to a member of the Lebanese secret police.

I finished the book without really feeling that I had deciphered the plot. Like Middle Eastern politics in general, it was murky. Was Emile Khalife a villain or hero? Who was plotting against whom? Was Sarah caught up in a coup attempt or a tribal feud? And what of the English characters? Were they caricatures, dupes, plot devices? Upon reflection, it occurred to me that Jay must have intended that, like the country and people she described, the events of the book should remain shadowy and indistinct. The forces at work in the troubled region were and are too difficult to segment and categorize. We are left troubled and slightly bewildered about the story we have read, just as we wonder at the accounts we read today of the alliances and enmities, feuds and revolutions occurring in the Muslim world. Fifty years after its publication, Arms for Adonis illustrates that things change slowly, if at all, in the Middle East.

I’ll be searching out the rest of Charlotte Jay’s work. She’s an amazing writer.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Photo Op

Here I am with Walter Bargan, former Poet Laureate of the state of Missouri, at the Missouri Writers' Guild conference held this past April in St. Louis.  This photo was snapped at the book signing, and I look as if I'm concentrating very hard on remembering what I am supposed to write on the title page.  Actually, I'm getting directions to the nearest Italian restaurant.

Photo by Sarah Whitney

Friday, July 13, 2012

Publisher's Synopsis for India #3

Here's the publisher's synopsis of India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy:

In Victorian London, India Black has all the attributes a high-class madam needs to run a successful brothel--wit, beauty, and an ability to lie with a smile. Luckily for Her Majesty's Government, all these talents also make her a first-rate spy...

India Black, full-time madam and occasional secret agent, is feeling restless, when one of Disraeli's men calls on her to meet the prime minister--alone. Even though all her previous meetings have been organized by the rakishly handsome spy French, it's been decided this is a mission India must attempt on her own.

Revolt has spread across Europe and reached the shores of England--anarchists have begun assassinating lords and earls, one by one. Now India must infiltrate the ranks of the underground group responsible for those attacks, the sinister Dark Legion. To stop their dread plot, India will go from the murkiest slums of London to the highest levels of society, uncovering secrets that threaten her very existence...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

French's Secrets

In India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy, India learns a few things about French's past, the least surprising of which is that he's in the military. I'd chosen the 26th Regiment of Foot for French, based on their activities and postings in the period before he met India. I thought it might be interesting to see what the 26th's uniforms looked like, so I dug around a bit on the internet and found this:

I can't imagine French in the officer's uniform worn by the fellow on the right. It's just not French. So I did more research and found just what I was looking for: the "Gallant Forty-Twa," or more prosaically, the 42nd Regiment of Foot. Known as the Black Watch, this regiment knows how to dress. In the picture below, the officer is in the middle. Now, that's a uniform I can imagine French wearing.  India will be pleased.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

God Bless Copy Editors

The copy editor (God bless his/her soul) has been poring over India #3 with a sharp red pencil, er, cursor, and I thought you might find it interesting to see what the copyedited version of a manuscript looks like.  Here's a view of my computer screen.  The quality isn't great but if you click on it and strain your eyes, you can see the sort of comments a copy editor makes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fountain Pen Porn

Yes, there is such a thing and here it is.  If you are one of those people who think the art of penmanship is dying, skip to the 2:00 mark and watch a master at work.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day

This should put you in the proper mood for celebrating.

And instead of a picture of fireworks, look at this fabulous time lapse photo of the stars by amateur Australian photographer Lincoln Harrison.

More of his amazing work at this link.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rashid is Dead

Who's Rashid? Read on and find out. My husband is very good at keeping a travel journal of our trips, which is great because my memory is like a sieve these days. Here's his entry for Sunday, May 13th:

The day started with toast, butter and jam purchased from the Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market. One wonders what has happened to our grocery store food when you taste fresh bread, farm fresh butter and homemade jam. Then we are off to Hampstead for a London Walk. Proudly, I plan the trip and get us on the Edgeware branch of the Northern Line. Sadly, I make a complete hash of the return and end up at St. Pancras (proper destination is Sloane Square). I sort it out and when we finally arrive at Sloane Square we are running late as we have a Westminster at War walk planned for 2:00pm. A quick lunch and we are on our way. Both of the walks were enjoyed to a high degree. Upon the return to the flat, we map out the evening (the three pubs we will be visiting this night). First we will go to the Grenadier for a pint, then to the Wilton Arms for a pint and a bite to eat and finally we will finish the night at the Nag’s Head. Good enough, off we go. As we round the curve in the mews, the Grenadier is chock a block full of people in suits and nice dresses (a wedding party perhaps). Not to worry, one must fight the enemy and not the plan, so off we go to the Wilton Arms. It is quiet at the Wilton Arms and after ordering a Spitfire and Master Brew we ask for a menu. I am informed that no food is served on a Sunday. Another bit of poor planning on my part, but the wife is resilient and we discuss our options. It is settled that we will have a couple of drinks at the Nag’s Head and then return home to finish off the food we purchased at the farmers’ market. The Nag's Head is an eccentric little pub that is one of my very favorite pubs in London. The food is absolutely horrible, the drink selection is limited, the landlord can be surly, yet I just love this place and that's why I planned a return visit. I know what you are thinking, never meet your heroes. I profess to you that a greater fallacy has never been spoken.
A few steps down the mews and we are at the Nag’s Head, again a rather quiet night with just a few customers present. Kevin Moran, the proprietor is not present, but Hannah (who we remember from a couple of years ago) is working behind the bar along with a new hire named Katie. Our preferred seats, the ones just behind the entry door, are taken so we slide onto a bench and table near the bar (fortuitous as it turns out). A pint of Adnams Broadside and a G&T are ordered. First it is imperative that we turn off our mobile and hang our jackets. Do not question this, these are the rules of the house and you must comply. We are surprised to find out that the Nag’s Head is offering food, so we order bangers and mash plus a shepherd’s pie. Honestly, some of the most disappointing food we have ever had and to add insult to injury there is a £1.50 service charge added to each meal (when ordered after 2:00pm Monday-Friday and when ordered at anytime on the weekend). Has my hero now exposed his Achilles’ heel? We struggle through the meals and start to absorb our surroundings as more customers arrive. I will not mention the three ugly Americans we saw at the Wilton Arms who have now arrived at the Nag’s Head. Fortunately, they go to the backroom (down the stairs just to the left of the bar). I will concentrate on the characters that start to filter in. First I must inform you that Rashid has died, yes the Saudi with the race horses who was a regular (when he was in town) passed away a few weeks ago. We know this because his brother stopped by last Thursday. We also learn that Hannah’s sister is amazingly thin (unlike Hannah). The sister resumed jogging just three weeks after her baby was born. Hannah thinks her sister is crazy. Katie, who is thin, defends the sister and - well how do I politely described this - Hannah and Katie have a comparison of backsides much to amusement of those present.
A few other customers arrive, including a nice young American couple; unfortunately they head for the backroom. Nothing ever happens in the backroom, if you can’t get a seat in the bar at the Nag’s Head then wait patiently or return at a different time. I step out into the mews for a smoke and from behind me I hear a click, click, click on the cobble stones. I turn to discover the sound is that of a cane clicking upon the cobble stones. A fine gentleman, in his seventies, dressed in a brightly colored plaid sport coat and fedora approaches the Nag’s Head, pauses at the steps as if he was contemplating the summit of Everest and proceeds inside. I return to my seat and find my wife conversing with an oriental gentleman at the bar. Patrick is his name, a man in his mid sixties, born in California to a Chinese father and Venezuelan mother, a resident of London for last thirty years. What ensues is lengthy conversation with Patrick about the geopolitical role of America, the Vietnam War and the political history of China. This conversation is interrupted only by the arrival of Patrick’s friend, Tom from Scotland. Patrick’s wallet is open and the drinks are flowing. I manage to buy one round, but from then on Patrick is insistent that it is his treat. The plan was to have two pints and then back to the flat for an early night. I stopped counting at five pints. Patrick was sitting on a bar stool where the man in the blue suit is standing in the next picture. You can see the table against the wall where my wife and I were sitting.
Sometime around 9:00pm, Kevin (the owner) arrives. Kevin is sailing very close to the wind when he arrives. Kevin approaches our table, reaches over my wife to the bookshelf just behind her and pulls out a book. He mumbles something to my wife and hands her the book. It is a book about the Nag’s Head. Who knew Kevin was in the military, a ceremonial guard with the red tunic and bear skin? Who knew Kevin was an actor? That's Kevin facing the camera in the picture below.
When we left the Nag’s Head I got us lost (I know, down the mews and take a right and then a left and it is a straight shot to Sloane Square). After wandering around a completely deserted Belgrave Square we spotted two policemen who gave us directions to Sloane Square. I forgot to mention one of the regulars at the Nag’s Head; an old crippled Shih Tzu dog named Mash. His owner named him Mash because as a puppy the dog’s white belly, brown ears and tail reminded the owner of a baked potato. Well one can’t call their dog “baked potato” so he called him Mash (as in bangers and mash). Is it any wonder that the Nag’s Head is one of my favorite pubs in London?