Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Guest post from Jeri Westerson, author of VEIL OF LIES

I'm delighted to present this guest post from author Jeri Westerson, author of the Medieval Noir debut, VEIL OF LIES. Her novel will be released by St. Martin's Minotaur in November 2008, and features a delightful tale of intrigue, murder and mayhem. (Click on the cover image to learn more )
Here is a description:
In London of 1384, Crispin Guest is a man adrift in a rigidly defined society. Left with only his life, he’s a disgraced knight, convicted of treason, stripped of his rank and his honor for plotting against Richard II. Having lost his patron and his friends, with no trade to support him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has--his wits--to scrape a living on the mean streets of London.

Crispin is called to the compound of a reclusive merchant who suspects his wife of infidelity and wants Crispin to look into the matter. In dire need of money, he discovers that the wife is indeed up to something, but when Crispin comes to inform his client, he is found dead--murdered in a sealed room, locked from the inside. Now Crispin finds himself in the middle of a complex plot involving dark secrets, international plots, and a missing religious relic--one that lies at the heart of this impossible crime.

To learn more about Jeri and her work, please visit her website at:

Medieval Swearing

Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that let him try to blaspheme Odin.--G.K. Chesteron

What was swearing like in the middle ages? It's not what you think.

We use a lot of colorful language in our mystery novels. The darker the stories get, the darker the language becomes. Though we use an overabundance of Anglo Saxon nouns and verbs to describe the ire of our characters, the speech we use today would be quite foreign to the medieval person. At least as a swear word.

Oh yes. Those colorful Anglo Saxon words for body parts and functions were used without fear of vulgarity. It was part and parcel in the day before Victorian mores scrubbed our mouths out with soap and trussed us up into corsets. I suppose most of us are familiar enough with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and in particular the Miller's Tale where flatulance and arse-kissing play an amusing role. But these words and phrases weren't used to denigrate another.

In many instances, it was one's character that is impugned along with one's parentage. To call someone a "churl" or "dog" was fightin' words, to be sure. "Villein" or "scullion" toward a person with means was quite the insult, for you have called them the lowest of the low, a menial, as if you called a CEO a trash collector. Not the same sting today, is it? One was more likely to come up with a religious oath: "by Christ's blood, toes, bones" and any number of bodily parts. Or by the Virgin...and her blood, bones, virginity, and intimate anatomy. A pantheon of saints were at their disposal by which to swear. The Prioress in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales does her swearing by "Saint Loy!" better known as Saint Eligius. Truly, the medieval man would be perplexed at our concern with defecation or fornication when it comes to swearing. In fact, many of the oaths sworn in the middle ages might be something your grandmother would say. It's certainly hard to picture a knight in full dress telling someone in no uncertain terms that he is a "lousy swine" ("lousy" in this sense meaning full of louse). Or use those seven deadly sins as an insult. Call someone a glutton and you might find a gauntlet in your face.

Let us not forget the gestures. The "one-fingered salute" so familiar to Americans was in England (and I believe still is) a two-fingered variety, this stemming from archers taunting their enemies, proving they still had their two fingers in which to pull the string of a bow (the index and middle finger) given with the back of the hand outward. If you were an archer and captured by one's enemies it was likely they would hew off said fingers so you couldn't use a bow against them again. Not very cricket, what?

"Fie!" is one of those words that is often mistaken for a harsher term or as a precursor for that most menacing of Anglo Saxon words, beginning with an "f". But it's not. It merely means "Faith!" of "by my faith!", from the Latin fidus, meaning faithful. Swearing by one's faith is certainly blasphemous enough, if you think about it. And it didn't go unpunished. Habitual blaspheming is "holding God in contempt" and was not to be borne. As punishment, the 13th century King Louis (and later St. Louis of France) suggested that swearers be branded on the face with a hot poker and then put in stocks for further public humiliation. And Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror, kept a whole list of different fines for different levels of society when caught swearing within the royal earshot: a duke, 40 shillings; a lord, 20 shillings; a squire, 10 shillings; a yeoman, 3 shillings and 4 pence; a page, a whipping.

So then perhaps the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, don't degenerate into the typical bodily function or kama sutra-like gyration you might have suggested. Get medieval on him instead and call him a "loathsome paynim (pagan)!" That will keep him guessing all day.
(And I swear, you can find other good stuff on my website or my blog "Getting Medieval.")

For more about swearing, check out Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English by Geoffrey Hughes, The Anatomy of Swearing by Ashley Montague, and Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present by Hugh Rawson.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where would we be without book-lovin' bloggers?

As I come to the end of my virtual blog tour, I just have to say: Whew! That was intense. Maybe more so for me because I have a day job, so cramming in time to do the interviews and guest posts was a challenge, plus I made sure to visit at each stop and chat with readers whenever possible.

That said, I also had a ton of fun. I got to meet readers from all over the world, and I realized that in this highly competitive publishing enviornment, with marketing dollars shrinking and print reviews being ruthlessly eliminated from newspapers across the country, not to mention the thousands of books clamoring for attention, where would we be without book-lovin' bloggers?

Their generosity, honesty, and nondiscriminatory policy when it comes to reviewing books are godsends. Whether you're a bestseller or a debut, they treat you like family. If they liked it or hated it, they'll let you know, usually in no-nonsense terms. And they'll run the gamut, from historical to science fiction to literary - it's all good in the book bloggers' world. They may each have their own distinctive personality and quirks, but most offer us giveaways, contests, interviews and guest posts, with the cummulative effect that providing the author shows up and pitches in, the book will get noticed.
Isn't that what every writer dreams of?

There was a time when the New York Times book review was considered the pinnacle of achievement; if you got reviewed there, you basically had it made. Not so much anymore. While still the foremost authority for book reviews, these days it takes more for a book to get its "legs", as they say in industry parlance. Sales are certainly vastly helped by an NYT review, but more and more books are reaching bestseller status without one; and the majority of these all had major help from the blogsphere. It's like internet word-of-mouth. The more blogs talk about a book, the more readers start to take notice.

All writers, particularly those like me who are starting out, would be wise to take heed of the incredible attention that blogs can generate. The playing field is leveling, and whether or not that is a good thing I'll leave it up to you to decide. I personally am grateful to know there is a vast variety of outlets available online for promotion, rather than depending on a few magazines preoccupied with the latest bestseller, hyped-up lastest debut, or the most recent literary discovery. With blogs ranging in scope from a mom who bakes and reads to a fashion-obsessed bibliophile and everything in between, there's a place for nearly every book under the sun to get its share of notice. It's fast and the blog moves on, but while you're there they give you their all.

I want to thank all the bloggers who hosted me on my tour and took the time, often out of very busy schedules, to talk about my book. I also want to thank all the bloggers out there who talk every day about books and writing, for they help us keep alive that most civilized of human activities: the art of reading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

THE HERETIC QUEEN has arrived!

I wanted to take a moment to announce the publication of my friend Michelle Moran's second historical fiction novel set in ancient Egypt, THE HERETIC QUEEN. Michelle and I met via an online forum; her first novel NEFERTITI had hit the national bestseller list and I was searching for ways to expand my online promotion of THE LAST QUEEN. She offered to interview me on her blog, and was both extraordinarily gracious and generous with her advice. Since then, she's consistently offered me support, proving writers can be friends in the best sense of the word. I'm meeting her in person when I go to LA this week and I can't wait. I'm also going to interview her here, just as soon as I finish reading her new novel, which is truly exquisite.

Please join me in celebrating this talented historical fiction writer and good friend!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Last stops on blog tour

This is it! I promised to promote this tour on my blog, and I'm on the final league. Thank you all for bearing with me. I'm off to Los Angeles for the West Hollywood Book Fair this weekend but I have a special guest post coming up from Jeri Westerson, author of the forthcoming Medieval Noir, VEIL OF LIES, who'll also be at the Book Fair. In the meantime, if you want to check out a splendid interview with Andromeda Romano Lax, author of THE SPANISH BOW, please visit my friend Sarah Johnson at Reading the Past:

Sept. 22 – A Book Blogger’s Diary (book review):
Bloggin ‘Bout Books (book review)
Sept. 23 – In Bed With Books (review)
Sept. 24 – Booking Mama (book review)
Sept. 25 - Book Cover Lovers (book spotlight)
The Literate Housewife (book review)
Sept. 26 – Novel Thoughts (book review)
A Striped Armchair (book review)
Zensanity (interview):

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Senators, vote against offshore drilling

This week, Congress voted to open up our coastlines to offshore drilling. In the wake of two major hurricanes, oil spills and gas price spikes we've already seen in recent weeks, this vote basically places a bet on the big oil companies at a time when we should be working our proverbial butts off to develop energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources.

This coming week, the Senate votes on offshore drilling. Each one of us still has time to change our luck. Thousands of Greenpeace supports like me have written to express our opposition to lifting the Congressional moratorium on offshore oil drilling; I hope you will consider adding your voice here before it is too late.

This is the text of my letter. It contains some parts of Greenpeace's template language:

Most Americans might favor offshore drilling, thinking it's a solution to our current energy crisis, but it is not - as you well know. In all the US, there isn't enough reserves to supply the amount of oil we consume in a year. It will also cause massive enviornmental damage in a time when we should be fighting with everything we've got to preserve the last bastions of our natural world. You are elected to office not only to serve the people, but in moments like these to GUIDE THEM, and offshore drilling solves nothing. It is but a fleeting panacea to a much larger issue, one you MUST address logically and carefully as elected officials: developing alternate energy options that do not pollute our planet.
To build more oil rigs and wreck our already-fragile oceanic ecosystems, pandering to oil companies and to those Americans who unfortunately merely seek an immediate solution to their personal dependence on oil is NOT sound government policy. I voted for you because I trusted in your judgement. I have been especially disappointed in Nancy Pelosi's backflip on this issue when polls showed how many Americans favored offshore drilling. Hello? How many Americans favored the war? And how many years later did it take to prove most of us were wrong? The very same dilemma confronts us now and I expect you to do the right thing and PROTECT OUR COASTLINES FROM ANY MORE DRILLING, INCLUDING DRILLING IN THE ARCTIC NATIONAL REFUGE.

I am appalled by this country's current leadership; I am ashamed by our utter lack of leadership in the overwhelming face of evidence that we are directly responsible for the accleration in global warming. Does the ocean need to warm up to such an extent that the polar caps melt and flooding tides engulf New York before we'll awaken to our own indifference and stupidity?

The U.S. burns close to one-quarter of the world’s oil, yet we only have about three percent of the world’s oil reserves. We will never be able to drill our way to lower gas prices or energy security, even if we drilled every last drop of oil from this country’s onshore and offshore reserves. Information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that new oil drilling won’t significantly affect oil prices; it’s clear that the only benefit will be to oil companies’ profit margins.

Global warming caused by the burning of oil, coal and other fossil fuels is literally causing the Arctic to melt at unprecedented rates. Arctic sea ice extent reached an all-time low in September of 2007 and this year’s low is coming in at a close second. New offshore drilling and other fossil fuel development will lead to more global warming impacts already responsible for heat waves, more intense hurricanes, floods and severe drought.

This country needs a bold new energy future that pivots us away from fossil fuels, ends tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry, and invests resources in renewable energy, mass transportation, energy efficiency, and cars that go further on a gallon of gas. Current proposals to open up the OCS to oil drilling do nothing to stop our addiction to oil or lower prices at the pump and will only exacerbate global warming.

I urge you to vote against any bill that gives away more of America’s coastal waters to oil companies or provides subsidies to the dirty coal, tar sands or oil shale industries. Americans deserve real solutions to the energy crisis like investments in efficiency, cleaner cars, and renewable energy technologies that save citizens money on energy bills, create new jobs, and help solve the climate crisis.

Monday, September 15, 2008

This week's blog tour

This week, I'll be stopping at the blogs listed below. Also, I found out this weekend that THE LAST QUEEN made the Marin Independent Journal's Top 10 Bestseller List for the week of August 16!

Sept. 15 – Dear Author (guest post) (book review):

Sept. 17 – The Book Stacks ( guest post)
Books on the Brain (book review)

Sept. 18 – Bookroom Reviews (book review and interview):

Sept. 19 – The Friendly Book Nook ( (book review)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This week's blog tour

This week I'll be at:
Sept. 8- Blogcritics (interview)
The Plot (book spotlight)
Review Your Book (book review)
The Dark Phantom Review (interview)
Tea at Trianon (interview and review)

Sept. 9 – The Plot (character interview)
Page 69 (this is fun!)

Sept. 10 – Bookfoolery (book review)
Author Virtual Book Tours (interview)

Sept. 11 – The Tome Traveller’s Weblog (book review)
If Books Could Talk (book trailer spotlight)

Sept. 12 – Lesa’s Book Critiques (book review)
Fiction Scribe (interview)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

THE SPANISH BOW by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Andromeda Romano-Lax's debut THE SPANISH BOW is out in paperback this month; I reviewed the novel last year for the Historical Novels Review, and it was one of my favorite books of the year. Set in Spain before and during the Spanish Civil War, it captures the conflicts between art and politics as seen through the eyes of a gifted cellist, his flamboyant mentor, and the mysterious woman who captures their hearts. Well worth reading, here is my review in its entirety:
Andromeda Romano-Lax. THE SPANISH BOW
Harcourt. 2007. 560 pgs. $25.00 hc .0151015422

Can art save us from ourselves? In her elegant debut, THE SPANISH BOW, Ms Romano-Lax ponders this timeless question through the ambitious tale of Feliu Delargo, a gifted cellist born in turn-of-the-century Spain who receives the unexpected gift of a bow from his dead father and sets himself on a resolute path to mastering his craft. His journey takes him from performing in the defiant streets of Barcelona to the confidences of the queen of Spain and a tumultuous partnership with flamboyant pianist Justo Al-Cerraz, who introduces Feliu to the rigors and joys of life as an itinerant musician as well as the eventual deception of fame. As civil war decimates his homeland and fascism spreads across Europe, Feliu finds himself increasingly conflicted over the relevance of music in a crumbling world—until he meets Aviva, an Italian violinist whose inexorable quest to redeem her past plunges Feliu into destructive rivalry and ultimate sacrifice. From the hypocrisies of the courts of Madrid to the terror of Nazi-occupied Paris, Romano-Lax weaves the upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century into an elegy to the simultaneous power and impotency of art, and the contradictions of the human spirit. – C.W. Gortner

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On tour . . . virtually, that is.

I'm on a virtual book tour this month through the services of the terrific and hardworking team at Pump Up Your Book If you want to join me or just take a peek at how a virtual blog tour works, you can find my daily tour stops here:
Because the tour stops need to be updated by the bloggers themselves, I'll add my stops by week here. This week, I'll be interviewed and/or the book will be featured at:

Sept. 2 – Amateur de Livre (book review):

Sept. 4 – Fictionary (interview):

Literate Housewife (book review):

Sept. 5 - The Book Connection (Guest post):