Join the Argolicus Readers Group. Enter an ancient world.
Celebrate Electronic Reading
Mark Coker, Smashwords founder, interviews the Read an E-Book Week creator Rita Toews.
While taking a writing class at the University of Winnipeg, I was approached by the instructor with a request – would I assist an elderly gentleman with his memoirs. I jumped at the chance and thus began a wonderful relationship with my co-author, Mr. Alex Domokos. Mr. Domokos’ memoirs are fascinating. He served as a slave laborer in Russia for 6 years after WWII. When he was returned to Hungary the communist government deported his entire family because they were members of the upper class. He and his wife escaped Hungary in 1956 but were forced to leave their child behind. The novel is entitled The Price of Freedom.
We later wrote several novels together, including The Centurion, Prometheus and Ten Chocolates From the Box. As a sole author I also wrote several children’s stories – Kelly’s Baby Brother, Christmas Stars and The Bully. I realized the only way we would get any of our work published was if we did it electronically.
We were among the first authors to embrace e-books but the general public was very cautious of the new reading technology. It was hard to promote our books or to get anyone to listen when we requested publicity.
The first years [starting in 2004] were pretty quiet as I figured out what worked and what didn’t, but as e-books became more popular the event grew. I’m very happy with the results of 2009 and anticipate a good response in 2010.
[MC] – How do you measure the success of the event?
To learn more about Read an Ebook Week, visit the official web site at http://ebookweek.com.
Follow Mark Coker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markcoker
Today on Meet the Author Monday we have Zara Altair here to tell us a little about herself and her books. As usual we will put my comments/questions in BLUE and our guest author will be GREEN.
I always like to start off with exploring out my guest authors entered the literary world. Is there a specific person or even that made you a reader?
Wow, Andrew, I’ve been reading since I could read at about the age of five. In our family, reading aloud was a daily tradition, so I could get more stories when I could read myself. Kipling was an early favorite. I loved the way he talked to you, O Best Beloved, as though he were telling the story just to you. Winnie the Pooh, Just So Stories, The Wind in the Willows, both Alice books, Albert Payson Terhune because I loved dogs. Those were…
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Today on Meet the Author Monday we have Zara Altair here to tell us a little about herself and her books. As usual we will put my comments/questions in BLUE and our guest author will be GREEN. I al…
Nikolaos and Argolicus
The tutor, Nikolaos, plays a main role in the Argolicus Mysteries. He sees the world from a different and more worldly perspective than Argolicus, often noticing things the cerebral Argolicus misses.
His role is traditional and at the same time unusual for the period. Argolicus is a high-standing Roman citizen but he is not part or elite Roman society. He grew up in the country of southern Italy and was rich with land. Although his family was well off, they were isolated from the elite far away in Rome. Children in this situation received their education from tutors who had a favored status within the household.
Tutors were usually slaves, often from Greece, who were able to instill a Classical education in Greek and Latin. Argolicus was fortunate because his teacher educated him in geography, philosophy, literature, mythology, and geometry as well. These subjects were considered at the time the basis, along with rhetoric, for training as an orator or Senator.
Nikolaos is unique in that he teaches classical Greek athletics as well. Roman culture looked down on athletics as something only soldiers learned. This training gets Argolicus out of some scrapes that other Romans might not know. On the other hand, Argolicus is not armed, because under the rule of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, Romans (Italians) were forbidden by law to carry arms in public.
Tutor Role After Childhood
Tutors were treated almost family members, even as slaves, and often stayed with their protege long after he reached adulthood. Most, like Nikolaos, served as secretary, in the same way Cicero’s Tiro centuries before. Nikolaos takes copious notes at meetings and serves as a second pair of eyes observing what goes on while Argolicus is engaged in conversation.
History and Fiction
Although Argolicus was a real person mentioned several times in Cassiodorus’ Variae, the details of his personal life. are unknown. His tutor, Nikolaos, is a fictional character who has encouraged a love of literature and a rational mind in his pupil and lifelong friend.
Because, in the stories, Argolicus grew up with Cassiodorus I can easily imagine a scene like that in the illustration here of the two boys studying together with their tutors.
Read to Write
Reading is the inspiration for many writers to begin their own, writing career. For me it was reading and meeting an author when I was five. That’s what I want to do, was my childhood thought. Creating stories seemed like such a magical way to live a life.
As an adult, the hard truth hit that having a story idea and creating a story is a path fraught with pitfalls. When I read my first short stories now, I am embarrassed at how they lacked story. Yep, those old tropes like a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention character revelation, action, description, and a story line that engages the reader.
Yes, there were scenes that even today can bring me to tears, but the story just did not hang together.
What’s a writer to do? Learn story.
The best and most lasting way to learn story is to go into other stories. For fiction writers, there are three excellent ways to experience story.
- Read books
- Listen to books
- Watch films
However many posts (like this one, alas), software and online tools you gather they won’t help you as much as diving into other stories.
Focus On Good Writers In and Out of Your Genre
Reading books from the perspective of a writer is much different than as a reader. Once you begin the journey of writing you begin to notice things that an average reader does not.
- The beginning – the first sentence, the hook, and the setup
- Character arcs – not just the protagonist, but every character
- Description – all five senses and what you need to fill in as the reader
- The all-important Middle – how does the author keep your attention? What are the tension elements?
- The antagonist – how is the antagonist developed
- Point of view and why the author chose 1st person or 3rd
- Tone – is it even throughout? Does it match the genre?
- The ending
Yes, every element.
As you keep reading, you begin to start comparing your writing–in a good way. Would you use that plot device? Would your character have that flaw?
As you continue reading with a critical eye, you begin to see how writers, even major writers, have flaws. This is where it drags. I don’t believe that character would naturally perform that action or say those words.
The more you read, the better you understand story.
Audiobooks and the Moments in Time
I used to have a book in different rooms–the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room. Now that I listen to audiobooks, I usually have one reading book in the bedroom and listen to audio books on my mobile device.
Applications like audible allow you to listen to books with some very dynamic readers. As you listen to the story, you can bookmark a passage with annotations like fight scene, forest description, interior monolog, deep point of view, etc. These bookmarks help later when you are constructing a certain passage in your story.
Because audio books are on a mobile device you can listen while cooking, gardening, walking the dog, driving and many other activities of daily life that would keep you from sitting down with a book.
I’ve increased my fiction “reading” since I started using audio books several years ago.
The Basics of Story: Movies
Screenwriters struggle with story basics like how to keep the middle from sagging the same way novelists do. Because films are a collaborative project scripts are the skeleton for the story that allows for interpretation from directors, actors, set designers, lighting engineers, etc. But, story basics are key to a good film.
Unlike a novel which may take hours or days to read from beginning to end, a movie is two hours or less of time. And you can spend this time with friends and family as a diversion from your solitary writing time.
Those two hours are filled with sparks for ideas: plot twists, supporting character arcs, subplots, character reveals, and the crucial elements of story getting from the beginning to the end.
The same is true for film as well as books, watch in your genre and outside of your genre to see how story is constructed.
Books, Audio Books, Film
As writers, we can always improve our craft. Learning from other writers builds an accumulation of skill points that cannot be matched. Balance your writing time by learning from others.
If you are a first time writer, developmental editing can help you strengthen your story structure. Check out my content editing service on Reedsy.
Wander, Ramble, and Roam
Writers write. Sometimes I wander around in my head looking for a place where I can meet someone. A music loving friend, Dave Pipe, from Sussex, England, might call it a mental womble. I think about various places and visit them. I look around to see who is there. I meet them. Some people would call this a character exercise.
This free-form wander is not part of any current work in progress, it is simply writing “what I see.” Essentially, the “visioning” is apropos of nothing.
When I went to Chico, California, in my head, here’s what happened.
Chuck Maloney had that sandy-haired way of going everywhere in a rolling stride. I imagined him sleeping in his P.F. Flyers. But, I know better. I spent almost as many weekends at his house as I did at mine. He did not wear his shoes to bed the first time we camped out in his yard under the big black oak. He was eight. I had a month left of seven. We didn’t talk much, just sort of did things together.
That month in age lead gave him the edge. As far as I was concerned, Chuck was a leader: introduced me to a million secrets.
I think it was the next summer we crested arrows. John Ringer, Chuck’s next door neighbor, a mile down the road, had a hunting dad. Ever time I went in the high-ceilinged, dark-roomed house, I was mute in the presence of boar, goat, and buck heads mounted on the wall staring straight ahead into the void in the middle of the living room. John’s dad was really a hunter. At nine, everyone’s dad seemed possessed of unattainable skills.
Our fiberglass bows came after a lot of begging, pleading, and extra chores. Out of our allowance, we bought arrows from John’s dad. He made his own. We stood rapt as he glued in fletching while he told hunting stories. We listened, but he was really talking to those shafts, encouraging them for the best kill ever. Well, every batch he made a few short ones just for us kids. He measured our draw and we got custom arrows. Of course, he didn’t spend as much time on our fletching.
“Pretty soon,” he said, “I’ll teach you boys how to make your own bow. Show you how to mold fiberglass.”
“Like on car bodies?” Chuck asked. His dad did a lot of body work at the garage.
“Yeah, kid. Sort of like cars but with more finesse.”
We steeped ourselves in archery lore, read the history of the longbow and two versions of Robin Hood. We picked our paint colors for cresting, measured the spacing on the shaft. Not that we were in some competition. We just liked archery. But, we could walk right up to the target pinned up on that bale of straw out in Chuck’s backyard and pull out our arrows instantly. Chuck’s were painted blue and silver. Mine were red 1/16 inch, 1/4 inch space, green 1/16 inch, quarter-inch space, and then 1/16 inch yellow. I spent a lot of time painting those lines. They were never as neat as Chuck’s. He had the knack, just like his dad: precision.
The Ringers moved to Grass Valley right before Christmas. We never did make those bows. Kind of lost interest after old man Ringer was gone.
Next year, as I remember, my dad taught us to tie flies. My dad took us fishing maybe ten times over at the Yuba. The rest of the time we fished local creeks, Chuck rolling along the creekside in his P. F. Fliers. I liked that early morning time, the privateness of the running water and the birds. Once, I caught a big daddy trout, I mean bigger than anything Chuck caught. Felt good. Mostly we spent those hot Chico afternoons tying flies. Fly tying is a way for boys to use color and design without losing face. I mean, in a country of plaid shirts and boots, boys just don’t get mixed up with art. Men either, for that matter.
Freeing Your Writing from Requirements
This exercise is very freeing for getting into a character’s head. Because it is not tied to a current work in progress, there’s no need to think about how it moves the story forward, foreshadowing, or how the passage relates to the other characters. Also, it is freeing because you don’t have to worry about covering all the character points–description, back story, strengths or weaknesses, and the like. Simply meet your character and listen to what he or she says, and see where it goes.
Playing with Writing
Ursula LeGuin says in her book Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. The book is a guide for writers. Each exercise is prefaced by examples from writers followed by a writing exercise following the premise of reading good stuff.
I’ve read many, many books about the craft of writing most of them filled with exercises that did not appeal to my imagination. I tried a few exercises and they felt…well…boring. I’d rather be writing my story.
On the other hand, improving my craft is important to me. That’s why I read all those books and took a stab at the exercises. I resonated with this book. If you are a writer, I highly recommend approaching your craft through the exercises.
If you are a reader, you may like seeing the kind of work a writer does that never makes it into the story you read.
The first chapter is about the sound of words, sentences, syntax and calls for some playful use of phrasing and has two parts.
The first exercise: Being Gorgeous
When he entered, what was left was things. He walked to her dressing table and touched each jar one by one. He opened one–Spikenard and something, an evening under the stars. He opened another and sniffed–faint earth in red powder. He opened them each, one by one and mixed all the contents on the table top. There was the white robe ready for the Christening hanging from the wardrobe. Her writing desk was clean except for a piece of thin vellum and a pen. He bent to look at the vellum: a quick note unfinished. Dearest Mother, I miss you. I feel alone. I am afraid. You said it would be like fire and joy…
He turned to look at the bed. The stripped mattress was covered in fresh bleached linen. He bent over and looked under the bed to see: nothing but the sunlight through the window lighting a bright spot on the floor on the other side of the bed. Not one piece of swaddling cloth. Not one drop of blood. He put his hands on the bed and raised himself up off the tiled floor. He put his face to the mattress; nothing of her. Nothing of a child. Nothing of a blue baby. Nothing of Julia.