The woman rolled slightly to lift the weight from her left side, slid her right hand into her jacket and tugged the bra strap to free her breast from the cleft between her upper arm and chest. Withdrawing her hand, she then squirmed into a more comfortable prone position and took up the slack of the weapon’s sling against her forearm, by repositioning her left elbow.
Aiming down at a target could cause a careless sharpshooter to underestimate the distance. However, she knew the exact range to each point in her arc of fire, stretching from the corner of Stilovic Street, formed by two sides of the high-rise apartment block, and at the other extreme, bounded by the arched doorway of the play centre.
On her first day on this sector of Sarajevo, the initial shot to test the range had bisected the head of a stray dog scavenging close to the roundabout. Four hours later, her assessment of the range was confirmed when she made the first kill of her assignment. The old woman was the beginning of a chain that included two other women, a middle-aged man and a French Legionnaire wearing a flak jacket. She brought him down with a headshot.
Not all of her shots killed instantaneously; she had seen movement after some strikes, but she was confident that the wounded would not get up. A hit with the Dragunov was invariably fatal. The tearing effect of the slug was horrendous, and the resultant haemorrhaging was massive, to say nothing of the shock caused by a strike anywhere on the human body. Read the rest of this entry »
At first, when they found that they were denied passage through inhabited lands, the Hebrews avoided confrontation by prudently skirting these areas. But as they grew in strength and numbers, they began to fight those who would not allow them to pass through peaceably. As they had God on their side, they invariably won these battles, whereupon they took possession of the lands and slaughtered the inhabitants, sparing only the virgins for their own personal use. Of course, they were careful to purify the girls before using them, lest the Hebrew men be defiled. No doubt the maidens felt highly honored to be made use of by such fastidious men.
When they reached Moab, near Jericho, the King of the Moabites worried that his country would be overrun in turn, so he summoned Balaam the seer, offering him honors and rewards to put a curse on the Hebrews so that they could be driven away. After much coy hesitation—possibly designed to drive his price up—Balaam agreed to meet with the king but he made no promises, for he’d heard that the Hebrews had been blessed by a very powerful god.
Balaam climbed on his ass and set out for Moab, but the ass startled him with an assortment of uncharacteristic antics, bolting off the path, squashing up against a wall—crushing Balaam’s foot in the process—and most inconveniently falling down flat on the ground under him.
Balaam’s beatings elicited an unexpected response from the ass. “Hey, don’t blame me! An angel made me do it,” she said.
“An angel,” scoffed Balaam. “I doubt it.” Read the rest of this entry »
LIFE IN AN OTTOMAN HAREM
You are young and you are beautiful. You have been captured by the Turks after your Balkan city succumbed to a long siege. Your father and brothers are dead. You are terrified you will now be raped and murdered.
But you are not harmed by your captors, fearsome as they look. Instead you are taken back to the Ottoman capital and introduced into a gloomy wooden palace the Turks call the Eski Saraya.
You are put into the care of the Mistress of the Robes, where your flair for needlework is put to good use. You are taught Arabic and the Koran. But it is made clear to you that you are now a slave. Whatever high position in life you had before, now you are nothing; the Sultan‘s plaything.
WHY IT MATTERS
We’ve all heard the axiom that those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. And so we study our history lessons and believe our teachers and know with everything that is in us that we would never allow another dictator to take control of us, to kill millions, to tell us what to think and believe and love and hate. We know the dates. We know the names and places. We have seen, in black and white, the atrocities. And yet, for those of us who did not live during WWII, it’s a very difficult thing to understand how humanity can ever have come to that. We cannot look within a man’s mind and know with any certainty what it was he was truly thinking when he devised his plan–if it came all at once or by degrees. It is impossible to know exactly what it was that made him feel so strongly and how he was able to influence so many to agree with his philosophies. Just what was it that got us there in the first place? Read the rest of this entry »
I have written one book: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem, published at the end of 2009, but a process begun in 1993 when I first picked the 1692 Salem witch hunt as the subject for a screenplay.
My research in those hard-to-imagine pre-internet days consisted of reading every book on Salem available in the Los Angeles Public Library; although some were too old and decrepit to be forwarded to my branch. I also searched through two university reference libraries. Of course, there were a handful of books I was able to take home for study.
Sometime while taking notes, I got bitten by the ghostly bug still haunting Salem that hunts for blood and an audience. And sometimes I had to implore the books I was skimming to help me weed out dramatic irrelevancies. In the end I had collected more than a thousand disparate but novel facts, most of which were later incorporated into my novel. 126 single- spaced typewritten pages, indexed by character, subject, and strangeness, each item prompting its own unique scrutinization and speculation, because of my having learned at film school that motivation is key to a well- constructed dramatic story.
I asked: Why would an indentured nineteen-year-old girl in Salem Village accuse a minister of witchcraft, a man she hasn’t seen for years but once dwelt with in childhood after being orphaned on the Maine frontier? And what was the relationship between that minister and her Salem master? And why would the wife of her master simultaneously accuse an elderly neighbor of murdering her newborns? And not just one infant, but several? Read the rest of this entry »
(This article is a reprint of a blog post by Bill Kirton, author of The Figurehead)
Last year I made a discovery about my book The Figurehead which came as a bit of a surprise. It’s set in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1840 and, basically, it’s about a crime, a romance and, of course, a historical setting. I was revisiting the book because I had to check the proofs of its second edition. Which meant, of course, that I ought to have been very familiar with it, having written and rewritten it a few times, then checked proofs for each edition. So what on earth was there for me to ‘discover’ in it?
Well, I remembered the characters, of course, the main events, the lovers, its overall shape, whodunit and the various set pieces and changes of pace. There were lots of details I’d forgotten, but this time I came across others which revealed things about the author, i.e. me. As well as interacting with one another, its characters were conveying their attitudes to commerce and passion, the rich-poor divide, the importance of community and other related topics which I’ve written about in my own blog and elsewhere. But that was when I was being subjective and referring specifically to my own beliefs and intuitions. The surprise for me was that, even when I was writing about people in the Aberdeen of 1840, a culture far removed from my own (even though Aberdeen is my home), I wasn’t aware of how much those same beliefs were influencing my choices. It’s only when you get some distance between yourself and a work that you can appreciate just how intricately your actual self is bound into the fiction you’re creating. And when that distance is further emphasised by a gap in time, it’s quite a revelation.
Fashions in literary criticism (no, I’m not claiming I write ‘literature’) always keep changing and, quite often, the tension is between whether you need to know anything about a writer’s life to understand his/her works or whether the works are independent items, with enough of their own, internal coherence and period references to make the writer irrelevant. I’m inclined to accept both approaches. If you’re swept along by a narrative, made to think, laugh, cry, or believe its characters are more real than those around you as you read, it’s served its purpose and it could have been written by a monkey with a typewriter. On the other hand, if you then discover biographical details about the author which ‘explain’ why he/she made certain choices, there are other resonances of the work which open new perspectives.
So, whether we like it or not, our writing reveals us in ways of which we’re unaware at the time. And it goes further because we only see some of the secrets we’re betraying while readers and reviewers may see others which we may not want to know about ourselves, things we deny. Victor Hugo (out of favour now but by any standards a truly great writer), wrote that, when he saw a new play of his performed before an audience for the first time, it was as if his soul had climbed onto the stage and lifted its skirts for all to see. My surprise was to see my own soul’s skirts being worn by people living under the young Queen Victoria.
(An Article by Max Overton)
I was sitting on the sofa one evening, coffee in hand, watching the BBC documentary series “Tribe” (“Going Tribal” in the USA). If you’ve never seen this series, a Royal Marine named Bruce Parry visits remote tribes around the world and spends a month living and interacting with tribal members. He eats their food, sleeps in their huts, joins in their rituals, and often forms close personal bonds with individuals. On this particular evening, he was living with the Adi tribe of the Himalayas. They are animists, worshipping the sun, moon and spirits of nature, though Christian missionaries have recently invaded the region, subverting their beliefs.
My wife Julie and I discussed the program and Julie wondered what the people of the tribe thought of this strange Christian religion when it was first introduced. I took it one stage further and wondered what the gods of this tribe thought of Christianity. An idea was born that evolved into Rakshasa, the first of my ‘Demon’ series.
I set my story in the mountainous Indian state of Uttarakhand for several reasons, not least of all because I have ties to the area. My maternal ancestors have lived in India since the late 1700s and frequented the foothills of the Himalayas and the hot dusty plains at their feet. My grandmother and mother were born in Allahabad, and I was told many stories of their experiences there. Some of their stories have made their way into Rakshasa and have lifted parts of the book (in my mind at least) from pure fiction to family history. Naturally, every part of the book has been thoroughly researched, right down to the finer details.
Rakshas are fierce, horrific creatures from Hindu mythology. When I first thought about using one of these demons as my ‘hero’ I wondered if it could be done. After all, they’re evil and kill people! I know, Dexter Morgan does it in Miami and he’s very popular, but demons don’t just kill guilty people – they feast on men, women and children whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Demons don’t have much of a choice though – it’s what they do. They were created to prey on humans and a raksha who kills cannot really be held accountable – or can he? What if the demon decided he didn’t want to be a demon? Could he change his nature? Would that make him more likeable? Read the rest of this entry »
Ancient Romans Colonized My Brain!
(Blog post excerpt by Ron Gompertz)
In the summer of 2000, I moved to Barcelona with my family for reasons both professional and personal.
Unlike many people who change countries, we weren’t fleeing chaos. We weren’t forced to move under duress. No one was shooting at us.
But the truth is that I was fleeing something.
I was running away from my own complacency.
There’s a French word, “depaysment,” which roughly translates to mean “out of your element,” and that’s what I needed. Moving to Spain jerked me out of my comfort zone.
Of all the expat adventures, comic defeats and small victories that emerged from my five years abroad, the one I’m most proud of is “No Roads Lead to Rome.”
Here’s how the book hit me.
One weekend, I was hiking with a friend in the Collserola, the hills above Barcelona. We were lamenting the decline and fall of damn near everything when the story hatched like a bird in my brain. I imagined two Roman soldiers having the same conversation 2000 years earlier. We were walking in their footsteps. The world had changed, but people had not.
As revelations go, this tiny insight could have easily escaped me. People have always felt like things are changing too fast and rarely for the better.
Big deal, right?
Within minutes, I was possessed by an old Roman legionary and a young conscript. I could hear them lamenting their lot in life. How could the Senate vote to build another monument when people can’t even afford a decent pair of sandals? How did those vexed Roman numeral crunchers conclude the bread dole was too expensive? Much of the dialogue between my grizzled old centurion, Marcus Valerius, and his chatty young sidekick, Gaius Severus, took root that afternoon.
When I learned that around 123 AD a slave had botched an attempt to kill the Emperor Hadrian in Tarraco — Tarragona, Spain — the first line in the novel wrote itself: “When it comes to assassination, execution is everything.” Read the rest of this entry »
Did Napoleon Fall in Love and Escape his Final Exile?
(Blog post excerpt by Diane Scott Lewis)
Could the ex-Emperor of the French have accomplished such an audacious act, while British warships circled the remote island of St. Helena, and armed guards swarmed around his humble residence? If a clever and compassionate woman rallied his soul, earned his heart, would he have embarked on such a dangerous mission for freedom? I explore these possibilities in my historical novel, Elysium.
I even found a non-fiction book that insisted that he had escaped: Revelations Concerning Napoleon’s Escape From St. Helena, by Pierre Paul Ebeyer. Windmill Pub. Co., New Orleans, 1947. A rather bizarre, but interesting read.
And, had an assassin been sent to the island to ensure Napoleon never returned to power? Such a prospect was investigated in The Murder of Napoleon by Ben Weider and David Hapgood, 1983. I also address this intriguing aspect in Elysium .
Diane Scott Lewis, Author of Elysium and The False Light.