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Dec 20, 2012

The Dilemming of the Middle

I'm having a nice time-out for a couple of days while waiting for the print proofs and cover for Shaky Ground. It's time to reflect.

I don't usually blog about writing (who the hell needs that), but in the course of a discussion in our critique group, Richard mentioned the quandaries of writing long versus short fiction, it got me going. Another member of the group also distracted me by mentioning hand puppets, and I laid in bed this morning trying to get the picture of Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop out of my head. I think my brain is trying to destress, but it's going about it in a very weird way.

a blue-haired dilemming
For the past two years, I've been concentrating my efforts on learning how to write long. Not 'how to write a novel' per se - to paraphrase Gaiman, you only learn to write the novel you're currently writing. But writing long has different requirements than writing short, one of which is sustaining a story for 100,000 words. Which means solving the very difficult problem, what I call, the dilemming* of 'the middle', in addition to the beginning and the end. I've put down two books lately that failed 'the middle'. Both were contemporary fantasy, fast-paced with lots of supernatural stuff. Just my kind of thing. I didn't even get halfway with either of them before the 'meh' factor kicked in. But I will pick them up again. Someday. Maybe. Maybe I just got sidetracked. Maybe not.

I have huge qualms about middles at the moment. Is it showing? Or is it just these jeans? I guess I'm mostly afraid about my own 'middle' of the upcoming book - will my readers think it 'meh' - or any book I'm writing, really.  While the beginning has to grab, titillate and propel the reader into the novel, make them care about the characters and what's going to happen to them, and the end has to satisfy by justifying every premise set up in the beginning, the middle has to weave us into, through, and around the story, keep us turning the pages, and make us think about the darn thing enough that we pick up the same book the next day (or not be able to put it down and turn off the light). While I wouldn't say beginnings and endings are easy, middles are the pancreatic cancer of most stories - it's very hard to detect what's wrong, you don't feel it while you're writing, and when you do figure it out, it's often fatal.

Writing short requires making a story complete and beautiful and perfect in less than 10,000 words. I admire people who can do that. Since I've been reading submissions for Albedo One, there's usually only one story (two at the most, on average) in a batch that I read all the way through. Middles are a huge dilemming for short stories as well, and that's where I usually get stuck. Endings are a different problem and just as huge, but we'll save that for another day.

I wouldn't say it takes more skill to write short than long. It's a different skill. Most writers seem better at one than another. Some can do both. I'd like to be one of the latter, but I'm not there yet. Not even close.

Okay, back to reading a 1700's Scottish Highland romance (no, not that one, another one). I'm just getting to the middle and still have hopes for this one despite the gushiness of the protagonist. 

What are your biggest writing dilemmings these days?

*a cross between a small mammal who throws itself off cliffs and an intractable problem.

photo credit: the foosel via photopin cc

Nov 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged for this post by Priya Sharma for which I'm grateful. It's a cool thing. Stop now and go immediately to Priya's site and read her interview about a story that she's very promptly sold! While waiting for her story to appear, you can read some of her other fine stories at Albedo One, Black Static (issue 28) and Interzone (current issue).

Next week, plus or minus a few time zones, Richard Jones (blogging here) speculative fiction writer and author of A Dude's Guide to Babies (pre-order now!) will be posting his answers to these questions.

1) What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

My next published book will be Shaky Ground, due out in a few weeks. My next (still-in-my-head) book will be an alternate-historical mystery with the working title of Tainted Earth. The two don't have anything in common despite the titles and the German setting.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a complicated and not completely linear thing, this genesis of ideas. I suspect it's probably that way with most writers. Anyway, I'll try.

Shaky Ground is the sequel to Primary Fault, the first book in my Schattenreich series. I got the idea for the first book when we first started working on the archeoseismology of the Roman ruins being excavated in the Archeological Zone in Cologne (the paper that came out of that project is open access, published by Springer Verlag and downloadable here). The events in the novel are all fictional, but the real world controversy surrounding the (still unsupported) hypothesis that an earthquake could have forced Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to abandon his seat of government in Cologne for Aachen greatly inspired me. Even though the Schattenreich series is contemporary, I also have plans to do a few historical shorts linking the past and the present.

But what really caught my fancy was a certain Roman well – a part of the excavations in the middle of Cologne – just across from the Rathaus or City Hall, in fact. This Roman well, still in use in Charlemagne's time, kept bugging me, wouldn't let me go. Plus I had started reading heavily about Druids and continental Celts and knew that had to be a part of the story. Druids+Roman ruins+Earthquakes. It was enough to get started. Even though the Roman well doesn't come into play until Shaky Ground, it was always there, in the back of my mind while writing the first book.

So, complicated.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy suspense with a healthy dose of romance.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ha! I love this question because actually answering it will totally ruin everyone's – including my own – private images of the characters in the book. After giving it much thought, there's only two characters I'd pin down with an actor/actress: Anne Hathaway would, I think, be the perfect Caitlin Schwarzbach. Marco Girnth, a German actor who is mainly known for his work in the television police procedural SOKO Leipzig (the show is not particularly riveting, but I do enjoy watching Marco Girnth :-)) would be the perfect Heinrich von der Lahn and matches the mental picture I have of him.

I'm still trying to figure out who could play Sebastian von der Lahn. He's the most complicated character in the series, and I have to admit, I'm completely stumped. There are probably a half dozen excellent German actors who could do the role justice. Specifying an actor to play Hagen von der Lahn remains beyond my abilities at the moment. Gus Schwarzbach is such an amalgam of people I've known in my life, that it would also be impossible for me to pin him down. From looks alone, though, Garth Brooks comes pretty darn close.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A tale of seismology, Druids, and an evil blonde.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published under my imprint, Terrae Motus Books.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Four months. But it's taken me over three years to get it into publishable shape. It was a complete mess. It was the second novel (after Primary Fault) that I wrote. Even though I'm an incurable Pantser, Shaky Ground was the last novel I will ever write without some sort of a Road Map. I realized after it was finished that I didn't ever want to wander in the wilderness like that again.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Difficult, since it's a mix of real world science and contemporary fantasy. There's Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, but other than the Celtic cultural references and the romance aspects, the two books couldn't be more different. I would love to have it compared to Roger Zelazny's Amber series, but the comparison falls short once you get past the Otherworld/mythological aspects and the freaky Gothic castle.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

That's easy. Impending unemployment (that thankfully did not transpire!) Plus encouragement from another scientist who had written a novel (and gotten it published). I thought, if he could do it…so I sat down one day and started with Chapter 1. No plan. No real clue at all. Three months later I had Primary Fault. That was a little over five years ago. And after I finished, I immediately started writing the sequel, Shaky Ground. Everyone warned me away from doing that, from continuing to write books in a series before I had sold the first one. They were completely right. But I'm incredibly stubborn. And not so smart. However, I am immensely glad I did it. It's been a liberating experience, writing the books I always wanted to read. I'm now writing the fifth and final book in the series (if I change my mind on this, please just push me off a cliff). 

Nov 27, 2012

NoNoNoMo NanoWriMo

I'm through. Not Officially, since I've never done the Nano thing that way. It's too much information and too much connectedness for me.

Instead, I've chosen to look at the National Novel Writing Month, November, loaded as it is with hidden traps such as Thanksgiving and getting bogged down  by teaching ideas --- like the sudden decision, after acquiring, say, a new textbook that's just so wonderful that I can't resist or realizing that Excel 2010 is no longer even remotely amenable to the class syllabus that already exists, to completely overhaul one of my classes and simultaneously producing all of the new lectures on Powerpoint, and all this just before the semester begins --- breathes deep, it's all okay, really --- as just a way to get the lead out and truly tackle one of the writing or editing projects at or near the top of my list.

What this entails is, of course, still a stressful situation, even if Unofficial, because, let's face it, trying to write 50K in a month or even 40K or, say, do a complete edit of a novel of 138K is going to kick the normal non-paranormal type individual with only modest talents (moi) into a mode that I can only characterize as Space Captain.

It doesn't start out that way. But it ends up that way.

I chose to edit the third book in my Schattenreich fantasy series, Double-Couple, of said 138K length. I accomplished this in 11 days plus or minus a few hours, but it required a couple of near-all-nighters. But then I realized, hey, The November is only half done. We're not stressed out yet, are we? Nooooooo. Okay, let's do it again. So I did. It felt really good, Samantha Stallone jogging up those stairs punching the air good (er.....never mind). But only for about maybe thirty minutes. And then it hit me. My family is walking around with permanent frowns on, reminding me to change my underwear, the empty toilet paper roll, to push myself away slowly, from the keyboard. Hell, even the cat is sulking.

So now, yes, I am Officially wrung out, walking around like the Football Zombie in Plants and Zombies after he's lost his helmet (or better yet, Bucket Zombie without the bucket - how pathetic is that?) Therefore, the post for writers on how to handle Space Captain mode from Ruth Harris (Anne Allen's blog partner) that landed in my inbox two days ago (I only just now got around to reading it, dammit!), was a great relief.

It really is okay to admit to not having paranormal powers of my own. That I'm walking around wanting to eat someone else's braaaaains because mine is shriveled and shivering inside my cranium. That even emptying a few laundry baskets is a task that seems beyond me. So I'm going for chocolate, sports, and a good novel, and doing something nice for those I love, but not all at once.

Goodbye, Nano, until next year!

Oct 28, 2012

Double Trouble

I have two short stories out this month and so will give them equal billing. I am equally proud of both publications and honored to be a part of them.

The Colinthology, edited by Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke and Rick Novy is on sale at Wizard's Tower Press. All profits go to Above and Beyond, a charity organization that raises funds for local hospitals in Bristol, U.K. The anthology honors the memory of Colin Harvey from all of the contributors who have donated their stories to the anthology. My flash fiction piece, A Better Bred Woman (TM) Makes Good Her Escape appears here.

A Better Bred Woman (TM) Makes Good Her Escape

 The Fall 2012 issue of Big Pulp Magazine, titled We Honor Those Who Serve and edited by Bill Olver, contains a lovely mix of stories including fantasy, science fiction and horror and is available from Exter Press (ISBN-10: 0983644941) in both print and electronic format. My hard SF flash fiction story, For Now, However, the Dragons Have Free Reign appears here.

For Now, However, the Dragons Have Free Reign

Oct 24, 2012

Notes from the field: Tiryns, 2012

At the beginning of our last day in the field, the sun was already well above the ruins of the Mycenaen castle in Tiryns. We had to wait for the GPS to wake up - he'd been increasingly sluggish the last week. Then we made some random gravity measurements and a few quick profiles before the van had to be packed for the drive back to Germany (on the Superfast ferry from Patras to Ancona, Italy and then overland). Most of us flew back to Cologne from Athens.

Looking back, three days later and home in rainy Cologne, it's amazing all the data we collected: passive seismic, P-wave tomography, S-wave tomography, active seismic (in place until next spring), gravity, and differential GPS locations for almost everything. Hector, our doctoral student also did some structural geology measurements.

It's been a field campaign of varying length. A couple of us had been there for four weeks at that time, others three weeks. I think I could have handled another week, but then would have come to the end of my endurance. Once you're over fifty, you really feel it in your bones when you're measuring in 35oC for eight hours a day. I wouldn't have been able to stand it if it weren't for my lovely and capable measuring partner, Jana (featured below).

 A girl and her differential GPS. It's not easy looking good in the field, but Jana managed it every day.
Next year we'll go back to uncover Medea's geophysical secrets.

A pictorial journal shows the highlights of our Odyssey along our appropriately-named project HERACLES.

The van with its Uni Cologne logo - driven from Cologne to Tiryns and back again.
A panoramic view of Tiryns castle from the east

West view of the castle from the aptly named Mosquito Alley. A mini seismometer array lurks in the foreground
Science in Action! Here's the newly designed shear wave source being applied to a refraction line on Mosquito Alley.

Our hotel pool at Anthemion House and a view to Napflion and the hills beyond. Unfortunately, we could not enjoy the pool as much as we would have liked due to just being too darn tired at the end of the day.

Dida, the dig Hund helping Gregor analyze the day's data.

Sep 25, 2012

Primary Fault Reviews, September 2012

The month is progressing well. I've three very nice reviews this week for my debut novel, Primary Fault.

The first was from Martha Hubbard writing for The Future Fire Reviews.  I liked her description of the book and her take on the Celtic mythology aspects. The Future Fire is per their manifesto: an e-published magazine showcasing new writing in Social-Political Speculative Fiction, with a special interest in Feminist SF, Queer SF, Eco SF, Postcolonial SF and Cyberpunk.

The second review was from Annette Gisby at her Books and Tales blog. I also liked her take on the story and the characters. Annette writes thrillers as well as erotica, therefore the adult content warning when you enter the blog. But don't let that stop you. Go on in and have a look around the site and check out her published works as well. I am sure that I'll enjoy her writing as well and look forward to reading it.

The Midwest Book Review, overseen by James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, is a sprawling enterprise, with several different categories of review catalogues that, according to their website, are specifically designed for community and academic librarians, booksellers, and the general reading public. They are very supportive of Indie publishers. One of their reviewiers, Willis Buhle, also gave Primary Fault a favorable review in Reviewer's Bookwatch.

I'd like to thank these reviewers for their honesty and thoughtfulness.


Sep 23, 2012

Heracles : Report from Tiryns, Week 1

HERACLES, our archaeoseismological (big word, eight syllables, wooh) project in the ruins of the Mycanean Palace in Tiryns started last week. I won't be joining the crew for another week, but I do have pictures!

The gravimeter that has my name on it. He's waiting patiently for my arrival.

Not a field of flowers, but a field of seismometers. With their own sun.

Every dig needs its own dog. He has a Greek name (Dida) and a German one (Wurst).

Archeologists and Geoscientists of all sizes and nationalities working together. Yes, it can be done.

Sep 6, 2012

Archeoseismic study of damage in Roman and Medieval structures in the center of Cologne, Germany

I am proud of all the authors of the above-named paper (Klaus-G. Hinzen, Stephan Schreiber, Claus Fleischer, myself, and Isabel Wiosna; see link below), the culmination of three years of research, one doctor title (Stephan Schreiber), a master's degree (Isabel Wiosna), and much groundbreaking research. The original research proposal, funded by the German Science Foundation, heavily influenced scenarios in the first two books of my fantasy series. (N.B. None of the researchers can be blamed for the parts about the Druids; I came up with that on my own, or indeed any of the facts I may have misrepresented on purpose or accidentally.)

The 3D laserscans form the meaty portion of the paper, used by Dr. Schreiber in his dissertation for documenting the damage to and creating a comprehensive virtual model (CVM) of the ruins, samples of which are shown below:

Perspective views towards the virtual model of the (town hall) apse, before and after the start of the excavations, respectively. In between d and e an orthographic view from south to the Roman well is shown.

The Roman well caught my fancy. Wells were sacred places to the Celts, and I thought it would make a great place to hide something. ('Hide what?' you ask. Stay tuned for Shaky Ground, book 2 of the Schattenreich series, due out in late Fall, 2012). Although many of the facts warped into something different in my series (as fiction is wont to do and for which I make no apologies), it was an honor to work with everyone on the project.
The above-named paper, out in the August 2012 issue of Journal of Seismology is an Open Access paper. The pdf can be freely downloaded or read online at this link:

Aug 27, 2012

A Day at Burg Satzvey with Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnitch, Part II. The Interview

Tracie Mayer and I wanted to find out more about the fascinating woman who reduced the attendees of the AIWCC Annual General Meeting to tears with her stories about the foundation she started to help troubled and abused children. After the countess showed us her home (see Part I), we had a chance to ask her some questions.

TM: Was there a certain event that triggered your founding the Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich Stiftung in 2008? 

JGBvG: Yes. A couple years after I moved into the castle, I noticed a group of kids sitting around the campfire after all the tourists had left the jousting festival. They didn’t look like they had taken part in the festival because the people who stayed overnight stayed in medieval costume all the time. So I sat down and joined them.

I found out that these are children from one of the homes in Cologne. The adults called my husband to see if they could stay overnight and sleep in their tents. My husband replied that they could stay for the weekend for free as long as they’d be willing to help clean up the grounds. 

The next year they came again and slowly came to have more responsibility [helping out]. So my husband and I became interested in these children and we began raising money for them for Christmas presents and going to visit them. We built a relationship with these kids, ranging in age from 3-12.

We convinced a music company to invest in a children’s home. I kept writing them but we never heard back. Well, at Christmas we went back to visit the children, and my husband said, “It looks like you got a new Volkswagen van, where did you get that?” It turned out the music company had sent them 78,000 DM. With 48,000 of that money they bought the van.

We asked the directors of the home, where the rest of the money went. They weren’t very open about it, so we said we would bring the newspapers out here if they didn’t tell us. They told us they would never let us again set foot on the premises. Next Christmas we had to pass Christmas gifts through the fence. 

Soon after this two of the pedagogues decided to open their own organization in Brühl, und I immediately joined forces to help and managed to raise much money over the following years.  During one golf tournament I raised €77,000 in one evening. And a bank topped it to  €100,000 by Christmas. We opened two new homes and that’s when Mr. Schumacher, the head of the Schumaneck Organization proposed, “You can’t keep helping us to open a new home every year, it is so hard to find adequate personnel.. Why don’t you start your own foundation?” And that’s when I did it.

TM: Can you describe a typical day in the running of the charity?

JGBvG: I really don’t have a typical day. I try to figure out what and where money is needed and make plans. For example, I raised €33,000 for the complete group of 54 kids to have a summer vacation camping trip this year. I raise money for dolphin therapy, for furniture, for school excursions, for toys and clothes, for glasses and hearing aids. We brainstorm and then we just do. And of course I spend time with the kids. I feel very close to the children in Brühl, but I also know that there are so many children in Germany who are in dire need of basics, such as food, a clean home and some t.l.c.

TM: What has been your biggest triumph?

JGBvG: The biggest triumph would definitely be that golf tournament. But also writing books and motivating people to help me. Basically just doing things I never dreamed possible. 

TM: What's your favorite thing about castle life? Your least favorite thing?

JGBvG: My favorite thing is a summer evening when I can sit on the terrace and enjoy the roses when there aren’t too many people here because there are always so many people here. And the trees. I love to look at the favorite room in the castle is my office because I can sit there with a wonderful view overlooking the tops of the trees. My least favorite thing is the stairs, the heating, the leaking roof...

TM: Do you have a hard time reconciling your American identity with that of your Austrian one? 

JGBvG: No. I’m definitely American.

TM: Who is your greatest source of inspiration?

JGBvG: You know, I sometimes think of Gandhi as he walked around India in a loincloth. The people who are great are the ones who are quiet, not the arrogant ones wanting to brag about their money.

Our interview had come to an end with this inspirational woman, but we each had one last question which turned out to be the same question: 

TM: Where do you get all your energy from?

JGBvG: Sometimes I feel like I’m running on low batteries. I know that I definitely push myself too much. But I get energized when people find out about my books; and I have found that my energy level is affected by the kind of feedback I get out of my day. I try to go to the gym four mornings a week. The day comes to a close around dinnertime and then I turn off the phone.

As Tracie sums it up so succinctly: at which point the countess is no doubt thinking and making plans for tomorrow.

Aug 25, 2012

Niteblade : Let's Celebrate!

Niteblade opened its literary doors in 2007, just about the time I started writing seriously, as in submitting-work-serious. There have been many markets that have come and gone since then, and I have tried my luck with many of them, but Niteblade is still with us and still going strong. I'm proud to say that Niteblade was one of my very first sales! And if you've been following the blog train so far (I'm stop #18, I think), you'll realize that this theme reoccurs - Niteblade is a good place for authors starting out (and also returning authors - I'll get there again, someday!). The story that Rhonda Parrish, editor and publisher, picked up, Behind Blue Eyes, appeared in Issue #8, Of Warmth, Of Dragons, with wonderful illustrations by Marge Simon, including the one for Behind Blue Eyes.

Behind Blue Eyes by Marge Simon

BBE was one of those rare things - a story formulated and written in a burst of inspiration I got while editing a scientific paper about ants. That's right. Ants have always been great fodder for horror movies, and I couldn't resist making them a part of the second SF story I ever wrote. The idea (but not the ants) later morphed into a 'future event' for what has now become my first SF novel, Gravity's Gift (still in revision). In other words, I wanted to write a novel that would lead to the situation described in the story.

But the short story - a flash piece - was dark and nasty and not my usual type of story. So I didn't know where to place it. Then I found Niteblade, a cozy (but not safe, never safe!) home for dark fantasy and science fiction. I also have to say, it felt like being part of a family, as Rhonda has always included all her authors, past and present in her announcements and connections. I appreciate that, and I'm glad to be associated with the magazine and to help Rhonda celebrate her fifth year, 20 issues strong and verging on 21.

Twenty-one is a great number. It's the product of two prime numbers, three and seven, both of mystical quality. In Celtic mythology, three is everywhere, triple-headed goddesses, triple horns, curses that always come in threes. Seven abounds in many religions and myths. There are seven wonders, seven hills in Rome, and seven deadly sins. Combine those two numbers in a multiplicative way, and you get 21. It's a Fibonacci number - and it's got a lot of other names as well. That's right, 21 has street cred. It's a legal drinking age in many countries and the 'coming of age' age in many others. So if 5 years and 21 issues means that the magazine has 'come of age' then that's a great reason to celebrate. But I believe that genuinely good magazines continue to grow and evolve - rather than ripen - and Niteblade is definitely one of them.

We're getting close to the back of the blog train, and we're having a great time. We found that case of champagne they hid in the back of the closet, the fake blood, and the monster masks. Don't mind us at all. At least we're not dancing in the aisles. Not yet. You may have just hopped on from the previous carriage, Mark Rigney. Tomorrow we'll be leaping to the next one back at Dark Fantasy and Horror Central itself with a guest post from Sandy Leibowitz. 

Here, take this bottle with you, it's still mostly full, and pass it around.

Aug 22, 2012

A Day at Burg Satzvey with Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnitch, Part I. Getting There

Put two women in a Mini and aim them away from Cologne. What happens? They get hopelessly lost, but because they are so righteous, they of course deny it. Just outside of Aachen, Tracie Mayer and I really had to admit it. Then we finally figured out how to program the %&$!?*# GPS and got ourselves headed in the right direction.

I was already plenty nervous as it was. I had been to Burg Satzvey many years before when we took my son to one of their jousting plays. I had been totally entranced with the authentically costumed purveyors of all that was medieval. There had also been a man flying hawks and falcons. It had been a magical day, and the grounds, including the courtyard, stuck in my memory so tenaciously, they served as a rough model when I designed the exterior of Burg Lahn, the imaginary part Gothic-part medieval castle near the Rhine, in my Schattenreich series (Book 1: Primary Fault).  

This courtyard inspired my fictional one.
 I'd never been inside the castle, so I was eager to see if anything – anything – I had thought up for the castle interior would turn out to be correct. I was nervous about meeting a real, honest-to-goodness German Countess and hoping I wouldn't do anything immensely stupid. Now nearly an hour late, we pull into the long driveway of the castle ( and debate where to park. Ever the intrepid reporter, Tracie pulls right up to the chain guarding the wide open courtyard flanking the castle. The castle and grounds are even more breathtaking than I'd remembered them. The formerly moated castle, still retains a large pond, populated by what appear to be very contented ducks. 

We approach the front door and ring the bell just as an attractive broad-shouldered man on a bicycle rides up. 

“Uh oh,” I said to Tracie.
The man asks us who we’re looking for.
“Jeannette,” Tracie calls out.
Die Gräfin,” I quickly chime in.
He holds out his hand. “I’m her husband. She’s waiting for you.”

Instantly charmed, we follow the Count of Burg Satzvey, Franz Josef Graf Beissel von Gymnich, through the rounded wooden door and into the castle foyer.

Jeannette, Die Gräfin, is exactly, precisely, the appropriate description of the slender, dark-haired Countess of Burg Satzvey. Tracie describes her so: pretty, poised and intelligent; she walks and talks with purpose. 

I couldn’t agree more as she shows us her home and tells us with much enthusiasm about the long history (officially est. 1368) of the castle, spiced with both honorable and scandalous incidents. I was pleasantly surprised to find some things (especially the dining room!) matched what my imagination had conjured quite well - except for the details about the hand-carved chairs. I may have to steal that. 
"No castle is complete without peculiar furniture," said Hagen von der Lahn, a fictional baron.
 After collecting Jeannette’s spry and witty 93-year-old mother (who could easily pass for 70), we adjourn to the cozy Italian bistro Da Marcello in the second courtyard that also houses a banquet hall (a former cow stall!) roomy enough to seat 400 people. 

Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich is the daughter of a U.S. diplomat and a refined woman of Irish and Viennese descent. Born in Bonn, Germany, she grew up in South America and Europe. Arriving in Hamburg at 19, she worked in advertising and remained there for 12 years. She met and then married Franz Josef  Graf  Beissel von Gymnich, who in 1981 began the jousting and other historical events held at the castle which is also his birthplace, Burg Satzvey. (He was born in an upstairs bedroom.) 
The Countess spoke to our club about her foundation at this year’s AGM, where she had club members in tears about the fates of the children her foundation supports. We wanted to hear more about her foundation, the Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich Stiftung. See Part II, The Interview.

There are many activities for all ages at Burg Satzvey throughout the year including castle tours (minimum of five persons), Ritterspiele (medieval tournaments),  Halloween fest, Maifest (with Hexenmarkt) , Christmas and Easter markets. Information and booking at

Not only does Jeannette successfully manage an entire castle in addition to having raised a family (son and daughter), she's also an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction works. Here's the bibliography:

1.   Luxury Houses Schlösser-Castles-Châteaux Germany: Castles in Germany (Luxury Books), ISBN 978-3832791735, teNeues Verlag, January 2007 – coffee table quality

2.   Und Flog in anderes Land, ISBN 978-3897053397, Emons Verlag, August 2004 – a medieval novel with a highly accurate historical basis

3. Aldikadabra, ISBN-10 3926224177, Zeitgeist Verlag (1999) – a collection of magical recipes from the supermarket!

4. Frauen und ihre Schlösser – mehr als Glanz und Gloria, ISBN 978-3868732528, Knesebeck Verlag, March 2011 – highly readable and a rare view of 19 chatelaines and the German castles they manage

Her newest book (no title as of yet!) will profile 30 businesswomen and entrepreneurs in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany and is due out in December 2012. 

Aug 1, 2012

Looking for Ground Truth in the High Fens

In seismology, ground truth is jargon that originated when discrimination of earthquakes and other seismic events from small nuclear blasts was a hot research field. It refers to the collection of data to verify the source or location of a seismic event other than just the seismic data available on a network. It could include satellite imagery or infrasound data, for example. That's a mouthful, but it really just means, verifying where something happened, seismically, from as many different kinds of data as are available. It's important, especially if the event places suspicion on a (possible) rogue state for testing nuclear weapons, to be able to verify the source of the event with as many kinds of data as possible.

Not as important as monitoring rogue states, I view research for fiction writing as an essential form of ground truth. These days, mostly, writers use the Internet as a primary source (more than is good for us), and when that isn't sufficient, must delve into books, scientific papers, newspaper articles, pursue conversations with experts, and watch films and documentaries. This kind of ground truth is especially important for historical fiction, but anytime you're writing fiction that takes place somewhere you don't know well or have never been to (a star system, the Jovian planets, or Des Moines, Iowa, for example), ground truth is highly desirable and sometimes fun.

Last Thursday, I did a bit of ground truth for the third book in my Schattenreich series (Double-Couple) by visiting the Hohes Venn (High Fen), part of the Ardennes and quite complicated geologically (meaning, I don't know enough about this to try and tell you about it). I think the important thing is that an impermeable layer of rock (in this case, I think it's Cambrian shale) creates the environment for the fens. I was mainly interested in the possibility that the Hohes Venn was potentially a sacred place in Iron Age times for the Celtic tribes that populated Belgium and the Rhineland and therefore had access to the moors and bogs that make up a good part of the fen.

There's not much literature - at least any I've found so far - to suggest it was a proven sacred place, but its proximity to the well-populated areas suggests that it could have been. And moors are well known for keeping their secrets - including bog bodies, valuable sacrificial items and so on (see, for example, the excellent, Dying for the Gods from Miranda Green, ISBN 978-0752425283). Well-preserved corpses and other artifacts have been discovered elsewhere in Germany when the peat bogs were mined and their contents exposed to the surface. But the Hohes Venn is a natural preserve and so is not subject to extensive peat bog mining.

Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, so I assumed I was safe in just making up a sacred sacrificial place in the fen that would still hold its 'power' today, two centuries after the Celts would have roamed its forests and bogs. I wanted to 'walk it' myself to get a feeling for what it would be like, all the better to add that something special to my story, and as further impetus to seek out additional information and literature (yes, research is downright addictive sometimes).

So, here's a bit of ground truth from the Hohes Venn, courtesy of my walking companion, Klaus Hinzen.

Approaching the High Fen

The journey is the way.

A bomb crater, now a vibrant biotope

The bog lake

Cotton grass

One of the many bogs with very red-tinged waters