Thursday, August 22, 2013

Selene of Alexandria by Faith L. Justice

I chose this book because Hypatia the woman philosopher was mentioned and I thought she would have a central presence in the story. She does and she doesn't.

The new patriarch of the Catholic church was Cyril, a young Reader whose uncle, Theophilus, was dying and determined his nephew should take his place as Patriarch. Had Timothy, a much older and more moderate man, become Patriarch the history of that time would likely have been very different. Selene is the daughter of a council member and a very unusual girl of 14. She doesn't want to be a wife and mother; she wants to be a physician. Women of her class did not become physicians. Freedmen -- and women -- had more latitude than a high born lady.

There were women physicians, medicas, that worked in charity wards and hospitals as what would be seen as nurses in the modern world. Selene is much more. She becomes a physician in the truest sense of the world, studying with young men. She apprenticed to Mother Nut who was an Egyptian medica, a herbalist and local wise woman, who tended to the Jews and the poor. In order to study medicine, Selene must approach Hypatia and ask for her assistance, which is how Hypatia is connected to this novel.

Hypatia was important in her time as a counsellor and philosopher of renown hated by the more zealous of the new Christian sect because she was pagan and therefore evil, an agent of Satan. Faith L. Justice describes Hypatia as a petite woman with a powerfully trained voice and a good moral compass. She is respected and adds historical truth to Selene of Alexandria.

Justice uses some of the historical facts of that time in creating a believable background for Selene while Selene is a finely drawn character of flaws and brilliance that is quite memorable. Selene's struggle with following her heart versus the weight of family obligations, the dangerous times in which she lives, and social strictures and expectations illustrates what has been the limitations of patriarchal societies and the often fatal difficulties of being an intelligent woman who wants and reaches for more than she is allowed.

The men in Selene's life are by turns strong and weak, compassionate and emotionally constipated, and as focused on their needs as Selene is focused on her own needs and desires -- to practice medicine and heal those in need. Selene makes no distinctions between the upper and lower classes. Everyone who is ill and needs her help, especially the poor and marginalized, gets her full attention. What Justice does very well is demonstrate how Selene must choose who to help when her resources are limited. Justice sets Selene in an infirmary full of children dying of disease and forces her to choose which ones to help. Although the reasoning is logical, the way in which Selene deals with the wrenching choice is true to her character and adds weight and depth to her character.

Faith L. Justice gives her interpretation of the historical events in the early 5th century Alexandria, especially where the story touches on Cyril, the new Patriarch, Orestes, the governor of Alexandria sent from Constantinople, and Hypatia. Historical accuracy is good even as she chooses how to demonstrate Cyril's actions and thoughts given what is available from the subjective histories. Justice is even handed in her treatment of what was a very volatile period.

Selene of Alexandria is an engrossing story, a fictional novel set in a very authentic 5th century Alexandria. It is an admirable novel.

I would, however, suggest Faith L. Justice take another look at the formatting for Kindle. There are quite a few formatting errors and closer editing for grammar, word choice, spelling, and repetitions would be helpful, hence the 4/5 star rating. None of the errors, however, significantly detract from the story or from Justice's adept blending of fact and fiction.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Death is a Woman

Yesterday, or maybe it was Saturday, a chance comment set me right in the midele of a story that was unreeling in my head. I had to start writing. So I wrote and wrote and wrote and the story consumes me. Consume my time, my thoughts, and the images are clear and colored in mourning.

I haven't been this excited about a story for a long time. This is the way I used to write, in a white heat with no conception of time or food or day. I often do my best writing when everything comes at me like a broken pitching machine at a batting cage, and I'm ready, bat poised to strike and catch each one at the right spot to send the horsehide hurtling over the wall and into the ether.

Finding an illustration for this short post is something else again. That took time. The art is called Death is a Woman and is by embraced1 available at That should give you an idea of the tone of this story. It's not horror, but it is definitely from the shadowy side of the mind and about a dark, cold-hearted murderer.

I thought about posted it in serial form here, but decided to wait until it was all written and edited and published to let people in on what I've been writing. This one needs to make an entrance like Red Death at Prospero's private ball or The Phantom at the masquerade. This story is not like anything I've written in years. You can be the judge of whether it is worth the wait and worth waiting for.

I've waited for a story to fire my imagination like this for a long time. I enjoy writing fictionalized versions of my life, like Among Women and the soon to be released sequel, Among Men, or even a bit of wish fulfillment like Past Imperfect, which began life as a plan for revenge and became something more. It's not even like the story of a woman who sees death as he takes someone close to her and she chases after him to beg him to take her, rather like stalking death. That's an interesting title, Stalking Death.

Other stories and books have languished because I can't get back into the world I created, like Whitechapel Hearts, although I do keep adding to it here and there, and it has some historical context since Jack the Ripper is central to the story, as is Robert Louis Stevenson and a woman. Isn't there always a woman?

No matter how men marginalize and revile women, keeping them in psychological, physical, and societal chains, at the heart of everything is a woman, and some women are quite adept at playing the innocent -- or at least beleaguered and abused so there is a reason for their violence. Puts me in mind of the woman who set her husband on fire while he slept after being abused for years. Marriage has a way of uplifting and destroying people and some people imagine they are being destroyed, or want a way out to start their lives over. Getting away with murder is difficult, even for the so-called geniuses of crime, but to get away with murder and have no one suspect you is a great feat. That is unless something sets the wheels of memory turning until the events of a decade before are shown in a much different light. It's a good thing there is no statute of limitations on murder.

Some murderers get a taste for the violence and decide it is the best -- and most lucrative -- way to solve all their problems. That is where they set themselves up for failure. It's a variation on: fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you.  The murderer might get away with once, but getting away with murderer again under similar circumstances? Spider senses will be tingling all over the place.

Okay, so no more hints and no more clues. Keep an eye out for one woman's story of suicide, gossip, and murder. It'll be a killer.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jigsaw Puzzle Mind

I'm listening to Hall & Oates and rocking out. I like to listen to music while I cross stitch; it helps me clear my mind until the only things left are music and a feeling of peace. That's when I made a big mistake. I checked Facebook.

There were the usual political rants as Right and Left called names and acted like teenager hyped up on hormones (oh, those moaning whores) calling "Chicken!" while girls pulled each other's hair as they dragged each other into the dirt. Liar! Cheater! Idiot! Sycophant! Clueless Neocon! Rhino! Blue Dog Democrat! That was nothing new and I passed quickly past the mud slinging and ad hominem attacks wondering once again what happened to civil debate and common sense.

One long time friend posted a lovely kaleidoscopic silhouette of a person saying that when we forgive someone we take away their power over us. I agree with that, but I would add that moving on with one's life is essential to making sure toxic people take up no more space in your mind. That's where I went wrong and my peace of mind flew out the window.

I am really good at putting mistakes and people behind me. I have crisscrossed this country, and a few others, doing just that. I seldom think about problems until one smacks me right on the nose. Suddenly, I am standing on a beautiful beach with white sand stretching off into infinity with the sun shining down with a benevolent smile and the rhythm of the waves soothing away my aches, pains, and regrets.

Well, one regret isn't easy to shake. I've been struggling with a cross stitch project. Cross stitch is meditation and clears my mind. Not today. I've ripped out the same section three times. My mind is not quiet. My meditation isn't calming or soothing and my tension level keeps spiking. What is wrong with me? Where is my calm place? Where is my peace of mind?

In pieces. A jigsaw puzzle of mixed up emotions and memories that don't fit into the picture any more. That's the problem with memory. Can't catch it when you need it and can't sweep it clear when you want to. Time to put away the cross stitch and write.

That is my default position.  When I'm stressed and need to be able to think clearly, I write. Writing helps me sort the emotions and get a bead on the problem. It may take a while and I can write a lot of nonsense in the process, but eventually everything falls into place. The puzzle ceases to be a jumble and becomes a picture, often colorful and almost always clearer.

I often wonder if that's why I decided as a child to be a writer. Writing was my way to think past the hurdles and blocks. I can think quickly on my feet and my tongue is a double-edged, razor sharp blade capable of slicing and dicing faster than a Ginsu knife in a Japanese chef's hand. Better yet, make that a Samurai sword, a katana wielded by a master. Yes, I am that deadly and accurate, slicing through a wick with the speed of thought, leaving the wick burning and upright seconds after it's been severed, rather like the heads in the basket beneath Madame Guillotine still surprised and looking into the eyes of the rabble.

A sword -- or a razor tongue -- must be used with discretion. That has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn. That is what I've learned from cross stitch. Sometimes it is better to put everything away and walk away. And that is how I feel tonight -- time to put away the cross stitch and let the memories run their course as I find peace of mind in a different way, through writing.

Writing is just like that. Sometimes it is better to erase the last chapter or the last scene, put away the pen or pencil or keyboard, and walk away. When you get to the point of diminishing returns you end up hurting yourself more than you help. There are some hurdles and road blocks that will wait until the mind is better rested and less stressed. Words will be lost, but that might be the best thing.

I feel like that right now. The words I intended to write have been erased and the thoughts that churned them up are quieting down. I can hear the clamor settling down and I no longer need to rant or unleash the sword.

Reminds me a little of Gram's advice, "Count to ten and breathe." By the time I was done, my temperature had dropped back to normal, my dander was smooth again, and I was laughing at Gram making silly faces while she breathed with me, throwing me off until the count that began at ten became 50 or 100. She was right. When someone is angry, help them find their sense of humor and the choler will fade to palest pink.

I haven't forgotten why I needed to write, but it doesn't matter. I'll pack my cross stitch away for another day and be proud of what little I accomplished today. I have lost some ground, but I'm on the right track now. That's worth all the ground.

Hall and Oates are still singing and I'm singing along with my favorites. Peace of mind. I highly recommend it.

That is all. Disperse.