Sometimes, unfortunately, somebody has to die. For the sake of the plot, one way of dying may seem more appropriate than another. This means research of a kind that normal people never have to do.
This week's death scene involved a knife wound to the belly. I learned all kinds of things about slow death as caused by damage to many organs: the vena cava (near the spine, so more at-risk in an attack from the rear than from the front); the liver, kidneys, and spleen (which have many connections to blood vessels); the bowels (which tend to slide away from a slow penetrating object such as a knife but if nicked can lead to septicemia); and the stomach (gastric leakage can cause peritonitis). Any stomach wound is likely to result in incredible pain but would probably take hours to days to kill someone and may not actually prove fatal.
In fact, modern medical care can repair almost any injury in the lower torso, as long as emergency facilities are close by. That should be some consolation to anyone worried about being struck with a ritual obsidian blade.
I was working on a priest's prayer in Swallowing the Sun and needed several synonyms for mist. The thesaurus gave me a brand new word: brume. Not only does brume mean mist or fog, but it also relates to a specific season. So I have steam for summer, brume for winter, and mist and fog for spring and fall. That's not quite enough seasons for the Arizona desert, which has foresummer, marked by haze.
My research efforts don't always yield what I was hoping for. Take jojoba, for example.
Jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is a drought-tolerant plant found in the foothills mainly to the north and east of the low-desert Hohokam country. Jojoba seeds are known to have been used by peoples of the Southwest for shampoo and in medicinal preparations and may have been consumed as a food or beverage (in limited quantities) when roasted.
I thought I could have jojoba oil serve as a fuel for portable lamps inside the massive greathouses and interior rooms of house compounds of my People of Two Rivers. Jojoba seeds are about 50 percent liquid oil, and even though extracting that oil is difficult, the Hohokam would have had the technological capability to do it. If the lamps were limited to the religious enclaves (the workrooms of the rain priests and the priestesses), the effort might have been deemed worthwhile.
But gathering the jojoba seeds would have involved either going long distances or trading with people of the uplands, followed by the physically taxing labor of grinding or pounding the seeds to a paste, pressing the paste between flat, weighted stones, pouring off the oil, and straining it through cloth (and possibly melting it) to separate the oil from the meal.
That seems like a lot of effort when tallow from deer is easier to produce and would have been readily available locally. To make candles, deer tallow can be rendered down through boiling and then poured into ceramic vessels with braided cotton or yucca-fiber wicks suspended in it while still liquid.
In my mind, the ease and availability of tallow and the safety aspect of carrying a candle rather than a liquid in a lamp combine to make my original notion of jojoba oil lamps unlikely. It's still appealing as a luxury good reserved for the Smoke Mothers, perhaps, to show their elite status.
I am closing in on the end. Once I finish, the cover design and line editing will need to be done, so Swallowing the Sun won't be published for at least another month. Given the shortage of writing time and the necessity for making the first volume of "Tales of the Watermasters" my priority, I've left this blog to languish again.
Despite the headline on my blog, I haven't done much to show you, dear reader, what "interests me." So here's something.
"So how is the final editing coming along, Sally?"
"It's coming along, just more slowly than I ever imagined."
"Why? What are you changing? I thought it was in pretty good shape for the beta read last year. A lot of people really liked it."
"Some of my readers had really good ideas for tightening it up and making it better. A few suggested new scenes that would help advance the plot. So far, I've cut out about 25,000 words and added three new scenes."
"Wow! I can see why you blew past your deadline."
The turning of the sun.
The Hohokam of central Arizona had several ways of marking the sun's movement. The most amazing one that remains is Hole-in-the-Rock in Papago Park, Phoenix.
The sun shines through the hole in the top of the rock formation and into depressions in the ground below during the solstices.
In my "Tales of the Watermasters" series, I imagine the lighting of huge fires, which could be seen from all the largest villages, at the time of the winter solstice. I call this the New Fire ceremony. I'm a few days off in the final editing of "Swallowing the Sun," though: the New Fire ceremony is still about 10 chapters away! It would have been serendipitous to be working on those scenes while the solstice was actually going on. Oh, well.
The Hohokam evidently had multiple ways of tracking the movement of the sun to determine the solstices and equinoxes. For a farming people, these solar events would have been important, as they would mark changes in day length and seasonal rainfall. In buildings and rock formations, deliberate placement of holes proves the Hohokam to have been able observers of the sun, while their rock art preserves what appear to be not only the sun/moon but also stars.
But the Hohokam were latecomers among the prehistoric people who recorded what they saw in the heavens. A new analysis of Paleolithic and Neolithic cave art indicates that people watched the stars closely enough to identify constellations and represent them in animal form.
In the final 24 hours of what was otherwise a lovely trip to Europe, disaster struck. My laptop, flash drive, and notes were stolen at a train station, and I lost more than a week's worth of revisions on Swallowing the Sun. I also discovered that what I thought was being backed up to the cloud apparently wasn't. Painful learning experiences. I'm still determined to complete this first book of my "Tales of the Watermasters" series as soon as possible. It's just so hard to keep going this year.
I bravely committed to release Swallowing the Sun into the wild before 2019. Now I have to figure out how to not only finalize the text but also format it, get a cover design, and publish it with Amazon's new KDP system. Plus I need business cards and other marketing materials and have to increase my visibility on social media. This is the part of the writing process I'm least comfortable with . . . and it's becoming the most important!
My Instagram and Pinterest posts have gotten some attention, this blog has been up and running for a year, and my Facebook fan page has acquired several new followers--some that I don't even know! Then there's Goodreads, which has a feed to the blog and direct access to purchase my published books.
I now have a Twitter account and made my first tweet. I'm setting up a Patreon page and have my first Medium post ready to go. I've decided to wait on Kickstarter until Swallowing the Sun has been out for a few months and The Rainbow Knife (#2 in the "Tales of the Watermasters" series) is ready to publish.
When I write, I see the scenes as a visual image or even a film. This is a rough approximation of the title scene from my upcoming book, Swallowing the Sun. The details are incomplete (there are no openings in the temple, for example).
I have sketched out several scenes but have recently played around with colored pencils, watercolors, and even, for this illustration, a drawing program to colorize a pencil sketch.
I had my mother teach me to read when I was four, and I've never stopped. Now I can play with words all day long... it's the best job in the world.
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