Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Read Great Books and Enjoy Life: Tessa Afshar on Writing with a Giveaway!!

The sharpest arrow in my writing quiver is my passion for books. I love to read. Through the years, I have found many friends between the pages of books. Well-written stories touch my heart deeply and help me know myself better. They cause me to examine my motives and name my longings. After reading a particularly moving novel, I ask myself why that story touched me in such a unique way. Then I try to use the principles I have learned from that story in my own writing. I avoid writing what I find boring in other books. Instead I focus on the kinds of scenes that move me.

Movies can also enrich books. Today’s audience is visually sophisticated. Books need to satisfy that visual hunger. They need to move faster, and keep the reader’s interest by providing an inner movie screen for the mind. Most of my stories are primarily character driven. But for today’s audience, that character needs to be imbedded in a plot that keeps you engaged with the turn of every page.

And the ribbon I wrap around this mix? Laughter. From Jane Austen’s novels to the BBC series Sherlock, one of the core reasons we keep coming back to these gems is that they make us laugh at ourselves.

My newest novel, Harvest of Gold, is the sequel to Harvest of Rubies, and continues to tell the story of Sarah and Darius. Sarah, once the senior scribe to the queen of Persia, is now wife to an aristocrat whose love seems unattainable. In the background of the novel, the prophet Nehemiah is trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem while constantly under attack, and the king of Persia’s life is threatened by a devious assassin. Sarah and Darius have to overcome the enemy against the king, against Jerusalem, and against their souls. Harvest of Gold is a romance, but it is also a book about overcoming. How do you respond to the interior and exterior forces that threaten to destroy you?

Here is an as-yet unpublished glimpse into Harvest of Gold from chapters 25 and 26. You will be the first to read it:

     Benjamin chattered while Darius listened with half an ear. He kept his eye trained on the perimeter, fulfilling his guard duty while his mind insisted on reliving memories from the night before. Instead of diminishing his longing for Sarah, the hours he had held her in his arms had made him burn hotter. The thought half annoyed him and half invigorated him. He felt like he was on the edge of a monumental discovery. Which was a ridiculous thought. He was acting like a callow youth around his own wife.
     He shifted his position behind the wall to have a better view of the territory beyond. A fan-tailed raven flew overhead. From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a flash of color in the distance. His focus shifted, became sharp, and converged on a point behind a series of hills just beyond the wall. He sensed danger, though he could see nothing unusual. The hair stood on the back of his neck. Holding up his hand, he motioned Benjamin to be quiet as he walked a few steps further. With unexpected speed, he saw a lone figure rise. Too late, Darius realized that he held a sling. It took less than a moment for the man to flick his wrist and release the stone. Darius saw the trajectory of the fast hurling object. It was coming straight at Benjamin.
     He threw himself against the child, covering him with his own body. There was no time to pull them both out of harm’s way. The whirling stone, smooth and rounded, found Darius’s temple and collided with sharp pain. He was already squatting on one knee when the stone hit him. Dizzy with the impact, he fell back. A trickle of blood ran into his cheek and eye, blurring his vision.
     Hanun and Tirzah were running toward them. The frightened parents enveloped their son into their arms, ensuring that he remained unharmed. Darius breathed through his mouth, trying to control the onslaught of nausea. He forced himself to his feet, not liking how unsteady he felt. It was just a little stone, he thought with annoyance, wiping the blood from his face.
     “My lord! You’re hurt. Come and sit down.” Hanun reached for Darius’s arm. Glad of the man’s support, he allowed himself to be led to a large piece of masonry and sank down.
     “Fetch another guard,” he said through stiff lips. “Tell him to investigate beyond those hills. I am certain this was the work of a lone man, trying to foster panic. He was aiming at Benjamin. He knew if he hurt a child, the workers would be especially disheartened. I doubt we’ll be able to catch up with him now. But we should try.”
     “I already sent Tirzah to fetch a guard. And to find help for you.”
     “I don’t need help,” Darius said, exasperated by his own weakness. “He used a sling. A boy’s toy.”
     Hanun’s voice held the trace of a smile. “I would not underestimate the power of a sling, my lord. David brought Goliath down with one.”
     Darius knew the story. “How reassuring.”
     Tirzah knelt at his feet. “You saved my boy. I saw you. If not for your quick actions, Benjamin would . . .” She could not finish the sentence. “Your courage saved him. I don’t know how to thank you.” He heard the tinge of tears in her voice.
     He wiped his hands on his knees. “There’s no need for that. Anyone would have done the same.”
     To his relief, he saw Meres running toward him. As soon as he reached Darius, he bent over and ran an experienced eye over the wound. “That’s a nice one, my lord. You’ll have a grand headache, no doubt about it. Being a hero doesn’t come cheap.”
     Darius growled. No doubt Tirzah had cast him in the role of champion to anyone who would listen. Meres didn’t bother to hide his annoying grin. “It’s not funny,” Darius said, clenching his teeth.
     Meres’s grin grew wider. “Not funny at all, my lord. Now let’s take you to your chamber. I’ll fetch Lysander to have a look at you.”
     Another wave of nausea convinced Darius that a few hours of rest in his chamber might not be a bad idea. “Get someone to replace me, in case that vermin decides to come back.”
     “Already done. Now put your arm around my shoulders.”
     “Don’t make a fuss. I can walk.”
     “I have no doubt you can, my lord. If you prefer, I’ll put my arm around your shoulders.”
     Darius did not feel well enough to rise to the bait. He tried to keep up with Meres’s measured steps and stumbled.
     Without comment, Meres placed a strong arm around his waist. “We’ll have you home in no time at all.”
     Darius hoped he was right. He felt weaker with every step.

     Stubborn will kept Darius conscious during the long walk back to Nehemiah’s residence. The combination of nausea, heat, and the throbbing of his head packed a powerful punch. With relief he spread out on his lumpy bed and closed his eyes. “Just let me sleep,” he mumbled. “I don’t need Lysander.” Meres didn’t acknowledge that he had heard him as he slipped out of the room.
     Moments later he felt the bed dip next to him. “Leave me alone,” he said, frustrated, thinking Lysander had come to apply his healing arts to his injury.
     “Sarah.” Darius forced himself to sit up. “Pardon. I thought you were Lysander.” She looked pale and strained. She should not be in his chamber. He had not sent for her. Nor was he thrilled at the idea of her seeing him in this weakened state.
     “I am alright, as you see.” She did not take the hint. If anything, her hip shifted so that she was sitting closer.
     “Why don’t you go back to your quarters and rest? I’m going to sleep. I’ll call for you when I awaken.”
     Even gripped by dizziness, he could see that he had hurt her. She bit her lip and bent her head before rising. “As you wish, my lord,” she said. She hadn’t called him my lord last night. It had been Darius then. He frowned. A sudden wave of nausea made his stomach cramp. He whipped around looking for something to shove his head into, and regretted the abrupt motion.
     Sarah must have sensed his need. Somewhere she found a bucket and held it before him. The contents of his stomach came up in violent waves. He kept on heaving even when there was nothing left to bring up. He noticed, through paroxysms of misery, that Sarah didn’t flinch at the mess he was making. She remained efficient, her touch full of compassion. Exhausted, he leaned back against a pillow. His head pounded.
     Sarah gave him water so that he could rinse his foul-tasting mouth, and ran a damp linen towel over his face, wiping the blood and the sweat. Even though he wished she weren’t there, he was glad for her ministrations. She brought him a cup of watered wine. He took one swallow and the cramps came rushing back.
     “Why don’t you close your eyes?” she said, her voice taut.
     He did as she suggested. His ears were ringing, an annoying sound inside his head that would not stop. Through the noise of it he heard the door creak. He slit his eyes open and saw Lysander. The Spartan took in the soiled bucket, the bloody towel, and the wound on Darius’s temple with a comprehensive glance.
     “I don’t need you,” Darius barked.
     “Let’s make certain. Between you and your wife, you sure know how to keep a physician busy.”
     “You’re not a physician, and even if you were, I don’t need one. Get out and take Sarah with you,” Darius said, out of patience.
     “Aren’t we in a sweet temper.” Lysander pulled a stool next to the bed and made himself comfortable on it. “Let’s have a look at you.” He examined Darius’s temple, his vision, and his hearing before pulling herbs out of his box and making a poultice for his head.
     Darius’s ear kept ringing. He heard Sarah’s voice as from a distance. “Will he be all right?” Clang. Clang. Clang.
     “Oh, I imagine so. He has a hard head, if you hadn’t noticed. I’ve seen him take a knock twice as hard as this, and rejoin the fray by the following day. He has impressive powers of recovery. He should be his old self in a day or two.” Mixing a few drops of a brown liquid into a goblet of watered wine, he held it to Darius’s lips.
     “I hope I throw it up over your shoes,” Darius said as he drank. Lysander took a cautious step back, but to Darius’s secret relief, he did not vomit again.
     Sarah caressed his hair, her touch as soft as the wings of a butterfly. He decided that he liked the feel of her fingers in his hair. Through half lowered eyes he saw her lips move and realized that she was praying for him. His heart softened. The annoyance of moments before evaporated. He felt a sense of peace in her presence, and was glad that she had stayed with him. Sleep came, and grateful for the reprieve from the pain and nausea, Darius surrendered to it. Sarah’s white face, murmuring her prayers, was the last thing he saw.

I have an extra copy of Tessa's first novel Pearl in the Sand to give away to a reader today. Leave your email address along with your comments if you are interested. 

Is there a book or movie that has changed your writing?


Unknown said...

"And the ribbon I wrap around this mix? Laughter. From Jane Austen’s novels to the BBC series Sherlock, one of the core reasons we keep coming back to these gems is that they make us laugh at ourselves."

Yes, yes, yes and amen to that!

As for a book or movie that has changed my writing...The Philadelphia Story. The dialogue in that movie is beyond awesome. Actually a lot of classics like PS have influenced my writing...such witty dialogue in so many cases!

Julia M. Reffner said...

I loved that, too, Melissa. So essential. Oh, I love the old classics like Philadelphia Story.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I loved this, and Tessa's exerpt was amazing. It's light hearted, but Leap Year has actually helped me understand story crafting better. The twists and the worst case scenario are well done. It also really made me think about story questions.

I like old movies too. :) Going My Way is wonderful in watching for character change. :)

Secretariat also moved me and gave me ideas for writing.

Julia M. Reffner said...

I know, loved that excerpt. I've never seen Leap Year, but it sounds like a must watch, Jeanne!

Ashley Clark said...

Love this post. And guys, I JUST watched The Philadelphia Story LAST WEEK! No joke! Such a perfect movie.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Ashley, Anything with Cary Grant is bound to be fantastic right?? :)

Tessa Afshar said...

I am so excited to find others who love old movies. Dialogue today isn't nearly as clever. PS was hilarious and moving at the same time. Have any of you seen On the Waterfront? Incredible!

Hope you all win!