Friday, July 8, 2016

CROSSINGS: Cover Reveal

I'm excited to share the cover for my fantasy novel, Crossings.
Isn't it beautiful?

Eliinka has been able to hide her deepest secret... until now. Her only choice is to make a perilous crossing to a foreign land where she'll discover the truth about a powerful legend and the hope for peace after centuries of conflict. 

Immerse yourself in this enchanting fantasy world and take heart in Eliinka's journey of sacrifice, romance, and intrigue.

Crossings will be available January 10th, 2017.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Red Sea in Egypt--Beautiful Coral Reefs

Here's a short video I put together from our recent trip to the Red Sea. Snorkeling was wonderful!
The next morning the sea was as calm as glass, so I took some photos and videos from a jetty that leads out to the beautiful reef where we had swam the previous day.

I got some good footage of the reef (of course), octopus (2), jellyfish, a ray, and of course a variety of fish. I'd love to get an underwater camera and get even better footage. I was amazed at the clarity of water, the number of visible fish, and how deep I could see.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Egypt: Six Favorite Places to Visit

I've lived in Cairo for six months now.
Here are a few of my favorite places and things I've seen so far.

Bent Pyramid  (2600 BC)

We usually have the Dashur pyramid fields to ourselves when we visit, which means it's nice and quiet.
Bent Pyramid
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson
This pyramid had some major design difficulties--which is why they had to alter its angle midway during construction. After this pyramid was constructed, Sneferu built the  nearby Red Pyramid, (which you can climb up and up, then inside and down into the depths!) It was completed in the perfect pyramid shape.

Abu Simbel (1264 BC) 

This monument in the South of Egypt is massive! 

Abu Simbel- Temple of Hathor and Nefertari
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson

 During the 3 hour ride in a caravan of about 20 vehicles from Aswan, I was thinking, this better be worth the effort. 
It was!

Abu Simbel- The Great Temple
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson
This massive temple complex and its mountain was relocated because of the Aswan Dam. It's mind-boggling that something of this size could be moved.
(This is the only example in Egyptian art (Temple of Hathor) where the King and Queen are shown equal in size--both 10 meters high.)

Ibn Tulun Mosque - (879 AD)

This is a very large mosque (one of the largest) and it is fun to climb the unique minaret, whose circular stairs are on the outside. You have a great view of both the mosque and the city from the top.

Ibn Tulun Mosque's Minaret
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson
This mosque, built with brick, is covered with plaster / stucco instead of stone.  Brick was not the normal building material at the time. It is said that Ibn Tulun didn't approve of removing the 300 needed columns from "deserted lands" and churches in the countryside.
Ibn Tulun Mosque
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson

Columns are almost at every ancient site. Here are two interesting examples from very different time periods.

The Great Hypostyle Hall (1300 BC) at Karnak Temple (building of the complex began in 3200 BC) is amazing, with 134 huge columns that are 32 to 69 feet tall. This enormous hall with seemingly endless rows of columns is a really fun place to walk through.
Hypostyle Hall at Karnatk Temple
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson

This next photo shows an example of columns that were removed from other buildings. These columns are all different sizes and shapes and were likely taken from ancient Greek and/or Roman temples.
Columns at Mosque el-Nasir (1318 AD)
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson

I'm curious about the different columns--there are so many different heights and diameters and shapes and decorations on each column. I assume that different columns were taken from different places and that they could vary in age by centuries. It would be fascinating to talk to a column expert who could answer my questions.

Wadi Degla and a dry waterfall

Climbing up to the top of a cliff through a mostly dry waterfall is fun.

Wadi Degla dry waterfall
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson
Wadi Degla canyon is minutes away from Cairo, but it feels like I'm way out in the desert when I come here. It's a great place to scale the cliffs and hike. You have to drive a 12 kilometer track with a 4 wheel drive to reach the back of the canyon and this waterfall.

I took this photo after I climbed about halfway up the waterfall. Pools of water can be seen, at least at this time of year. From the top, one has a great view of the canyon and if one finds the right place, you can see Cairo skyscrapers in the distance.


Carvings in marble, limestone, and other rocks and carvings in plaster are everywhere. The quantity of carvings and the details in the carvings are amazing.

Detail of Carving on Wall at Edfu Temple (237-57 BC)
Photo by Sarah Blake Johnson
Here's a photo of a detail (just a very small section of a very large wall of carvings) in Edfu Temple.
The flowers, bird, fruit (pomegranates), and the frog in this section caught my eye.
Like many sites, Edfu temple was buried by sand and dug out in the 1800s.

I have a lot of other favorites, but this is a nice sampling of a few here in Egypt.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Beyond the Five Senses: Using Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, Taste, and other senses in storytelling

Are there only five senses?

How many do we use in our writing?

Sight and hearing are perhaps the most commonly used senses in a book. Vivid writing creates a picture in the reader’s mind, and so the reader should see and hear what the character does, especially if we want the reader to enter the story and fully experience it with the character.
Touch, smell, and taste are senses that often involve a closer psychic distance. Adding these senses can make a scene come alive. I once read a middle grade novel, where the sense of smell was used on the first page of every chapter. It was very effective, but I noticed the technique within a few chapters and then it felt formulaic.
There are other senses we can use, too.
Balance is a sense, especially if the character experiences losing her balance. Temperature is also a vivid sense, as is pain.
We do not need to say that the character “saw” or “heard” or “tasted” whatever they see or hear or taste. Though at times we may use these words, we should be aware that adding the sense words to the text could create another layer for the reader and increase the psychic distance.
Mixing senses in the same sentence is effective.
The senses can show what is actually happening:
The sentence, “Icy rain blew into my hood and dripped down my neck . . .”, uses both the sense of touch and temperature. This also invokes the visual setting of blowing rain. (Thief Eyes by Janni Simner)
Or can be a metaphor or simile:
“. . . when teachers try to say our real names, the sounds always get caught in their throats, sometimes, like crackers.” This sentence not only uses the sense of sound, but also taste, at least for me, because I almost feel a dry cracker crumbling down my throat when I read this. (My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson)
Picture book writers may choose to include senses that are not easily shown in illustrations. Sound words are common in picture books. The sense of smell is also powerful.
Senses are enhanced during periods of stress, so a writer may compress more senses into a paragraph or page in a way that would feel over the top in a slower scene. In an intense situation, a character may not feel senses in a typical way, especially in the moment, because they are in a state of sensory overload.
Senses mirror the emotions of the character. A character that is feeling sad, will not tell us about the beautiful rainbow in the sky (sight) and the smell of the roses blooming in the garden (smell), but would share about the rain and the dark clouds and the rotting mulch surrounding the garden plants.

A useful exercise: analyze a scene of your own or a scene in your favorite book by highlighting every sense, each in a different color. What senses are used? How often? Are there additional places where you can or should add a sense?
Note--This blog post also appears in Through The Tollbooth