Grape Stomping

Hot Springs
Morning harvest
My grape processor
Watercolor I did in Boulder CO 15 years ago
On the vine
Years ago a friend served me fresh-frozen, thawed red grape juice from her wildish vineyard of Concord grapes. Up till then, I hadn’t even liked grape juice!

My young grape vines produced beautifully this year, as did the older one. Last night while floating in remote hot springs [see pic], my friends and I nibbled grapes and discussed the qualities of various juicers on the market. I listened, they talked. It was evident that the only way to get grape juice from the grapes we hadn’t eaten would be to purchase a $400-$500 juicer. That was last night.

This morning, I had an “aha” moment (embarrassing because it’s so obvious). My first mental picture was of Italians stomping on grapes. Perhaps the French stomp also, but it seems better suited to the hedonistic leanings of the descendants of ancient Rome.

Rather than stomp my grapes, I put them in a bowl, took a full bottle of V8 juice for weight, and did a mini-stomp with a substitute foot. Then I dumped the mess into my regular strainer, nothing fancy. It dripped for a few minutes, enough for about a half glass full. Drank it.

Fanfare, please! Souza march music! Beethoven’s 9th! Pooh and his honey pot!

The fullness of flavor astonished me! There’s so much more to grape juice when it’s not filtered and cooked (though some done that way are good, like Newman’s Own Concord Juice). It’s how grapes have been done for eons! Why do we think we need processors?

Wow! I feel good today! It’s already 9:27 a.m. and I must get on with the Amara (working title) rewrite! First, though, I’m going to pick some more grapes, take pix, and show you my equipment and the hot springs.


Un-Link Me!

The Real Vickie
Have you heard the heartbreaking old country song: “Please release me, let me go, for I don’t love you anymore.”

Someone wanted to link to me so I went on Linked In. Found out I’d been a member since 2007. Didn’t like it then; don’t like it now. But since I have a book to promote, I tried to edit my profile and maybe get a hit or two. As it was, everything that showed belonged to the friend who wanted to link. Computers do the strangest things!

A screen came up and I changed her to me, but when I went back to see my profile, she was still there. No, the picture was me, so why weren’t the words me? It was like an episode on Warehouse 13 where Alice comes out of the mirror and takes over what’s-her-name’s body.

I spent too much time trying to solve this. Couldn’t even opt out, as in erase myself from LinkedIn’s memory, gracefully or not.

If you link to me, you’ll see a myth. I’m not who it says I am, except for the picture. But if you want a good summer read, search for Victoria Paulsen on Amazon and buy The Amulet.

Some book groups are considering picking it up for next year. Would I love that? You bet!

Bad Luck, Good Luck

I just got back from a week in Vancouver BC with middle daughter Alisa, Maya (6), and Sahana (1). Vivek was off on a business trip, so they wanted company. It was cloudy and drizzly, a comforting relief from the desert heat.

Bad luck – I can’t upload the picture of rhododendrons. They were in their glory with enormous, pink to purple blossoms. The upload page choked on “crunching” five times for I don’t know how long because I stopped trying after ten minutes.

Perhaps remembering the fun I had is why my brain malfunctioned on the flight to Seattle. I left the first 20 chapters of Amara (working title) in the seat pocket in front of me. I’d put the folder there for takeoff. It never came out. The flight was only a half hour, just enough time to chat with my seat partner about why so many travelers these days are grandmothers flying to our far-flung children.

I’ve just confessed to working on a printed version, stark evidence that I don’t have a laptop. I’m not against it. But The Amulet’s first e-version had an embarrassing number of errors simply because it’s harder for me to catch mistakes on the monitor than on paper.

It’s OK. Elaine, my “I’ll read the early version” volunteer, saved her comments and re-sent them to me. They are now tucked away in a safe file ready to be applied to version 1b, on screen or on paper.

Because I had no manuscript and thus no work to do on the flight to Ontario CA (that’s California, not Canada), I took out a copy of The Amulet and started reading it. I hadn’t looked at it for weeks, so it felt fairly new. Here’s my opinion: It’s a good book, not a world-changing masterpiece, but entertaining enough to warrant the time spent.

I hope that if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, you’ll pass the word along. I don’t always do that with books I’ve liked, but those authors have a wider audience than I have.

Text message alert! Maya just found a four-leaf clover right next to a dime! That’s got to mean a hundred times more good luck than finding a penny! Maybe she’ll send some of that luck grandma’s way. Or not. I was lucky enough just to be able to see her again.

Finally Done!

The Amulet, in both paperback and e-book, is officially for sale on Amazon now, with mistakes corrected and looking good. As for those who already bought the e-version, Amazon is deciding whether or not you can get a free “upgrade.” Why they don’t automatically upload the new version is beyond me.

If you have read it and liked it enough to recommend it to a friend, that would be great. If you didn’t like it, wait for the next one which isn’t a sequel but a parallel story.

To find The Amulet, go to Amazon and search for Victoria Paulsen. Thanks, everyone, for your support and patience!

Grovel, grovel

Reading a paper proof of The Amulet, I am finding way too many typos and silly errors (like Britannica for Britannia). Apologies all over the place to those who have read or are reading it. Never again will I publish the e form before the paper form. Trust me, the sequel won’t have these problems!

At least the paper version will be correct from the start. That’s something.

Shameless Commerce Division

(Title borrowed from The Car Guys on NPR, the Mariacci brothers (spelling, my own, probably)).

Here’s the Amazon link for The Amulet. It’s only $2.99. Here’s the “description:”

Lydia (17) isn’t interested in politics, power, or religion, but when her little brother is kidnapped from Britannia and made a slave, she finds herself embroiled in all three. Searching for him, she encounters love, murder, betrayal and war. It is 196 AD. Two would-be Emperors compete for the Roman world. The actions of Lydia and her brother help determine the winner, but also put Lydia’s own future in doubt.

I hope you like it and tell your friends. There will be some who don’t like it, but they will still be my friends. Maybe they’ll like the sequel better.

If you’ve already been bombarded by this on Facebook or emails, I apologize. There’s almost always a “but” after “apologize.” This “but” is like my potted tomato plants near the back door. They were growing beautifully, full and green, and seemed to have weathered the big frost and the strong winds we’ve had recently. I watered them every morning until today when I was rushing off to a substitute teaching job. I knew they could survive one day without a morning drink. The ones out front planted in the ground could do it. I got home and as soon as I walked in the front door I could hear them gasping, making hoarse peeping cries through the back door. I rushed out, preceeded by Dawg, of course, and those poor things were on the cusp of wilting. Grabbing the hose, I soaked them! They cried, they were so happy. Then I checked the ones in the front yard. The tomatoes looked OK, but the young spinach and kale were lying flat our on the ground, beaten by the sun and heat. Watered them, too, and apologized.

The point is that if I don’t keep watering The Amulet now that it’s out in the cold cruel world of millions and millions of books to read, it will wilt away. What can I do?

By the way, it was super easy to publish on Amazon. I know that many, like me, don’t have e-readers, so I’m working on formatting the paper version. It will cost quite a bit more than $2.99, but each order is custom printed! You order, they print and send. What a great concept! I’m doing that through CreateSpace, an Amazon-connected business. It, too, seems easy but not as easy as the electronic version. Many of us do prefer to have a book in hand, don’t we?

The Amulet – Almost Time

The Amulet, first of the series, is almost ready to go to Amazon for e-publishing!  I have tweaked and formatted and agonized enough.  So why am I scared?

It doesn’t fit comfortably into a category.  How will the right audience find it?

Young Adult, yes, but its audience will be women between 15 and 95+.  Some men will like it, too.   Most novels in the YA category are either Vampire, Fantasy, Paranormal, or Romance (with sex more often than not).  The Amulet isn’t any of those.  A bit of paranormal helps the plot along, but doesn’t dominate in any way.  A bit of romance heightens the fun, but is secondary to the main plot.

A lot of people like me don’t like books reeking with lurid, provocative sex scenes.  That’s why we go to YA instead of Adult fiction.  I guess we’re not grown-up enough for the heavy stuff.

Historical Fiction.  I wish there was a subcategory called Light Historical Fiction, indicating that the reader won’t get bogged down with a lot of facts and foreign terms.  Who cares what the Latin title of the treasurer is?  Using a Latin term means the reader has to remember what it refers to.  Or social norms.  If I say my characters can ride horses and wander safely (more or less) all over Gaul, I shouldn’t have to include a treatise on society’s treatment of women in Rome vs Britannia.  The research has been done, so you can be confident that if I say it could happen, it could.

Have you read Roman or Greek plays?  They are fascinating studies of humanity, and just like Shakespeare, they are relevant today because the human condition does not change.  You understand what’s happening by watching the characters act out their lives, not by having a lot of justifications and explanations thrown at you.

My books are like that.  I put you into the time period, 2nd Century AD, and then get on with the story.

Buying The AmuletYes, please do buy it.  It’s cheap!  I’ll post the info on how to get it as soon as I send it in to Amazon.  If you like it even a little bit, please tell your friends so they can try it out.  Remember, what strikes one reader as superb, may not seem so to another, and vice versa.  Just so you know, of those who have pre-read The Amulet, over half have been over-the-top enthusiastic about it.  The others have kept silent, thank goodness.

First Draft Done!

Last Tuesday, 2/21/2012, I finished the first draft of Amara, the sequel to The Amulet.  Now I wait a few weeks before reading it through to see if it holds together at all well.  And then start the first revision.

I spent so many hours writing and researching almost every day, that at first I didn’t know how to handle the extra time I gained by finishing.

Fortunately, I got work calls, then the weather warmed and the garden called.  Weeks before, I had planted seeds – carrots and spinach.  Maybe it was Wednesday morning – no, I was subbing that day and Thursday, so it must have been Friday morning that I went out to check if the seedlings had come up and saw a little fat lizard in the middle of where I expected seedlings to sprout.

Hurrying inside, I googled about lizards in the desert and discovered that they’ll eat most anything, including seeds.  Aaarrrgh!  The netting over the garden bed probably deters the little critters and such who wander in, but nothing can keep a lizard out!

Saturday Thrim and I drove in to Barstow and went to Home Depot where he got cement to keep the new fence posts in place, at least the corner ones, and I bought spinach plants and a rosemary.  Giving up is a form of winning.  At least the result will be edible.

I’m including a picture of my violets which are blooming idiotically.  I first tried violets in Champaign IL where we lived for six years.  Our house had a south-facing windowed sunporch, perfect for violets.  This is the first time since then that I’ve had such good conditions, including an air-conditioned house.  Good results, right?

Researching Amara was so much fun!  Like hair coloring.  I needed the mixed-background Tadpole (mom northern Europe, dad northern Africa) to get his tightly curled light-brown hair darker.  Romans used boiled walnut shells!  One recipe said to add leek, probably as a fixative.  In calligraphy, we use walnut ink for a delicious dark-brown color, so it was a kick to find another use for it.  I need to address the running of the dye onto the boy’s face and Amara’s hands.  How easily is it removed?  How long does the hair retain the color, especially if the kids are boating on the river and getting wet?

Note for today:  Mix up some walnut ink with an onion and test it on my hands – and a tiny bit of hair.

A huge discovery for me was finding that the Loire river has its beginning about 80 miles south of Roanne, which is 54 miles west of Lyon.  The kids needed to escape somewhere, so I sent them west.  There’s also a Roman road going north from Roanne because the kids need to get to the port of Juliobone.  Web photos of Roanne show the Loire to be calm and wide, so I decided to put Optimus on the road and let the kids go by boat like people do now, when they rent barges to float down the river.

It’s odd to write “floating down” when you’re going north, because I always consider north to be “up” and south to be “down.”  The Nile always confused me – Upper Nile and Lower Nile flowing south to north.

I guess it’s like mountain ranges.  If you grow up with mountains going east-west, that’s how you know your directions.  Then if you move to where mountains go north-south, it takes years to unwind your instincts, so you are constantly getting lost.  It’s true.  I grew up with east-west and moved to north-south (Colorado).  It’s a wonder I ever got the kids to school (north) those first years.

Exclamation Points!

Amazon’s recent novel-writing contest accepted “only” 5000 entries.  Imagine!  Five-thousand people have written full-length novels they hope to have published.  Many more than 5000 did not enter the contest.  All these voices yearning to be heard!  All these men and women spending untold hours typing away on their computers far into the night and early in the morning, squeezing creative time into the corners of their busy days.  See the list of entries now pared to 2000 at

In the Young Adult category, the 1000 chosen to go on to the second round were mostly written by women, whereas in the General Fiction category, the split was more even.  With women writing them, YA books are geared more toward girls than boys.  Look through any book store and you’ll see the evidence – romance and fantasy for girls fill the YA shelves.  Could it be that girls are reading while the boys play video games?

Here are some titles, chosen at random, that made the 1000 YA cut – Black Myst, The Waters of Nyra, Light Dancer, Into the Hourglass.  They look like fantasy to me.  Probably others deal with teenage angst, boyfriends, and girl jealousy.  But they steer clear of graphic sex scenes, brutality toward women, and things like that which drive most adult fiction, especially that written by men.  Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

This may be why women write YA novels.  We want to write and read about strong, independent, free-thinking girls who will become positive contributors to society after they go through all the scenes that the novelist throws at them.  (The too-popular Twilight series negates this argument, making some of us cringe at the implications of it.)

After my initial minor disappointment at not making the cut (The Amulet is historical fiction about a girl in the Roman empire, definitely not a winning subject), I went for a walk in my desert and found that I was absolutely glowing with joy knowing that thousands of women have been writing their books, just like I have, with no promise at all of ever reaching the millions of readers we dream about!

What oddly magnificent women we are!  Creative dreamers!  Not just dreamers, but dreamers who bring to pass the actuality of the dream!  Days, weeks, months after the dream begins, we find that the end has come.  We have written a staggering number of words, weaving them into a story that’s never been told by anyone in the whole history of the world!

For this achievement, no matter what the future of our stories is, we deserve exclamation points!!!!


A friend calls it “synchronicity” when several connected ideas, events, and encounters happen fortuitously within a reasonable time of each other.  My synchronicity this week is pigs.

Writing leads me into unforeseen territory.  I sometimes feel as if I’m following a path in a maze where each corner leads off in an unexpected direction.  (I don’t play computer games, except I played Pac Man a few times when it was new.  The weirdest thing happened.  After playing, I went to the grocery store and was stunned to find that I felt like a Pac Man, racing down aisles, turning at corners, chasing my kids with an open mouth.  I don’t know what those games do to other people’s minds, but my mind immediately knew I’d better stay away from them!)

Back to the synchronicity of pigs.  First, a friend of mine was raising pigs.  “Was” replaced “is” only this week because her sow killed the litter by rolling on them and other ghastly things (like eating, because pigs love meat).  Sorry.  It was also very cold, and the one surviving piglet died from the cold.

Second, in the book, two travelers meet up with an old friend who has become a pig farmer.  That meant I needed to learn about pig farming in ancient times.

Here are some daunting facts:

Piglets need temperatures around 90 degrees for the first two weeks.

Sows frequently roll over onto piglets.

Some sows don’t give much milk so the piglets die from malnourishment.

Piglets need a place separate from the sow to stay warm.  Sows are hot anyway, and certainly don’t like the 90 degrees the piglets need, but piglets still need to get to mom for milk.

Pigs are usually slaughtered in the fall as the weather turns colder because there isn’t so much food for them, and/or they will get too big if kept alive.  Producing boars and sows are kept, of course, sometimes for years, as long as they produce.

Pigs can eat almost anything and are good for keeping pastures clear of parasites and other range animals’ manure.  They also get rid of weeds, bushes, trees, whatever.

Pork needs to be aged at 40 degrees for a couple of weeks in order to be tender.

Where are you going to find a place in a Mediterranean country (i.e., Gaul) where the temperature is 40 degrees or a bit less (but not too much less because that prolongs the process), for weeks at a time?  And where do they store the pork after it’s aged?

I know that pigs can be raised in warm places, even the tropics.  Surely you’ve seen photos of a pig walking down a dirt street somewhere where the temperatures are hot?

I’m glad you wanted to know so much about pigs.  There’s still a lot more research to be done but Mozilla was dark yesterday so I had to go to Google Chrome which wasn’t nearly as smooth and didn’t let me cut and paste.  Maybe it does for you, but not for me.  (Please, no complicated directions on how to make GC behave.)

Back to synchronicity!  First was my decision to have the characters stop at a pig farm.  Second was my friends’ pigs dying.  Third was substituting in an English class yesterday and today where the chosen book to read aloud was A Day When No Pigs Died by Robert Peck.   Aha!  Three unexpected encounters with PIGS.

“It’s a sign!” – as several characters in “Sleepless in Seattle” would have exclaimed.  Sychronicity so far keeps me committed to pigs rather than easier animals like sheep or goats for this part of the story.  Besides, we’ve already had sheep and sheep cheese.  By sticking to pigs, we get to have superb savory sausages!