Monthly Archives: December 2012

Guest post by Kevin Klehr

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Welcome to Kevin Klehr, whose first novel has just come out from a pro publisher, after having been picked up by them from the self-published version. He’s here to talk about the journey from self to pro publishing:

From Self-Published to Book Deal

 

 

About ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel on Thursday nights, as that was the only free time I had (My partner, Warren, had started playing tennis on those nights).

It was handwritten in a journal and called Staging Life. I had written about five chapters when a friend bought me a ‘How to Write’ book for my birthday.

The first paragraph of this How To book clearly told me that if I was writing without my plot being clearly laid out, to stop right away! I made a chapter by chapter story outline, but this totally killed the creative process. The journal was then left in the bottom drawer.

Several years later a young man captured our hearts (no, not in the way you’re thinking). He was charming, charismatic, and just needed a little help in learning to love himself as a gay man. Warren secretly lent him my unfinished manuscript, which he returned to me enthusiastically. He demanded I finish it. So I did. Within months a novella was born.

The first draft was taken to an assessor who loved my style of writing, but pointed out some major flaws. Like the main character in The Great Gatsby, my protagonists watched drama unfold around them, but were not directly affected. Secondly, she thought that the love interest between my two main characters which happened out of the blue in the last chapter, should be the main focus of the whole novel.

Thirdly, she didn’t like my first chapter. A fantasy telling of Warwick and Allan’s life up to the point to which they die. She found two problems with this. Firstly, the real world was as fanciful as the Afterlife. No clear distinction between the two realities. Secondly, she made me realise that how they died should be one of the mysteries that should be told in flashback. Keep the audience guessing!

One thing she did like was the fact that my main character was sometimes inappropriate in social circumstances. She told me to make this his main personality flaw and pointed me toward Joe Keenan’s My Blue Heaven. In her words she said ‘turn up the ‘tude’.’ This was very good advice.

I kept using her as my assessor for two more drafts, finally taking the novella to novel length. Eight drafts later my self-published novel was finally born (after many many rejection letters from publishers).

Along the way there were two mistakes I made that might be worth mentioning for young players. The first I didn’t go through with, but it’s so important to note.

One publisher was interested in my book. When I looked over the contract, one thing that stood out was my lack of control over my own copyright. I’ve worked in broadcast media, so copyright law is something I know a bit about. In this contract, not only did they want exclusive world rights, they also wanted me to write to them and seek their permission if I wanted to write anything in the future. Plus, only they would have the right to end the contract, even if I desperately wanted to.

A lawyer also pointed out that their payment of royalties was far below the industry standard. Once I asked this publisher a few questions, they dropped the publishing deal like a hot potato.

My second mistake was using a different assessor for one of my drafts. One publisher (in fact, many) loved my writing style but not the uncommercial nature of my book. They suggested a few ideas on making the plot more sellable, after only reading the first chapter. So I decided to use them to assess my novel (as a backdoor way of getting them to read the whole manuscript).

This is my mistake – I rewrote the book taking on their ideas, but those ideas didn’t really work in the context of the whole story. My partner suggested that I simply should have sent the most recent draft, but I was desperate for a publishing deal. Five hundred dollars later they criticised the novel in its new form, making me wish I’d listened to my husband.

Even my psychic (don’t laugh, she’s extremely good) looked at me sternly while we were talking about something completely different, and asked “What did I do with that woman!” She was referring to my original assessor. I said that I was just getting another opinion to which she replied “She understands what you’re writing about!”

 

The book was out for three months from late September 2010, but I had problems getting local bookstores in Australia to stock it, as it was too costly for them to import from the UK. This is where fate stepped in. I researched self-publishing companies in the US, but also stumbled across a couple of publishing houses who hadn’t had the chance to reject my novel. One of them was Charles River Press.

 

It was Sunday. I was home alone. I read my email. There was a complimentary message from a publishing house that liked my first chapter and wanted to know if I wanted a publishing deal. I stared at the laptop screen and said “Hell, yes!” (I actually used another word for ‘Hell’, but you get the idea). Within two days I had a contract to sign.

 

For the first three months of 2012 I stripped back my over-written style; deleted scenes and added fresh plot twists, under the guidance of my assigned editor. I was unemployed at the time, so this was my 9 to 5 gig each working day.

 

Another tip for writers – trust your editor. When her first suggestions were emailed to me, I wanted to scream. “She doesn’t get the book!” I complained to my husband. But as I read the reworked novel to myself over three days, I realised she was right in her advice.

 

This has been a long process. Maybe eight years. I’ve both grown as a person and learned a lot along the way.

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Acid Ants, Emperor Nero, and Dark Space – interview and giveaway with Lisa Henry!

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Crossposted from kayberrisford.com

I’m thrilled to welcome Lisa Henry, author of m/m smash hits Tribute and The Island. Lisa’s been kind enough to answer some questions about her amazing new books, writing damaged and desperate characters, and the joys and pitfalls of living in the tropics – namely, Brisbane, Aus!

Q. You have two new books out, both of which I can’t wait to HeIsWorthy_600x400read! Please tell us a bit about them.

He Is Worthy is part of Riptide Publishing’s Warriors of Rome series. And here’s the blurb:

Rome, 68 A.D. Novius Senna is one of the most feared men in Rome. He’s part of the emperor’s inner circle at a time when being Nero’s friend is almost as dangerous as being his enemy. Senna knows that better men than he have been sacrificed to Nero’s madness — he’s the one who tells them to fall on their swords. He hates what he’s become to keep his family safe. He hates Nero more.

Aenor is a newly-enslaved Bructeri trader, brutalised and humiliated for Nero’s entertainment. He’s homesick and frightened, but not entirely cowed. He’s also exactly what Senna has been looking for: a slave strong enough to help him assassinate Nero.

It’s suicide, but it’s worth it. Senna yearns to rid Rome of a tyrant, and nothing short of death will bring him peace for his crimes. Aenor hungers for revenge, and dying is his only escape from Rome’s tyranny. They have nothing left to lose, except the one thing they never expected to find–each other.

Straight from the Roman Empire to a space station! My latest release is LH_Dark Space_coverinDark Space, from Loose Id.

Brady Garrett needs to go home. Brady’s a conscripted recruit on Defender Three, one of a network of stations designed to protect the Earth from alien attack. Brady is angry, homesick, and afraid. If he doesn’t get home he’ll lose his family, but there’s no way back except in a body bag.

Cameron Rushton needs a heartbeat. Four years ago Cam was taken by the Faceless — the alien race that almost destroyed Earth. Now he’s back, and when the doctors make a mess of getting him out of stasis, Brady becomes his temporary human pacemaker. Except they’re sharing more than a heartbeat: they’re sharing thoughts, memories, and some very vivid dreams.

Not that Brady’s got time to worry about his growing attraction to another guy, especially the one guy in the universe who can read his mind. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just biochemistry and electrical impulses. It doesn’t change the truth: Brady’s alone in the universe.

Now the Faceless are coming and there’s nothing anyone can do. You can’t stop your nightmares. Cam says everyone will live, but Cam’s probably a traitor and a liar like the military thinks. But that’s okay. Guys like Brady don’t expect happy endings.

Q. Okay, so broadly generalizing, Dark Space is sci-fi, He is Worthy is historical, The Island is contemporary, and Tribute is fantasy. So you’re awesomely flexible – *g*! Which, if any, was your fave genre to write and do any themes unite all Lisa Henry books?

This is like asking me my favourite colour. Or movie. Or song. Give me half an hour and I’ll give you an entirely different answer. Or twelve entirely different answers. That’s the best thing about being a writer. You’re allowed to go wherever your imagination wants.

I love historical, but it’s a challenge to write. There is a lot of research and fact checking involved, so it usually takes longer to get right. Also, with m/m romance there is a very fine line between wanting to stay true to historical attitudes, and wanting your guys to get an HEA. Not in all societies and cultures, certainly, but I’ve read a lot of historical stuff lately where there are public displays of affection that just don’t seem like they would have occurred when there was a risk of arrest, public shame, or even worse.

Fantasy is great because all the world building is your own, and there isn’t much research to do. If you want to have flying cars and dinosaurs in the same story, go for it!

The same goes for sci-fi. I tried to make Dark Space “realistic” in the sense that I don’t think there’s any technology in there that seems that weird. And the stuff that is — the alien stuff — scares the hell out of the humans. Dark Space is not really about pew-pew aliens and space ships. Space was just the perfect setting because it’s vast and claustrophobic at the same time. I would love to write a space opera though, because those seem like fun!

Contemporary is much lighter on the research than historical. Also, I like that it gives me a chance to be a bit patriotic and throw some Aussie boys into the mix which I hadn’t been able to do before The Island. And, I have to say, the thing I loved best about The Island was that my editor let me keep this exchange between my Australian and my American, despite that fact that I bet a huge chunk of people didn’t get the cricket reference:

“At least when we have a world series, we’re not the only country in it.”

“The World Series was named after a newspaper. At least we don’t play for ashes!”

If anything unites all my books, I guess it’s that I love writing about damaged and desperate characters. If they’re not damaged and desperate at the start of one of my books, they sure as hell will be by the end. I think that to really understand what a character is made of, you have to tear him apart first.

Hmm. That seemed less brutal in my head. But I promise I’m a nice person in real life.

Q. You once told me you’re a history nerd – yay! Did you have LH_Tribute_coverlgfun with the research for He is Worthy – oh, and how about Tribute? When I was reading and loving that one, I had some pretty vivid images from various ancient civilizations in my mind. Were any particularly inspiring?

I didn’t have to do too much research for He Is Worthy actually, since I absolutely love Ancient Rome and devour anything I can read on the subject. When I found out that Riptide wanted Roman stories it was like Christmas for me. Holy hell! Yes, I must do that!

Nero has always fascinated me. He was an absolute monster, but in some respects he’s like a child star. Surrounded by sycophants, spoiled rotten since childhood, a pushy stage mother, nobody ever tells him no…you know it’s going to end badly. I think it’s sometimes tempting to feel sorry for Nero, before you remember that a lot of innocent people died in a lot of hideous ways because of him. Everything that happens in He Is Worthy — the dressing up like a wild animal to attack slaves, the human torches, the castration of his “favourite” — comes from historical accounts.

With He Is Worthy, I had to do a quick refresher on dates and places and historical characters, but I think my knowledge of the period is fairly solid. I hope it is. At least nobody’s pointed out any clangers yet.

With Tribute I worked off a late Roman Empire vibe for Segasa, the warlord’s city. And Kynon was very much from the fantasy stock-standard feudal system. I wanted to mix it up a bit and have a clash of cultures. Also, it was fun to invent a society that was all high and mighty about political freedoms and philosophy on one hand, and horribly cruel on the other hand. Which I guess brings us back to the Roman influence again.

I think the main lesson from history is that it’s cruel. You don’t have to look very far back at all to see how inhumane most of humanity has been. The Romans had a saying: homo homini lupus. Man is a wolf to man. I don’t think much has changed.

Lisa's resident possum!

Lisa’s resident possum!

Q. You live in Australia! I love Australia with a passion and hope to go back next year, but I’m still going to ask the stock question first: what’s the weather like today, and do you have any giant spiders that eat people?

Oh my god. This heat is killing me! My house is like an oven at the moment, and the air conditioning is not even helping. My house used to be cooler than this, but two years ago Cyclone Yasi knocked down a bunch of trees — it’s okay, they landed on my neighbour’s roof, not mine — and now that side of the house cops the full sun in the afternoon. It is currently 1.30 pm, and 32 desires Celsius — that’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit according to my iPhone. Which would be okay if it got cooler at night. But tonight the temperate will drop to all of 26 degrees. That’s 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually the wet season has started by now, but so far we’ve had no rain at all to cool us down. On the plus side, that means no mosquitos.

I am not aware of any giant spiders that eat people. However, when I go to the beach I do swim in a net because of the danger of marine stingers. Those’ll kill you. And there are crocodiles. Those’ll kill you as well. And one of the most deadly snakes in the world — the taipan — is from this corner of the world. And, you guessed it, those’ll kill you. On a slightly less deadly note, when I first moved to North Queensland as a teenager, we had this lovely tree in our front yard that was just begging to be climbed…

Have you ever heard of green ants? They are also known as weaver ants, and they swarm you in seconds and start biting. With acid. They bite you with acid. So there I was on the footpath, screaming and frantically taking my clothes off when the postman arrived… Welcome to the tropics.

Q. According to your Loose Id bio you live in a house with too many pets. I’m going to pout and sulk now, because I live in cramped, wet England in a tiny flat that cost the earth, with room for only mould and moths as pets (my beloved moggy lives at my parents.) Make me even more jealous by tell us all about your animal friends, please!

I have an old yellow lab called Cleo, and three cats: Simba, Sam and Grub, all rescue animals. The plan for next year is to get chickens, not so much for the eggs, but just because chickens seem like fun!

My house is also infested with geckoes that live behind picture frames and come out at night to eat mosquitos, and possums who keep breaking in through the shutters to steal things, You’d think with a dog and three cats in the house that they’d be cautious, but apparently not. I’ve taken to keeping my bread and bananas in the microwave. I got home from night work the other night to find one perched above my bedroom door. People always tell you not to pick wild animals up. I think the fact that they hardly struggle anymore just goes to show that whether I like it or not they’re almost domesticated.

Oh, and there is a green tree frog who lives in the toilet. His name is Fidel Bonaventure Jumping-Castle . The second. We’ve reached an understanding now: I don’t scream when I see him, and he doesn’t try to get away when I relocate him to the windowsill every day.

Q. I was recently chatting with another LI author, and we agreed LH_Island_coverinthat in some ways writing has got harder since we got published. In other words, I wrote Bound for the Forest for myself, and it was great fun. Ever since then, I’ve been fretting about what the world thinks and wants. Is this experience familiar to you – and either way, any tips on keeping calm and carrying on?

Wait, we were supposed to keep calm? I’ve been freaking out this whole time.

This is absolutely true though. Your first book is your “I wonder if I can write a book” book. But then you get this thing called an audience, and that’s when the stage fright kicks in. Although I panicked most after The Island, which was my second book. So many people loved it so much for the twist, that I spent a long time worrying that I wouldn’t be able to live up to that again.

I think the solution is to keep doing what got us here in the first place — write what you would want to read. That’s all you can do, I think. Unless someone’s told you something different. Have they? Because I want to know the secret as well

Q. What can we forward to from the pen of Lisa Henry in 2013?

At the moment I’m co-writing a book with the awesome J.A. Rock. It’s been fun co-writing with someone. We got that first draft written in four weeks — we absolutely powered our way through it — and then it took another six to think up a title. And I wish I could tell you I was kidding about that. But we’re editing away now, and hopefully something will come of it.

I’m also working on an untitled (of course, because we know I suck at titles) contemporary set in Australia — yay! — about a Samoan-Australian police officer who is in love with the very damaged guy he rescued from a bad situation when the guy was still a teenager. Now, after years have passed and just when they might be at a place where they can act on their feelings, the past is going to come back and bite them in a big way. Except, being a total pantser, I haven’t figured any actual plot points yet…

There might also be another historical on the horizon, set in Wyoming in 1870. Cowboys, and bondage! Not that the two have to go together, but isn’t it so much fun when they do?

And I mentioned space opera, right? Because I have a very persistent plot bunny bouncing around in my brain going: “They’d be like the Borgias! But in space!” And you know I can’t ignore that forever! :)

Giveaway time!

To say thanks to Kay for hosting me on her blog, I’ll be giving away a copy of my latest ebook Dark Space. All you need to do is leave a comment, and in a week I will have a monkey draw a name out of a hat. The monkey is my eight-year-old nephew. His name is Tom. Last week he ate a gecko egg because he thought it was a lolly. He gets embarrassed whenever I tell that story, so of course I repeat it wherever I can.

You can buy He Is Worthy at Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ARe.

You can buy Dark Space at Loose Id, Amazon, or ARe.And you can find my blog here. Or catch up with me on Twitter, or Goodreads.

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Thanks so much Lisa, I LOVE reading about damaged and desperate characters so no complaints here, and as a Brit, I even got the Ashes joke–honest! I’m glad I’m not the only one with a wildlife infested flat, but your frogs and possums win hands down over my moths, harvester spiders, and the occasional woodmouse! And ours don’t have such cool names.

So excited for ALL your WIPs!

Thanks to everyone who dropped by, and don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the draw to win Dark Space. Tom might pick you! :)

Fantasy Holiday Worldbuilding

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I think one of the harder parts of worldbuilding is the development of a distinct cosmogony. George Lucas talked about that in reference to the philosophy in Star Wars. While it was based on Taoism, he said, it wasn’t enough of a philosophy to guide life. I can see what he means, from having written a couple new worlds. It’s difficult to create a fully-formed philosophy for a new culture, just as it’s a challenge to understand our current cultures and their varied expressions of religion.

On Persis, the planet where our novel Emerald Fire takes place, Rachel and I talked a lot about whether or not to have religion play a part and, if so, how large of one. For example, what does a funeral look like? Funerals and weddings are visible expressions of religion and their traditions are as varied as there are cultures on the planet. Did we want to do that on our planet? What religions did the settlers follow?

In the case of Persis, we decided to sidestep the whole issue and make them mostly Unitarian Universalist, with a visible similarity to Zen practices. This allowed us to have a priesthood that is under the radar and discrete. We do have Fundamentalists, in the Diggertowns, but their religion is more about being secretive than being religious. Other than that, we don’t have religion playing a large part in our world at all.

In a piece we’re working on, called Fear Not, we developed an entire cosmogony that is central to the plot. The creation myth has a direct effect on the plot because our characters were given their shifter forms by the goddess. Two goddesses, sisters, met two gods, brothers. The sisters both fell in love with the same brother and the one sister grew jealous of her sister’s love. The creatures they created started to war with each other, driven to it by the anger of their deity. The heroes were given their powerful animal shifter shapes by their patron deity in order to make more effective war. Religion is central to the culture in this story.

Each author resolves the situation in their own way for their stories. What are your favorite stories involving mythology? If you could create a world, what religion(s) would you give your characters?

Resources

“Philosophy and Religion in Star Wars,” Wikipedia entry, Accessed 12/09/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_and_religion_in_Star_Wars

 


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

White Christmas with Belinda McBride – and a giveaway!

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Crossposted from kayberrisford.com

GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED. Winner is announced here. There’s still a chance to win your choice of my back catalogue over at J.A.Rock’s blog.

I’m am thrilled to introduce the peerless Belinda McBride, author of a series of smash m/m fantasy hits including sci-fi novels, An Uncommon Whore, and When I Fall (An Uncommon Whore II) and the shapeshifter classic Blaque/Bleu (Arcada 1). The sequel to Blaque/Bleu, Silver/Steel (Arcada 2) is out this week — and Belinda is offering one lucky commenter the chance to WIN a copy of this keenly anticipated read. What more can we ask for? *bounces excitedly*

Over to Belinda!

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White Christmas

silversteelSilver/Steel was written in response to a call for holiday stories at Loose Id. As usual, there was a little twist to this particular call for submission. It had to begin at one holiday, and end on another. So it could be Thanksgiving and Kwanza or the Day of the Dead and New Year’s. I was already working on an Arcada story that was set in the winter and immediately began wracking my brain for the most fitting holidays for Travis and Dylan.

For some reason, I love the world of Arcada during the winter, and I give these two some of the most romantic elements the season has to offer. They get snowed in together. They make love in an ice maze and then go driving around looking at Christmas lights. Arcada just comes alive in the snow.

Dylan is old world fae. I imagined he’d be most familiar with the calendar based holidays of the Celts. Travis is a thoroughly modern young man and pagan holidays might resonate with him, but he’d be most comfortable with traditional celebrations. Thus, I chose Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Pretty mundane, I agree. But I had a specific reason for choosing these two holidays.

It’s no secret that depression and suicide rates spike during the winter holidays, and not just because of the weather. The holidays are hard on some people. The stress of spending money, elaborate preparations and the constant barrage of merchandising can tear almost anyone down. These are also family oriented holidays. I’ve spent enough holidays alone that I can relate to the isolation some people experience when they have no family or live far from them.

Dylan and Travis first meet in a bar on Thanksgiving. Having been alone for so many years, Dylan just wants to have company. He’s not American, but he moves quietly through the landscape of the US and is acutely aware of being alone. He goes to the Roadhouse simply to surround himself with other people. He is also working a job, but that’s just an excuse to be out on Thanksgiving. He craves companionship.

Travis went to the bar to escape the pressures of his pack and family. He’s a lower ranked wolf in the pack and after a tough week, he ducks out on the family gathering to blow off steam. He wants to get away, seeking to lose himself around strangers.

While one character is a loner, the other feels alone within the confines of his extended family. They’re both at the bar on Thanksgiving, but for utterly different reasons. And yet at the core, their reason for being there is the same. They feel isolated and alone.

There’s little more than a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the second holiday is a major contrast from the first. Both men are happy, they’re in love, and their innermost wishes are fulfilled. Dylan is in the heart of a family during the holiday. Because of the fae, Travis finally finds his place in the pack and the security that comes from knowing he’s loved and accepted.

But the story doesn’t end there on Christmas Eve. That night crystalizes the strength of their love, and it also triggers the events that lead to crushing decisions the men face. When they wake up on Christmas day, their lives will be forever changed.

Silver/Steel is available from December 4th from Loose Id.

You can visit Belinda at her website and on her blog.

In the meantime, read on for a sizzling ADULT excerpt from Silver/Steel!

Read the rest of this entry

Dancing with Destiny

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For all the pseudo-medieval world building there is out there in Fantasy land, it struck me yesterday that there’s very little dancing. People build castles and set demons on their peasantry, or arise out of humble beginnings as a kitchen drudge to kill (or tame) dragons, but magic seems to be very much of the ‘read a grimoire and point a wand at it’ variety.

As a morris dancer, I am offended at this. Or perhaps offended is too strong a word, perhaps I mean ‘mystified.’

You see, even now, I go out with my morris dancing side at 5.25am on a May Day morning and do the dances required to make sure the sun comes up for the rest of the year. On plough Monday, I and my side (technical term meaning ‘a group of morris dancers’) go out to do the dances required to make sure the fields will be fertile. Just this weekend I was dancing for one side and playing the special morris music for another side at Mill Road Winter Fair. Admittedly, this had no sacred purpose other than getting in some money for beer, but for your average pseudo-medieval peasant, I’m sure getting the beers in was a sacred activity in itself.

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The morris dance has a history so old no one can tell with certainty how far back it goes. Some say it arrived in the UK from Spain in the 15th Century. But then what are we to make of the fact that the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance is danced with horns that have been carbon dated as being a thousand yearsold?

(This is actually a vid of the Thaxted version of the dance, because the honest-to-goodness real Abbots Bromley dance doesn’t look anything near as impressive. As Sir Terry Pratchett says, ‘Things that try to look like things often look more like things than things.’)

Of course morris is not alone in being a magic dance once performed to achieve all kinds of good things. Here is a vid of the Romanian Calusari dance, once danced in secret to heal the ill and frighten away evil spirits.

Speaking of Terry Pratchett, I give him big credits for including the morris in his Discworld, and for inventing the Dark Morris, danced at midwinter. He gets my ‘approved by dancers’ stamp. As does Tolkien, whose Silmarillion featured the elf-princess Luthien defeating the Dark Lord by way of a magic dance. This is heady company, but I can at least claim that my hero in the Under the Hill books is a morris dancer, and that I mention Dandiya Raas in passing.

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Within the pavilion, they found the lips of wells. A cold air came up from them, and the water within was black and smooth as jet. Ben didn’t understand how the villagers could possibly unite these passages to the underworld with the kind of prancing and ribbons and flower scenes of the fete.

“This is…old,” he said, feeling it, not stopping to wonder what he meant.

“Yes,” Chris agreed, leaning on the lip of the well, looking down. He tipped a penny into the shaft, and they both listened to the plunk as it hit the water. Ben stepped up beside him and saw his face broken into circles on the surface. “But then so is the dancing. The flowers may be to placate the spirits that live here—to tame them. That may be why the church is here too. But the morris dance is different.”

“It’s not as stupid as it looks.”

Chris laughed and leaned back on his elbows, the deep drop behind him. “You have a way with a compliment. But you’re right. The dance…flouts everything. Everything but itself. ‘See,’ it says, ‘we’re men. We’re alive and strong and beautiful. Bollocks to everything else.’ It’s a kind of defiance to this sort of thing.”

“Like the haka, but with pansies.”

Chris slapped his top pocket, frowned as if he’d expected to find something there, came up empty handed. “Yes, well, the haka’s a bit unsubtle, isn’t it? morris is a lot more English—male-combat display, but with irony.”

“Hankies and flowers instead of swords.”

“Exactly.” He slid a sly look in Ben’s direction. “We’re undercompensating.”

Ben’s turn to laugh. “I’d like to see what for.”

~

I think dance makes an interesting and unexpected vehicle for magic in a fantasy, and one that hasn’t yet been overused, but maybe that’s my ignorance talking. Can you recommend any other books in which ritual dance forms a part? Why do you suppose there are so few? Is it really that uncool? If so, why?

The Wild Ones

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Crossposted from Cocktails and Hot Sauce

Anne Cain's fantastic cover for my novel.

Anne Cain’s fantastic cover for my novel.

There’s a part of every novel that’s a nightmare to write. In Bound to the Beast there’s little doubt about that part that gave me the most grief – bringing life to the Wild Hunt.

Ah yes, the Wild Hunt. A pack of the undead who maraud across the land, terrorizing the natives and sucking blood! Ghosts! Zombies! The evil dead, with their eyes drooling from their sockets and their flesh hanging off! That’s going to be fun to write, huh?

Well, you’d think so, and it was fun to research. The origins of the Wild Hunt are obscure and diverse, encompassing the Germanic ‘Wilde Jagd’ and the Nordic ‘Ride of Asgard,’ their leaders including Odin, Woden, and in England King Arthur, Sir Francis Drake, and the devil himself, as well as Herne the Hunter, the hero of my novel (see my pictorial history of The Horned One.)

The hunters themselves have variously been portrayed as the rotting corpses of condemned criminals, hellhounds, fairies, or the souls of deceased, unbaptised infants (the latter two, of course, sometimes perceived as one and the same.)

And their purpose?

Well, usually the Wild Hunt were seen as harbingers of doom, scourging the land on the eve of great disasters, and that’s the angle I used in my book, where my tortured anti-hero, Herne, has led the Hunt across England on the eve of Viking pillaging, the Norman Conquest and the plague of the black death.

Bad boy!

There are plenty of awesome descriptions of the Hunt too, not least in the romantic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when so much ‘ancient’ folk lore was (re)invented.

Arguably most evocative is W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe,’ from his collection inspired by Gaelic faery lore, The Celtic Twilight (1893).

The Hosting Of The Sidhe (by William Butler Yeats)

    This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.

The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Hmmm, a bit of a hard act to follow.

Yes, but I really shouldn’t whinge. Reinventing the Wild Hunt for my own purposes was hard work, but a hell of a lot of fun. The main trouble was representing the Hunt as anything other than a monolithic mass, so I turned, as so often, to research.

I discovered a plethora of colourful characters, including Wild Edric, once a Lord of the Welsh Marches, and his fairy wife Godda, who apparently led the Hunt to terrorize the people of Shropshire before the British campaign in Crimea in the 1850s, and prior the First and Second World Wars. It’s always good for a character to have challengers snapping at their heels, so I made my Herne work hard to keep control of his hunters.

The Wild Hunt, then, has haunted imaginations for centuries, and afterKB_BoundForest_coversmall a little exploration, they certainly took root in mine. When the wind moans and rattles through the trees of the New Forest, it’s hard not to prick up one’s ears, listen for the bay of the hunting hounds and the pounding of the hooves, and shiver at the prospect.

Could it be time for England to fall again?

Well, I bloody well hope not. But I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a fleeting glimpse of Herne and his fairy band…

Fancy a taste of some ancient forest lore, intertwined with sex, magic, bondage, and blood? You can find out more about Bound to the Beast and my first Greenwood novel Bound for the Forest at my website.
Scroll on for an excerpt (featuring the Wild Hunt and –WARNING–some mind fantasy gore) from Bound to the Beast.