The Magic Starts Here

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while knows that I am an author. I know we all got gobsmacked by the results of our national election last November, and we’ll be dealing with the fallout from that for years, maybe for the rest of my life given the speed at which the world I know is being dismantled right before my eyes.

Anyway, for that reason, I’ve decided to write this blog post about writing.

I am now (trumpets blaring) at 92,000 words and nearing completion of the third book in my fantasy trilogy-that-may-not-stop-at-three-books.

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For any of you who haven’t read Rising From the Ashes and The Portal, what in the world is wrong with you? For those who have, thank you!

So, for the uninitiated, this trilogy (we’ll stick with that for now) is set in ancient Ireland, about 700-800 CE. This era in Éire’s history is fascinating. Christianity had been introduced only about 300-400 years previously. We really don’t know how stubbornly people clung to the old ways because the monks who wrote the histories had their own agenda. (And we thought fake news was a new thing…)

In my world, the old ways and magic aren’t giving up that easily. Mages and keepers of the old ways are still finding children born with magic, training them and teaching them the old traditions.

We know the Romans never bothered to cross the Irish Sea to conquer Ireland. Too much trouble, I guess. So the Irish Celts were left to the rival clans fighting things out amongst themselves although they had a High King… sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement on just how widespread the High King’s influence was, and there’s a lot of evidence that the rival clans continued to war with one another.

I took a bit (or more than a bit) of liberty with the political environment of Éire in my stories in terms of which clans were Christianized versus which still straddled the line between the old ways and the new.

And then, just to make things interesting, enter… the Vikings! These seafarers from the north countries – modern-day Norway, Denmark, Sweden – were expanding their territories, either for trading, raiding and/or settling. The Viking invasions of Ireland began in this same era that my stories are taking place. The invasions were sometimes successful, sometimes thwarted. The Irish gave as good as they got, and the fighting was by all accounts pretty brutal. We know monasteries throughout Éire and Britannia were sacked repeatedly. Eventually, the Vikings did manage to conquer enough territory in Ireland, that they had their own settlements, such as Dubhlinn, now the capital city of Dublin, as well as Cork, Waterford – mostly coastal settlements.

So the factual part of the history was all stuff I needed to research. See the folder in this photo?

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This is where the magic begins!

This is my treasure trove of most of the research I’ve done for this trilogy. There are tons of bookmarked websites as well, but this folder has traveled with me daily for well over a year and a half. It has all kinds of scribbled notes, lists of Irish names, tons of maps of which clans ruled where in which era.

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It even has a page detailing the sexual habits of badgers. They are horny little critters and apparently quite loud while doing it. They love sex almost as much as they love digging! And female badgers can hold their embryos in a kind of suspended animation so that they implant in the uterus when conditions are favorable for the cubs to survive. They really are fascinating. As we all know. Broc and Cuán were two of my favorite characters in this trilogy.

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Anyone who writes historical fiction can tell you how much research goes into tracking down authentic details. You really have to get it right, because someone out there knows more about everything than you do, and if you mess with the details, they will let you know about it (hopefully kindly).

Not everyone enjoys doing research, but I do. I’ve learned so much in the historical novels I’ve written. Only a tiny bit of the research actually makes it into the stories, but hopefully, the knowledge base that is there comes through in a feeling of authenticity when you read the books.

The magic comes when  readers say they felt transported into the world you created. When that happens, it all comes together.

Soon, you’ll be able to delve into The Standing Stones, the third book in The Dragonmage Saga! I’ll reveal a cover and blurb soon.

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George Washington Slept Here (no, really, he did!)

October is LGBT history month. It’s also my anniversary month. Last year, Beth and I got married on our 20th anniversary (I only half-jokingly told her that I knew we had to keep the same date or she would never remember our “new” anniversary), and so this October will be… our first “official” wedding anniversary, but our twenty-first real anniversary.

That got me thinking about history in general. Our personal history is important to us, and sometimes to those close to us, but for most of us, our history will most likely never move past that relatively small circle.

Like many people, I live in an area whose history I don’t take the time to appreciate. Doing research for books has led me to take a closer look at the history all around me. The town I live in is located in the Shenandoah Valley where many battles and skirmishes were fought during the Civil War. It says something about the back and forth nature of the fighting that Winchester changed hands seventy-six times during the war.

Moving back a bit in time, this part of Virginia was the western frontier when the English were settling America. A sixteen-year-old George Washington came to Winchester in 1748 to survey this region. This was his headquarters for the four years he was surveying here. I don’t know for sure he slept here, but it seems reasonable that he might have.

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When I was researching and writing Miserere, one of the things that allowed my characters to make a life for themselves when they fled to West Virginia in 1863 was the presence of an iron furnace. Not far from where I live is this iron furnace, which was in use from the 1830s to the 1880s. As people pushed west, into areas with no established trades or ways of making the things they needed, they had to keep rebuilding things like this iron furnace. I feel a bit torn between admiration for their tenacity and ingenuity, and dismay at what their coming meant for the Native Americans who were already here.

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Just west of Winchester is the childhood home of Willa Cather. This historic plaque is all that’s visible now, as the current owners (probably tired of gawkers like me!) have planted a dense patch of pine trees that protect the house from view. Cather wrote of this area in her novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl. The mill in the novel is situated on Back Creek, which is good for fishing, but I’ve never found the mill.

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History is a funny thing. I’m sure George Washington had no idea at age sixteen where life would take him and the part he would play in the founding of a new country. The soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War were just trying to survive and get back to their loved ones. They had no visions of people obsessively re-enacting their skirmishes and battles 150 years later. And who knew that Willa Cather would grow up to be one of America’s greatest novelists?

Some things are bound to become landmark events in the annals of history – wars, disasters, acts of heroism. Some people are destined to become icons of history. But our day to day lives, lived as honestly and as lovingly and as hopefully as we can live them, make up much more of the day to day living that goes on in this world. It may be that a hundred years from now, there will be no mention of us in books or historical plaques, but that doesn’t make the living any less significant.