10/10/13
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Nostrum Episode 8 and a Deleted Scene

** Warning: This post contains spoilers for episode 8. Ye be warned ***

And so we come to the end of another book in Edward Dallingridge’s quest to recover the woman he loves. I enjoyed writing Nostrum very much. It was a lighter book, with more outright humor than the first, and I laughed a lot while tapping at the keys. I want to thank all of you, once again, for the tremendous support you have given me while  writing this volume. Your comments and encouragement keep me going, and encourage me to make each episode better than the last.

Book 3, if there is a book  3, will return a bit to the grittier tone that was set in the first book, although Tristan will make sure (as he always does) that the book does not become too dark.

So, what did Edward accomplish in episode 8? Um, just about everything. He drove off a hundred peasants, tried to kill the alchemist, dabbled in alchemy, escaped from Sir Gerald in the foulest of manners (one of the most enjoyable scenes to write *ever*), slays a dragon, takes a fortified monastery with an army of lepers, and, oh yeah, finds the cure to the demon plague of 1385.

So which of those do we want to discuss? None of them. I want to talk about Belisencia. Who is not Belisencia at all, but Elizabeth of Lancaster. For those of you familiar with medieval history, you know the Lancaster family and it’s role in a little bit of English domestic violence involving the York family. Some call it the War of the Roses. I call it rich literary farmland. And Elizabeth was around when the first volley in the war was fired. I won’t get into too many specifics because I hope to touch on some of that in the next book.

Okay, so, when Edward and Tristan escape from St.Benet’s, they sail off on a boat down the River Bure. Because of the length of the episode, I had to cut a scene at that point. It dealt with Sir Gerald’s propensity for getting shot every time the knights met him. I thought it would be fun to include that scene here. It hasn’t been edited for content or copy, so it’s a bit raw.  If you find a mistake, I’ll refund the money you paid for this scene.

“We can’t leave Belisencia,” Tristan says.

“We don’t have a choice,” I say. “We’ll come back for her.”

“Sir Gerald won’t be happy,” he replies. “He’ll get tortureful with her.”

“Not a chance,” I say. “She’s King Richard’s cousin and she’s married to Sir Brian’s brother. Even if Gerald dares to cross Richard, he won’t cross his new ally.” I shrug. “The worst they’ll do is piss on her symbolically.”

“That’s not funny,” he replies.

I laugh. “Did something finally offend Tristan of Rye?”

“Alright,” he says. “It was a little funny.”

I laugh again. It has been many years since I sailed on a ship. The wind whips my robe. I smell the river brine and think about my days serving the earl of Hereford. I sailed with him in a naval campaign against the French, and by God, I loved every moment. Has it truly been fifteen years since that campaign?

Six servants at the oars paddle against the current, pulling the cog forward slowly. Daniel and another servant unfurl the square sail. Figures approach the abbey from the south. Maybe ten of them. Lurching slowly through the swamps. More and more plaguers are being drawn to St. Benet’s.

“So, Gerald will look for us in Norwich while we head to Bure,” Tristan says. “A good misdirection.”

“It’s not a misdirection,” I say. “We’re going to Norwich first.”

Tristan studies me for a long moment. “Gerald knows we’re going there now, Edward. I don’t think you’ve quite mastered the concept of strategy.”

“I’m done running from him,” I say. “It ends today.”

We pass the single tower on the abbey walls just as Sir Gerald, Sir Brian, and six other riders sprint from the gates. They ride as close to the river as they dare. Sir Gerald wears no helmet and even from the river I can see the twisted, pocked skin that covers half his face; A result of the gun explosion. A bald streak high on his forehead marks the spot where a deflected bullet from another canon tore through part of his scalp.

He screams something but with the whipping wind I only catch the word “limbs.” I shrug and wave at him. He stops his horse on the bank ahead of us and glares. Two of his men dismount and wind crossbows, so I step behind the main mast and tell the others to duck low. Tristan does not listen. He draws the single-shot hand cannon from the sack at my shoulder and uses the clay pot to light a firing cord.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“Can you get a little closer?” he asks Daniel.

The ship drifts closer to shore. A bolt buries itself in the side of the hull. The second slams into the mast inches from me. Tristan aims carefully and lights my cannon. The blast makes the stomach-punching sound of a giant block of sandstone dropped to the earth from a castle tower. The servants at the oars duck low as a jet of white smoke billows from the gun. Soldiers on the riverbank scurry, but not before we hear the sound of metal striking metal. A terrible clang that echoes across the river. I look closely. Sir Gerald holds his arm and winces. The gunstone blew the steel bracer off his arm. Tristan cheers.

“What are you screaming about?” I ask. “You didn’t hurt him.”

“I didn’t think I would,” he says. “I just wanted to shoot him. If we lose our traditions, Edward, then we lose our humanity.”

That’s all for now! Thanks very much for your support with the Scourge books. Keep checking back here for news about a possible third book soon. Questions or comments about the episode? Please leave a note for me here and I’ll respond. Cheers!

08/23/13

Episode 5 Released!

 

Yes, I know it was released last week, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to read the episode before posting here because, as any pirate will tell you, thar be spoilers here. If you haven’t read the episode, you may not want to keep reading. Ye been warned.

The Bures Dragon

The Bures dragon can still be seen on a hillside in the village.

So, Edward and Tristan fight a dragon in episode 5. It’s not a dragon to us, of course. But to a couple of 14th century knights (even knights who have been to France and Spain) a Nile crocodile can be nothing other than a dragon. As I mentioned in the historical notes, there have been at least two incidents of crocodiles roaming the English waterways. One of those occurred in the village of Bures, in Suffolk (Bure to Edward and Tristan). And, also as mentioned in the notes, the villagers of Bures have immortalized (sort of) their brush with the great wyrm (see image above).

We’ve all been a bit desensitized to crocodiles. Steve Erwin, The Croc Hunter (may he rest in peace) and Animal Planet have made them fairly common for those of us not in Africa. But in the 14th century, it was almost impossible to see one of these beautifully lethal creatures. Try to wipe away your knowledge of crocodiles and see them as Edward and Tristan might have. Something like this:

A dragon leaps from the water to devour its prey.

Or perhaps like this:

or this:

The eye of the dragon.

God forbid you should ever see one like this:

Edward and Tristan probably saw it like this though:

St. George slaying his dragon.

Crocodiles are one of the oldest creatures on the planet. It is said that they roamed the rivers of the world when dinosaurs walked the land. Why have they been here so long? Because they are perfect at what they do. Their eyes protrude from their heads so that they can slip toward prey almost completely underwater. And they can hurtle out of rivers at unfathomable speeds to attack their prey like this:

Okay, maybe not quite like that. I don’t know what this one is doing. It looks like my son when I jump out of the closet to scare him. Crocs jump out of the water more like this:

Which is how it would have gotten Tristan. Not a nice way to go. Just ask any wildebeest. In closing, I’d like to post a few more pictures of these magnificent dragons.

Crocs roll in the water to tear their prey into snack-size chunklets. Zebra bites, anyone?

I hope you enjoyed episode 5, the dragon slaying episode. Do you have any tidbits about crocs? Any first-person experience with them? Got thoughts, questions, ideas or critiques on the episode? Let me know! Your comments can affect the outcome of the book, so please don’t be shy!

See you soon!

08/1/13

Nostrum: Episode 4 Released

So, episode 4 was released on Tuesday and I’ve heard from a few readers that they have already finished it. I’m always impressed by how fast people read. I’m a slow reader. I think part of the reason for my slow pace is the fact that reading, while immensely pleasurable, always holds a little bit of work for me. I’m always looking to learn what a writer does to interest me and keep me reading on. The fact that I read in bed when I’m exhausted doesn’t help much, either.

I’m happy that some readers get through the episodes quickly, though. One of my greatest fears as a writer is that readers will be bored by what I write. And when it comes to serials, that fear is magnified a thousand times.

**Spoiler alert** Minor spoilers about episode 4 below this point.

Dancing with the Saints. Could country-western line dancing be a direct descendant of St. John’s Dance? Discuss.

But enough about me, eh? In this episode, Edward and Co. found out what those crazy dancing people were all about. I mentioned in the historical notes that this was a very real phenomena in the Middle Ages, and it was.  St. Johns dance, (sometimes called St. Vitus’s Dance after the patron saint of dancers (nice irony there)), is associated with the modern disorder, “Sydenham’s chorea,” a sickness where the afflicted person experiences uncontrolled movements and emotions. They are not the same thing, these two disorders, despite the similarities. The medieval version was completely different. It was an actual dance and the afflicted could be quite violent if interfered with. St. John’s Dance was also contagious, although apparently in a psychological way. The disorder has been called a mass psychogenic illness, which means, basically, that lots of people suffer the same delusions at the same time. This fits in quite well with the theme of the Scourge books. After all, isn’t zealotry just a form of mass psychogenic illness?

So, tell me what you think about Nostrum so far. Why do you think Hugh the Baptist didn’t bite Belisencia? What do you think about the relationship of Tristan and Belisencia? Do you think our heroes might actually be in purgatory? And what’s up with the ending of this episode? A dragon? Really? Is this writer on crack? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

07/22/13

Nostrum: Episode 3 Released

 

*SPOILER ALERT* The post below contains minor spoliers for Episode 3. Read at your own risk.

Another second Tuesday means another episode of Nostrum. In this episode, Edward, Tristan and Belisencia have their minds blown by a medieval televangelist, but does King Matheus really believe what

he preaches? That’s the question, and it’s a question I didn’t want to answer just yet. What do you guys think? Does he really think Judgment Day has come? Or is he profiting from the plague? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

Robert Daniels, one of my readers, asked about the tapestry that Matheus showed to Edward, Tristan and Belisencia. He wanted to know if it was a real tapestry, and my answer to that is: 42. *grin*

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch.

The tapestry is *realish*. It’s quasi-real. It’s Pamela Anderson after she took out the breast implants real. There was no prophet named Joseph the Devout who had visions. I made him up. But when you look at medieval artwork, a stunning amount of it is devoted to depictions of hell and purgatory. There are many famous depictions of Judgment Day and the netherworld. In fact, this sort of macabre painting school has its own name: Doom Painting. The artist Hieronymous Bosch was probably the most famous, although he wasn’t around until the 15th century. But his paintings were the ones I was thinking of when I wrote about the tapestry. Most of the doom paintings are quite gruesome; their painters were encouraged by the church to be as graphic as possible, to scare Christians straight. Many of the elements I spoke about in the tapestry are elements that I took from real works of medieval art. So, is the tapestry real? 42.

The crumbling remains of a spiral staircase leading to the top of the gatehouse at Bodiam Castle. Why did Edward build them clockwise?

In the episode, Edward notes that the stairs of the church tower spiral anti-clockwise. That is, anti-clockwise when going down the stairs. This allows defenders coming down the stairs to swing their weapons freely, while attackers will have difficulty swinging because of the spiraling wall of the staircase. Edward also mentions that he overruled Elizabeth, and that the stairs in Bodiam Castle would be similarly anti-clockwise. But  he relented a little (Elizabeth might have cried), because there are two sets of clockwise staircases in Bodiam. One is on the servants quarters (possibly so that servants could not revolt and hold part of the castle) and a second above the main gates of the castle.

Why would Edward want stairs going clockwise to the top of the castle gatehouse? He had a very sound reason. A free signed copy of The Scourge to the first person to post the correct answer in the comments.

That’s all for now. Hope you are enjoying episode 3 and that you continue to enjoy Nostrum!

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07/20/13

Can Language in Any Historical Novel Truly Be Authentic?

My historical fantasy novels are riddled with anachronistic speech.

There I’ve said it. But you know what? So are everyone else’s. Writing a medieval novel using only the language from the middle ages (even limited to dialog), would be asinine. (I had no idea asinine only had one S. Go figure). No one would understand a book written that way. I understand adding medieval flavor to a book. I get that. I do a lot of that myself. And I understand making an effort to avoid expressions that are too modern, another goal of mine. But let’s face it, we aren’t going to write a book in Old English or even Middle English. And most writers don’t know enough about the language of that time period to make a convincing stab at it. My argument is that historical language should yield to clarity.

Look at it this way. I read a period book recently that had all the characters speaking with thines and thous, saying huzza and lavishing accolades upon one another.

There are some authors who really try for that medieval flavor. And I applaud that. I try to add a taste of the middle ages to my writing as well.

 

But if an author tries to be historically accurate by using words like huzza and accolades, then they have failed. More to the point, very few people are really well-versed in the language of the middle ages. So by all means, try to sprinkle medieval seasoning on your mutton, but don’t ruin the meal with it.

Writing a medieval novel using only the language from that time period, would be asinine. No one would understand it.

Take the word huzza. It’s an old favorite at medieval festivals and gaming conventions, but it has nothing to do with the middle ages. Huzza came into use in the late 16th century, by sailors. The word thou is tossed around a lot in medieval novels and, though it was certainly used in the middle ages, it became a sort of insult when using it to address anyone except your close family or your lover. A tiny historical distinction that could put a glaring hole in the accuracy of your book.

Yes, I know. Just two examples. I have more. But I want to state my case here. The people who argue that medieval novels should have dialog reflective of the medieval period usually do so out of a misplaced sense of historical accuracy. When a 14th century knight asks his squire to “Bring me mine warhorse!” he is inaccurate twice: Mine (as in my) was no longer used after the 13th century. And the word warhorse wasn’t used until the 17th century. Warlord wasn’t used until 1856.

If a writer has her 12th century minstrel nod to the princess, she has made two historical errors. Minstrel wasn’t used until the 13th century, and princess wasn’t around until the late 14th. Knights couldn’t charge into the fray until the 16th century (fray:14th, charge:16th). Any historical writer who has a character nod, should make sure the character is in (at least) the 15th century, when the word was first used. Want your farmer to pet his cow? Better make sure he’s in the 19th century (Famer:16th, Pet: 19th).

When a 14th century knight asks his squire to “Bring me mine warhorse!” he is inaccurate twice: Mine (as in my) was no longer used after the 13th century. And the word warhorse wasn’t used until the 17th century.

But surely there are some blue-chip medieval terms that all historical writers can use, no? I mean, what’s a medieval action story without guards, right? Well, just as long as it’s a 15th century story, because that’s when the word came into use in English. And a knight should be allowed to brandish his sword, shouldn’t he? Only if the knight lived in the mid-14th century or later. The list goes on:

Stop: Mid-15th
Field (as in field of war): 16th
Melee: 1640s (it meant to mingle before that)
Road: 1590s
Groggy: 1770 (and it meant drunk at first)
Cemetery: Late 14th
Hello: 1883
Walk: Late 14th
Shout (as in give a shout): Late 14th
Haggle: 1600s
Rest (as in, rest on something): Mid-14th

Okay, so writers may use some words that are not accurate to the period. But surely we should stay away from words we know aren’t accurate. Modern sounding words obviously don’t belong in a period piece. I mean, you wouldn’t want your knight calling out, “Hey!” right? Or using words like baboon, or calendar or susurration?  In truth, hey and calendar were around in the 13th century. And susurration was around in the 14th. And there are many others

You see, when writing a historical novel, period speech is the last thing you should worry about. The reader knows that you are translating. You are providing a version of the text that is understandable to your reader. It’s the same way with movies. Directors may have the actors speak in a different language, but there are subtitles right there for you to read. Often, they simply have the characters speak a little of their language, then break into English and it’s understood that they are still speaking their language. It’s the same with writers. We are the subtitles.

I can hear grumbling out there, and I know I risk being misunderstood. I am not saying that your historical novel should read like a James Patterson book. The reassuring cadence and diction of medieval speech is part of why we read these types of novels. And I think writers should strive for that. I work hard to avoid using words that I know were not around in the time period I am writing in. I do not use expressions/figures of speech that were not around in their day. But how can contorted would my story be if I couldn’t use the word road? Or stop? Or shout?

Directors may have the actors speak in a different language, but there are subtitles right there for you to read. It’s the same with writers. We are the subtitles.

I try to give my characters the flavor of medieval speech, while making sure that readers won’t stumble. Some people have said that my characters sound too modern when they speak; I wish they knew how religiously I check my word usage, and how hard I work to balance accuracy with readability. Do my characters say things in a way that wouldn’t have been said in their time period? Hell yeah. I know that my book would be completely incomprehensible to a person from the 14th century.

But then again, so would any other historical novel.

 

 

07/2/13

Nostrum, Episode 2 Released

 

 

Episode two picks up where episode one left off, with Edward, Tristan and a nun tied to a tent pole. The three of them are in a place called Edwardstone, in Suffolk, just outside of a church devoted to St. Mary the Virgin. The village and church are both real, although I took some liberties with the size of the church. There is no gallery from which choirs would sing, and there is only one aisle, on the north side of the church. Despite its small size, the building is quite beautiful, as you can see from the images. It was built on the site of an older Saxon church and has been updated and expanded several times — in the 15th century, the 19th century and the 20th century. It most likely would have been even smaller in Edward’s days, but I like to think the interior would have looked the way I described it, with carved angel corbels and the like.

The ceilings of the church are of a simple tie-beam style, but the beams are gorgeously old. Have a look at that crazy, wonky beam on the right. It looks to be an original 13th century beam. Not straight, but beautiful and efficient. It did the job. Maybe the church builders understood that churches, like people, should embrace their imperfections.

There is paneling on the back wall of the nave, but alas, there is no misericorde. That’s not to say that there never was. The beauty of writing about time long-ago time periods is that you can imagine it as you think it would have been. There is no one to say that you are wrong. And speaking of me not being wrong, do you see the wrought iron chandeliers hanging from the roof? Those have been there for at least five hundred years and, before being electrified, once held candles. Can you imagine the body of a plaguer setting them swinging? There is no place for the imagination quite like a church.

So what do you think? Does the church look like what you imagined? Did you enjoy the episode? I’m anxious to hear from all of you.

Edwardstone: A small village that is difficult to find.

St. Mary’s has only one aisle, but I had to pay $30 to renew my poetic license this year and I figured I should use it =)

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03/16/13

And so it begins…

“Hey, these bones look like they’ve been gnawed on…”

Workers digging a rail line in Central London’s Farringdon neighborhood uncovered the grave site of what could be as many as 50,000 victims of the Black Plague.

Does no one actually watch TV or read books? You fools! This is how zombie apocalypses start! Cover them back up and incinerate your clothes! #hoardingweapons

On a side note, don’t be surprised if the Farringdon grave site shows up in future works…

Enjoy the last days! And remember, in the times of madness to come, only madness will save us.