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!

09/17/13
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Nostrum: Episode 7 Released!

***Warning: This post may contain spoilers for episode 7 of Nostrum. If you have not read episode 7, proceed with caution. ***

Toothpaste as plot. Possibly the worst analogy I have ever made.

Episode 7 was released last Tuesday. Seven. How has it gone by so quickly? There is only one episode left, and that episode is a *doozy*. And by doozy, I mean, twice the size of a normal episode. Writing serials is, as I’ve mentioned before, a crazy way to tell a story. It’s great in many ways, but it requires a lot of calculation and pre-planning. There are times when I say to myself, “I have to make sure to wrap that up in the future.” But sometimes there are too many of those, and they get pushed forward like toothpaste in the tube, a bulge of loose ends that sweeps along until I am left with only one episode in which to deal with them. And those loose ends need to be dealt with at their own pace and given freedom to sprawl and affect the rest of the story. If I were writing a standard novel, I could go back and tie up the ends a little earlier. But in serials, there is no back. There is only ever onward. So, in Nostrum’s case, I had to basically make a ninth episode and include it in the eighth. Which I don’t think anyone will be too upset about. And, just a side note, I loved episode 8. It’s one of my favorite episodes in the two books.

But this post is not about episode 8, it’s about episode 7, and an awful lot happened in episode 7. I’ll start with something fun first, then get into something a little more serious. And what’s more fun than boats sailing through a meadow? (And no, that’s not a metaphor, you perverts). (Although I suppose that *is* more fun). (Okay, so maybe it was a subliminal metaphor). (But watching actual sails in an actual meadow is pretty fun too). (Yeah, I’m getting old).

Edward was mystified by sails that seemed to cut through farmlands, and I was equally mystified when I saw them. Yes, the phenomena is real. The flat landscape of Norfolk lets you see ship sails in the distance, even though there seems to be no water anywhere. The result? Have a look below:

Crazy, huh? Well, I thought so. And so did Edward. The ships are sailing through channels, like the one in the small image below, but from a distance it’s impossible to tell. They seem to be tunneling through the earth. Quite cool.

Saint Benet’s Abbey isn’t quite as cool. Not anymore. There isn’t much left of it. For some odd reason, a mill was built on top of the gatehouse ruins. I would probably rant about this bastardization of beautiful architecture, but the mill is probably the only reason any of the gatehouse remains at all. Have a look below to see what I mean.

Just a mill. Nothing more. No secret beautiful architecture here.

Okay. Maybe a little bit of secret beautiful architecture.

Yeah, so when I said the mill was built over the gatehouse, it wasn’t another metaphor or anything. Tim Pestell, author of “St. Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History,” states that the masonry footings of the gatehouse probably gave the mill a much more stable base and allowed the new structure to be built higher than most mills in the area. But it still looks really weird.

From what is left of the gatehouse, you get a real sense of the beauty that if once possessed. There are empty niches where statues once stood and worn carvings on all of the stone work. The image below left shows a lion at the top right corner of the gate.

A carved lion on the arch.

Some of the ruins of St. Benet’s.

Queen Elizabeth’s cross.

The rear arch of the gatehouse.

As I mentioned, there’s not much left of the abbey itself. Just ruins and a cross where the high altar once stood (the cross was a gift from Queen Elizabeth II). Note the sail cutting through meadows in the background of the cross image below.

Okay, so on to the more serious part of this blog post. I want to talk a little about the leper plaguers in the abandoned city of Norwich.

When writing The Scourge books, I have always tried to be as accurate as possible, and to present the fictional additions in as realistic a way as I can. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

I have had countless conversations about the Red Plague of Edward’s England. In fact, I have developed an entire pseudo-science on the plague, mostly with the help of my circle of writer friends. One of my friends is a toxicologist. Another writes for the medical industry. The rest are clever chickens with great imaginations. One day I will record our conversations about zombies and release it as a podcast.

I think I saw one of these growing on a milk glass my son left in his room for a week.

Through these clever friends (and a bit of research) I determined that the Red Plague travels through the body’s lymphatic system. In lepers that are susceptible to this sort of plague, this causes a big problem. Why? Because studies have shown that lepers have inflammatory cells traveling through their lymphatic systems. They’re called lymphocytes and histiocytes and when they encounter the viral cells of the Red Plague, they become active. And active inflammatory cells in the lymph nodes means severe swelling. The result? Conditions like proteus syndrome and neurofibromatosis, both of which can affect bone structure and create horrible tumors and swelling, and both of which are embodied in the term “elephantiasis.”

I looked at many sad, sad images of poor victims of these diseases while writing episode 7. I thought about posting a few here, but the fact is, what I write is fiction; the images I looked at were of real people. I don’t want to hold these people up for display on my blog, even though they are on the Internet. If you want to see the effects of the disease, they are a quick Google search away.

I will say that these poor people have deformities that shock us in modern times, so can you imagine what people of the 14th century would have thought? In the middle ages, religion was the overwhelming force in the world. Most thoughts were usually filtered through the lens of the Church. And if you saw these unfortunate people, you probably would not have pitied them. You would have feared them as demons.

I hope you enjoyed Episode 7, and have enjoyed Nostrum so far. It has been an absolute thrill to write it and to speak with so many wonderful readers. Please feel free to comment below, positive remarks and constructive criticism are always welcome!

Happy reading!

 

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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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07/2/13

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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06/18/13

Nostrum: Episode 1 Released Today

The first episode of Edward’s continuing adventures was released today. Really nice to see Edward back in the saddle (so to speak), and to hear from readers and friends again. For those of you that bought Nostrum, I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as I did to write.

I thought I would post a few images of the abbey ruins in what is now known as Bury St. Edmund’s. It was Edward’s destination in The Scourge, and it is his starting point in Nostrum. Sadly, there isn’t much left of the abbey. Just ruined husks of stone that jut upward like decaying teeth. Whatever you may think of Henry VIII, he was responsible for the destruction of more architectural artwork in England than any other monarch. His war against the Catholic Church (a massacre really) left rubble across the kingdom and toppled some of the most magnificent buildings in the world. Asshole.

The cathedral in the background of the above picture was part of the original abbey (although the spire was added recently). As large as the cathedral is, it was a stubby little thing compared to some of the other buildings of the monastery. Evidence! I hear you cry. Show us evidence! And evidence you shall have. Above is a model of what the abbey looked like back in Edward’s days. The model was erected in the beautiful abbey park and stands among the ruins of the monastery. I have labeled it for clarity. See the arrow pointing to the “cathedral?” That little building in the model is the massive church you see in the background of the first picture, up above. Yes, the colossal building that you can see from just about anywhere in the town. It’s just a tiny little part of the model. Can you imagine now, my friends, what the Abbey of St. Edmund’s Bury must have been like? Fuck you, Henry VIII.

This is what Henry VIII left us. This, and a slew of books, movies, TV shows and dead wives. And the song Greensleeves, apparently. Despite the shambles that the abbey is in, I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area. There is still a power and grandeur here. A nobility and a peacefulness that I have to admit seems almost supernatural. And I’m not the only one. On my last visit to the monastery, I saw a half dozen people holding dowsing rods and searching for energy fields among the ruins. I am not making that up. I actually asked one of them what they were doing, and that’s what they told me. I wonder what Sir Edward would have thought of that? Better yet, I wonder what Tristan might have said to them. Not that I should poke fun at them. It’s quite possible they know something I don’t.

The English Heritage has done a brilliant job in maintaining the monastery grounds. Gardens bloom every spring and summer, walking paths wind though the various ruins, and a large playground and discovery area sit on the edges of the abbey park.

Many of the gatehouses, like this one (the Abbey Gate) still stand, thick and tall as castle keeps. You can still tour the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of St. Mary (both magnificent structures). You can still see the walled Abbott’s Bridge over the River Lark. The walls of the monastery holdings still meander through the town, visible for long stretches then disappearing into history’s oblivion. The bones of the monastery still gird this ancient market town. And I hope they always will.

That’s all for now. I thank you for your interest in my books and my historical ramblings. I truly hope you enjoy Nostrum and look forward to speaking with you in the coming days.

Moo.

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