Monday, October 20, 2014

The National Museum of Scotland

I love museums, especially ones that focus on history. There's something incredible about looking at the bones of someone who lived hundreds of years ago and seeing the everyday objects that they used during their lifetime. This photo is the reconstruction of the grave of a early Scottish warrior.
He might have been Pictish, although that was the name given to the early people of Scotland by the Romans and we don't know what they actually called themselves. The Picts fascinate me, perhaps because we know so little about them. They were clearly a distinct people with a distinct language, as in 735, the monk Bede refers to four languages spoken in Britain at the time: British, Scottish, Pictish and English.

Recently researchers have begun to explore the idea that the images and symbols the Picts left behind may actually represent this language. Here's a link to a site that explores this fascinating new perspective on the Picts: It would be wonderful is some day were able to decipher Pictish.

Like other Celtic tribes, the Picts used knotwork designs. Knotwork never fails to affect me. I love how it reflects the interconnectedness of all things and the eternal circle of life.

Irish artistic designs clearly influenced this brooch found in Scotland. In early times, the connections between Scotland and Ireland were probably much stronger than the connections between Scotland and the rest of Britain, as travel and transport by sea was much easier than by land. (I'm not sure it isn't still that way after two weeks of driving in Scotland and Ireland!) No one took more advantage of that fact than the Norse, whose influence on Scotland was profound.

To be continued...

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Celtic Adventures

I've been very neglectful of this blog. This summer I was gardening and as the outdoor season wound down, I was busy planning for a trip to Scotland and Ireland with my daughter. We left on September 27, a day later than planned due to all the flights through Chicago being canceled. Unfortunately, our luggage somehow managed to catch a flight there and would not catch up with us for three more days. After being rerouted through Newark, we arrived in Edinburgh a day late.
The thing about Edinburgh is that you are constantly reminded how old the city is. Fabulous buildings that would have you gawking in any American city, are, ho hum, everywhere. This splendid edifice is actually a department store, where we went to get an adaptor to make my European voltage converter work in the UK.
Of all the magnificent buildings, none is more impressive than Edinburgh Castle. Built on the crest of an extinct volcano, it towers over the city centre (English spellings always look prettier) austere and grand. Due to lack of time (and a disinclination to stand in line) we didn't tour the castle, but chose instead to visit the National Museum of Scotland.
My favorite display there was the carved effigy of Mary Queen of Scots (She's actually buried in Westminster Abbey only a short distance from her famous sister Elizabeth.) If the effigy is to scale, she was a tiny woman with dainty features and hands.

Although I didn't tour the castle, I very much enjoyed walking through the gardens around the base of it, admiring the lush foliage and the amount of work that must go into maintaining it. Especially the immaculately tended floral clock that actually keeps time.
As one of those people who takes more pleasure from details than massive structures, I found plenty of delightful images in this storied city.

Too soon (of course) we had to bid goodbye to Edinburgh to begin our journey to the highlands. Traveling fortune finally smiled on us as our luggage arrived at the airport a few hours before we were to pick our rental car there.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Coming soon... Call Down the Moon

I'm thrilled to show off the cover of Call Down the Moon, the first Soulmate book. The books in this series are reincarnation/time travel romances featuring characters who use a magic sword to travel to other time periods to be reunited with their soulmates, from whom they were separated in the past.

Call Down the Moon tells the story of Irish warrior Connar, who in the ninth century fell hopelessly in love with Aisling, one of the Nine Sisters, a group of priestesses skilled in healing. When Aisling came to a tragic end in that time period, he used magic to travel to the future to reunite with her.

His beloved Aisling is now Allison Hunter, a free-lance writer in Denver. Although Allison doesn’t remember her past life, she is instantly attracted to Connar when she interviews him for an article. But someone has followed Connar from the past, and they are determined to keep Allison and Connar apart.

As Allison begins to have visions of a violent and terrifying confrontation, she struggles to separate the past from the present and trust in a love that transcends even death.

I don't have an exact release date yet, but the book should be out before the end of the year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

O, thou Dragon of the Island

My first book, Dragon of the Island, is free on Amazon today (March 17) through tomorrow. Link is:

When, over twenty years ago, I decided to write a book, I chose a genre that fit my love of history and, inspired by the King Arthur tales of Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliffe, set it in dark age Wales. At first I floundered, trying to find my story. But then in my research I came upon a sixth century Welsh warlord named Maelgwn the Great and everything started to come together.

There’s actually much more historical evidence for Maelgwn the Great than there is King Arthur, and in northern Wales the name is still common. But unfortunately, the best account we have of Maelgwn and of the time period he lived in was written by one of his contemporaries who appeared to despise him. Writing in 543, Gildas the Monk calls Maelgwn a “tyrant among tyrants” and general disparages his character. He also refers to him as “O, thou dragon of the island”, a wonderfully evocative description that became the title of my book.

I imagined Maelgwn as a fiercely independent man, as raw and untamed as the land he ruled. In Roman British princess Aurora, I gave him a heroine who could match his tempestuous nature and more than hold her own. As their story unfolded, the themes of treachery and betrayal naturally wove themselves into the plot, along with warfare, violence and a soul-consuming passion. By the end, the world I had created seemed as real and alive to me as any place I’d ever been. And when I finally visited Wales ten years later, I wasn’t disappointed, as I was still able to catch glimpses of the wild, majestic, mystical world I had envisioned.

Since Dragon, I’ve written fifteen more books. But none of them stirs my blood the way this first one did.

Some scenes from Maelgwn’s world:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Irish Love Affair

This photo is of a blue-eyed horse we saw while hiking (and getting lost) in the Slieve Bloom mountains It doesn't really have anything do with this post, other than it illustrates the beauty and magic of the Irish land.

About a third of my bloodline on my mother’s side is Irish, but growing up I didn’t really pay much attention to that aspect of my heritage. I do recall my great-aunt joking about her “big Irish feet”. She also had among her curio collection a tiny cauldron made out of Irish bog oak and a box containing a chunk of Irish peak, both of which, as a child, I found fascinating. I also remember her showing me a picture of her mother’s family in County Armagh, Ireland. My great-great grandfather has a beard like Abraham Lincoln and the women are all wearing dresses with huge full skirts, although they were so petite that they reminded me of dolls. My great-grandmother later came to the U.S. and married a man who also claimed Irish descent, as his father was born in County Antrim.

But my real interest in the Irish started when I was 14 and I read an interview about Jim Morrison, my adolescent crush (or more like, obsession) which described him as a “black-white Irishman”. In this phase of my life I was delving deep into anything mentioned in interviews with my hero, including reading Nietzsche, researching Greek mythology, and exploring the Irish fascination with poetry, drink and despair. Much later I learned that Jim was really of Scotch extraction.

Of course the Scotch and the Irish were totally mixed up genetically, so it’s really hard to tell which is which. Throughout the dark ages, the Irish were known as the Scotti. But they invaded the region we now know as Scotland so many times that this archaic name for the Irish got attached to Scotland. There are several possible sources of this name, including an Irish legend about Scota, a woman of the Milesians who according to myth hailed from Egypt and was one of the founders of the “modern” (after the Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Dannan, of course) race.

When I met my husband, I thought he was the living, breathing cliché of an Irishman. He has red hair, comes from a family of eight kids and is named Patrick. A name he shares with with an uncle, great-uncle, great-grandfather and most likely, a few dozen other men of his line, going back generations.

He introduced me to the whole Protestant/Catholic issue, which I had previously been only vaguely aware of from reading news accounts of the “troubles” in modern Ireland. It turns out that some of my Irish ancestors came from Scotland, which meant that my husband had “married the enemy”, as Cromwell encouraged Protestant Scots to settle in northern Ireland to overwhelm and subjugate the native population. Of course, I later learned, from my great aunt’s research, that my male descendants who came from Scotland were Quakers who went to Ireland to escape religious persecution, since during the Cromwell era, being Quaker was as dangerous as being Catholic.

The Irish have long memories. I suppose I’m an example in that I love the past and the vast majority of my books are set hundreds of years ago. I've been to Ireland twice and hope to visit again later this year. Every time I go I am renewed and inspired by the mystical scenery, stirring traditional music and some intangible connection to the land itself. My female line in Ireland goes way back and in some sense it will always be my "motherland".

Because of the lingering darkness from the history of the last few hundred years, so far modern Ireland has not appealed to me as a literary setting. But you never know. My Irish fantasy series might someday end up connecting to present day Ireland and I read so many Irish mysteries that maybe I'll be inspired to write one.

Ireland was always a turbulent place. I have a copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, which is reputed to be the history of Ireland from ancient times, written down in the Middle Ages. It’s all about “who slew who”, a rather monotonous recitation of endless power struggles between people who were genetically and religiously identical. The Irish are feisty and passionate, and probably always have been. And that’s what I love about them.

But they are not, in general, great cooks. I have been to Ireland twice, and the best meals I had were decidedly not Irish. But there are some lovely exceptions. I offer for you, a recipe for Dublin Carmel Apple Cake. It’s delicious enough that with the help of a little Irish whiskey (you have to buy some for the cake) you can forget the past for a time and simply celebrate. Something the Irish do better than anyone.

Dublin Carmel Apple Cake

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c. butter
8 oz. heavy whipped cream, divided
1/3 c. chopped pecans

1 pkg. apple cinnamon quick bread mix
1 c. peeled, chopped apple
3/4 c. water
3 Tbs. Irish whiskey
1/4 c. oil
1 egg

remaining heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs. powdered sugar
2 Tbs. Irish whiskey


Heat oven to 350F. In small sauce pan over low heat, combine brown sugar, butter and 2 Tbs. whipping cream. Cook and stir until butter is just melted. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans. Pour mixture into bottom of ungreased 9 in. round cake pan or 9 in. square pan. Set aside. Combine all cake ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Carefully spoon batter over caramel mixture, making sure caramel is completely covered. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 1 minute. Invert onto serving plate. Cool. Just before serving, beat remaining whipped cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and whiskey. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over cake. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Store in refrigerator. Serves 10.

Some notes: The quickbread mix used is one of the small packages (like the Jiffy brand of pizza dough or cornbread mix). If you use a larger package, cake mix size, you'll have too much batter for one cake. Only about 2/3 will fit into pan. If you can't find the quick bread mix, you can substitute a homemade apple spice cake recipe, using whiskey for part of the liquid.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ancient Ireland and a contest

First of all, I'd like to invite you to a celebration party for the publisher of my most recent book. Stop by and enter the Soul Mate Publishing anniversary contest to win print books, ebooks and the grand prize, a Kindle Paperwhite.

I haven't posted anything lately, because I've been busy working on a new book. I first started it over fifteen years ago, but despite having already imagined the characters and written the beginning, it's taken a while for the story to come together.

It's a fantasy romance, set in ancient Ireland, in an area much like the scene above, near Killarney in County Clare. Of course, in the book, if you travel beyond the marsh, you enter the Mistlands, the realm of the Seancine, the magical race that once controlled Ireland. My heroine, Cera, is one of the Seancine and the hero, Darach, is one of the warrior people, who arrived later.

The warrior people are despised by the Seancine for their violence, ruthlessness and disregard for the natural world, which is the source of the Seancine's powers. Despite the differences between their races, when Darach rescues Cera from one of his clansman, they form an instant connection. But there are many things keeping them apart. Not merely the chasm between their worlds, but also the prejudices of the people close to them and a conflict with a neighboring tribe that results in Darach fighting the other tribe's champion in a battle to the death.

But love can be stronger than intolerance and bigotry, and prevail against all sorts of dark forces. Especially if there is some magic involved.

I'm a long way from the end, but I'm really enjoying creating the enchanted realm of The Magic in the Mist and watching Cera and Darach's story unfold.

With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, I'll leave you with my husband's favorite Irish toast (which is really Latin, but oh, well):  Sine Metu, Fear Nothing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Love Jane Austen books?

This list is for you!

I wrote a post for my publisher's blog: about the recent fascination with Jane Austen's books and mentioned a bibliography of Austuen-related fiction books I compiled as part of my library job.  Here's the list for anyone interested:

(Jane Austen related books)

Pemberley or, Pride and Prejudice Continued by Emma Tennant   1993
An unequal marriage            by Emma Tennant   1994

Presumption : an entertainment by Julia Barrett   1995

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE CONTINUED (three books by Sharon Lathan):
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One  2009
Loving Mr. Darcy : journeys beyond Pemberley  2009
My dearest Mr. Darcy : an amazing journey into love everlasting  2010

Pemberley by the Sea : a modern love story, Pride and Prejudice style by Abigail Reynolds 2008

Lydia Bennet’s Story: the Continuing Adventures of Mrs. Darcy’s Sister by Jane Odiwe  2008

Mr. Darcy takes a wife : Pride and prejudice continues by Linda Berdoll   2004
Darcy & Elizabeth : nights and days at Pemberley  by Linda Berdoll    2006

The other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview    2009
The Darcy cousins by Monica Fairview   2010

Mr. Darcy, vampire by Amanda Grange   2009

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston    2003
The exploits & adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston   2005
The true Darcy spirit  by Elizabeth Aston   2006
The second Mrs. Darcy by Elizabeth Aston    2007
The Darcy connection by Elizabeth Aston    2008

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter   2007
An assembly such as this : a novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman by Pamela Aidan   2006
Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman, Duty and desire by Pamela Aidan    2006
These three remain : a novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman by Pamela Aidan   2007

The Darcys & the Bingleys : Pride and prejudice continues : a tale of two gentlemen's marriages to two most devoted sisters by Marsha Altman   2008

Lydia Bennet's story : the continuing adventures of Mrs. Darcy's youngest sister : a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and prejudice by Jane Odiwe   2008

The bad Miss Bennet : a Pride and Prejudice novel by Jean Burnett   2012
The independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough   2008
Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer   2006
Sense and Sensibility by Joanne Trollope   2013
Longbourn by Jo Baker    2013 


Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James   2012

MR. & MRS DARCY MYSTERIES by Carrie Bebris:
Pride and prescience, or, A truth universally acknowledged   2004
Suspense and sensibility, or, First impressions, revisited 2005
North by Northanger, or, The shades of Pemberley     2006
The Matters at Mansfield, or, the Crawford Affair    2008
The Intrigue at Highbury, or, Emma’s Match   2010
The deception at Lyme, or, The peril of persuasion  2011

JANE AUSTEN MYSTERIES by Stephanie Barron:
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
And ten other titles


Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely   2009
Murder on the Bride’s Side by Tracy Kiely   2010
Murder Most Persuasive by Tracy Kiely   2011
Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely    2012


Definitely not Mr. Darcy  by Karen Doornebos    2011

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud   2011

Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen   2002

Pride, prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan    2001

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict  by Laurie Viera Rigler   2007
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler   2009


Vampire Darcy's desire: a Pride and Prejudice adaptation by Regina Jeffers   2009


Pride and prejudice and zombies : the classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem by Seth Grahame-Smith  2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies : dawn of the dreadfuls  by Steve Hockensmith   2010

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben Winters   2009

And for those of you who just can’t get enough!


CLASSIC ROMANCE (Shelved in Fiction)

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
And twenty-six other titles

Mistress of Willowvale by Patricia Veryan
And eleven other titles

The Heiress of Winterwood by Sarah A. Ladd

A Little Folly by Judd Morgan
An Accomplished Woman by Judd Morgan

Lady of Milkweed Manor by Julie Klassen
And four other titles

Daughter of the Game by Tracy Grant
Vienna Waltz by Tracy Grant
Imperial Scandal by Tracy Grant

Edenbrook: a proper romance by Julie Donaldson
Blackmoore: a proper romance by Julie Donaldson

The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

The Mask of the Black Tulip
And seven other titles

All The Tea in China, a Rollicking Regency by Jane Orcutt

REGENCY MYSTERIES (shelved in Mystery)

And Only to Deceive
And six other titles

Silent in the Grave
And four other titles

LADY FAN MYSTERIES by Elizabeth Bailey
The Gilded Shroud
Deadly Portent


What Angels Fear
And seven other titles
I just ordered another Jane Austen spin-off, so this is just the beginning!