Saturday, December 31, 2011


In 2004 I made my first visit to Ireland, with my husband, son, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. Trying to fit in everyone's "must see" list, I ended up with only an afternoon to tour the two buildings that house the National Museums of Ireland. I went first to the Natural History museum where they have a skeleton of the extinct Irish Elk with its nine-foot antlers (SEE ABOVE). I then raced over to the Decorative Arts and History building. I was taking in things pretty fast until I got to the Viking Ireland exhibit. There I slowed down, enthralled by the complete Viking skeleton in a glass case, a life-size reconstruction of a Viking longhouse and displays of dozens of everyday Viking items:  combs and pottery, weapons and jewelry, most of them reclaimed from the dark Dublin earth during construction projects of the last few decades. (The Vikings were in Ireland for over 200 years and Dublin was one of their main settlements.)

Vikings are often depicted in books and movies as bloodthirsty, marauding warriors. But they were also the main traders of their era, traveling to what is now Russia, as well as to Constantinople, Venice and other settlements of the Mediterranean. They brought back silver, spices, amber, wine, glass, pottery and slaves, and traded for these items with honey, tin, wheat, wool, wood, iron, fur, leather, fish, walrus ivory and slaves.

Note that I mention slaves twice.  That's because what we now call "human trafficking" was a huge part of the economy of the ancient and dark age worlds. Slaves included individuals who had been captured in battle, stolen from their homeland in raids, sold into slavery by their families or those who were simply born into the system.

As I stood there in the museum, confronting both the Vikings' role as traders and the horrifying reality of slavery, a story began to form in my mind. By the time I returned home and went back to work at the library, the seeds for Beyond the Sea Mist were germinating. But they didn't really take root and grow until two different people walked up to the library circulation counter. They didn't arrive together, or even on the same day, but somehow in my mind, I knew they belonged together in a book. One was a very tall, broad-shouldered, rather scruffy-looking guy with long, light brown hair streaked with blond. He walked with a saunter that gave him an almost threatening presence, and yet his face was young and somehow gentle. A few days later, I waited on a young woman. She was petite with reddish blond hair, delicate features and magical green-gold eyes.

I never saw either of these individuals again. It was almost as if they appeared in the library simply to bring my characters to life. The big swaggering guy became tender-hearted Magnus; the radiant young woman, the lovely but feisty Ailinn. And, as so often happens with my books, once I had my characters, I could sit down at the computer and write the first few chapters simply by imagining what happened when they met.

Magnus and Ailinn meet on the docks of Dublin. He's there as a trader; she as a slave. The glimpse of sweetness I saw in the young man's face blossoms into Magnus's wild urge to free this beautiful young woman, whose dire predicament tears at his heart.  He knows it's fool-hardy, but he can't forget the image of the dainty Irishwoman and her female companions being treated like livestock by their enormous, gloating Viking captor. And so he ends up risking nearly everything--including his life--to save her.   

I finished Beyond the Sea Mist in less than a year. I then spent five years trying to sell it. As much as I loved the book, there times when it seemed almost cursed. An agent who supposedly sent it to editors, never sent it. I finally sent it out myself and got as close as having an editor call and ask me if I would consider shortening it (I said yes.) A few days later he called back and said he had to reject it because he "couldn't buy a book in that time period". I then sent it to another house, where it languished for months. I kept calling and checking on the status, trying to be patient. The editorial assistant put me off and put me off. A year later, that editor left—without responding. I was told the new editor had the manuscript and would review it. Then a few months later, rumors came down that this publisher was near bankruptcy and had stopped publishing print books.

Back then, I wasn't ready to have the story released only in the ebook format. But things have changed. This past year, the ebook revolution, which the industry has been talking about for nearly ten years, finally happened. I decided it was time for Magnus's and Ailinn's story to be made available to readers, at least the ones with e-readers.

I always say that as an author, your books are like your children; you never give up on them. Last time I checked I'd sold a whole twelve copies of Beyond the Sea Mist. Not enough to pay back what I've invested in formatting and cover costs (not to mention the hours of my time devoted to the project.) But it's early yet, and everyone on the ebook loop I belong to says ebook sales take a while to build. They also say that the more books you have available, the better your sales.

So this weekend I plan to launch two more stories: the first two books in my Dragon series, which were published in print over fifteen years ago. And, of course, there's a story (and blog post) behind the hero and heroines in those books as well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ebooks and DNA

After a long publishing drought, I finally have a new book out! Beyond the Sea Mist, is now an ebook available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and hopefully ITunes soon).  Also available in ebook format is my other Irish-Viking story, Storm Maiden, which was published in print in 1997. The two books aren't related, but both of them feature a Viking hero and an Irish heroine, and I thought I'd share some of the inspiration behind these books.

The preface to Storm Maiden is a poem I wrote about my husband. It begins:

He says he's Irish.
But I look at into those eyes.
Blue as the North Sea
And know he's an immigrant like all the rest.

The premise of the poem was that my husband was descended from a Viking who visited or settled in Ireland and left his DNA. But it turns out that when his DNA was analyzed, we discovered that my husband's Y-chromosome DNA is very specific to northwest Ireland, as ninety percent of the men there have this relatively uncommon haplotype.

I wrote Storm Maiden over fifteen years ago. Since then, DNA analysis has changed a lot of what we thought we knew about how the British Isles were settled. A large share of the population in Ireland (and those of us in America who claim Irish descent), have an ancient DNA profile that goes back to when the island was first inhabited, six thousand or more years ago. This gives lie to the theory that the Celts (who would have had a different, more modern profile) had much genetic impact on the native population. It turns out that the heritage the Celts left in Ireland was mostly cultural, and probably linguistic.

Oddly, the Vikings, who we know had settlements in Ireland for nearly 200 years, also apparently had little impact on Irish DNA. After intensive searching, scientists have found little evidence of Norse DNA in the current male population. So if my husband has Viking blood, is must be from a male on his mother's side. As his great-grandmothers on both sides were from clans associated with southwest Ireland, where the Vikings first raided, this would make sense. 

Regardless of the current evidence, I still think my husband has Viking blood. His long face, narrow, high-bridged nose and deep-set blue, blue eyes fit the profile so well. And I still have faith in the premise of Storm Maiden, the story of an Irish princess carried off by a Viking, who ends up falling in love with her captor. 

In the next post I'll tell you about the inspiration for Beyond the Sea Mist.