Book two in my epic fantasy series "Three Wells of the Sea" is on the launchpad! Scheduled for ebook release with Digital Fiction Publishing on June 1 (yes only a few days away), I am excited to share with you the back cover copy as well as a sneak peek at new covers for both book one and as well as two.
From the cover:
Six years have passed since the druid Lyleth resurrected Nechtan, won back his throne, and held him as he died once more. But now his murderous nephew, Talan, is king of the Five Quarters. He wants more than the throne, he wants Lyleth’s six-year-old daughter, whispered to be the fabled “Child of Death.” When Talan’s warships anchor at the Isle of Glass, Lyleth knows he’s come for his little cousin, and Lyleth will do anything to get her daughter back.
Six years have passed since the English teacher, Hugh Cavendish, journeyed to the Five Quarters and returned to our world, paralyzed and broken. When he discovers his ailing Aunt Merryn has not only been to the Five Quarters, but has found a way back, Dish vows to follow her.
He’d best hurry, for an ancient god-king stirs in his stony tomb and whispers in Talan’s ear, “None but ye can set me free.”
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I'm excited to say that "Three Wells of the Sea" has received a very positive review from Scott T. Barnes, the editor of New Myths magazine. I'm still peeling myself off the floor after reading his comparison of my novel to Tad Williams' "To Green Angel Tower."
Scott says, " I enthusiastically endorse this book as a worthy addition to Celtic canon. If you are a fan of Celtic literature, or have fond memories of To Green Angel Tower in particular, pick up Three Wells of the Sea as fast as you can."
On the sequel front, I am happy to announce that proofreading is complete on "The Salamander's Smile" and we're getting closer to a release date. I am halfway through draft one of my science fiction thriller, and things are looking good.
I am currently reading Witchy Eye, by Dave Butler, and thoroughly enjoying it. The command of language the man possesses (he speaks thirty) is manifested in the depth and breadth of the world and characters he has created. His writing reminds me of Tim Powers in many ways. An alternate history/fantasy. Pick it up, you won't be disappointed.
There has been lots going on this past month in my writing life as well as the day job. If you haven't read Three Wells of the Sea, its on 0.99 sale right now on Amazon! I would be honored if my readers recommended it to their friends.
I have sold the second novel in my fantasy series, and it is in development, with the proofreading, layout and cover gods working on it there at Digital Fiction Publishing. The Salamander's Smile will be out in the next two months, and I can't wait. My beta readers have told me they think it's better than the first book. I was once told by Dave Farland, "If you're writing a series, your second book has to be better than the first, or people will stop reading." I was somewhat daunted when I set out to write Salamander, but am very satisfied with the end result. I hope my readers will feel the same way.
As a high school teacher, my writing time is principally summer and weekends. I made a big decision this year, and gave notice to my headmaster that I will not be back next year, but will become a full-time writer. I have no delusions that I will replace my income with my writing, at least not right away, but we can be creative about our finances and see what happens. It will be an adventure I anticipate with excitement and trepidation. But I know I will miss my students tremendously.
I am currently working on the first draft of a kick-ass science fiction novel that I can hardly wait to get into the hands of beta readers. Once finished with that, I will outline book three of the Three Wells series. By the way, I figure I should use a different name, or a different version of my name for my science fiction. Any suggestions?
Most people are aware of ancient megalithic structures like Newgrange and Stonehenge that were built to track and mark astronomical events such as winter or summer solstice. Clearly, even before the tribes collectively known as “the Celts” arrived in the British Isles, a systematic charting of astronomical events was in place. Other solar events seem to be tracked at countless tumuli and stone circles around the British Isles and the mainland. But what rituals might have accompanied the igniting of the inner chamber of Newgrange with the midwinter sun? Other than calendrical uses, what did the solstice mean for the people of pre-Celtic and Celtic Britain?
Folklorists excavate local customs that have persisted through the centuries to look for clues to the nature of the religious/mythological beliefs of people in the distant past. Many of these customs continue even today, though most have lost all real meaning except in providing a sense of community and kinship in towns and villages. Things like hunting the wren and the dancing of the Mari Llydd most certainly had meaning at some point in the distant past, meaning that can only be conjectured at this point.
The Mari Llydd is a Welsh custom of unknown origin. I used the imagery of the Mari Llydd in my novel “Three Wells of the Sea” when the townspeople of Caer Ys dress up their Mari Llydd with sea shells to represent the water horse. The traditional Mari Llydd is the skull of a horse placed on the end of a pole and decorated with ribbons, baubles, anything. It is carried by a man hidden in sackcloth and accompanied by a troupe of people who go door to door asking to be allowed entrance. They sing songs in exchange for food and drink, then move on. The keeper of the Mari offers to bestow good luck and fortune on those inside, though some have said they were threatened as children that if they were not good, the Mari Llydd, a ghostly horse, would come and carry them off. In this account, I see vestiges of the Puca, or Buca.
The skull might be decorated in many ways, such as the Penglaz pictured above, but the older photos show a rope or lead is always tied to it and is held by the one who does the knocking. The use of a horse’s skull is not unique to Wales. In Cornwall, the skull is paraded at mid summer and midwinter as well, but is called the Penglaz or “gray head.” The appearance of the Hobby Horse on May Day, or Beltaine, another significant ritual day for the ancient Celts, might also be linked to the cult of the horse. It survives in the Morris Dances and Abbott’s Bromley Horn Dance as well. Though a hobby horse does not use a skull, it is simply a stick horse, ridden by one of the revelers. Much speculation has arisen as to the origin of these traditions, and though there is no firm evidence, it appears to be pre-Christian, evidenced by the similarity to other winter solstice rituals from neighboring lands like wassailing in England and the hunting of the wren in Ireland.
What is the significance of the horse among the various “Celtic” peoples? (The use of the term “Celt” is now hotly debated among scholars. There may have been no such thing, but a very loose collection of related tribes as different as the Romans from the Greeks.) More specifically, why the skull of the horse and its association with the winter solstice?
Winter solstice marks the day of the year when the sun reaches the southernmost declination. At dawn, it rises at the most southeastern point on the horizon and its zenith would be canted to the south. The effects of this is that the hours of night hit the maximum on this day, just as the hours of day hit a maximum on summer solstice, June 21. If you were an ancient person, you might wonder what makes the sun stop in its southern trajectory, do an about face, and start moving north again. The notion that the actions of humans might affect this turn is possible, the idea of appeasing the gods is one that is well documented in all ancient cultures.
The horse has been linked to divine sacrifice among several Celtic tribes. The horse is also associated with kingship, especially among some clans in Ireland where, even in the early medieval period, the inauguration of the chieftain of a clan was accompanied by the sacrifice of a white mare, after which, the candidate bathed in its blood and wore its hide as a cloak. The mare signified fertility, and the sacrifice of such on winter solstice in order to raise the sap to the branches once again and bring the spring, is not a stretch of the imagination. There are accounts in Ireland again (since it has the most recent pagan past) of a man wearing the head of horse and jumping through the midsummer bonfires to assure the health and fertility of the herds is well known. But no accounts exist that I have found that specifically speak of sacrifice being made on winter solstice.
My own feeling is that it has something to do with the reign of the two kings, the Holly King and the Oak King, made famous by Robert Graves in his book “The White Goddess.” Though his scholarship has lately been called into question, I feel there is evidence for the pagan origin of this lore in the hunting of the wren in Ireland. But to back up a little, the folktale of the Holly King and the Oak King says that two kings do battle for sovereignty over the land. During one half of the year, the Holly King reigns, and during the other, The Oak King reigns. The two solstices mark the battle of the kings, when one is slain and the other takes control and changes the path of the sun. There is some folklore that gives credence to it: Sir Gawain vs. the Green Knight, Lugh vs. Balor, etc. Neopagans have latched onto this myth and made it their own. All well and good, but let’s look at what might be considered evidence for such a story in Ireland.
Wren Day is celebrated on December 26th in parts of Ireland. The origin of the custom is unknown, though when taken with the idea of the duality of the year and the kings of light and dark, it makes some sense. The custom looks rather similar to the Mari Llydd, though instead of parading the head of a horse through town, the “Wren Boys” (wearing straw suits and motley) parade the corpse of a wren, a little bird known for singing sweetly even in the middle of winter. In distant times, the wren was actually hunted and killed, certainly a sacrifice. Nowadays, a stuffed bird is carried about. PETA would be proud. It is worth noting that the Irish refer to the wren as King of the Birds, and the Irish word for wren, dryw, is a cognate for the Irish word for druid. The king of the waxing year has been thought to be the robin, though not as much evidence can found for that idea.
What I suggest here is that the horse and the wren are local variations on a theme, that of the sacrifice of the sacred to assure the return of the sun and the quickening of the green flow in the earth. A fertility rite to bring the sun back to his summer reign. Personally, I find this season and its darkness offers a time to reflect inwardly, to be the barren apple tree that awaits the turning of the sun and the summoning of warmth from the cold chambers of the earth.
I am closely approaching the finished draft of book two in the Three Wells series. For those who have read and enjoyed the first book, Three Wells of the Sea, I would like to share the prologue from the second book. I hope you enjoy it and that it stirs a bit of anticipation for what's to come...
Here once stood a lofty idol, that saw many a fight, whose name was the Cromm Cruach; it caused every tribe to live without peace.
He was their god, the wizened Cromm, hidden by many mists: as for the folk that believed in him, the eternal Kingdom beyond every haven shall not be theirs.
For him ingloriously they slew their hapless firstborn with much wailing and peril, to pour their blood round Cromm Cruach.
--From the Metrical Dindsenchas, poem 7
By the time the long twilight of the northern summer had descended, Talan’s men were loading slaves and ingots of silver onto their ships. After six summers of taking back what had been taken from him, Talan found the ice-born had not improved the defenses of their villages in the least. No more than stockade fences and miners with pikes protected their silver, which Talan found easily, buried in an obvious souterrain.
The head of the jarl who had ruled this place hung beside the door to his hall, little more than a clapboard barn with carved beams and a sod roof. A trestle table filled the center of the room and servants wailed and wept as they served smoked salmon to Talan and his chieftains.
“They left the door wide open,” he said to Pyrs, and handed him a bowl of honey-creamed cloudberries.
“Are they so ignorant?”
“I’d not count the ice-born among the ignorant,” Pyrs replied. “Stubborn perhaps, but not ignorant.”
The sound of soldiers taking what they wished from the village drifted with the smoke about the high rafters of the hall. Women’s screams, goats’ bleats, impossible to tell one from the other.
“Perhaps they thought your vengeance was sated after last summer.” The voice belonged to Maygan, Talan’s solás. She asked, “How much more do you need to be satisfied?”
Talan’s solás, his druí advisor and conscience these past six years, spoke with the voice of the land, as if she knew what the gods of the Five Quarters wanted of him. Her ash gray eyes were locked on his, and he knew ignoring her was not an option. Her plain face was set upon a weak neck, her mouth, a pale gash above a receding chin. Before he had become king, he had imagined that his solás would be a woman of uncommon beauty, uncommon wit and wisdom, one to be lusted after the way Nechtan had wanted Lyleth. There was magic in that desire; there’s magic in all desire. Yet Maygan surely wielded no magic at all.
“We have peace through strength,” Talan said. “Isn’t that right, Pyrs?” He clapped a greasy hand on the shoulder of the chieftain who sat beside him. “Our people prosper as never before. Tell Maygan, Pyrs. Do you wish to stop this retribution we serve to the very people who enslaved our own but six short years ago?”
Pyrs was still a handsome man, though past his prime, golden-haired, unscarred, and broad in the shoulders. It had been difficult to win his allegiance, for he had been Nechtan’s closest ally and friend. They had both subscribed to their own lofty code of honor which had left their lands in ruin. But Talan had offered Pyrs the chance for vengeance, the taste of which brings such sweet satisfaction that it seduces even the most deluded and honorable, Pyrs among them.
“We are in the right to take what was taken from us,” Pyrs agreed. “But Maygan speaks some truth, my lord. The score was likely evened some time ago.”
“And now we sow the seeds of pure hatred among the ice-born,” Maygan said. “We’ve paid our debt of pain. Now we take for the sake of taking.” She never had the presence required of her position, the commanding aura of one who spoke with the authority of the green gods. She said, “Soon they will seek their own vengeance on us.”
“Blood makes us strong, blood is our song, blood is our past, blood binds us fast.”
It was the voice again, screaming inside Talan’s skull—probably spilling out from between his lips. By the looks of the faces at the table, it had taken his tongue and screamed the verse aloud. The voice came from the little man who had burrowed deep inside him and now he wasn’t sure if it was Talan or the little man who had spoken. The creature had been so quiet for so long, Talan hoped he had left him.
Maygan gave him a horrified look, and the chatter of his captains down the table ceased and all stared at him.
“Words of the Old Blood,” Maygan said. “Do you feel unwell, my lord?”
He could not be unwell. Not in front of his chieftains. “Weary,” he whispered, then clamped his mouth shut for fear something else would spill out.
He stood and navigated a path through the men who crowded the hall, pouring ale down their throats to nourish their own little men, those voices that make the decisions for each one-- the puppeteer that draws the bow, that swings the sword, that rapes the girl in the village square, because this is war and war forgives all.
Seeking a place to rest, Talan found his way to the jarl’s personal quarters where he found a treasure of silver bowls, combs, ewers, and an effigy of a god with a single red stone for his one eye. He picked up a silver mirror and opened his mouth wide, searching for those ember eyes. But the little man hid in his gullet.
He heard Maygan enter the room. Come to taunt him some more, or force her soporifics down his throat to quiet the little man. Like a crow harassing a hawk.
He picked up the crude sculpture of the one-eyed god, saying, “Why did this god fail the jarl? He clearly abandoned him in his hour of need.”
When she did not reply, he went on, “Or perhaps the god was usurped by another, a younger god who wielded powers far greater than those of the old. Isn’t that the way of gods? Just like men, they fall to the stronger ones who come after. Just like Nechtan fell to my spear.”
He turned to look at her. There was no shock on her face. She didn’t even humor him with a look of fear. Of course, she knew that Talan had killed his uncle. Didn’t everyone? Yet no one cared, for Talan had brought peace through strength. He had brought them a king who could not die, a king who would rule forever. His fingers absently touched his neck, the scar left by an ice-born axe that should have taken his life.
Maygan looked at her hands and swallowed hard. “The green gods allowed you to take the throne, my lord. Without their will, you would not have succeeded.” But her words lacked conviction.
“What gods will usurp your green gods, Maygan?”
“It is not my place to predict the future for my gods. Let me mix you a draught.” She reached for a silver cup and pulled a pouch from her belt. The sum total of the magic she knew lay in some crushed weeds.
He batted the cup across the room. “Your gods are powerless, sister greenleaf. Others stir. You feel them. You sense them. You hear the voice of the little man, but claim to be deaf. I know you hear him.”
He felt a surge of hope that she understood, that she wasn’t as useless as he’d thought. He gripped her hands and placed them on his chest. “Feel him. He’s singing his blasted tune. His wailing drives me mad. Do you feel his voice shake my ribs? Look.”
He opened his mouth wide and forced her to peer into his throat. It’s where the little man lived. And he was awake again, his commands could not be ignored.
“Do you see him?” he cried.
Her eyes were round and full of tears. She shook her head and tried to draw her hands away. But he held them.
“Let me go, my lord!”
“You must feel him! You must cut him out of me! Here—here,” he fumbled to take his dagger from his belt.
“Take my blade. Cut him out!”
But it fell from her weak hand and clattered to the floor. Worthless bitch. Worthless leaf from a worthless tree.
The back of his hand landed on her cheek and knocked her to the floor.
“Please, my lord,” she begged. “You’re troubled, your senses deceive you.”
She’s a pathetic kneeler, the little man said aloud. She’s unworthy of her title, unworthy of our trust.
Maygan clung to his legs. “My lord, I have served you with all of my being--”
He crouched over her, clutching the silver statue of the ice-born god. “Then. Why. Have. You. Failed?”
Talan felt tears sting his eyes. What was he doing? A searing heat rose from his gut and flooded his limbs. The little man clawed his way to his tongue and screamed, “The green gods will fall!”
The silver statue felt ice cold in his hand. He tried to drop it. But that was not the action written upon the skin of time. He knew what he must do. If he did not, the sun would not rise. The little man had been clear about it.
She made no move to defend herself. Talan hammered her skull with the silver god. He fought to step away, but his feet had grown to the floor. His body was not his own.
When she lay in a pool of blood, the little man laughed. He wasn’t laughing at Maygan, but at Talan.
The little man touched the blood. Tasted it. He rewarded Talan with a wave of ecstasy that coursed through his flesh.
The little man whispered with Talan’s lips, “You will find another solás, one who has the ear of a new god.”
Talan crumpled to the floor beside his solás. How would he ever be free of this beast inside?
After the hall had fallen quiet but for the soft sobbing of the women, Talan carried Maygan’s body to the shore in a sack. There, he sent her to the bottom of the fjord. An offering to a new god, one of Talan’s own making.
In the morning, he would set a course for the Isle of Glass. For there, Lyleth had given birth to Nechtan’s child. Talan’s little cousin. The Child of Death.
I can't remember where I first heard about keeping a 'bible' to track changes when writing a novel. I know many writers use them, a notebook in which you log character sketches, plot skeletons, theme exploration and one of the most important things, the names of minor characters. I know that today many writers do this with software specially built for such things, but some of us are old, and old fashioned.
Over time, a hand-written bible can become a work of art. Notes made during breakfast or after you wake up from an amazingly powerful dream. Notes on changes written in a different color or highlighted with a particular color which has some mystical meaning that I no longer remember. I thought it might be cool to share a few pages from my bible for "The Salamander's Smile," the sequel to my fantasy novel, "Three Wells of the Sea." I'm hoping some fans of Connor Quinn's might like to have a peek at his backstory as well as the first formations of the theme. I have not included anything that might tip readers off to the plot, only a few tidbits on character.
I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, let me know. I'll post some more.
I like to use good old composition books. You might notice the title was originally "The Crooked Path" and has been changed. You might also notice I started these notes two years ago, September 2014.
Here's just a bit of Connor's personal history. I usually interview them as well as note major events in their past. I needed to remind myself of where Connor came from. I also see I wrote this on my son's birthday. I have no idea what song I was listening to that got noted in the margin.
This last page is an attempt to explore the themes that arc through all three novels. I am constantly trying to hone in what I want to say with a story without being heavy-handed. It usually takes two drafts of a novel before I discover what the themes might be. Sometimes, I have to narrow it down.
And finally, to update those awaiting book two, I hope to have it in the hands of my beta readers in October. Then it's off for an edit, and away we go. Thanks for waiting. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
Summer has arrived, which means for us teachers, time to read, write, hike, swim. My writing adventures have begun, and I’m discovering how to juggle working on two novels at one time. The sequel to “Three Wells of the Sea” is moving along. Titled “The Salamander’s Smile,” my alpha reader has finished her flogging of the first draft, so I am diving in for the next iteration. I have a few beta readers waiting for the next draft, but if you are interested in reading a pdf of the coming draft and are willing to offer feedback on what works and what does not, let me know. I can always use a few more beta readers. I hope to have this draft ready by October or November.
My other project is a space opera that will not leave me alone. The main character, Camber Maypole, whispers to me all the time, and, she being a disembodied refugee from a dying Earth, is rather insistent in what she has to tell me. Here’s the opening of the novel as it sits now:
Skin was the organ people missed the most. It was sensitive to the minutest change in pressure, responsive to the gentlest breath blown across the small hairs on the arm or the back of the neck. Gooseflesh raised by a cold dive into a mountain lake, caressed by the sun on a warm summer day, a lover’s kiss. No holographic sensory system yet built could duplicate it. Because to feel, one had to be real.
Camber Maypole strode into the board meeting wearing nothing but the carbon skeleton of her print. She carried a small culture tray bearing the fruit of the past ten year’s labor. She’d practiced this pitch for days and she was ready for battle.
I have read some great books this spring, and would love to share them with you. In terms of novels, the one that grabbed me and didn’t let go was “The Quantum Thief” by Hannu Rajiniemi. Brilliant, funny, with more twists than the path of a subatomic particle in an atom smasher. The science is high level and there are no training wheels, Hannu just dives right in. Beautifully written. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. He writes with humor in a very different style that reads quite easily.
Happy reading, sunbathing, and generally soaking up the summer.
One of my chemistry students is reading “Three Wells of the Sea” and asked if the Old Blood, my progenitor tribe in the novel, are like George R.R. Martin’s First Men of Westeros. “Of course,” I said. “We all have to come from somewhere.” Every ancient land has known successive invasion, subjugation, absorption by a variety of tribes, some not very kind. Every tribe inserts not only their dna, but their magic, their gods, their world view on the land they conquer. The Five Quarters is no different.
In writing “Three Wells of the Sea,” I patterned the Five Quarters very loosely on Ireland, a land that knew successive invasion by magical and powerful tribes. I’m certain they are no different than other lands except that we have written sources that refer to these invasions, oral tales transcribed in the Dark Ages by Christian monks who decided that recording the ancient histories was a holy duty. They dressed the stories up in thinly veiled Christianity and turned the old gods into heroes or saints. But the antiquity of these tales is well known, though most scholars consider them myths rather than histories. But like the Trojan War, I feel there are strong elements of fact dressed up in myth.
“The Book of Invasions” or “Lebor Gabála Érenn” which directly translates into “The Taking of Ireland,” describes six successive invasions of Ireland, each resulting in clashes on the battlefield and the wielding of weapons of magical origin.
The first person to land in Ireland according to these tales was the woman, Cessair. Of course, she was the daughter of Noah and sailed west to escape the flood. She landed with forty nine women and three men when all but one ship was lost at sea. It is interesting to note that some of the names of the women on this journey were the names of entire tribes of people. Like Alba, the foremother of Britain, Espa—Spain, etc. It has been noted that the ship contained a microcosm of the world’s cultures, borne to the shores of an unknown land. None of them survived, however, except one man, Fintan, who reincarnated into different animals and men over the course of five thousand years to tell the tale of Cessair’s voyage.
Partholon tries again three hundred years later. He runs into opposition from a shadowy people known as the Fomorians. I liken these people to the Titans of Greek myth, primeval gods who have little empathy for humans of any kind. When the descendants of Partholon die of plague, the invader, Nemed, follows. After a succession of battles with the Fomorians, the Nemedians bow to them and sacrifice two thirds of their children , their corn and their milk to the Fomorians. Until they had enough and revolted. This ended badly for the Nemedians. The survivors fled to Britain or back to Greece.
The Fir Bolg are next. They are the ones who divide Ireland into five kingdoms, often called the five fourths, hence the Five Quarters. They established thriving kingdoms led by five chieftains all answering to the high king who ruled them all. Everything was cool until one day a host of invaders traveled in a dark cloud and landed on a mountain in the west. These were the Tuatha De Danaan, a mystical people who came from the far north. They possessed substantial magic and they subjugated and absorbed the Fir Bolg with ease, giving them only one kingdom while they took the rest. The Tuatha De are much written about in fantasy fiction. There is a timeless fascination with the origin of these people or gods and their exile to the Otherworld. The mythic stories of their interaction with the invaders and their descendants shape much of Irish myth and fairy tale.
But the day came when a warlike tribe arrived from Spain. The Milesians' swords proved too much for the Tuatha De’s magic and a truce was called upon the Plain of Slaughter. The land would be split in two, the Milesians took the land while the Tuatha De ruled the Otherworld, the land beneath the land, on the other side of the well.
So, in “Three Wells of the Sea,” the Tuatha De inspired the Old Blood, the Milesians inspired the Ildana. It isn’t hard to overlay some strong suppositions on these stories, namely, it can be assumed the Milesians had steel and the Tuatha De had nothing but stone and a nature magic akin to the workings of the Green Gods. Which means, their land of exile just might be our own.
Check out the cover art my friend Pat R. Steiner did for Three Wells of the Sea. He's got the knack, I'd say, and he's doing covers for hire now. So, if you are in the market, check him out.
The face on his cover must be Nechtan, the warrior king of the Five Quarters who gets a do-over in the other world in my novel. In this photo, I think he looks a lot like Benedict Cumberbatch, which would be a good choice for the part. It got me thinking about who I pictured when I wrote the book. So I started to do some digging at IMDB. I'm thinking a cross between Michael Fassbender and Manu Bennett (he plays the druid Allanon in the new Shannara series.) I'd love to hear who you would chose for the role.
Lyleth is easier for me to cast. There are several women whom I think would have the right look. Emily Blunt perhaps. What do you think?