Monday, September 28, 2015

Autumn Reruns - Ceto the Sea Serpent

Ceto the Sea Serpent

In my series about a teen witch who can't spell worth a damn, our erstwhile heroine gets a little help from an unusual source. Did you ever wonder why there are so few sightings of the Loch Ness monster? Well, Nessie vacations on Ultima Thule, which may be the remnants of Atlantis.

She's not fond of the name Nessie or Loch Ness Monster and prefers to go by Ceto. From
In Greek mythology, Ceto or Keto (Greek: English translation: "sea monster") was a hideous aquatic monster, a daughter of Gaia and Pontus. The asteroid (65489) Ceto was named after her, and its satellite (65489) Ceto I Phorcys after her husband. She was the personification of the dangers of the sea, unknown terrors and bizarre creatures. Eventually, the word "ceto" became simple shorthand for any sea monster. The term cetacean represents a case in point. Her husband was Phorcys and they had many children, collectively known as the Phorcydes or Phorcydides. In Greek art, Ceto was drawn as a serpentine fish. Ceto also gave name to the constellation Cetus.
In Midnight Oil (Book 2 of the Witches of Galdorheim) Ceto and Nessie become one. She's not a bad, um, person, but much misunderstood. She finds my heroine, Kat, adrift in the northern seas sitting on a block of ice. Oh, yeah, the block contains the body of her father. Ceto finds this all fascinating and helps my heroine dock the ice block at Ultima Thule and find a messenger to send for help from the Witches' Island of Galdorheim in the Barents Sea.


Kat edged herself up on her knees, keeping a tight hold on the ropes. She scanned the water closely, and to her right, she saw a dark shape under the water. A whale, perhaps. Maybe her calls finally got results.

The shape turned and came back toward the ice block. It stayed several feet below, so Kat could only make out a dark shadow as it glided beneath her. The ice block lifted and dropped again. She looked to her left to see a long neck stretched out, followed by a bulky, black body. A short tail emerged from under the block and slapped down on the water. It sprayed Kat’s face with icy droplets but didn’t drench her.

The dark shape rose slowly upward. First, a small head appeared, and Kat thought it might be a seal, and then the long neck emerged. Her mouth dropped open, and her eyes followed the head upward until she had her neck bent back as far as she could. The creature regarded her with huge, dark eyes, seeming too big for the little nob of a head. Its skin was dark gray, almost black. Kat noticed how smooth it appeared. She wanted to reach out to touch it. She thought better of that notion when the creature’s mouth opened and revealed rows of sharp teeth.

A voice spoke inside her mind. “Who are you, little girl?”

“Little girl? Why, I’m almost…” Then, thinking it’d be rude to argue with her only potential rescuer, she finished, “I mean, I’m a witch, from an island…” Kat looked around and waved her hand, “somewhere out there.”

You wear the skin of a seal, and you can speak to creatures of the sea. Are you, perhaps, a selkie in human form?”

“Selkie? No, I’m just a witch from Galdorheim.”

Hmm. How came you to be on that block of ice?”

“I’ve answered your questions,” Kat said, peeved at being grilled by a sea monster. “Now you answer one for me. What are you? And where did you come from?”

That’s two questions.”

“Well, you asked two, so answer up!” Kat sensed she need not be afraid. The sea monster, as she now thought it to be, did not send any warning signals. It was simply curious.

I am me.”

Kat frowned. While harmless, the creature seemed to have an evasive streak. Why did it show itself to her if it didn’t want to talk?

As if it heard Kat’s thoughts, the creature said, “Very well. The world has called me many names. Sometimes Nessie from where I once lived.”

“You’re the Loch Ness monster? I thought that was just a legend.” Kat stared in wide-eyed wonder at the mythical creature who might, if she could work it out, be her rescuer.

No legend, but I left the loch years ago. Too many curious people.”

“That is so cool!” Kat wondered if the serpent was one of a kind. The monstrous beast bent its tiny head down to Kat’s level.

Cool? Why, yes, this sea is very cool.”

“I mean neat, keen, wonderful!”

Ah, wonderful I am. I might say awful, too.”

“You don’t seem awful. Why would you say that?”

Full of awe, I am.”

“Oh, you mean awesome, not awful.”

A deep, resonant chuckle rattled around in Kat’s head. “Why are you clear out here? Wherever here is.”

This is the ocean of Atlantis.”

“The Atlantic! My great-uncle Freddy! I floated all the way from the Barents Sea.”

You might call this part the Arctic Ocean. How did you get here?”

“A storm. The wind and rain came up suddenly. I fell off the boat with my father.”

Did he drown?”

“Oh, no. He’s right here.” Kat pointed down. Nessie bent even lower and looked down into the ice.

My condolences. Yet it is strange he would freeze in the summer seas.”
“No. He froze years ago. We, my grandfather and brother and me, were taking his body back to Siberia for burial.”

You are far off course.”

“I guess I am. Look, can you help me out? I need to get to land so I can contact my mother.”

The beast turned its head to look across the sea. “The nearest land is that way.”

Kat strained her eyes but couldn’t see anything on the horizon.

“Which way is that way?”

The beast turned back to her. “West, to an island where I make my home these days.”

“Does it have a telephone?” Kat asked. The rumbling chuckle wafted through her brain.

I do not know what that is, but if you mean a way to communicate, I believe there is.”

“Any land will do for now. By the way, do I call you Nessie?”

I am Ceto of Thule.”

“I’m Katrina of Galdorheim.”

Nice to meet you, Katrina.”

The beast ducked below, and Kat saw the shadowy form circle the ice raft, then she felt a jerk. Ceto had taken hold of the trailing ropes, and Kat and her frozen father moved across the water.

* * *

Midnight Oil (Book 2 of the Witches of Galdorheim)
Shipwrecked on a legendary island, how can a witch rescue her boyfriend if she can’t even phone home?
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Kat is a nervous wreck waiting for her boyfriend's first visit to her Arctic island home. He doesn't show up, so she's sure he’s given her the brushoff.

When she learns he’s disappeared, she sets out on a mission to find him. Things go wrong from the start. Kat is thrown overboard during a violent storm, while her brother and his girlfriend are captured by a mutant island tribe. The mutants hold the girlfriend hostage, demanding the teens recover the only thing that can make the mutants human again–the magical Midnight Oil.

Mustering every bit of her Wiccan magic, Kat rises to the challenge. She invokes her magical skills, learns to fly an ultralight, meets a legendary sea serpent, rescues her boyfriend, and helps a friendly air spirit win the battle against her spiteful sibling. On top of it all, she’s able to recover the Midnight Oil and help the hapless mutants in the nick of time.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Autumn Reruns - Genie-Us

(Previously posted in 2010. Robin Williams has parted from this earth, but we'll all continue to love and miss his insanity.)

Genies or djinns are great fun. Robin William’s genie in Aladdin was a hoot. But when is Robin Williams not a hoot? Okay, don’t tell me about One-Hour Photo, Insomnia, or Death to Smoochy. Nobody bats a thousand.

Ahem. That’s not the subject here. It’s genies.

Let’s not talk about I Dream of Jeannie. That is clearly a complete and utter corruption of the wonderful race of magical beings brought to us from Muslim tradition. So, here’s the skeenie on genies.

From Wikipedia:
In Arabic, a genie (also jinn, Djinn, jinni) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of God (Allah). Possessing free will, a djinn can be either good or evil.

The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur'an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christian tradition suggests that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God's orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live amongst angels prior to his rebellion. Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God's creations, the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in angels in other Abrahamic traditions.
Golly, that’s not near as much fun as Robin Williams. Still, a supernatural being that can wreak havoc on humans is right up our alley, right?

Copyright 7ARS
In my book, “The Tales of Abu Nuwas - Setara's Genie,” Basit the genie serves Setara. Well, ‘serves’ is a bit of a stretch. He suggests, advises, and pretty much makes her figure out how to get things done. Every once in a great while, he will whomp up a little magic if Setara is about to fall off a cliff or something else dangerous.

Basit appears in all of Setara's adventures except one. In that story, an evil genie has tricked Basit into the bottle that Aladdin put him in years before. He introduces himself to Setara as Sharif, Apprentice Djinn Second Class, and claims to be taking over for Basit while he’s missing. Setara is naturally concerned for Basit. The evil genie (disguised as a boy djinn) wants to lure her into helping him kill the Great Vizier ---- screeeech! Calling a halt here. The plot is too complicated to explain in full.

The short of it is that Setara and her gang have to rescue Basit from the bottle. To do that, they have to put the bad genie into another bottle. Setara, Kairav the water demon, Azizah the cave demon, Sheik the dog, and Sulawesi the eagle are all needed to put that dang bad genie back in his bottle and get Basit out.

To learn what else happens to the gang, you’ll just have to buy a copy of the book.

* * *

The Tales of Abu Nuwas - Setara's Genie
A girl, a genie, a few demons. What could go wrong?
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Abu Nuwas sits in the bazaar telling stories to the passersby he can tempt to pay. He relates the adventures of the bored daughter of a rich merchant, Setara, and her genie, Basit, as they encounter the creatures of legend and folklore: a lonely cave demon seeking a home; a flying, fire-breathing horse who has lost his mate; a dragon searching for his family; an evil genie hunting for the man who bottled him; and a merboy prince cast out of his undersea kingdom.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Autumn Reruns - Cailleach from Scotch Broom

Break out of the same-old Ireland (not that Ireland isn't neat) and step into the Otherworld of Scotch legend and myth. Cailleach is less known than her sister Bride (Bridget), but she used to be the one with the real power. Now days, not so much.

Cailleach the Winter Goddess

Cailleach is a goddess in the Scottish Celtic pantheon. Descriptions of her looks and personality run the gamut from ugly monster or beautiful protector of the land. This split personality goddess is the winter counterpart to the beautiful Bride (Bridget), the goddess of spring.

Living in the Otherworld after the Celts have stopped worshiping the old ones, Cailleach has let herself go to seed. She spends her days attempting to make sense of the hags’ potion in MacBeth (Double, double, toil and trouble). When she hears that a witch has come into the Otherworld, she begins to scheme. If Cailleach can only steal the witch’s magic, she can be young and powerful again. But the crone is cautious, she sends her minions out to learn more about the witch and to lead her to the goddess. While waiting for news, she learns that yet another witch has entered the Otherworld, but this one doesn’t make any sense. Cailleach determines this being is male, thus a warlock, but also smells of vampire. She decides to draw in this one like she plans for the first. But first, she decides to do a little homework.

She sends Bodach, the black giant, to give a message to Glaistig, the only Scottish vampire, to scope out just exactly who or what this male is: warlock, vampire, or both.

From the Monstropedia on Cailleach
She is depicted as as having an eye in the middle of a blue-black face, long red teeth, and matted hair. In several stories she appears before a hero as a repulsive hag and suddenly transforms herself into a beautiful girl. At winter’s end, some accounts say the Cailleach turned into a grey boulder at Beltane until the warm days were over. The boulder was said to be “always moist’, because it contained “life substance’. The Cailleach Beara is ever-renewing and passes through many lifetimes going from old age to youth or flesh to stone in a cyclic fashion.
The Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhain (October 31st) and Beltaine (April 30th), while Bride rules the summer months between Beltaine and Samhain. Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brìde as two faces of the same goddess.
She is a bringer of snows, death, and sharp storms. On Samhain the Cailleach leaves her mountains and walks the Land. The Cailleach then proceeds to "wash her plaid". Her plaid represents the sand. When the Cailleach is done the plaid is white and the Land is covered with snow. She is said to ride on the back of a wolf carrying a wand made of human skin, that she uses to strike down all signs of growth. Behind her follows cold winds, blizzards, and ice. In Scotland, she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.

It’s easy to see why Cailleach is so interested in regaining her strength, to become what she had been in the olden times.


Cailleach groaned when she leaned over and lifted her bare foot high enough to clip her toenails with the gardening shears. She looked up and sniffed twice. The hag dropped her bare foot, stuffed it into her flipflop, and shuffled to the door. Throwing it open, she held her head high, closed her eyes, and sniffed some more.

“Drat! Not another witch.” She sniffed again. “Wait, a warlock. No, a vampire. Hmm.” She closed the door and slumped into a chair. “This is confusing. Maybe there are two.” She went to the woodshed door. Cailleach rapped three times and then stood back as it creaked open.

Bodach, her roommate and minion, dragged his crippled body out of the small hatch. “Yes, Mistrezz,” he slurred, casting one protruding eye upwards.

“We have another foreigner in the swamp. Get out there and find a skrat to check. No, not a skrat. I smell vampire. Find Glaistig and send her to investigate.” Cailleach patted him on the head. “There’s a good boy.”

“Can you tell me where Glaistig is hiding?” Bodach examined his armpit and sniffed.

“Go to the standing stones on the north side of the loch. She has a cave there.”

“Yes, Mistrezz.” Bodach dragged his limp legs behind him. He began to unfold in a way the eye could not follow. When he reached the door, he needed to bend and shuffle through sideways to fit.

“Bodach, stay with Glaistig and do as she says. She might need some muscle.”

“Yes, Mistrezz.” Bodach ducked and went to seek Glaistig, the Gray Lady.

Cailleach closed the door behind the giant and sat again. She twanged the long hair protruding from the wart on her chin. “This is all very disturbing. Two foreigners stomping around in my bog within hours. This second, though, he’s strange. Yes, male. That much is clear. But I smell on him both warlock and vampire. Very odd, indeed.”

She went to the dusty bookshelf beside the fireplace. As she tapped each book with her gnarled finger, it spoke its title aloud. The Compleat Book of Bats. Care and Feeding of Monsters. Selling Love Potions on the Internet. Vampires: The Myths and the Facts. She took this one off the shelf and flipped through the pages. An occasional groan or scream emitted from the book, depending on the chapter topic.

“Ah, here it is. ‘Vampire Half-Breeds.’ Hmm. ‘Cross breedings with werewolves, ghouls, and Sasquatch have been cited, although most of these stories are second-hand accounts at best. It is believed that vampires could breed with any species; however, it is most likely this only occurs when the other creature is in an altered form. The werewolf, for example, must be in its wolf mode, not its human aspect.’”

Cailleach stuck her finger in the book to hold her place and plopped down on her rocking chair. She must be mistaken about the invader. This was a scholarly work, although a little dated having been written in 1549. But it seemed to deny the possibility of a warlock-vampire mix. She’d have to study this a bit more. Still, the vampire smell was strong. Without her power, all she could do was wait for Glaistig to report. The only known true vampire in Scotland, Glaistig wouldn’t waste a minute of darkness beating feet to catch up to the male, determine what he was, and report back.

Satisfied she could do nothing more, she leaned back in her rocker, intending to read the rest of the chapter. But sleep overtook her, and she was soon snoring in her chair.

* * *

SCOTCH BROOM: Book 3 of The Witches of Galdorheim
A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good.

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Kat expects to have a great time on her graduation trip to Stonehenge. However, from the moment she leaves the witches’ arctic island, Galdorheim, she gets in nothing but trouble. Her younger half-brother tries to horn in on her trip, she gets lost in the magical Otherworld realm, is led astray by a supposed friend, then she has to confront a Scottish goddess who’s fallen on hard times.

While dodging the goddess’ minions and trying to find her way out of the Otherworld, Kat soon learns she shouldn’t underestimate the old has-been for one second; the crone still has a few tricks that can drain a witch’s magic in a flash. To make matters worse, Kat's brother secretly followed her into the Otherworld. Now he’s in danger too. Kat has to go one on one with the goddess to save herself and her brother.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Runes and Magic

A lot of fantasy novels based on Euro-centric mythologies use Runes in their plots, be it a tattooed rune on the hero’s chest, the discovery of a runic tablet that leads a worthy band of heros on a quest for dragon’s gold, or a villain who casts his dark spells in the ancient runic language. All very cool stuff.

In my Witches of Galdorheim books, I decided to use runes as the magic language. Kat, the teen witch introduced in Bad Spelling, just couldn’t get the pronunciation of the runes right. The results she got were often spectacularly wrong. In other words, she was a bad speller.

I researched runes and found a few I could use to give some depth to the magical language of the witches. Runes are like hieroglyphics in that each run stands for a word or concept rather than a letter. I found a handy phrase chart and stole what I could. Elder Futhark is the oldest known runic alphabet. Each rune has a name. Each rune is a word of power.

My Mashup

In Bad Spelling, Kat’s teacher listens to the misspelling witch as she attempts a simple transformation spell:
Kat held her wand over the pentagram and repeated the spell, omitting the spell’s finishing word. Miss Mariah shook her head. "Katya, you said îgwaz instead of perßô."
Later, Kat’s aunt Thordis uses a runic spell to enable her to speak with Katya’s dead father. I found this spell to raise the dead on an Icelandic runic stave site (how cool is that!).
When she felt her magic to be at its peak, Thordis opened the book to the chapter titled Speaking to the Dead. She zipped through the incantation:

Þat kann ec iþ tolpta,
ef ec se a tre vppi
vafa virgilná
sva ec rist oc i rvnom fác,
at sa gengr gvmi
oc melir viþ mic.

But nothing happened. She slowed down and spoke the spell with precision, putting as much magical force as she could into it. Finally, she felt the spell break through the barrier.

Bad Spelling (Book 1 of the Witches of Galdorheim)
A klutzy witch, a shaman's curse, a quest to save her family. Can Kat find her magic in time?
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If you’re a witch living on a remote arctic island, and the entire island runs on magic, lacking magical skills is not just an inconvenience, it can be a matter of life and death–or, at least, a darn good reason to run away from home. 

Katrina’s spells don’t just fizzle; they backfire with spectacular results, oftentimes involving green goo. A failure as a witch, Kat decides to run away and find her dead father’s non-magical family. But before she can, she stumbles onto why her magic is out of whack: a curse from a Siberian shaman.

The young witch, accompanied by her half-vampire brother, must travel to the Hall of the Mountain King and the farthest reaches of Siberia to regain her magic, dodging attacks by the shaman along the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Salmon-Long, Dark, and Handsome Hero

Not All Tall, Dark, and Handsome Heroes are Human

Heroes don’t need to be human or even a sexy male alien. When a witch’s power is speaking to animals, a hero can turn up anywhere, even in the middle of an icebound arctic sea.

In the Witches of Galdorheim series, Katrina the teen witch, has the ability to speak with animals. She doesn’t even know she has this ability until she leaves her home, Galdorheim Island. Since the island is somewhere in the middle of the Barents Sea above the Arctic circle, leaving home isn’t a walk in the park. Crossing iced over water in bitter cold weather is hard enough, but when the ice starts to break up and some dangerous creatures appear, it becomes a life-threatening situation. Kat and her brother, Rune, confront an angry and sleepy polar bear. He wasn’t in the mood to chat.

Fortunately for the kids, a HERO appears. Just because he happens to be an orca (killer whale) makes him no less heroic.

I’ll let the whale tell his own tale.

Salmon the Orca Hero

Chchchchch skreak! That be hello in human people talk. My name be Salmon Hunter because I so good hunting the fish. My friend Kat Witch call me Salmon.

When I meet her for first time, I save her from a white tooth she say human people call polar bear. This first time, I save Kat Witch from sinking too deep in the ocean. I think she should learn swim better, but I not blame her since she without fins or flukes. Funny thing the whitetooth awake. Should be in den this season. Too early to wake up. I think some bad magic wake him up to kill Kat Witch. She says that's truth. A shaman, she says.

Other times I save Kat Witch when she in trouble. All these savings written in books, but I never learn to read human words. Besides, books get too wet in the ocean. Soon fall apart.

The others of my pod don't speak to Kat Witch. They be what human people call stuck up. Think they're too good to speak to her. I think it best thing ever! It like getting new toy. Orcas love play. Spend most of time hunting, but playing is important too.

She a lucky Kat Witch to have me be her friend. I think she die many times if me doesn’t save her. She say I be her hero. Me say I’m just Salmon Hunter, the smartest and best looking killer whale in the seas.

Someday I visit Kat Witch home. It island named Skeckkeeech. It mean witches’ home. It way north and hard to find, but Salmon can find anything! Salmon is a hunter, after all. Here be part of the story showing me saving Kat Witch's life for first time.

Excerpt from Bad Spelling

Over the cracking and groaning of the ice breaking up, Kat heard a loud chitter, and then a high-pitched whistle. She stopped so suddenly Rune ran into her. Catching him before he fell, she moved him to one side and turned back toward the orca, her eyes wide with surprise.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“Chchchchch skreak!” the orca answered.

Rune looked at the orca; then his sister; then back to the orca. He leaned close to Kat’s ear. “You understand it?” he whispered.

Kat nodded, edging back to the orca, careful of her footing on the slippery ice.

Kakkakakkak cheechee,” the orca screeched.

“Thank you. I didn’t think the bear seemed very friendly either.”

Kat looked over at her brother, who stood staring at her open-mouthed. “Better shut that, little brother, before your teeth freeze.” Her eyes sparkled with delight. Rune closed his mouth and zipped the hood up over his face.

In a muffled voice, he exclaimed, “You can… You really can talk to animals!”

“Excuse me a moment, Mr. Orca,” she said to the big dolphin. She turned to Rune, her face lit up with a delighted grin. “I guess I can. But why so surprised? You were the one who suggested I could.”

Kat turned back to the killer whale. “I think it’s because he,” she nodded at the orca, “is a highly evolved being. At least, that’s what he’s telling me.” After a pause, Kat giggled and said, “Must be why you can’t understand him, Rune!”

Rune slapped a glare on her then suppressed a smile. “Very funny, Kat. So funny, I forgot to laugh.”

She chatted happily with the orca when several more huge black and white heads popped up through the gaps in the ice. Rune and Kat had to step back again as the ice splintered with sharp cracking sounds.

“Back up, Kat, back up,” Rune said. For the first time in her life, Kat heard fear in Rune’s voice.
“You don’t need to be afraid.”

“I’m not. At least, I’m not afraid of the whales—”


“Orcas, then. It’s the ice breaking up. We could get dumped in the water.”

As if saying it made it true, the ice split once more. The crack exposing the frigid sea raced toward Rune and Kat. Before they could get traction to run, the ice floe created by the splintering tipped up and both of them fell into the water.

Kat’s parka filled with the icy water, and she sank. The sudden, intense cold knocked the breath out of her. She tried to claw her way back to the surface, but the weight of the parka kept dragging her down. Looking up, she could see Rune above her, thrashing toward the air. Blackness clouded the edges of her vision, and her struggles weakened.

Strangely, Kat felt warm. This is nice, she thought. Her arms floated out from her sides as she sank deeper.

Something big and black came up under Kat, and she rose up through the frigid water. She reached out with one hand and grasped a rubbery fin with all the strength she had left. The orca pushed her to the surface and shoved her out of the water. She landed face first on the ice.

About the Book

BAD SPELLING - Book 1 of The Witches of Galdorheim Series
A klutzy witch, a shaman's curse, a quest to save her family. Can Kat find her magic in time?

Buy Sites: Ebooks only $0.99
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If you’re a witch living on a remote arctic island, and the entire island runs on magic, lacking magical skills is not just an inconvenience, it can be a matter of life and death–or, at least, a darn good reason to run away from home.

Katrina’s spells don’t just fizzle; they backfire with spectacular results, oftentimes involving green goo. A failure as a witch, Kat decides to run away and find her dead father’s non-magical family. But before she can, she stumbles onto why her magic is out of whack: a curse from a Siberian shaman.

The young witch, accompanied by her half-vampire brother, must travel to the Hall of the Mountain King and the farthest reaches of Siberia to regain her magic, dodging attacks by the shaman along the way.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Across Time and Space: A Chat Between Eddie and Hetty

Through some type of eerie, time-jumping technical cross-up, it appears a Victorian street urchin from my novel The Mud Rose, has come in contact with 1930s era boy named Eddie, who relates his real-life exploits in Marva Dasef’s Tales Of A Texas Boy. Neither Hetty nor Eddie seem aware that anything too strange had occurred, but Renee and I thought it was worth recording. I like it when characters converse within a book, but it's even cooler when they cross between books to chat.
* * *
Eddie Perkins, age twelve, Hereford, Texas, 1933.
I wanted ta talk with Uncle Harley ‛bout comin’ ta visit in the Spring. Since we didn’t have a telephone out at the farm, I had to use the phone here at the mercantile. I asked Mr. Brown, and he said it was okay longs I ask the oper...the lady what answers how much it costs. I picked up the earpiece, spun the hand crank to ring up, and talked into the horn. I said I wanted Mr. Harley Granger in Linden. She says fine, and I wait awhile. Pretty soon, I hear a some scratchy sounds and I yell, “Hello, hello. Is anybody there?”
Hetty Styles, age ten, London, England, 1888.
I was in the front hall when that telephone thing went off. It’s some new-fangled contraption what Mrs. Granger says Paige, Dane, and Jack’s Uncle Clive had put it a month or two back. I let it ring a few times thinking she’d come to answer it, but she didn’t, so I figured I’d better. I picked it up a bit ginger-like, and said, “Uh, um, London 2-1-6.” Think that’s what Mrs. Granger says. I’d never talked into one of them things before, so I figured they’d have to excuse me if that weren’t right. “Who’s calling, please?” That’s the other thing what she says.
This is Eddie. I’m tryin’ to talk to my Uncle Harley Granger in Linden, Texas, but I don’t think I’m talking to who I want. You don’t sound like a Texas gal. Do you know my Uncle Harley? He don’t have any young girls and you don’t sound like you’re any older than my sister. If you don’t mind, would you tell me yer name?
Hi-ya, Eddie. I’m Hetty, and I’m coming on for ten. I’m in London, England. And there in’t no Mr. Granger here, just a Mrs. You say you’re in Texas? That’s in the United States of America, innit? Hard to believe I can be talking to someone that far off. But then, lots of things has been happening lately that’s kinda hard to believe. Until recent, me and our Pip – that’s me brother, he’s six – was dossing down in a shed of a night, and going hungry more often than not, but now we’s staying at a toff’s house with lotsa grub, and feather beds, and everything.
Well, I was tryin’ to reach Linden, not London, but it’s okay if this is a Granger’s place. I don’t know any Toff’s, though I think it’s nice you got a feather bed. If ya can tell me who you are, maybe I can figger out how I got to talkin’ to ya.
Not Toff like in a name. Toff’s just a fancy word for rich people. Me and Pip’s staying here ’til we goes to Canada. The Barnardo folks is arranging for that. My Canadian mates say it’s freezing cold in Canada in winter, and blistering hot in summer. It like that where you live?

Well, Canada is pretty far away from our Texas farm, so it’s maybe not as hot. It surely is hot here in the summer. We can get frost and occasional snow though. I recall a midnight ride crossin' the prairie in moonlight when the frost was on the ground. I thought it a mite perty, even if boys aren't supposed to think about such things. Worst part was findin' our neighbor lady dead in her kitchen.

Pip and me’s seen a few dead folk lying in the street. You kinda gets used to it. It’s how things is in a big city like London. Not likely to be in a city once we gets to Canada though. We’s probably gonna be on a farm or summut. You like living on a farm?

Oh, yeah! A farm is a great place to live. You shouldn't fear that at all. Mosta my good times have to do with the farm animals. We got horses, naturally, and pigs, chickens, a coupla milk cows. Our big money comes from our jackass, Beau. He's a frisky fella and all the folks round here like to use him for a stud. Mules are very important to farmin'.

Our Pip’s mad for horses, so if we gets on a farm what’s got them, he’ll be over the moon. I knows about chickens, and pigs, and cows, even though I’ve not had much to do with ’em. Dunno that I’ve ever seen a mule. What’s a mule? You said jackass, too, like they was the same. Is they?
Well, a jackass is a like a male donkey, but lots bigger, and they breed with mares, that’s female horses. When the foal is born, it ain’t a horse nor a jackass, but a crossbreed what’s called a mule. We’re pretty busy what with all the animals to tend.
How’s about school? I didn’t take to it right off, but I can see where it has its advantages. We learns about reading and writing, and doing sums, and all the countries in the Empire. Them the kind of things you learns about too?

School's okay. We gotta ride the horses to school every day. We learn all the stuff you do, I 'spect. Readin', writing', and 'rithmatic. I would like to know about that Empire thing. We live in what's called a deemocracy.

Your school must be quite a ways off if you has to ride horses. We walks to ours. An empire’s all the countries what belongs to England, and has the queen on their dosh. Canada belongs to the Empire, but I don’t think America does. Our queen’s Victoria. Who’s yours?

We don't have no queens and kings. We got a President. Right now, that’s Mr. Franklin Roosevelt. He's kind of like royalty. His cousin, Teddy, was President, too, but we elect presidents every four years. Things are hard right now. Pa says the ee-com-onee got busted. Then the Dustbowl happened. Made a lot of people have to leave their farms to find work elsewhere. Some came down our way from Oklahoma. Pa hired some of 'em on, even though things are tough all over.

Guess your president’s kind of like our prime minister. They changes at elections, too. Can’t say as I knows too much about ’em. Don’t think they comes down the East End. The queen don’t, neither, but she do go out and about a bit now more’n she used to. Lots of people saw her during her Jubilee procession. You ever seen your president?

I ain't had the privilege of meeting President Roosevelt, but I would surely like to and shake his hand. Pa says he's doing good things to get the country back on its feet.
England’s supposed to be doing real well at the moment, since we’ve got the Empire and all, though I don’t knows too many people what’s flush. It’s pretty hard graft for most of us. Up ’til we had the Barnardo folk looking after us, me and Pip had to go out larking.
What’s larking?
Mudlarking. Picking stuff out of the mud down by the river and selling it on.
I don't quite understand that. We got mudflats around here, but there ain't usually much in those dried up arroyos worth havin'. Sometimes I can find a dried up frog, but that's about all. What kind of stuff do you find?
Coal, nails, rope, old dishes, buttons, and the like, anything what a rag and bottle shop might buy. Wouldn’t have no use for frogs, though Nolly once told me that French people eats ’em, but no one round here do.

My Pa told me about the French folks eatin' frogs and even snails! He was in France durin' the Great War.
What war was that?
Supposed to be the war to end all wars. I know Americans, French folk, and Germans were fightin’, but I’m not sure who else.
England’s been in a lot of wars. Last one I remembers hearing about was some place called the Transvaal. Don’t make sense, do it, people going all over the place just to kill each other. Not that they don’t do that right here, too. You heard about that nutter, Jack the Ripper, doing in poor working girls?
Yeah, I heard about that Jack the Ripper feller. Right gives me shivers thinkin' about it. Did they ever figure out who he was?
Not yet. Me and Pip think we might have seen him. Can’t get anyone to believe us, though. ’Cept our mates, of course. And him. Think he believes us all right. One of the reasons we’s going to Canada is to get away from him. Long ways from home though, so we doesn’t quite know what to expect. Your Texas sounds a bit similar, so talking to you’s been a help in that regard. Anything else go on round your way that we might find of interest?
Well, ain't nothin’ too exciting, lessen you think a tame bear, a pig which can fly, a chicken what won't stay out of the kitchen, or finding mammoth bones on the prairie are interestin'. Me, my best time was when I got to go on a real cattle drive.

Our Pip’d probably like that too, if he got to ride a horse. The rest sounds pretty good and all. Better’n what we was doing here, anyway.

Yer brother’d be right at home here. We always ride our horses everywhere. I could let him ride Sam if’n he wanted.
Considerin' the hard life you lived, seems like you wouldn't have much fun, but there musta been sumthing excitin'. What's the most fun things you got to do in London?

Oh, we has our good times, like the queen’s jubilee, and the Lord Mayor’s procession, though that were better last year than this. An even on ordinary days, there’s organ grinders with monkeys what does tricks, and Punch & Judy shows and such. Day or two ago we even went to the zoo and saw all manner of funny-looking beasties. Actually, I think we’s just about to go off somewheres again, ’cos I hears Mrs. Granger calling, S’pose I’d best get off this thing. Nice talking to you.
Nice talkin’ with you too, Hetty. When ya’ll get to Canada, maybe you and Pip can come on down ta visit sometime.
* * *

They hung up at that point, thus breaking their most unusual connection, but if you’d like to read about Hetty and Pip’s adventures in Victorian London, The Mud Rose is available at Amazon

Eddie’s Depression-era adventures are recounted in, Tales Of A Texas Boy, available at:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mongolian Heavy Metal - Just had to share

Hangai hamtlag
Posted by Suugii Baatar on Saturday, February 14, 2015

Monday, September 07, 2015

Side Trip - Time Travel Tale by Renee Duke


Available now on Amazon

Earth-born adolescents, Meda and Kirsty, are eager to explore the Zaidus system. They just don’t want to explore it as members of an organized tour group. The chaperone’s a harridan, and most of the places they’re forced to visit are really boring. Striking out on their own holds far more appeal, and despite limited funds and unexpected mishaps, they manage quite well – at first. But thanks to a bratty little brother, a dimension-travelling alien girl, and a handsome alien prince, an independent tour of the Zaidus planets is not without its complications. 


Our employer had an automatic maintenance system that took care of most of the house and yard work, but someone had to programme it and keep an eye on things. Since Jip had occasionally helped her father’s housekeeper do something similar on Heltiga, she volunteered to do that. Kirsty and I got the supposedly simple job of exercising Mrs. Thoyen’s pet snurboks. 
These were a pair of large, solidly built quadrupeds with orangey-yellow fur. Their huge heads were almost on level with our shoulders and had three short, bumpy antennas attached to them.

The control devices for the holding beams attached to the snurboks’ collars had a number of functions. Unfortunately, we had no chance to familiarize ourselves with them before the animals shot out the door.

“They seem a little rambunctious today,” Mrs. Thoyen commented as we sailed past her. “Be firm with them, girls. They’re strong, but manageable.”

Manageable? We begged to differ. We even couldn’t pull them up in time to stop them crashing into the hapless individual walking by the gate. Descending to the ground in a tangled heap of people and snurboks, I recognized our victim as the Ralgonian man from our ship. I wondered if he had come to Sustra on vacation. If so, he did not seem fated to enjoy himself.

We scrambled up, full of apologies, but had no time to help the Ralgonian to his feet. The snurboks took off again, loping through the streets with us running full throttle behind them.

This went on until we got to a park. Obviously familiar with the place, they scorned the use of public paths and with yelps of joy, plunged down a slope leading into a wood. I tripped and tumbled to the bottom, letting go of my snurbok’s control device.

He went on quite well without me. Looking up, I could see Kirsty was still attached to her snurbok, which was pursuing a zigzag course through a section of trees. Just beyond the trees was a wide, but fortunately for Kirsty, shallow, stream. The brute went right through it, stopping only long enough to shake itself on the opposite bank. Lunging forward again, it jerked its control device out of Kirsty’s hands. Unable to stop, she went headfirst into a large, prickly bush.

The snurbok continued on its way until the handle of the control device flying loose behind it got snagged in a tree. Hearing its forlorn yowl, my snurbok stopped tearing around and went to join it. Before I could jump up to recapture it, Kirsty extricated herself from the bush and went stamping across to the snurboks. She was dripping wet, covered with prickles, and absolutely furious.

“That does it!” she roared. “I’ve had it. Who do you two, big, daft, furry gawks think you are, thundering aboot all over the place? I expected to move along at a fair clip with creatures your size, but I’ll not, I repeat, I’ll not, be trundled up hills, and doon hills, and through mucky water, and into prickles. Look at me. I’m drookit!”

Frightened by her outburst, the snurboks cowered and tried to hide behind each other.

About Renee

Renee Duke grew up in Ontario/ B.C., Canada and Berkshire, England. In addition to this young adult novel, she is the author of the middle grade time travel novels, The Disappearing Rose and The Mud Rose, the first two books in the eventual five-book Time Rose series, and has just completed the third book, The Spirit Rose.

Visit Renee's Blog Time Traveling with Kids for interesting historical facts and findings of interest to both kids and adults.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Summer Rerun - Cait Sidhe from Scotch Broom


Many many, many, many writers are in love with the Celtic myths. I’ve delved into them, too. However, I’m not a big fan of the flitty little cute faeries (or fae or fairies). In Celtic mythology, there’s a fairy (or fae or faerie) for just about any purpose. The “serious” fantasies love the idea of the fairy troupe. More than a few equate fairies to Arthurian legends, more specifically Merlin.

The third book in the Witches of Galdorheim series, Scotch Broom, is set in the Scottish Highlands. Of course, I had to include at least one fairy in the mix or I’d be violating some unwritten fantasy rule.

If you write Celtic fantasy, then you know that Sidhe is pronounced Shee in Ireland and Sith in Scotland. I wonder where George Lucas got Sith lords? Hmm.

Anyway, I found a particular sidhe I liked. She’s a big black cat with a white chest. Aha! I used to have the model for said cat (in a much reduced size) sitting at my door every morning demanding a handout. We called her Bitch Kitty. Yes, she had attitude in spades. So, she's my model for Cait Sidhe, a companion to my erstwhile heroine, Kat.

In the third book of the Witches of Galdorheim series, Kat has already found two companions: Sianach a stag and Cusith (another sidhe) a giant, green hound. They’re tromping through the swamps trying to find the Trow King’s hall in the middle of the Otherworld (the alternate magic world in the Scottish Highlands).


They marched on in a straight line, having no better idea of which direction to go, while Cusith zigzagged ahead of them with his nose close to the earth. Suddenly, the green hound raised his head and bayed. A moment later, he galloped across the moor, water splashing when his huge paws hit the tiny pools.

“What’s up with him?” Kat asked.

Sianach lifted his chin for a better view. “He appears to be in pursuit of an animal of some type.”

“I hope he’s not hurting some little swamp creature.”

“If he is, then the beast is making Cusith pay for the privilege.”

Kat and Sianach walked faster after Cusith, the dog’s trail marked by flying grass and water. When Cusith finally stopped, Kat and Sianach trotted to catch up. The hound was standing over something furry and black that lay on the ground beneath his huge paw.

“No, don’t! Don’t hurt it,” Kat called out. Cusith turned his head toward her, tongue lolling.

“I won’t. It’s not food.”

Kat reached Cusith’s side and knelt down to examine the raggedy clump of ebony fur. It leapt up, scrabbling for a foothold, but Cusith clamped his paw down harder to hold it still.

“It’s a cat!” Kat reached out with her mind but met the same blank wall she had with Sianach and Cusith. So, she tried the old-fashioned way. “Here kitty, kitty. Nice kitty.” An ear-splitting yowl almost knocked Kat back on her rear.

“I am not your ‘nice kitty,’ you rude thing! I am Cait Sidhe; I’ll have you know. Surely, this stag...and mutt...have heard of me.”

Sianach, who stood to one side to stay out of the fray, nodded his elegant head. “Yes, I know you. Not that it is a pleasure.”

The cat hissed and swiped a pawful of razor sharp claws across Cusith’s foot. The big dog quickly released the black cat. “Sorry. Just having some fun.”

Cait sat up and licked a couple of swipes over the white spot on her chest.

“Now you’ve covered me with mud. It’ll take hours to get clean again.”

* * *

SCOTCH BROOM: Book 3 of The Witches of Galdorheim
A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good.
Kat is on her way to an exciting trip to Stonehenge but is led astray by a jealous rival. Caught in the Otherworld within the Scottish Highlands with a has-been goddess trying to kill her, Kat has to defeat the goddess and rescue her brother from the hag's clutches.

At Amazon in ebook and print. Ebook on sales for $0.99
At Smashwords (all ebook formats). Use Coupon Code AS74L to get the book for $0.99

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Summer Rerun: Remy from Ultimate Duty

Today's excerpt is from my SFR, "Ultimate Duty." It's Space Opera, so don't be looking for big thinking. Like Star Trek, it does deal with future social issues based on today's growing power of mega-corporations. It's easy to follow a line into the future where all of us governed by an interplanetary corporation. It's also easy to believe the corp's in charge of everything wouldn't be particular beneficent. This is an old-time SF plot with good company in many very well-known dystopian genres of the 20th Century: 1984, Brave New World, a lot of Phillip K. Dick's books: Blade Runner, Total Recall, the entire Alien series, and, of course, Firefly.

Strong female leads used to be few and far between, however, the evolution of the science fiction romance genre has put women in the pilot's seat of the space transport, not serving cocktails to the crew. I could make a good case that science fiction was the driving force behind the kick-ass hero of the female gender. I recall Robert Heinlein's female characters to be the real force in many of his books--the women with which the putative hero depends to keep him alive.

Watching the first Alien movie with Ripley (well played by Sigourney Weaver) taking on an alien race almost single-handedly. One scene in Aliens (the second movie) is burned into my memory. Ripley is in the elevator going down to rescue the little girl. She's armed to the teeth, carrying multiple weapons, she's sweaty, dirty, not a pretty picture. But her face radiates determination. Fear and the will to overcome the fear. That's just it. Ripley was the embodiment of everything great about strong female characters.

They don't need any man to save them from the tentacled beast, thank you very much. But they're not man-haters threatening the masculinity of the young guys who typically dote on science fiction (okay, remember this was in the 70s). Ripley was a new kind of woman. Strong, brave, but not arrogant like the male heroes are often portrayed.

Ripley was my role model for Remy when I first wrote a short story about her nearly 30 years ago. My other role model for Remy was my friend, Dawn. Six feet and red-headed, she was tough but enjoyed the attention she got from guys. So Remy is as brave and strong as Ripley, and as sexy and confident as my buddy, Dawn.


Remy and Garrett arrived at the outer wall path that led to the dock ports. Remy hoped at least one shuttle was still attached to the station. She dropped to the floor and peered down the slope of the passageway. Two guards stood at the entrance to bay 5. Luckily, they faced the opposite direction. Remy slid back and pointed silently, then held up two fingers. Garrett nodded and pointed left and then at himself. Remy nodded.

With no way to get any closer unseen, they must use speed instead. Both stepped back a couple of paces, so they’d hit the corner at full tilt. A nod from Garrett, and they sprinted through the twenty meters separating them from the guards. One guard turned to look only when Remy and Garrett were close enough to attack. The guard yelled, "Halt!" as he raised the barrel of his blaster. The second guard turned with a confused expression and didn’t manage to raise his own weapon before Remy reached him.

Remy felt her mind and body slip into fighting mode. Time slowed for her and she noted every detail of the guard’s stance. She leaped high in the air, her legs coiled like springs. The second guard finally lifted his rifle but never had the chance to fire. Remy drove both feet into his abdomen, slamming him against the wall with the force of her strike. In the low gravity she landed easily on her feet crouched and ready. She crossed her arms against her torso, grabbing the guard’s belt with her left hand and prepared to strike with her right. The man’s eyes widened when Remy’s backhand arced toward him. The force of the blow across his jaw sent him tumbling to the floor.

She glanced over at Garrett and saw he had already disabled the other guard, now curled on the floor moaning. Garrett kicked him in the head with an almost gentle tap. The connection of his shod foot on the guard’s temple did the job, knocking the man unconscious.

Garrett walked over to Remy’s guard and bent down. He pressed two fingers against the side of the man’s neck. "Good. He’ll live."

"If I wanted him dead, he’d be dead," Remy snarled.

* * *

Ultimate Duty
Amazon Kindle and Print (only $0.99 for ebook)
Smashwords all ebook formats (only $0.99 with coupon YG47Y)

A military officer must choose between her sworn duty or her rebellious blood ties.

Remy Belieux, a woman born into a life of servitude on a repressive factory planet, is desperate for a different life. When she's accepted into the Space Service Academy, run by the organization that enslaved her planet, she discovers the truth behind generations of rebellion.

As her heart pulls her toward Phillip, the leader of the rebel group, she finds herself questioning where her loyalties truly lie. Now she must choose, fighting for her life against impossible odds.