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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Which is which? The medieval Succubus and Incubus

The beliefs surrounding incubi and succubi in the middle ages were complex. Both were held to be supernatural beings but of which sex? It seems these demons, who sought to tempt mankind by seducing women and men into having sex with them, could be male or female at will.

As a female sexual demon, a succubus, the creature would beguile a man into intercourse and so obtain the man's seed. (The word succubus derives from the Latin 'to lie under'.)

Then, appearing as a handsome male spirit, an incubus, the demon would make love to a woman and spread the seed in her. (The word incubus comes from the Latin verb 'to lie upon'.) In medieval times, the wizard Merlin was believed to have been born as a result of a demon-woman mating.

Taking these ideas, I made the incubus in my Dark Maiden deliberately androgynous - eerily beautiful but possibly of either gender.

Here's a brief excerpt:

Somewhere during their kissing her anger vanished.
      From inside the hut she heard a broken sobbing. Father William, she hoped, finally poleaxed with remorse.The rowans shook with a sudden wind and the rooks cawed. She kissed Geraint again. Sensing the chill air trembling around them, she turned.
      A sour-faced, beautiful being, neither male nor female, appeared immediately in front of them in the clearing beside the priest’s house.
      “I cannot stand against you both.” With this complaint, the incubus scowled and pouted, like a young virgin of either sex. The winter light shimmered on the demon’s flawless skin, lit hair that at times looked golden, at times black and revealed a lissome body clothed in a white robe. Or was the long, sweeping tunic red?

Read Chapter One

(The picture of Lilith is from a painting by John Collier.)

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book review: One Snowy Knight by Deborah Macgillivray

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Beautiful Skena MacIain, Lady of Craigendan, is on the verge of losing everything she holds dear. With her husband killed at the battle of Dunbar, and the men of Craigendan slain or captured, her small holding is protected by only the women, young boys, and old men who are left. A neighboring chieftain has set his sights on Skena, and she fears that he’ll take Craigendan by force during this coming Yuletide season. Skena needs a miracle, a wish-come-true granted by Cailleach, the Lady of Winter…but things are never so easy as just making a wish…

When Skena’s young son and daughter find a wounded knight in a blinding snowstorm, she fights against the hope she begins to feel. They’ve wished for a protector—but can Noel de Servian be that man? As Skena nurses the handsome warrior back to health, even she begins to believe he might be the salvation for her little keep…and more, he might hold the key to her heart.  In a season of joy, Skena soon learns he carries a dark secret that could shake her home—and her heart—to the very core...

My review:

Give me a knight in battle-scarred armor with a dream he refuses to give up, and I'll be his damsel.

There is so much going on from the first pages of the story, you can feel the overwhelming burden that lays on Skena's shoulders and empathize with her struggles to keep hold of her dreams and desires.  However, just like any true warrior woman, despite the mounting struggles, she refused to give up and give in.  I adored her as a mother, and melted with her as she fell for her knight, and identified with her as a strong woman.

Noel de Servian survived years of war clinging to his humanity and future wishes, only to find his own weighty burden from the last battle may destroy all he clings to.  However, just like any true warrior, the moment he sees the opportunity presented before him, he goes above and beyond to lay claim to his reward of family and home and peace.  I loved his confidence in claiming Skena and her children, and his powerful desire to protect and provide for them... no matter the enemy.

So much was happening in the story with all the adventure, adversaries, worries, and intrigue, but through it all you could also clearly discern Noel and Skena's deep desire grow beyond their instant attraction and solidify into something strong and beautiful.  All the trials served their purpose, to meld the two together stronger than before.  Noel loving on Skena's children was also shown in a variety of ways that left little doubt just where he stood with them, and it's always heartmelting to see a big strong man be gentle with little ones. Another thing that stood out to me was the family bonds with the Challon men.  Brotherhood like theirs was something unique, and they cherished and nurtured it like the treasure it is.

I savored my time back in Scotland with the Dragons of Challon and I'm looking forward to discovering who's story is up next.  In the mean time, I have some novellas to check out.

Purchase links:
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Voting in Colonial America

Not only is 2020 an election year, it is also the 100th anniversary U.S. women winning the right to vote. In recognition of this milestone, I will be writing a series of blogs on the history of the vote. This is the first one.

In 1607, the first permanent English colony in North America was founded at Jamestown, Virginia. From that time on, voting rights have been all over the map – literally.

As the colonies were established, common English beliefs about race, gender, judgement, wealth, religion, and property ownership influenced who was considered eligible to vote. There was much variability across time and place. These beliefs did not manifest as universal suffrage in any of the colonies. In some places, free blacks, Native Americans and/or women who owned property could vote, but these were the exceptions.

“Bacon’s Rebellion” resulted in far-reaching and long-lasting changes in the social order and enfranchisement. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a group of disgruntled frontiersmen, indentured servants, free blacks and enslaved people in a revolt against the colonial governor, Sir William Berkeley. Bacon alleged that the governor was corrupt and protected the Indians for his own benefit 
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After chasing Berkley from Jamestown, and eventually burning the Virginia colonial capitol, forces sent from England ultimately suppressed the rebellion.

The government was put under stronger royal control. Property requirements for voting were restored. Indentured servitude was eliminated, while hardening the codes for African slavery and restricting the rights of free blacks. This was done in an effort to divide the races and prevent coalitions that could lead to future uprisings. Within a few decades, all colonies had enacted similar laws preventing enslaved persons and free blacks from voting.  

 Colonies with large Protestant majorities often denied the vote to Catholics and Jews. After 70 years of the Maryland Toleration Act requiring religious tolerance, Maryland barred Catholics from voting in 1718. Nearly three decades later, in 1737, the New York General Assembly disenfranchised Jews. At that time, four colonies prevented Jews and five prevented Catholics from voting.  

By 1732, each of the 13 colonies had imposed some type of restrictions requiring voters to be landowners, taxpayers, and/or men who owned a substantial amount of personal property.

Voters in colonial times often had to travel long distances to a courthouse or other polling place, which meant incurring expenses for food and lodging while losing time from earning their livings. Presumably, this discouraged turnout, especially of rural voters. However, election days became social occasions in many places. Amidst much eating and drinking, the qualified voters would gather and designate their preferences by standing or voice votes, making each person’s choices public. Some colonies published lists showing how each person had voted.

More formal voting procedures were enacted in some colonies. Charles S. Sydnor described Virginia’s practices in his book, Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Washington's Virginia, this way:
 As each freeholder came before the sheriff, his name was called out in a loud voice, and the sheriff inquired how he would vote. The freeholder replied by giving the name of his preference. The appropriate clerk then wrote down the voter's name, the sheriff announced it as enrolled, and often the candidate for whom he had voted arose, bowed, and publicly thanked him.

Initially only a few colonies used some form of ballot, but over time, secret paper ballots replaced public voting.

To be continued in my February blog.

Ann Markim

    Buy Links:      Paperback at Amazon    Amazon Kindle

Monday, January 20, 2020

Howe & Hummel: The Crookedest and Most Successful Lawyers of the Gilded Age

If you've read my novel Courting Anna, with its female lawyer protagonist, you'll suspect that I have a special interest in lawyers in history.  Whether it's 19th century women lawyers in America, like Belva Lockwood and Clara Shortridge Foltz, or the fictional lawyers who inhabit Victorian novels, like Dickens's Jaggers and Anthony Trollope's Mr. Chaffanbrass, I love to read about them.  One of the most fascinating pairs in 19th century legal history, though, is the notorious Howe & Hummel, who dominated a certain part of the legal landscape in Gilded Age New York -- the most crooked and the most sensational.

The partners were, in many ways, opposites.  William Howe, born in England but always a bit elusive about his past, was extremely tall and stout, and flashy, loving to wear diamonds.  Theatrical in the courtroom, he specialized in criminal cases, and was on retainer for many of the most notorious crooks of his time.  Abraham Hummel, on the other hand, was barely five feet tall, and much less dramatic in his self-presentation, but equally effective.  Specializing in civil cases, he also maintained a sideline in blackmail.  He began as a clerk in Howe's mailroom but within six years, and with apparently no formal legal education, he had risen to full partnership.

William Howe

Howe and Hummel believed in bluster -- and weren't terribly concerned with the truth.  Their clients ranged from famous fence "Marm" Mandelbaum, through whose warehouse many of the stolen goods in New York passed, notorious burglars like John "Red" Leary, and many of the leaders and followers involved in the Whyos and other "gangs of New York" of the day.  Pickpockets and corrupt Tammany politicians could be found side by side in their dingy waiting room located conveniently across the street from the criminal courts building.

But their clients weren't limited to the criminal classes by any means.   Wealthy men fearing blackmail over their extracurricular activities would hire them too -- assuming the blackmailers hadn't retained them first.  Evelyn Nesbit, the chorus girl over whom millionaire Harry K. Thaw shot celebrated architect Stanford White, was a client.  So were other figures of the stage of the day, like actresses Lily Langtry and Lillian Russell and actor Sir Henry Irving, as well as the dancer known as "Little Egypt," who introduced the "hoochee coochee" to the American stage. Mark Twain hired Hummel, as well -- as did respected organizations like the Actors' Fund and the French Society of Dramatists.   As for Howe, in a case perhaps of knowing your enemy, he was invited onto the team that revised the state penal code in 1882.

Abraham Hummel

When Howe died in 1902 he was eulogized as the "dean of the criminal bar," Hummel fell victim to the rising tides of reform.  William Travers Jerome, a cousin of Winston Churchill's on his mother's side, was determined to bring Hummel down, and in July 1906 he was suspended from the practice of law and permanently disbarred. The following year he was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the courts and was imprisoned in the notorious Blackwell's Island.  Released in 1908, he set sail for England, where he lived in luxury on Grosvenor Square, until his death in 1926.

For Howe and Hummel, crime certainly paid.   You can read more about them in Richard Rovere's Howe & Hummel: Their Scandalous History and Cait Murphy's Scoundrels in Law.  I myself am looking forward to reading The Confessions of Artemas Quibble, a satirical roman-a-clef about the pair written by Arthur Train, who as district attorney faced off against both of them.

Releasing later this month from Prairie Rose, make sure to look out for A Dangerous Liberty by Mary Sheeran!   My next month's post will be a Q&A with Mary.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Appalachian Trail

Even though a lot of the country is still in the grips of winter, it's never too early to begin making plans for your spring and summer family trips. If you live anywhere in the eastern part of the country, consider hiking some or all of the great Appalachian Trail. 

Stretching from Georgia to Maine, this 2,190-mile long trail has been developed in bits and pieces since 1921, when Benton MacKaye proposed joining existing trails together to form one long trail. You can imagine the coordination that state, local and federal governments had to navigate to accomplish this feat, but the trail was finally completed in 1937. President Johnson signed into law the National Trails Systems Act in 1968, and the Appalachian Trail became the first such trail in the system. It is now a scenic trail under the protection of the federal government, the last bit of the corridor finally added in 2014. The Appalachian Trail holds the distinction of being the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. 

Each year, thousand of hikers come to test their mettle against the trail. There are three approaches to the trail if you plan to become a thru-hiker and want to go the whole way in one season. You can start from either end or from the middle. Only about one in four make it the entire distance, the average number being around 2,700 each year. The trail is at times strenuous, beautiful, peaceful and challenging. Thru-hikers are not the only ones who enjoy the trail each year. Over 3 million people use a portion of the trail each year. There are thousands of volunteers who devote their time to keep the trail in shape. For its entire length, the trail is marked by a white 2 by 6 inch blaze on the trees. Side trails are marked with a blue blaze.

Beginning around mid-March, hikers begin the trek at Springer Mountain, GA. Spring arrives earlier in the south, making this a logical approach to take. Maine can be arrived at by September or October if all goes as planned. Usually this route gets clogged with hikers starting out and won’t winnow down until about May, so plan accordingly for sleeping accommodations and the like. In order to avoid the trudging masses, and the party atmosphere, it’s become more and more popular to start in the middle, somewhere around Harper’s Ferry, WV and go either north to Katahdin Mountain in Maine, or head south to Springer Mountain, GA. Maryland and Virginia are the easiest states to hike, with New Hampshire and Maine the most difficult. In addition to some of the best scenery on the east coast of the United States, you’ll also see a variety of wildlife, the American black bear being the largest. Snakes, deer, moose, elk, bobcat, coyote, fox, raccoon and other small species share the forest with the hikers.

In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York , PA claimed himself to be the first thru-hiker. His claim was later challenged, but it brought attention to the trail. He later claimed to be the first to hike the trail from the north to the south, the first to claim to have done the trail in both directions. When Shaffer was 80 years old, he hiked the trail once more. The first woman to complete the trip on her own was 67-year old Emma Gatewood, in 1955. She hiked from south to north in 146 days. In 2017, Dale Sanders became the oldest to complete the trail at age 82. 

If the thought of hiking the entire trail is on your bucket list but time and stamina are not, why not do the fourteen-state hike, and just touch down in each state for a short time? The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has selected convenient points of entry in each state and selected some of the best hikes each state has to offer. A 14-state challenge patch is available as well as each individual state patch, for inspiration and bragging rights.

Even if you can’t devote days, weeks or months to hiking the trail, take the family for a bite-sized trek this summer. You’ll see some country that will take your breath away. 

Becky Lower has stepped on the Appalachian Trail in three different states–Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. She had hoped at one time to traverse the whole thing, but could never get it together enough to do so. Once she heard about the 14 State Challenge, though, she’s now reconsidering how she can still mark it off her bucket list. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Rules for Wagon Trains

Likewise setting forth the Duties of Wagon Master, Assistant Wagon Master, Mounted Extra-Hand, Teamsters, Night Herders, Caviyard Driver, &c., &c.

The short pamphlet by the above name was first published in 1866. It was endorsed by fourteen gentlemen who knew Mr. Cranmer “to have had sufficient experience to render him capable of forming The Regulations…”

I found a reprint at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri. My dh and I happened upon the museum quite by accident. We were spending the weekend in Kansas City, and since we love to turn every opportunity into a research trip, we traveled to nearby Independence. A quick search showed a restored train depot, which we enjoyed. But as we were driving away, the Frontier Trails Museum caught our eye. And what a find!

Recreations of frontier settings, wagons, general stores, lists of supplies recommended for a family undertaking the journey west, a pictorial timeline of westward travel… It was a treasure trove of information. We even topped off our visit with a ride in a covered wagon, pulled by a pair of silky-eared mules.

This little pamphlet gave me the idea for Coming Home, the first story set in River’s Bend, Missouri. While I took the liberty of adding a security guard as one of the train’s company, Mr. Cranmer provides some amazing details for writers like me who love all this history.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Book review: The Snow Bride by Lindsay Townsend

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England, winter, 1131

Elfrida, spirited, caring and beautiful, is also alone. She is the witch of the woods and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast?

In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.

My Review:

The Snow Bride delivers a thrilling tale of magic, adventure, and love.

I adored Magnus!!  I loved how he was not the flashy knight-in-shining-armor, but instead was battle-scarred and weary, was someone who's proved himself and could be counted on to keep fighting through any and every battle.  He desperately sought after a seemingly unattainable dream and watching him realize Elfrida was his dream come to life - what he wished for and then more - melted my heart.  The gentleness he showed Elfrida balanced wonderfully with his protectiveness that flared around her. 

Elfrida had a heart that overflowed with devotion and compassion, even as much as she struggled to truly find her place.  She had a special kind of wisdom and a stubborn tenacity that saw her through her journey, and afforded her the opportunity to learn that she wasn't on her own fighting battles anymore.

I enjoyed watching the two of them learn to compromise and trust each other - which was very much a challenge with their temperaments and instincts.  Their ability to communicate and make reparations quickly also showed strength and confidence.  Their strengths played well off the other, even if sometimes you were wanting to join the other in shaking someone... haha.

If you enjoy a adventure story filled with knightly brawn and magical good-vs-evil, this is a fantastic story to snuggle up with on the long, dark winter nights.

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