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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby… Or Have we?

As a child of the 1960’s, I witnessed, and personally experienced, discrimination on basis of my gender when I entered the college in 1969. At that time, women were commonly required to demonstrate far superior qualifications (far above those expected of men) in order to even be considered for admission to medical and other professional schools.

We were told:

Men were supposed to be doctors. Women were supposed to be nurses.

Men were superior to women in math and science so they make better engineers, scientists, and so forth.

The vast majority of CEO’s, politicians and people in positions of authority were men, and they controlled the policies and practices that perpetuated the status quo. So, when I joined in the movement demanding equal rights for women (the ERA), I believed I was in on the ground floor of a radical effort. Oh, the naiveté of a young, farm girl.

As I’ve been researching the women’s suffrage movement for my new novel, I’ve learned that I was just one of the countless foot soldiers in a long, wearisome, undertaking.

The first women’s rights convention in U.S. history was held July 19 & 20, 1848, in Seneca, New York. At the time, women were considered property of their husbands with no rights of their own. The convention organizers wanted to overturn the “code of true womanhood” which proclaimed, “Man was made for himself, woman was made for him.”

On July 19, two hundred women attended. Men were not allowed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented her treatise, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” based on the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that all men and women are created equal. The document detailed the most egregious injustices suffered by women.

Men were allowed to attend the second day of the convention, and about 40 did. The attendees adopted the DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS & GRIEVANCES. Resolutions were listed. Examples include, married women should be able to hold property in their own name, married women should be able to divorce their husbands and have custody of their children, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and women should have equal access to education and the professions. All of these initial resolutions passed unanimously.

But when the resolution for women’s suffrage was proposed, it met with powerful opposition and was subjected to a lengthy debate. The African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke in favor of suffrage stating that without the vote, women would be unable to change the laws that treated them unfairly. The resolution passed.

Innumerable future-focused, selfless women worked hard for many years to secure women’s suffrage, knowing they probably would not survive long enough to personally benefit from their efforts.

It was 72 years before passage of the amendment granting women the right to vote. Next year, 2020, will be the 100th anniversary of U.S. women winning the right to vote.
Granted, progress has been made on the resolutions passed at the Seneca Falls convention. I am grateful to those who started the women’s movement and to all who have worked for women’s equality, as I have reaped benefits from their sacrifices. But we still have a long way to go.

Today, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work.

Almost every week we learn of Title IX violations involving educational institutions’ failure to address sexual harassment of women, sexual assault of women or inequity in athletic programs.

And, women in power are not immune. as a study referenced in the Harvard Business Review shows.
Interruptions are attempts at dominance. In reviewing 15 years of Supreme Court oral argument transcripts, they found that "women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices. Many male justices are now interrupting female justices at double-digit rates per term, but the reverse is almost never true. In the last 12 years, during which women made up, on average, 24% of the bench, 32% of interruptions were of the female justices, but only 4% were by the female justices."

This summer marks 161 years since the Seneca Falls convention, and 99 years since women were granted the right to vote. We still haven’t had a female President of the United States, and women are woefully underrepresented in national and state governing bodies.

I wish I had a simple remedy for these and other examples of the inequality of women in our country. I don’t. But based on our history, we clearly must keep fighting for equal rights – if not for ourselves, for our daughters and granddaughters.

Ann Markim

    Buy Links:      Paperback at Amazon    Amazon Kindle 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Medieval Curses and More

Medieval people believed in magic, both good and bad. Spells and charms cast with evil intent were called curses and several have survived from that time. The Anglo-Saxons believed in both charms and curses, including a curse chanted against a wen or boil. The little wen is told to go away, to become smaller and vanish into nothing (Her ne scealt thu timbrien, it says - “Here not build your timbered house.”)

The Vikings also believed in the power of words and words for magic and curses. In one saga a witch called Busla issues a curse against King Hring, who has captured and threatened to kill Busla’s foster son. The curse is chanted at night (a good time for such dark matters) and Busla’s magical threats are made manifest.  In lines of poetry, the witch claims that her curse will cause Hring to go deaf, make his eyes to the leave their sockets,  make his bed like burning straw and make him impotent. In addition, any horse he rode would take him to trolls– and more.
“Shall trolls and elves and tricking witches,
shall dwarfs and etins (giants) burn down thy mead-hall…”
 The king is still reluctant and  Busla chants the strongest part of her curse, magic so dark that she does not utter it at night but which will cause Hring to be torn into pieces and flung into hell.  Faced with these gruesome outcomes, the king swears an oath to release his captives. The witch then stops the curse.

Curses could be used both as items to propel malice and as a curious form of protection. Curses were often attached to medieval and Anglo-Saxon wills, mostly to ensure the last wishes were observed, or for more day to day purposes.  The will of Siflaed (composed between 1066-68, soon after  the Norman conquest of England, which may explain the strength of the curse)  states “Whoever alters this, may God turn his face away from him on the day of judgment.”   The Will of Wulfgyth, dated 1046, promises that anyone who detracts from his will shall be denied all human comfort and joy and be delivered into hell “and there suffer with God’s adversaries without end and never trouble my heirs.”  

This form of invoking God by means of a curse to protect others remained popular throughout the Middle Ages.  In 1407, the Will of Thomas of Tyldeslegh gives a hundred shillings of silver to a John Boys to make him an apprentice in a trade and “If anyone hinder this, may God’s curse be upon him.”
Curses could be used by medieval people everywhere and in all circumstances. When a monk  in 1420 discovered that the monastery cat had peed  on the manuscript he had been copying, the monk cursed the cat and recorded his curse—with a small drawing, showing pointing hands toward the cat pee—

Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.

Which translates as:

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

Curses as medieval swear words can be found in this article here:

The ultimate curse could be considered to be excommunication, where a person and a person’s soul is cut off from God and the comforts and body of the church. This was feared as a terrible punishment but was not seen as being permanent, since a person could make amends and have the excommunication lifted.  Bishops and popes used excommunication as a political weapon and means of control.

 Objects could also be used in a malicious way. An amulet containing such vile materials as human waste, a splinter of wood from a gibbet or menstrual blood might be hidden under a bed to cause anything from impotence to sickness. Corpses of dead animals, such as black mice, were sometimes wrapped in cloth and buried under a threshold to create trouble for the inhabitants. Sympathetic magic, where a witch would ‘milk’ a knife stuck in the wall of her cottage, would enable her to steal milk from a cow. In Lucerne in 1486 2 women were accused of making hail by pouring well water over their heads. In Coventry in the 14th century a sorcerer created a wax figure of his neighbor, then drove a spike into the figure’s head and then heart. The neighbor died. In the 1130s the Jews of Trier were accused of making a wax figure of the archbishop and melting it in a fire to cause his death.

Some people were believed to have the power in themselves of cursing others, particularly if members of their family had been accused of sorcery. In 1454 at Lucerne a woman called Dorothea  was widely believed to be an ill-wisher—her mother had been burned as a witch and Dorothea, being unpopular, was accused in her turn.

Certain things were considered to be inherently cursed or evil in the Middle Ages. The wood of the elder tree was believed to be unlucky (it was said Judas had hung himself from an elder tree)and it was also thought to be a witches’ tree. Elder wood can easily splinter, so strictures against its use were in some ways sensible.  Juniper was another plant with a mixed reputation. Although a sprig of juniper was believed to protect the wearer from curses, to dream of juniper was said to foretell bad luck or a death.

What could protect against curses? Rowan was said to be a strong protector. The rowan tree, taken from the Norse “runa” meaning charm, was often planted close to houses to protect the household  against evil. Around Easter time medieval people would make small crosses from rowan wood to give further safety to the house.

Illness, famine, flood, plague and all manner of misfortunes in the Middle Ages were believed to be either due to God’s anger (as with the Black Death) or the result of a curse. Given the state of knowledge about the natural world at that time, the idea of deliberate evil by a person (or in some cases an animal) makes a strange kind of sense. Moreover people were comforted when they could use prayers, amulets, witch bottles and, in extreme cases, the law to protect themselves against the occult forces.

Belief in magic was strong in the Middle Ages. I write about curses and have characters use, or fight against them, in Dark Maiden, The Snow Bride and its sequel,  A Summer Bewitchment . I touch on the idea of God's anger and the Black Death in Dark Maiden.

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Book review: Einar of Vindemiatrix by Michael E. Gonzales


When King Thurban the Great is murdered at the hand of his younger brother, very few of his loyal knights survive. Sir Einar, one of the fiercest knights of King Thurban’s realm, has lost his entire family in the carnage. Giving up on a life of his own, he chooses to travel and teach others the principles of chivalry. For those who believe in a knightly code, he will also show them the deadly way to wield a sword in battle—including Ascella, a young woman who convinces him she is an apt student.

Though many years have passed since Einar’s painful losses and King Thurban the Great’s murder, the knight finds a way to avenge his honorable liege—but he cannot do it alone. To return Vindemiatrix to the rightful heir and restore the holdings to their former glory, he needs magic—the most powerful magic he can find.

With the help of a powerful witch, a dragon, an army of centaurs, and beautiful Ascella, Einar is determined to find a way to make things right once more in the land he loved. But he’s never fought an enemy so prepared to hold Vindemiatrix in its powerful grip—and this is a battle to the death. Can he risk losing everything he holds dear a second time?

My Review:

Oh! Did I enjoy my time in Vtramix and soaking up the magic and adventure of days gone by.  And Mike Gonzales has given me my absolute favorite story of his (so far!)!  I absolutely adored it and look forward to when I can reread this story and fall into the magic again!

Einar of Vindemiatrix delivered on so many levels -- you feel the rush of adventure, the despair of struggle, the thrill of victory, the tears of sorrow, the tension of danger, the sweetness of love.

Einar was a true knight, who even despite his world crumbling around him, carried on and kept true to the knight’s code.  He proved himself to be a man of honor, strength, and one who I’d feel safe having by my side.  While this story is so much more than Einar’s journey, without Einar, this odyssey couldn’t have happened.

Travel back in time to where knights battle forces of evil; and magic, dragons, centaurs and witches are a part of everyday life.  A time that was difficult in its simplicity, but held a charm all its own.  This is a story not to be missed!

Purchase Links:


Friday, August 23, 2019

DOG DAYS OF AUGUST by Cheryl Pierson

Hey everyone! I do have some book news but it's too soon to share it,  BOO HOO--so I'll share some updates on my sweet boys you might want to see. We just passed a milestone in our family! We've had Sweet Seminole Sammy for one whole year as of the 18th of August! (Yes, I gave him and his furry brother Max both a small dish of vanilla ice cream to celebrate, but no party hats for fear of them being eaten, too!) Here's the first day we brought Sammy home to live with us, August 18, 2018--he was (they thought) about 6 months old. He'd been adopted and brought back because he dug holes in the adoptive family's yard. What a lucky day for US, because he is the perfect dog for our home! Here he is at the shelter before we brought him home with us.

And here he is on his little bed--it's amazing to see how "small" he was compared to NOW. No way he could even fit in that bed a year later!

Here are my two babies in March of this year--Sammy is about a year older than Max, and this was taken on Max's first day with us, March 11, 2019. Sammy was thrilled from the beginning, and he has been such a protective big brother ever since Max came to live with us. We got them both from the same shelter, but they never knew each other before, as Max came much later after Sammy was gone. This was taken in March of 2019, when Sammy had been with us about 7 months, and Max was a tiny puppy--only about 10 weeks old. He was so uncertain and afraid, but Sammy took him under his wing and made him feel right at home!

Here they are this past week and look how both of them have grown! They are best buddies and love each other dearly.
They spend almost every minute together and wouldn't know what to do without one another at this point. They are such a joy and so much fun to have in our family--always up to something (and not always something good--they are a lot like kids!)

Judging how Max has grown, I think he's going to be taller than Sammy, but I believe Sammy will always be more muscular. They didn't know what breeds either of them were, but it doesn't matter. Their hearts are pure gold, and their breed is LOVE!

This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of them. I took this just a few weeks ago. Max has gathered all their toys around him on the floor, looking up so proudly, and Sammy is on the couch beside me with the look that says, "Oh, brother. See what I have to put up with?" But he wouldn't have it any other way! 

Do you have a pet you cherish with all your heart? Let's hear about them! I am such an animal lover, and I know many of you all are, too!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

New Release - The Forgotten Debutante (Cotillion Ball Saga Book 9) by Becky Lower

At fifteen, Saffron Fitzpatrick despairs of ever getting to attend a Cotillion Ball and dance the night away, but excitement still manages to find her! A chance meeting with a Union soldier in the barn leads to Saffron helping him escape—but not before they share a spontaneous, tender first kiss. 

Ezekiel Boone has lost everything. His four older brothers were killed at Chancellorsville, and he must get home and break the awful news to his family. Though farming is not in his blood, he owes it to his father to help with the place his family has claimed as their own. But how can he ever forget Saffron Fitzpatrick? 

When Saffron and Zeke find themselves working together in Washington, D.C., three years later, their powerful former attraction ignites, full force. Saffron’s older brother, Halwyn, is coordinating the massive reburial project of Union soldiers, and she has been hired to work in his office. Zeke has invaluable information–information that no one could know if they hadn’t actually been on the battlefield. 

Though the war is over, a happy future together may still elude Zeke and Saffron…especially if Saffron’s older, protective brother and the U.S. Army have anything to say about it! Will Zeke hang for desertion? Will Saffron be able to prove his innocence?

Don’t miss the exciting conclusion to the Cotillion Ball Saga!


New York City
July 15, 1863
     Releasing a shallow breath, Saffron Fitzpatrick glided down the stairs on slippered feet, avoiding the creaky spots with unerring accuracy from years of practice. She surveyed the hallway and let out the rest of the air from her lungs. All the servants were still in the basement, preparing the noonday meal. If she hurried, she could escape the house undetected. She ran to the back door, her curls bouncing around her head, and let herself out into the yard.
     Heart pounding, she stood, back up against the door, and listened. No frantic footsteps from inside the house meant her break to freedom had gone unnoticed so far.
     After two days of being housebound due to the draft riots, Saffron had tired of heeding her father’s warnings to stay indoors. Even though his motives were sound and he was only trying to protect her from the roaming mobs, she would surely perish from boredom if she spent one more moment inside. Although her intent to breathe some fresh air was dashed because the city was foul with smoke from the fires being set around town, she still cherished the freedom of being outdoors. Her skin erupted in goose bumps at her boldness. She cringed back against the door as the distant shouts came closer.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

An Interview With Saffron Fitzpatrick

Since tomorrow is the release date for Book Nine in my Cotillion Ball Series, I thought I'd share an interview with the heroine, feisty and spoiled Saffron Fitzpatrick. Here's a bit of her story:

     BL: Where and when were you born? 
           SFB: I’m Saffron Fitzpatrick, now Saffron Boone (smiles radiantly). I was born in New York City, a fascinating place. But now I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband and new baby boy, Adam.
           BL: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how. 
           SFB: I am the youngest in my family. I have eight brothers and sisters, who always looked after me and told me what to do. I grew up wrapped in their loving arms, but sometimes I felt constrained by them. So when I got the chance for a little rebellion, I usually took it.
           BL: If you could relive your life, what changes would you make?
           SFB: I wouldn’t do anything differently. Every choice I made has led me to where I am today. 
           BL: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?
           SFB: I knew immediately this man was going to be my husband. I just had to wait a long time for it to actually happen, since we met when I was only fifteen.
           BL: What drew you to the person you fell in love with?
           SFB: (Giggles) There were so many things that drew me in. First, he filled out his Yankee uniform so well. Second, he had a tragic story to tell, about how his four brothers all died during the same battle. Third: His love of family was very apparent. Oh, and that little lock of hair that falls into his eyes all the time just makes me gooey inside.
           BL: Tell us why you believe that falling in love is a gift/curse?
           SFB: Well, it’s definitely a gift in my case, but when we first met, I paid a hefty price. There were draft riots going on in New York City, since men weren’t signing up to fight the war at the same pace they were being mowed down on the battlefield. I found Zeke in my carriage house, and after pinning him down with a pitchfork until he told me his story, I knew I had to help him get home to his family. I drove our wagon to the outskirts of town with him hidden under the seat. That turned out to be a good idea, since there were armed guards preventing every able-bodied man from leaving town. And his body definitely qualified! It took an hour to get him to a place where he could run into the forest, and then an hour to get back home. My family had no idea where I was and I couldn’t tell them what I’d done. My brother was a recruiter for the Army, and if he had any idea I’d helped someone desert the Army, even though he never did sign on to fight in the first place–well, you can imagine what would happen. So, I lied about it and said I was restless and decided to go for a joy ride. What that lie got me was two months of house arrest. Oh, and my first-ever kiss! So, all in all, it was worth every moment I spent being bored silly in my room for months on end. 
           BL: What do you want from life?
           SFB: I told Zeke when we married that I’d like to have four boys, and name them after his fallen brothers. His family named their children in alphabetical order, so we now have Adam, with Benjamin, Caleb and David to go. Zeke is short for Ezekial. He’s next in line. I don’t want you to think his mother had 26 children! 
           BL: What parts of loving come easy for you? Hard?
           SFB: The attraction to Zeke came easily. From the moment I speared him with the pitchfork, not enough to do harm to him, you understand, but enough to mark his body so no other woman could have him, I knew he would be my husband. And then when he gave me a kiss–well, my fate was pretty much sealed. But he was a farm boy and I was raised in high society, so we had the culture bias to overcome. It didn’t bother me at all, but I had no knowledge of cooking, laundry, or milking cows, so I realized the struggle involved. Fortunately, after the court martial hearing, which was a whole other struggle, my father came up with the perfect solution for us. We now own a general store in St. Louis. 
           BL: Did you turn out the way you expected? The way your parents predicted?
           SFB: As the baby in the family, I was understandably spoiled my entire life. When the war dragged on through my teenage years, I missed all the balls and social events that my older sisters had gone through, so I was angry and spoiled. It took meeting Zeke and hearing about how his brothers all died in one battle, in one week, for me to find a purpose in my life. As soon as I was allowed to go out of the house again, I began volunteering at the Sanitary Commission, to track the dead at the various battles and inform the families involved. Of course, my main focus of interest was the battle at Chancellorsville, where Zeke and his brothers had been. That training led to me getting a job with the Federal Reburial Program, where Zeke and I finally reconnected.
           BL: What are you most proud of about your life?
           SFB: I’m most proud of having taken the chance to help Zeke when I did. If not for me, he would have been pressed back into service instead of returning to the farm and helping his father. It was worth two months of house confinement. 
           BL: What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
           SFB: Family, of course. We hosted all my brothers and sisters, my parents, and all our extended family, for Christmas in St. Louis last year. Now that we’re all adults and have gone our separate ways, it’s especially hard to get together in the same place at the same time. So it was a lovely holiday, and it was all Zeke’s idea, since he knew how homesick I was. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lawyers in Petticoats: The Early History of American Women in the Legal Profession

by Cate Simon

Whether because of Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman or the historical physician Mary Edwards Walker, the notion that there were women who practiced medicine in the 19th century is not surprising to 21st century audiences.  But when I find myself telling people about my novel Courting Anna, and I explain that the heroine is a lawyer in the late 19th century, I always hasten to explain: no, it’s not anachronistic.

Anna Harrison
I first started wondering about women in the law in Victorian times when I read Wilkie Collins’ 1875 novel, The Law and the Lady, in graduate school.  The heroine, Valeria Macallan, seeks to overturn the verdict which condemns the man she loves to a half-life, shadowed by suspicion.  Valeria is mocked as a “lawyer in petticoats” by the men from whom she seeks assistance, although in the end, she prevails.  Collins’s novel set me to wondering what the reality was for women in the legal profession at the time the novel was written.  As it turns out, there were no women lawyers in Great Britain, where the book is set.  In various states and territories throughout the United States, however, the answer was different.

In 1869, Arabella Mansfield was admitted to the bar in Iowa.  By 1878, Clara Shortridge Foltz had been admitted to practice in California.  Perhaps my favorite of these early women lawyers is Belva Lockwood, who collected several state bar admissions, beginning in 1872.  She was directly responsible for an 1879 Federal law, signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, which permitted qualified women attorneys to practice law in any Federal court in the United States.  In 1880, Lockwood was the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and she went on to run for President several times, despite not having the vote.  The Equity Club, a nationwide corresponding society made up of women lawyers, had 100 members in 1880 and 200 in 1890!

The fabulous Belva Lockwood and a rather disappointed-looking Myra Bradwell

Not every jurisdiction was equally accepting, of course.  Bradwell v. Illinois, heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1872, concerned one Mrs. Myra Bradwell. The state of Illinois refused her admittance to the bar on the ground of sex; the Supreme Court refused to overturn the ruling on a narrow interpretation of law. The concurrence by Justice Bradley, however, sets forth the doctrine of separate spheres, a staple of nineteenth-century thinking about gender:

The civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the
respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The harmony, not to say identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband. The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.

This is much the same reasoning that Valeria Macallan comes up against in The Law and the Lady.  With regard to Myra Bradwell, one might note that, lawyer or not, she had, and continued to have, a major impact on the legal profession.  She was the editor and publisher of the Chicago Legal News, the foremost legal publication of the entire Midwestern United States.  And with regard to Justice Bradley’s reasoning, one might note that her sponsor for admission to the bar was none other than Mr. Bradwell, who clearly had no difficulty with his wife’s professional ambitions.  Shortly afterwards, Illinois law was amended to allow women to practice law there.

So while it would have been unusual for Anna to be practicing law at the time when Courting Anna is set, it would certainly not have been impossible.  When she first meets her love interest, Jeremiah Brown, she’s been called to the local sheriff’s office on a case of false imprisonment.  He and his partner are a bit surprised at who shows up.  “You were expecting a lawyer named Harrison, weren’t you?  Well, that’s me, Anna Harrison.”  Overcoming their surprise, the men accept her representation, and soon come to respect her – and in Jeremiah’s case, to feel something more.

Except . . . I envisioned the story as taking place in the 1880s, and chose Montana because some relatives live there, which makes me feel connected.  Unfortunately, although Cynthia Eloise Cleveland was admitted in Dakota Territory in 1881, and Ada Bittenbender in Nebraska that same year, the first historical woman lawyer in Montana was Ella J. Knowles Haskell . . . in 1889.

I throw myself on the mercy of the court.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

New Release - The Snow Bride (The Knight and the Witch Book 1) by Lindsay Townsend

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.


England, winter, 1131

Magnus forced his aching legs to move and dismounted stiffly from his horse. The still, freezing cold made his teeth ache, and as he tethered his mount, he wondered yet again what he was doing here. It was less than a month to Christmas, and he could have been with Peter and Alice at Castle Pleasant, preparing for feasting and singing and watching his godchildren.
And then a deep, abiding ache, bedding down in the great hall alone. He would never force a woman to lie with him—he had seen too much of that in the crusades.
He limped forward through the pristine snow. Peter had his Alice now, a clever, black-haired wench who feared nothing and no one, including him. Had his friend and fellow crusader not known her first, he might have had a chance with Alice. She saw through the outer armor and shell of a man to what lay beneath.
But she loves her crusader knight, Peter of the Mount, and I have no chance or right there.
As the palfrey snorted and jangled its harness behind him, he knelt in a white heap of pitted frost and reached out with his good arm to brush snow off the small, cracked statue of a saint. This was an old, wayside shrine on a track to nowhere of note, and the wooden figure huddled in its stone niche was old, its paint peeling. This battered saint would understand him, one ugly brute to another.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Loneliness as Story Theme by Kaye Spencer #PrairieRosePubs #blogabookscene #westernromance

We all have stories that resonate with us. They may be oral stories handed down through the generations in our family. They may be books we frequently re-read. They may be movies we've watched so many times we can recite the dialogue. What these stories have in common are five basic story elements that the speaker, author, or director have crafted so well that we never tire of the story. In fact, those stories touch us deeply, and we need them.

Theme is the glue that holds the story together. Theme is the message the author intends, consciously or subconsciously, to communicate to the reader. A story’s theme is generally a universal truth. It’s not uncommon for an author to write all their stories around one or two themes. As readers, we turn to stories with themes that “speak” to us. Think about those few special books that stay with you.  What is at the heart of the story that makes it so memorable? Identifying that ‘something’ can be elusive. We can’t quite get our hands on it, but we know it at an instinctive, visceral level, and we return for more.

I know my theme.


Not being lonesome, not being alone, not being lonely, but the utter hopeless agonizing heartache of loneliness. Loneliness shows up in every story I write. I can’t keep it out.

But where did this loneliness come from?

Perhaps it was my only-child upbringing until I was 13, or that I was a loner all through school (still am) with few friends. Experiencing a difficult mother/teenage daughter relationship may also have influenced my loneliness. Could my tendency toward loneliness stem from the traumatic brain injury I suffered at 18 and the resulting *holes* it left in my life from the loss of many of my childhood memories? Or did an early, and ultimately unsuccessful marriage, and then raising three children on my own have something to do with it? Other factors could have been my battle with clinical depression (eventually won that war) throughout my twenties and into my thirties only to have panic/anxiety attacks muscle past the depression.

Maybe there are no reasons.

Maybe it’s a combination of all my experiences.

Maybe it’s just how I’m hardwired.

However, in case you’ve grabbed a tissue—not to worry. I had a great childhood, and I’ve lived a satisfying, adventure-filled life. In fact, looking back through the years, there are few things I’d change, and I have even fewer regrets. I’m not lonely, so don’t play sad violin music just yet. ;-)

For your loneliness-listening angst, here is Marty Robbins singing Mr. Shorty, which is, at its theme core, a story about the hopeless isolation of loneliness. The verse beginning at 52 seconds is the part that gets to me.

Since the August theme for blog-a-book-scene is Alone Again, Naturally, here is a lonely excerpt from my recently published story in the Hot Western Nights anthology—Give My Love to Rose.


How many times had he heard the last words of love for a beloved wife and children, or a wish to see a mother one last time? Some cried. Others cleared the burden on their consciences. Most only had enough time to name next of kin. When you heard a person’s last words, shared their last breath, shouldered their confessions, you took on the duty of seeing their dying wishes taken care of.

This man, Lon Griffin, was no different. He’d clung to a thin thread of life, slipping between delirium and lucidity all through the night. His will to live gave out in the dark just before the dawn.

Any other time, Clint would have dug a grave right there, said the proper words, and then rode on to tell the family or sent a telegram, whichever was the faster way to convey the news. This time, though, Lon’s widow waited at the house a good many miles on farther north, she was probably wondering right now when she’d see her husband again. She never would, not alive, anyway, and Lon begged him to take him home to be buried in the family cemetery.

Haunted heartbreak clouded Clint’s eyes. That Lon left behind a family brought back his own loss. Nothing he possessed, not his guns, his badge, his physical strength, or his love had been enough to prevent the accident of nature that had killed his happiness in the blink of an eye.

Clint went about the pragmatic tasks of breaking camp and loading up his pack horse. He saddled his horse and Lon’s mule and then wrapped Lon’s body in a blanket and secured him over his mule’s back. Angling toward the river in the general direction Lon had explained would take them to his house, Clint thought of Rose and the image he created in his mind from listening to Lon’s delirious talk all through the night. He’d spoken of her with reverence that he’d done something right in his life to deserve such a woman.

Clint understood that. It was a lucky man who found a woman to be his life-mate. He’d been that lucky man once, and he didn’t have it in him to go down that emotional road again. Every now and again, though, a wish to belong somewhere and to someone stirred at the fringes of his heart as it stirred now. Maybe it was because it was the dawn of Christmas Eve. Maybe it was from sitting beside a dying man all night. Whatever the reason, the weight of his aloneness rode with him.

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As a writer, do you have a recurring theme that shows up in your stories? What is the force behind your theme?

As a reader, are you drawn to stories with certain themes? What about these stories speak to you so you keep coming back for more?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

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