Magickal Samhain Begins

14332976_10154547622771913_7187213911306200253_n

If you’re into witchy women and magical men, have I got the event for you!

Hosted by Marsha A Moore and April Aasheim, A Magickal Samhain is an on-line celebration of bewitching journeys of imagination. Up to thirty authors will participate, sharing stories about witches, ghosts, shamans, psychics, demons, angels, and faeries!

Prizes will be awarded all weekend, including a Grand Prize of $170 cash and a Second Prize of a Kindle e-reader.

The on-line festival runs October 27-31; I’ll be hosting a live session on Thursday, October 27, from 7:30-9:00pm EDT. My topic? LOVE IN TIMES OF DARKNESS. And also, WITCHES.

Sword of Shadows Kindle 3We’ll do discussions, share stories, and – if time allows – maybe even build a magickal story together! Everyone who participates in my on-line session will be entered in a random drawing to win a free signed copy of one of my novels. (Eolyn or Sword of Shadows – Your choice!)

My feature novel for Magickal Samhain is the dark fantasy Sword of ShadowsBook Two of The Silver Web. 

Going into Samhain, Sword of Shadows will be included in Amazon’s Kindle countdown deals. Starting today, the novel is on sale for just $0.99. In a couple days, the price will go up to $1.99, then to $2.99, finishing back at its regular list price of $3.99 late next week. The longer you wait, the higher the price, so take advantage of this special offer today.

Join me and other participating authors this weekend for some spell-binding fun, spine-tingling stories, and lots of great prizes. Dare to step into the shadows – Magickal Samhain waits for you.

The Witch

0e32b-387px-john_william_waterhouse_-_the_crystal_ball“She cannot be a witch, he tells himself. Witches do not study philosophy; witches do not practice scientia nova. She belongs to a new age, a future he longs to be a part of.” – The Witch of Cologne, Tobsha Learner

This week’s post has a double purpose. It’s a continuation of my Halloween reflections inspired by Tobsha Learner’s The Witch of Cologne; but it’s also a post that I’m writing for Magickal Samhain, a Facebook event that celebrates the month of October and in particular, Halloween weekend.

Magickal Samhain is a journey through paranormal and occult stories by multiple authors. The main event, which runs October 27-30, will have lots of prizes and giveaways, including two grand prizes: a Kindle reader and $170 in cash.

I’ll be hosting live on Thursday, October 27, from 7:30-9:00pm. If you stop by to visit and comment during my session, I’ll enter your name in a raffle for a free copy of Sword of ShadowsI hope you will join us. It’s going to be fun!

In the meantime…let’s talk about witches.

Tobsha Learner’s wonderful novel has a somewhat incongruous title because in truth, there isn’t a single witch in the story. The main character, Ruth, is a midwife who has studied modern medicine – as modern as it got in 17th century Europe. She lives as an outcast in her own community, having run away from home to escape an arranged marriage.

Although she is publicly reviled, Ruth is respected for her gifts as a healer. When women of Cologne – rich or poor – go into labor, their families do not hesitate to call on Ruth, though they often do so in secret.

Early in the novel, Ruth is accused of witchcraft as part of a personal vendetta. She is collateral damage in a larger political game; innocent of the charges but almost certainly doomed for the simple reason that the Inquisitor, a man of power and influence, wants her dead. Ruth finds allies along the way, but will they be enough to save her? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Ruth’s situation resonated deeply with me, reminding me of the tens of thousands of women who have been executed under accusations of witchcraft over the centuries. “Witches” have been hunted and killed across all ages and many cultures; in some countries, people are still executed for witchcraft today.

This begs the question of why we fear the Witch, and witchcraft, so much – and why women, in particular, have been the enduring target of witch hunts.

For my part, I don’t feel the same instinctive horror toward the Witch as I do toward the Inquisitor. As an archetypal figure, the Inquisitor inspires a much greater terror, and seems beyond redemption. There’s only one type of Inquisitor, and he is always bad news.

The Witch, on the other hand, is a much more varied and complex figure. There’s the evil witch in the woods, who eats children in Hansel and Gretel or hunts campers in The Blair Witch Project. But a witch can also be good, like Glenda or Dorothy or Tabitha. She can be old and wise, young and innocent, or somewhere in between. Often, as in The Witch of Cologne, the “witch” is not a witch at all; she’s just a terrified woman falsely accused by a corrupt system.

There is one thing that all witches seem to have in common: they are knowledgeable, privy to secrets and mysteries outside the grasp of many others. Some might know how to birth babies or which plants of the forest serve as medicines. Others seem to be in touch with worlds and realities beyond our own perception. They might commune with spirits or faeries and gnomes. Or maybe they are simply aware of the greater purpose that guides their life; a conviction that gives them confidence and vision.

Because of this knowledge and confidence, witches are not to be messed with.

Not all witches are women, but when these particular qualities – knowledge, confidence, and power – intersect with the feminine spirit, the result sometimes ignites irrational fear. Women like Ruth, who do not bow to convention, who thirst for knowledge and seek to understand nature, are often not well liked – and hunted as witches.

The term “witch” is so mutable and diverse, it’s really tough to make generalizations about who the Witch is and how she is manifest in today’s world. There are simply too many ways to be a witch. Though the evil and terrible witch persists in our imagination, it’s my impression that witches of today are, on the whole, a more accepted and admired lot. We aren’t quite so fearful of their knowledge or their mystery. And we kind of like their sass.

What do you think? How do you perceive witches, past, present and future? Who are some of your favorite witches in fiction (or life), and why? Inquiring witches want to know.

The Inquisitor

41no-0hc-ml-_sx336_bo1204203200_For a second, Carlos wonders what this man would look like under torture, whether his face would retain the same luminous quality. The thought excites him – the execution of power always does – and his sense of inferiority fades. 

– Tobsha Learner, The Witch of Cologne

For a while now, I’ve been promising a series of reflections inspired by Tobsha Learner’s The Witch of Cologne. That project has been delayed by unexpected demands on my time, but today – with just a couple weeks to go before Samhain – I’m at last able to begin.

Let me start with some glowing praise for The Witch of Cologne. This is one of those books that’s been sitting on my shelf forever and a day; I can’t even remember where or when I acquired a copy. But once I picked it up, in the space of a few pages, I knew Learner’s novel would earn a spot on my shelf of All Time Favorites.

I would have devoured it in one weekend had I not learned by now that books like this one need to be savored; the pleasure of reading drawn out as long as possible because you know you will not find another book like this in a very long while.

The story focuses on Ruth, a Jewish midwife who is accused of witchcraft in 17th century Cologne. Out of this horrible situation emerges an unlikely and extraordinary love. Learner deftly moves the reader through multiple cycles of disaster and renewal, leaving one literally breathless at most every turn of the page. Her protagonist, Ruth, is the type of woman I love to see featured in any novel: strong, intelligent, independent, and passionate. And of course, it is all these qualities that inspire a violent need on the part of certain men in power to oppress and destroy her.

Early in the book – too early, I thought, when I started reading it – the Inquisitor Carlos Solitario makes his first appearance. What caught my attention, when the word inquisitor was first mentioned, was the visceral reaction I had. My heart plummeted into some deep, dark hole. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that hell on earth was about to begin, and that there would be no escape.

Among all the archetypal villains of our stories, the Inquisitor is one of the most enduring. Modern fantasy has converted many of our traditional monsters into likable personas. We now have sparkly vampires and fuzzy werewolves; funny Frankensteins, affectionate witches, and even zombies that fall in love. We have granted humanity to these former outsiders, crafting worlds, cultures, and adventures where they, too, can be heroes and heroines.

But as successful as we’ve been converting traditional villains into good guys, I doubt we’ll ever see YA novels that feature sparkly inquisitors who are the object of adolescent love.

In so many ways, the Inquisitor represents the worst aspects of human nature. He enforces the suffering and brutalization of the outsider. His villainy couples blind adherence to dogma with absolute power; hatred and fear are channeled toward the sole purpose of obliterating the Other. Guilt is seen by the Inquisitor as a foregone conclusion; his lust for violence quenched by the perverse conviction that torture is an honorable and reliable path to truth.

None of this can be twisted into some version of “good,” no matter how skilled the author or how compelling her narrative.

We like to think of inquisitors as a thing of the past, a character trope bound to heighten the tension of our fictional stories. But the sad truth is that the spirit of the Inquisitor remains embedded in our society and haunts us to this day.

Vivid examples include the SS officers of Nazi Germany and the McCarthy hearings in the U.S. Senate during the 1950s. As recently this past Sunday, the Inquisitor cast his shadow in our own backyard, when one of our presidential candidates threatened, on national television, to appoint a “special prosecutor” with the sole mission of putting his opponent in jail. In other words, he seeks to unleash the Inquisitor. Most disturbing of all, his promise was applauded by his supporters.

Our medieval tools of torture may be put away, confined to museums and rusting, forgotten, under the tides of time. But the spirit of the Inquisitor persists and is always waiting to return, to rise again to power and wield his weapons of conflict and destruction.

Maybe this is what perpetuates the instinctual dread we feel any time an Inquisitor appears in one of our novels. In our heart of hearts we know that this evil is not the stuff of mere fiction. The Inquisitor sleeps among us, and all of us fear his awakening.

A Rose by Any Other Name

with-the-students

News of a publisher’s interest in The Hunting Grounds came last weekend while I was on a field trip for my course, Ecology Through the Writers Lens.

I had very exciting news late last week: there’s a publisher interested in picking up my most recent manuscript, The Hunting Grounds. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity. But with all opportunities comes a choice, and I’ve been given a most unexpected choice.

I’ve been submitting The Hunting Grounds as a paranormal romance/thriller, which it is. But according to the publisher that’s expressed interest, the novel is more than that. The language of the sex scenes, apparently, shifts The Hunting Grounds out of mainstream paranormal and into the realm of erotic romance.

Well! I must say.

How many people do you know who have accidentally written an erotic novel? Truly, this was not my intention, but apparently I have a gift I’m not quite aware of; a gift that found its expression in the dark journey of The Hunting Grounds.

So here’s my choice: I can ‘tame down’ the sex scenes and work the novel back inside the boundaries of mainstream paranormal; or I can leave it as is to publish the novel with the same press, as part of their line of erotic romance.

The whole situation has me thinking – not for the first time – about attitudes toward sex and sexuality. My attitudes, in particular, and how those attitudes sometimes run up against – and contrast with – the mainstream. Too much to tackle in one blog post, but I’ll share a couple thoughts here.

First, in mulling over this situation, I’ve realized that I like the sex scenes in The Hunting Grounds just as they are. They don’t read overly erotic to me. I felt no shame in writing those scenes, and I would feel no shame in sharing them. I’ve always tried to make sex a natural part of my characters’ lives, and in Helen’s case, sex is an important part of her journey.

What I do mind is the label ‘erotic.’

I have certain prejudices against this word that are probably shared by a lot of people. Erotic says to me bondage, both literally and figuratively. When I think of erotic romance, I imagine insipid women protagonists who can’t hold their own in a fight, and male leads that are domineering and wholly undesirable.

The Hunting Grounds doesn’t fit these stereotypes at all. In fact, I put a lot of care and thought into avoiding them. So how on earth did I trip into the label “erotic?” What am I to do with this label? Should I shun it as something foreign to me, or embrace it as part of who I am?

The dilemma has occupied my thoughts these past few days. It’s safe to say I’ve even lost some sleep over it.

I’d publish The Hunting Grounds just as it is in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to deal with that annoying label. I worry potential readers will turn away from this novel because they interpret erotic the same way I do; that they will assume my female protagonist is young, inexperienced and weak, when Helen is mature, smart, and strong. That they’ll assume Helen’s paramour seeks to trap her in a gilded cage, when he is determined to facilitate her journey toward freedom. That they’ll imagine the sex scenes involve ropes and rape fantasies, when it is all thoroughly consensual and bondage-free; a natural expression of intimate, passionate and authentic love.

At the end of the day, I tell myself that my decision must be true to the characters and their story. What would Helen want? What would Nathan say?

At the same time, my author’s voice is in conflict with my instincts regarding the heart and soul of the story. Do I risk conserving my original vision and surrender my novel to a label that might limit its readership?  Or do I clip the wings of Helen’s sexual journey in hopes of reaching a more mainstream audience?

One day I lean one way; the next I lean the other. Meanwhile, there’s an editor out there who’s waiting for my answer.

And as difficult as this dilemma has become, isn’t it wonderful that there’s an editor out there waiting for my answer?