Across the Darkling Sea Cover Reveal and Release Dates!

It takes a long time to write a book. It takes even longer to publish one. So it is with a great deal of excitement that I can finally announce the release of Across the Darkling Sea, book one in a new series!

Across the Darkling Sea officially releases on Amazon on January 1st. Though for you frequent blog visitors there might be (will be!) a way for you to score a copy early – keep your eye on the blog next week!

And now, ladies and gents, I present Across the Darkling Sea!

Across the Darkling Sea cover

Evelyn has always been fascinated by magic. Until, that is, she discovers she is magic.

Magic is forbidden in Brielle, and now, so is she. Fleeing her mother’s attempts on her life, the hostility and indifference of her closest friends, and the reality that she is living a stolen life, Evelyn sneaks aboard a riverboat headed for the coastal city of Middelhaern. There, she can book passage to the mysterious island of Dreggs – home to warlocks and other terrifying monsters whom she’d thought only existed in stories from her childhood. Among them, she hopes to find the man who cursed her family, and with his help our without it, reverse everything that has gone so terribly wrong.

Changelings in Popular Culture

changelingsChangelings don’t enjoy the same level of fame in popular culture as dragons do but they are there. You can find them at the edges, in the shadows, and sometimes hiding in plain site.

The Doors did a song called The Changeling on the LA woman album released in 1971.

In season three episode two the show Supernatural did an episode called The Kids Are All Right where Sam and Dean are forced to face off with a town full of changelings who are slowly killing off families in the neighborhood.

They star in several novels as well. In Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch, the phenomenon of fairies taking human children takes place in our 21st century reality. And in The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue a group of changelings live in a forest in Pennsylvania. Last but not least of course, the protagonist in Across the Darkling Sea is a changeling as well, on a quest to restore her human alternate to the life she should have had.

Changelings play a role in many games as well. In Magic: The Gathering changelings are creatures that have every creature type within the game. And the World of Darkness settings have Changeling: The Dreaming and Changeling: The Lost where player characters are changelings.

Fairies themselves have a much richer presence in popular culture. Particularly the watered down and child friendly versions of tales we share today. The folklore of the changeling is much darker, much less common, and in many ways much more fascinating.

 

The Death of Michael Leahy

michael leahy
Changelings, by Alan Lee

The history of changelings is heavy with stories of real people coming to gruesome ends as a result in people’s beliefs in fairies and changelings. In an earlier blog post we spoke about Bridget Cleary, in this post we cover Michael Leahy.

Michael was four years old, but unable to stand or walk or even speak. Today we can recognize these as possible symptoms of a disability, but in the 1800s in Europe, this was seen as an indication the child was a changeling.

Michael’s grandmother, Anne Roche, became convinced this was the case. Every day for three days she bathed Michael in a pool in the river Flesk, at the point where three farms joined together. On the third day she held Michael under the water, drowning the child.

She was taken into custody, but she argued against any charge of murder. She had not meant to murder the child, only to drive the fairy out of it. When pressed she responded it did not matter that the child had died, he had really died four years earlier when taken by the fairies. She was tried, but the jury acquitted her of murder.

It seems very likely the legends changelings developed out of an attempt to understand the unique behaviors and physical challenges of children who did not develop normally. It has particularly been suggested that children with autism would likely be labeled as such.

Regardless of the source of these beliefs their terrible impacts cannot be denied. They serve as a cautionary tale against blind faith over reason, and against the belief that those different from us are somehow less than us. These ideas are at the heart of my novel Across the Darkling Sea.

Oddest Museum Collections

oddest museum collectionsMuseums are always fascinating places. Humans are creative, complex creatures, and as a writer I often find inspiration in museums exploring human history, and of course, museums dedicated to the obscure, the obscene, and just plain odd.

Here are a few of the oddest museum collections I’ve discovered over the years.

Museum of Human Disease

At this unique and specialized museum, you can witness over 3,000 specimens of human tissue to learn about infectious and noninfectious diseases like typhoid and diphtheria, as well as diseases that are still prevalent like HIV. The specimens have been acquired from surgeries and autopsies. You can read the clinical history behind each specimen, including ones that are more than 100 years old. There are also exhibits on how smoking, obesity, drugs, and mental health all affect our bodies. It’s really, really gross, but incredibly informative about how diseases deteriorate the body over time.

The Homemade Menstruation Museum

Let’s cut the stigma; there is nothing inherently gross or wrong with menstruation. When I discovered there was an entire museum collection dedicated to it and it’s history, though, it blew my mind! I do admit though, the fact that it started in a basement of a 50 year old man does sound a bit like the beginning of a horror movie. Harry Finley started the museum in his basement in 1994 and it contained a ton of menstrual information and paraphernalia and even a dress made out of menstrual cups! It closed in 1998, much to my disappointment. Finley still keeps the website updated, but it’s a labyrinth of thousands of pages that’s almost impossible to navigate.

American Museum of Magic

Seems like something out of a Harry Potter book, but no, the American Museum of Magic does exist. It was opened in Michigan in 1978. It contains paraphernalia and illusions and devices donated from magicians and clowns across America. The 3 floor museum has:

  • Magic sets and scrapbooks
  • 2,009 heralds, handbills, and window cards
  • 587 showbills
  • over 5,000 programs
  • 10,000 books
  • 24,000 magazines
  • Tricks and magic supplies used by famous and obscure magicians

Cesare Lombroso’s Museum of Criminal Anthropology

If you’re into the macabre and gross, this museum collection is for you. The museum was founded on the belief of one Cesare Lombroso that you didn’t learn to become a criminal but had a biological imperative to do so – called biological determinism. Criminals couldn’t help but do crime as it was part of their biological makeup. Lombroso studied specimens of skulls and heads to study in order to prove his theory. They are now preserved in the museum, some disturbingly so.

Glore Psychiatric Museum

This is the stuff of horror films. This museum contains the 130 year history of the state mental hospital beside it and describes how mental health was treated through the ages. It was opened in 1966 and featured equipment, staff uniforms, photos and some art and writing left by disturbed patients. In fact, there is one exhibit that tells the story of one man who spent 72 years there. Some of the tools used in the past can be described as torture devices, like the Lunatic Box and Tranquilizer Chair.

The Death of Bridget Cleary

Bridget Cleary

I’m not going to lie, being a fantasy writer is one of the coolest possible gigs. Not only do I get to spin my fantasies out onto paper, but I get to spend hours researching some very obscure, and very bizarre, stuff.

In writing Across the Darkling Sea my research took a pretty dark turn – as it so often does when researching magic in folklore. I wanted to steep myself in the mythology of the changelings, but I unexpectedly stumbled on some very real world stories of them instead. One of them is the story of Bridget Cleary.  This is a rough story, be forewarned.

Children’s nursery rhymes often have gruesome histories, and the Irish nursery rhyme ‘Are you a witch or are you a fairy? Are you the wife of Michael Cleary?’ is one such. On a cold winters day in March of 1895 Bridget Cleary, a 26 year old seamstress married to the cooper Michael Cleary, fell gravely ill. The pair were liked and respected in their village, but they were a bit peculiar. They’d been married for eight years, but they had no children (an oddity at the time). And Bridget was an independent sort – always wandering around town delivering eggs to her customers and stopping for a spell near the old “fairy forts” outside of Clonmel.

Michael summoned a doctor when his wife fell ill, but the man was slow in coming. It took him over a week to get there, and in the meantime, Michael became increasingly convinced his wife had been taken by fairies, the sickly thing left behind a creature of magic and deceit – a changeling.

Michael became obsessed with banishing the changeling. Bridget’s aunt and uncle reported a house full of villagers chanting and performing rituals to try to banish it, while Michael, Bridget’s brother, and a handful of villages forced herbs boiled in milk down her throat, threw urine on her, and held her over a hearth fire – scorching her – in an effort to cast out the evil forces they believe possessed her.

A few days after St. Patrick’s Day Bridget was reported missing. Folks said she’d been taken by the fairies. Others said she’d sought out the fairies in their fairy forts. But a short time later her body was found, badly charred and mutilated, in a shallow grave nearby. Michael denied having killed his wife. Claiming he’d only “driven out the fairy”, and that he would soon meet his real wife at a local fairy ring. He believed she’d ride out on a white horse to meet him there.

This story and nursery rhyme stuck with me. It’s not unique, certainly. Humans are a violent sort, and easily misled by belief in supernatural forces – whether in the form of faerie or the more modern religious variety. History is littered with the bones and dust of those killed in the name of some ‘purity’ ideal.

It’s that nursery rhyme. ‘Are you a witch or are you a fairy? Are you the wife of Michael Cleary?’ The idea of this being chanted by laughing children as they dance about those very same ‘fairy rings’, clueless about grisly nature of the rhyme, ignorant of the agony and heartbreak Bridget must have felt in her last days and hours as her husband, brother, and everyone she knew and loved brutalized her in the name of ‘driving out the demon’ of her illness. It’s as if they summon that darkness in the breaths between their laughter when chanting such things.

Interesting plot bunny – laughing, innocent children summoning darkness into the spaces between their words as they chant nursery rhymes. I’ll leave that for another day. For today, Bridget Cleary and her rhyme have found a place in my novel, on this blog, and in my heart.

If you want to learn a bit more:

http://www.burningbridgetcleary.com/bridgets_story/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_Cleary

*This one may be a trigger warning for some.*
http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/2007/10/13/bridget-cleary-fairy-intrusion-in-nineteenth-century-ireland/

Sarkany: The Dragons of Hungary

Dragons of HungaryThe Middle World contains both humans and magical or supernatural mythical creatures, from mermaids to ghosts to dragons. The dragons of Hungary, the Sárkány, is a terrifying and powerful monster that, like in Western myth, is the antagonist in most stories. The Sárkány seeks to destroy the hero of the tale, myth, or legend and often represents the hero’s own inner struggle. It’s large and scary and powerful and while it seems to be a worthy adversary, is always slain by the hero.

Prior to the 18th century, the Hungarian Sárkány dragon symbolises the connection between the physical world and spiritual world. They transcended both and were able to travel between and reside in both realms. They were later linked to natural phenomena and forces of nature such as rainstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. It was believed that thunder was the sound of dragons, battling and roaring high above the clouds. Their tails would smash against the clouds and shake rain down upon the earth.

How the Sárkány is Represented

The Sárkány mostly appears in Hungarian myth, appearing in almost all of their folk tales. In most cases, they are described as scaly and reptilian with wings, but not always so. They have many different representations. They can:

  • Be human shaped, primarily male
  • Ride horses or other animals
  • Have usually seven heads, but can also have 3, 12, or 21 (The number of heads typically has an astrological significance
  • Have the power to turn someone to stone
  • Control the weather and often ride a horse into thunder clouds
  • Appear in two forms – either one rideable type of another that is more like a snake with fins, claws and sharp teeth
  • Live inside hollow trees, dens, or caves

According to Hungarian legend, dragons were created by being transformed from something else. For example, it was believed at this time that the earliest dragon was made either from an old pike or a rooster. According to the tales, a pike that lays out in the dirt for an extended period of time will transform into a dragon. Or that if a rooster is running free around your home for too long, it will transform into a fearsome dragon that will then become the pet of a Hungarian wizard. Hungarians also believe that the Sárkány can also be born of a female dragon, like humans are born from other female humans. The female Sárkány will be pregnant for 7 years.

The Sárkány in Literature

These dragons are often literary tools that symbolise or represent human behavior, turmoil or struggle. For example, if a hero is fighting a dragon he is most likely fighting to overcome his own shortcomings or poor habits.

In more modern stories, the Sárkány became a treasure hoarder, colling gold and other gems. Children’s books in the 19th and 20th century popularized and commercialized the image of the Sárkány. In these stories the dragon often abducts young women and terrorizes innocent villages. The hero of the story will slay the dragon, putting an end to its reign of terror.

Changelings in Folklore

fairy among flowers
Image from Pixabay.com

It all started with a bit of dialogue. Two lines of conversation between two shadowy, semi-formed figures, with no setting whatsoever behind them.

“What am I, Witch?”

“Child, why do you call me that after so many years? I don’t call you changeling, though indeed you are one.”

I didn’t know who these people were, what sort of a world they lived in, or what story they had to tell, but the idea one of them was a changeling caught hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

Story births are mysterious things. I have no idea where that bit of dialogue came from or why it popped into my head at that particular time. I certainly didn’t have any particular fascination with changelings, though that has certainly changed since.

There is a long not-very-long and illustrious not-even-remotely-illustrious history of changelings in film. I think one of the first was a 1980 film called  The Changeling about a man who moved across country after the death of his wife and daughter, only to discover he’s settled in a house haunted by the spirit of a young boy. He eventually learns the boy, sick and unwell in life, had been drowned by his own father and replaced with a stranger.

In 2008 Angelina Jolie starred in a film called Changeling about a woman struggling against the LAPD as it attempts to pass off an imposter as her own child.

These two films are indeed about changelings, but they have little to do with the changelings of folklore. Stories of human children being taken by a fairy or similar creature of faye appear around the world. In Cornwall the Men-an-Tol stones are said to have fairy guardians with the power to restore human children to their grieving parents. In Germany stories tell of human children taken by the devil, a female dwarf, a water spirit or a Roggenmutter, who leave something else in its stead. In Ireland changelings were often older fairies brought to the human world to die, as opposed to a substitute child.

Changeling folklore exists outside of Europe as well. The Obanje in Nigeria and the Filipino Aswang are also said to take human children, leaving magical replacements behind that quickly sicken and die.

In my upcoming novel Across the Darkling Sea I take the root folklore of the changeling and adapt it once again. In this story, the changeling is a curse put upon a family for refusing to help a passing warlock. Rather than being a simple fetch of wood and earth that quickly fades and dies, this changeling moves easily, speaks perfectly, has the same emotions, habits, and memories of her human counterpart. A devastating reality for her parents and community, all of whom know what she is.

What must it feel like to know you are a curse against parents you love as your own?

k.

Some Awesome Mini Lending Libraries

Mini lending libraries are containers of books set up in public places. The rules are simple – you can borrow a book and leave a book in its place. It’s a great way for kids and adults alike to read for free, especially in areas where literacy is low. Let’s take a look at some of the coolest, geekiest, nerdiest, and most creative mini libraries.

coolest mini lending librariesHouse with a Library

This mini lending library plays off the trend of mini libraries being created out of tiny bird houses by appearing to be a tiny exact replica of the house behind it! From the doorway to the blue color and white trim, it sits out front offering library books to passerby. This mini library is in Evanston, Illinois.

 

mini lending libraryUp-Cycled Telephone Booth

Most kids under 20 years old have never used a telephone booth. The grand majority of them stand abandoned, graffitied, with the phones long ripped away or broken. Thankfully, someone had the great idea to turn this one into a mini lending library! Shelves were put in to house books. It’s perfect; taking advantage of a pre-existing structure that already has a little roof to keep the books safe from the elements.

 

mini lending librariesTeam Effort

One of the best things about mini lending libraries is what they do our communities. This library was built by hand by the Literacy Leadership Club at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, a middle school in Kentucky. It was constructed by the students out of a birdhouse, painted the school colors and placed outside the school for everyone to give and leave books at their leisure. This library is great because not only does it provide books to kids, but it was created by the kids themselves.

 

Castle styled mini lending libraryRoyal Library

On the more elaborate and creative side there’s the library that looks like the mini version of the Castle Marne B&B that stands behind it. It’s full of books, but has columns, windows, and turrets that evoke the fantasy feel of a medieval castle. This one encompasses two of my favorite things, books and castles. #Bliss!

 

 

Tardis mini lending library Bigger on the Inside

Books are always bigger on the inside, which makes a TARDIS library the perfect idea. The spaceship used by the Doctor from British TV show Doctor Who can bring its inhabitants through both time and space, just like a good book!

 

Neak: The Dragons of Kmer

Dragons of KmerDragons as they are portrayed culturally and historically differ all over the world. While they maintain certain characteristics – mostly in appearance – different cultures revere or fear them for different reasons. In this article we’ll explore the dragons of Kmer.

One of the most notable and interesting examples of this are the neak, which are the dragons of Kmer. The word comes from the Indian naga, which also means dragon. Like most dragons, the neak is large, powerful and, serpentine. A neak can have up to nine heads, indicative of its rank and power; the more heads, the higher its power and rank. Male energy is most prevalent in dragons with an odd number of heads, female power and energy for an even number of heads. It can be compared to the Makar which can be serpentine and have crocodile-like traits, or the Tao which has serpentine cat-like features.

While most cultures find dragons fearsome, deadly, and evil, the dragons of Kmer are adored and seen as a symbol of goodness and purity. The neak is perhaps most known in Cambodia for being the dragon princess that is the hero of the creation myth in Cambodia. The neak also appears in many myths and legends throughout history, so much so that Kmer people often feel a thread of familial relation and honor to the neak dragons from these stories.

One of the best examples of the neak being seen as a force for good is its connection to the monkhood.

The Dragon Monk

Neak is also the term used in Cambodia to describe a man who wants to be ordained as a monk. Kmer people believe that to be a monk is one of the most prestigious things a man can do with his life. The word itself denotes goodness. The term “Bombous Neak” means ordained dragon and describes a fully actualized monk.

The connection between dragons and the monkhood comes from a Cambodian legend. It goes like this: There was once a Buddha named Preah Samma Sampot. A Buddhist dragon once visited him in the form of a man because he wanted to be a monk. The Buddha ordained the dragon, not knowing of his true form until the dragon accidentally transformed while taking a nap. Another monk saw and called the others to look. Preah Samma Sampot vowed that no animal or spirit will every be ordained again, but the dragon monk pleaded with him to call all human monks “neak” in his memory since he was so dedicated to Buddhism.

The ceremony to become a monk evokes much of the dragon neak as well. The Achar will carry a palm tree fashioned with leaves to look like a bird. He will spin it and call on spirits to stay with the body of monk, here called neak. There is also a “Teeth of the Dragon” ceremony where wood is mixed with coconut water and boiled into a paste. This is then smeared on the new monks’ teeth in order to weaken the poison of the dragon and dispel his earthly sins.