We've Moved!

The authors of FaE have relocated to the Beyond the Veil castle keep. BtV is now your one-stop blog for Samhain Publishing's paranormal and fantasy romance authors!

Come on over! Just be careful when you cross the moat. The mermaids are still getting settled in with the Cracken. The drawbridge might be a little slippery.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

No Unibrows, Please!

"Hogmanay" is a Scots word which means "the last day of the year." The date is actually Dec. 31, but the celebration carries through the night to Jan. 1, also known as "Ne'erday." And if you're going to be in Scotland, you might as well keep partying, because Jan. 2 is a bank holiday!

There are many traditions associated with Hogmanay, not the least of which is "first footing." This is the first person to set foot across your threshhold after the stroke of midnight, often bearing gifts and best wishes for the new year. From Scotsman.com:

On the stroke of midnight it is still common for houses to be "first footed" by a tall, handsome stranger bearing gifts. Although the first-footer is seldom a stranger, it is preferable that he is dark. This harks back to days of Viking invaders when a fair-haired man knocking at your door was more likely to inspire terror than pleasure.

Until quite recently the first-footer was subject to a rather rigorous code of looks. Out-of-date now, there was a time when a first-footer should not be flat-footed, cross-eyed or have their eyebrows meeting (thought to denote the evil eye).

I'll be offline for a few days, visiting family. So Happy Hogmanay, and may your first-footer be tall, dark, handsome, and two-browed!


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Most Dangerous Gift

Forget the Red Ryder BB gun guaranteed to "put your eye out kid". The Christmas gifts you have to watch out for are the ones that leave your eyes wide open.

On the first day of this Christmas, the Darling Spouse Person gave to me a copy of Stork Club, Ralph Blumenthal's account of the club that defined New York nightlife from the 1930s to the '60s. Better yet, in the p. 19 photograph of the club's Cub Room, the tall, lanky guy in the back of the picture looks a lot like my dad.

I grew up listening to Dad's stories of working at "the Stork" in the late 1930s and early '40s--of Hemingway's brawls, of stocking Walter Winchell's apartment with booze, of owner Sherman Billingsley's "calesthenics" with Ethel Merman in "the Gym". Dad said he started at the club switchboard with Victor Mature. Gertrude Stein loved them both so much she asked them to try out for the role of the spear carrier in her (then) new play. Dad blew it off. He wanted to make his career in the club business. But the role propelled Mature to stardom. Well, it got him cast in a lot of bad movies, at any rate.

Over the years, the DSP heard these stories so often, he could recite them by rote. So he was delighted to find a comprehensive history of the Stork Club complete with a juicy bibliography and lots of first-person anecdotes.

There was just one problem. The stories in the book seemed to run at a tangent to the ones we knew from my dad. Walter and Ethel and Damon Runyon were there. George Raft acted the part of the tough guy gangster my dad said he was. But Victor Mature and Gertrude Stein were nowhere to be found.

The DSP was apologetic. I was suspicious. In the early 1990s, I'd successfully pitched a book proposal based on my dad's Korean War experiences only to be forced to withdraw it. It turned out my dad borrowed some of his favorite war stories from movies and newspaper reports. To this day, I thank my writing stars I found out before the contracts were cut.

I hit the web. The weakest link in the story was Gertrude Stein. Somehow she didn't seem the type to go ga-ga for a couple of big strapping guys. Face it, Alice B. Toklas they weren't.

I quickly discovered Gerty Gerty Stein so rarely visited the U.S. during the '30s and '40s, her lone book tour, begun in October 1934, made national headlines. But there was no way my dad could've connected with her at the Stork Club while she was on the 1934 tour. He was still toiling away in a Lackawanna, NY, high school until the spring of 1935. I've got the diploma, pictures and clippings to prove it. In addition, the only Gertrude Stein stage production around in the late 1930s/early 1940s was Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights, an avant-garde opera generally performed as a stage play. Hmmm, an opera so out there it can't be sung... Victor Mature was famous for doing anything for a laugh (witness Head), but my dad? I don't think so.

Plus, I couldn't find a whiff of a hint of a suggestion anywhere in Mature's Wikipedia entry, his IMDB bio or his major fan site of any connection to Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Lawrence, whose 1941 production of Lady in the Dark marked his Broadway debut (in pink leotards and a leopard loincloth, no less), yes. Gertrude Stein? Never.

Okay, so maybe my dad or I screwed up the name. Thirty years had passed from the time Dad worked in the Stork Club to the time he began telling me the stories, and there were grounds for confusion. After all, they were both Gertrudes, they were both short, and even though Gertrude Lawrence did frequent the Stork and adored a "big beautiful hunk of man", she was rumored to have enjoyed a lesbian adventure or two.

But as far as I can tell, Victor Mature was one Hollywood actor who never ever got anywhere near New York, much less the Stork Club, until after he was a star. He left his home in Louisville, KY, for California in 1935 and stayed there until he had several movies under his pelt--er, belt, including the infamous One Million B.C.

So how did he work his way into my dad's Stork Club stories--and why?

It couldn't have been to impress me. When I was growing up, I didn't know jack and cared even less about the celebrity names sprinkled through dad's stories. Gertrude Stein might as well have been Gertrude Lawrence for all I knew. The Broadway and movie stars he talked about were all old enough to be my grandparents. Many were already dead. He was my dad and, by definition marvelous, and it was kinda cool that he worked in a nightclub and knew people who used to be people. But that was it.

I don't think they served a professional purpose either. After the draft caught up with him in 1942, Dad went Army all the way. Affiliations, no matter how past tense, with a former bootlegger perennially in hot water with the unions weren't exactly the sort of thing to advance a career in military hospital administration.

Another weird thing is how much truth was mixed in with the blarney. Dad did work at the Stork. When I was growing up, the priest who got him the job--Father Vincent Donovan, brother of the founder of the C.I.A. (for somebody weaned on James Bond movies, The Avengers and Man from U.N.C.L.E. reruns, that defined cool)--visited us whenever he got the chance.

I can also verify Dad also rose to a fairly high position in the club hierarchy (though for obvious reasons I'm no longer certain he was the "celebrity manager" he claimed to be). As late as the 1980s, Dad's Rhode Island cousins still talked about the hand-tailored suits he bequeathed them when he left for boot camp. Billingsley paid well, but then as now, you had to be very close to the top of the food chain to afford a bespokee suit, much less a full wardrobe with custom-tailored shirts to match.

Maybe the tall tales had something to do with Dad's never-realised ambition to write. The brutal realities of his early life forced him to abandon his dreams of writing The Great American Novel long before he ever landed on the Stork's doorstep. But there was nothing to stop him from fictionalizing his own life, as pointless as the effort seems to me now.

With Dad and Mom both dead, I'll probably never know his reasons. But that won't stop me from turning over rocks and chasing down any promise of insight to support my guesses. It's what writers do.

Besides, in many ways, the quest is its own reward. It speaks directly to the development of myths and legends. For example, there's a lot of talk in connection with the hero stories of the ancient Greeks and the tales of King Arthur about the validity of oral tradition. Supposedly, culturally important stories can be accurately handed down from one generation to the next without benefit of pen, paper or pixels.

My and the SDP's experience with the details of my dad's stories (barring the whole Gertrude thing, of course) suggests they can. But what if the stories or the details are themselves nothing but fabrications? Suddenly we're in that very interesting place where history and fantasy collide.

Back in late 1930s New York with Tallulah Bankhead and Orson Welles ("of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin" not!), gangsters, spies and restaurateurs. Now if my plot hamsters can just figure out how to squeeze a dragon into the subway, I'm in business.

Cheers and grins,

Jean Marie

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Father Winter's Solstice Tale

Many thanks to my friend Nancie Baden for giving me permission to share this lovely poem with you. Happy holidays, everyone!

Father Winter's Solstice Tale

'Tis the eve before Solstice in the evergreen woods
Not a creature is stirring, not even the Druids
Mistletoe has been sickled from the great holy tree.
Magic sprigs hung o'er doors to ward off folk wee.

Fearsome Goddess Cailleach has transformed every bower
This crone of cold stark Wintertime has stolen every flower
The villagers in fear and awe are as hidden as the light
But lo the hour is drawing close to have their Solstice Night

As day breaks on the mountaintop of frozen land so dire
Druid priests and priestesses are readying for fire
Great logs of ash are dressed in finest thistle, bay and sage.
Carried to the fields below, as bonfires they shall rage.

Children venture out of doors with wreaths of pine and ivy
And hazelnuts and fruit with cloves and singing carols lively.
Fragrances do waft on high of wassail, meat, and spice cake.
The vigilant can now rejoice as sacred King Sun does wake.

Seasons' wheel has slowly moved, the longest night does fade
The warmth returns and life renews at every hill and glade.
At Yule as icy hearts now thaw in flames of holy rebirth
Father wishes us a Good Sabbat and peace to all on our Earth

Copyright 2006-2007 Nancie Baden, All Rights Reserved. Posted with permission.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice!

From Newgrange.com:

For the first time ever, the 2007 Winter Solstice illumination of the passage and chamber at Newgrange will be streamed live on the internet.

The webcast and an exhibition at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the re-discovery of the Winter Solstice Phenomenon at Newgrange by Professor O’Kelly in 1967.

The Winter Solstice event from inside the chamber at Newgrange will be broadcast on the mornings of Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd December 2007. If conditions are good the rising sun will illuminate the passage and chamber between 8:58am and 9:15am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

To view the webcast click on the Heritage Ireland website.

Edit: I watched the webcast and it is wonderful! They had perfect weather. The entire show is about an hour long, and sunrise occurs about 20 minutes in.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Holidays from Bianca!

Just a quick post today to say Happy Holidays! My newest book came out a week or so ago, called Sweeter Than Wine. Thanks to all of you who've read it already! I'm already working on my next release and a few other projects besides. Things are a little crazier than usual around here lately, so forgive me for the abbreviated post. I just wanted to come in and wish you all the best.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On the Second Blog of Christmas

The Fantasy & Enchantment Blog gives you two little mysteries in a single package.

Once a year in Abbots Bromley, a little village in England's West Midlands, twelve dancers set out from the St. Nicholas Church. Six of them carry reindeer antlers--three racks of black horns and three racks of white. The other six are stock figures from pantomime--Maid Marion (always played by a man in a dress), Hobby Horse, Fool, a boy with a bow and arrow (Cupid?), a boy with a triangle and a musician.

The twelve follow a fourteen-mile circuit from the church to Blithfield Hall and back again. At various sites along the way they stop to perform a winding circle dance. Finally, around 8 p.m., the dancers return the horns to the church and stay for Compline.

Mystery One is the is the origin of the dance. One theory says it originated in 1226 when the local lord granted certain villagers the right to hunt on his land. (This was a very big deal in the Middle Ages, as any fan of any version of Robin Hood can tell you.) But the year and the date of the original performance is subject to dispute. One group associates it with Barthelmy Fair (aka Bartholomew Fair), held in late August or early September, depending on your choice of calendar. Another tradition says it was originally performed at Christmas, which makes a lot of sense if St. Nicholas and reindeer equals Yule.

Mystery Two concerns the horns themselves. Radiocarbon dating puts their age at around 1065 A.D., about two hundred years before the grant but long after reindeer had disappeared from the England. They were probably imported from Scandanavia, but that doesn't explain why.

And if that doesn't get your plot bunnies hopping, you might try feeding them a couple of these links:


Abbots Bromley Web Site

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance (created by one of the dancers)

Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shapeshifters in Romance Fiction

Picking up where I left off last time, today I'm contemplating the current popularity of shapeshifters in romance fiction. Last time I blogged here, we discussed werewolves, but now I'm expanding the topic to include all kinds of shapeshifters. While werewolves are probably the most common and popular in romance fiction right now, there's a lot of interest in other kinds of shifters as well. I, myself, have written dragon shifters (in The Ice Dragon and Prince of Spies) and will introduce my first cat shifter in Sweeter Than Wine, due out in ebook on March 11th (in print next year).

Here's what Wiki says about shapeshifters: "Shapeshifting is a common theme in folklore, as well as in science fiction and fantasy. In its broadest sense, it is a change in the physical form or shape of a person or animal...shapeshifting involves physical changes such as alterations of age, gender, race, or general appearance or changes between human form and that of an animal, plant, or inanimate object...Shapeshifting may be used as a plot device, as when Puss In Boots tricks the ogre into changing into a mouse so he may eat him; it may also include a symbolic significance, as when the Beast's transformation at the end of Beauty and the Beast indicates Beauty's ability to accept him despite his appearance."

I don't think I've ever gone quite that far, though Lana's discovery of Roland's ability to shift from dragon to human form in The Ice Dragon does come as a bit of a surprise to her. ;-) I think it's intriguing to find out there's more to the person or animal one meets at the beginning of a novel. And the way those new revelations play into the story make it interesting and fantastical. Of late, I've really been enjoying writing a series of cat shifters.

For some reason, cat shifters fire the imagination and make one think immediately of the pleasures of the flesh. Cats are sinuous, slinky and sexy, where wolves seem tough, mighty and all alpha. Cats on the other hand, have cunning, stealth, soft fur and a very sexy way of moving. Seems natural we romance writers would take them to our hearts and turn them into heroes and heroines in our flights of fantasy.

Check out my upcoming book, Sweeter Than Wine on December 11th for a look at my version of a very sexy cat shifter. ;-) In the meantime, what's your favorite form of shapeshifter, other than wolves? Dragons? Cats? Snakes? Sea creatures? What's your take?