Writing–I finished my Ally/Dante novella series

This year, I want to spend more time writing novels, so I’ve been trying to finish and bundle most of my novella series.  I sent the last Ally/Dante story to Dystel & Goderich to put up soon, and Michael Prete made two, new covers for me (which I love. If you’d like to use him, you can reach him at http://vertex10.com/).  I’m really happy with the way the series has turned out.  But this is the series where I let myself indulge my love of Greek myths, and now, it’s over.

When I was little, I had a fondness for Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairytales (the modern, nice versions–before I discovered The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, with not so nice versions).  I had a brief fling with James Fenimore Cooper, Jane Austen, and James Hilton, flirted with Shakespeare and English Lit in college, and then got hooked on mysteries.  But when I took Latin in high school and discovered the myriad of Greek myths, I became an addict.  My youngest sister is twelve years younger than I am, and I used to tell her Greek myths as her bedtime stories.  She still remembers them.  (She might be as bad as I am).

For the Ally/Dante stories, I wanted to focus on what happened to the two sisters that survived Medusa’s curse.  I wondered about them when I read Medusa’s full story.  The girls’ parents were both deities, and they disowned all three girls when Athena turned them from beautiful to gorgons.  Now, that’s a great inciting incident for a story in itself.  I figured that would have to leave a bit of bitterness for Euryalis (one of the sisters).  I mean, all three girls in some myths (and myths change with time, so choose which version you want to use for your story) were stunningly beautiful.  Suitors pursued them, and they could pick and choose.  Medusa was a priestess in Athena’s temple, and when she fell for Poseidon, they chose the temple to rendevous.  A bad decision.  Athena discovered them and cursed Medusa, since she couldn’t really punish Poseidon.  BUT, she not only cursed Medusa, she also cursed her two, beautiful sisters.

Now, what’s not to love in this story?  It has everything a writer could ever want for internal turmoil and conflict.  A sister–Ally, who loves and champions her younger sister, even though what she did is wrong–and then she’s cursed by the gods for her sister’s sins, even though she’s done nothing wrong.  More, Medusa is the only mortal of the three girls.  Both Euryalis and Stheno are immortals, so they can’t die.  But they CAN be killed, and their heads–if they’re removed–can be used as weapons to turn enemies to stone.

Oh, the joy!  I wanted to take Euryalis and throw her in today’s world and see how she’d fare.  A powerful demi-god hunts her, because he wants her head.  Athena has softened her punishment, as much as possible, because Athena’s a pretty decent goddess once she calms down.  But Ally–as she calls herself–still becomes a gorgon when push comes to shove.  She might be a beautiful girl most of the time, but she’s the last, surviving sister and she’d like to stay that way–alive.  She has enough emotional baggage to crush most people, but she tends to plug into the things that make her happy.  And then, she meets a gargoyle.  Gargoyles are protectors, and things go from there.

I have to admit, I enjoyed writing this series.  It’s not for everyone.  My daughter, Holly, isn’t a big myth fan.  She liked the novellas, but they weren’t her favorites.  My daughter, Robyn, loves myths, and she really enjoyed these.   For me, they were a good time.  I got to throw griffins, nymphs, and lotus eaters into urban fantasy plots.   And it was fun.

My bundle will be up soon: 5 individual novellas gathered cover_mockup_34as Gorgons & Gargoyles.



Writing: Who are your favorite writers & Do they influence you?

I’m at the end of reading a novel that I loved–The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence.  And it’s reminded me that I’ve read LOTS of dark fiction in my time.  Dark fiction, to me, is different than horror.  Horror aims to scare.  Dark fiction means to disturb.  I think “disturb” lasts longer.  But that’s not my point for this blog.  I was thinking about which authors have stood out, for me, above others.  And it made me wonder how much they’ve influenced my writing.

I’ve said before that I was a James Fenimore Cooper fan when I was in middle school.  His most famous novel was The Last of the Mohicans, but he wrote an entire series with Natty Bumppo (later known as Hawkeye) as his protagonist.  Natty’s parents were settlers, but he was raised by Delaware Indians and became involved in the conflicts of the Mohican and Huron Indians, and the white settlers and the Indians.  He developed a set of ethics that were his own and a moral ambiguity that combined his Indian upbringing and his white heritage.  And that’s what appealed to me about those books–that feeling of straddling two worlds, sympathizing with the good of both and irritated with the wrongs of both.  I like stories about protagonists that don’t fit in anywhere.   Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson was raised by werewolves, but she isn’t one.  Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels has magic and a bloodline that she tries to hide, and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock has a heritage that she’s slowly starting to remember.  That type of protagonist–the loner who struggles to live by her own rules–spilled over into my Fallen Angels novels.  Enoch is fighting a losing battle.  He doesn’t want to stay on Earth, but Caleb doesn’t ever want to go Home.

During high school, Latin and Shakespeare filled my mind with myths and legends, tragedies and political intrigue.  I enjoyed the epic battles to wrest power from one another, both on Bosworth Field and at Troy, as the Greeks tried to defeat the Trojans.  Myths have crept into many of my stories, especially Empty Altars and some of my novellas.  And as I read Prince of Thorns, I couldn’t help comparing The Prince of Thorns with Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Both Jorg and Richard decide to become villains and to excel at it–at least in literature.

The next author who captivated me–and held me for years–was Agatha Christie.  With a few deft strokes, she created characters that I felt I knew, and she taunted me with red herrings and clues as I tried to solve her mystery’s puzzle before her protagonist did.  But it wasn’t just the murders that dazzled me.  She often wrote about exotic locations, and she firmly believed…and stated…that anyone was capable of murder, if put in the right circumstances.  Christie taught me the fine art of plotting.  I followed my Christie years with books by Nancy Pickard, Martha Grimes, and Elizabeth George.  They might not be the masters of puzzles and plots that Christie was, but they took mysteries and pushed them into literary gems.  Their use of language and characterization made me long to string words together to higher levels.

The last authors I’ll mention in this post are Jane Austen and Georgette Heyers.  They fascinated me for an entirely different reason.  They excelled at social mannerisms, which was just plain fun, but they also excelled at the independent, feisty female protagonist.  I tried out a few female P.I. novels, but they didn’t give me the same sense of enjoyment.  I don’t mind sarcasm or cynicism–it often appeals to me–but the P.I.s I read felt just plain jaded.  And that didn’t intrigue me.  I didn’t find heroines I liked nearly as much until I found urban fantasy.  And those females added more.  They didn’t just have wits and smarts and a thumb-your-nose at the world attitude, they also carried weapons and knew how to use them.  A literary bonanza.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, among all the authors I found and loved, I also found a supply of short stories that became a steady stream of entertainment for me.  Every Christmas, I asked for the anthology, The Year’s Best in Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  And I slowly indulged myself in the best twisted, dark stories available for that year.  As I said, I like dark…

What authors are your favorites?  And how have they influenced you?  Or your writing?

Writing: You Can’t Win ’em All

I’ve been writing a series of novellas that I really enjoy.  I don’t know if I chose the wrong covers for them or if I’m marketing them wrong, but they just aren’t catching on.  If you have ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.  If you don’t, that’s fine, too, because I’m guessing that mixing medieval times with supernaturals wasn’t my best idea.  But it’s possible that I don’t care.

Short fiction, in general, isn’t as popular as novels.  Most of my novellas go up in the rankings for a while, and then fall for a while, bouncing up and down.  Not wonderful, but something I can live with.

I’ve learned from experience.  I intend to spend more time concentrating on novels and less time churning out novellas.  But novellas, for me, are like a piece of chocolate.  Instant gratification.  In a week or less, I have a finished product that I like.   Michael creates a wonderful cover for my 40 pages, and I’m a happy girl.  It’s like opening a small box that you know will have something wonderful inside.

I wrote short stories for AGES.  They’re my first love, but when markets started drying up for them, I had to concede that longer was the rule of the literary land.  One of my friends–whose writing I deeply admire–Ed Bryant, wasn’t so happy when I devoted my time to novels over short fiction.  He’s made a distinguished career with short fiction, but let’s face it.  I’m no Ed Bryant.  And markets aren’t the same as they used to be.  So now, when I write short, it’s almost an indulgence, paying homage to an art form I love.  (And boy, was I happy when Canadian writer, Alice Munro–a short story writer–won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature–a short story writer!!!  Hooray!)

Anyway, some of my novellas do better than others.  But my Christian/Brina series is doing dismally.  So you’d think I’d write a wrap-up novella, bundle the stories, and call it a day, wouldn’t you?  And I intended to.  Until I found a cover for a story that I thought would work perfectly in that series.  And then, wouldn’t you know it?  I found another cover for Christian and Brina that I liked.  So I’m torn.  And I kind of think Christian and Brina are going to stay as part of my mental landscape when story ideas dart through my brain.

For one thing, I’ve been grown-up for a long, long time, but I still fantasize about castles.  Not real castles, mind you.  Those can be cold and drafty…and smelly, too.  But FICTION castles.  And my stories are only as factual as my story ideas want to make them.  And then, I have a thing for magic and Merlin.  And Harry Potter.  So witches had to populate my fictitious serfdom–because that made me happy.  And then the witches had to battle something–so why not choose all of the leftover mythological creatures that I haven’t used before?  A match made in my idea of writing heaven.  Castles, witches, vampires, evil lords, and a Greek mythological creature or two.

I doubt my rankings will ever soar on this series.  But maybe for this series, I don’t care.  Maybe this series is for ME.  So there’ll be a new Christian/Brina novella out later in November.  And I might even lose money on it.  But once in a while, I write for myself.   cover_9_thumbcover_13_thumbcover_21_thumb  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/series-of-novellas.html


Writing–Read, read, read

I’ve mentioned before that a writer should read whatever genre they write.  Why?  To see what’s out there, how other authors do it, and what’s essential to bring readers to that type of story.  If you read enough, you’ll learn the genre’s rhythms and guidelines, but for every few novels I read in urban fantasy, I like to read a few that are outside my usual tastes.   Why do I do that?  Because my first love is good writing.  What I truly respect and admire are authors who can transcend their genres.

I learn a lot from reading novels that stretch the basics, authors who combine literary with genre plotlines.  That sounds sort of snobby, I know, but there are lots of authors whom I enjoy to read because they tell a good story and keep me turning the pages.  When I find an author who can do that AND blow me away with their use of language and imagery, I’ve found my own personal, reading Nirvana.  And I study how they do it.

I’ve said it before, and I’m not being humble–just realistic–that I think of myself as a writer, not an author.  I’m the person who asked for anthologies by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty one year for Christmas, read every story, drooled at their mastery as wordsmiths, but asked myself, “What was that story really about?”  I look for plots.  I look for BIG book questions.  I enjoy subtleties, but I want more.  So for me, the perfect combination is a wordsmith who writes great stories.

Why am I thinking about this right now?  I’m reading Neil Gaimann’s American Gods.  The man’s skill and imagination blow me away.  The story?  I’m struggling with, and at first, it confused me.  It’s all the things I like–gods; myths; amazing, original ideas; and writing skills that make me bookmark pages on my Kindle and drool.   He can write scenes that make me squirm, that make my jaw drop, or that make my heart ache.  He writes scenes that shock me because I didn’t see what was coming.  So why am I inching my way through chapter after chapter?  Because each chapter in and of itself is amazing, but I still don’t see any progress in the plot.  And I’m a plot-driven girl.  I’m also a character-driven reader, and even though I really like Shadow–and I REALLY like him–he’s just moving through the novel.  At first, I thought I was having trouble with him because he simply reacts to everything instead of being pro-active–forming a game plan and trying to achieve something–but then I realized that he doesn’t even really react to what happens to him.  He simply deals with it and moves on.  And I guess, for me, that makes it hard for me to follow him, because I don’t know where he’s going or even what he wants.  I think that’s intentional, but boy, I never realized what a big difference it would make for me, the reader.

The thing is, though, I’m learning a LOT from reading this book.  I study how Gaimann sets up his scenes, because he’s GOOD at it.  It’s almost easier to be objective about his writing, because I’m not flipping pages as fast as I can to see what happens next.  It’s not my usual, genre read, so I’m not in any certain rhythm, waiting for the next plot point to happen.  I have time to really think about what I admire (and am jealous about) in his writing, and what slows me down.  And that, in itself, has been an awesome experience.

American Gods feels like an unusual, quirky read.  I’m glad I found it, even though I’m late.  The last novel I read–out of my comfort zone–was Les Edgerton’s Just Like That.  Noir.  Another genre I’m unfamiliar with.  That man’s another brilliant wordsmith.  Would I ever write noir?  No, and that’s the point.  Did I learn from reading it?  Yes, there’s a certain rawness about noir that I’d love to incorporate into my own writing.  And that’s what I’ve found interesting.  I learn more about writing–nouns and verbs strung together into sentences–when I read outside my genre.  I learn more about storytelling–what to put where–when I read inside it.  All of it worth my time.

Writing & Research

I write urban fantasy–make-believe.  So why am I doing more research than I did when I wrote mysteries?  It came as a shock to me when I ended up with stacks of print-outs on voodoo and Norse gods, Wiccan Sabbats and Gorgons.  How could supernaturals be more work than killing someone?  But it’s simple, really.  Whatever a writer puts in a story has to FEEL real, and if some fact is off-key enough to jostle a reader out of the flow, it’s a misstep.  So if I put the Norse goddess Freya in a novel–Empty Altars, I’d better have my basics in decent shape.

My friend, M. L. Rigdon, writes fantasy, but she also writes Regency romances as Julia Donner.  She has to research more little details (Were gloves buttoned? What fabric of gown did a woman wear at home instead of for a fete?), than I ever stopped to consider.  Until I wrote Empty Altars.   Then little things tripped me up.  I couldn’t say “They went to bed,” because what was their house like?  What did they sleep on?  What did they do to keep warm?   Mary Lou read my  novella Uncommon Allies, set in Medieval times, and e-mailed me, “Send these to me before you put them online.”  Because even after I’d done a decent amount of research, I apparently hadn’t done enough.  The mistakes are mine, but at the time, I thought I was in good shape.

In the beginning, I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan of stopping every other chapter to look up what gargoyles were carved from, the history of griffins, or the origin of Pegasus.  But I learned that research not only adds a richness to a story that was lacking before, but it also inspires ideas.   Now, granted, I’ve known people who spend more time on research than on writing.  Somewhere, a writer has to strike a balance.  But authenticity rings true in a novel.  It makes the characters and setting come to life.  It places the reader in the protagonist’s world–and nothing’s better than that, to live and breathe along with the main character.

The other thing to consider is that readers are SMART.  Most of them are smarter than I am.  Someone who buys one of my stories is going to know more about Norse myths or witchcraft or Druids than I do.  I can’t compete with them, but I sure don’t want to disappoint them, so I try to get all of the facts I use right.  Because if I’m wrong, they’ll notice.  And it will jostle them out of the story.  And that’s the last thing that I want to happen.

As writers, we want to grab the readers’ attention and keep it.  We want them to keep turning the pages.  If we screw up, they notice.  They might even forgive us.  But it puts a bump in a story that might make suspending disbelief impossible.  And then we’ve lost that reader.  Maybe forever.

Writing a Series

I’ve been told that, for marketing, it’s smart to write a series instead of stand-alone novels.  If people like the characters in your first novel, they’ll want more stories about them.  They’ll want to see them grow and change.  Adding a romance helps.  The protagonist and his/her romantic interest can butt heads for a book or two, get together in the third or fourth, and become a team after that, with the usual complications that come with coupledom.  I have to admit, my favorite mysteries are almost all series.  I loved Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain, even though the author finally moved on to someone else.  Elizabeth George has shamed Thomas Lynley, married him, killed his wife, and emotionally beaten him up.  Once in a while, I wonder if she still likes him.  Same with Martha Grimes and Richard Jury.  It must be hard to come up with book after book with the same characters. Maybe sometimes, you’re just irritated with them.  But look at J.D. Robb or Sue Grafton.  Series characters are done all the time, and as readers, we like going into a world we know with characters we like.

My favorite urban fantasy authors write series.  A few of them write more than one.  Maybe that’s a good thing–when you’ve had it up to here with one protagonist, you can switch to a different one.  For urban fantasy, not only do the characters grow in each successive book, with more intense relationships in more complex arrangements, but the world they inhabit becomes more detailed and real too.  With each book, I learn more about Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock and how she and her puma share the same body, but I also learn about vampires and their society, the politics of “others” who dwell in the same city, and the origins of how vampires started.  The paranormal becomes more real the more books the author writes.

When I decided to write my novellas, I kept those things in mind.  I wanted to write at least four stories for each series.  But I wanted to use more than just settings to distinguish them from one another.  I wanted a different focus for each series too.  So, I put a strong detective slant to the Babet/Prosper stories and gave them Agatha Christie-type plots.  For One Less Warlock, I wrote a locked room mystery–with witches. For A Different Undead, I wanted to write about a person who’d died and suddenly appeared on the streets again–but instead of faking his/her death, I wanted to put a magic twist on the tale.  For Magrat’s Dagger, I wanted a stolen, prized relic, like the Maltese Falcon.

I won’t bore you–I hope–with too many details for each series, but I wanted the Loralei and Death series to have more of a poignant feel, while I tried to focus more on light and quirky romance, with a smidgeon of magic, in the Emerald Hills series.  For Dante and Ally, I made an effort to incorporate more mythology into the plots, but I let the medieval castles set the tone for the Christian and Brina stories.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to have a series in mind.  And settings help define a series, yes, but most have the same tone of voice too.  Is it humorous?  Dark?  Melancholy?  Or adventurous?  And they not only have the same character or characters, they often have a similar, underlying theme or feel.  Minor characters can grow into bigger parts.  So leave yourself some wiggle room.  At the end of your book, which is a big enough feat to accomplish in and of itself, what else could happen to those same characters in that same world?  Because you might have to live with them for a while.

The Three Fates & Writing

I saw a quote on twitter a few days ago that I’ve had taped over my computer for a long time.  “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

I first saw Stephen Covey’s words on Jonathan Cainer’s horoscope site years ago, and they struck a chord with me.  If you really believe that there’s life after death, then we’re already immortal, right?  Of course, my friends who are atheists would disagree with me.  Maybe my Jewish friends too.  They’d say that when we die, our energies are converted into something else useful for the universe, and we are no more, that we live on in the good works we leave behind.  I’m not bringing this up to argue the point, it’s just that–for me–Greek and Norse myths sneak into my writing more than I realize.  And I wrestle with the idea of Fate.

My dad, who was an atheist, believed that a man’s days were, indeed, numbered.  I’m not sure how he could argue that point if we’re randomly conceived, but mortals aren’t always rational, are they?  Otherwise, he’d say, how could one man be hit by lightning three times while plowing his field and survive, then trip on a curb and break his neck?  And he’d finish with, “It was his time.”    The Greeks would agree.  The three Fates foretold your destiny when you were born.  Clotho spun your thread of life. Lachesis measured it out, and Atropos snipped it when your days were finished.  Horoscopes hint at the same thing.  How the planets are aligned on the day of your birth foretell the ups and downs of your journey through life…and some say, the time your journey is finished.

I bought a book once–9 Chances to Live a Happy Life–(which, of course, I loaned to someone and no longer have), but the author contended that before we (spirits) come to earth, we choose our date of birth, our own name, and our parents to preordain each step of our journey here.  That’s pushing it a bit for me.  Who, in their right mind, would choose abusive parents on purpose?  But I liked the general idea of the book–that every step here is to make us grow.  The old idea that Life is a Classroom.

The truth is, I still have more questions than answers when it comes to Life.  But I still like the idea of some sort of plan, some reason for us to hang out here.  (But that might be the teacher in me.  My husband rolls his eyes and says, “You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.”  He might be right).  But I fret with those ideas in novels here and there.  So I decided to simply make it a major part of the novel, FABRIC OF LIFE.  In that story, the world’s population has grown too much for the Fates to keep up, so special mortals are chosen to help with the load.  Thea Patek is the weaver for the area she lives in.  She dutifully races to her studio before each new soul comes to earth and weaves a bookmark for them, the threads colored by the position of each planet at their birth.

Anyway, it was fun to write about Thea and the mystery person who sneaks into her studio and unravels the knots at the end of choice bookmarks, causing victims to die before their allotted time.  But as usual, when I finished writing, the same, old questions remained.  No brilliant inspiration sent me celestial answers, but I had a good time pondering the questions.

Planets And Runes

I’m hooked.  I’m an astrology junkie.  I faithfully read Jonathan Cainer every day and Susan Miller once a month.  And I know that astronomers think of the planets’ movements in a scientific way (to the point that they demoted Pluto, drat them), and I know that science would snort in disdain that I think of the planets as influencing my life, but I don’t care.  Science aside, if our Creator positioned planets and their movements to exert influences over the ups and downs of my destiny, I can only admire Him for that…even though I’d like a lot more ups and a few less downs.  I mean, if Life is growth…and that’s a big IF, (I haven’t figured out anything better yet), then having it programmed with challenges and blessings seems like a great idea to me.  And each planet rules something different, so when my finances hit the skids, the planet of love might make my home life warm and fuzzy.  When Mercury is retrograde, Venus might transit the sun.

I’m always happy when I read my weekly horoscopes and get happy predictions.  Not so thrilled when I found the horoscope that said, “Well, too bad, but you seem to have a crappy twelve year cycle coming up.”  …And the damned thing was right.  But at least, forewarned is forearmed, right?  Either that, or it’s just easy to get depressed.  Anyway, the thing is, even though I say that I don’t want to know the future, a tiny part of me does.  Or at least, the trends of the future, because everyone’s specifics are different.

But when I go to my sites to get my horoscope fix, most of them have all sorts of other things available too.  Tarot readings.  Now, I am transfixed by the beauty and mysticism of Tarot cards.  I bought a deck once, but I was too afraid to try them.  What if they told me something specific that I didn’t want to know?  What if I need to cling to a small bubble of hope to hang on to my dream?  And the Tarot tell me that I’m never going to achieve my goal.  Do I want to know?  Or do I want to keep trying?  And what if I give up, and I misinterpreted the hand I was dealt?  Aaargh.

Anyway, long story short, the Tarot and I Ching and palm reading, etc. made me think about runes.  One of my favorite movies (and now you’re going to know what a genre junkie I really am) is The Thirteenth Warrior.  I make someone watch it with me once a year.  And I love the scene where the old woman throws the bones and chooses the thirteen men who will fight the “fire worm.”  Come to think of it, this movie is probably what got me back on my Norse binge too.  But besides studying the skies, lots of early cultures tossed bones and studied entrails to predict the future.  Entrails don’t appeal to me all that much, so bones were my weapon of choice.  And that’s how I came up with my  goddess, Diana, tossing her runes to discover her destiny.  And it felt right.  She has runes.  I have planets.  And we both believe in them, even when we don’t like what they tell us.


Rambling Men

My grandfathers died when I was too young to really remember them.  Instead, I have general impressions and a few vivid moments that stick in my mind.  Mostly, I know what people say about them, the stories that survived their lives.  As far as I can tell, both made for subpar husbands, not so wonderful parents, but awesome grandpas.

My dad’s father was a caboose man on trains.  He swung the lanterns and road the rails.  I was told he “had” to marry my grandmother.  I can believe that, since theirs didn’t seem like an especially good union.  If they had anything in common, I never saw it.  Rumor was that Grandma was a waitress at a restaurant my grandfather frequented often.  The rest was too scandalous for my young ears, but they stuck it out and raised three children.  My father swore he wouldn’t have a marriage like theirs, that his years wouldn’t be spent in endless arguing.  But by the time I hit the stage, they were too old and too tired to fight daily.  I remember Grandma as reclining on a couch, eating bananas and reading True Detective magazines.  Her favorite words were, “I did my duty.”  My grandfather, on the other hand, still had a zest for life.  He took us out to eat whenever he won at poker.  He won a big pot once and paid for Dad to drive to the east coast so we could play on the shore.  And he loved to tell stories.  Stories about a drunk who passed out on the railroad tracks and the train cut off his head, and everyone had to take their lanterns and search the fields, looking for it.  Stories about chugging through storms and staying in little towns.  I loved sitting on his lap, listening to him weave his tales.

My mom’s father was a truck driver.  Pure Danish–a dark Dane, he always added.  His parents settled in Wisconsin and farmed.   How he met my grandma, I don’t know, but Grandma glowed when she talked about “Pete” coming for her with his horse and buggy and taking her to barn dances.  Grandpa was a lot of fun.  He took us for ice cream cones and bought my sister and me shiny tricycles.  But he was not to be depended on.  During the Depression, he worked for one trucking firm after another to keep a job, but he didn’t send any of his money back to Grandma.  Instead, he stayed with Grandma’s sister and her husband on their farm, eating meals, while Grandma struggled alone in Chicago, trying to keep a roof over their four childrens’ heads.  She lost the house, was forced to move to a tiny, two room shack, and sent the kids for buckets of lard and flour to fill their bellies.  After the Depression, Grandpa returned, and Grandma took him back.  “Why?” I asked once, and Grandma said, “It was different then.  Not many jobs for women.  I had four children to raise.”  And she still loved him.

What is there about scoundrels?  They make for great stories, because Grandpa Pete told us about driving his truck through the mountains when the roads were narrow and twisty, when he had to put his leg out the driver’s door to scrape his rubber-soled shoe on the road so the ice didn’t send him over the steep dropoffs.   He told us about shanties perched on the side of ravines with pigs living under the front porches and chickens running across the front yards.  And he told us that rain was fairies dancing on the roof, and that thunder was Thor knocking down all ten pins in the sky’s bowling alley.

My grandpas had their flaws, but the way I remember them is through their stories.  Maybe that’s why I love myths so much to this day.  And maybe that’s why Tyr and Thor made their way into my novel, EMPTY ALTARS.  Maybe that’s why I loved reading books to my kids and sharing the tales between the pages.  A legacy from my childhood that I can pass along.

What about power?

I’m not a huge fan of power.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know it’s necessary if you want to have any measure of freedom or control over your life.  And I like freedom as much as the next person, maybe more.  Which means I don’t want someone to have power over me.  But more than that?  Not so much.  I have no desire to have power over them.  I taught grade school for six years.  I know how hard it is to make small children bend to your will–not that they ever do.  Parents know.  Kids are who they are.  You just cross your fingers and do the best you can to raise them.  So for me, power means work.  It means making the right choices, and I have enough trouble doing that for myself.  For others?  Forget about it.  I’d rather teach than rule.

And why am I going on about this?  Because I used the Norse god, Tyr, as the romantic interest in my novel, EMPTY ALTARS.  Tyr intrigued me.  He wasn’t enamored of power either.

Tyr isn’t as well known as Thor and Odin, but he preceeded them.  According to some versions of Norse myths, Tyr is an old god, powerful and wise.  Not the norm.  In most myths, the old gods are turbulent, barbaric.  They’re raw power, who swallow sons and daughters to cling to what they have.  Not Tyr.  He walked away from his role as supreme ruler and gave his power to Odin–without a fight, without a struggle.  Why?  The sky-god didn’t care if he was the top guy or not.  He retained his position as god of war and justice, but he was happy to let Odin deal with the politics of keeping his fellow gods under control.

As god of war, Tyr was more concerned about honor and strategy than bloodshed.  Maybe because he ruled justice, too.  Tyr’s the god who placed his right hand inside of Fenrir, the wolf’s mouth, so that his fellow gods could tether him.  The wolf thought he had a sweet deal.  The gods were using a ribbon to bind him.  Fenrir expected to break free and prove his strength.  Tyr knew differently.  Tyr knew the thin ribbon was created by dwarf magic.  Made from “the footstep of a cat, the roots of a mountain, a woman’s beard, the breath of fishes, the sinews of a bear, and a bird’s spittle,” (encyclopedia Mythica), the ribbon would not break, and Tyr knew Fenrir would gnaw off his hand for revenge.   But he still met Fenrir’s challenge when no other god was brave enough.

Not one other god would challenge Tyr, even though he stepped down.  Not even Thor, who was known for his mercurial temperament.  So… if Tyr was as strong as any god in Norse myths, and wiser than most, what happened?  According to legend, mortals had grown tired of him.  They began to worship Odin and leave offerings on his altars, ignoring Tyr.  If gods are fickle, mortals are too.  Eventually, mortals would favor Thor with his mighty hammer over Odin.  And after time, new gods would take Odin and Thor’s places.   So, what do gods do when forced into early retirement?  In EMPTY ALTARS, I decided to have them still dedicate themselves to mortals, even though mortals no longer dedicate themselves to old gods.  But it made me think.  How important is power?  And who craves it the most?

Power is often associated with ego, but the saying, “Power corrupts,” didn’t apply to Tyr.  He didn’t have much of an ego, but he did have a huge sense of duty.   He thought about others more than he thought about himself.  Not always the case.  I guess power is like anything else.  What do they say?  “A gun doesn’t kill.  The person who pulls the trigger does.”  That could apply to power too.