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Friday, October 27, 2017


Photo Credits, from left to right: Sharon Wildwind, Cindy Kirkpatrick, Ashley Wilson

THIS POST, AS THE TITLE SAYS, IS PART TWO OF SHARON WILDWIND'S excellent article on writing nearly historical fiction. If you haven't read it yet, you can read Part One here


If the story is set at least 50 years in the past, it is an historical novel~ The Historical Writers of America

If the story is set less than 50 years in the past, but still feels like it’s taking place a long time ago, it’s a nearly historical novel. ~ Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer

In 1975, I was going to graduate school by distance learning. Two evenings a week, I drove 53 miles (83 kilometers) along Interstate 40, through the Great Smoky Mountains, sharing the road with high-balling truck drivers. I went to class, then drove home, often arriving after midnight.

Bored out of my skull on those drives, I spent car time developing a romantic-mystery. The premise was an American nurse seeking adventure, who takes a job in a northern Alberta nursing station. She knows nothing about, and is totally unprepared, for nursing station work, northern Alberta weather, and living in a tiny hamlet. (Never mind about why I chose Alberta. It’s complicated.)

So, I’m living in the U. S. south and writing about northern Alberta, about which I know nothing. Nada. Zip. The big mistake I made was that while I bought an Alberta map, it wasn’t a topographical map. Regular maps show distance — how to get from here to there. Topographical maps show if there might be up and down obstacles, like canyons or mountain ranges, between here and there.

The Caribou Mountains form a large part of northern Alberta geography. I’d seen photos of Banff, so I blissfully transferred a Rocky Mountain landscape to the north, and set my story in a Banff-like setting in the Caribou Mountains. (Those of you familiar with northern Alberta can stop laughing now.) The Caribou Mountains are a flat plateau, rising steeply in an impossible-to-traverse escarpment for some 1,864 feet (568 meters), and then levelling out into a flat, boggy muskeg plateau. There are no mountain peaks there, and certainly no gold mines, both of which were essential to the story I wrote.

Fast-forward forty-two years.

Sharon Wildwind in High Level, Alberta.
Having lived and worked in northern Alberta, I now had first-hand knowledge about nursing station work, northern Alberta weather, and living in a tiny hamlet. I also had terrific characters still residing in my heart, and a completely impossible plot. I had to keep the mid-1970s time frame because of events related to the characters and story. What had been a current novel had become a near historical one. So, where to start?

I bought a topographical map, and went over it with an oil and gas man who had actually walked the Caribou Mountain escarpment, and didn’t care to do it ever again. I moved my hamlet, Whiskeyjack, off the plateau to the base of the escarpment, ditched the mountain scenery, substituted logging and oil and gas exploration for a gold mine, and started again.

When we’re writing a near historical novel — something that happened less than 50 years ago — lots of readers will remember the year, the month, and sometimes the exact day in our stories. If we make a mistake, they will let us know. We owe it to our readers to have at least a nodding acquaintance with things like geography and weather. That doesn’t mean we have to be constrained by real events such as weather or real history, but if we choose to ignore or tweak something major, we owe it to our readers to tell them we are doing that. Our introduction might say something like this, “Those of you familiar with sawmills in High Level, Alberta, know that Leo Arsenault didn’t build the first mill there until the late summer of 1964. This story required that the mill be in operation several months earlier, so that’s what I did.”

How to ground nearly historical writing in a semblance of the real world:

1). Live thereThe best near historical research is to live in the place, at or near the time. I wrote more about this in Part One of this blog.

2). Talk to people who lived there. My engineering buddy gave me details I would never have invented.

3). Read journals and diaries of people who lived thereThe following books gave me a sense of the time and place about which I wanted to write.
•  Joy Duncan (ed). Red Serge Wives. Centennial Book Committee. 1974.
•  Ruth Lee-Knight. When the Second Man was a Woman. Imagine Publishing. 2004 – a story of Mounties’ wives in remote settlements.
•  Gordon Reid’s set of first person accounts of Northern Alberta. Lower Peace Publishing Company, 1963 – 1978.
•  Dr. Brad Stelfox, and others. Logging the Fairview Area. Publisher and date unknown. – While Fairview is some distance from my setting, one chapter had a general view of logging in Northern Alberta.

4). Download a calendarThere are any numbers of sites, which will produce a calendar for dates specified.

5). Download a sunrise and sunset chart. Here's one to use: http://www.sunrisesunset.comFill in the place name and the dates you want, and it makes a chart for you.) I once had two characters enjoying a lovely October sunset, north of Fort Vermilion, at 8:00 pm. At that latitude, in October, the sun sets at 6:30.

6). Look at a topographical map. Here's another good site: Canadian Topographic Maps: Note: This site is a little hard to navigate. Instead of carrying maps in stock, they now have a printing arrangement with regional map companies to print maps on demand. On the site, find a map company near you, and send them an e-mail about what you might need. Or visit your local library. They may have a topo map or be able to get one.

7). Find out what the weather was at the time. Look for the so called “weather incidents” that people would remember. The Government of Canada Historical Climate Data:
can get information for specific dates or monthly summaries. For a lark, some of the weather in Whiskeyjack follows exactly what the weather was in 1977.

8). Always be on the lookout for little gemsI recently discovered Merrily K. Aubrey. Place Names of Alberta; volume IV, northern Alberta. University of Calgary Press. 1996. After looking up real places, like Fort Vermilion, High Level, and Margaret Lake, I was able to construct the following, imaginary summary for Whiskeyjack: 

  • Whiskeyjack (settlement and eventually a hamlet) 
  • 84 J/5 — Whiskeyjack (this is the topographical map reference)
  • 34-111-10-W5 (this is where it’s located on the topographical map)
  • 58 degrees 40 minutes North 115 degrees 35 minutes West (this is its longitude and latitude)
  • Approximately 110 kilometers east north-east of High Level (how far to the nearest larger population centre).
Located near the Beaver Ranch River, the area was first surveyed in 1915. The settlement was founded in 1922 as a farming community by Henry Martel, who named it after the large flocks of grey or Canadian jays in the area. After a typhoid epidemic in 1929, the settlement was abandoned, though two or three families remained in the area. In 1946-47, brothers Steven and Jonathan Randall founded the hamlet. A post office was established in 1954. The first postmaster was Thomas Purdy.

Oh, yes, always make up an imaginary cover before working on a book. Pin it some place you can see it. It’s a great reminder to keep writing. Featured above, are my imaginary covers for this trilogy. The photo for Whiskeyjack is mine. Cindy Kirkpatrick (Fireweed) and Ashley Wilson (Tamarac) have my thanks for allowing me to manipulate their copyrighted photos (personal use only). The photography is entirely theirs. Please do not forward or reproduce these photographs.

Whiskeyjack is with beta readers. I’m about a third of the way through Fireweed. I have a major event outline for Tamarac. So far, I’ve managed to stay firmly out of Banff.

(Thanks so much, Sharon. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we look forward to reading your new work. All the best with it! - Susan).

Sharon's Bio: Sharon Wildwind is a Calgary mystery writer. You can find more about her and her books at

Thursday, October 19, 2017


A FEW DAYS BEFORE CANADIAN THANKSGIVING, I finally went to the cemetery where my parents are buried. My dad died in 1983 from a heart attack. He was only 56. My mom died two years ago, aged 85, after battling lung cancer. She had purchased their burial plot after my father passed. Whenever I visited his grave with her, it was strange to see how accommodated she was to knowing where she would one day be interred. In many ways, Mom was a practical sort. In other ways, not so much.

I had been planning to lay silk flowers at their grave for some time and had put it off. Every November, the cemetery removes all the grave flowers, so snow-removal is easier. I'd been feeling grumpy about visiting. I'd been busy all summer. This was yet another chore. My mother always took leaving flowers for my father quite seriously. It already being October, the flowers would be removed in November unless I rescued them first. I had missed retrieving them the year before, so their grave was bare. The cemetery was also a bit of a drive - 40 minutes to get there. It wasn't like jumping into the car to buy groceries. Instead, I had to plan things - buy new flowers, pick a day that worked in my schedule, then carve out precious time to drive there.

Part of my irritation was in doing what was expected of me. It was as if my parents were watching me from afar and expecting me to leave flowers at their grave because that's what a dutiful daughter did. It would be a sign of my devotion to them, a proof. I've never liked being forced into proving anything, or being put into a societal box. But I was also feeling a bit guilty for not going. When I finally did go, I discovered the effort wasn't so much for my parents, as it was for me.

I learned something about effort, about grieving, and about life that day. To make the physical effort to visit a grave is something that's much more potent than simply thinking about loved ones who have died. Making an effort becomes a kind of ritual, a ceremony. In remembering and celebrating who my parents were, I transformed an ordinary moment into something more poignant and deep. My effort became a sacrament, an expression of the love I have for them, and the love they have for me. If I hadn't gone to their grave, I wouldn't have had that experience. Yes, there were tears. I will go again to retrieve their flowers before the cemetery removes them.

In the wider scheme of things, the idea of 'effort vs. just thinking about it', is applicable to any aspect our lives. Thoughts have power, but it's in the doing that the magic occurs.

- Susan.

Friday, October 13, 2017


LATELY, I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT how writers are seen by non-writers, and how difficult it is for many of us to have our books noticed within the volume of work out there - everything from self-published books, to micro and small press offerings, to what the big houses are presenting. What follows are my top ten observations based upon my experiences of how some non-writers view us, and their lack of understanding regarding the writing/publishing business:

1). It's easy to write a book... followed closely by another favourite of mine,

2). It's easy to get a book published. Great Grappling Gods of Purple Prose. It's easy-peasy to write crap. It's not easy to write well. It's even harder to get an agent and publisher interested in you. (Of course, one can publish themselves, relieving the problem of agents and publishers, which is a whole other box of Kleenex.)

3). If it's self-published work, it can't be good. Not so. There are some excellent self-published titles out there. Often, those books have been vetted by people who also know how to write and who have offered the writer excellent critique (and no, not critique from non-writer friends or family). That said, there are also many self-published books that I think aren't ready to be out there. New writers (those who have been at it for several years) tend to be a little delusional about how good their work is. See Barb Geiger's excellent post about the Dunning-Kruger Bump where she talks about this very thing. Seasoned writers almost always think they can do better, even after the book has been published.

4). If the work is published through a micro or small press, it isn't as good as what comes out of a major publishing house. Again, not true. The big houses out of New York are often dictated to by their marketing departments. They tend to repeat what's been done and what sells, because that's their business. Despite their contention that they want the next 'new thing' they aren't often inclined to buy work that steps outside genre lines or is experimental. The smaller houses allow more freedom. The downside is that smaller houses have more limited budgets, so distribution and promotion tend to be small.

5). If the book has a lot of 'splash' about it, a lot of promotion, it must be good. Readers are a curious bunch. They'll buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because of the hoopla and the spice. Then, when the movie's made, they're convinced the writing is also good, because, 'well, it's a film, isn't it?' The quality of writing doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how well a book sells. Trash also sells.

6). Writers are lonely. Most of us aren't. We thrive on being alone and get prickly when we don't get enough alone time. (Non-writing spouses, please take note.) When I'm writing, I'm so engaged in what I'm doing that I don't feel lonely. Then, when it's time to socialise, I socialise. Most of us are ice bergs. Our social persona is only the top 10% of the surface that shows.

7). Writers make good money. A few do. Many don't. For most of us, writing isn't about the money. It's about feeling we have a story to tell, that we've something to say about the world. It's a passion for story that pushes us. A love for creating something from nothing, and the amazing realisation that we can actually do this. As for money, most of us keep our day jobs. A few, like myself, are fortunate enough to have a spouse who tolerates our obsession. (It helps that I also cook dinner and do the laundry.) Of course, the hope is to make more money at writing. Fingers crossed and towels folded, some day, we all will.

8). Writers are egotistical, frustrated substance abusers, who look down on the rest of us practical , down-to-earth types. There is some truth in this. It isn't easy spending years at something with little in the way of financial recompense until you hit it 'big'. And a writer may never hit it 'big' or what he considers to be 'big'. Think about it: if you spent a good deal of your day, year in and year out,  doing what you love (and occasionally hate) only to have people run down your efforts or not even bother to look at them, wouldn't you be tempted to drown your sorrows now and then? Being a writer is like being locked into a marriage that drives you nuts. Furthermore, there's no guarantee your writing will help you pay the rent. I'm not complaining: personally, I've had it good, but a life like that explains a lot. It's no wonder some writers sit down over a drink (or three) to share their war stories.

9). Writers aren't normal. They look down on non-creative types. We don't look down on other people unless they look down on us. Or think they're more important than us (and yes, I've run into that too many times to count).  As far as normal goes, maybe we aren't so much. A lot of the time, we're more interested in what's going on in our heads than in the world around us. I am easily bored. Someone who thinks I might find their opinions about how the educational system has changed in the past ten years will make me want to dump coffee in their lap. (And yes, out of politeness I've endured such a conversation, but without the coffee dumping.) On the other hand, give me an honest compliment about my books, (which translates into saying you've actually read them and appreciated the effort), and I'll happily chat with you about anything - even your opinions about the changes you've seen in primary education, as long as it doesn't last too long. Conversation is a two-way street. Many of us, including fellow writers, need to remember that. This is especially true for writers who spend more than ten minutes giving a plot point by plot point rendition of their latest story or novel to other writers.

10). Writers are arrogant. They lose all respect for anyone who says, 'I could write a book. I just don't have the time.'  YES, we WILL lose respect for you if you say this to us. Who's being arrogant, here? You don't learn how to be a doctor or a lawyer in a matter of months. The same goes for writers. It takes years to learn how to write well. It also takes guts, because any writer worth her tears has dealt with rejection many times over. Am I being arrogant and self-congratulating as I write this? Perhaps a bit, but I also recognise those who wear their wounds on the inside. Writers who have done their time have been scarred in abundance. A similar situation is the non-writer who says, 'I have a great story for you. If you write it, we'll split the proceeds.' This is like telling a doctor you have an appendix that needs taking out. If she does the operation, you'll split the hospital costs, 50-50, because, after all, it's your appendix and she's only gone to med school for a dozen years or so - no big deal. She should appreciate the honour you're offering her. (I ran into this at a book fair. But the old guy was enthusiastic, and rather sweet, so I forgave him. I suggested he write the book, himself.)

To wrap up, let me suggest readers keep reading (because we writers need you to) writers keep writing (because we also need to), everybody be considerate, and take a writer to lunch. If you do, please ask a little about our books, instead of monopolising the conversation about your life, the latest Trump fiasco, or how those Oilers are doing this season, eh?

Strike that last one. I haven't followed the team, but some of us will enjoy talking about that. :-)

Have a great week - Susan.

Monday, October 02, 2017

TWO NEW REVIEWS for THE TATTOOED QUEEN (Book Three of The Tattooed Witch Trilogy)

SO CHECKING AMAZON.COM the other day, I came across these two reviews for the third book of my trilogy, The Tattooed Queen. They were a nice surprise.  With a trilogy, it always feels as if there's a void between each book. This is especially true when the last book is nearly two years to publication following the second. I was beginning to think no one had read The Tattooed Queen to comment.

Here's what the reviews said:

1). by N. Luiken (May 31, 2017), who gave it 4 stars out of 5:

Well-researched historical fantasy. Book Two left off with a cliff-hanger: Joachin in serious peril, he and Miriam separated, Miriam under a spell, and evil Tomas in pursuit. About two-thirds of the book is spent on board ship (or rather three different ships), sailing to the New World. I confess I had trouble getting invested in some of the on-ship plot-lines - I was impatient to arrive. I quite enjoyed the magical landscapes and the new twist on Joachin's powers.

Favorite moment: dolphins!

2). by Chipompompom (June 6, 2017), who gave it 5 stars out of 5:

Due to a busy period of life, I ended up reading this 3rd book over a series of months. Even the long breaks in reading time didn't seem to affect the flow, and I was able to pick right back up with ease. Once again, I was surprised to find myself thinking about these characters in vivid detail while I was going about my day. I would have to remind myself that it was a book I was envisioning and not people I know or have interacted with in real life. This author has a real ability to set the scene and characters and have the whole thing form in your mind quite vividly. My favorite part was the new powers given to the main character. The plot possibilities opened up in such a marvellous way. It really hit me as a genius plot device, and I couldn't wait to see how it would all play out. Great series! I'm already reading it again.

My thanks to the reviewers. I appreciate their comments.

Although it's slightly frowned upon to respond to reviews, I'd like to address the comment made in the first review about two-thirds of the book taking place on board three different ships. When I was doing my research, I was faced with the problem of what to do with my characters for the six weeks it took to travel from the Canary Islands to Jamaica in the mid-1500's. (Believe me, I tightened the plot here as much as possible, and I don't think the book dragged. Lorina Stephens, my editor at Five Rivers, would have been merciless with me if it did. I love her for being the tough editor she is.) I also had to decide what conflicts would occur on those ships, thus, three sub-plots involving Miriam and her gypsy tribe of mostly women, Joachin and the men aboard a slave ship, and Tomas, my Grand Inquisitor with his pet sorceress, Rana, travelling in high style. A lot of the end-story was created in these middle plot lines, including Joachin's magical talents merging, Rana's redemption, and the rivalry between Joachin and Alonso resolving and then dissolving. I also wanted to introduce an entirely different take on the search for the Fountain of Youth. I couldn't have dealt with any of these without the necessary set-up spent at sea.

I welcome additional reviews. If any of you'd like to review the trilogy, drop me a line and we'll talk.

- Susan.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


WHEN I WAS AT THE WHEN WORDS COLLIDE FESTIVAL this past August, I was lucky enough to speak with Sharon Wildwind. Sharon writes nearly historical novels set during and after the Vietnam war, where she worked as a nurse with the U. S. Army Corps. (If you're not impressed by that alone, you should be.) Since we both love writing and think it's important to remember what the past has taught, I asked Sharon if she'd be interested in contributing to Suzenyms. (I'm so pleased she said 'yes'.) What follows is the first segment of her two-part post: 

THANKS TO SUSAN FOR ALLOWING ME an opportunity to talk about writing nearly historical novels. When does a book become a historical novel? The Historical Writers of America has one simple rule: if your setting is at least 50 years in the past, it's historical.

2017 minus 50 equals 1967, so anything set in 1967 or before is historical. Considering I was in my third year in university in 1967-68, I find that date disturbing. I must be older than I think. So what about that - to borrow The Doctor’s phrase - wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey period - between, say 1967 and 1997? Can you remember life in 1971? Were you even born?

When I planned my first mystery series arc, I knew there was an absolute, fixed end-point: April 30, 1975, the day the Saigon American embassy fell. My protagonists were veterans who had served in the U. S. Army, and I wanted the last book to explore their lives in the two weeks after the Vietnam War ended.

I thought, maybe five books in the series? If I backtracked five years, that would set the first one in 1971. Serendipity. In the late spring of 1971, I arrived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, having just come off of my post-Vietnam leave. Wiggle the time a bit and start Some Welcome Home with Captain Elizabeth Pepperhawk, U. S. Army Nurse Corps, just back from Vietnam, arriving at Fort Bragg on July 1, 1971.

(Yes, the photo to the left is me the previous year, a first lieutenant at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam.)

Problems and perks of nearly historical novels:

1.   Nobody knows how to classify the book. It’s not truly historical, it’s not contemporary. I had more than one person 'in the know' say that setting a book in the 1970's meant it would never sell because it couldn’t be pigeonholed. It wasn’t like I could change the date the war ended, so I knew I had to go with what I had. Turned out I was right and they were wrong.

2.   There were a lot of people around who remembered 1971 to 1975, and most likely, remembered it wrong. Ask any cop: four witnesses to the same traffic accident will tell four different stories of an event that happened in the past hour. To build my authentic historical shell, I started with Wikipedia because it had a (likely) reliable historical timeline for each year. Then I went to the library and looked at all of the Newsweek and Time issues from January to August 1971, paying particular attention to the coverage of the Vietnam War.

3.   A nearly historical writer can’t afford to take anything for granted, especially things everybody knows are true. The nice thing about near history is that there are likely to be numerous resources to verify facts. The downside is having so many references available that it sometimes turns the nearly historical writer into the nearly hysterical writer. 

Here’s a photo taken the day before Saigon fell. What building has the helicopter landed on?

Most people will say The American Embassy in Saigon. They’re wrong. It’s actually 18 Gia Long Street, which was a house that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may or may not have used as an apartment for some of its operatives. When I found that out, I realised I had a perfect location for an event that happened to one of my characters.

4.   I was very fortunate that I’d kept a journal in Vietnam and had taken over 1,000 photos, mostly black and white. And I had buddies with whom I could check not only the facts, but the sense of time and place.

When you sat around in the evening over a beer, what did you talk about? Answer: home and food. 

What did you order from a Sears catalogue and have delivered to Vietnam that you couldn't do without? Most frequent answer: an electric blanket because it kept your blankets and sheets from mildewing. 

During basic training, what songs were helicopter pilots most likely to queue up on the juke box in the basement snack shop? Answer: Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon and the Animals and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town by Kenny Rogers. 

In the end, the five book/five year span worked. I had loads of fun writing the series, and when Saigon fell, me and my characters were satisfied and happy to go our separate ways.

Two sites I recommend if you’re writing historical or near historical fiction:

Historical Writers (UK)

Historical Writers of America (USA)

(Thanks, Sharon. Great post, and I look forward to your next one. - Susan.)

Sharon's Bio: Sharon Wildwind is a Calgary mystery writer. Although her Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen mystery series is currently out of print (she has some print copies available), the series will soon be out in electronic format. Ditto for her non-fiction book Dreams That Blister Sleep: A Nurse in Vietnam, based on the journal she kept and the photographs she took while serving in Vietnam. 

You can find more about Sharon and her books at

Thursday, August 03, 2017


I WAS SITTING OUT ON MY DECK LAST NIGHT - I do this a lot in the summer, because...well, it's summer, and winter in Alberta lasts forever, so I have to appreciate the great August weather while it lasts. And as often happens, when I'm surrounded by my trees and garden, my mind drifts to writing, and the ego, and the insecurities most writers share - those moments when we think we're good at our craft, followed immediately by the finger-wagging critic in our mind who tells us you aren't there yet, darling. In spite of your successes, don't let it go to your head.

That internal critic - she's a bitch, isn't she?

On the other hand, Inflated Ego is top heavy - he has a hard time getting his head through the door.

I'm not saying we should let either of them get out of hand. Of course, as a writer, there's always something to learn and a higher level for which to strive. But it's also important to celebrate our successes when we have them. So where do we draw the line between congratulating ourselves yet keeping our egos in check? As I enjoyed the balmy evening, the answer came to me.

If we are grateful for how far we've come, grateful to those who have helped us get there, grateful - simply for the fact that we are who we are - creative people who have had some success in our work, we aren't letting our egos get the better of us. We're maintaining enough humility to be glad of who we are and what we do. As writers, I think we often flip-flop between thinking we're great and thinking we're not. The 'not' side tends to dismiss the good that's been done, while the 'I'm fantastic' side exaggerates it. If we're grateful, we rise above both.

So be grateful. For who you are, what you do, for any successes you've had, and for those who have helped you reach them. Have faith inspiration will find you, and that future successes will result, whatever they may be.

Happy writing - Susan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Image may contain: text
Equus, edited by Rhonda Parrish
SO THIS WAS LAUNCHED TODAY, Equus, an anthology edited by Rhonda Parrish about all things equine, whimsical, fantastic, horrific, or what have you. My short story, Ladies Day, is featured in it. How would I describe Ladies Day? Historical Fantasy, set in a magical Edwardian England during the running of the Ascot. Think ridiculously big hats, champagne, and Norwegian countesses who cheat. (Gasp!) Also, Oxford dons and blue stocking heroines who make things right. Hopefully you'll find the story a fun read. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Here's one review I've already seen by T.R. North: 

"Equus has its share of horror, magical realism, high fantasy, and borderline science fiction, with no two tales having quite the same flavor; if one isn’t quite your cup of tea, the next is right there for you to try. Angela Rega’s unexpectedly wrenching “The Horse Witch” rubs shoulders with Cat McDonald’s bitter tribute to female anger in “The Last Ride of Hettie Richter,” and Susan MacGregor’s elegant trifle "Ladies Day" stands next to M.L.D Curelas’s white-knuckled science-fantasy mash-up “Neither Snow, nor Rain, nor Heat-Ray.” (Ladies Day as an 'elegant trifle'? Pretty much what I had in mind! Thank you, T.R. North.)

Here's a portion of another review by Barbara Tomporowski, where she mentions Ladies Day, among other stories: Ladies Day” by Susan MacGregor is one of the most enjoyable tales, since each major character – from the perceptive, responsible Cassandra to the odious Lord Henry Dinglecrumb – have their own voice." (Thank you, Barbara. High praise.)

If you love horses, know someone who does, or are otherwise interested in purchasing a great anthology, it's available for $12.95 US through World Weaver Press. Here's the link: Equus Anthology, World Weaver Press. 

If you read it, let me know what you think!

- Susan.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


I HAVEN'T BEEN DOING A LOT OF WRITING LATELY, but I have been thinking about writing and about creative endeavours in general. I'm the kind of person who isn't obsessed with just one thing - as much as I love writing, I need to take a break from it now and then. I also love to sing and dance flamenco. I worry that because writing isn't my sole passion, I may not get as far along with it as I should. Ditto with my singing and dancing. For the most part, my flip-flopping between passions doesn't bother me too much.

On the other hand, there have been times when it does.

If you're like me, there are times when other people's successes give you an uncomfortable twinge, a feeling like you need to do more, focus more. I hate to use the word 'envy' but yes, if I'm being honest, I can't deny there have been times when I've envied other people's ability and success. Luckily, those disturbing moments never last too long, and if anything, they push me to work harder. Which is good, because working harder means better discipline and focus. Which means greater results.

But that aside, I had a rather nice epiphany the other day. It made me feel so much better. Instead of feeling envious or as if I'm not working hard enough, it's even better when I can feel joyful about a friend's success.

To explain how I got to this lovely point, let me first explain how I think life works. I believe we come to this earth, have come to this earth many times over, to learn and to succeed at whatever we need and want to learn. There are many types of lessons - how to succeed in any given area is only one of them, but so is learning to relax, to get over oneself, and to delight in other people's accomplishments. There's no reason not to celebrate a colleague's success, because sooner or later, this life or the next (or the next) our journey will also provide us with peak moments.This is inevitable. We're all heading towards a universal perfection. Therefore, there's no need to envy anyone, but to be happy for them when they reach a high point in their evolution.

And if that isn't the way life works, then I'd rather be happy for others, instead of suffering those awkward moments of lack and self-doubt.

(Maybe this was a lesson I've finally learned? I'd like to think so.)

- Susan.

Monday, November 07, 2016


WHAT WITH THE UPCOMING RELEASE of The Tattooed Queen on December 1st, I hope you'll all bear with me. It means I have to do a bit of promotion (when I'd much rather be starting on something new.)

So, let's talk about my upcoming joint launch first.

Ann Marston, who has numerous books to her credit and who is also part of the Five Rivers author family, is joining me in a joint launch. Her book, A Still and Bitter Grave is also being released December 1st as is The Tattooed Queen. We're combining forces at Audrey's Books, here in Edmonton on December 7th, at 7:00 PM. Please join us for readings, signings, and refreshments.

A reminder as well, for those of you who own a Kobo e-reader: you can get a free e-copy of my first book in the trilogy, The Tattooed Witch from Kobo until November 30th - the day before The Tattooed Queen is released. It's a great deal. There's no telling how much the books will go for after December 1st.

Lorina Stephens, my editor and publisher at Five Rivers, has also been busy publicising my final book in the trilogy by posting reviews of The Tattooed Witch. Here's a few 'snippet' reviews from various sites:

1). @LibraryThing says The Tattooed Witch 'fast-paced, romantic, vividly imaginative' #freebook @kobo

2). @Goodreads says 'fantastic read' The Tattooed Witch #freebook @kobo

3). @FletcherMR 'beautifully written' re The Tattooed Witch #freebook @kobo

Here are some of the best (5-starred) reviews on, of both The Tattooed Witch and The Tattooed Seer:

About The Tattooed Witch (Book One):
"Readers wary or unfamiliar with the genre will enjoy this book. It is extremely well and tightly written and moves quickly along. It's nicely organised and divided so that there are frequent logical points to stop reading… only you won't want to stop reading. The characters, even minor characters, are well developed. The lush landscape is easily pictured. This book would make a great movie. While the book can stand alone in the sense that events are sufficiently wrapped up by its ending, you won't want to wait to see what happens in book two, The Tattooed Seer. MacGregor is currently working on the final instalment in the trilogy, The Tattooed Queen. I'm looking forward to reading both."
"Susan MacGregor is one of those rare writers who can pen interior dialogue without forcing the average male reader to run for cover. This is brilliantly done, intriguing and down right spooky in places and I, for one, fully intend to read this trilogy to its conclusion."
"I absolutely loved this book. The beginning just grabs your attention and the story keeps you wanting more. When I began reading it I was extremely busy...but after some really late nights and squeezing in time at work *cough cough* when I should have been working...I blew through it in a couple of days. I have given it to all of my friends and we all have truly loved it. Can't wait for book two!"
About The Tattooed Seer (Book Two):
"This is one of my favourite new series! I read the first book last year and was very eager for the second one to come out to see what happens to these fascinating characters. Susan MacGregor is a skilled story teller who has managed to weave fantasy with elements of historical Spanish inquisition into a compelling and inventive world full of intrigue, peril and magic. I was a particular fan of the first book for how MacGregor sets up the complexity and intricacies of her well-developed societal milieu. I got lost in this multifaceted world with characters facing danger and adventure. The second book hits the ground running and keeps the momentum up throughout, I often had chills and my only disappointment in the series so far is that I have to wait for the 3rd book to see what happens! This is a very mature read and very rewarding for fans of fantasy who still like to have roots in reality and believability. I definitely recommend this little known gem!"
"If you are a fan of historical fantasy or romance this book will sit in your sweet spot. But here’s the thing. I’m not and yet this book still works for me, largely because Susan MacGregor is a literary craftsman. In my world fine writing trumps genres any time and this is fine writing."
Thanks for your indulgence. If you've read my books and have enjoyed them, please post reviews and let the world know. Those of us who publish through a smaller press need all the help we can get to put the word out about of our work. We don't have the big marketing and publicity machines behind us, as do the large publishing houses. I appreciate your support more than you know.

- Susan.

Thursday, November 03, 2016


AS PROMISED, here is Chapter One of The Tattooed Queen. It opens with Miriam talking to Alonso, her ghostly love, aboard a Spanish galley (a nao), in a stop-over port in the Canarias (the Canary Islands). Several days prior, as established in The Tattooed Seer, they set sail from Qadis in Esbaña (Spain) for the New World.


AFTER FOUR DAYS of enduring the dank and cramped quarters in the lowest deck of a three-masted nao, Miriam Medina thought the port of Santa Sul in Tenerifa could not come soon enough. A stiff breeze threatened to pry her from where she stood at the Phoenix’s rail. Her head veil whipped about her face, making the muslin abrade her cheeks. Above her, sail billowed and yards groaned. Ships of all descriptions littered the bay, their masts cutting the sky into shards. One ship in particular held her interest—a wide-bellied carrack with the stars of Sul emblazoned on its sails. La Estrella del Mar was docked at the port’s stone mole. Anxiety assailed Miriam, as much as the wind.
   Are they still in the hold? she asked.
   Standing beside her, Alonso de Santangél glimmered faintly, unseen by anyone save those with the Sight. He was both a handsome seraph and the rat inhabiting her pocket. At the moment, the rat was twisting about, trying to make itself more comfortable. Alonso looked as if he wanted to do the same.
   They haven’t unloaded them yet. Don Lope is haggling with a port official. You’re cold. We should go below.
   She said nothing but gripped the ship’s rail tightly, causing the stump of her little finger to bleed.
   Now look what you’ve done! Standing here isn’t going to hurry things, Miriam. There’s no point in waiting for someone who—
   I’m not leaving until I see him.
   She felt Alonso’s prick of annoyance, and then it was gone. He wasn’t happy with her dismissing his suggestion, even less so with her wanting to catch a glimpse of Joachín de Rivera, her husband
and patriarch of the Tribe. La Estrella del Mar was Don Lope’s slave ship. Joachín had stolen Don Lope’s gold, and later, had humiliated him by knocking him out and dressing him in a puta’s gown. The night before the Tribe was to set sail, Don Lope had captured Joachín, his cousin Iago Gonzales, and friend Barto of Andor. It was almost certain Don Lope would sell them at the slave market in Tenerifa.
   She tamped down her impatience. She shouldn’t have been so short with Alonso, but she suspected he had been about to denigrate Joachín as a lowlife and a thief, something he did fairly often. Just a little longer—please.
   His expression remained pained. After a few minutes, he nodded at the ship. You’re about to get your wish. They’re bringing them up from below.
   She tensed with worry and anticipation. The last time she had seen Joachín, he had been in bad shape—barely conscious after receiving a flogging at the Grand Inquisitor’s hands. She had rescued him, only to have him apprehended by Don Lope. A crowd was swelling onto La Estrella’s waist. Most of the slaves were black-skinned, but a few were white. It was hard to make out features; she couldn’t tell if Joachín was among them. Suddenly, streams of water flew into the air, tossed by the crew. As it struck the slaves, they ducked and shied. Salt water was painful on open wounds.
   They’re cleaning them up for market, Alonso said unnecessarily.
   Knowing that didn’t make her feel any better. With the dousing done, she watched as the slaves were forced back below. She wanted to row a cockboat across the bay and attempt a rescue. I couldn’t see them, she said, striving for calm. Better to say ‘them’ than ‘him’ for Alonso’s sake. Were they in the group being washed on the waist?
   I would’ve had to leave the rat to tell for sure. Alonso needed a physical host so they might communicate. All I know is, they’re still on the ship.
   He wasn’t about to give away any details. Over the past few days, he had barred her from his thoughts, but she still managed to catch a few glimpses of what he had seen. In segregated sections, men, women and children lay on pallets on La Estrella del Mar. The men were shackled at the hands and feet. The women and children were left unbound, but they still had no recourse when they fouled themselves. There had been a dozen deaths already, all of them children. The crew had thrown the bodies overboard.
   She dug her nails into the wood. Somewhere below the spar deck, Joachín lay chained in his own filth, his wounds turning septic. She couldn’t reach him fast enough.
   A voice hailed her. She turned to see Zara, Luci, Casi, and Maia approaching them at the rail. Alonso disappeared as Zara blundered into his space. He disliked sharing the same spot with the living, saying possessing the rat was hard enough. For a moment she worried the rat might bite her, but she felt its breathing slow. Alonso had lulled it to sleep.
   “Is that it?” Zara pointed at La Estrella del Mar, unaware she had banished Alonso.
   Miriam nodded. She hadn’t shared what she had learned of the slave ship, but she suspected the women knew. They had seen such ships before, although it was more likely they were familiar with the oared galleys rowing between Gibralt and the land of the Turques.
   “I asked Ximen where the slave pens are, but he’s no help,” Zara said. As the Tribe’s Rememberer, Ximen recalled anything a Tribe member, living or deceased, had experienced. His talent was so
developed, he sensed memories deriving from events occurring only moments before. “None of us has ever been here, so he has no idea.”
   “Fra Francis says once we get through the gate, we pass through the souk, then head for the main square,” Luci said.
   “That one!” Zara made a face. “How do we know he won’t take us to the slave block and sell us, himself?”
   Over the last four days, Zara’s suspicion of Francis had become wearing, especially in the closed quarters they had had to endure. Miriam strove for patience. “He wouldn’t do that, Zara.”
   “Why not? He has no morals. He’s a priest and a spy.”
   “He hopes to convince us to go to Inglais. He thinks we can help secure the Inglaisi Crown.” She dropped her voice, hoping Zara would do the same.
   Zara didn’t. “As if we’d help a queen with more blood on her hands than the Grand Inquisitor! Any involvement of our part would be seen as sedi…seda—” She gave up finding the word. “We Diaphani must stick to ourselves,” she added, looking to Luci and Maia for support.
   The peal of a watch bell interrupted them. Suddenly, there were twice as many crew swarming the deck. Luci squeezed against the rail as two men ran past her. One glowered, having to manoeuvre his way around Zara, a sizeable detour. Miriam cast a parting glance at La Estrella del Mar.
   “’Hoi! You vrouwen!” Jager de Groot, the Phoenix’s bosun, lumbered toward them with that rolling gait all the crew had. He was a big man, blonde, with fists the size of dead eyes—those wooden blocks used to secure the ship’s rigging. His shirt flapped about him like a dirty sail. “We need to top th’ water. Get below!”
   When he wasn’t bawling orders, he eyed them suspiciously, his lips pursing as if he sucked vinegar. Over the past few days, Luci had heard him complain to his mates—Why do these vrouwen travel alone? I tell ye, somethin’ ain’t right.
   Zara confronted him. “I am not going back down there! I’ve been cooped up for four days, and I am sick and tired of it!”
   “Fine! Get knocked over th’ head, Old Cow.”
   Her mouth fell open. “How dare you speak to me in such a way! I’m a paying passenger!”
   Miriam steered her to the companionway, about as easy as manoeuvring a cart with one wheel. “Don’t give him more reasons to hate us, Zara.”
   “Why? He doesn’t scare me!”
   She pulled her along. “Luci overheard the crew talking last night. They wonder why we aren’t travelling with our men. The bosun thinks we’ve either run away or rid ourselves of them. Apparently, Ximen doesn’t count, being old and blind. Nor Francis, because he’s a priest.”
   “Women can’t travel on their own?”
   They had told Captain Vrooman that Joachín and the others had been detained and would be joining them, but the crew remained superstitious. “If we cause too much trouble, the bosun will convince the crew we’re bad luck. He might even say we’ve cursed the ship.”
   “I should curse him. He’s a bully and a brute.”
   “For heaven’s sake, keep your voice down.” Good gods, dealing with Zara was like teaching a chicken to swim. “Our foremost duty is to find Joachín, Iago, and Barto. Once they’re on board, all suspicions should cease.”
   “There you are!” a pleasant male voice called.
   Miriam sagged in relief as Francis met them at the top of the companionway. He always seemed to know what was happening, even when he wasn’t around. If the crew muttered about curses, she
hoped his presence quelled suspicions. He smiled ingratiatingly at the bosun. “Allow me to accompany you below decks, ladies. Let’s not get in Mister de Groot’s way.”
   “Where have you been?” Zara glared at him as if he had wandered off against her wishes.
   “Speaking with the captain.” Another brief smile touched his lips. Over the past few days, Francis had convinced Captain Vrooman he had taken the Tribe under his wing to build a new temple in Xaymaca—all to the glory of Father Church.
   “That one.” Captain Vrooman was another with whom Zara wasn’t much impressed. He had been in the habit of inviting Francis and Ximen to share his table, but he hadn’t extended the same courtesy to her or Miriam. And we’re the ones in charge! she had complained the night before. “What about?” she demanded.
   Francis glanced at Jager de Groot. The bosun was busy with the water casks, but Miriam suspected he bent an ear. “About the procurement of certain goods.”
   Meaning Joachín, Barto, and Iago, of course.
   “And?” Zara pressed.
   “And I know where we might find them.” He regarded Miriam with concern. “Your hand looks as if it’s bothering you, Miriam.” Fresh blood had seeped through her bandage.
   Miriam glanced down at her hand. It was a strange glamoury Rana Isadore had set upon her. Perhaps the only real thing about her was the finger stump, although the hymenoptera welts were still painful beneath her veil.
   “Here, now!” Zara clucked. “We can’t have that. Come down, Matriarch, and I’ll replace that dressing. As for you—” she eyed Francis sourly, “see if you can’t find some ointment while you’re procuring our goods.”
   Francis bowed. “That was foremost in my mind.” With only a few words, he had misdirected Zara and she hadn’t even suspected. Francis was an expert manipulator, a great advantage for a spy. Let’s hope his talent is enough to secure Joachín, Iago, and Barto, Miriam thought.


   An hour later, she, Francis, Luci, and Maia squeezed their way through the crowd on the mole. They stopped briefly at an herbalist’s tent where Francis procured a balm of comfrey for her hand. As they left, they were bombarded by merchants hoping for sales. Turbaned men shouted at them in dialects they didn’t understand. Their wives shook copper pots or bolts of cotton in their faces. Urchins plucked at their sleeves. Francis intervened, but often, he had to push their pursuers away. After each attempt, Miriam’s respect for him deepened. There were few languages he didn’t know. By the time they had forced their way beneath an ancient gate leading to the medina proper, her talent as a sentidora had spun out of control. The bombardment of so many people left her dizzy and sick.
   “How much farther?” she gasped. Now that they had passed beneath the gate, the crowds were less thick, although both sides of the street were lined with shops.
   Francis pointed. “After we go down this alley, we come to the main square. We cross it, then come to another street that leads to the stocks. The slave pens are on the far side.”
   “What time is the auction?” Luci clutched at her side.
   “Noon.” He squinted at the screens overhead, shading the street. Above them, the sun was a crosshatched ball. “We should make it.”
   Maia nodded. She had left Little Grim in Zara’s care. Miriam suspected she was afraid someone would outbid her for Barto. Of the three men, he was the largest, so he would fetch the highest price.
   “I’m surprised the slave pens are inside the city’s walls,” Lucy said. “Wouldn’t it make more sense if they were along the quay?”
   “They are,” Francis replied. “The slave ships dock further down the wharf. We’re on a promontory, so we’re angling towards the other side. We’ll soon pass beneath the north gate. This way, we don’t have to fight bigger crowds.”
   Thank heavens for that foresight, Miriam thought.
   As promised, they passed beneath another keyhole gate before stepping onto a sunny esplanade. This side of the port was broader, making room for cargo. Camels brayed from where they were picketed. Horses milled and stamped in makeshift corrals. Poultry roosted despondently in cages, looking as if they might expire from the heat. The air stank of tar and dung. From somewhere beyond the quay, a bell tolled noon.
   “We need to hurry. This way.” Francis led them past the paddocks.
   They came to a place where a small crowd had gathered before a low platform. Dilapidated shacks stood behind it, looking as if a strong wind might knock them over. A portly man in a worn leather doublet, dull pantaloons, and ankle-high boots, climbed onto the stage.
  “M’ lords and ladies!” he bellowed, snagging everyone’s attention. “I bring you quality goods, the pick from Afrik. Step up and examine ‘em. They’ve only been on board a few weeks, so still pretty fresh.” He signalled a burly assistant to bring forth the slaves. From the nearest shack, a line of six black men appeared, chained at the ankles and wrists. As they shuffled, their skin shone greasily—an old trick, Francis had said, to hide welts. They ranged in age and size, but they shared one thing in common. They gazed out on the world as if they were no longer a part of it. They seemed the epitome of hopelessness.
   A number of customers approached them, demanding they open their mouths so they could check for rot. The auctioneer forced the slaves to comply. Then they were made to bend their arms and legs
to prove they were able. Miriam’s stomach turned at the sight of it. Joachín is depending on me, she told herself, sickened by her own unwillingness to interfere. She couldn’t create a scene. After the first group were dealt with, they were taken away. She caught her breath as a group of children replaced them. The eldest looked to be no more than eight. The little ones clung to each other and eyed the crowd, as if too terrified to cry.
   “And here we have the young’uns, suitable for pages or maids. Or gentlemen’s companions.” The auctioneer winked. A few buyers guffawed. Miriam spun about, wanting to pick them out.
   “Easy, now.” Francis nudged her elbow. “If it makes you feel any better, they’ll all go to that woman over there.” He pointed to a well-appointed noblewoman dressed entirely in white. She stood a ways from the crowd as if choosing to keep her distance. A servant shaded her with an umbrella while she cooled herself with a fan. A chamberlain stood to her right.
   Miriam released her jaw. She had been grinding her teeth.
   “Just watch. They’re about to begin.”
   As the auction progressed, Francis proved right. The woman’s chamberlain outbid everyone who challenged her. When the bidding ended, he shepherded the children away. “It isn’t a great outcome,”
Francis said, watching them go, “but she won’t abuse them.”
   “How do you know?” One little boy had started to cry. Miriam’s heart went out to him.
   “Consider what she’s wearing. White is her trademark.”
   She frowned and then understood. The woman wanted the children so she might flatter herself in her social circles. Dressed in silks and satin, they would surround her like black pearls around a
diamond. They were jewellery, embellishment. When she tired of them, she would discard them for something else.
   She was so angry she found it hard to breathe. “That’s terrible! They’re children, not things!”
   “The world is a terrible place,” Francis agreed. “Speaking of which—look who’s here.” On the opposite side of the crowd, Don Lope appeared. Her fury dissipated as she shrank behind Francis. “Don’t worry,” he whispered. “He won’t know you. You look like Rana Isadore. I just thought it wise not to draw attention to ourselves.”
   She drew in a breath to steady herself. He was right. The callousness of the noblewoman had been a breaking point. She needed to concentrate on the matter at hand—they were here to buy Joachín, Iago, and Barto. Don Lope wouldn’t know who she was. She never thought she would be grateful for Rana’s glamoury, but she was now.
   A new group of slaves was ushered onto the platform. According to the auctioneer, they were ne’er-do-wells from various jails or other penurious circumstances. Joachín, Barto, and Iago weren’t among
them. “They aren’t there,” Luci said, crestfallen. She wasn’t the only one who was disappointed.
   “Perhaps in the next group,” Francis murmured.
   As the afternoon wore on, eight more groups were displayed and sold. At the end of the auction, Don Lope headed for his ship while his men organized their human cargo. Miriam wanted to chase after him, to demand he release Joachín, but she knew better than to try. She turned to Francis, frantic to salvage whatever scrap of hope he might offer. “Is there another auction, later?”
   He stared after Don Lope, his expression troubled. “I don’t think so.”
   “Why weren’t they here?” Luci asked anxiously.
   “I don’t know. I’ll learn what I can.” He headed for the auctioneer. They exchanged a few words. When he returned, the news wasn’t good. “There are no more slaves in the pens. All I can surmise is,
they’re still on La Estrella.”
   “But, why?” Luci pressed.
   “I don’t know. Maybe Don Lope didn’t want to sell them. Maybe he intends to keep them on board until La Estrella docks in the New World.”
   “If Joachín’s welts are festering, the poison will travel to his heart.” Miriam felt her own constrict as she said it. “We have to do something, Francis. Surely, you can come up with some kind of a ruse to have them released.” It was disturbing to realise how much she had come to rely on him in so short a time.
   “If we had more time, possibly, but under the circumstances, I don’t think we do.”
   Her heart sank.
   He eyed her dubiously. “There is one thing that might work. I don’t suppose you have coin.”
   She flushed with new hope. “Not coin, but this.” She handed him the pouch Joachín had taken from Don Lope in Qadis. He eyed it curiously and then opened it. His eyes widened at the sight of the
nuggets. “Where did you get these?”
   “From Don Lope. Joachín stole them from him. The first time was when we were in Marabel, the second, when we were in Qadis. Hopefully, the nuggets look like any other.”
   “He stole them twice? That’s a story I’ll have to hear when I get back.” He tied the pouch to his belt and strode in the direction of La Estrella del Mar.
   “What do we do while you’re on the ship?” Luci shouted after him. “Wait for you, here?”
   “No.” He turned and waved. “The sun is about to set. Go back to the Phoenix. It isn’t a safe for you ladies to be out on the streets after dark.”
   “When will you return?” Miriam called.
   “If I’m not back with the men by midnight, tell the captain we’ll be there by dawn.”
   She nodded. She would have Ximen advise Captain Vrooman. He would listen to another man. "Gods’ speed,” she shouted. If anyone could release Joachín and the others, it was Francis. “We should hurry,” she told Maia and Luci.
   They headed back the way they had come. Dusk drenched the town in ambers and indigo. Men smoked openly at the tables now, their hookahs coiling before them like serpents, the smell of hashish and qahwa, a bitter drink from Ethiope, thick upon the air. Common houses were open for business, offering everything from beer to girls. As they passed, they were eyed with speculation. Francis was right. It was a mistake to loiter. They hurried for the jolly boat, glad to see the Phoenix’s sailors waiting to escort them back to the ship.


Little Grim was fussing. Under the dim light of their alcove’s lantern, the baby’s face was turning red. It won’t be long before he’s screaming, Casi thought.
   “I can’t do a thing with this baby.” Zara unwrapped his swaddling. “I need to sponge him off and give him fresh water. We’re nearly out. Be a good girl and go fill that pail.” She nodded at their water bucket standing in a dark corner. “And don’t dawdle.”
   “I won’t.” Casi grabbed the pail and skipped out the door. It was good to have an excuse to leave their nook. Babies had a tendency to smell. Other than Zara and fussy Grim, everyone was napping.
It was nearing the end of siesta, of what had been a hot and boring afternoon. Maré, Miriam, and Maia had gone to the slave market to fetch Iago, Joachín, and Barto. Maré had said it was too dangerous for her to go, so being asked to leave their cramped space on the orlop deck was a relief. She felt like a canary, freed from its cage. And if I’m lucky, I’ll catch sight of Maré coming back with Iago, she thought.
     She hoped Iago was okay. As much as he annoyed her at times, he was still her brother and she had worried about him. She had tried to hear his thoughts, but her talent didn’t seem to work over water. Everyone else on board the Phoenix was another matter.
   On the second deck, none of the crew loitered or snoozed in their hammocks. It seemed today, they preferred to spend their free time in the open air. She sighed in relief. She didn’t like their conversations or their thoughts. The discussion she had heard last night still disturbed her:
   Where are th’ men? I tell yer, it don’t make sense.
   It ain’t like they’s sailin’ alone. There’s th’ priest an’ th’ old man.
   Any priest who listens to women, ain’t a proper priest. Good Book says,‘Let no woman usurp ‘thority over man. For Adam was first formed, then Eve’. Not th’ other way 'round.
   Never realized you was such a hand at scripture, Jager.
   Nothin’ wrong with it. You should try it, Ignaas.
   Cap’n says we ain’t s’pposed to talk religion.
   I ain’t talkin’ religion. I’m talkin’ about trouble on board. Ship’s no place for women. That fat, old one—she’s got th’ evil eye. I seen her lookin’ at me crossways. An’ th’ one with th’ veil—
   Oh, come on, now! Ye sayin they’s witches? They ain’t nothin’ but simple women!
   Aye? Well, we’ll see when their men show up. I’m guessin’ they won’t.
   After that, their conversation had turned to the journey and the weather. It had been a relief when they were called to their watch. She didn’t like the starboard crew or the bosun, Jager de Groot. She
had drifted off to sleep after that. I hope he’s sleeping, now, she thought. Hopefully, she wouldn’t run into Jager while fetching water.
   She glanced about quickly as she climbed onto the waist. Some of the crew were scrubbing the deck with holey stones. She ignored them and made her way to the cook who was plucking chickens for the captain’s supper. He had wounded his leg, somehow. Maybe all sailors weren’t mean. Beside him, a boy of about fourteen sat on a low stool.
   She cleared her throat, hoping she wouldn’t sound fearful. “I need some water.” She held out the pail for them to see.
   “Aye?” The cook squinted at her. Feathers had settled onto his grey hair and his grizzled face. The boy watched her with a closed expression, saying nothing. “Seems a bit soon to be takin’ your ration,
ain’ it?”
   “It isn’t for me. It’s for the baby. He’s sick.”
   He frowned. She had said the wrong thing. Anyone sick on board was a risk. Luckily, she could tell from his thoughts he wasn’t unsympathetic. “Is he, now?” He pursed his lips.
   “Or maybe he’s just hot. Auntie wants me to bring him some water so she can cool him down.” Technically, Zara wasn’t her aunt. She was a great third cousin, but she had known her all her life.
   “Well, we can’t have that, can we, Kip?” The cook glanced at his assistant. The boy looked uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure why. Was it the baby, or because she was a girl? “Tell yer auntie to bring ‘im up here, so he can get some fresh air. I’ll have broth for ‘im later, if there’s anything left o’ th’ captain’s soup.”
   “Oh, he isn’t eating real food. He’s still….” She turned a bright red. It was embarrassing to speak of such things before an old man and a teenaged boy.
   “Well, tell his moeder she can have th’ broth if she wants,” the cook replied implacably. “If th’ babe’s still on th’ breast, she’ll need it.”
   Casi blushed even harder. The cook eyed her. “You, too. Yer a skinny one. Y’ need some meat on them bones. Come see me in th’ galley later, and I’ll give y’ some soup.” The boy smirked.
   She shrank with embarrassment. She was skinny, but after days of beans and hard biscuit, the chicken broth was appealing. Not knowing what to say, she turned to go.
   “Wait! Ain’t y’ forgettin’ somethin’?” the boy pointed out. “Th’ water for th’ babe?”
   She swallowed and offered him the pail. He took it and ladled a small portion of water into it. “Thank you,” she muttered after he was done.
   “Mind, y’ don’t spill,” he said, in that superior way all boys had. “Water’s precious on a ship.” The cook smiled.
   “I won’t.” She made her way carefully to the companionway, sensing they watched her all the while. The boy’s interest in her felt particularly acute. Did he think she was incapable of carrying a bucket? I’ll show him, she thought. Stepping carefully, she descended the companionway without mishap. As she turned to take the second, someone grabbed her by the arm. She let out a small cry.
   “What are y’ doin’ with that?” Jager de Groot towered over her, a blond, sweaty giant. His hand was calloused and thick. Other than the two of them, they were alone. His thoughts were a mix of malice and suspicion. His grip hurt her arm.
   “It’s water,” she stammered. “For the baby.”
   She wasn’t about to make the same mistake she had with the cook and the boy. “He’s hot and fussing. Auntie sent me.”
   “How long did you spend at the water?”
   “A few minutes.” Why was that important?
   He shook her arm. Fear raced through her. The water slopped over the side of her pail. “Did the cook give y’ all that? What did you say t’ him?”
   “Nothing! I just asked for water!”
   “What else?”
   “I didn’t do anything!” Let me go! Why was he being like this? Why was he attacking her?
   I know what yer about! You mean to hex our water! If any o’ us sicken, I’ll drown ya with m’ own hands!
   He was the ogre from the fairy tales her brother used to tell. In another second, he would smash the life from her with those big hands. “I…I wouldn’t!” She couldn’t stop her teeth from chattering. Her heart was pounding so hard she was seeing spots. “I don’t know how to hex water!”
   “YAH!” He released her as if burnt. “HOW DID Y’ KNOW I WAS THINKIN’ THAT?” He grabbed her again by the back of the neck.
   “Let me go! You’re hurting me!” The pail’s handle slid through her hands. Water slopped everywhere.
   “What’s going on here?” Zara appeared half way up the lower ladder with Little Grim in her arms.
   Thank heavens for auntie! Never in her life had she been so glad to see her.
   Jager released her and his cheeks shook. He pointed at her, his fingers forming a starburst of Sul. “FOR SHE WHO DIVINES MUST BE CAST OUT, AS VERMIN FROM GARMENTS!” Then, before she could react, he backhanded Casi so viciously, it sent her reeling. Her temple struck a bulkhead. The world blackened and there were sparks. Then pain chased the dark. She hurt so much she felt sick.
   “Casi!” Zara cried out in horror. There was a curse, some creaks and scrabbling. Someone fled up the ladder. Jager.
   “That’s right! You’d best run from me!” Zara shouted after him. Little Grim was set beside her, a squirming mass. Warm hands clasped her by the shoulders.
   “Casi, can you speak? Let me see your head….” Fingers prodded her temple, making her moan. “All right, I won’t touch it. We’ll put a compress on you, instead. Can you sit up? Maybe stand, so we can go below?”
   She started to cry, ragged, harsh hiccoughs that came from her stomach as they forced their way up. Everything hurt.
   “Oh, here now! You rest there a minute! We don’t have to go just yet.”
   No one had ever struck her like that. Why had she let it slip, that she had known what he was thinking? Because he scared me, that’s why. I should have been stronger, more careful. How could he think I would poison the water? What had he said about vermin and wickedness? None of it made any sense.
   She sucked in a shuddering breath and rubbed her head. “I’m sorry, Auntie.”
   “What happened?” Zara helped her to sit.
   She stared at her miserably. How could she admit what she had done? Her weakness had put them into danger. Maybe Jager would think he had imagined it, but she doubted he would.
   Zara pursed her lips. “Well, don’t worry about it.” She surveyed the companionway to their deck below. “It’s going to be difficult maneuvering the ladder with Little Grim. I can take him first, then come back for you. Or…can you manage on your own?”
   She nodded and regretted it. It hurt to move her head. Auntie was eyeing her like an eagle its eaglet. “I think so.”
   “Good.” Zara cast a baleful glance up the companionway. “If it’s rations he’s on about, I can do without.” She turned to her. “I’m sorry, Casi. I should’ve gone for the water myself. That brute won’t dare cross me. If he does, he’ll suffer the consequences. Come along now, but watch yourself.” She descended to the lower deck.
   Auntie was furious, she could tell from her thoughts. She said nothing more about Jager de Groot, but she, Maré, and Miriam would discuss him later, at length. Maybe they would even tell the captain
what he had done.
   Casi called after Zara from the top of the stair. “Maybe we shouldn’t say anything, Auntie! I don’t want more trouble.”
   Zara’s voice floated up to her from below. “Don’t you worry, niña. That bosun’s the one who should worry, not you.”
   She followed her down the ladder, too sick to reply.


(And so ends, Chapter One. There's much more to The Tattooed Queen, of course, regarding what happens to Joachín and the men on board the slave ship, La Estrella del Mar. Things also get much worse for Miriam and her Tribe aboard the Phoenix. As well, Tomás, the Grand Inquisitor and his pet sorceress Rana, follow Miriam, Joachín, and Alonso across the Great Ocean Sea to Xaymaca. Plus, there are pirates, and cimarrónes, and voodoo, and even a search for the elusive Fountain of Youth. In the end, the love triangle between Miriam, Joachín, and Alonso, is finally resolved.

If you haven't read the first two books, The Tattooed Witch and The Tattooed Seer, I suggest you do for everything to make sense. The Tattooed Queen is the final book in the trilogy. It's set to be released December 1st, 2016.)