Of Weddings and Arrows

0002Susan here, with a two-fer: two backlist ebook releases,
and two behind-the-scenes stories about them.

, two of my classic Scottish medieval romances, are now available in ebook! They're freshly edited and redesigned with gorgeous covers by Kim
Killion (scroll down to see how pretty!). The “Maiden” series has an official series title — “Celtic Nights: Lady of Legend I, II and III.” The third book – THE
SWORD MAIDEN – will be available soon as well.
Each novel in the trilogy was inspired by Celtic legends. 

SusanKing_TheStoneMaiden200THE STONE MAIDEN
is one of those personally meaningful books -– I wrote it through the ordeal of an sudden family tragedy, and the writing became
one of those rare instances in an author’s life where the creative experience is
transcendant and healing. A tidbit of historical fact inspired the story, set
in 12th century Scotland—a Highland girl must wed a Norman
knight by order of the king–yet these two willful characters refuse to give in. Long ago, land was offered to Norman knights to attract their
military strength, and foreign knights came up for land and Scottish
brides, founding new clans with French roots, such as Fraser (my own
heritage). A few foreign knights adopted the names of their
Scottish brides.

What would happen, I wondered, if Norman honor met Highland stubbornness? That’s the premise of THE STONE MAIDEN. Alainna MacLaren, a stonecarver, is the last hope of her diminished Highland clan—and the man she marries must take the clan's name before it vanishes. But the king orders Sebastien le Bret, a hardened Norman knight, to marry the lady–and there is no way he will ever give up his name for hers. Both are fiercely proud and passionate, and both must discover that love is its own legacy. I particularly love this story for lots of reasons.

Last year, something truly wonderful happened: two dear friends of my son were planning their wedding—and asked if they
could borrow the wedding scene in THE STONE MAIDEN for their own
Celtic-style ceremony. They incorporated
the wedding verses in the book (based on ancient Celtic
poetry) –- and they also did a handfasting with a rope braided in the harvest
colors of their wedding theme. I was so happy to witness these two special ones getting
married, and thrilled to see my wedding scene come to life. Here are the verses from The Stone Maiden, and a couple of photos from Kate and
Drew’s beautiful wedding:

Wed-00225  Alainna came toward Sebastien, then stepped to her left and walked around him in a
circle, brushing behind him, circling in front, and again, twice more, until
she stood before him. He held out his hands and she offered hers, joining left
to left, right to right, so their arms made a crossed loop like an interlaced design. They stood, gazes steady
upon one another. . . She
clung to his hands, drew a breath, and began: 

shade you are in summer

shelter you are in winter

rock you are

fortress you are

A shield you are about me
cherish you

help you

enfold you

promise you.

Wed-00234. . . Sebastien drew a breath,
overcome. He knew what to say, but he had not known until this moment that he would say it with such conviction. The poem that came to him was
not the one he had learned that morning, but one the bard had recited a few
nights ago.  Somehow it seemed perfect.


found in the garden

jewel, my love

eye like a star

lip like a berry

voice like a harp.

found in the meadow

bright-eyed maiden

eye like a star

cheek like a rose

kiss like honey.

is done," he whispered.  "So be
it." His 
heart leapt in a
new pattern, and he was caught in its infinite turning.

you, Drew and Kate, for giving the verses true meaning!)


SusanKing_TheSwanMaiden200The second book in the series “Celtic Nights: Lady of
Legend II” is based on the legend of a swan maiden, set in the 14th century—it’s a sequel to Laird of the Wind, a tale of the Scottish
rebellion. Juliana Lindsay, cousin to the hero of Laird, is an archer among forest rebels, captured by the
English—and Gawain Avenel is the English knight who risks his life for the
beautiful freedom fighter who turns out to be somewhat of a handful — not only is she a crack shot, but swans do whatever she wants.

There’s a fun story behind the research for this book,
which I've mentioned in a previous post here on Word Wenches – the author as arrow-catcher. 

Sometimes stacks of history books or open links through
Google are just not enough to complete the research for a book. We all bring
something more to the work than what we glean from research—and though, thanks
to graduate years in art history, I can research the heck out of anything, sometimes
we just gotta roll up our sleeves and experience something before we put it on the page. For THE SWAN MAIDEN, I wanted the hero to catch an arrow in mid-flight. I couldn’t find
any sources about it, but wanted to be sure it could be done. I thought it would be very cool for the hero to catch an arrow in the instant before
it struck the heroine.

One evening I was telling my husband about my
arrow-catching idea, and one of our sons (now a black belt) looked up from his
homework and said, "Sensei can do that." Sensei was his karate
instructor. What??A phone call to the sensei confirmed it,
and he offered to teach me how to do it myself. Umm, okay.

ArrowshandArrow catching is a lot harder than it looks. Trust me. It’s
definitely one of those Don’t Ever Try This At Home or Anywhere things.
Seriously. Unless you have an expert teaching you how to do it, and there
aren’t many of those out there, it's not something to mess with.

My husband and I showed up, and at first Sensei tossed a bo (a wooden staff) toward us to catch in one hand, out to the side. We progressed to hand-tossed
arrows, and then to blunt arrow shafts released from a bow a few feet away. Thunk, grab, oh hey, that’s easy, even I, a myopic writer, could do it.

Then he got out the REAL bow, and the REAL arrows.
And he backed up about thirty feet.

There’s nothing quite like facing a tenth-degree black belt, an ex-Marine, a massive towering guy, as he raises a real nasty looking bow nocked
with a very sharp arrow – and aims it straight at you. “Don’t worry,” says
he, “I’m not going to shoot you.” Right, cuz I’m not moving.

SusancatchingarrowHe let the arrow go. It zoomed right past me, though I
snatched for it. He released another. Zooooooopp. A blur. Another. Zzzzzzip.
Missed that—and with the next one, I touched feathers!  Zzzzzzzzzzzip.  More feathers! Then I reached out and grabbed the shaft smack in the middle. After that, I caught them consistently. The secret is in the timing, and senses on alert, a bit of coordination, a little courage, and making sure to listen for the release more than watch the thing. 

My husband, I have to admit, caught an arrow on the
first try. Argh! But I walked out of the dojo that day with a great research
experience—and a feeling of achievement that I hadn't expected. And Sensei was
so pleased (and found it so very amusing) that he asked me to demonstrate it
at dojo parties. Yup—we took it on the road. Here’s a photo – that's little ol' me by the Christmas tree. I caught that arrow too.    

The third book in the series, THE SWORD MAIDEN, will be out soon–and that has an amazing cover too, that I can't wait to share!

Have you been to a Celtic wedding, or had one yourself? Have you ever caught an arrow, or thought about it?  (I know, those questions are SO related, right!) — comments and thoughts welcome! I'll be giving away a print copy of the original paperback of THE STONE MAIDEN or THE SWAN MAIDEN (winner's choice) to one lucky commenter! 



Brave: Creating a modern fairy tale

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Once upon a time, full length animated movies were largely the province of Walt Disney, and the classics like FANTASIA and BAMBI and ALICE IN WONDERLAND were released ever few years so new generations of kids could enjoy them. 

The advent of computer generated imagery (CGI) has made the category of animated feature films much larger.  The Academy Awards have had an Oscar for the best animated feature since 2001.

BRAVE-POSTER_510I’m seen a sprinkling of the well reviewed animated features of the last decade: SHREK, ICE AGE, FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY, etc.  I’ve found them pretty and mildly entertaining, though a couple so completely failed to catch our interest that we sent the discs back to Netflix largely unwatched.

But over the weekend, I saw the first animated feature that I loved: BRAVE.  It’s the first that really caught at my heart, which may be why I loved it.

I’m often behind the cultural curve, so I expect that many of you have already seen BRAVE, so please excuse me while I burble.  

For starters, the film is visually stunning.  Made by Pixar, it uses newly developed software, and the result is so gorgeous you want to fall into the images and live there.

Spoiler Alert!

For anyone who plans to see the BRAVE dvd and doesn’t want to have the surprises spoiled, quit here because I want to talk about the film and what made it special to me.

As I saId, BRAVE was made by Pixar, and is the first of their films to have a (gasp!) female protagonist.  It helped that one of the principal creators was female, Brenda Chapman.

The film was distributed by Walt Disney, a company which knows a thing or two about princesses.  But unlike charming movies like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, there is no romance!  MULAN is mostly a girl’s adventure story based on an old Chinese legend, but in the end, she finds love, too.

Naturally I love romance, but I was tickled that there wasn’t a shred of it in BRAVE. Instead, it’s a story of a mother and a rebellious daughter, who love each other but have a relationship strained by the daughter’s fierce independence. 

The princess daughter is Merida (pronounced MER-i-da), a teenager with hair that is such a mass of wild red curls that it’s almost a character in its own right. <g>  Her father is King Fergus and her mother, Queen Elinor, does her best to train her daughter to be a responsible young princess.

Merida and angus
Naturally, Merida HATES this.  On her rare free days, she tears off into the forest on her faithful horse, Angus, a great beast with the huge feathered feet that one would expect to see in a real medieval war horse—more Clydesdale than Arabian. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more exuberant piece of film than Merida galloping through the woods, practicing her brilliant archery and climbing a famously dangerous pillar of stone.  She radiates life and enthusiasm. 

But she may not be the brightest candle on the chandelier, since she is shocked, SHOCKED <g>, when told that the three allied clans are coming to present their oldest princes as suitors for Merida’s hand.  Merida is Not Ready to settle down, and the potential suitors are, to say the least, unprepossessing. 

Mother and daughterThe queen’s demands that her daughter behave causes an explosion as irresistible force meets immovable object. Merida roars off into the forest, runs into a witch, and learns a terrible lesson in magical contracts.  Namely, don’t ask for something as vague as “I want my mother to change.”  Because the results can be ANYTHING. 

The spell Merida buys turns her mother into—a bear.  And this in the middle of a castle full of men obsessed with hunting and killing bears.  Bears were symbols of power and danger.  The word “berserker” comes the Nordic warriors who fought in a state of trance like rage and wore bear skins into battle. 

Much humor is derived from the queen’s confusion and embarrassment at her change, and Merida’s desperate attempts to protect her mother and reverse the spell.  But it’s scary, too!  At the end, I was saying, "Nooooooo!  Pooor bearrrr!!!!"

The ending is happy, and has no handsome prince popping up for Merida to fall in love with.  But it’s a very American fairy tale in that independence and the opportunity to pick one’s own mate in one’s own time trumps responsibility to one’s family, position, and society—exactly the values that Queen Elinor champions.  It’s the difference between reading Georgette Heyer, where an elopement is naughty fun, and reading Jane Austen, where an elopement is devastating to the whole family and its position in society. 

As an author, I try to write characters that fit within the mores of their era.  When your family and community were everyone's safety net, responsibility to others is vital.

Brave-3-680Nonetheless, I still adored Merida and her spirit and her wild red curls. <G>  Have you seen BRAVE, and if so, did you like it?  How do you feel about animated films in general?  Love them, tolerate them, or hate them?  I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Mary Jo, who loves independent Scottish lassies (of the sort Wench Susan writes about!)