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! 



A Professor Studies Scottish Romance

24232296.thbSusan here. The Word
Wenches are so pleased to welc
ome Dr. Euan Hague, associate professor of Geography
at DePaul University, to the blog today!
Professor Hague has a special interest in
historical romance—-he's currently researching the phenomenon of Scotland-set literature
among the Scottish-American diaspora, focusing on novels written by authors exploring Scotland and Scottish culture in their work—which includes the wide array of Scottish romances.

EuanHagueEuan Hague is not only an
academician—he is a Scotsman transplanted to the U.S.
Throughout his career he has closely studied the aspects and expressions of the
Scottish-American diasporic community. And, fancy words aside, it's apparent he’s becoming a proponent of Scottish historical romance.

A few months ago, Professor Hague
contacted me to talk about fiction set in Scotland–and Scottish romance–as part of his research for his essay in an anthology for
Edinburgh University Press regarding the Scottish cultural dispersion. Originally from Edinburgh, he left home to pursue an academic
career and is now Associate Professor of Geography at DePaul University. In addition to lecturing, he has collaborated on two books and is a regular contributor to
academic debates about American perceptions of Scotland. He has appeared
on both NPR and the BBC to discuss Scottish nationalism, identity and the
Scottish-American diaspora. He is on the Board of the St. Andrew's Society of
Illinois and in his spare time he is a keen soccer player and father
to two daughters.

Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Euan! We’re delighted that
you are joining us to share your research and your thoughts about Scottish historical romance.

Euan Hague: It’s great
to be here with the Wenches! And that's not a sentence I ever thought that I
would write during my academic career. 🙂  The one piece missing from my
puzzle is more reader input into the discussion. Some of the writers I
interviewed shared a few reader comments with me, which were fascinating, and I look forward to gathering more reader opinion today at Word Wenches.

SK:  Tell us something about your project. How did you,
as a professor of Geography, become interested in Scottish historical romance
as an academic research topic?

EH: I moved to the United States to do my Ph.D. at Syracuse
University in 1994. When I arrived, everything seemed very foreign, but pretty
soon everyone was asking me about Scotland, after “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart”
came out in 1995. I remember going to see “Rob Roy” in the Carousel Mall movie
theater in Syracuse while wearing a kilt! As a Ph.D. student back in
the days before Google and iPads, I spent a lot of time in used book stores. As
I was researching my Ph.D. on Scottish-American views and representations of
Scotland, I began noticing romance novels with kilted Highlanders on the covers. I didn’t do any writing on it at that time, but the topic stuck
in my head and I thought that would be something interesting to look at in the future.

Laird of the wind

One of Susan's kilted heroes

When I moved to Chicago to DePaul University, I had published a great
deal of my previous research in academic journals and had become known as the
‘Scots in the USA’ guy. That led Scottish journalist David Stenhouse to contact
me when he was visiting Chicago around 2005 or 2006, and he’d recently
published in the Scottish press about romance novels.

At the same time I was approached by University of
Edinburgh’s Berthold Schoene to write a chapter about Scottish writing in the
United States for The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature.
I decided to go back and look at those plaid-wearing Highlanders. I went to a used book store and picked up Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s
Devil in a Kilt,
Julie Garwood’s The Wedding and The Secret, Julie Moffat’s The
Thorn and the Thistle
and Janet Bieber’s Highland Bride. The result was a
chapter in Berthold’s book in 2007, but I always thought that there was enough
material for a sequel. When Duncan Sim asked me to contribute to his new
book on the Scottish diaspora, I took up the topic again–and now I’m thinking
of this could be a trilogy! I’m finding out that romance novels are both big business
and are really interesting in how they depict Scotland


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

People in Scotland
don’t really know about these romances, so it is a great topic to explore.

Why is all this Geography? Well, Geography has
changed a lot since people took it in third grade and learned state capitals!
Today, academic geographers examine how places and landscapes are constructed,
represented and understood. Why do places look like they do, and how are places
similar and different. This can mean conducting digital analysis of satellite
data showing deforestation, exploring urban planning and development policies
and their impacts on housing, learning about mountain and river formation or,
in this case, asking how literature depicts countries. It is a really exciting
field. Geography is a perspective, looking at things through the lens of place.
We do a bit of history, economics, sociology, literary studies, ethnic studies,
science, digital mapping, political science, international relations -  a bit of everything!  

SK:  How are you going about the research?  Have
you talked to authors, and are you reading Scottish romances and other
Scottish-set books? 

EH:  I’ve been reading some of the books. Most recently I
finished Blythe Gifford’s Return of the Border
Highlandersmercy Warrior
and as she lives here
in Chicago, I was able to meet and interview her. She recommended speaking with
Terri Brisbin, who I phoned and then picked up a copy of The Highlander’s
Silent Touch.
I spoke with Margaret
, who kindly sent me a copy of The Warrior. Also, my colleague here at DePaul, Prof. Alec Brownlow, recommended I talk to a
friend of his family, Word Wench Susan Fraser King! So I called Susan too, but first
made sure to read Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland.

SK: (Thank you!) What does your research reveal about Scottish
literature and romance in particular?  

Hague_1995_photo (1)

Euan in a kilt, 1995

 Of course, I’m finding that Highlanders are very popular, as
are feisty heroines, but I’m also learning that romance authors know more about
Scottish history than I do! When I was in High School in Edinburgh in the 1980s,
we were taught about Scotland after 1760, and my previous academic studies on
Scottish identity really explored the Jacobite period and the era of Walter
Scott, I’d say 1715-1822. Blythe knows more about Scotland in 1528-29 than
anyone I’ve ever met; and Susan as much about the 11th century!

Another thing I’ve been thinking about are those covers showing
muscle-bound shirtless men wearing a kilt and a strip of plaid over one
shoulder – you’d die of pneumonia wearing that outfit in Scotland! I was there
all last July and it rained every day. I never once saw the sun!


(Does this guy look cold to you?)


SK:  What did you expect to find when you first began
the project — and has any result surprised you?

EH:  I think that I expected to find what I’d call “tartanry”
stereotypes of Scotland – kilts, haggis, heather, lochs, castles – stirred into
somewhat formulaic romance plots. I certainly never expected time travel like
in Karen Marie Moning’s The Highlander’s Touch or detailed discussions of
medieval Scotland’s political and religious institutions as in Susan's mainstream historicals. I think the biggest
surprise has been the determination of the authors I’ve talked with to get
Scottish history right.

SK: With all that you're learning about romance — and having the advantage of being a kilted Scottish guy yourself — are you tempted to write your own Scottish romance?

EH:  I have been. I wrote a chapter about a woman time travelling
from Chicago to historic Scotland, but now I think I don’t know enough about
Scottish history to be able to finish it!

SK:  I think you'd do a great job–and just think how interesting your geography and landscape settings would be! What are some of your favorite places in Scotland?


Edinburgh Castle: Photo, Euan Hague

EH:  Well, I still have family and friends in Edinburgh, so I go
there every year and I love it. Seeing Edinburgh Castle, especially on a
late fall afternoon with a sprinkling of snow glistening in the sunset is just
a wonderful view. I like Greyfriar’s Churchyard in Edinburgh with all the
medieval gravestones. And being from Edinburgh means I’m meant to hate Glasgow — but the
Necropolis, People’s Palace and Kelvingrove there are great to visit. I also
went to the Island of Arran for the first time a few years ago and that was
spectacular. Typically when going
to the UK it means flying to London or


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

Manchester in England, so I love the
moment when the M6 highway crosses the border and becomes the M74, and then the
drive through small towns in the Borders and on up into Edinburgh always makes
me smile nostalgically.

SK:  Now that you've looked at the interest in
Scottish-set romance from an academic standpoint — why do you think it is such
a consistently popular sub-genre?  

EH:  Ha! The million dollar question. The men in kilts? I know
how that works – I’ve worn a kilt!  I think Scottish romances allow readers
to experience a different time and place, but one that is not so foreign that
it is difficult to understand. I think that using pre-modern Scottish clans also enables
an emphasis on family relationships and genealogy which I think attracts
readers both as romance fans and Americans. In my experience, genealogy is a
more popular interest here in the U.S. than it is back in Scotland.

SK:  What's next for your research in Scottish romance?

EH: I’d love to
hear directly from your readers what they think of Scottish romance! Why do you like it (or not) — what are some of your favorites, and which books should I read next?

SK: Readers, authors, Wenches too — do you love Scottish romance, or do you not love it particularly … and why? Tell Prof. Hague what you think! He may want to use your comments in his chapter (if he does, we will contact you).

EH: Thanks, everyone –this is the most fun I've had writing an academic piece in a while. And thanks for inviting me to Word Wenches!

Tell us what you think about Scottish romance! And there's a prize in it for someone — I'll be sending one of my books to a reader chosen at random from among the commenters today and tomorrow.


Highland Shirts and Romances

RavensWish_-_Cover_-_R16 (4) I’m delighted to announce that another of my early historical romances, The Raven’s Wish, is newly available in ebook format, with a gorgeous new cover and some author edits (I can’t resist cleaning up some of my newbie prose!). "Powerful, magical and delightful–a memorable romance that will keep readers on the edge of their seats." – Romantic Times

Ravenswish This book, of all of them, is special to me–it's the first of my Scottish historical romances. While researching and writing this novel, I discovered how much I love Scotland and Scottish history …and after many historical romances and two mainstream Scottish historicals so far, I’m still in love with Scotland.

A legend from my own Scottish heritage, Clan Fraser, first inspired me to try my hand at Scottish historical fiction. I learned that after the Battle of the Shirts in 1544 (Blar na Léine in Gaelic, literally the Field of Shirts)–when the Frasers met the MacDonalds in a Highland clash that nearly wiped out both clans–a legend arose about the renewal of Clan Fraser.

Battlefield1redoSM-my pic On a hot, sunny day in July, 1544, a brewing dispute between Frasers and MacDonalds boiled over on a golden reedy meadow at the head of Loch Lochy in the Highlands (west of Loch Ness in the chain of lochs – see my photo of the site at right). The dispute concerned who should be the new chief of Clan Donald. The direct heir was a young MacDonald who had fostered with his Fraser mother’s people, and so he had Fraser loyalty behind him. Another candidate had staunch MacDonald backing.

And besides, the young heir had insulted his MacDonald kin by refusing to eat chicken. 

Yes, chicken—a food considered too ordinary (along with fish) to offer a Highland chief. So the “hen-chief” and "Gallda" or stranger, as the MacDonalds called him, was sent packing to the Frasers, who gathered in huge numbers in his defense—meeting an even larger group of MacDonalds on the loch meadow, each ready to defend their favorite’s claim.

Plaid and sporran The day had the sort of sweltering heat that comes rarely to the Highlands, and the men each broke a stick and scratched a mark or initials into it before engaging, by Gaelic custom. As the skirmish escalated, the men shed their heavy woolen plaids in the heat—by the 16th century, wrapped, belted plaids were commonly worn by Highland men—and they fought in their shirts and then without them. With hack-and-slash combat and heavy bladed weapons, the men struggled fiercely on the banks of the loch. They must have looked more like wild, furious Celts than men of the 16th century.   Highlander by david wilkie

Finally the field was littered with bodies and scattered with plaids and shirts–so the battle is remembered as Blar na Léine, or Field of Shirts. Of over a thousand men, only five or six Frasers and eight or ten MacDonalds retrieved their notched sticks that day.

A clan legend arose from the tragedy. Fraser tradition holds that 80 Fraser women widowed that day were all pregnant. Within months, 80 sons were born, bringing hope to a depleted clan, whose plant badge was the yew tree—which sprouts new branches from within the old trunk.

It is recorded that 18 years later, the Fraser chief, Hugh, was a handsome 17 year old who charmed 20-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots (and was considered for her husband). Hugh had 79 cousins of the same age who formed his “tail” or escort.

So I wondered: what if one other Fraser had been born that year—a girl? And out of that question came The Raven's Wish.

Elspeth Fraser, a cousin of Hugh and the others born after Blar na Leine, has been raised with wild Highland lads, and she's resilient, nimble, bold—and a gifted Highland seer. When Queen Mary sends one of her lawyers, Duncan Macrae, to the Highlands to settle a dispute between wild young Frasers and some rowdy MacDonalds, Elspeth senses danger for the handsome lawyer and tries to warn him away. But Duncan does not believe in visions, and ignores the wild, beautiful girl's warning…and besides, he has a private score to settle now that he is back in the Highlands…

If you'd like to know more about Blar na Leine, please click here to read my historical article on the battle written for Clan Fraser Society UK.

And if you, too, have a weakness for Scottish historical romance—tell us why! Comment below and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win a copy of The Raven’s Wish in e-book format!

Thanks, hope you enjoy my second-ever historical – and first Scottish romance, now available in ebook format on Kindle, Nook, and most other venues! (Special thanks to Nina Paules of ePublishingWorks! for creating another beautiful ebook – and for making the ebook giveaway possible!)


P.S. FYI, the price has just been lowered for the ebook of The Black Thorne's Rose!