Thursday, August 26, 2010

Enchanting Tales From Two Different Parts of Europe

Ireland: Brendan Gerad O'Brien's short story collection Dreamin' Dreams is now available from SmashWords.

The official blurb: "Capture the mood of Ireland with a wonderful collection of short stories that take you from humour to romance, from sad to sinister, from downright scary to laughing out loud."

If you download a copy, I'm sure Brendan would say Go raibh maith agat.

Slovenia: Franci Rogac announces the publication, in English and Slovenian, of his illustrated fairy tale Bal the Firefly (Kresnicek Bal).

The official blurb: "Popular Slovenian Author Franci Rogac has released his latest fairytale book, Bal the Firefly (Kresnicek Bal) for the first time in English and Slovenian to the delight of his English fans everywhere. Bal the Firefly has a wonderful lesson for families about living within the boundary of nature. In the fairytale, Luke is fascinated with fireflies and wants to catch one to keep his room aglow, but Bal the firefly has a family too! What a wonderful approach to help children view nature from Bal's point of view."

According to the Euclid Observer, in Slovenia (that's directly east of Italy on the Adriatic Sea, for those of you who are geographically challenged) Mr. Rogac and his children's books are as popular as J. K. Rowling!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lovely, Romantic Russian-Inspired Fairy Tale

It’s been over a hundred years since one of my maternal great-great grandfathers left Russia to avoid serving in the Tzar’s army. I’m still fascinated with Russian, and indeed all of Eastern European folklore. Anna Kashina puts Russian folklore to excellent use in her romantic fantasy/epic novel Ivan and Marya (Drollerie Press, 2010).

It’s not an epic on the scale of Lord of the Rings, though like Tolkien did with Anglo-Saxon folklore in his novels, Kashina weaves the kind of tale my Russian ancestors would have told around their hearths. It’s more on the scale of The Hobbit, but while it may not be as sweeping as War and Peace, the fast-paced storytelling keeps the pages turning. I read it in one sitting.

Ivan and Marya is the classic hero’s journey. Ivan (nicknamed “The Fool”) is on a quest to fulfill a prophecy. He and his sponsor, Wolf, seek to bring an end to the human sacrifice perpetrated by the Tzar, Kashchey and his daughter Marya in the name of the god Kupalo.

Young Ivan (a stock character in Russian folk literature, though he never feels like it in Kashina’s telling) is the sort of everyman hero the reader can easily identify with. What makes this story so compelling is rooting for Ivan to complete his perilous, virtually impossible tasks.

Marya, though she is beautiful with her long black hair and pale skin, is compelled by being the priestess of Kupalo to be cold-hearted, incapable of love. Ivan isn’t sure if he wants her love. He wants to complete his task; the wildflower the peasants call Ivan and Marya is an omen to him, a symbol of hope.

The theme of the yearly human sacrifice is a common one in ancient Pagan storytelling. In the Celtic world (as in Mists of Avalon), the sacrifice is a young man who may father as many children as he likes before going to his noble death. In this version, the sacrifice must be a female and a virgin, recalling the Greco-Roman myth of Persephone/Proserpina. The virgin sacrifice is a close folkloric cousin of the straw effigy (sometimes named Marzana) that is, even today, “drowned” in Slavic countries as a rite of spring. The name of the death god in this novel, Kupalo, recalls the modern Slavic summer solstice holiday of Ivan Kupala…John the Baptist. The virgin sacrifice’s drowning in a sacrificial pool was replaced and Christianized with the rite of baptism.

Even if the ancient origins of the myths bore you, though, you’ll enjoy Anna Kashina’s storytelling. She makes it both fresh and exciting. There’s some adult content (this is a romance, after all), so this enchanting fairy tale is not for very young readers.

If you enjoy this book, you might also like Keith Miller’s The Book of Flying, Whispers in the Dark by Marisa Quinn, and The Raspberry Girl by VictoriaSelene Skye Deme.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pagan Spirits Interview and Book Giveaway with Eternal Press Author Cate Masters

Please welcome my special guest today, Eternal Press author Cate Masters. Ask Cate a question or leave her a comment for a chance to win one of her books!

Q: What was the name of the first book you wrote? How did you get it published?

A: The first book I wrote, Orion Rising, was never published, though I had some interest from agents. I haven’t quite given up on it, but reading it now, I can see it needs revisions, though it’s essentially a good story.

Q: Which do you find leads you to your best work: your triumphs or your tragedies? Do you write from joy or pain?

A: I write because I can’t turn off my brain. Story premises leap out from almost anywhere, and I find myself wondering, What if… Eventually, I have to write it all down or my head would explode, lol. I do like to explore people’s dark psychological sides, what makes them tick, but I also like to write stories from which I hope readers will come away feeling good about themselves, or the world in general.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

A: So many people, really, from my critique partners who encourage and teach me, to other authors who inspire me. Of anyone, I’d have to say my husband, who’s been my biggest supporter, in every way. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to devote the time and energy to writing I currently do.

Q: Do you read for pleasure? If so, what kind of books do you like to read?

A: My writing reflects my eclectic tastes. I love to read any well-told, engaging story, in any genre. On my nightstand TBR pile right now you’ll find anything from David Sedaris to Natasha Mostert to Stieg Larsson (I had to know what the fuss was all about!) to Linda Robertson and Gena Showalter. And more. :)

Q: What has been the most significant book you've read (or listened to, if you were a small child) in your life?

A: The first books that really knocked my socks off were The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I fell into that amazingly detailed world, and in love with its complex characters. It began a love affair not only with fantasy, but books in general.

Q: What project(s) are you currently working on?

A: I have a backlog of stories needing attention, as usual. Some are contemporary, some historical, but the ones I’m focusing on now are fantasy. I have what I hope is a cool series in mind called The Goddess Connection, and recently finished the first book, The Magic of Lavender. Each story links that book’s heroine to a different goddess, and the series theme is that every woman deserves to be treated like a goddess.

Of my six releases this year, three were with Eternal Press: Fever Dreams, a contemporary romance novel with fantasy elements; Winning, a short contemporary mainstream with magic realism elements, and Follow the Stars Home, a Native American historical romance novel following two Lakota sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in my former town of Carlisle, Pa.

Excerpts, trailers and reviews are on my web site at, and readers can keep up to date with my news, or learn about other authors’ work, on my blog:

I’d love to give away a PDF of any of these three releases – winner’s choice!

Thanks so much for having me as a guest, Erin! It’s been a real pleasure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Memoirs From the Asylum, a disturbing but powerful read

Chances are, you have a family member or an acquaintance who's been affected by a major mental illness. For many people, mental illnesses are very treatable. They will either recover or learn to manage their episodes of illness. For others, a mental illness does not respond to treatment and living in a therapeutic setting becomes an option. Of those whose illness leads to hospitalization, some are lucky enough to be able to afford private care. For others, there's the state hospital.

As Alice famously said to the Cheshire Cat, "I don't want to go among mad people," and any examination of the lives and thoughts of those living in the state hospital will not be a walk in the garden. Although 'Memoirs From the Asylum' by Kenneth Weene is fictional, those of us who have mentally ill friends and relatives or who have worked in mental health care settings will find it unsettlingly real.

Readers will no doubt find this book fascinating. It's like what medieval Christians used to call "the abominable fancy:" the saved glimpsing the suffering of those in Hell. The trouble is, as Weene's book makes clear, the line between the "sane" and the "insane" is a fine one. The "insane" are institutionalized by their own volition, but can declare "the vacation's over" and walk out to rejoin society at any moment. The staff are just as capable of abnormal thoughts and irrational behavior as the patients. It reminds me of a joke from an early season of 'The Simpsons,' when Homer found himself committed and asked the doctors how they could tell who was sane and who was insane. Simple, they tell him: everyone who's insane has his/her hand stamped "INSANE."

'Memoirs From the Asylum' is, at times, funny, sometimes unsettling, but largely tragic. It's a powerful book, but one worth reading. It's a plea for compassion and a disorganized rant as careening as the Jimi Hendrix solos that a patient named Jamul endlessly plays on his invisible guitar.

Funny thing about that: thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the Navy record of the real Jimi Hendrix is now public, and it reveals he was once thought to have a mental illness. The real Hendrix seemed to be unable to concentrate on any work other than writing songs and playing his guitar! Perhaps Jamul was a misunderstood genius. Within the pages of 'Memoirs of the Asylum,' anything is possible.

This book is available from Amazon or from All Things That Matter Press.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Romantic Heroes and the Hotties Who Inspired Them

Today I'm sorta co-blogging with Hunk du Jour, a yummy gay men's photo blog (rated PG; plenty of shirtlessness, no nudity). I provide the romantic/erotic stories, and the HdJ links provide the photos!

The Story: "Experimental." Experimental Subject #73, with his Welsh accent and toffee-colored hair, is blinding Tori with science.
The Hottie: Christian Bale

The Story: "Invisible Touch." Invisible man Jason sneaks into the apartment of his super-powered nemesis Fate, only to find himself unexpectedly attracted to her.
The Hottie: Milo Ventimiglia

The Story: "The Hope." At his niece's bat mitzvah, Mark fell hopelessly for the new temple cantor, Ilan. On their first official date, Mark is just hopeless.
The Hottie Who Inspired Ilan: Adam Levine

The Story: "Innocent." In an alternate world where arranged marriages are the norm, college soccer star Zachary meets his bride-to-be, Analiese, for the first time. She's not as innocent as she seems.
The Hottie: Zachary Quinto

The Story: "Homecoming." Patrice is married to Evan. They've agreed she's allowed to have one affair (Evan already had his). Patrice chooses Evan's army vet brother Marcus.
The Hottie: Keanu Reeves

The Story: "Redneck Woman." Stuck in Atlanta on a rainy night, Yankee Vanessa picks up Agatha and her husband Preston.
The Hottie: Adrian Pasdar (and his supercute wife, Natalie Maines!)

Yes, I was a big Heroes fan. Why do you ask?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Melusine's Secret," based on the French fairy tale

Raymond opened his eyes. His head stung, his mouth was dry, and he was thankful the servants had the sense to draw the thick curtains the previous night. He half suspected if he groped around under the covers long enough, he might find one of his servants there...perhaps the young kitchen maid with the long braid of golden hair down her back. Or, if he was particularly lucky, he’d find the new stable hand, the one with broad shoulders and large hands who, despite his size, was incredibly gentle in the way he handled the horses.

His morning-after fantasies were rent asunder by a knock at the door. “Enter,” Raymond said, sitting up to assure himself he was truly alone in bed.

The door slowly opened. Gustav, Raymond’s trusted man-servant, stepped into the room. “Sir, I am advised we have a guest due to arrive today.”

“None that I know of,” Raymond grumbled.

“No, sir. We’ve only this morning been apprised of her impending arrival.”

“Her impending arrival?” Mentally, Raymond ran down the short list of females who might make a surprise visit to see him. “Good God, it’s not my mother, is it?”

Gustav chuckled slightly as he shook his head. “No, sir, though her visit may portend something just as ominous.”

Raymond was tempted to pull the covers over his head and pretend this day had never started. “Why don’t you just tell me who’s coming, Gustav?”

Gustav nodded. “The Lady Pressina, sir.”

Raymond brightened at the sound of her name. True, Pressina was one of the most powerful women—one of the most powerful beings, really—in western France. True, Pressina’s word was as good as law, and every noble worth anything bent over backwards to see that Pressina was pleased and that her wishes were followed. True, going against Pressina was like bringing a curse down on your lands. None of this meant that Raymond had anything to fear. He hadn’t done anything to anger or wrong Pressina.

“The Lady Pressina pays me a visit, and you call that ominous?” Raymond said. As he got out of bed, Gustav handed him the clothes left in a pile from the night before. Ever the discrete one, Gustav pretended not to notice the extra set of breeches on the carpet. “If anything, I’m honored with Pressina’s presence. Have the manor cleaned thoroughly, and send the girls to the woods to gather flowers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and tell the kitchen to prepare the most light and delicate meal imaginable.”

“Of course, sir.”

Raymond personally oversaw the preparations for Pressina’s visit. He didn’t want to risk offending her. When his legion of servants had finished preparing, the manor house was spotlessly clean and smelled of perfumed, fresh air and fine delicacies. Raymond took a bath and put on his new clothes at the same time the servants welcomed Lady Pressina and her maids to the manor.

“The Lady Pressina,” Gustav announced formally into Raymond’s receiving room. Raymond stood as the lady entered. Pressina was a tall, thin woman with large eyes but delicate features. She wore her hair loose. Its color was a silvery white-blonde, though in certain light it gave the distinct impression of being tinged with the same ocean blue as her eyes. She moved with an almost unearthly grace. Perhaps this was why when the common folk spoke of Pressina, they said she was descended from the fairies.

Her rosebud-pink lips smiled as she was introduced, filling Raymond with anticipation of blessings to come.

He held out his hand, and Gustav announced him formally. “Raymond, Count of Poitou.”

Pressina shook his hand. “Greetings, my young noble.”

Raymond kissed each of her cheeks. “And the same to you, Lady. You honor me with your visit to my home. To what do I owe such grace?”

He wasn’t expecting anything like her following words. “It is you who will honor me, Count of Poitou, by marrying my eldest daughter, Melusine.”

Stunned, Raymond said nothing. Pressina continued. “As you know, good Count, the region of Poitou is central to the lands under my protection. I’ll arrange for my middle child to marry a lord of the north, and my youngest child will marry a noble of the south. Yours must be the strongest link in the chain, of course, and this is why you must marry the eldest.”

To read more, go to

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dancing at Lughnasa (Lughnasadh)

Blessed be! The wheel of the year turns to Lughnasa, the first of the major harvest days that conclude with Samhain/Halloween (the harvest of winter meat). It marks the first festival of the waning year, the first major festival since Midsummer Night. In astronomical terms, this is the halfway point between Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox.

In Scotland, the name of this festival is Lunasdal, and in Wales it's simply Gwyl Awst, "the August feast." The Christianized name for Lughnasa is Lammas, or "Loaf Mass." The name recalls the Pagan tradition of honoring the first grain harvest of the year, with the added ritual of attending a Christian mass or church service.

The Irish consider it the feast of the god Lugh, who consecrated it in honor of his foster-mother's death. Lugh's foster-mother Tailtiu, "The Great One of the Earth," represents the land of Ireland itself. Thus, her death is symbolic of the harvest: the crops sacrifice themselves so human beings and animals can live. Tailtiu's death was celebrated with feasting, Olympic-style games, bonfires and handfasting ceremonies. Where corn is harvested, the goddess is often visually represented by making corn dolls.

This is the grain harvest, so baking breads and other baked goods is a long-standing Lughnasa tradition. The blueberries are also in season (now through Labor Day) and are also a common ingredient in Lughnasa treats.

Whatever you do today, enjoy!

This is an affiliate link:

The Wheel of The Year. . by Maureen Murrish. $5.99 from
The Wheel of the Year is a beginner's guide to celebrating the eight traditional pagan festivals of the the year.