Tuesday, February 28, 2012


In the interest of having this done so no one has to blog backwards, and giving you the HEA, I am finishing up today this spontaneous autobiography which shows one evolution of a writer.  Do you have your own story?  Feel free to leave particulars under Comments.  I think it's always fascinating to read what gave authors their drive to publish.  My muse was instrumental in mine and even though we have a love/hate relationship, I think it's worth it:

I read those books Seph left me, after all.  In the middle of the nights, when I awoke now because it was time to administer another IV, I read them to the accompaniment of the drip/drip of the IV pump.  The house was otherwise silent because my husband was only semi-conscious, being kept alive by the power of those drips, and I needed a book for company.  Nothing too heavy, mind you.  I didn't want to be too distracted in case the dripping stopped...or his heart did.
So I read away the nights:  Johanna Lindsay, Bertrice Small, Laura Kinsale.  There were too many others to name.  They consumed my time and my mind, or what was left of it.  In accordance with my husband's wishes, I had opted to pursue the euphemistically-termed "home death."  The social worker warned this would take a terrible toll on me, but I knew that.  I was a social worker, too.  I told myself I was ready for it.
Dave's heart finally stopped early one evening in March.  Dear friends sat with me as we played the classical music he loved and ate the pizza he loved, too.  We told ourselves that he would have wanted it that way, and I knew he would.  Dave wasn't into mourning.  His little dog lay on the bed with him until the end, and I did too, and then it was over. Just before spring.  Just as Seph had told me it would be.
I wondered if Seph would come to the funeral, but she didn't  She had never been welcome in that house, only sneaking down the flue or through a crack in the window whenever she could get in, and I guess she decided if she wasn't good enough for Dave in life she surely wasn't good enough for him in death.
Now that I had the time for her, I had no muse.
I stayed busy.  There were things to do, many things.  And bills to pay, many bills.  Oh, and I had surgery three times.  Yeah, I had been pretty busy while my husband was dying, too busy to take care of my own health, and I paid the price.  Big time.
Eventually things settled down.  Way down.  There was still no muse, my time was very much my own and I lost track of it.  I lost track of a lot of things.  When I looked in the mirror, I looked just like Seph the last time I had seen her.  Burned.
A strangely haunting tune began whining away in the back of my mind, never quite getting to the front but always there just like those voices my mother had heard.  Uh-oh.  Those voices had nothing to do with Second Sight.  There was a difference between The Sight and clinical depression or worse.  Jeez Louise.  Was I going to end up like my mother?
Well, apparently not if my Nana could help it.  Years before, Nana had told me I would have a hard life.  That wasn't difficult to predict, seeing that I had a mother with essentially untreated bipolar disorder.  They really weren't into calling it that in those days.  Then it was called Manic Depression and treated with Lithium, only Mom couldn't tolerate Lithium because it was hard on the kidneys and she had already damaged hers with heavy alcohol consumption.  Then the doctor recommended shock therapy, but my father said if he wanted his wife electrocuted he could just give her a fork to stick in the toaster.  No electro-shock, though from what I heard of it in later years I decided probably Dad was right.
In any case, Nana had told me when everything seemed to be lost to go to Ireland and I would find my way again.  I was just enough my mother's daughter to listen.  My father's genes protested furiously that I would be wasting my time--not to mention all that money!--but between the sage counsel of my grandmother and the psychotic delusions of my mother I was just wise enough and just crazy enough to get on a plane bound for Ireland, where I didn't know a soul.  Or at least that's what I thought.
That music in the back of my head had been Celtic music, and I knew even before the plane touched down at Shannon that I was home.
Ireland saved my sanity, though at first it didn't seem that way.  At first it was a matter of sitting in The Laurels Pub in Killarney, a wonderful place I remember with great fondness except that I nursed too-numerous mugs of Guinness stout there.  My fault entirely.  I didn't even like Guinness.  Mom had liked rye and vodka.  Oh, man, did she like vodka--which was probably why I avoided it.  But the end result would be the same.  I was avoiding mirrors again because I didn’t like the way I looked.  Unlike my mother, though, I had an innate ability to “just say no.”  So I did.  I started drinking what the Irish call fizzy water--seltzer water--with lime.  And Pepsi with lemon.  And then because my mad escapade hadn't left me with enough money to buy a laptop, I bought a bunch of yellow legal pads a la J.K. Rowling and went to find Seph.  I damn well knew she was in Ireland.  She had to be.  Why else had I come?
I found her in a peat bog.  A peat bog?  Oh, well, I guessed that was appropriate.  And oddly enough--just like me, once I just said no--she looked healed.  She looked...peaceful.  No more drippy lava, no  sparking eyeballs.  She smiled and pointed to the yellow legal pad in my hand and then to a sheep pasture overlooking the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean my grandmother had crossed to get to America.  OK, maybe I would just sit there and try to write.
My pen hit the paper and I started:

"I was the King's daughter once, so many years ago that sometimes now it is hard to remember. Before the tide of time carried away so many things, so many people, it was worth something to be the daughter of a King.
"Our little island nation of Alcinia was not rich, except for tin mines honeycombing the south. It wasn't even hospitable. Summer was a brief affair and fall was only a short time of muted colors on the northernmost coast where my father sat his throne at the ancient Keep of Landsfel. Winter was the killing time and spring was hardly better, with frosts that could last into Fifth-Month. But from the south, where men cut thatch in a pattern like the bones of fish, to the north where rock roses spilled down cliffs to the sea, it was my own.
“One thinks such things will never change, yet all things do."

What the hell?  That was no poem.  I looked up, startled, and there was Persephone, black hair gleaming against her red gown.  Still no lava although her nails were still bright red.  With one of those gleaming, lacquered nails, she pointed imperiously to my paper and said one word.  "Write."
I wrote until I had 130,000 words.  And then I wrote another 103,000 words.  The first book I called, "The King's Daughter."  The second book, its sequel, I named "Heart of the Earth."  And then, like my grandmother, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America.
I got on a plane and flew back to America, since unlike my muse's crow and my blackbird I had no other way to get there.  Nana had come by steamer (first class, of course, with her mother's china), but those days were gone.  Now Aer Lingus took me back to New York, where I can't say I was especially glad to be.  The air pollution made my eyes as red as Wench … er … sorry … Persephone’s at her worst.  I did get to spend time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hanging out with guys in mail, which almost made it all worthwhile.
I got a computer.  I got an email address which I had to abbreviate from my friends' whimsically-inspired "Miriam's in Ireland."  I tried to get a publisher.  Or an agent. BUWAHAHA!  We all know how easy THOSE are to get.  I didn't know diddly.  I especially didn't know if you tell them you're a poet they run screaming in the other direction.  Our reputation precedes us.
Persephone was no help.  Apparently she had stayed in Ireland.  Finally, since I had concluded writing romance took a high degree of skill and maybe I was missing something, I joined Romance Writers of America and Valley Forge Romance Writers.  Then I got online and an editor found me.  Seriously.  She read my first paragraphs, then my first chapters, then the whole bloody book--in one night--and then she wanted it.
That was The King's Daughter, presently available on my web site www.miriamnewman.com.  The sequel is there, too.
Once I signed the contract, Seph came back.  She really is a wench, but all is forgiven because she brought another nine books with her.  Ten, if you count the one I'm writing now.  It’s set in Norway.  Now do you suppose if I went to Caithness, northernmost point in Scotland, from where a ferry leaves most days for Norway, and I took a yellow legal pad and…

Miriam Newman

Sunday, February 26, 2012


This is the part where if you haven't figured out that this is an autobiography, you'd do best to scroll down to Part The First to figure it out, assuming you're interested.


Before she left, the now-named Seph did something peculiar.  Before, she had always left me with heaps of  material to read before her next visit, sort of like a teacher giving you stuff for the final exam.  Usually it was something highbrow.  Something on the order of, say, Stephen Vincent Benet's Pulitzer-Prize-winning epic "John Brown's Body," a book-long poetic version of the Civil War, to the accompaniment of something like The Battle Hymn of the Republic to...you know...get me in the mood.  Or if it was a non-poetic book--though that was rare--it would at least be literary fiction.  I remember she really liked Foucault's Pendulum.  My muse had informed me that she had an IQ of 140 and the reading material in my house had darned well better match it, otherwise I was wasting her time.

Whewee.  That's why it was so surprising that she left me a stack of romance novels.  Romance novels?  That was a first.  It really didn't seem like her style, but maybe Pele enjoyed them.  They were singed around the edges as if a volcanic goddess had been at them.  Since they were quite warm to the touch, without further ado I tossed them in a corner and forgot about them.

I have to admit I was lonely without Seph even if it was more peaceful.  Then things began to get a tad scary.  I started waking up in the middle of the nights and it wasn't to write poetry.  I woke up because I felt like I was on a wheel of time turning slowly...slowly...coming to a halt.  With a shiver, I recognized that this had nothing to do with poetry.  It was The Sight.  Yes, folks, I believe in Second Sight.  Why shouldn't I?  My Nana's surname indicated very clearly that we are descended from Druids and all the teachings of the Church aside, we still have it.  The rational part of me has always wanted to deny it, but so many inexplicable things have happened that I can't.  We're weird.  Fey.  We KNOW things.  And I KNEW something, although I wasn't clear exactly what it was.  All I knew was that something was coming and it was bad.

It finally came in the form of a terminal diagnosis for my husband.  Leukemia.  The doctor didn't mince any words.  He could buy Dave some time, but the end was in sight.  I deduced that on her way to Hell and back, Seph must have encountered the Fates, busy weaving our mortal timelines on their immortal looms.  There was no bargaining with those three old hags.  Once they cut your yarn--poof.  That was it.  She knew I needed her, even if she was plenty steamed at me.

She paid a condolence call in November, three months before my husband died, leaving me what I didn't know was a last sonnet.  Not mentioning the books she had left, she gave me a sonnet she called Shadows:


The thickened fur upon my slit-eyed cat
Speaks of winter to the attentive ear,
And I must up and pace the room, to hear
This wild autumn's broadside rip and slash
Wrenching the withered apple from the tree,
Tearing my heart to tatters all the while.
And I see the sadness in your smile,
Knowing your easy words are meant for me.

Tell me once more the beauties of the snow,
Tell me that spring will find me strong and sure,
Tell me what things you will.  I only know
That once I loved the slant of autumn sun,
Seeing now only how the shadows come
Sooner and longer than they came before.


Poor Wench.  She was gone for a really long time.  Years, in fact.  Her memory got buried under slag heaps of laundry, lofty snow-covered mountains of cleaning, metric tons of cooking.  Then there were the interminable dinner parties, entertaining, road trips, sick children, sick parents...not to mention a couple of jobs.  My husband had caught onto the fact that I had a muse and made her thoroughly unwelcome in our house.  There would be no more three a.m. pains with a poem.  Nope.  Not in his house.

Wench caught on.  When I next saw her she was a forlorn creature peeking around corners:

 I had never seen her so reduced.  All she could give me was the occasional  poem whispered in the middle of the night, sort of like two little girls hiding under the covers at a slumber party, whispering so they don't wake up parents.  Poor Wench.  There was no room for her in my house, so she went to Hell.

She finally burst into the house in the middle of the night, in flames, full of fury and spitting righteous indignation.  I recoiled in shock, because this time she was running actual streams of lava.  She was a SOUL ON FIRE and informed me in no uncertain terms that she was not Morrigan, she was certainly not The Wench, she was Persephone the Queen of Hell and I would address her as such.  Apparently Pele's patronage had given her a real jump up in life...or death...or wherever she had been.  Anyway, the most I could hope for was a truce.  I could call her Seph and, like The Terminator, SHE'D BE BACK.  And with that she stormed out, leaving me with the most awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that someday she was going to take revenge on me for banning her from the house.  It was only a matter of time.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


The Wench left me alone for several years after the blackbird incident.  She was always extremely fond of birds, as you see from her picture, so I wasn't quite clear about why she was so miffed.  It seemed she couldn't stay away, though.  She put in another appearance about the time I hit high school, though she was a little changed.  The crow was gone and so was the crescent moon on the forehead.  Her fingernails were bright red and sometimes dripped.  I thought she seemed a little smoky somehow, faintly singed around the edges, sort of like an overbaked cookie.  But she was being sweet and had brought a book of poetry, so I chalked it up to imagination.

Poetry it was then...then and for many years afterwards.  My mother had unintentionally abetted my muse's efforts by reading me such classics as Longfellow's "The Skeleton in Armor," about a ghostly knight in chain mail.  Having fallen on his sword for love of Lady Fair (I think she jilted him), the poor guy was doomed to spend eternity clanking around in his chain mail, trying to find her.  If Mom thought his spectre would frighten me, she was sadly mistaken.  I just developed a thing for guys in chain mail.  I'm still afflicted..

The Wench (I stopped calling her Morrigan when the crow left) helped me write sonnets, couplets, quatrains.  I was a talented classical poet, which of course wouldn't help much when that free verse thing took over, but for a time I did really well.  She was proud of my 100% publication rate and of course claimed all the credit.  But we were getting along, so I didn't dispute it or point out that I was the one up at 3 a.m. in pain with a poem while The Wench smoked a joint and got the munchies.  Or was that me?  I forget.  Well, if it was I never inhaled, anyway.

Then I began to notice...oh, dear...nothing was supposed to rhyme any more.  Other people were writing free verse. I was still hearing echoes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker, with quite a bit of Yeats thrown in since I was, after all, half Irish.  I was passe.  When I complained, my muse shrieked, scored up my bright, shiny pages of poetry with her drippy fingernails, thumbed her nose at me and vanished.

This time I felt her absence.  I was bereft.  So I got married.  Well, there were other reasons too, of course.  But the fact was that without The Wench hanging over my shoulder and shoving a pen in my hand, I finally had time to notice men and I married one of them.

That was all it took.  She came roaring back, proprietary as hell, and it suddenly occurred to me maybe Hell was where she had been.  That stuff dripping from her nails appeared to be...lava.  Her eyes weren't just smoky this time, they were burning coals.  She positively reeked of sulphur and there were holes burned in the bottom of her knee-high patent leather boots.  I had the temerity to question her (you could tell I was gaining confidence with a husband in the picture) and she peered haughtily down her aristocratic nose, informing me that she had been spending time with another goddess.  Specifically, Pele.  You know, the one for whom they used to throw virgins down volcanoes.  In Hawaii.  But I was in Pennsylvania, where there aren't any volcanoes, and marriage had taken care of that virginity thing, so I wasn't afraid for myself.  I just told The Wench, formerly Morrigan, that I thought she should be careful.  I didn't want her incinerated.  But she was  pretty much bowled over by Pele and didn't listen.

Silly Wench.

Friday, February 24, 2012


This morning I had one of those chat loop/Facebook conversations authors sometimes have, in this case with Celtic author Maeve Greyson, who is having a book release. I'll leave it to Maeve to disclose that here if she cares to (did'ja get that, Maeve-me-girl?), but in the course of the conversation it evolved that the heroine of her latest book just gives her fits. The girl gives everyone fits, apparently. It's part of her charm.

The more Maeve talked about her heroine, Ciara, the more she reminded me of my muse.

My muse, otherwise known as "The Wench," appeared when I was five year old and trying to write my first book on my mother's shopping list. Tall, slender, with a crescent moon tattoed on her forehead and a crow perched on her shoulder, she scared the daylights out of me. She looked an awful lot like the Celtic Queen, Morrigan, and I knew this how? Well, because my Nana had read Irish myths and legends to me from the time I gave any indication that I could hear, of course. "You can never start 'em too young" was her motto and so I learned that Morrigan was the Great Queen - a Mothergoddess of the Irish Celtoi - the goddess of war, death, prophecy and passionate love.

War, death, prophecy and passionate love: did Nana have any inkling she was creating a romance writer? Yeah, probably.

Eventually I got used to The Wench hanging around, whispering sweet nothings in my ear. She was the one who helped me finish my first "book," which I recall was about a Hollywood stunt horse outrunning a brush fire in California, saving the life of the handsome actor who rode him in all his films. I think that was around the time I was in love with cowboy actors. The Wench humored me. She seemed to see promise of some sort in me. Sometimes she was even kind...until the day I tried to copy her by picking up a fallen baby blackbird which I named Downy. I fed Downy hamburger and hard-boiled egg yolk on the end of an eyedropper filled with milk, which I cleverly shot down her throat in between bites. I hauled her to Girl Scout camp in a carton so she didn't die of neglect. I let her ride around on my shoulder just like Morrigan's crow, though I took the precaution of wearing a length of shower curtain beneath her. I was obsessed with her, teaching her how to pick through grass for seed in preparation for leaving me someday to make her way in the wild. My mother was convinced I was going to become a veterinarian.

The Wench was pissed. I was envisioning myself as Dr. Doolittle instead of a romance writer. She split.

That was the first time my muse left me. It wouldn't be the last.

TOMORROW: Evolution of The Muse

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I was the King's daughter once, so many years ago that sometimes now it is hard to remember. Before the tide of time carried away so many things, so many people, it was worth something to be the daughter of a King.
Our little island nation of Alcinia was not rich, except for tin mines honeycombing the south. It wasn't even hospitable. Summer was a brief affair and fall was only a short time of muted colors on the northernmost coast where my father sat his throne at the ancient Keep of Landsfel. Winter was the killing time and spring was hardly better, with frosts that could last into Fifth-Month. But from the south, where men cut thatch in a pattern like the bones of fish, to the north where rock roses spilled down cliffs to the sea, it was my own.
One thinks such things will never change, yet all things do.
* * *
Thus begins the narrative memoir of Tarabenthia, born a princess in the land of Alcinia.  When the idyll of her childhood ends, she will defy her father, tipping the balance in a world poised on the brink of destruction and leaving history to judge her as heroine or harlot.

In a time of war, what would you surrender in the name of love?
Just released, available in pdf or on Kindle, coming in print:

All digital formats and Print 2/27/12:  http://rebeccajvickery.com/online-store.php
A multiple award winner, top ten finisher in Preditors & Editors poll for Best Romance Novel of 2008, re-releasing in print 2/27/12.

If you're a fan of fantasy historical romance, do not miss this one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today marks the Pagan celebration of Imbolc, in later Christian times known as Candlemas Day.  The Feast of Bride, as it was originally known, was one of the four fire festivals of the ancient Celts, the other three being Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.  The transformation of Brigid the Exalted One--daughter of the Tuatha de Danaan and source of oracles--into St. Bridget I will leave to other tale-tellers.  Suffice it to say that the original Brigid, born in the Wolf Month of February, signified the coming of spring, bringing light into a dark world.  Her feast was timed to coincide with lambing season, a sure sign of new life, and Brigid was always associated with livestock as well as with the bringing of fire.  Her totem animals were two magical oxen and a wild boar which were said to give warning if Ireland was in danger.  And in Scotland, Highland wives invoked Brigid at their hearths.

Today, those wanting to honor the spirit of Brigid should spend the day housecleaning (!) and burning any leftover Christmas greenery, which is exactly what I am going to do when I finish this post.  Tonight I will leave the customary ribbon on my porch for a blessing from Brigid as she passes down my road with her oxen, unseen by mortal eyes.  After that, I may prepare some lamb stew and Bride's cake. 

 Bride's Cake

1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup raisins - some prefer golden raisins
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder

Mix all the ingredients together, being careful not to overmix. Pour into a greased and floured 9"x9"x2" square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until knife inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.  Cool before serving.