I’m a new author … how do I get published?


Categories: Research

Let me begin by saying that everyone’s journey is different and if you want to see your book in the hands of the masses, there isn’t necessarily a right way to do it, but there may be a wrong way.

I spent five years submitting to agents and publishing houses. I have a wonderful agent still, but he was unable to sell any of my books to NY houses. In December of 2010, I decided that the books that he couldn’t sell (The Last Pendragon, Footsteps in Time, Prince of Time) might as well be out there in the world for people to read because they weren’t doing me or anyone else any good on my laptop.  I published them through Amazon’s KDP platform and through Smashwords as ebooks, and through Amazon’s indie paperbook arm, Createspace. It costs nothing to sell ebooks on Amazon or distribute to bookstores and libraries. Those links are here:
Another option is another distributor, Draft to Digital which some people have been very happy with. It’s link is here:

I’m getting ahead of myself, however, because before you release a book into the wild, it has to be the best it can be, and you need to be sure that you’re ready to start your own small business. That’s really what indie publishing is–a small business–and you should approach it as such. Professional editing and cover art really are necessary. Even on a low budget, you can get good covers for $250 or less, and if you have a posse of literate and educated friends, you could possibly get a lot of help with editing and proofreading in addition (or in a pinch, instead) to paying someone to help you. That said, you don’t want yes men who will tell you your book is great. You want people who are willing to tell you what you need to fix and why.

What you want to do is to stay away from any company that is going to offer you a package deal of services or take a cut of your profit. There are SO many scams out there, many of which are run by traditional publishing houses themselves (Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Random Penguin, and others all have vanity publishing arms), all preying on indie authors.  There are a couple of blogs that are very helpful for navigating this kind of thing:

If you do pursue a traditional publishing deal, you really must look at Writer Beware, a web page that details agents and publishers to avoid:

The owner of the second blog, David Gaughran, has written a book called ‘Let’s Get Digital’, which is EXCELLENT. Well worth a purchase as a way to get started. In fact, before you do anything else, you should read his book. It is available here: He also gives the what-for to the vanity publishers mentioned above, masquerading as traditional publishers.

In addition, the community of writers online is an invaluable resource for information, as well as support when times are hard. I recommend two groups in particular: Indie Writers Unite, a Facebook group with nearly 2000 members ( and the Writer’s Cafe at the Kindle Boards (,60.0.html).

Both these groups have a yellow pages listing editors and proofreaders.

Before all that, however, I would reiterate my real advice about all this:  above all, focus on the writing. Sit down every day and plow ahead, with whatever word count goal you choose.  And as you write, don’t think about the fact that you’ve never written anything longer than a twenty page paper and that was for a class you hated in college.  Today, even if what you put on the page is terrible, no-good, the worst chapter ever inflicted on a word processing program, believe that through editing, educating yourself, and reading what other people write and say about writing, you can learn and improve.  You can get better day by day—until one day you read over the two pages you managed to write the day before and think to yourself, ‘hey, that’s pretty good!’

Don’t think about publishing either.  It isn’t that you can’t publish that first or second book, but that it can’t drive the work—the publishing experience is too frustrating, with too little compensation—for that to be a significant motivation.  It’s only after you’ve written a book, revised it fifteen times, shown it to a few people you trust who have given you feedback, and then revised it several more times, that a novel is ready for public consumption.

And then come back to this post.



East Oregonian Interview

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Categories: Research

I was interviewed for an article in the East Oregonian. An excerpt:

“I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” she told a fellow Ph.D. student.

LukeIn the years that followed, Woodbury proved herself wrong. The Pendleton woman has now written 21 medieval novels containing time travel, magic, treachery and adventure. The indie author has sold more than 400,000 books in the past five years.

These days, one will likely find the mother of four at home typing on a computer, her 17-year-old cat, Luke, sprawled between the keyboard and the monitor. A poster near her desk proclaims, “Novelist at work. Bystanders may be written into the story.”

Woodbury writes every day, at least 1,000 words. The result is a steady stream of books and a large cadre of devoted readers who eagerly await each new offering.

Woodbury credits her children for her transformation from blocked Ph.D. student to prolific fantasy author. After college, Woodbury jettisoned plans of becoming a college anthropology professor in favor of staying home with her growing brood, which she homeschooled. As a full-time mom, she marveled at her children’s imaginations.

“They were incredibly creative,” she said.

Some of this creativity rubbed off on Woodbury. She tried poetry, gardening and quilting and, 10 years ago, “I decided to write a novel just to see if I could.”

She finished in two months, writing during her youngest child’s nap time. The result, she confessed, was “horrible” and “unsalvageable.”

“I call it a trunk book because it will forever remain in a trunk,” she said. “It’s hopeless.”

The next book went much smoother. The idea for the novel came in a dream in which Woodbury drove her 1995 Previa minivan to Wales to save the life of a medieval prince. In her book, a pair of teens are catapulted back to the year 1282 and into the adventure of their lives. The book is targeted at teens and young adults.

Selling “Footsteps in Time” to a publisher, however, proved frustrating. Woodbury submitted the book to agent after agent, collecting 72 rejections before an agent finally took her on. That agent and later a more high-powered one in New York were both unable to interest a publisher in the book. Woodbury just kept writing.

The publishing industry shape-shifted as she wrote, partly because of the economic downturn. The new terrain included the option of self-publishing through platforms such as Amazon and iBook. After years of publishing houses dictating everything, suddenly “it was the Wild West of publishing” as authors jumped on the indie bandwagon. Woodbury decided to give it a shot in 2011, placing three of four finished books on Amazon.

“I just wanted to know if they were any good,” Woodbury said.

That January, she sold 22 e-books — and that included three copies to herself and three to her mom. In February, she sold 52 and in March, 250. She decided to experiment, uploading the fourth book of her series, a prequel, and offering it for 99 cents. The strategy worked. Readers downloaded the book, read it and decided to buy others. In April, she sold 1,200. The total was 30,000 by the end of the year.

These days, Woodbury is grateful she never connected with a publisher. She controls every aspect of the process. She can sell her books for a low $4.99 and still make more profit than an author going through a publisher. Her husband, Dan Haug, quit his job directing the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Office of Information Technology to do much of Woodbury’s editing (plus the laundry) and son Carew took on other necessary administrative work. Woodbury was free to write …

Read the rest here:


Christmas and the Winter Solstice


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Stonehenge_Winter_Solstice_2007December 22nd is the winter solstice in 2015. This is Stonehenge at the Winter Solstice in 2007. I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of those people have no idea why they’re there :)

Cultures throughout the world and throughout history have celebrated the winter solstice, carefully calculating it’s date and time for sunrise and sunset, and aligning standing stones, worship sites, and burials in coordination with the sky.  Wikipedia has an excellent catalog of these events:

“The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south receive 24 hours of daylight.”

The Romans first linked Christmas with the solstice.  They pegged the event to December 25th because, since 43 BC, this date was the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.  It was only in 1582 that Pope Gregory XIII reconciled the calendar with the actual astronomical solstice, moving the solstice to December 21 (and keeping Christmas on the 25th).

From  “In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.

In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, they observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival season was marked by much merrymaking. It is in ancient Rome that the tradition of the Mummers was born. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to house entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born.

In northern Europe, many other traditions that we now consider part of Christian worship were begun long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated the their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.

According to my go-to online etymological dictionary, Yule: yule (n.) Look up yule at Dictionary.comOld English geol, geola “Christmas Day, Christmastide,” from Old Norse jol (plural), a heathen feast, later taken over by Christianity, of unknown origin.

The Old English (Anglian) cognate giuli was the Anglo-Saxons’ name for a two-month midwinter season corresponding to Roman December and January, a time of important feasts but not itself a festival. After conversion to Christianity it narrowed to mean “the 12-day feast of the Nativity” (which began Dec. 25), but was replaced by Christmas by 11c., except in the northeast (areas of Danish settlement), where it remained the usual word.

Revived 19c. by writers to mean “the Christmas of ‘Merrie England.’ ” First direct reference to the Yule log is 17c. Old Norse jol seems to have been borrowed in Old French as jolif, hence Modern French joli “pretty, nice,” originally “festive” (see jolly).

The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.”



11 December 1282

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Today is the 733th anniversary the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Welsh Prince of Wales.  He was ambushed and cut down by Englishmen, somewhere in the vicinity of Builth Wells (Buellt in Welsh), Wales, late on the afternoon on 11 December 1282.  It was a Friday.

And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.
—-Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20  (The Chronicle of the Princes)

His head was carried to King Edward I, who ordered that it be displayed on a pike, in London.  Apparently, it stayed on display for over 20 years.  The rest of his body is purportedly buried at Abbey Cwmhir, northeast of Rhayader in Powys.

I wrote Footsteps in Time because there seemed to me to be few events in history where the fate of a nation hinged so profoundly upon the death of one man and I couldn’t stand that it ended the way it did. So I changed it :). At the time, historians said that if Llywelyn had lived only a few more weeks, all of Wales would have flocked to his banner. We’ll never know the truth of that, but his star was in the ascendancy and King Edward was within weeks of running out of both patience and money.

Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd, was eventually captured and hanged, drawn, and quartered, the first man of significance to experience that particular death.  His death was practice for what Edward did to William Wallace, two dozen years later.  Gwenlllian, Llywelyn’s daughter and only child, was kidnapped from Aber and sent to a convent in England, where she remained a prisoner her entire life.

At Llywelyn’s death, Wales fell under English rule, and Edward declared his own son, Edward II, the new Prince of Wales.

That this happened, and that it is little remarked in historial records, should not come as a surprise.  History is written by the victors, as this comment from an English travel writer, William Camden, dating to 1610, makes clear:  “following rather his owne and his brothers stubberne wilfulnesse than any good hope to prevaile, would needes put all once againe to the hazard of warre, he was slaine, and so both ended his owne life, and withall the British [meaning, not English] government in Wales.”

I visited the site in May at Cilmeri where Llywelyn’s death is commemorated by a lone stone marker.

For more on Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, see:


The Battle of the Menai Straits

Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor

Biography of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

The Brothers Gwynedd


Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Wales (d. 1246)

The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort

Family Tree of the Royal House of Wales

Gwynedd after 1282

Historiography of the Welsh Conquest

King Edward I of England

Medieval Planned Communities

Memo to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s Staff

The Rising of 1256

Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Simon de Montfort

The Statute of Wales (Rhuddlan)

Surprise Holy Day Attack!

Things Fall Apart

Welsh Heraldry

Welsh Independence

Welsh Independence (again)


Celebrating Thanksgiving

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Categories: Research, Tags: ,

We are eating a classic, American Thanksgiving today, with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams, ‘apples ‘n’ onions’, which was Almanzo Wilder’s favorite dish, peas, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pie (chocolate is ‘new world’, right?).

A feast in the Middle Ages might have included:  fowl, such as geese, capons, geese, chicken and quail; meats such as beef, lamb, and pork; fish such as herring, salmon, eels,  oysters steamed in almond milk, and fresh water fish. Cheese, butter and other dairy products were also served, along with cream sauces for all these dishes.

Old world fruits and vegies included:  beets, brocolli, carrots, eggplant, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, and turnips.  They also include olives, dates, grapes, figs, blackcurrent, and apples.  Alternatively, beans, corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, squashes and pumpkins are all new world.   And chocolate, as I said.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving officially celebrates the ‘first Thanksgiving’, after the pilgrims who had survived that first winter in Plymouth invited their Indian neighbors to dine.  Or so the story goes. The winter harvest is celebrated worldwide, including on November first in Wales, where it is known as Calan Gaeaf.

An audio discussion is available here:

massachusetts map“The people who comprised the Plymouth Colony were a group of English Protestants who wanted to break away from the Church of England. These ‘separatists’ initially moved to Holland and after 12 years of financial problems, they received funding from English merchants to sail across the Atlantic to settle in a ‘New World.’ A ship full of 101 men, women and children spent 66 days traveling the Atlantic Ocean, intending to land where New York City is now located. Due to the windy conditions, the group had to cut their trip short and settle on what is now called Cape Cod.

Settling and Exploring
The Puritans knew that winter was coming and decided to gather provisions. They took anything they could find, including Wampanoag supplies. The Wampanoag kept a close watch on them and thought they were a disrespectful bunch for stealing all their goods.

One day, the settlers had a visit from Samoset, a leader from the Abenaki people, who brought Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) with him. Squanto was a Wampanoag man who had experience with other settlers and knew English. Squanto helped the settlers grow corn and use fish to fertilize their fields. After several meetings, a formal agreement was made between the English and the native people and they joined together to protect each other from other tribes in March of 1621.

The Celebration
One day that fall, four settlers were sent to hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The Wampanoag people heard their gunshots and alerted their leader, Massasoit, who thought the English might be preparing for war. Massasoit visited the English settlement with 90 of his men to see if the war rumor was true. Soon after their visit, the Native Americans realized the gunshots were harmless and that the English were only hunting for the harvest celebration. Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast and for three days, the English and native men, women and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat …”

I heard a rumor from my mom that we have an ancestor who was on the Mayflower. Will inquire of my cousin and report back!


Footsteps in Time part of Storybundle deal!

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Categories: Research


All Covers LargeCurated by Charlotte E. English

History is made up of stories, and those stories are vast, and varied beyond compare. The Historical Fiction bundle comprises a total of ten terrific titles by top-notch authors, together representing exactly this breadth and variety of experience. These stories blend real-world historical settings with romance, adventure, fantasy and mystery to bring you whole worlds of fun! You’ll visit ancient Egypt, the Americas, the Caribbean, Great Britain and Japan; you’ll meet pirates and warriors, witches and princesses, detectives, time-travellers and more.

  1. Lousia Locke offers a trip to Victorian San Francisco with her terrific Annie Fuller mystery novels. If you’re a subscriber to the StoryBundle newsletter, you’ll get the first title, Maids of Misfortune, for free! The second book, Uneasy Spirits,is part of our basic bundle, along with four other fantastic titles. Take a walk through ancient Egypt with Libbie Hawker’s House of Rejoicing, the first part of a captivating series featuring the famous Nefertiti. Travis Heermann will spirit you away to 13th-century Japan in Sword of the Ronin, an intricate novel blending the tale of a lone warrior with myth and fantasy. You’ll go on a thrilling pirate adventure with Helen Hollick in Sea Witch! Here be pirates! And magic, and romance, and combat upon the high seas! And I’ll introduce you to a re-imagined Regency England in Miss Landon and Aubranael, which mixes a refined tale of life among the gentry with fairytales, magic and folklore.

And that’s just the basic bundle! You’ll get all of that for $3. For $12 or more, you’ll receive all five books plus four more terrific titles. The second part to Libbie Hawker’s saga of pharoahs and queens, Storm in the Sky, will be yours, along with the further adventures of Helen Hollick’s pirate hero Jesamiah Acorne in Pirate Code. InMercenary, David Gaughran tells the thrilling (and true!) story of Lee Christmas, an American embroiled in revolution in nineteenth-century Latin America. And on top of all of that, Sarah Woodbury will take you time-travelling back to medieval Wales in Footsteps in Time, an enthralling tale of romance, fantasy and adventure.

It’s a great pleasure to work with StoryBundle in bringing you this world tour in time, and I think you’re going to love these imaginative, adventuresome, intriguing and history-steeped stories! – Charlotte E. English

The initial titles in the Historical Fiction Bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:

  • Sea Witch by Helen Hollick
  • Miss Landon & Aubranael by Charlotte E. English
  • House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker
  • Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann
  • Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $12, you get all five of the regular titles, plus these outstanding books:

  • Pirate Code by Helen Hollick
  • Mercenary by David Gaughran
  • Storm in the Sky by Libbie Hawker
  • Footsteps in Time by Sarah Woodbury

Also, you can get Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke for free, just for being a StoryBundle newsletter subscriber! Make sure to grab Maids before reading Uneasy Spirits, also found in the Historical Fiction bundle!

Our curator, on the authors and books in this bundle:

Uneasy Spirits and Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke

  1. Lousia Locke was one of the first self-published authors I ever read, and among the first to show me how terrific they can be. Her novels are beautifully researched, and Annie Fuller is one of my favourite lady detectives. It’s a pleasure to be able to include not one but two of these titles in this bundle.

Mercenary by David Gaughran

David Gaughran delights in writing stories set in locations rarely chosen by others, and his novels of Latin America are unusual and packed with adventure. I’m delighted to be able to include Mercenary, which is the only book in this bundle to feature a real-life hero with a true story.

Sea Witch and Pirate Code by Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is a writer whose books have adorned my shelves for years. Known for her Arthurian trilogyPendragon’s Banner, she has since proved that she has a real flair for adventure and romance on the high seas as well. Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures will delight those who loved Pirates of the Caribbean – and if you enjoy a little magic and witchery as well, all the better!

Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann

Travis Heermann’s books are intricate and beautifully researched. They offer an absorbing glimpse into medieval Japanese life, and his Ronin’s story is absorbing and inspiring. I particularly enjoy the delicacy with which he has blended the historical with folklore and fantasy; the result is a rich and exciting story.

Footsteps in Time by Sarah Woodbury

There’s something so enthralling — and intriguing — about the prospect of stepping back in time and experiencing a lost era. Books like Sarah Woodbury’s offer not only an exciting way back but an absorbing view of alternate history, and her vision of medieval Wales is captivating.

House of Rejoicing and Storm in the Sky by Libbie Hawker

Libbie Hawker tackles a period both popular and curiously neglected in historical fiction. The mystique, atmosphere and exoticism of ancient Egypt has fascinated many generations of scholars and dreamers alike. Libbie’s books offer an enthralling tale of royalty, religion and female power, and they feature the ever-fascinating Nefertiti to boot.

Miss Landon & Aubranael by Charlotte E. English

The Regency is among my favourite periods of history. In this book, I’ve blended it with some of my other favourite things – folklore, magic and the fae – to produce an alternate, and magical, vision of England in times past. I’ve also filled it with beautiful illustrations to bring my alternate historical world to life. I love my Regency fairytale, and I hope you will too.

The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $3): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  • Receive extra books: If you beat our bonus price, you’re not just getting five books, you’re getting nine, plus an extra one for being a newsletter subscriber!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for and

For more information, visit our website at, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.



Halloween in Wales

Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

As I sit here munching candy corn (which my 11 year old declares ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate), I’m thinking about one of the chapters in Daughter of Time. Near the end of the book, Meg experiences Halloween in Wales.  Except that during the Middle Ages, it was called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, the day before All Saint’s Day, and it was less about candy and more about a belief in actual spirits.

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, has its roots in an older, pagan tradition, called Nos Calan Gaeaf , Welsh for Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning ‘Summer’s End’.  This is the most well-known Halloween tradition in Wales.  The Welsh translation, interestingly, is ‘the first of winter’.

From the National Museum of Wales:  “A pagan holiday dating back to the Iron Age Celts, Samhain was considered to be the Celtic New Year. It was adopted by the Romans as their own festival when they invaded Britain. Many parts of this festival are echoed in our modern Halloween parties.

Jack O lanterns were originally made from turnips and used to guide the dead back to earth, and the Celts also dressed in costumes much as we do today, but they would use animal skins!  The Romans believed that monsters, gods and magic spells were all around them.”

“November 1 was considered the end of the summer period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was also a time when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in these ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century ad, they added their own festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest.”

“November was also the month of death in the Celtic calendar, where animals were slaughtered to provide meat for winter. Indeed, the Modern Welsh for November Tachwedd literally means ‘The Month of Slaughter’. This often began with a feast on November 1st where pigs were slaughtered (part of this folklore is preserved in the Cymric (Welsh) legend of Arawn and Hafgan, as told in the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.”

With the coming of Christianity, these traditions were converted to blend in more with the Christian calendar and Christian sensibilities. “In 601AD, Pope Gregory made an important directive. He announced that Christian missionaries were to take a new tack when attempting to convert pagans to the Christian religion. Christian missionaries he said, where possible, should incorporate the beliefs, festivals and sacred sites of pagan beliefs into the Christian religion. This directive meant that the important Celtic festival of Samhain had to be marked in a Christian manner.

In the year 609 AD, All Saints Day was officially designated a Church feast, which was celebrated in May and was later moved to November by Pope Gregory in 835 AD. The Christian Church may have intended that people would spend their time praying for the souls of the dead on an important holy day. However, the fact that this was a day off from work gave many people even more of an excuse to celebrate Halloween with more excitement and excess than ever.

In the eleventh century, a further festival was added to the church calendar; All Souls Day on 2 November. The three festivals of All-Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls were together known as Hallowmas.”

“Despite the Church’s success in establishing a Christian foundation for the autumn celebrations, many of the ancient customs and traditions associated with them were still practiced by the population. The carving of gourds and the wearing of costumes and masks to scare away malevolent spirits are typical of the superstitions carried over from these celebrations into the All Hallows Eve observance.

The custom of “trick-or-treating” has its origins in a ritual wherein the elders of a village or town would go from house to house and receive offerings of food and gifts for the souls of dead friends and relatives thought to visit on this night. This practice evolved during the Middle Ages, when beggars would travel from village to village and beg for “soul cakes”. Villagers would offer prayers along with the cakes to those who had died in the past year for their transition to heaven.”


The Renegade Merchant

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Categories: Research

TRM blogOne of the best parts about writing historical fiction is reading about historical events and weaving them into the story. One of the worst things about writing historical events is having to adhere to what happened in history, especially when a beloved character dies. I had to include the death of a prince of Gwynedd, Rhun, in The Lost Brother, the prior book in the, and the death was as traumatic for me as for my readers.

In the end of that year died Rhun, son of Owain, being the most praiseworthy young man of the British nation, whom his noble parents had honourably reared. For he was fair of form and aspect, kind in conversation, and affable to all; seen foremost in gifts; courteous among his family; high bearing among strangers, and fierce towards his enemies; entertaining to his friends; tall of stature, and fair of complexion, with curly yellow hair, long countenance; with eyes somewhat blue, full and playful; he had a long and thick neck, broad breast, long waist, large thighs, long legs, which were slender above his feet; his feet were long, and his toes were straight. When the report of his lamentable death came to his father Owain, he was afflicted and dejected so much, that, nothing could cheer him, neither the splendour of a kingdom, nor amusement, nor the sprightly converse of good men, nor the exhibition of valuable things; but God, Who foreseeth all things in His accustomed manner, commiserated the British nation, lest it should perish like a ship without a pilot, and preserved Owain as a prince over it. For before insufferable sorrow had affected the mind of the prince, he was restored to sudden joy, through the providence of God.

There was a certain castle called Gwyddgrug (Mold), which had been frequently attacked, without its falling; and when the liege men of Owain and his family came to fight against it, neither the nature of the place nor its strength could resist them, till the castle was burned and destroyed, after killing some of the garrison, and taking others, and putting them in prison. And when Owain, our prince, heard of that, he became relieved from all pain, and from every sorrowing thought, and recovered his accustomed energy.  Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes of Wales)

The Renegade Merchant was fun to research because the book is full of bits of historical information I didn’t know anything about before a few years ago when I started writing the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries. For example, I didn’t know that the Danes ruled Dublin for hundreds of years, and I especially did not know that they ran an extensive slave trade out of the Dublin slave markets. Fun tidbit: the phrase beyond the pale refers to the region of land immediately beyond the confines of Dublin, once it was conquered by the English in the twelfth century. It was a safe zone between Dublin and Ireland proper. Thus, to be beyond the pale was to be outside the safety of English law.

Slavery predated the Danes, of course. Slaves were taken in raids through history, and the Romans were huge practitioners of slavery. Before the Danes took Dublin, the Irish raided their neighbors and the Welsh coast for slaves as a means of subduing their enemy. Often these slaves would be ransomed for gold or land. The Danes transformed slavery into an actual trade after they established Dublin. Essentially, the framework of slavery and slave-taking changed from having mostly to do with power relations between lords to being about money.

In The Renegade Merchant, I mention that King Owain’s father, Gruffydd, in the late eleventh century, partially paid for the retaking of Wales with slaves, and he was hardly the only one. But by the twelfth century, slavery was on the wane. Slave-taking became far less common, and since the Normans had made slavery illegal—in large part thanks to the influence of the Church—the Dublin slave market went into decline and then closed altogether.

Slaves and villeins are closely related in the modern mind, and nobody was more surprised than I to discover that while the word villain predates villein. Villain has its origin in villainy from Anglo-French vilanie and Old French vilenie, meaning to be of low character, unworthy act, disgrace, or degradation. This definition dates to a hundred years before its use as villein, meaning a feudal class of half-free peasants (c. 1200 v. c. 1300). I’d always thought the origin was the other way around.

Another subject about which I knew nothing before delving heavily into the twelfth century was the history of prostitution. It is, of course, said to be the oldest profession, and has taken many forms over the millennia. Again, the Romans were proud proponents of it, and the existence of brothels was legal in England (albeit frowned upon by the Church), even to the point that the Bishop of Winchester in 1162 was granted the right to license prostitutes and brothels in London.

Finally, I loved learning about Shrewsbury, a border town in the March of Wales. Much of what I knew about Shrewsbury before starting to do my own research came from Ellis Peters and her wonderful and beautifully written Brother Cadfael books. The Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries have now moved beyond the time in which her books are set, but many elements remain the same, including the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul and its Abbot Radulfus, and the town of Shrewsbury itself.

I would like to take particular note of the wall which surrounds the town in the Brother Cadfael books and in The Renegade Merchant. My research indicates that the town wasn’t given a right to murage (which means to charge a tax to build a town wall) until 1218 when King Henry ordered the town to make itself defensible. That isn’t to say that it didn’t have a town wall earlier—just that there is no mention of it. I chose to harmonize the specifics of the town of Shrewsbury in my book with what Ellis Peter’s described in hers.

The Renegade Merchant released on September 15, 2015 and is available at:

Amazon  Amazon Intl  Nook  iBooks  Kobo  Google Play


Medieval Diseases

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In the Middle Ages, the range of types of diseases was similar to what we experience today, with some exceptions (HIV/AIDS).   Viruses, of course, are no easier to combat now than then, but without vaccines and if the infected person was living in unclean or freezing conditions, or suffering from a poor diet, the disease was made that much worse.  Antibiotics help with some diseases, but then again, more have sprung up in response to them (C-diff).

That said, these are some of the most common diseases people experienced in Europe in the Middle Ages (not including the Black Plague, see:; or leprosy, see:

Dysentary:  Still common in poorer countries today, Dysentary is an infection caused either by bacteria or amoebas, spread through contamination of food and water by infected fecal matter.  Typhoid is another such disease spread through bacteria and fecal matter which was not uncommon in the Middle Ages

“Symptoms: (Bacillary) After 1-6 days incubation, watery stools, fever, cramps, dehydration. In advanced stages, bloody stools, meningitis, conjunctivitis, and arthritis. (Amebic) Acute form: watery, bloody stools, cramps, fever, weakness. Chronic form: intermittent diarrhea, mild abdominal discomfort.  Result: Generally weakened condition.  Note: Endemic in medieval armies and pretty common in cities. Infantile diarrhea was a leading cause of death for infants. After the Black Death, many urban areas instituted public health reforms to improve sanitation and prevent these enteric fevers.”


Ergotism (“St. Anthony’s fire,” “holy fire,” “evil fire,” “devil’s fire,” “saints’ fire”):  Poisoning from a fungal infection of grain, especially rye.

Symptoms: (Convulsive) Degeneration of the nervous system causes anxiety, vertigo, aural/visual hallucinations, and the sensation of being bitten or burned; stupor, convulsions, and psychosis. (Gangrenous) Constriction of the blood vessels causes reddening and blistering of skin, then blackening, with itching and burning, and finally necrosis.  Result: 40% mortality. Lingering symptoms, including mental impairment, among survivors.

Note: Ergotism was known as a rural disease, particularly of marshy areas, and one that followed crop damage or famine; especially after a severe winter and a rainy spring. Children are more susceptible because of their smaller body weight. Because England did not rely on rye as much as populations on the continent, it suffered fewer cases of the convulsive type.”


Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Gonorrhea, Syphilis):

“By the Middle Ages both gonorrhoea and syphilis were widespread. One view, by no means unchallenged, was that syphilis was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus’ sailors on their return from the New World. The differentiation of the 2 diseases from each other was often a matter of medical debate, from the sixteenth up until the nineteenth century, many authors believing that the symptoms of gonorrhoea (clap or gleet) were the early stages of syphilis (the pox). This view was substantiated by the British surgeon John Hunter (1728-93), who undertook heroic self-experimentation by injecting his own penis with material taken from a patient with gonorrhoea. On developing the signs of syphilis he concluded the two infections were the same — little realizing that his patient, like many others, actually suffered from both infections at the same time.
The main orthodox treatment for syphilis from the Middle Ages until the early years of the twentieth century consisted of the application of a mercury ointment, a favourite treatment for skin lesions. But sufferers from the disease were particularly susceptible to the blandishments of quacks and charlatans, and many successful businesses profited during the seventeenth through to the twentieth centuries from selling useless remedies.”
This article details the discovery of medical mercury found in medieval bones.  In these cases, it was used primarily to treat syphilis and leprosy.
New research might indicate that syphilis was actually an new world disease brought to the old world by exploration and conquest (love the irony there). “Not a single report of pre-Columbian syphilis in Europe, they concluded in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, included enough information to confirm a diagnosis of the disease. There is evidence, on the other hand, of the syphilis in the New World dating back at least 7,000 years.”
Diptheria:  “Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. There are two types of diphtheria: respiratory and cutaneous. Respiratory diphtheria involves the nose, throat and tonsils, and cutaneous diphtheria involves the skin . . . Death occurs in approximately five to ten percent of all respiratory cases with higher death rates (of up to 20 percent) among persons younger than five and older than 40 years of age.”

“In the early part of the 14th century there were outbreaks of typhoid fever, dysentery and diphtheria. It has been estimated that in 1316 about 10% of the population died from these three diseases.”


Erase Me Not (The Paradisi Chronicles)


Categories: Research

Announcement! I have written a book!
I realize that isn’t news, but what is news is the book I’ve written, which I have told nobody about until today …

A year ago, seven authors (including me) came together to write individual books set in a shared fictional world. We shared ideas, hammered out a backstory, drew maps, adapted technology, designed cities, and invented new species. Then we wrote stories about the people and places of this new world we’d created. We wrote in different styles, in different genres, and in different forms, In fact, we had so much fun that we have opened up this world to any other author who would like to write their own stories and add to the Paradisi Chronicles canon. (our FB page is here:; our web page is here:

The Paradisi Chronicles:
In the last decades of the twenty-first century, ten families, seeking to escape an increasingly devastated Earth, focus their power and wealth on building spaceships that will allow a select few to leave Earth and colonize the world they call New Eden. Here, on their new home in the Paradisi System, these Founding Families hope to avoid the environmental and political disasters that were destroying Earth. But they find that the world they claim for their own is already inhabited, and the Ddaerans, although human in their appearance, possess abilities that the Founders and their descendants find both intriguing and frightening …

My book is called Erase Me Not, and it’s a sci-fi/fantasy with suspense and romance and adventure and all the usual things I write about except set on New Eden, some two hundred years in the future. There’s even some Welsh thrown in for good measure because, you know, that’s how I roll:

erasemenotcoverblogAs a descendant of one of the Founding Families of the colony of New Eden, Abby has lived a privileged existence–up until the moment she wakes up in a rent-by-the-hour hotel room in the worst sector of New Seattle with no memory of how she got there. Friends and family are suddenly strangers, and the only memories in her head can’t be hers.

When the authorities accuse her of working for the Resistance movement and have evidence to prove it, Abby enlists her only friend, Raman, for help. Their quest takes them into the dark underbelly of the brave new world her family founded and reveals a far-reaching conspiracy which threatens not only Abby’s life, but the very foundations of New Eden.

The book is available for preorder on Amazon  and all Amazon stores (it releases September 1).


The Welsh founders of the United States

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Wales never had an Independence Day, although it has been inching towards more autonomy for the last ten years. Welsh people, however, had a huge impact on the founding of the United States and its revolution. Thomas Jefferson writes in his autobiography:

“The tradition in my father’s family was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon, the highest in Gr. Br.”

Other founders with Welsh ancestry (some only rumored) include Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and its religious freedom, William Penn, Sam and John Adams, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Benedict Arnold and up to a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (

Personally, I find this unsurprising, and it explains a great deal about the willingness of the founders of the United States to stand up to England.

One key to whether or not a name originates in Wales is if the last name is a ‘first’ name (e.g. Adam, Madison, Henry, Arnold, Jefferson, Williams). A very common such name in Wales now is “John”. Another less well-known founder, Richard Morris, was dubbed the “Financier of the American Revolution” by George Washington.;

And then, if the Welshness of certain American influenced the American Revolution, according to John Davies, later Welsh-Americans returned the favor. He states:

“Welsh Nationalism was a concept born in Cincinnati, where Michael D. Jones was a Congregational minister in the 1840s. To be Welsh in Wales was to be from Carmarthenshire or Anglesey or Glamorgan or Denbighshire. To be Welsh in America was to be from Wales. Periodicals and newspapers in Wales were local- Y Gwladgarwr serving Aberdare and much of the south, Y Fanerserving Denbigh and much of the north and so on. Welsh periodicals in America served the Welsh in their entirety . . .

And not only were the Welsh as a nation invented in America. So also were almost all the causes that have been central to our endeavor over the last two centuries.

As Gwyn Alf Williams has shown in his brilliant books on Madog and Beulah, late eighteenth century Welsh radicalism, religious as well as political, was largely borrowed from the American Enlightenment. In the early nineteenth century, the temperance and teetotal movements were directly inspired by the American example, and the leaders of the movement to disestablish the Anglican Church in Wales looked to the American separation of church and state as their model.

The victory of the North in the Civil War was interpreted in Wales as the triumph of a democratic people over a decadent landed aristocracy, an inspiration to those who launched an attack upon Welsh landlordism in the 1870s and 1880s.

The 1880s also saw the emergence of a republican movement, much to the distress of Queen Victoria. Thomas Gee, the editor of Baner ac Amerserau Cymru, described republican rallies with enthusiasm. American flags were carried, he noted, and the crowd shouted the names of American Presidents.”


Reading Group Guide to The Good Knight

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Categories: Research

Many readers over the years have asked for a reading group guide to my books. I am happy to announce that I now have one to The Good Knight!


tgk cover blogThe Good Knight

By Sarah Woodbury

Reading Group Guide

  1. Gwen is a young woman living in twelfth century Wales, a time nearly eight hundred years before the present. How does Gwen’s behavior play into or defy stereotypes about medieval women? Do you think her portrayal is realistic?  How do you think she would behave differently had she not been raised by an itinerant bard?  Consider her relationship with her family, with her social “superiors” (lords, knights, princes, etc.), and her participation in traditionally “masculine” spheres, such as her intelligence work for Prince Hywel, or her active role in the murder investigation.
  1. Women in this story (and in medieval period in general) are almost unilaterally seen as social inferiors. How then do women gain and exercise power?  Are there avenues of influence accessible to them which are unavailable to men?  Or, are they merely pawns in masculine political games?  Consider the examples of Gwen, Cristina (King Owain’s betrothed), and Elen (Hywel’s and Rhun’s sister).
  1. What is the difference between honor and morality? What does his honor mean to Gareth, and why is it so important him?  Does being honorable make you a good person?  Consider the example of Cadwaladr’s lieutenant, Maredudd (Chapter Twenty-Five).  What does Maredudd’s honor mean to him?  Does it mean something different than it does to Gareth?
  1. Also in Chapter Twenty-Five, Rhun and Hywel each take the life of one of Cadwaladr’s soldiers in cold blood. What does this say about them as princes?  What does this say about them as human beings?  Was it pragmatic? Was it ethical? Did this act make you see them differently?
  1. What does it mean to be a good nobleman in 12th-century Wales? Must one be a good person to be a good noblemen?  Are there times when the two are mutually exclusive? Consider the character of Owain Gwynedd, compared to that of Cadwaladr.  Is Owain a good king?  Why, or why not?   Is there an argument to be made that Cadwaladr is a good nobleman, or at least an effective one?  Is there a difference?
  1. What role does regional prejudice play in the political conflicts portrayed in this book? For instance, what do the Welsh think of the English?  What do the Danes think of the Welsh?  Do you think prejudice exists even within different Welsh regions (e.g. Gwynedd and Deheubarth)?  Is there any difference along class lines in this matter (i.e. do lords share the prejudices of peasants)?
  1. Why do you think the dialogue in this book is written in a colloquial style (meaning familiar)? Does the dialogue remind you of the way you would speak? Why do you think the author chose to eschew the “thee” and “thou” style of speech which is often used in portrayals of medieval speech?
  1. What does this story say about the benefits and problems with the way power is structured in the Middle Ages? Are there problems that arise from the concentration of power into a few hands?  How does someone like Gareth, who gained power through effort and personal valor, use power differently from someone like Owain Gwynedd, who was born to it?
  1. Why does Owain Gwynedd continually forgive his brother, Cadwaladr, and let him off? Do you feel like Cadwaladr consciously abuses this blind spot? What motivation leads Cadwaladr to repeatedly violate his brother’s trust, and why does Owain seem not to care?  What does this say about the importance of family among 12th century lords?
  1. What was Cristina trying to accomplish in telling Cadwaladr that Gwen is carrying Hywel’s child?  Why was it plausible to him?  When Hywel and Gareth hear of this, what do their reactions say about them as people?  Given Hywel’s reputation, do you think Gareth believes Hywel’s denials?


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