Friday, December 21, 2018

The Ghosts of Past, Present, And Future

It wasn't just Ebeneezer Scrooge who was plagued by spirits who needed to tell him something of import. The idea of ghosts with a need to impart information to the living, is as old as mankind itself.

But since I deal in the Middle Ages, we'll just go there.

It was believed that, in the medieval period, ghosts would appear to loved ones because the ghosts were in Purgatory and pleaded for the prayers of the living to shorten their stay there. But were they the genuine article?

It seemed that only Christians had authentic ghosts. Jews and Muslims didn't have real ghosts, only demonic spirits pretending to be their dearly departed.

You had to be careful in dealing with ghosts in any case, because you could be easily tricked. In his article, “Ghosts and Ghostbusters in the Middle Ages”, Robert Swanson of the University of Birmingham, wrote:

Evil spirits claimed to be the Christian dead, so all had to be tested, and could be found wanting. In 1458 one seemingly benign ghost was unable to recite a prayer when tested, thereby revealing itself as a diabolic spirit. 

In fact, many of the ghost stories are distinct in their religious overtones--as would be expected of a people so entrenched in religion in their everyday lives. These ghostly visitations always seemed to involve the ghost tell the visitee of the horrors of Purgatory--and the pits of Hell that they could just see beyond. They were warnings, to be sure, and these hauntings usually ended when the ghost was prayed for enough and left the bonds of Purgatory for his or her Great Reward. Ghost stories only changed to horror stories as religion didn't have the iron embrace over an entire population as it did in the past. It seems when spiritualism took hold of the Victorian imagination, speaking to one's dead relatives and the horror of hauntings took on a completely different tone. You can read a little about that on my post about Ouija Boards.

You can read more about medieval ghost stories here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Merry Saturnalia, All!

Shoot. I'm a day late to start celebrating Saturnalia. You know. That festive time of year where Romans took time off of work, with feasting, partying, playing games, gift-giving, and role-reversal?

It began as a farmer's festival and blossomed into an everyone festival to honor Saturn, who was, according to Wikipedia, "a god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. In later developments, he also came to be a god of time."

Now, is it one day, three days, a week? Well, according to the blog Following Hadrian, it was originally "celebrated on a single day, on the fourteenth before the Kalends of January (December 19), but it was later extended to three days. With the Julian reform of the calendar, Saturnalia was celebrated sixteen days before the Kalends of January (December 17). However, by the end of the Republic the festival was so popular that it expanded to cover a week. The emperor Augustus would shorten it to a three-day holiday during his reign but Caligula later extended it to five days. According to the author Macrobius, the celebration of Saturnalia was extended with the Sigallaria on the 10th day before the Kalends (December 23) so named for the small terracotta figurines which were sold in Roman shops and given as gifts to children."

This was only one of many pagan celebrations that called for bringing in greenery and decorating with berries to give the home a festive air in the dead days of Winter. People would dress up in festive outfits and give gifts to their children. There's nothing new about this.

In fact, there have been festivals of the Sun for thousands of years, and some have fallen on December 25th. It's no accident, of course, that Christmas day appropriated a pagan holy day. Christians were always doing that. It was a quick and dirty way to convert the locals. Just tell them that well they always thought was holy is now called Saint Bridget's Well, or Saint Mary's Well. And if you're already celebrating a day of the Sun, why not celebrate a "real" god on his special day. 

And speaking of miraculous births, Isis, the mother of Horus, is one of those virgin birth stories. Indeed, she also wandered about Egypt with her child, and figurines of her suckling her child are reminiscent of the Mary and Jesus statues and paintings. You've also got the reoccurring dying-and-resurrecting god motif who saves humanity from a diverse number of cultures. For example, you've got Baldr, the god of light, joy, purity, and the summer sun from Norse mythology, who was killed when his blind brother Höðr was tricked into shooting him with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. Dude, not mistletoe! According to our friend Wiki, "Hel (goddess of  Death) promised to release Baldr from the underworld if all objects alive and dead would weep for him. All did, except a giantess, Þökk (often presumed to be the god Loki in disguise), who refused to mourn the slain god. Thus Baldr had to remain in the underworld, not to emerge until after Ragnarök, when he and his brother Höðr would be reconciled and rule the new earth together with Thor's sons." Aww. That's nice.

Quetzalcoatl, a god of Mesoamerica, was born of a virgin, was coerced into drinking too much and carrying on with his sister Quetzalpetlatl, and subsequently set himself on fire in his shame, becoming the morning star. His return was prophesied, but didn't really go well for the Aztec people since they thought that Cortez was the resurrected Quetzacoatl. Oops. 

So, death and renewal, festivities and failures, greenery and debauchery. What a festive time of year! Merry Everything!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Looking Back at 2018

I've had busier years, but it still seemed busy in the scheme of things. I wrote three books this year, all three of them to be published next year. So...I guess it WAS busy.

In January, I was invited to the Hemet Library to participate in their Comic Con. I sold out of all my books (both paranormal and medieval mystery)! I was invited to January 2019's, and yeah, I said yes.

Tiny little snowboy. The closest we get to snow here in southern California is to go seek it up in the mountains. This is in apple country, where there is plenty of cider tasting and general touristy apple-themed things to do. Obviously, I had no events of a literary nature to keep me busy. And I was looking for some cold since it wasn't down where we are.

Also had a big ole contest on my newsletter, as I do every season. But so few showed up I ended up keeping some of this stuff. Too bad. It was all fun.

I also started a program at Kaiser to prepare for bariatric surgery. When I finished it in July, I had lost 30 pounds and learned a heck of a lot about changing one's lifestyle and diet--and the long-suffering husband went right along with me. Though I can't afford the surgery (thanks to our great American healthcare system), I learned enough to continue to drop the weight slowly...slowly. Like you're supposed to. (The picture above is my doodle in class. It's a stomach, in case you couldn't figure it out.)


It was cold outside. We were building a fence for our desert tortoise Harley so she could have a bigger run of the side yard. Isn't she cute? It's unusual to have a pet that you have to bequeath to your heirs, but tortoises live a LONG time, even to 150 years. The truth is, no one knows how long they can live. She hibernates from November to March, living in a box in our bedroom. The perfect pet.

This year, I also did a little research in Old Town San Diego...wearing a tiny hat. Well, not the whole time.

Also a little side trip (on another day) to Arizona to see London Bridge. Yes, you read that right. You can read about that here.


I was invited to be a speaker at the San Juan Capistrano Library. See? I work. And then at the end of the month I had a virtual book launch for my 11th Crispin Guest Medieval Noir, THE DEEPEST GRAVE, on Facebook (be looking for another one in February for the 12th book, TRAITOR'S CODEX--info here if you're on Facebook).

I was asked to be on a panel at Claremont High School's Writer's Day. A very nice event.

Hubby is also an award-winning home brewer and he was refilling his whiskey barrel that we keep in the living room with is barrel-aged-to-be beer.

And one of my favorite shots of my son with his dog Wicket, celebrating his birthday (the boy, not the dog) at our house.
As part of our new exercise routine, I asked to take a hike on Mother's Day in our local hills. This is the Santa Rosa Plateau.

The 13th nomination for the series. So far, I'm the Susan Lucci of mystery awards. I live in hope.

In the meantime, we worked on house things, like our front deck and walkway.

My husband is a commercial photographer, so we scheduled a photoshoot to do some publicity photos for BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN, my paranormal series. These are what he came up with:

I did a podcast for Publisher's Weekly. You can hear it here.

Got to see Shakespeare in the Vines (in our local wine country in Temecula). It was a darned good performance of Richard II, not the easiest play to do since it's so talky without a lot of action. It's always fun to watch a play and have a picnic with wine. 

And then another theatrical event at the Temecula Community Theater performing The Pirates of Penzance. They did a good job. A policeman's lot is not a happy one.

Also this month, I had a signing table at the San Diego Festival of Books.


I launched my 11th Crispin Guest Medieval Noir at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. 

And then a nice (too short) week vacation camping in Mammoth.


And then the beginning of the book tour for the second Booke of the Hidden novel, DEADLY RISING. I began at the Long Beach Library.

Me and a very special book with a friend of mine looking over my shoulder.

Just a few friends I put together as snacks to bring to my events.

At the El Segundo Library Author Fair.

Then a fun evening at the Sleepy Hollow event at the Etiwanda's Historical Society. It was fun and spooky and Ichabod Crane was even chased by the Headless Horseman! 

And then a stint at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

A stop at the Mystery Writers of America's summer Gumbo Party, where Craig brings his homebrew.

The tour continues into November at the Corona Library.

Then the BIG blowout at the Bearded Lady's Mystic Museum. The following pictures are of the joint too.

Then the next day at Mystery Ink Bookstore in Huntington Beach.

Fooling around after taking a northern California trip. Though I do behave badly.

Then at LIBCon West in Phoenix on a panel. 

And then a few of the folks there at the con.

And then my book got slimed.

Then, with rights reverted from St. Martin's from my first six Crispin Guest books, my agent and I decided to self-publish them all, and create new covers for them. 

You can find them on Amazon.

It wouldn't be Christmas without some sort of disaster. My son's dogs come with him to our house for the holidays and they get over excited. The bigger one attacked the smaller one and my son got in between, prying jaws apart...and then he ended up going to the emergency room to get his thumb looked at and bandaged up. The dogs are fine. We expect them to go through some doggy therapy in the new year. Along with a little cannabis.

Now, just waiting for the New Year. Hope your holidays are happy ones. If you want to keep up with my schedule, you might wish to sign up for my Jeri Westerson newsletter or my Booke of the Hidden newsletter.