Saturday, December 20, 2008

A documentary to watch out for

Released Sept. 15, imdb lists a documentary titled "Children of Congo: from War to Witches." Knowing what we know about young children abandoned by their parents for the crime of witchcraft, as well as the tortures in the name of exorcism, this will be a tough one to watch... but important to do so.

The plot summary reads:

Over five million people have died during the past decade as a result of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Few people are aware of the unimaginable scale of human suffering, death, and destruction that has occurred in this vast country deep in the heart of Africa. In the aftermath of this brutal war, children have endured the brunt of the suffering. This 67 minute film documents the plight of thousands of street children living in Kinshasa and confirms the wide-spread accusations of child witchcraft, torture and child prostitution. The film also examines the efforts to reintegrate demobilized child soldiers, displaced refugees, and orphaned children following the eruption of the massive Nyiragongo volcano, near the city of Goma in Eastern Congo. These heroic efforts are finally bringing some measure of hope and stability to the lives of the Congolese people.
The link for this film is here. I'm going to see if I can find it on Netflix.

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Writing workshops

My friend, and a wonderful writer, Jordan Rosenfeld is offering fiction workshops along with Writer's Digest Magazine editor Maria Schneider. They begin in January. For details, click over here to Jordan's blog.

I should probably mention that I too will be beginning an online Advanced Novel Writing class through Mediabistro in January. The online chats will be Wednesday evenings starting Jan. 21. For more info, click here.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I've been tagged

My friend, a wonderful writer named Jordan Rosenfeld, tagged me for a meme. Here goes:

RULE ONE, I have to grab one of the books closest to me, go to page 56, type the fifth line and the next two to five lines that follow.

Well, the closest book to me is a little pile of my own novel The Witch's Trinity. I won't be so self-promotional as to include lines from that. So next, I turn my eyes to the left of my computer, where one of three bookcases in our house stands.

Balanced precariously on the top of the bookcase (where books aren't supposed to be) is Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell. On the top shelf, the closest book is Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser. The second shelf, Strong Measures by Dacey & Jauss. Third shelf, The Malleus Maleficarum by our wicked German friars. Fourth shelf, Hayden's Ferry Review, Spring/Summer 1996 issue. Fifth shelf, The Great Pharaoh Ramses II and His Time, a museum catalog from the Montreal exhibit my father took me and my mom to in 1985 (thanks again, Dad!)

So, in the Ramses book, p. 56 is a description of a rake-comb, none too interesting. The Malleus quote, predictably about impotence, is too fractured by picking it up on line 5. I have to laugh, because p. 56 is literally BLANK in the Marie Antoinette book! So, how about a selection from Russell's book:

I felt like a film star with my cloche hat and dark glasses, dressed perfectly for the late-afternoon warmth in a linen dress that stopped at my knees. I fancied that the Egyptian women envied me. Poor things, I thought, sweltering in their robes and veils!

RULE TWO, I have to pick five people who love books. My five picks are (in no particular order):

Joe Quirk
Tamim Ansary
Christopher Gortner
Michelle Moran
Holly Payne

. . . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Butterfly effect

I had the honor of meeting another one of Mary Bliss Parsons’s descendants at my reading at Books Inc. in Palo Alto. We are related through Mary’s son Joseph, but after that the ancestors differ: I am the descendant of Joseph’s son Josiah, while she descends from his son John.

I noted that Joseph was only nine years old at the time of his mother’s first witchcraft trial. In a sense, that gives me a genealogical sigh of relief: even if she had been executed, he was of a “safe” age and would have still gone on to sire his line.

However, we will never know if her presence saved him at some later point: did she nurse him out of a fever as a teenager? Did an errand she asked him to perform mean that he was not in the “wrong place, wrong time” during an Indian raid? (One of her other sons, Ebenezer, died in a surprise Indian attack at Northfield, Massachusetts in 1675.)

He must have been one terrified nine-year-old, knowing his mother could be put to death in front of the whole town… and him.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An update on medieval glass

My friend Carolyn saw my post about the stained glass windows still “moving” and sent me this link to a NYT article that says that is probably a myth:

It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries.

Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new.

Yet most people don’t understand why glass should be a liquid and so, well, solid-seeming. Even physics people are involved in this discussion, with Harvard physics professor David Weitz reported as saying, “It just can get so controversial and so many loud arguments, and I don’t want to get involved with that myself.”

One of the controversies involves why molecules in some part of glass move faster than in other parts—but to the eye, the glass appears the same in both regions.

If anyone can find the article I’m thinking of (circa 2001-02) that talked about conserving Europe’s stained glass, with the lead soldering suffering from the glass seemingly moving, please send a link. Thanks for this one, Carolyn! Lots of food for thought.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stained glass

At the book signing after my panel at Book Group Expo, a reader asked what made me include the stained glass window. [Don’t worry… no plot spoiler. I’ll talk about it very generally.]

A number of years ago, I came across a newspaper article* discussing conservation of stained glass in European cathedrals. Apparently, the molten glass continues to move, infinitesimally slowly--somewhat like a glacier-- so that hundreds of years down the line, the soldering needs to be conserved. Soldering is the lead outline between the different colors of glass.

I found that idea very compelling, that the seemingly-static images of saints were slowly creeping from their bounds.

I also liked the idea that a medieval glass smith, while unable to know the future of his chemical handiwork, might intuitively guess that the glass still moved.

For my novel, having the subjects depicted in stained glass meant that they could still progress, and this worked for the notion of remembrance and legacy that I was looking for.

*I tried to google this particular article but was unable to locate it.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

The missed salon

Somehow I missed the fact that Kate Harding at blogged about my Chicago Tribune op-ed on witchcraft, also discussing Starhawk's piece in the Washington Post. Here's a link to the Salon piece.

I appreciated Kate's piece--and I enjoyed looking through the various comments to her post. Unfortunately, I'm so late to the game that no more comments are permitted. That's a shame because I'd like to clear up one bit of misinformation left by a commenter.

Very quickly, my op-ed talks about my ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons, who was accused of witchcraft, and how I view the playful Halloween decorations a little differently now, thinking of her own potential execution (she was acquitted). The commenter incorrectly stated that Mary was not immune to accusations herself, that she in fact accused her own husband of witchcraft.

There were, believe it or not, two different Mary Parsonses of Springfield, Massachusetts, both accused of witchcraft within a few years of each other. That's why I am always careful to state that my ancestor is Mary BLISS Parsons--the other is Mary Lewis Parsons.

The two Mary Parsonses knew of each other... in fact, as Mary Lewis Parsons caused the minister's children to suffer fits in church, somehow Mary Bliss Parsons also spasmed although she was an adult, and not connected to the minister. This is, in fact, one of the first things that began to cause suspicion against my ancestor.

Mary Lewis Parsons was found guilty and condemned to be hanged--but her execution was delayed due to her sickness and it's believed she died in prison. Her husband was also found guilty, but he was released after his wife's confession and acquitted in 1652.

It was a few years later, in 1656, that Mary Bliss Parsons first went to court for a slander trial against the neighbor who most stridently called her a witch. She won! (Actually, her husband won; he filed the suit on her behalf). But 18 years later, she found herself a defendant, when that strident neighbor's daughter died--supposedly as a result of her witchery. Once again, she prevailed and was acquitted.

Later, I'll post more about Mary Lewis Parsons. Her story is absolutely horrifying, for many reasons. She did accuse another woman of witchcraft, and indeed her own husband. But she is not the one I wrote about and that I am related to. This is all very confusing, and I will freely admit that when I first began learning about my ancestor, I too was momentarily misled by the two women's similar names.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Misery heaped upon tragedy

The AP wire reported this summer that doctors in Spain were preparing to offer low-cost in-vitro treatments to women in certain African countries (not necessarily Zimbabwe, as I mistakenly wrote in my last post). The procedure, which costs thousands in the U.S., will be offered for a mere $200.

Why? Because infertile women run the risk of being accused of witchcraft.

As if the heartache of infertility isn’t enough, these women fear for their lives—because as I’ve been blogging about for a while now, being called a witch can get you killed in Africa (lynched, set on fire with gasoline, lynched: these are just a few that spring to mind from news reports in the last few years.)

The article reports that one in three women in Africa suffers from infertility. These high rates are due to “complications from unsafe deliveries, abortions or infections.”

"The cost of being infertile in Africa is much greater than in the West," said Oluwole Akande, an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Akande acknowledged the price of the procedure would still be available only to Africa's upper and middle classes.

He said that in many parts of Africa women who are unable to have children become social outcasts, are labelled as witches, and in extreme cases, are even driven to suicide.

Anyone who has ever endured infertility knows how it bewilders you, makes you feel your body is betraying you, and puts that germ of fear in your heart that you will never have a child. To add the jimmies on the crap sundae, so to speak, and realize your neighbors think you wield dark magic … well, that just would make me go into a room and close the door. For a long time.

The full story can be found here.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Pardoning witches

My editor at Random House forwarded me this CNN news item about a campaign in England to pardon its executed witches between the 16th and 18th centuries.

This is great news, and I hope Queen Elizabeth II will indeed extend the pardon.

A London costume supplier called Angels launched the campaign, which in some ways raises my eyebrows: was this a bid for publicity around Halloween by a large store that presumably does most or all of its business this time of year? Fortunately, Angels enlisted a witchcraft historian named John Callow to help them compile evidence, lending some scholarship to their cause.

The article states that 400 souls, men and women, were executed in England, while an exponentially larger 4,000 were killed in Scotland.

Angels put up a website to garner signatures for their petition—when you click through to the story, there’s a link to that site as well.

The piece mentions Salem’s witchcraft trials (all were eventually pardoned), but not the other 150-odd cases in the U.S. It’s so strange—people tend to believe that the Salem trials represent America’s only foray into witchcraft persecution.

Sadly enough, the Angels spokesman Benjamin Webb said the pardon isn’t a given:

Webb said while few people today may believe those men and women deserved execution, their stories still generate suspicion and stigma. That extends to modern-day criticism of children dressing as witches at Halloween with the idea that it's evil or connected to the devil, he said.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Welcome to November

Wow, October was really flurried, and I hope November will slow down somewhat. I'm trying to get up momentum to post about low-cost, in-vitro fertilizations being offered to women in Zimbabwe, since infertile women run the risk of being called a witch. Yes... that's today. Not five hundred years ago.

In the meantime, I guest blogged yesterday at the Historical Tapesty blog as part of their "Why I Love" series. I wrote about loving historical fiction, how I'm grateful I live when I do, and how fertility issues lay at the heart of many witchcraft accusations--including for my ancestor, Mary Bliss Parsons. Please check it out.

I'll be doing three book events for The Witch's Trinity this month: Nov. 19 at Books Inc. in Palo Alto (7 p.m.); Nov. 21 at Book Passage, Ferry Building, San Francisco (6:30); and Nov. 22 at good friend Kathleen's bookstore A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland (7 p.m.).

Finally, here's the link for yesterday's op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about witches vis a vis Halloween.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

More guest blogging

I'm happy to send people over to Shana's Literarily blog today, where I've posted about my ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons, who was accused of witchcraft in the mid 1650s in Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts. I discuss how mundane squabbles over little things could easily lead to a witchcraft accusation, and often did. For instance, my ancestor scolded her neighbor about his whipping an ox too hard--and soon she was fighting for her life.

I'm also giving away a copy of my novel The Witch's Trinity through the Literarily blog--all you need to do is comment on her blog to enter.

I'm excited to announce that the Chicago Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News will be running slightly different op-eds of mine tomorrow, Halloween Day, about witchcraft. And in the city of my alma mater, Colby College, the Waterville Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal will run my op-ed too.

And please come back after visiting Literarily and/or the newspapers' online sites: I've posted a lot of information on witchcraft (both medieval and modern-day) and you can read older posts on that topic. I'm working on a witch--a real witch, a neopagan--to write about his experiences planning a local Samhain celebration. Samhain is the pagan holiday that gave rise to today's Halloween. Check back later for that.

Finally, if you'd like to visit my website, it's Thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What allows witches to fly?

I'd like to send readers over to C.W. Gortner's blog today---he invited me to guest blog on the topic of witchcraft, and I chose to write about what permits witches to fly.

Gortner is the author of the The Last Queen, a highly-regarded historical novel about Juana La Loca. I bought a copy this weekend at Book Group Expo, where he and I met. He's a charmer and completely friendly--and it's fabulous to meet another historical fiction writer. We also learned through chatting that we had some other writer friends in common.

Thanks so much, C.W.!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Witchcraft ancestry

It's been amazing to hear from readers who also share a link with an ancestor accused of witchcraft. Author John Putnam Demos tracked 139 cases of witchcraft in 17th century New England (excepting the Salem trials). Given the large families colonial settlers seemed to have, it makes sense that there are many descendants of accused witches today.

The earliest case was Jane Hawkins of Boston, accused in 1638; the last was an unnamed female in the 1680s, possibly in Salem. Demos tracked the 1600s only--the last witch trial in the U.S. took place in 1706, when Grace Sherwood underwent the dunking trial at what is today Virginia Beach.

Her thumbs were tied to her big toes, arching her back, and then she was tossed into the river. She floated...which meant she was guilty. But instead of being executed, Sherwood was imprisoned for eight years and then released. She was actually given a posthumous gubernatorial pardon two years ago!

Demos's book with a chart of all the trials is Entertaining Satan. He has a new one out this year that I am putting on my wish list.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Free copies of Witchs Trinity

Would you like to win a free copy of my novel? Please visit Literate Housewife... she and I are giving away two more copies.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Graveyard Shift

Please go over to Lee Lofland's blog Graveyard Shift to see my guest blog on how to interrogate a witch. Lee was really kind to permit me to post, and the comment trail has some interesting back-and-forth on witchcraft versus wicca. Tonight, visit at 5 p.m. Pacific Time (or 8 p.m. EST) for my radio interview with Ken Hudnall. He will be taking callers (and I think you can email questions, too, from that site), which I would fervently appreciate.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Okay to bring a witch to court in Zimbabwe

This is news already two years old, but I just ran across it while researching the issue.

In July 2006, the BBC reported that Zimbabwe lifted its more than a century old ban on witchcraft.

Back in 1899, Zimbabwe—then Southern Rhodesia—passed the Witchcraft Suppression Act, which despite its foreboding name was actually a positive thing. It made it illegal to accuse someone of witchcraft. Those early colonial settlers remembered the disastrous witch persecutions in Europe and wanted to avoid a similar situation.

But two years ago, the government amended the Act, positing that the supernatural—and witchcraft—exists. Now Zimbabweans can prosecute someone for witchcraft, so long as it’s the bad kind, meant to harm someone. Positive witchcraft, to protect property, for instance, is fine.

The Worldwide Religious News also reported the story, with a very different angle, that the Amendment furthered Zimbabwean culture. It included this quote:

"By rejecting the existence of witchcraft, whites managed to destroy one of the tenets of African traditional beliefs as a way of disenfranchising the blacks of their religious bedrock," said one analyst.

On the plus side, the Amendment does criminalize witch hunting, with a fine or jail time as punishment.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Upcoming events

Things are getting exciting... the paperback of Witch's Trinity launches next Tuesday, the 7th. Seven has been a lucky number for me (along with four, my favorite number), so that's auspicious. The book has a brand-new cover, the dramatic red and black silhouette of a forest that you see over to the right. From the 7th to the 20th, it will be on the New Paperbacks table at all Barnes and Noble stores... and hopefully most independents will have stocked it as well. Halloween isn't really a gift-giving holiday (other than individually-wrapped candy), but this might be a good present for someone interested in history, women's stories, and witches. See more about the book at my website.

Tomorrow, the 4th, I'll be appearing at Litquake, San Francisco's madhouse of a literary festival. I say madhouse because they pack approximately 50,000 events into one week. It's a ride. I'll be at the SF Main Library from noon to 1 p.m. as part of an afternoon's worth of readings. At 5 p.m. we all adjourn to Books Inc. in Opera Plaza for a wine and cheese reception and book signing.

Next Wednesday the 8th, two pretty exciting things are happening. I'll be guest blogging at Lee Lofland's blog The Graveyard Shift. Lee's an amazing writer, nominated for a Macavity award. Since his blog focuses on cops and robbers, my guest blog will address medieval inquisitors as the "cops" of their day--what methods they use, how they extract confessions, etc.

Then that night, I'll be interviewed on Ken Hudnall's radio show out of El Paso. He focuses on the paranormal. You can listen to it live-streaming here at 5-6 p.m. PST on Wed., Nov. 8.

As mentioned in the last post, I'll be guest blogging at Literate Housewife's site on Oct. 23. And then on Halloween day, she will post our upcoming interview.

The final news for October is that I'll be at Book Group Expo in San Jose on the 25th. From 1:45 to 3:00 I'll be on a panel called Which Witch is Which with Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader, and Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter. This is the third year of the expo, and I've been every year, once as a reader and twice as an author. I love it. Instead of a series of writers reading excerpts, the focus is on discussion--so during each panel, the majority of time is spent fielding audience questions. Tickets are still available, and the expo continues on Sunday the 26th as well.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Literate Housewife

I'm thrilled beyond belief that Literate Housewife has chosen Witch's Trinity for the inaugural installation of her Spotlight month.

She's a great blogger, nominated for many blog awards. She reads like a maniac (11 books in September!) and posts thoughtful, incisive reviews.

Each Thursday throughout the month, she'll be posting new material relating to witchcraft. She and I will do an interview together and we talked about my doing a guest blog. Under her auspices, I'll be giving away three free copies of The Witch's Trinity--the new paperback version that will be released Oct. 7. That black and red cover you see over to the right is the book jacket, which I'm really happy about.

This Saturday the 4th, I'll be reading at San Francisco's riproaring Litquake Festival (so many readings, so little time! Or maybe that just refers to the infamous Pub Crawl night that is an annual tradition). I'll be at the San Francisco Main Library at Civic Center, at the Koret Auditorium, between noon and 1 p.m. I'll be reading with several other authors, and the readings continue all afternoon, culminating in a reception at Books Inc. in Opera Plaza at 5 p.m. Hope to see you there.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

The witchcraft just keeps coming...

I've been amazed in recent weeks that the witchcraft news keeps evidencing itself.

A few weeks ago, there was the riot at a soccer game in Congo. It began with taunts that one of the players was a witch, and then fisticuffs got involved, and then the police fired warning shots in the air which totally terrified everyone. The crowd stampeded towards the exits, leaving 15 trampled... to death. Many of them were youths. This is so sad and ridiculous.

Then, of course, there's the YouTube video of Sarah Palin being blessed against witchcraft.

I shake my head in disbelief.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Malleus is scientific

The Malleus Maleficarum, written in the 1480s, very carefully outlines how to locate witches, question them, and punish them. The authors, two friars, structured the book like a legal argument, with questions posed, considered and then answered. This structure makes the book feel reasonable and logical. That's one of the most chilling things about it.

Here is a scientific analysis of how dreams work. It's under Question VII of Part I: "Whether Witches can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred." Among other methods, witches work to sway opinion while the person sleeps:

The apparitions that come in dreams to sleepers proceed from the ideas retained in the repository of their mind, through a natural local motion caused by the flow of blood to the first and inmost seat of their faculties of perception; and we speak of an intrinsic local motion in the head and the cells of the brain.

And this can also happen through a similar local motion created by devils. Also such things happen not only to the sleeping, but even to those who are awake.

See, we are influenced by the scientific-sounding description of blood through the cells... and then the friars slide in the reference to devils. It is hard to argue with such authoritative-sounding facts. And unhappily, few medieval folks did.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Be careful who you burn

The Malleus Maleficarum notes that those who bring the witches to the stake may put themselves in fatal danger:

And lastly, in the same diocese, in the territory of the Black Forest, a witch was being lifted by a gaoler on to the pile of wood prepared for her burning, and she said: ”I will pay you”; and blew into his face. And he was at once afflicted with a horrible leprosy all over his body, and did not survive many days.

In my novel The Witch's Trinity, the officials at the witchcraft trials take pains to protect themselves, both by the use of salt (which the Malleus says can protect them) and by covering the eyes of the accused so she cannot give them the evil eye. Here's a Malleus quote about salt:

They [inquisitors] must not allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, especially any contact of their bare arms or hands, but they must always carry about them some salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and some Blessed Herbs.

I think if I was minutes away from burning, I would also pretend to hex my executioners... after all, what do you have to lose at that point? And much to gain... the reverse placebo effect, where whatever ills they endured would be accounted back to the angry spell. (Although how often does leprosy just hit you?)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Incubus is not only a great band, but also a word dating to the 1100s, referring to a demon that comes in the night and has sex with a woman as she sleeps. (A succubus is the accompanying demon for men… interestingly, that word dates to 1350, so men didn’t get their nightly visits for another couple centuries.)

For today’s selection from the Malleus Maleficarum, the famous witch hunting bible from 1400s Germany, we will look at a passage about incubi (plural of incubus). This section deals with whether incubi are visible to bystanders, or if they do their nocturnal pleasuring invisibly:

But with regard to any bystanders, the witches themselves have often been seen lying on their backs in the fields or the woods, naked up to the very navel, and it has been apparent from the disposition of those limbs and members which pertain to the venereal act and orgasm, as also from the agitation of their legs and thighs, that, all invisibly to the bystanders, they have been copulating with Incubus devils; yet sometimes, howbeit this is rare, at the end of the act a very black vapour, of about the stature of a man, rises up into the air from the witch.

But true to the contradictory, irrational nature of the Malleus, a paragraph later the authors state that incubi are sometimes visible:

It is certain also that the following has happened. Husbands have actually seen Incubus devils swiving their wives, although they have thought that they were not devils but men. And when they have taken up a weapon and tried to run them through, the devil has suddenly disappeared, making himself invisible. And then their wives have thrown their arms around them, although they have sometimes been hurt, and railed at their husbands, mocking them, and asking them if they had eyes, or whether they were possessed of devils.

In my novel The Witch’s Trinity, I did not include accusations of incubus visitations. However, there is one moment where my character Güde reflects that the cat sitting on her chest is similar to an incubus.

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Monday, July 07, 2008


As a former community college English instructor, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the sad state of American literacy. Why don't (many) people enjoy reading?

Reading helps you develop compassion, as you learn to experience life through other people's eyes. It helps you become a better writer, as you unknowingly pick up vocabulary, style and grammar. It opens up new options for how you might live your own life, as you see how others live.

Laurie Halse Anderson has a wonderful essay that is now several years old (an address she gave to high school English teachers) but I just came across it and it rang true for me. It moved me, actually.

It's called, Loving the Young Adult Reader Even When You Want to Strangle Him (or Her). I hope you enjoy it. Click here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art makes writing possible

My best friend is artist Kirsten Stolle. She has been making a living as an artist for at least a decade now. She has had solo shows and group shows in major metropolitan areas, and her art is in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum and the San Jose Art Museum. Most recently, her solo show at Dolby-Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco included an exhibition catalog. See images here.

She let me purchase some master proofs recently at a friend price, and I just adore them. Someday I hope to finish a non-historical novel and talk the publisher into using her work for the book jacket. I actually showed some darker abstract images to Random House for possibility with Hexe, as the Witch's Trinity was initially called.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Jon Stewart the other night spoke of the Congolese Penis Theft Panic, where men fear witches either steal or shrink their members.

My own heart shrank when I heard this. This is directly out of the middle ages, literally. In the Malleus Maleficarum, the 1500s witchhunting manual that figures in my novel The Witch’s Trinity, there are many passages about witches shrinking penises or making them outright disappear. It is puzzling and sad that parts of the world still labor under superstitions of the Dark Ages.

A quick glance at the Malleus table of contents reveals that Part One addresses the question “whether witches may work some Prestidigitatory Illusion so that the Male Organ appears to be entirely removed and separate from the Body.” In Part Two, that sticky issue rears its head again (oh the terrible puns): “How, as it were, [witches] Deprive Man of his Virile Member.”

Luckily, there was hope offered for those miserable emasculated peasants, as Chapter Four of Part Two offers “Remedies prescribed for those who by Prestidigitatory Art has lost their Virile Members or have seemingly been Transformed into the Shapes of Beasts.”

Curiosity compels me to learn about these remedies. I have a copy of the Malleus, which is alive and unwell in reprints.

Well, pshaw, the member is still there, only “hidden by a glamour.” So how might these suffering men make the invisible visible again? The authors of the Malleus suggest that “They should as far as possible come to an amicable agreement with the witch herself.”

Riiiiiiiight. ‘Cause she’s gonna want to help with that right before she steps up to the stake to be burned.

You may notice that the section title also includes how to get out of being transformed into a beast. This section explores the anecdote of a sailor ashore in Cyprus who ate the eggs sold him by a local. An hour later, he went back to his ship, but his fellow sailors ran him off with a stick, crying, “Look what this ass is doing! Curse the beast, you are not coming on board.” The eggs had rendered him into a donkey.

He went back to the witch’s house, since his ship had sailed, and served her for three years as a beast of burden—with a few coffee breaks in which she and her fellow witches acknowledged him as a man and talked with him.

In the fourth year of his servitude, he and the witch passed by a church ringing its bell at the moment the Host was elevated. He knelt outside it, which piety was remarked by some merchants. The witch tried to beat him to get him to move, which only exposed her witchcraft. She was questioned and tortured, confessed. She agreed to transform him back to a man in return for her release. He sailed home, but she…well, the Malleus puts it in this succinct, chilling language: “Being again arrested, she paid the debt which her crimes merited.”

The New York Times recently wrote about children being accused of witchcraft in Angola, the Congo Republic and Congo, where this penis theft panic is happening. My blog post about it is here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Write Free

My friend Jordan Rosenfeld recently interviewed me for her monthly e-newsletter Write Free. This is a newsletter supporting the book she co-authored of the same title.

I picked up a copy and it’s a great way to start thinking about how to turn negatives to positives. There are exercises inside to start changing the way you think and write.

The website is You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, which is FREE and has good content to help you on your writing path.

Jordan’s also written a book called Make a Scene, which I’m eager to read next.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On the shelf

This jpeg sent to me by someone very, very cool. She saw Witch's Trinity at Book Passage in San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Stoker results

The Bram Stoker Awards were given out Saturday night in Salt Lake City. I couldn't attend, but the ceremony live streamed, so I sat in front of my computer (along with 75 other people--the website kept a tally!) to watch.

I was pleased Jonathan Mayberry won in his category, since we have corresponded a bit and he is a very nice guy. Gary Braunbeck gave an absolutely extraordinary acceptance speech in his category, about a loss he experienced which had me blinking back tears and counting my blessings.

And since I couldn't win in my category, I was very happy that the person who did is also a Colby graduate! Congratulations, Sarah Langan!

The next day, I attended the "Have you read it yet" bookclub in Oakland, which has met for an astonishing 18 years! These ladies know how to have fun. Unlike my book club, which merely tries to (sometimes) cook meals to match the book we read, they actually dress up. Since they had read Woman of Ill Fame, they all showed up in garters and lingerie with curled hair and ribbons and boas...they certainly dispelled any momentary gloominess over the Stoker!

Not only that, but they had created cardboard replicas of the signs the prostitutes hang over their beds so their fellas know who to request next time, replete with flowers and cirlicue handwriting. I've got my Erika sign, so if I ever fall on hard times...

We drank champagne, ate a fabulous brunch, and they actually read aloud passages from the book that they liked... I pretty much wanted to lie on the floor in a delirium of shamefaced happiness.

Thank you, Dale Marie and all you wonderful "lasses with asses."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Forgery associated with the Malleus Maleficarum?

A reader contacted me about the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunter’s Bible mentioned in my novel The Witch’s Trinity. She wanted to be sure I knew that the pope’s endorsement of the Malleus Maleficarum was a forgery—but research shows something a little different.

Printed at the beginning of the Malleus is a papal bull from Innocent VIII, a reference letter of sorts for the authors, Kramer and Sprenger. The bull, known as the Summis Desiderantes Affectibus, says that the two inquisitors, “our dear sons,” were empowered to witch hunt and preach the word of God to the faithful. The bull dates to 1484. It is not a forgery, but its placement at the beginning of the book may be somewhat misleading, as if the pope endorsed the book and not simply the witch hunting activities of its authors.

There is difficulty dating the first edition of the Malleus, but certainly the bull predates it by a few years.

There is, however, a forgery (at least most scholars think it is a forgery)—a letter of endorsement for the Malleus Maleficarum purportedly written by the faculty of the University of Cologne. This too was inserted in some editions of the Malleus, but not in my Dover reprint of the Montague Summers’ 1928 translation so I didn’t know about it.

However, a little quick googling yields the information that at least one scholar is opening the case back up and asserting that the letter is not a forgery. This scholar recently translated the Malleus –actually there were two new translations in 2006 and 2007. Read this article for more information.

The Montague Summers translation is very strange because he believed in witches and in witch hunting. Rather than writing an introduction that reflected dolefully on how women and men of the past were persecuted, he calls the Malleus “one of the most important, wisest and weightiest books of the world.” More on this later.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Van, what ARE you talking about?

On the way home from Sacramento from the Authors on the Move event, I was listening to the radio and an old Van Morrison song came on. I vaguely knew the chorus, “Oh, the water, oh, the water” but because I was trying fiercely to stay awake, I listened to the lyrics for the first time.

And immediately I was confused. What was that song about? Something stung him to his soul… something in the water stung him. Was it a jellyfish? He does talk of a jellyroll, but is that what they call jellyfish in Ireland?

I listened and puzzled and finally had to google when I got home.

Actually, he was STONED to his soul.

That makes sense.

This has nothing to do with the Witch's Trinity.

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Authors on the Move

The event I participated in this weekend in Sacramento was amazing! Incredible orchestration on the part of the organizers, who drew together 300+ guests and around 30 writers for a dinner and auction.

We writers would sit at an eight-top for 20 minutes and talk about our books with the guests, then move on to another table. That sounds nervewracking...but the kindness of the people I sat with made it actually very pleasant. Plus, what a great cause: the Sacramento Public Library's literacy programs and other library projects.

The writers pre-ate together before the guests arrived, and that was really nice too. I got to meet some great people and talk shop. I haven't met any writers in my new community, so it was so relieving to get a chance to hang with other writers.

Thanks, Kathy Les and other organizers!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It gets naughty

My editor suggested I subscribe to Google Alerts, a free service that emails you anytime your specified search term shows up on any website. So whenever someone writes about "Witch's Trinity" or the misspelled "Witches' Trinity," I get a link to it.

Let us pause for a moment and reflect how scary that really is. Privacy is a thing of the past.

And paranoia and egotism are a thing of the now!

Anyway, this morning I got an alert about a blogger who thought my book was a little too risque. Here's what she wrote:

So as of yesterday I finished a book called the Witches Trinity. Not one I would recommend to anyone. It gets naughty and I am embarrassed to say that I read it.

I had to laugh and say, if you think that's naughty, don't read my first book!

. . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pterodactyl Interview

I’ve been nominated for a Bram Stoker award by the Horror Writers Association, and here is a quick 10-minute podcast interview about it with Rick Kleffel. It’s not the smartest I’ve ever sounded—among other things, I’ve somehow picked up an annoying overuse of the word “certainly”—but I love this interview because my 10-month-old stars in it! In the background you will hear her pterodactyl shrieks.

Rick's a great interviewer and, as we talk about in the interview, he's the one who suggested I look into the Stoker awards. I owe him big-time!

Here's the link to the podcast.

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Murder, a la Francais

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting writer Cara Black several times. Her mystery series is set in Paris—not the moony Paris of the Eiffel Tower, but the gritty working-class city of hidden WWII Nazis, immigrants without papers and 1970s terrorists—and that’s just the first three books!

Her main character Aimee Leduc is clever, sexy and vulnerable, and I’ve loved the unfolding story, as the series progresses, of what happened to her parents. Cara’s latest is out, Murder in the Rue de Paradis, and here are a few of the events you can catch her at, to get a signed copy and hear her read.

February 28th @ 7:00 pm
*** Launch Party for Murder in the Rue de Paradis! ***with Pari Taichert
M Is for Mystery
86 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
Contact: Ed Kaufmann
Phone: (650) 401-8077

March 4th @ 7:00 pm at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd. in Corte Madera

March 5th @ 12:30 pm at Stacey’s Bookstore, 581 Market St. in San Francisco

More events are listed at

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Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm stoked about the Stoker!

I am so happy to announce that The Witch’s Trinity has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in the category “Superior Achievement in a Novel.” The awards are given by the Horror Writers Association—their definition of horror includes psychological as well as supernatural. There is fierce competition just to land on the ballot, so I’m honored and amazed.

The trophy is a sculpture of a haunted house. The front door opens to show a plaque with the winner’s name. What could be more cool?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My international class

The other day I posted about my upcoming Mediabistro class which, as it is online, is accessible to people around the world. The course starts Thursday, February 21, with online chats each Thursday thereafter.

As my novel has been released in England and Australia (and other countries) by the publisher Hodder & Stoughton, I thought it might be useful for potential students in those countries to know when that chat happens.

So I did some googling of Greenwich Mean Time. I actually prefer to use GNT (Greenwich Nice Time), but alas the world is as it is. Here's the results:

If you are in London, the Thursday chat actually happens on FRIDAYS... at 2 a.m. Perhaps not that manageable for most folks...either you're safely in bed, or you're out clubbing and a class on writing is not the most attractive thing to do on a Friday night.

If you are in Melbourne, the chat also happens on Fridays, but at 1 p.m. You could make it a late lunch break if you are working!

If you're American, the class is at 9 p.m. EST.

For me, it's 6 p.m. PST.

The world is very large, it turns out.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Write for Me

I like to teach novel writing, and through a great organization called Mediabistro, I'm able to do it from the comfort of my own home.

That is to say, I teach online. My next class starts in a few weeks (Feb. 21) and it'd be great to have you. Since the course is online, you can live anywhere in the world. Two semesters ago, I had a student from Sweden--for her, the class was at 3 a.m. or something!

The format is:

1. I post a lecture every week that students read at their leisure
2. Students post assignments several times during the 12 week course--either portions of a novel-in-progress or introspection on some aspect of their own writing--on an electronic bulletin board only visible to those in the class
3. Other students comment on those posts, as do I.
4. Finally, once a week for one hour, we gather "live" in a chat room to discuss the posts, the lectures and whatever else comes up.

The course is designed for students to complete a novel draft in 12 weeks. That sounds very ambitious, but many have done it. I coach students and cheer them on, but also provide feedback to improve their writing. One aspect of the course I really like is when we talk about the publication business--how to draft query letters to get an agent's attention, how to format the manuscript properly, and the ins and outs of the tough business of getting your book published.

If this sounds interesting to you, please check out the official course site at mediabistro.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Witches and cows

In the Malleus Maleficarum, there seems to be a lot of discussion of witchcraft vis a vis cows. Probably not surprising, given how important cows were to daily life in the middle ages: milk to drink and render into cheese, meat at slaughtertime, heat for those who kept them indoors with them.

Here's a passage about how cows inform on witches:

For sometimes when a cow has been injured in this way, and they wish to discover who has bewitched it, they drive it out into the fields with a man's trousers, or some unclean thing, upon its head or back. And this they do chiefly on Feast Days and Holy Days, and possibly with some sort of invocation of the devil; and they beat the cow with a stick and drive it away. Then the cow runs straight to the house of the witch, and beats vehemently upon the door with its horns, lowing loudly all the while; and the devil causes the cow to go on doing this until it is pacified by some other witchcraft.

A frightening image, the cow battering the door with its horns. And god save you if it was your door the cow chose.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Did the Malleus Maleficarum really exist?

Emphatically and unfortunately, yes.

You can buy a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum today on Amazon. At my website,, in the right hand column there is a running display of some particularly egregious quotes from the book (each time you refresh, a new one appears).

The authors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, wrote it to guide courts in their prosecution of witches. The book reads like a pseudo (and psycho) legal text, including questions to be put to these witches, and how to proceed based on what they report.

Freud would have a field day with the recurring sections on how women can make the male genitals either shrink or completely disappear.

The book is threaded through with anecdotes that break your heart. I’ll be writing about some of those, so please check back later (but not too soon. Blogging with a newborn is a tenuous undertaking!)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The second painting of "Mary Bliss Parsons"

This doesn't depict Mary Bliss Parsons; see discussion in previous post.

I had saved the image on my hard drive so I'm able to post it, although I can't refind where a google image search led to information on the artist, sitter and provenance. The yellow garment is the tip-off, somehow an extraordinary choice for a painting of this time period.


My mom was able to locate the painting; it's in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum. It's a painting of Mrs. Elizabeth Clarke Freake and her daughter Mary. View the info on provenance here (you will then click on the painting on the upper left--for some reason, the specific page isn't clickable). Thank you, Mom!

. . . . .