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Friday, January 12, 2018


THE DEATH CARD FROM THE VISCONTI-SFORZA TAROT is one of the remaining cards from a collection of the earliest decks commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan, and his son-in-law, Francesco Sforza.

Back in the 15th century, tarot cards were used to play a game known as Trionfi, then later Tarocchi, Tarocchini, and other names. In France, the game was known as Tarot. Decks consisted of 78 cards – 22 trump cards, of which Death was one, as well as 56 minor or pip cards numbering 1 through 10, plus four face cards – the King, Queen, Knight, and Page (or Jack).

According to most sources, tarot cards became associated with cartomancy in the 18th century, but I wonder if they weren’t used for divination earlier. Here’s an intriguing fact. Of the remaining cards in the Visconti-Sforza collections, only two trump cards (or Major Arcana) are missing: the Devil and the Tower. Both cards depict ill circumstances (although in modern day interpretations, they also have less dire meanings). Back in the middle ages, the Devil card might have been seen as a literal indication of the Devil and his works, a foretelling of evil deeds, terrible loss, and damnation. As for the Tower, it pointed to accidents, disaster, and ruin; the mighty struck down by God on high for their power and pride. (Again, modern interpretations allow room for positive outcomes.) All said, it intrigues me that these two cards – the Devil and the Tower – are missing from the Visconti-Sforza collection. Why? Were they destroyed because some medieval soul feared what they might bring? Or could they have been used in a magical rite? And if they were, to what end? What was happening in Europe in the mid-1400’s?

In 1440, the printing press with movable type was born, which, on the surface, was a good thing, but also meant the birth of greater independent thought. Humanism encouraged the study of history and literature focusing on the ancient world, which would have loosened the Church's grip on the medieval mind - not a good thing in its opinion. In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, ending the Byzantine Empire. In 1462, Vlad the Impaler invaded Bulgaria and impaled over 23,000 Turks and Bulgarians in what may have been a strike for Christendom (but more likely, Vlad was consolidating his own position). If these events were linked to dark magic, they would make for an interesting story. 

On a happier and more personal note, one of my best memories is of Robert Zelazny, who wrote many wonderful books, including his series, The Chronicles of Amber, of which The Nine Princes in Amber is my favourite. The Chronicles uses tarot cards as magical artifacts. The characters are represented through various trumps; the cards are also portals for travel and communication. Apparently, Roger was fascinated with the tarot (as am I). As Guest of Honour, he attended a convention here in Edmonton in 1993. After I was introduced to him, he asked me if I wrote. I’d just had my first short story published in On Spec Magazine. He had a copy of the issue and said he looked forward to reading my story. With that one kind comment, I learned that great writers are also great people, generous and supportive of newcomers. When he died in 1995, I was sad to hear of it. We lost a great writer and a great human being in his passing.

His series also inspired a modern day tarot deck - the Amber deck - created by French artist Florence Magnin. Here is her version of the Death card:

Until next time, may inspiration strike you.

Happy writing. - Susan.

Monday, January 08, 2018


IN ORDER TO PROMOTE TESSERACTS 22 Alchemy and Artifacts, one of the things Lorina and I felt we needed was an ‘unofficial’ symbol that conveyed the nature of the anthology, a bit of visual alchemy that appealed and challenged at the same time. After a bit of searching, I came across this artifact - a woodcut from Basil Valentine’s Azoth series, dated at around 1659; it's one of twelve pictures depicting the alchemical process of making ‘azoth’, a precursor to the Philosopher’s Stone or a universal medication or solvent – the Elixir of Life. It was often associated with the element mercury. This woodcut is the fifth or sixth in the series; as to which one it is, not all sources agree.

To me, it works well as a symbol for literary creation – the process of making story. One of the things I plan to do with this and future posts, is to present various artifacts that might ignite the imagination.

This Azoth woodcut contains a number of intriguing symbols. The first is the androgyne, the two-headed being. It represents a divine marriage between solar and lunar, male and female energies, which together, were seen as the highest form of spiritual attainment. Surrounding the androgyne are seven symbols for the planets (gods) and their metallic counterparts. From left to right are Venus (copper), Mars (iron), Sol or the Sun (gold), Mercury or Hermes (mercury), Luna or the Moon (silver), Jupiter (tin), and Saturn (lead). The androgyne also holds a compass and the set-square, two tools of architecture, important in Freemasonry.

Upon the androgyne’s chest is the sign, R.E.B.I.S. I’ve yet to find what these letters stand for. If any of you know, please enlighten me. As mysteries go, this is a good metaphor for the sense of mystery Lorina and I hope to find in the submissions we receive.

The winged dragon can be seen as an alchemical symbol for fire and volatile elements. The fact that the androgyne is standing upon the dragon, subduing it, is significant. This may actually point to a specific part in the alchemical process. The dragon is also associated with the element, sulphur.

Both androgyne and dragon stand precariously upon a Cosmic Egg. The egg is a symbol of both cosmos and creation – of potential. Lines and numbers intersect its surface. The numbers might stand for the four elements - air, earth, water, and fire - or have different meanings (ie., 1 to represent the primal force, 2, duality, etc.) There are many interpretations. 

Speaking of numbers, I came across this interesting titbit while looking into the above symbols. In numerology (whatever you make of it), the number 22 is considered the most powerful of numbers. It's known as the Master Number and Master Builder. As Master Builder, it takes fantastic dreams and turns them into realities. I can’t think of a better process to describe what Lorina and I plan to do with Tesseracts 22. 

One might say it's almost...alchemical.

Until next time - Susan.

Friday, January 05, 2018


IT GIVES ME GREAT PLEASURE TO FINALLY MAKE THIS ANNOUNCEMENT. Lorina Stephens and I will be editing Tesseracts 22, the theme Historical Fantasy, through Edge Books. The 'official' announcement will appear on the Edge site shortly. When it does, I'll post the link here. In the meantime, here's a little history about how it all came about. :-)

The idea for this anthology had its genesis over a year ago. The last book of my Tattooed Witch trilogy (The Tattooed Queen) was published in December 2016 through Five Rivers Publishing; I was thinking about what I might do next. Edge had not yet published an historical fantasy themed Tesseracts, so I considered with whom I might co-edit such an anthology. Of course, Lorina came to mind. After we talked about it, I pitched the idea to Edge. Brian Hades agreed it was a workable premise and so here we are

I can't tell you how excited I am about this. 

Okay, I can. I am very, very excited. The feedback we've received from writers who are about to start, or who are already working on a piece, makes me certain this is going to be an excellent collection.

If you're hearing about this for the first time, here is what we are looking for: 

Alchemy and Artifacts will examine the magic behind the history, the myths arising from the artifacts, the mysteries missed (or dismissed), but which lie at the root of world events. We are looking for tales that explore laws magical as well as physical, the manipulation of reality in the past, resulting in the present. History, sorcery, alchemy, mystery. What if?

For example:

·         What if the Black Plague was a curse unleased by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales?
·         What if Egyptian hieroglyphics were incantations that moved pharaohs into the future instead of an afterlife?
·         What if the terracotta army from the Qin Shi Huang dynasty were golem soldiers, waiting to be animated through magic?
·         What if Picasso’s Guernica was a magical attempt to fight Franco during the Spanish Civil War?
·         What if Paul Revere’s silversmithing was a spell enacted to fight England during the American Revolution?
·         What if Elizabeth I was a witch, employing Drake to find a forgotten, powerful artifact to grant her godhead?
·         What if Haida totems animated and walked the coast?

·         These are only a sampling of the sorts of story ideas we are looking for.

Alternate histories will be considered, but we are inclined to choose work that considers actual world events and characters, and how some form of magic has manipulated history in a subtle yet dramatic way.

Intrigued yet? Here are a few more guidelines:

Submission Guidelines:

·         Alchemy and Artifacts will reflect as broad a spectrum of stories as possible, highlighting unique styles and manners. The greater the magic or magical event and the subtler (yet dramatic) effect it has on history, the better. We want to raise questions about the reality of magic behind events.
·         We are looking to represent as many historical periods as possible, from places all over the world.
·         Submissions must be speculative in nature, including fantasy, dark fantasy, magic realism, slipstream, supernatural horror, weird tales, surrealism, mythic fantasy, etc. We will consider steampunk, but with an emphasis on magic rather than technology.
·         Short fiction may be up to 5000 words in length.

·         We will also consider poetry.

     Complete guidelines will be available on the Edge site shortly. 

     Stay tuned! More to come.

     - Susan.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Photo Credits, from left to right: Sharon Wildwind, Cindy Kirkpatrick, Ashley Wilson

THIS POST, AS THE TITLE SAYS, IS PART TWO OF SHARON WILDWIND'S excellent article on writing nearly historical fiction. If you haven't read it yet, you can read Part One here


If the story is set at least 50 years in the past, it is an historical novel~ The Historical Writers of America

If the story is set less than 50 years in the past, but still feels like it’s taking place a long time ago, it’s a nearly historical novel. ~ Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer

In 1975, I was going to graduate school by distance learning. Two evenings a week, I drove 53 miles (83 kilometers) along Interstate 40, through the Great Smoky Mountains, sharing the road with high-balling truck drivers. I went to class, then drove home, often arriving after midnight.

Bored out of my skull on those drives, I spent car time developing a romantic-mystery. The premise was an American nurse seeking adventure, who takes a job in a northern Alberta nursing station. She knows nothing about, and is totally unprepared, for nursing station work, northern Alberta weather, and living in a tiny hamlet. (Never mind about why I chose Alberta. It’s complicated.)

So, I’m living in the U. S. south and writing about northern Alberta, about which I know nothing. Nada. Zip. The big mistake I made was that while I bought an Alberta map, it wasn’t a topographical map. Regular maps show distance — how to get from here to there. Topographical maps show if there might be up and down obstacles, like canyons or mountain ranges, between here and there.

The Caribou Mountains form a large part of northern Alberta geography. I’d seen photos of Banff, so I blissfully transferred a Rocky Mountain landscape to the north, and set my story in a Banff-like setting in the Caribou Mountains. (Those of you familiar with northern Alberta can stop laughing now.) The Caribou Mountains are a flat plateau, rising steeply in an impossible-to-traverse escarpment for some 1,864 feet (568 meters), and then levelling out into a flat, boggy muskeg plateau. There are no mountain peaks there, and certainly no gold mines, both of which were essential to the story I wrote.

Fast-forward forty-two years.

Sharon Wildwind in High Level, Alberta.
Having lived and worked in northern Alberta, I now had first-hand knowledge about nursing station work, northern Alberta weather, and living in a tiny hamlet. I also had terrific characters still residing in my heart, and a completely impossible plot. I had to keep the mid-1970s time frame because of events related to the characters and story. What had been a current novel had become a near historical one. So, where to start?

I bought a topographical map, and went over it with an oil and gas man who had actually walked the Caribou Mountain escarpment, and didn’t care to do it ever again. I moved my hamlet, Whiskeyjack, off the plateau to the base of the escarpment, ditched the mountain scenery, substituted logging and oil and gas exploration for a gold mine, and started again.

When we’re writing a near historical novel — something that happened less than 50 years ago — lots of readers will remember the year, the month, and sometimes the exact day in our stories. If we make a mistake, they will let us know. We owe it to our readers to have at least a nodding acquaintance with things like geography and weather. That doesn’t mean we have to be constrained by real events such as weather or real history, but if we choose to ignore or tweak something major, we owe it to our readers to tell them we are doing that. Our introduction might say something like this, “Those of you familiar with sawmills in High Level, Alberta, know that Leo Arsenault didn’t build the first mill there until the late summer of 1964. This story required that the mill be in operation several months earlier, so that’s what I did.”

How to ground nearly historical writing in a semblance of the real world:

1). Live thereThe best near historical research is to live in the place, at or near the time. I wrote more about this in Part One of this blog.

2). Talk to people who lived there. My engineering buddy gave me details I would never have invented.

3). Read journals and diaries of people who lived thereThe following books gave me a sense of the time and place about which I wanted to write.
•  Joy Duncan (ed). Red Serge Wives. Centennial Book Committee. 1974.
•  Ruth Lee-Knight. When the Second Man was a Woman. Imagine Publishing. 2004 – a story of Mounties’ wives in remote settlements.
•  Gordon Reid’s set of first person accounts of Northern Alberta. Lower Peace Publishing Company, 1963 – 1978.
•  Dr. Brad Stelfox, and others. Logging the Fairview Area. Publisher and date unknown. – While Fairview is some distance from my setting, one chapter had a general view of logging in Northern Alberta.

4). Download a calendarThere are any numbers of sites, which will produce a calendar for dates specified.

5). Download a sunrise and sunset chart. Here's one to use: http://www.sunrisesunset.comFill in the place name and the dates you want, and it makes a chart for you.) I once had two characters enjoying a lovely October sunset, north of Fort Vermilion, at 8:00 pm. At that latitude, in October, the sun sets at 6:30.

6). Look at a topographical map. Here's another good site: Canadian Topographic Maps: Note: This site is a little hard to navigate. Instead of carrying maps in stock, they now have a printing arrangement with regional map companies to print maps on demand. On the site, find a map company near you, and send them an e-mail about what you might need. Or visit your local library. They may have a topo map or be able to get one.

7). Find out what the weather was at the time. Look for the so called “weather incidents” that people would remember. The Government of Canada Historical Climate Data:
can get information for specific dates or monthly summaries. For a lark, some of the weather in Whiskeyjack follows exactly what the weather was in 1977.

8). Always be on the lookout for little gemsI recently discovered Merrily K. Aubrey. Place Names of Alberta; volume IV, northern Alberta. University of Calgary Press. 1996. After looking up real places, like Fort Vermilion, High Level, and Margaret Lake, I was able to construct the following, imaginary summary for Whiskeyjack: 

  • Whiskeyjack (settlement and eventually a hamlet) 
  • 84 J/5 — Whiskeyjack (this is the topographical map reference)
  • 34-111-10-W5 (this is where it’s located on the topographical map)
  • 58 degrees 40 minutes North 115 degrees 35 minutes West (this is its longitude and latitude)
  • Approximately 110 kilometers east north-east of High Level (how far to the nearest larger population centre).
Located near the Beaver Ranch River, the area was first surveyed in 1915. The settlement was founded in 1922 as a farming community by Henry Martel, who named it after the large flocks of grey or Canadian jays in the area. After a typhoid epidemic in 1929, the settlement was abandoned, though two or three families remained in the area. In 1946-47, brothers Steven and Jonathan Randall founded the hamlet. A post office was established in 1954. The first postmaster was Thomas Purdy.

Oh, yes, always make up an imaginary cover before working on a book. Pin it some place you can see it. It’s a great reminder to keep writing. Featured above, are my imaginary covers for this trilogy. The photo for Whiskeyjack is mine. Cindy Kirkpatrick (Fireweed) and Ashley Wilson (Tamarac) have my thanks for allowing me to manipulate their copyrighted photos (personal use only). The photography is entirely theirs. Please do not forward or reproduce these photographs.

Whiskeyjack is with beta readers. I’m about a third of the way through Fireweed. I have a major event outline for Tamarac. So far, I’ve managed to stay firmly out of Banff.

(Thanks so much, Sharon. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we look forward to reading your new work. All the best with it! - Susan).

Sharon's Bio: Sharon Wildwind is a Calgary mystery writer. You can find more about her and her books at

Thursday, October 19, 2017


A FEW DAYS BEFORE CANADIAN THANKSGIVING, I finally went to the cemetery where my parents are buried. My dad died in 1983 from a heart attack. He was only 56. My mom died two years ago, aged 85, after battling lung cancer. She had purchased their burial plot after my father passed. Whenever I visited his grave with her, it was strange to see how accommodated she was to knowing where she would one day be interred. In many ways, Mom was a practical sort. In other ways, not so much.

I had been planning to lay silk flowers at their grave for some time and had put it off. Every November, the cemetery removes all the grave flowers, so snow-removal is easier. I'd been feeling grumpy about visiting. I'd been busy all summer. This was yet another chore. My mother always took leaving flowers for my father quite seriously. It already being October, the flowers would be removed in November unless I rescued them first. I had missed retrieving them the year before, so their grave was bare. The cemetery was also a bit of a drive - 40 minutes to get there. It wasn't like jumping into the car to buy groceries. Instead, I had to plan things - buy new flowers, pick a day that worked in my schedule, then carve out precious time to drive there.

Part of my irritation was in doing what was expected of me. It was as if my parents were watching me from afar and expecting me to leave flowers at their grave because that's what a dutiful daughter did. It would be a sign of my devotion to them, a proof. I've never liked being forced into proving anything, or being put into a societal box. But I was also feeling a bit guilty for not going. When I finally did go, I discovered the effort wasn't so much for my parents, as it was for me.

I learned something about effort, about grieving, and about life that day. To make the physical effort to visit a grave is something that's much more potent than simply thinking about loved ones who have died. Making an effort becomes a kind of ritual, a ceremony. In remembering and celebrating who my parents were, I transformed an ordinary moment into something more poignant and deep. My effort became a sacrament, an expression of the love I have for them, and the love they have for me. If I hadn't gone to their grave, I wouldn't have had that experience. Yes, there were tears. I will go again to retrieve their flowers before the cemetery removes them.

In the wider scheme of things, the idea of 'effort vs. just thinking about it', is applicable to any aspect our lives. Thoughts have power, but it's in the doing that the magic occurs.

- Susan.

Friday, October 13, 2017


LATELY, I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT how writers are seen by non-writers, and how difficult it is for many of us to have our books noticed within the volume of work out there - everything from self-published books, to micro and small press offerings, to what the big houses are presenting. What follows are my top ten observations based upon my experiences of how some non-writers view us, and their lack of understanding regarding the writing/publishing business:

1). It's easy to write a book... followed closely by another favourite of mine,

2). It's easy to get a book published. Great Grappling Gods of Purple Prose. It's easy-peasy to write crap. It's not easy to write well. It's even harder to get an agent and publisher interested in you. (Of course, one can publish themselves, relieving the problem of agents and publishers, which is a whole other box of Kleenex.)

3). If it's self-published work, it can't be good. Not so. There are some excellent self-published titles out there. Often, those books have been vetted by people who also know how to write and who have offered the writer excellent critique (and no, not critique from non-writer friends or family). That said, there are also many self-published books that I think aren't ready to be out there. New writers (those who have been at it for several years) tend to be a little delusional about how good their work is. See Barb Geiger's excellent post about the Dunning-Kruger Bump where she talks about this very thing. Seasoned writers almost always think they can do better, even after the book has been published.

4). If the work is published through a micro or small press, it isn't as good as what comes out of a major publishing house. Again, not true. The big houses out of New York are often dictated to by their marketing departments. They tend to repeat what's been done and what sells, because that's their business. Despite their contention that they want the next 'new thing' they aren't often inclined to buy work that steps outside genre lines or is experimental. The smaller houses allow more freedom. The downside is that smaller houses have more limited budgets, so distribution and promotion tend to be small.

5). If the book has a lot of 'splash' about it, a lot of promotion, it must be good. Readers are a curious bunch. They'll buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because of the hoopla and the spice. Then, when the movie's made, they're convinced the writing is also good, because, 'well, it's a film, isn't it?' The quality of writing doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how well a book sells. Trash also sells.

6). Writers are lonely. Most of us aren't. We thrive on being alone and get prickly when we don't get enough alone time. (Non-writing spouses, please take note.) When I'm writing, I'm so engaged in what I'm doing that I don't feel lonely. Then, when it's time to socialise, I socialise. Most of us are ice bergs. Our social persona is only the top 10% of the surface that shows.

7). Writers make good money. A few do. Many don't. For most of us, writing isn't about the money. It's about feeling we have a story to tell, that we've something to say about the world. It's a passion for story that pushes us. A love for creating something from nothing, and the amazing realisation that we can actually do this. As for money, most of us keep our day jobs. A few, like myself, are fortunate enough to have a spouse who tolerates our obsession. (It helps that I also cook dinner and do the laundry.) Of course, the hope is to make more money at writing. Fingers crossed and towels folded, some day, we all will.

8). Writers are egotistical, frustrated substance abusers, who look down on the rest of us practical , down-to-earth types. There is some truth in this. It isn't easy spending years at something with little in the way of financial recompense until you hit it 'big'. And a writer may never hit it 'big' or what he considers to be 'big'. Think about it: if you spent a good deal of your day, year in and year out,  doing what you love (and occasionally hate) only to have people run down your efforts or not even bother to look at them, wouldn't you be tempted to drown your sorrows now and then? Being a writer is like being locked into a marriage that drives you nuts. Furthermore, there's no guarantee your writing will help you pay the rent. I'm not complaining: personally, I've had it good, but a life like that explains a lot. It's no wonder some writers sit down over a drink (or three) to share their war stories.

9). Writers aren't normal. They look down on non-creative types. We don't look down on other people unless they look down on us. Or think they're more important than us (and yes, I've run into that too many times to count).  As far as normal goes, maybe we aren't so much. A lot of the time, we're more interested in what's going on in our heads than in the world around us. I am easily bored. Someone who thinks I might find their opinions about how the educational system has changed in the past ten years will make me want to dump coffee in their lap. (And yes, out of politeness I've endured such a conversation, but without the coffee dumping.) On the other hand, give me an honest compliment about my books, (which translates into saying you've actually read them and appreciated the effort), and I'll happily chat with you about anything - even your opinions about the changes you've seen in primary education, as long as it doesn't last too long. Conversation is a two-way street. Many of us, including fellow writers, need to remember that. This is especially true for writers who spend more than ten minutes giving a plot point by plot point rendition of their latest story or novel to other writers.

10). Writers are arrogant. They lose all respect for anyone who says, 'I could write a book. I just don't have the time.'  YES, we WILL lose respect for you if you say this to us. Who's being arrogant, here? You don't learn how to be a doctor or a lawyer in a matter of months. The same goes for writers. It takes years to learn how to write well. It also takes guts, because any writer worth her tears has dealt with rejection many times over. Am I being arrogant and self-congratulating as I write this? Perhaps a bit, but I also recognise those who wear their wounds on the inside. Writers who have done their time have been scarred in abundance. A similar situation is the non-writer who says, 'I have a great story for you. If you write it, we'll split the proceeds.' This is like telling a doctor you have an appendix that needs taking out. If she does the operation, you'll split the hospital costs, 50-50, because, after all, it's your appendix and she's only gone to med school for a dozen years or so - no big deal. She should appreciate the honour you're offering her. (I ran into this at a book fair. But the old guy was enthusiastic, and rather sweet, so I forgave him. I suggested he write the book, himself.)

To wrap up, let me suggest readers keep reading (because we writers need you to) writers keep writing (because we also need to), everybody be considerate, and take a writer to lunch. If you do, please ask a little about our books, instead of monopolising the conversation about your life, the latest Trump fiasco, or how those Oilers are doing this season, eh?

Strike that last one. I haven't followed the team, but some of us will enjoy talking about that. :-)

Have a great week - Susan.

Monday, October 02, 2017

TWO NEW REVIEWS for THE TATTOOED QUEEN (Book Three of The Tattooed Witch Trilogy)

SO CHECKING AMAZON.COM the other day, I came across these two reviews for the third book of my trilogy, The Tattooed Queen. They were a nice surprise.  With a trilogy, it always feels as if there's a void between each book. This is especially true when the last book is nearly two years to publication following the second. I was beginning to think no one had read The Tattooed Queen to comment.

Here's what the reviews said:

1). by N. Luiken (May 31, 2017), who gave it 4 stars out of 5:

Well-researched historical fantasy. Book Two left off with a cliff-hanger: Joachin in serious peril, he and Miriam separated, Miriam under a spell, and evil Tomas in pursuit. About two-thirds of the book is spent on board ship (or rather three different ships), sailing to the New World. I confess I had trouble getting invested in some of the on-ship plot-lines - I was impatient to arrive. I quite enjoyed the magical landscapes and the new twist on Joachin's powers.

Favorite moment: dolphins!

2). by Chipompompom (June 6, 2017), who gave it 5 stars out of 5:

Due to a busy period of life, I ended up reading this 3rd book over a series of months. Even the long breaks in reading time didn't seem to affect the flow, and I was able to pick right back up with ease. Once again, I was surprised to find myself thinking about these characters in vivid detail while I was going about my day. I would have to remind myself that it was a book I was envisioning and not people I know or have interacted with in real life. This author has a real ability to set the scene and characters and have the whole thing form in your mind quite vividly. My favorite part was the new powers given to the main character. The plot possibilities opened up in such a marvellous way. It really hit me as a genius plot device, and I couldn't wait to see how it would all play out. Great series! I'm already reading it again.

My thanks to the reviewers. I appreciate their comments.

Although it's slightly frowned upon to respond to reviews, I'd like to address the comment made in the first review about two-thirds of the book taking place on board three different ships. When I was doing my research, I was faced with the problem of what to do with my characters for the six weeks it took to travel from the Canary Islands to Jamaica in the mid-1500's. (Believe me, I tightened the plot here as much as possible, and I don't think the book dragged. Lorina Stephens, my editor at Five Rivers, would have been merciless with me if it did. I love her for being the tough editor she is.) I also had to decide what conflicts would occur on those ships, thus, three sub-plots involving Miriam and her gypsy tribe of mostly women, Joachin and the men aboard a slave ship, and Tomas, my Grand Inquisitor with his pet sorceress, Rana, travelling in high style. A lot of the end-story was created in these middle plot lines, including Joachin's magical talents merging, Rana's redemption, and the rivalry between Joachin and Alonso resolving and then dissolving. I also wanted to introduce an entirely different take on the search for the Fountain of Youth. I couldn't have dealt with any of these without the necessary set-up spent at sea.

I welcome additional reviews. If any of you'd like to review the trilogy, drop me a line and we'll talk.

- Susan.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


WHEN I WAS AT THE WHEN WORDS COLLIDE FESTIVAL this past August, I was lucky enough to speak with Sharon Wildwind. Sharon writes nearly historical novels set during and after the Vietnam war, where she worked as a nurse with the U. S. Army Corps. (If you're not impressed by that alone, you should be.) Since we both love writing and think it's important to remember what the past has taught, I asked Sharon if she'd be interested in contributing to Suzenyms. (I'm so pleased she said 'yes'.) What follows is the first segment of her two-part post: 

THANKS TO SUSAN FOR ALLOWING ME an opportunity to talk about writing nearly historical novels. When does a book become a historical novel? The Historical Writers of America has one simple rule: if your setting is at least 50 years in the past, it's historical.

2017 minus 50 equals 1967, so anything set in 1967 or before is historical. Considering I was in my third year in university in 1967-68, I find that date disturbing. I must be older than I think. So what about that - to borrow The Doctor’s phrase - wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey period - between, say 1967 and 1997? Can you remember life in 1971? Were you even born?

When I planned my first mystery series arc, I knew there was an absolute, fixed end-point: April 30, 1975, the day the Saigon American embassy fell. My protagonists were veterans who had served in the U. S. Army, and I wanted the last book to explore their lives in the two weeks after the Vietnam War ended.

I thought, maybe five books in the series? If I backtracked five years, that would set the first one in 1971. Serendipity. In the late spring of 1971, I arrived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, having just come off of my post-Vietnam leave. Wiggle the time a bit and start Some Welcome Home with Captain Elizabeth Pepperhawk, U. S. Army Nurse Corps, just back from Vietnam, arriving at Fort Bragg on July 1, 1971.

(Yes, the photo to the left is me the previous year, a first lieutenant at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam.)

Problems and perks of nearly historical novels:

1.   Nobody knows how to classify the book. It’s not truly historical, it’s not contemporary. I had more than one person 'in the know' say that setting a book in the 1970's meant it would never sell because it couldn’t be pigeonholed. It wasn’t like I could change the date the war ended, so I knew I had to go with what I had. Turned out I was right and they were wrong.

2.   There were a lot of people around who remembered 1971 to 1975, and most likely, remembered it wrong. Ask any cop: four witnesses to the same traffic accident will tell four different stories of an event that happened in the past hour. To build my authentic historical shell, I started with Wikipedia because it had a (likely) reliable historical timeline for each year. Then I went to the library and looked at all of the Newsweek and Time issues from January to August 1971, paying particular attention to the coverage of the Vietnam War.

3.   A nearly historical writer can’t afford to take anything for granted, especially things everybody knows are true. The nice thing about near history is that there are likely to be numerous resources to verify facts. The downside is having so many references available that it sometimes turns the nearly historical writer into the nearly hysterical writer. 

Here’s a photo taken the day before Saigon fell. What building has the helicopter landed on?

Most people will say The American Embassy in Saigon. They’re wrong. It’s actually 18 Gia Long Street, which was a house that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may or may not have used as an apartment for some of its operatives. When I found that out, I realised I had a perfect location for an event that happened to one of my characters.

4.   I was very fortunate that I’d kept a journal in Vietnam and had taken over 1,000 photos, mostly black and white. And I had buddies with whom I could check not only the facts, but the sense of time and place.

When you sat around in the evening over a beer, what did you talk about? Answer: home and food. 

What did you order from a Sears catalogue and have delivered to Vietnam that you couldn't do without? Most frequent answer: an electric blanket because it kept your blankets and sheets from mildewing. 

During basic training, what songs were helicopter pilots most likely to queue up on the juke box in the basement snack shop? Answer: Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon and the Animals and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town by Kenny Rogers. 

In the end, the five book/five year span worked. I had loads of fun writing the series, and when Saigon fell, me and my characters were satisfied and happy to go our separate ways.

Two sites I recommend if you’re writing historical or near historical fiction:

Historical Writers (UK)

Historical Writers of America (USA)

(Thanks, Sharon. Great post, and I look forward to your next one. - Susan.)

Sharon's Bio: Sharon Wildwind is a Calgary mystery writer. Although her Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen mystery series is currently out of print (she has some print copies available), the series will soon be out in electronic format. Ditto for her non-fiction book Dreams That Blister Sleep: A Nurse in Vietnam, based on the journal she kept and the photographs she took while serving in Vietnam. 

You can find more about Sharon and her books at

Thursday, August 03, 2017


I WAS SITTING OUT ON MY DECK LAST NIGHT - I do this a lot in the summer, because...well, it's summer, and winter in Alberta lasts forever, so I have to appreciate the great August weather while it lasts. And as often happens, when I'm surrounded by my trees and garden, my mind drifts to writing, and the ego, and the insecurities most writers share - those moments when we think we're good at our craft, followed immediately by the finger-wagging critic in our mind who tells us you aren't there yet, darling. In spite of your successes, don't let it go to your head.

That internal critic - she's a bitch, isn't she?

On the other hand, Inflated Ego is top heavy - he has a hard time getting his head through the door.

I'm not saying we should let either of them get out of hand. Of course, as a writer, there's always something to learn and a higher level for which to strive. But it's also important to celebrate our successes when we have them. So where do we draw the line between congratulating ourselves yet keeping our egos in check? As I enjoyed the balmy evening, the answer came to me.

If we are grateful for how far we've come, grateful to those who have helped us get there, grateful - simply for the fact that we are who we are - creative people who have had some success in our work, we aren't letting our egos get the better of us. We're maintaining enough humility to be glad of who we are and what we do. As writers, I think we often flip-flop between thinking we're great and thinking we're not. The 'not' side tends to dismiss the good that's been done, while the 'I'm fantastic' side exaggerates it. If we're grateful, we rise above both.

So be grateful. For who you are, what you do, for any successes you've had, and for those who have helped you reach them. Have faith inspiration will find you, and that future successes will result, whatever they may be.

Happy writing - Susan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


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Equus, edited by Rhonda Parrish
SO THIS WAS LAUNCHED TODAY, Equus, an anthology edited by Rhonda Parrish about all things equine, whimsical, fantastic, horrific, or what have you. My short story, Ladies Day, is featured in it. How would I describe Ladies Day? Historical Fantasy, set in a magical Edwardian England during the running of the Ascot. Think ridiculously big hats, champagne, and Norwegian countesses who cheat. (Gasp!) Also, Oxford dons and blue stocking heroines who make things right. Hopefully you'll find the story a fun read. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Here's one review I've already seen by T.R. North: 

"Equus has its share of horror, magical realism, high fantasy, and borderline science fiction, with no two tales having quite the same flavor; if one isn’t quite your cup of tea, the next is right there for you to try. Angela Rega’s unexpectedly wrenching “The Horse Witch” rubs shoulders with Cat McDonald’s bitter tribute to female anger in “The Last Ride of Hettie Richter,” and Susan MacGregor’s elegant trifle "Ladies Day" stands next to M.L.D Curelas’s white-knuckled science-fantasy mash-up “Neither Snow, nor Rain, nor Heat-Ray.” (Ladies Day as an 'elegant trifle'? Pretty much what I had in mind! Thank you, T.R. North.)

Here's a portion of another review by Barbara Tomporowski, where she mentions Ladies Day, among other stories: Ladies Day” by Susan MacGregor is one of the most enjoyable tales, since each major character – from the perceptive, responsible Cassandra to the odious Lord Henry Dinglecrumb – have their own voice." (Thank you, Barbara. High praise.)

If you love horses, know someone who does, or are otherwise interested in purchasing a great anthology, it's available for $12.95 US through World Weaver Press. Here's the link: Equus Anthology, World Weaver Press. 

If you read it, let me know what you think!

- Susan.