works in progress

The Amulet: My friend, Sarah Webb, and I are collaborating on a fantasy series set in ancient Ireland (after the Celts "invaded" and before Rome emerged as a European power).

The first book, The Amulet, follows twelve-year-old Conn mac Mahan through a crisis of succession as his grandfather, a regional king, and his father, the designated heir, die almost simultaneously. Conn must escape his enemies, but he must also decide whether to seek the kingship for himself or find a more suitable candidate among the men of his clan who are "king material." Conn is not sure what he wants to be—king? priest? poet? In his quest, he is helped by Rhys mac Madoc, a shipwrecked Welsh bard and Rhys's twelve year old daughter, Cerrin, who wants to be a poet like her father.

The Changeling

The second book in the series focuses on Cerrin, now studying to be a poet at the Ancient Blackbird School on the shores of Lach Lein (modern-day Killarney). Cerrin's Teacher, Riordan, is a troubled man whose wife drowned in the lake and whose daughter, Nessa, was left mute. Nessa may or may not be a changeling, and Riordan's wife may be in thrall to the King of the Dark Water who rules the depths of the lake. Whatever happened to them, Riordan has lost his poetic powers, and the school is suffering the loss of its chief bard. Riordan seeks healing, while Cerrin, an accomplished flautist, tries to communicate with his daughter through the medium of music.

This period of Irish pre-history is clouded by nineteenth century fantasies of druids and fairies. Recent historical scholarship (and much exacting archaeology) have revealed an interesting society ruled, to a surprising extent, by law. (Two books by Prof. Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law and Early Irish Agriculture, give a thought-provoking taste of the law codes.)

It was a warrior society, so courage in battle and loyalty to one's chief and comrades were valued, but so were eloquence, learning, and hospitality. There were priests ("druid" means priest), just as there were lawyers and poets. People believed in the transmigration of souls and the oracular power of the human head. The society was hierarchical and obsessed with honor. Poets (and priests and lawyers and blacksmiths and weavers) had high status, but wealth was measured in cows, so land-holding was obviously important. The people loved jewelry and bright colors, and their art was ornate and sinuous. Polygamy and divorce were common and sanctioned by law, and all children were "legitimate"—members of either their father's or their mother's clan, which was responsible for their welfare and behavior. The "underworld" was inhabited by powerful, amoral beings descended, so the poets said, from the people the Celts defeated when they invaded the island. It took a thousand years for the Sidhe to turn into fairies, and no druid ever pranced around in a white nightgown (at least not in public). And, unlike the Romans, the Irish used soap.

On my own, I'm researching (and beginning to write) a novel set here in Washington in the era directly after World War II. I've always been intrigued by the effect of the G.I. Bill with its generous education provisions on American colleges. I want to focus on that transformation particularly, but the period from 1945 to 1950 is full of amazing, sometimes wonderful, sometimes dreadful, changes in modern civilization. Think about it. The Nuremberg Trials began in October of 1945. Millions of displaced people had to be assisted, not to mention the bombed cities that needed to be rebuilt. The Berlin Airlift defined the face-off between East and West, now complicated by the horror of the atomic bomb. And so on. There was plenty to talk about. And write about.

And of course, I'll be toying with mysteries and regencies too.