A swashbuckler set in the West Indies of the early 19th Century, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA is a love story, a coming-of-age adventure and an eccentric comedy of manners about a woman who runs with the pirates to free herself from the conventional "rules" of gender, race and class.

Tory Lightfoot, an orphan of mixed white and Mohawk blood, flees the stifling gentility of 1823 Boston for the freedom of the open sea. But the merchant ship on which she stows away is boarded by pirates off the coast of Cuba, and Tory is forced to join the pirate crew to save her life. Making herself useful as both log-keeper and spy, she begins to earn a measure of the independence she craves. But fate, fever and the relentless U. S. Navy West Indian Squadron close in, and Tory must risk her hard-won freedom to save the man she loves.
"I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction."
— The Historical Novel Society Review
"The Witch From The Sea is that rare creation, an historical romance with guts as well as glamour. Wild-spirited Tory is an irresistible character."
— Nautical historian Joan Druett (She-Captains; Hen Frigates)
"I am in love with this book. A+."
Reading Rocks / YA Fiction Review

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PIRATE GOLD

Har! Look what the tide washed in, me hearties!



Precious booty, indeed—a box of my author's copies of Alias Hook, freshly arrived from my publisher in  the UK. It is, without doubt and irrefutably, a book!

Hard to resist the temptation to let them sift through my fingers like gold doubloons, to dive into them like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin! But in the interest of common sense and physical possibility (those old killjoys), I guess I'll have to content myself with rapt gazing.

This is a hugely exciting moment in the life cycle of an ink-stained wretch (or ink-stained wench, as my friend Vinnie calls us). But it's not THE most exciting moment. That's the one that comes next, and it can only be achieved with audience participation.

Let the Reading begin!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Orenda

From Tory's Log~

Aunt Fiona left us the following morning. She adjusted her ruffles and ribbons around her and settled onto the seat of the carryall beside the tremulous (and very prompt) driver from Sheffield, whom Fiona knew she could bully with ease. Unlike her impossible brother and his unruly brood.

When she had gone, and my brothers were off about their chores, Papa and Mama walked slowly around to the back of the house, arm-in-arm, with me trailing along behind them.

"I don't know, Molly," I heard my father sigh. "Perhaps it's wrong of me to keep you all isolated out here. Maybe the boys ought to have all the advantages of the merchants' sons. Maybe it wouldn't hurt Victoria to have a petticoat or two," I heard him chuckle as I skipped past them, in pursuit of one of the barn cats who had just come scampering out of the hedge.
19th Century cariole, or "carryall."


"And what of you?" Papa went on, gazing at Mama. "You, who could not imagine me wanting to leave the glamor of Boston for a farm. Wouldn't you like to live in a great city with a fashionable home and a fine carriage?"

"Do not talk nonsense!" Mama laughed. "Don't you remember what you once told me about Boston? You said it was a cold place, as full of folly, prejudice, and greed as any grand European capital. You would be miserable there, Ewan, and how could I ever be happy if you were miserable?

"Look around you," and here, Mama made an arc with her free arm that seemed to take in the blue sky, the corn field, just beginning to sprout with green, the line of birches and hickories leading down to the river, and the purple hills beyond.  "I have everything I could ever want right here. The children safe. And you—in a fairly rational temper most of the time."

Papa smiled and bent down to kiss Mama, right out in the open. I had run off a way with the cat, who was now rolling on her back at my feet, begging to be petted, but I was still near enough to hear my parents' voices.

"What do you think about Victoria?" Papa asked.

"What about her?"

"Perhaps we ought to start sending her to church." My papa sighed. "A child ought to know her catechisms, and all that—"

"Why, Ewan MacKenzie!" Mama was grinning at him. "You mean you would subject your own daughter to the hard-hearted God you used to rant about at such length?"


"Well, perhaps he deserves another chance." Papa shrugged, smiling a bit sheepishly. "After all, he did send me you."

"It is not for us to guess what forces brought us together," said Mama. "It may have been one of the Hotinoshonni gods. It may have been Orenda, the unknown power that guides our lives. It may have been sheer chance that brought you to the market in Stockbridge the day my mama had such fine corn to sell."

"True enough,"Papa agreed, slipping an arm around Mama's shoulders. "Indeed, it does seem a bit out of character for God the Father, now that I think on it."

Mama laughed softly. "Tory has plenty of time for God, for all the gods," she assured Papa. "You've got her reading already, and your family Bible is always there for her to discover, whenever she likes. After that..." Mama grinned mischievously. "Well, if she ever asks for more particulars on the subject, we can always pack her off to her Aunt Fiona!"

My parents' soft chuckles told me they weren't serious. But I felt an uneasy shudder just the same.


(Iroquois Corn Husk mask, date unknown. Ceremonial masks of corn husks or tree bark imbued the shaman wearing them with the power of the natural spirit world.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

MY NEXT BIG THING

A couple of months ago, it was my very great pleasure to get tagged in the ongoing Blog Chain called The Next Big Thing. It's an opportunity for writers to introduce the public to their new work, so of course I wrote about my upcoming novel, Alias Hook!

Here are some sample Q&As:

Where did the idea come from for this book?

We don't like to say it in mixed company, but most writers hear voices in their heads. I was writing a review of a live-action Peter Pan movie in January, 2004; of the actor playing Captain Hook, I wrote that he captured "the tragedy of a grown-up Hook trapped forever in Peter's eternal childhood."

Instantly, a caustic voice popped into my head observing the Neverland from Hook's point of view. I hit 'Save,' clicked open a new doc and hastily typed in what is now the opening paragraph of the book. I was off and running!

What genre does your book fall under?

I call it historical fantasy. Yes, it takes place in the Neverland (that's the fantasy part), but in the flashbacks, I've tried to give James Hook a solid historical grounding as an early 18th Century English privateer/pirate.

Read the entire post here!

Monday, December 31, 2012

WILD INDIANS

From Tory's Log~

A tin of tea that Aunt Fiona herself had sent us as a Christmas present still sat unopened on a back shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Papa refused to drink the stuff; he claimed it carried with it far too much of the taste of Boston.

It took Mama a few minutes to stoke up the stove and boil a kettle of water. Then she had to brew the tea in a china pot that had belonged to the boy's first mother, their real mother, and set out the mugs and cider for the rest of us on a wooden chopping board pressed into service as a tray. By the time Mama and I returned to the parlor, a glowering silence had settled in between Papa and his sister. She was listening to Andy recite his grammar lesson.

"Will we be seeing your husband on this visit, Fiona?" Mama asked, as she served the tea.

"Mr. Gilbert is in Boston, attending to his shipping business," Fiona replied. "Which is exactly what you should be doing, Ewan, instead of frittering away your life and your talents in this...pastorale."

Papa cast his sister a dark look, but did not reply.

"As for my visit, Molly, it shall only be overnight, for I have come with a very specific purpose. And I doubt it will take any longer than that for Ewan to come to his senses."

"About what?" Mama asked, calmly, but I could feel her unease. She sat on a nearby stool and drew me closer to her.

"My husband, Mr. Gilbert, has very generously invited Ewan to come into business with him," said Fiona. "Your father had quite a head for business, once, back when he owned his own mercantile shop in Boston," she went on, with a sweeping glance round the room that took in the boys and me. "And now is the time to turn that knowledge to profit."

Here, Aunt Fiona turned her full majesty back upon Papa.

"The Jacobins down in Washington City are only hours away from declaring war on England. On England! Who has ever been a friend to the merchants of Boston."

"The patriots of 1773 would be surprised to hear it," Papa muttered, but Aunt Fiona sailed right along.

"When Jefferson was President, he proved his faithlessness to Boston with that ill-fated embargo. If his puppet, Madison, decrees this war, the merchants of Boston will never countenance it. We intend to trade with England as we always have, and with the Southern ports closed to English shipping, there will be substantial fortunes to be made!

"Ewan, give up this idyll and return to Boston with me. Build Molly a proper house, send the boys to college, buy Victoria all the petticoats she can wear, give hem all a chance to come to some consequence in the world! Don't squander your lives out here in this wilderness like a pack of wild Indians..."

It was an unfortunate choice of words, and Aunt Fiona's voice evaporated into the air as soon as they were spoken.  But by then, Papa had already heard more than enough. The anger seethed out of him, despite the low pitch of his voice.

"Fiona, besides the fact that what you're suggesting in treason, I have no interest in ever returning to your precious Boston, nor subjecting my family to it. Profit and fortune and commerce be damned! We live a peaceful life out here, and I'll not have it disrupted by your fine society and its petticoats.

"As for consequence, my Molly an these children are worth far more than all the fabled merchant princes of Boston, including your Mr. Gilbert," and here, even  Papa had to pause for breath, "who can take his shipping business and—"

"Ewan!" Mama cried, standing abruptly, and doing her best, or so I thought, to swallow a grin. "You yourself have disturbed the peace quite enough for one afternoon. Remember where you are."

My brothers and I had witnessed this interesting confrontation with more fascination than fear. In the next moments, the boys looked particularly stunned to see their aunt—Aunt Fiona, the unimpeachable!—make the first move toward conciliation.

"Forgive me, Molly," Fiona began, with the grim resolve of one who does not often have cause to apologize. "I meant you no disrespect. I simply...I want to do what's best for the children. I want them to be happy."

Josh, who had quietly unfolded himself to his full height and, at  seventeen, no longer resembled a child, came over to kneel beside me.

"But we're happy here, Aunt Fiona. Aren't we, Tory?" He tickled me from behind, and I fell back, giggling, against him.

"I don't want to go away," I said, from the safety of my brother's arms. "We don't have to go away, do we, Aunt Fiona?"

"No, dear," Fiona sighed. "Not just now, anyway." Then she roused herself a little. "Come here to me...what do they call you? Tory?"

She held out both her arms, and I walked over to her.

"Well, child, suppose you tell me what you learned in church last Sunday?"

I looked at her, bewildered. "Church?"

Sunday, December 30, 2012

COMING SOON: ALIAS HOOK

Ahoy, readers: I have a new novel coming out!

I've just signed a contract with Snowbooks a small, award-winning independent publisher in the UK  to publish my fantasy novel, Alias Hook.

While it's not a book in The Witch series, it taps into a similar vein of swashbuckling action, romance, and wry humor.

Not your father's Peter Pan, my book views the children's paradise of the Neverland from the caustic perspective of Captain James Benjamin Hook, its prisoner, a grown man stranded in a world run by a capricious 11-year-old boy.

 Once an embittered warrior with a grudge against the world, now Hook is trapped forever in a pointless war he can never win nor end against the boy tyrant, Pan, and his magical allies.

There's no Wendy or Tinker Bell in my book, but I do make pretty free use of the Neverland as created by James M. Barrie in Peter and Wendy, his 1911 novelization of his famous play. Except I go where Barrie feared to tread, deep into the society of merwives who live beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the Sisterhood of fairies who guard the island, and the Indian tribes who have learned to make peace with the boys.

In my story, a grown woman dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of all the boy's rules. She may be the key to Hook's redemption—maybe even his release—if they can unravel the curse that binds him there before Pan can capture her and drag Hook back into their neverending game.

Eight years in the making, Alias Hook is a story of love and war, male and female, and the delicate art of growing up. Tentative publication date is May, 2013, so watch this space for further details!

(Sketch of Hook at his glass © Lisa Jensen, 2012)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

From Tory's Log~

"So," Aunt Fiona said, at length, her majestic gaze falling on me, "I suppose this is the little creature you've named after Mother."

"This is Victoria, yes." Papa came up beside me and absently stroked back a stray wisp of my dark hair, already twisting free of its braid.

"Well, my child," said Aunt Fiona, not unkindly, bending forward and holding out her hand. "Come kiss you aunt."

I had seen my brothers approach this phantom with no harm done, so I marched forward for a closer look.

"Hello, Aunt Fiona." I stood on tiptoe to kiss the proffered cheek, breathing in the irritating tickle of powder. Mama had taught me to cast my eyes downward, out of respect,  when we nodded to strangers in the street on our rare excursions into town, and I did try, as I stepped back, but it was hard not to squint up for all I was worth from under my lashes.

"Well, we'll have to do something about that hair," said my aunt."But at least she knows how to obey..."

"I do not command my children to obedience, Fiona," Papa barked, at the end of his limited patience. "Victoria has learned her manners from her mother."

"Yes, I doubt very much she could ever learn any from you, Ewan," Fiona agreed, but she took the opportunity to turn her full attention to Mama for the first time.

"Fiona," Papa  sighed, reaching out to give my mother's hand a gentle squeeze. "My wife, Molly."

"How do you do, Fiona. I am so glad to meet you at last. Ewan speaks of you often."

"I can well imagine," Fiona replied, shooting a caustic glance at her brother.

"Please come in and sit down," Mama continued, leading our guest to the most capacious of the parlor's few chairs. "It's a long, dusty ride out from Sheffield. Would you care for some cider?"

"Have you any tea?" Fiona asked sweetly, more in her own element now that her comfort was being seen to.

"I believe we do. I'll go see," Mama smiled. "Tory, come help me, please."

I didn't want to miss anything, but I could not say no to my mother. And I was still of an age when I felt most safe in her company, so I followed Mama out into our kitchen. As we left the parlor, I heard Aunt Fiona say, "Well, she's pretty little thing, in her way, and quite well-spoken."

"Did you expect to find her draped in hides, muttering incantations?" Papa grumbled. "The Mohawk are a civilized people. Molly's family owned a farm in Stockbridge."

"But, Ewan, what about the children?"

"What about them?" came my father's bland reply.

I scurried over to  where Mama stood, peering into a kitchen cupboard. "Mama, is Aunt Fiona going to take us away?"

My mother turned to me in surprise. "Of course not, my Little Flower." She sank down beside me. "No one will ever take you away from me. Or your brothers, either. What an idea!"

Friday, September 14, 2012

STILL MORE CRADLEBOARDS

Right here, in my own back yard in Santa Cruz, California, I discovered this wonderful cradleboard collection!

The exhibit is called Santa Cruz Collects, now open to the public at the SC Museum of Art and History (MAH) through November 25 of this year. The Native American artifacts on this wall are called "baby baskets," but I know a cradleboard when I see one!

The collector is Dean Silvers, a longtime Santa Cruz  elementary school teacher and self-taught historian who has produced two books and a 14-hour video on the history of Santa Cruz County. He is also an avid collector of California Indian baskets, Latin American crafts, and Native North American art.

I assume these are all California Indian basket cradles, although they are not described individually in the exhibit. But all look entirely too functional to be merely "art," although they may be reproductions of vintage designs. (Maybe the tiniest ones are for dolls?) All have the head protectors, foot rests, and straps or lace-up snuggies to hold the baby in place.

The workmanship on these pieces is amazing. These are all baskets, of course, not wood, so there would be no carvings on the back, as Tory's cradleboard was carved. But there is nothing like seeing  such beautiful artifacts in person to make history come alive!