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

Monday, December 31, 2012


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


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


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


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!

Friday, August 3, 2012


From Tory's Log~

Aunt Fiona was not as tall as Papa, or even Josh, but she was nearly a head taller than Mama—not counting her formidable bonnet. She had a regal bearing and a firmly set mouth that would tolerate very little nonsense. Her complexion seemed impossibly white to me, and her bright blue-grey eyes swept across our plain parlor from under a fringe of reddish curls.

But not even a layer of dust from the road would dare to dim the brilliance of her traveling costume. A purple plume quivered above the broad brim of her cream-colored bonnet, which fastened under her chin with a wide yellow ribbon. Her gown was a majestic sweep of lilac, with gold braid at the high, fitted bodice, and layers of filmy, pale yellow riff at the neck and wrists.

I had never seen such clothing before, not even in town. What sort of fairyland had she come from?

Aunt Fiona sailed into the room, shadowed at a safe distance by the wagon driver from town who was dragging along her heavy portmanteau.

"Set it there," she  commanded, pointing out a vacant corner. "And remember to come for me directly after breakfast in the morning. Should I miss my coach, you shall be required to  drive me all the way back to Boston. At no extra fare."

The driver paled and backed rapidly out of the room, muttering his "Yes'sm," and "No'ms." When he had fled and Papa closed the door behind him, Aunt Fiona turned her full attention to the rest of us.

"Well, Ewan, I knew that you had embraced the bucolic life, but here I find you dressed like a common laborer and your family in rags."

"This is a working farm, Fiona," Papa replied with elaborate patience. "We work."

"Ah. I suppose that is an excuse for your sons to forget their manners?"

"Boys, say hello to your Aunt Fiona," Papa sighed.

"Good afternoon, Honored Aunt," Josh murmured, and he stepped forward to bow slightly over her gloved hand. Aunt Fiona nodded back, but as Josh retreated, she narrowed her eyes at him.

"Well, Josiah, I see you're nearly as tall as your father. And no doubt picking up all his bad habits, without my guidance."

"With any luck," Josh breathed, head down, but so softly that only Mama and I could hear him. I thought I saw Mama quickly swallow a smile.

"Hello, Honored Aunt!" Andy was taking his turn greeting our guest, standing forward to shake hands.

"Slowly, Andrew," Aunt Fiona instructed, before consenting to graze his hand with the fingertips of her cream-colored glove. "Like a little gentleman, not a hooligan. You are twelve years old, now."

As Andy fell back, Ant Fiona at last allowed her bright gaze to rest squarely on Mama and me. It was impossible to guess what she saw when she did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Ahoy and welcome to new readers navigating their way here from Sarah Johnson's excellent historical fiction blog, Reading the Past. Sarah was kind enough to invite me to write a Guest Post on her blog today about the creation of this website as a place to delve more deeply into the background of Tory, my heroine from The Witch From the Sea, and the historical era that shapes her.

Tory has to cope with timeless issues that women always face— finding her own identity, making her place in the world and navigating her way through the often treacherous world of men. It's just that her universal journey takes place in a very specific setting—in a community of pirates.

But who was Tory before she joined the pirate crew? What events and circumstances influenced her in her formative years? To answer these questions, I'm posting occasional entries from Tory's Log, the purloined logbook into which she pours out the story of her life while on board the Blesséd Providence.

To start at the beginning, click on "March" in the Blog Archive at the end of the right-hand menu, or scroll all the way down to "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page.

Meanwhile, surf around, check out the reviews, read a sample of the book, and enjoy the adventure!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


From Tory's Log~


My father's voice came thundering from the barn, tearing through the mild spring afternoon. "Why can't she stay on her own side of the Berkshires?"

He burst out of the barn and came barreling across the yard toward the open door to the kitchen, where I was helping Mama sort through a basket of herbs we had just picked from the garden. Papa's dusty work clothes were flapping around his long, lean frame, tiny sprigs of untended reddish frizz bouncing all about his high, pale forehead. Far behind him, still out in the yard, the boys were trotting along in his wake.

"What can she mean, coming all the way out here?" Papa fumed, vaulting up the back steps, his grey eyes flinty with irritation. "Ladies!" he hailed us; he seemed to cross the kitchen in one giant, agitated stride.  "Close ranks and prepare for a siege! It seems, Victoria," he added, to me, "that your Aunt Fiona has decided to pay us a call." Then he strode through the parlor and out onto the front porch, pulling the door shut behind him, as if he might yet protect us from this unexpected invasion.

I knew, vaguely, that my half-brothers had an Aunt Fiona who had cared for them when their own mama died, when Papa ran away from Boston. But I had never expected to meet her. It was as if Queen Guinevere, or Lady Macbeth, or some other fantastical person out of Papa's storybooks had come to call.

I looked at Mama, too awed to speak, but she only smiled and tossed her long black braids behind her shoulders as she stood up. Mama's hair was like the fine black silk the peddlers carried in their carts. Her skin was as soft and rich as plowed red earth, and her clear brown eyes sparkled now with intrigue. If she felt at all unequal to the arrival of Aunt Fiona, she didn't show it to me.

Then the boys tumbled in at the kitchen door. Josh, who was tall, slender, and fair, like our father, looked apprehensive, his mouth tight and silent. But rosy, freckle-faced Andy, the younger, was bursting with breathless information.

"I saw them coming up from the bend in the road," Andy panted.  "Even from there, I could tell it was Aunt Fiona, all done up in ribbons like a tent at the fair!"

"Well, we had better go and welcome her," Mama said, reaching for my hand. "We can't allow a guest to stand outside the door. I wonder what your father is thinking."

I felt her hands on my shoulders as she steered me gently out into the parlor, the boys following behind. When a flurry of voices outside and the hollow thud of footfalls indicated that the company had mounted the front porch, I saw Josh move to stand protectively beside Mama and me.

The door was suddenly thrown open, and in marched the most fabulous apparition I had ever seen in all my six years of life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The cradleboard was more than just a personal baby buggy to the Native American tribes. It was a piece of native artwork, as well as an important conduit of culture that was handed down through the generations.

California Indian cradleboards were woven out of reeds and wrapped in hides. Cradleboards of the Southwest and Plains tribes were made of wicker rods and canvas with lots of intricate beadwork.

But the Iroquois of the Eastern Woodlands of North America  made their cradleboards from the plentiful wood, especially sturdy basswood. And the Mohawk in particular were known for their carved and often painted cradleboard decorations. Usually, the father carved the board, which was then decorated by the mother and other female relatives.

This is a mid-19th Century hand-carved Mohawk cradleboard. The Pequot Museum (Mashantucket, CT) website has a slideshow of ten cradleboards, including this one, both vintage and modern, in their collection.

Here's a detail of a slightly less ornate, but just as intricately carved antique (undated) Mohawk cradleboard. (See other views here.)

Here's a link to a gorgeous Mohawk cradleboard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, ca. 1860, from Quebec, Canada.

In practice, the carved, or otherwise decorated  side of the cradleboard went against the mother's back. The smoother inner side had a wide hoop at the top (sort of like a rollbar) to protect the baby's head, a footrest on the bottom to support the baby's feet, and either straps or hide or a blanket attached to the cradleboard to hold the baby in place.

When the baby was small, a Mohawk mother would strap her into the cradleboard and wear her on her back as she planted corn and worked in the field.

The Mohawk thought this gave every child the chance to view all people at eye level, as equals, from the very beginning of life.

(Cree mother and child, from the book American Indians, by Frederick Starr (1898), as seen online at ScienceViews

Monday, May 7, 2012


From Tory's Log ~

Mama told me that my cradleboard sang of Light Foot, an orphan with a wandering spirit who was adopted into the clan of his foster mother, "flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone," as the Mohawk say.  It sang of orenda, the unknown power that guides the people on their journey through life. It sang of Stockbridge, where many Mohawk families were invited to live alongside the white families in their English houses—until they were asked to give up the four Sacred Ceremonies and bend their knees to the white God in the mission church.

Many covered their fires and returned to their villages. But the family of Light Foot stayed on.

Near the top of the Tree of Life carved on my cradleboard, a naked branch stood out that bore only a single flower.

"Anne Keeping Faith," Mama smiled at me. "The first descendant of Light Foot to have an English name, because her papa was taught in the mission school. She was the only child her mama had."

Then came the war against the English king, when all the men of Stockbridge, white and Indian alike, went off to fight for freedom. As a child, I didn't understand what it meant, to fight for freedom, although I've had a great deal of experience in the matter since then.

By the time it was all over, Anne was carrying her own child. But her husband was far away on his first whaling voyage and Anne was too big to travel when all the other Stockbridge Indians were removed to the reserved land in the north. Evidently, there was not quite enough freedom to go around.

I met my Grandmother Anne once. She was as tall and straight as an old tree, and her face was just as brown and cracked, but tiny creases danced around her eyes and mouth when she smiled, and her cavernous laugh set the window panes rattling. She called me "Little Flower," and showed me how to husk corn. She said I was the future of the Hotinonshonni.

"Anne was taken in by her white neighbors, and elderly couple who offered to share their home if she would help work their farm after the baby came," Mama explained to me. "When the other Mohawk were sent away, Anne's mother gave her the cradleboard so she might continue the family history, and never forget who she was."

Above Anne's branch on the Tree of Life was another, longer branch, sprouting a seed pod. That was Mama's brother, Sam Light Foot, who inherited his ancestor's wandering spirit along with his name, and followed the Great Road out of Stockbridge for the sea. Beside his pod was carved another small flower for a new baby girl, as delicately wrought as the first blossom in spring. Molly.

"That was you, Mama!" I crowed.

"Yes, my Little Flower,"  Mama smiled. "That was me."

Above Mama's flower grew one more small branch. It bore another flower, more awkward than the others, but no less lovingly carved.

"I labored a night and a day to bring you into the world," Mama told me. "And your papa never left my side in all that time. When you were sleeping safe in my arms, he got out his knife and carved a flower for you."

My fingertips feel it still, the rough edges of my flower, a new song in the story of my ancestors. My place on the Tree of Life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


If you read (or write) historical fiction, check out the Historical Fiction Survey recently conducted over at  Mary Tod's A Writer of History blog.

Setting out last month to discover evolving tastes and trends among the historical fiction readership, she culled information from 805 respondents—readers and writers, female and male, foreign and domestic. And she's been busy compiling her findings ever since.

From general questions about favorite genres and historical periods, reading habits, and selling points ("strong female character" and "significant historical figure" trump military stories and capital-R Romance),  Tod has been branching out into specific topics like "Reasons not to read historical ficton," "Historical fiction would be better if..." and, "Stories that sell" (historical and otherwise).

Back in 2000, when I was laboring to midwife The Witch From the Sea into existence, I conducted my own highly unscientific Historical Fiction Survey via the pages of the pirate fanzine No Quarter Given. Then (unlike now) historical fiction was considered a hard sell in the publishing world, and I wanted to know if anybody was still reading it, and why. (Read more)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The stories my mother told about her ancestors were not recorded in words. They were carved in pictures into the smooth, wear-polished surface of an old basswood cradleboard. I don't remember riding in it on my Mama's back when I was little, but I do remember how it fascinated me, as I was growing up.

It was narrow at the bottom and rounded at the top, with one plain side to keep a baby snug against her mother's back, criss-crossed with colorful beaded straps. But the carved back side, facing out to the world, was alive with the work of a dozen patient hands.

The carved head of an eagle kept watch in the rounded top of the board. Mama said he stood for the power of the spirit world and respect for the unknown. Etched into the narrow base of the board was a simple, cross-hatched partridge feather that Mama said was a symbol of the Mohawk Nation.

Above this were the clan symbols, two delicate little turtles, each with a tiny head, tail, and four feet, radiating out from its round shell in all directions, like little twin suns.

"Your ancestor married a woman from the Turtle Clan," Mama told me. "And every daughter of every daughter all through time will also be of the Turtle Clan. When his wife bore their first child, your ancestor carved this cradleboard for her."

Planted between the two turtles, the sinuous trunk of of the Tree of Life snaked up the back of the board. Little branches jutted out from both sides of the trunk at uneven intervals; each one bore either a seed pod, for a son, or a delicately wrought flower, for a daughter. Each branch had been carved by a different father's hand as the cradleboard was passed down from mothers to daughters through the generations.

Long after I grew too big to ride in it, I loved to study the cradleboard. Mama said it would be mine some day. I loved to touch the tiny, magical carvings, so worn away with time, that had been shaped by so many loving hands.

"Listen to the wood," Mama would tell me, drawing my small fingertips gently over the smooth, intricate carvings. "Your ancestors will sing to you."

Saturday, April 14, 2012


The adventures of Tory Lightfoot continue beyond the events in The Witch From the Sea.

The second book in the series, Runaways: A Tale of Jonkanoo, finds Tory in the Caribbean Islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Antigua during the volatile final years of slavery, trying to escape her notorious past in a troupe of humble buskers, tumbling on street corners. But as tensions mount between the slaves, the free people of color, and the authorities, Tory realizes the greatest jeopardy to her precious freedom may be the color of her skin.

From rollicking holiday slave parades to the grand elegance of "the season" at the luxurious Bath Hotel, Runaways is both love story and a suspense thriller told with a dash of Dickensian humor.

As a big thank-you to loyal readers of The Witch, a special, illustrated serial version of Runaways is available online right now!

(Sorry, it's not on the Kindle, but any device with an Internet connection should do the trick.) Please drop in and let me know what you think. It's free!

What's "Jonkanoo?" An annual holiday parade performed by slaves in the West Indian sugar islands in the 19th Century. For a few days, slaves were allowed to pretend they were free, going about masked and disguised, poking fun at their masters—until the rules of proper "civilized" behavior were clamped down again for another year.

Enjoy the adventure!

(Harlequin Pendu, frontispiece to Runaways: A Tale of Jonkanoo. Image © Lisa Jensen, 2012.)

(Jonkanoo, Jamaica, 1838. Belisario 08, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library)

Monday, April 2, 2012


From Tory's Log ~

Papa read us wonderful stories out of books almost every evening, after the work of the farm was done for the day. Mama worked at her mending, but my brothers and I sat spellbound.

Papa read about the adventures of King Arthur and the dream of Camelot. He read from the books of Mr. Smollett (a Scot, Papa pointed out), whose heroes were forever being whisked away on sailing ships or journeying through the Highlands.

The stories of Shakespeare were more difficult, with their strange, dreamlike language, but Papa invented a different voice for every character. He made us laugh at the man with the donkey's head let loose among the fairies, and we shivered when King Macbeth (another Scot) met the witches in the wood.

When I was old enough, Papa let me join the lessons he gave the boys at home in the busy harvesting season when the farm could not spare them for the village school. I'm afraid I was something of a disappointment in sums and grammar. But when I discovered reading, it was like learning to fly; Papa could not make up lessons fast enough to suit me. Now I knew magic, and no mortal power could keep me earthbound!

Mama told magical stories too, about the Old Ones, or Turtle, who carried all the world on his back, or Sky Woman, who gave birth to Creator, who made all the creatures of the earth. Even now, even here, so far away in time and place, I can hear the soft rhythms of my mother's voice, telling her stories in exactly the same words, so they sounded like a song.

That was all so long ago, but she is singing still in my heart.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

ART of the WITCH

Once upon a time, pirate stories were considered strictly kid stuff, or else the province of capital-R Romance novels with brawny, half-naked rogues fondling their flintlocks splashed across the covers.

I was going for something more radical, a grown-up historical adventure novel with pirates, told from a woman's perspective.

This was my original concept sketch for The Witch cover art. Pretty atmospheric, no? The full moon, the pirate vessel, a woman, um, evidently rising up out of the middle of the ocean like Esther Williams in one of those gigantic MGM aquatic musical numbers.

Well, think of it as metaphor, just as the pirates in my book function as a metaphor for the freedom Tory craves.

I'm a little superstitious about rendering my character's faces; I don't want to interfere with the reader's imagination. But when I published a chapter out of The Witch as a short story in the pirate fanzine No Quarter Given, I drew this illustration to go with it.

 (Hmmm... I wonder if it's too late to re-do The Witch as a graphic novel...) (Read more)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


From Tory's Log ~

When fierce winds rattled the eaves, my mother said it was Gay-oh, the giant imprisoned in the House of the Winds, struggling to break free. But the more he fought, the harder the winds blew and the more entangled he became.

When blue lightning tore open the black sky, Mama said it was only Grandfather Thunderer frightening off the witches before he bestowed the gift of rain on the people of the earth.

"Fortunately, he hasn't run off all the Hotinonshonni witches," Papa teased Mama, "for I was surely bewitched when I met you."

I asked what it meant, that strange, long word, and Mama said, "My family, the People of the Longhouse. The Mohawk."

My mother was small and fine-boned, with a coppery complexion, long, shiny black hair, and laughing eyes. My father was fair-skinned and lanky, his eyes light grey, his high forehead framed by coils of reddish frizz. My brothers were fair and freckled like our Papa. They had all run away from Boston together after Josh and Andy's mama died, for the peaceful countryside of Stockbridge. Papa said Boston was full of savages.

My hair was brown with a rusty sheen, not black, with more than a trace of Papa's unruly curl. But I was dark like Mama.

"Am I ...Hot-a-shonni too?" I asked, mangling the unfamiliar mouthful on my tongue.

"One half," said Papa. "One half Mohawk Indian. But you're also one half Scot. The People of the Loch," he added in a thickly congealed accent that made Mama laugh. "But most important, Victoria," he told me, more seriously, "you must never forget you are American. One-hundred per-cent. Like all of us."

Friday, March 2, 2012


Ahoy there! Welcome to the website devoted to my historical adventure novel,  The Witch From the Sea. 

Cruise these waters to learn more about my heroine, Tory Lightfoot, and the world she lives in, the West Indies of the 1820s. Coming soon will be links to pirate history and Caribbean history, as well as portfolios of historical images from the era.

Here you will also find late-breaking news about my two sequels to The Witch: Runaways: A Novel of Jonkanoo, and the final chapter of the trilogy, A Comedy of Marriage (under construction as we speak).

And watch out for occasional guest blogs from the pages of Tory's secret logbook. Written down during the long nights on board the black schooner Blesséd Providence, these are recollections of her life and adventures before she joined the pirate crew.

So surf around, check out the reviews, read a sample of the book, and enjoy the ride!

—Lisa Jensen,  Santa Cruz, California