I Pulled My Book from Publication Because I Was Wrong About Jane Parker #HistoricalFiction #Tudor #HenryVIII

Last year, I made a promise to myself that when my rights toUnder These Restless Skies reverted from my publisher back to me, I was going to pull it from publication until it underwent extensive rewrites. I've now done that; the book is unavailable and will be until I finish the process.

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So, What Happened?

What happened was that I realized I was wrong. Terribly wrong. I had tried so hard in the novel to be fair to Anne Boleyn and depict her character as reflected in the true historical record that I ended up slandering and vilifying another historical character, Anne's sister-in-law, Jane Parker.

I can't plead complete ignorance. In my notes, I said that Jane's depiction as a sneaky, conniving person had fallen from favor, but she was a convenient villain (which is likely why history has traditionally blamed her).

But over the last few years since the book's debut, I've read more about Jane. I've updated my blog, routinely editing articles to reflect my findings, but I couldn't do the same with the novel. As more time passed, I felt worse about what I'd done.


So How Are You Gonna Fix This?

I intend to re-write the novel to be more accurate, and to be fair to Jane. I'll also give new ebook copies to readers, and replace paperbacks if the reader wants to mail theirs back to me. It will be a lot of work, and potentially rather expensive (especially given the original book didn't sell all that well,) but I think integrity is important. I said in my notes that I was trying hard to be accurate, and I want my actions to reflect that.

I think authors should have the courage to admit they were wrong about what the historical record says, and to make it right wherever that is possible.


When Do You Expect This to Be Complete?

I can't say how long this project will take. The original Under These Restless Skies took a year to write. I've never re-written a novel before. I'll update on this blog when it's finished.


I want to apologize to my readers. I feel like I've failed you. I wanted to write a historical novel which entertained while giving readers a glimpse into the Tudor world I've found do fascinating over the years. I wanted to strip away the cobwebs of myth. Instead, I ended up adding more. 

And I want to apologize to Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford. You didn't deserve what Henry did to you, and you didn't deserve what history has done to you. Nor did you deserve what I did to you. I'm so sorry. I'll try to set my part of it right.

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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS S5X03 "Homeland"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fifth season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: We opened this episode with Floki, wandering lonely as a cloud around Iceland. His wounded hand is hurting and he sniffs at the wound – a nice authentic touch, since diagnosing infection was often done by smell in that era. He uses the muddy-as-chocolate water bubbling in a hot spring to soak his bandage before he wraps his hand, which was not so historical. Unless he’s got some theory about this being the home of the gods and nothing can hurt him here, this made little sense. Germ theory wasn’t a thing, but the people of the era had enough sense not to put particulate matter onto a wound. He probably would have rinsed his bandages in a clear stream, lacking anything else. Floki was the one who healed up Ragnar after he was wounded in battle and had to flee his home in the first season. He should know better.

Sandi: Ugh, yes. Even the most untrained of housewives knew not to use dirty water on a wound, and Floki is not ignorant of proper practices for basic health and healing. Not sure what he was thinking, here, unless he wasn't thinking at all. Even his own urine would have been preferable to the dirty water he used. And as we'll see later, his negligence will cost him. 

Lissa: Astrid, or Joan Jett, as we dubbed her last season, pulls up to the dock in Harald’s kingdom. She’s disgusted at having to step over bones as she walks down the pier. Which… yeah… why they leavin’ bones all over their docks? That’s how you get seagulls and rats. It’s meant to contrast with Lagertha’s orderly, prosperous kingdom, I suppose.

Sandi: The No Ship Network still calls Astrid Joan Jett. I had to smile when I heard their first episodic podcast for this season! 

As you said, the contrast is likely deliberate. Harald has been distracted both by his epic-fail of a romance as well as his pursuit of kingship for Norway at large and hasn't been as careful with the administration on a more local level. Now, historically the man does indeed become the first King of Nordweg—er, Norway—so he has to prove himself effective eventually, right? 

Lissa: In his hall, Harald stands before his throne, dressed in a crown that’s a wide, leather-covered band with pointed triangular teeth on the top, an odd-looking thing.

I did a little research, and the closest visual match I found was the crown of Cerdic.

Sandi: There are a lot of claims and stories regarding Cerdic's life and descendants, but most of them aren't provable beyond the fact that he founded the kingdom of Wessex in the 6th Century. 

Lissa: In his new “palace,” the cathedral of York, Ivar meets a new girl, one who is utterly unafraid of him. She tells him that she’s always felt that disabled people are touched by God.

Sandi: This is not a wholly unique notion, of course. Whether a disabled person is blessed by the divine or cursed has long been discussed in different faiths the world over. This servant, though, sees Ivar's "boneless" state as a blessing. That the young man is gifted in other ways to compensate, perhaps, for his disability. 

Certainly it is true that for many with different disabilities, other abilities are enhanced. The blind often have a keen sense of hearing or smell, for example. And those with weaker legs might have developed a very strong upper body, perhaps. Also, some who are disabled call upon charm and other positive personality traits to help them interact with others. This might be seen as being gifted. 

Lissa: She strips on Ivar’s command and climbs into his lap, but he’s unable to perform with her. She says she understands he’s disabled, but it means he’s special and he’s destined for great things. She leaves when Ivar tells her she’s free to go. His face is that of a man utterly in love.

Sandi: I am still not sure of the object/idea that has captured Ivar's affection, here. I think it might be that he is indeed in love—but in love with the conviction the girl brings him that he is blessed. Perhaps, one might conjecture, this should be enough for him to go on with, but Ivar will forever seek to prove his superiority. 

Lissa: The Wessex team has dinner, all of them seated on one side of the table, Last Supper style. They’re still planning to take back York. They’re excited, because there’s a place along the northern walls that the heathens haven’t built up or posted men to defend. Heahmund tells Aethelwulf that they’ll take the city back on the morrow and they end with prayer.

Sandi: One should keep the deliberate arrangement of the table in mind, I think. Foreshadowing? If so, for how far into the future? The Vikings producers are far too careful not to have this established without a plan. Team Wessex could indeed be facing a harrowing time ahead. 

Lissa: We next see Bjorn, which we all cheered. He’s chatting with Halfdan, who says he came along with Bjorn for the same reason Bjorn went into the wild to have is “vision quest.” To prove himself to feel truly alive while he lives. One of his men, Sindric, suggests Bjorn will have more success in his upcoming venture if he splits his fleet in half while approaching land so they can appear like traders. Bjorn says he’s naked without his ships, and Sinric counters that it’s better to be “naked” than dead.

Sandi: It was great to see Björn again. The character has been part of the show since the first, and he provides a touchstone back to Ragnar for us. (For the record, the show is proceeding along quite well after the death of our central figure, I think, as we see life does indeed go on. In many surprising ways.) Previews show Björn riding a camel, I think? So I am guessing Björn accustoms himself to being "naked".  

Lissa: In a lovely little makeup/special effects touch, Halfdan’s facial tattoos are faded with the passage of time. It’s the attention to these kinds of details that keeps me coming back, I swear.

Sandi: As I used to watch Ragnar's head for the addition of new tattoos, so I also appreciate how the designs fade on others. It is, as you say, a fantastic touch. (Though how tattoos age while Lagertha & Co. don't remains a mystery!) 

Lissa: Aethulwulf breaches the wall in the weak spot Heahmund noted last episode and the Saxons flood into the city with no resistance. He splits his men into two groups and tells them to meet at the cathedral. They head down the twisting streets, and somehow it doesn’t occur to Aethulwulf that the lack of combatants is a red flag. It’s not until windows open above and arrows rain down does it seem to sink in.
Sandi: Yeah. Now, Aethelwulf has proven himself to be a fine man on the battlefield, but this is guerrilla warfare, for all intents and purposes, and that requires a different mindset. 

Lissa: From the windows above, buckets of fluid are thrown on the soldiers and dropped torches set it alight.

Sandi: I really liked this. Yes, yes, I'm strange and twisted, but the cinematography on this was brilliant. Shadows and flames and fire and destruction in confined spaces. Also a great plan on behalf of the defenders.

Lissa: The screaming men try to flee down alleys, but they’ve been lined with spike pits. The first few to fall inside become living carpets for the men behind them as they try to flee death raining down on them from all sides. Above, Ivar watches grimly as his traps funnel Aethelwulf’s men into bottlenecks they cannot escape.

 Sandi: Compared to how smug and fierce he usually is when a plan is going his way, this was quite grim of him. 

 Lissa: Hvitserk, in the crowd, fights like a Berserker, ridiculously exuberant.

Sandi: But unlike the berserker moments we've had in earlier seasons, this wasn't ritually so. I think it was just a young man enjoying himself . . . a lot . . . in the midst of a battle. Empathy might not be his strong suit. 

Lissa: Ivar leaves his perch and jumps into a chariot to join the fray. It crashes, leaving him sitting on the ground, essentially helpless as a herd of English soldiers crowd around.

His face is red with blood, which you noted, the pouring rain doesn’t seem to rinse off.

Sandi: He presents a strange, menacing-in-miniature, diabolical figure to the Christian warriors who storm the area. The red face, bloody teeth (they, at least, got cleaned quite soon), and his determined, fierce cheer had to be confounding for the opposition.  

 Lissa: Ivar laughs screams at them in Old English, “Do you know who I am? I’m Ivar the Boneless. You cannot kill me!”

Sandi: His name will be famous, indeed, but I think it's here that the Britons are learning to fear it.  

Lissa:  An arrow embeds beside him and he only finds this amusing, throwing his axe at the man who tried to shoot him. The soldiers are virtually trembling with fear as they edge closer. Heahmund notices and tries to close the distance, pointing his sword at Ivar.

Sandi: It's interesting, how the veritable company of armed men are apparently stymied by Ivar's defiance, here. They could have killed him; Ivar is not immortal, after all. A tidal wave of armed men could overthrow him, even if he is an extraordinarily fortunate fellow here. But there is a visible reluctance to do more than throw things at him. Is it the demonic aspect of his grin? The force of his personality? His claim of invincibility? Even his own men hold back.

Lissa: Ubbe stops his men from intervening for a moment, but an arrow impales Ivar’s leg. He looks down at it in annoyance, breaks it off and goes back to taunting the English.

Ubbe sends in his men. Three of them shield Ivar as he giggles maniacally.

Sandi: (Ugh. My homophone issue. I cringed after I read it. Why can't one post-edit a tweet? Okay, okay....) Anyway! Yeah, the stalemate is broken when others enter into it. This kind of adds to the otherworldliness, in my opinion, of Ivar's ability to hold the Britons off. 

Lissa: Heahmund tries to rally his troops with theological pronouncements, but the day is lost.

The English retreat to the cheers of the Vikings. Ivar is left laughing and clapping, as if the whole battle was a comedy put on for his amusement.

Sandi: It was weird! I mean, sure, yes, battles can happen this way. Sure. Strange circumstances lead to victories that leave everyone a bit off-step. But this was an odd conclusion to this fight, in my opinion. 

 Lissa: Joan Jett is imprisoned in her room. An almost comically massive guard is stationed outside her door. She tosses jewelry around and scoffs as three girls come in bearing gowns that they drape over her bed. Outside, Harald is giving a feast. When he’s told Joan wouldn’t come, he stands to go get her, but in she strides, wearing one of the gowns. She feasts and drinks with Harald but eventually says she’s tired and is going to bed. The Vikings in the hall hoot as she leaves. Harald grins and follows her, which they cheer.

Sandi: I was reminded of the Biblical account of King Artaxerxes and Queen Vashti. The king, there, told his wife the queen to come display her beauty before all his guests and she told him no. She was then un-queened and a new queen was sought for and found. I had to wonder, in the time between Joan Jett's refusal to go out and her eventual capitulation, if some similar fate would happen to her. But no, she puts on a pretty gown and goes out as requested.

Even if I didn't exactly recognize her without the heavy eyeliner. And, to be honest, the gown was beautiful but it clashed with her tattoos. Her usual style is more "her", I think.

Lissa:  In the bedroom, Harald tries to play off his nervousness with manful chuckles. He tries to kiss Joan Jett and gets a sound punch in the nose for his pains. He goes back outside, blood dripping from his injured schnozz and tells his people in a jovial tone that he never had any luck with women.
Sandi: He really does seem to lack basic skills in this area. Even kings have a problem getting a girl, it seems. Especially when he hasn't quite won his kingdom. Yet.

Lissa: As you said, he seems to be playing the long game with her. His people seem to take his “defeat” in good humor, but unless he eventually wins her over, he would really lose status in their eyes. In the Sagas, men often go through terrible trials to win over women, and the women often refuse their sexual advances, especially until the men offer marriage, but the men prevail in the end. The Vikings gave women higher status in their society, but it was still a sexist era, and the man was supposed to be triumphant in his “wooing.”

Sandi: In the Viking culture, the women do rather rule the roost within their homes, so this works for me.  

Lissa: The Ragnarssons have a very intense meeting in Ivar’s cathedral/lair. Ubbe is looking particularly worse for wear with a beaten face he didn’t have after the battle. In the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that Ubbe woke Hvitserk in the middle of the night and urged him to come along on a secret mission.
Sandi: The transition here was rather abrupt and I was initially afraid I'd missed something. Like there was a skip "for the American Audience" (sigh). But no, it was just that abrupt. Segue, History Channel. Learn it. Live it. 

I see that the effort was to build tension by going into flashback mode, but I found it disconcerting. This is likely a personal issue.  

Lissa: They headed for the English camp and spoke with Heahmund and Aethelwulf. They said they didn’t want to fight any more. All they wanted was to farm the land Ecbert had granted them. After they left, Aethelwulf said to Heahmund that they had no right to that land. Alfred asked Heahmund if, as a man of God, he was in favor of peace, and said to Aethelwulf that Ecbert may have no longer been king when he granted the land, but now Aethelwulf is king and he can grant it, should he choose to do so.

Sandi: Historically, Aethelwulf was deposed as King of Wessex after his pilgrimage to Rome (A.D. 856), but he ruled in Kent and elsewhere until his death in 858. Now, how that will play out in this show is left to the History Channel. The show itself began in the year 792 (S1, E1) and Björn was what, twelve years of age at that point? (I had to check the fandom wiki!) That would make him in his seventies at least as Aethelwulf has gone to Rome already. And we know that's not the case in this show, so . . . 

Will Aethelwulf give up his lands to the Danes? In history, he is a strong force against them; so I am thinking not.  

Lissa:  Heahmund enters the tent where Ubbe and Hvitserk are sleeping and gives Ubbe a good thrashing. He hauls both brothers outside and sends them packing, his soldiers pelting them with mud as they flee the English camp to go back to York. And now Ivar is shaming them in front of everyone for suing for peace.

Ivar says they made the Vikings look weak. He says it’s time that he, Ivar, was recognized as the leader of the Great Army.

Sandi: Ubbe and Hvitserk got off quite easily, I think, for what they did, here. Heahmund did slap Ubbe around, but it could have been far worse. The humiliation at the hands of their brother, though? Not so cool. Far harder, I think, for the pride of the elder brothers.  

Lissa: Ubbe says as the eldest brother, he will never tolerate this. Ubbe and Hvitserk will take their men and head home to Kattegat. Ubbe tells Ivar that their father would be outraged that Ivar sundered their family. Ivar responds he doubts that very much.
Sandi: Ivar is likely on the money with his view that Ragnar wouldn't be outraged, but . . . Ragnar might indeed be saddened by the fact that his sons are at such odds. For a long time, Ragnar tried to maintain a good relationship with his brother Rollo. This would pain him, I think. 

Lissa: It was a fantastic scene, the best of the season so far. Those who follow our #ShieldGeeks discussion would have seen us all fall silent for a good five minutes while it was going on. I think that’s one of the first times that’s happened since we started our live-Tweets!

Sandi: I was, again, worried  that there had been a technical failure. True story! I went poking about your twitter and a few others to see if the silence was because something went wonky, but no . . . we were all just that enthralled.

Two words: Great. Writing. (And the actors were awesome!) 

 Lissa: Floki is sick… bad sick. He leans heavily on a stick as he makes his way to a waterfall. He unwraps his hand and it is an infected mess, puss oozing from the wound. He sees two visions of women who dissolve into bees and birds, and falling to his back, he whispers in Old Norse that he knows now he was brought to this place to die.

Sandi: That wound? Seriously excellent makeup job. I can imagine the stench, too. Floki's gone septic, clearly, here, and that's affecting his brain. 

 Lissa: But in a few moments, he looks down at his hand and sees it wholly healed. A vision? A fevered dream? With Floki, it’s hard to say, but he shouts joyous praise to the gods.

Sandi: He's happy, looks good, and I am inclined to hope for his sake that he is truly healed. There are supernatural instances in the course of this story (though the producers keep them to a easily digestible minimum) so this could totally be the case.

 Lissa: Ubbe and Hvitserk pack up their longships to go home. Ivar taunts them from the bank, because they’re barely filling the two boats they’ve taken.

Lissa: All of the men are staying with Ivar. As the ships get ready to cast off, Hvitserk gets off the boat. The expression on Ubbe’s face at that moment was just heartbreaking.

Sandi: I stand with Ubbe. He has a goal, he's off to meet that goal, and keep to what he believes to be the best thing for their people. He wants to go home and make it stable and a good place. He left Margarethe behind and, who knows, maybe the whole idea of growing his family is appealing at this juncture? Still, he had hoped for the support of his brothers and he doesn't have it. 

He might just be my favorite, right here. *nods* 

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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The #ShieldGeeks Return with #VIKINGS Season 5, Episode 1!

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fifth season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: Aaaaaand we’re back! Tonight, Vikings had their two-hour premier and I started off the episode with painful technical difficulties, so Sandi will have to describe the first ten minutes or so.

Sandi: *takes the mic* Thanks, Lissa! There was also a recap before the episode in the form of a dialogue/flashback series called The Saga of Lagertha, for those who could use a refresher on what happened over the past seasons. We opened with a funeral. In the final episode last season, Ivar murdered his brother Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye in a departure from history. It is entirely appropriate, I think, to begin with this link to that event. A somber gathering surrounded a burial site where the rough outline of a boat was made with rocks thrust into the earth. Such a site is discussed on DanishNet here. Such a burial—as compared to a pyre—indicated wealth or the status of the deceased. Weapons and goods were included in the notional boat as it was outlined on dry land, and Sigurd was treated with all honor. 

It was interesting to note the varying emotions displayed by those in attendance of the funeral. Ivar actually had a tear on his cheek. It was, for the record, Lissa, a great relief when your technical difficulties resolved themselves! 

Lissa: When I joined in, Heahmund was finishing a Latin funeral rite. Afterwards, it was discussed that Vikings don’t really have the land grant they thought they had – Ecbert had surrendered the throne to Aethelwulf before he signed the grant, making it effectively worthless. You can’t give away what you don’t own, after all. Ragnar would have been most amused by Ecbert’s final trick.
Sandi: King Ecbert (a.k.a. Cream of Wheat by the folks at No Ship Network)) had that all planned out before his chosen end last season. He may not have seemed to have faith in his son Aethelwulf, but he did a good thing, there, in safeguarding his kingdom under his successor. Ecbert never "gave" anything away save perhaps his breath—and that he drew back again. 

Lissa: We next see Judith tending to a sickly Albert. She puts leeches on him in an effort to draw out the illness, but in a conversation with Aethelwulf, she reveals that she despairs of his life. They’re living in a sad little hut in a swamp.

Sandi: What I particularly liked about this was how they rallied, for the most part Aethelwulf kept up the business of being king, Judith of being a distraught mom, and Alfred—far from dying—is treated. Not that I am fan of leeches, but they are used even by some today to good effect for some conditions. And note that even in such circumstances, Judith's devotion to hiding her mutilated ear remains constant. (Yeah, I know it's all about how she actually doesn't have a mutilated anything, but go with it, right?) 

Lissa: We rejoin our Heathen Army to find Floki packing up a ship to leave. He says he’s going to go wherever the gods lead him as he packs a raven in a crate aboard. As he rows down the river, people line the banks to chant his name.
Sandi: This was such an excellent scene, I think. We get to see Floki row, row, row his boat and all that is missing are the pompoms. The best shipwright in Scandinavia now is taking on the challenge of solo sea navigation. This speaks both to his confidence as well, perhaps, as to his state of mind. He has nothing, he's told Ivar. Without his beloved Helga, he feels as if there is no anchor for his spirit so he seeks to fly. Or, you know, row. His leave-takings are perfect, especially the moments with Ivar. 

They have had a special bond since they were introduced, really, and it's hard for both of them to be apart. (In an aside, I recommend watching the IMDb featurette on Gustaf Skarsgård!) 

Lissa: Heahmund prays, prostrate on the stone, his arms spread out for the Great Heathen Army to be driven back into the sea.

Sandi: A vastly uncomfortable position, as I said last night. It is interesting perhaps to note that Heahmund, while a man of God, is not entirely humble in this humbling posture. But, neither has he lived a life of entire self-abnegation, either, as we saw last season. 

Lissa: The heathens, meanwhile, are discussing their next moves. Ubbe wants them to diversify. He says their dad would want them to be more than raiders, and he wants to farm a bit. His brothers, on the other hand, have more martial goals. Their next move is going to be to capture a town called York, where they can use its stone walls as a fortress.

Sandi: Ah, we do like our Domesticated Viking, Ubbe. His characterization in this show has been consistent. He's the eldest of Queen Aslaug's sons, and he has always rather watched over the others, and tried to do his best for their entire stability, not just military might. Even though it is not what he thinks might be ideal for his people, he goes along with the will of the majority. York it is. York will, of course, be a place of great contention over the next several centuries. 

Lissa: In his ship, Floki looks down at a sunstone in his hand and then tosses it into the sea. He’s trusting his fate, and the direction of his vessel, to the gods entirely. He certainly didn’t pack much in the way of provisions.
Sandi: Tossing the sunstone does seem to be a bit overboard (sorry, sorry) for Floki, here. It is a connection, always, to his friend and leader, Ragnar Lo∂brok. And it is a useful device for what he is about. But he does consign himself to fate. Self-confidence? Fatalism? Both?

Lissa: Heahmund has a strange scene with a woman whom he finds praying in his church. He offers her communion, but the Latin he speaks over her did not seem to be the words of the mass. I’m still looking for a translation online. We see him a bit later in a thicket of thorns, praying aloud.

Sandi: Heahmund is tempted by many things. Putting himself in a thorny thicket has to be an act of penance, for he is also a man with a conscience. Mortification of the flesh is these days often more confined to fasting or praying on one's knees for extended periods of time. It is a highly individual thing. 

Lissa: The Ragnarssons raid a chapel. They slaughter the worshippers, but Ubbe is very unenthusiastic about it. He encounters a nun (dressed in a very anachronistic habit, I must say) who has slit her wrists, rather than fall into Viking hands. He catches her as she falls and gently lowers her to the floor as she dies. On the other side of the room, Ivar takes a priest’s cross and melts it down to pour into the man’s mouth as two of his friends hold it open. He laughs with glee afterward.

Sandi: The nun's habit was, of course, a sign of her purity. Whether it was meant to be her own choice ("I'll choose this habit to show my status; perhaps they will have mercy on me!") or merely a directorial signpost for the moment, it. . .didn't work for the character. Ivar's actions were appalling, frankly. Like horror-movie-esque for me. Now, an interesting note on what he did came from our twitter friend @SagaThingPod.
Lissa: You and I both noted that it would have been a very expensive death when there was plenty of pewter or other methods available that didn’t waste precious gold. I know that Floki taught him to hate Christians, but it seemed over-the-top.

Sandi: It really was. But we are also, as an audience, given a direct comparison between Ubbe's deathbedside manner and Ivar's gleeful vengeance. And it is Ivar whom history remembers. 

Lissa: We see Torvi training swordfighting with a young man. It turns out to be Bjorn’s son, who’s in his late teens or early 20s. They hear a horn signaling boats, and it’s King Harald returned to Kattegat. When Harald enters the hall, he finds an ageless Lagertha lounging in her throne. She’s wearing an odd red dress over what seems like a skin-tight black leather under-dress, or somesuch combination.

Her costumes have traveled far away from the absolutely wonderful outfits of the first season. I know they intend her costumes to portray her wealth and power and appear stylish to the modern eye, but I really miss the days when we drooled over period fabrics and beautiful weave patterns.

Sandi: Here we had a big Scene Shift. It is a much healthier and less horrifying prospect to watch warriors in training rather than committing atrocities. And then seeing Harald was . . . interesting. Initially confident, a proposal in one hand and a bit of condescension for garnish, he certainly made an entrance. I do have problems with the costuming department and Lagertha and the Girls. Yeah. As you do. Katheryn Winnick looks amazing in homespun (really, she's gorgeous in basically anything) and her presence onscreen isn't disputed in the least. There are so many ways she could be shown as powerful and wealthy and confident without the anachronistic leatherwork. 

Lissa: Harald admits to her that he thought The Bastard would have killed her and would now be keeping the throne warm for him. Lagertha has him arrested and chained to a post in a longhouse. She goes to visit him, and this time, her green dress is much more in tune with period designs, but you quickly forget what she’s wearing.

She asks Harald what he wants and he tells her he had proposed to the woman he loved, and she’d told him she’d marry him if he was the King of All Norway. Once he was a king, he went back for her and found her already married to an earl. He killed her, and now he has nothing in this world to live for, save that ambition to be king of all. He proposes marriage to Lagertha.

Sandi: You know, you have to give the man credit for sheer chutzpah. Wounded, bound, at a definite disadvantage, he retains his aspirational arrogance here. "Yeah, so, you're not my first choice, babe, but you're a good substitute now that My One True Love is, like, dead." 

Lissa: She doesn’t accept or refuse. She cuts open his pants, hikes up her skirt, and uses him for her pleasure, hopping off once she’s satisfied and leaving him groaning in frustration. Later, she tells Torvi and Astrid of his proposal, and when Astrid questions the wisdom of leaving him alive, Lagertha snaps at her that she can make her own decisions.

Astrid gets up from the table and leaves… only to be captured by Harald’s men and carried on to his ship where he’s waiting for them to sail away. Don’t these people have guards? Or keep an eye on their only docks? You’d think a thriving trade port would, ya know, wanna keep an eye on that…

Sandi: Another series fan, @DeeDonuts, stated that this scene was really non-consensual.
Lissa: We return to Alfred, Judith, and Aethelwulf in the swamp. Judith says she doesn’t think the boy is long for this world, at which point both seem to notice he’s not in the room and go looking for him. Alfred is wading through the swamp in water up to his knees, wearing a white gown, following a vision of his father in a monk’s cowl. Alfred pitches headlong into the water, Frodo-style, and Aethelwulf jumps in to save him. When Alfred comes to, he says they need to go to York; his ghost-father told him to do so.
Sandi: We have here (once again) a dip into the Christological. Alfred is (to us, anyway) already a "Great" and his father is herein seen to be a vision to follow. Alfred's wearing white and is acting in obedience and, it might even be conjectured, subject to an immersive experience. 

Lissa: Harald cuts Astrid’s gag and the ropes from her hands. He tells her that he doesn’t think Lagertha will survive long as queen. Dude… She’s been queen for, like 20 years at this point, but okay. He says he’s going to take Kattegat as part of his own kingdom and he will need sons. He proposes Astrid be his queen. She’s not impressed by the offer.

Sandi: This might be where we started discussing Lagertha's age . . . Granted, Michael Hirst has not followed a strict historical chronology, but Lagertha should be in her 50's, we think, at this point. A woman of power and substance, but not eternal youth, surely. Ragnar certainly aged, yeah? It isn't as if the Powers That Be don't know how to do a good job, here. 

Lissa: Floki is drenched in a rainstorm on his ship. He opens the raven’s cage and tosses the bird up into the air, shouting for it not to return. He sings songs while he sips rain falling from the sky.

Sandi: This is kind of a throwback to Floki of the earlier seasons. A bit "tetched", perhaps, and communing with nature in all her forms. 

Lissa: In Kattegat, Lagertha is looking out over the sea as they discuss Harald’s escape and kidnapping of Astrid. They pretty much write her off as gone. Lagertha knows Harald will return, but what part Astrid has to play, she does not know. Torvi says Astrid will be part of no man’s plans, but Lagertha counters that she’s old enough to know that plans change. The women later wonder if Lagertha is losing her edge.

Sandi: And here, we were all "Where do YOU get off, little girl?" The servant is getting far above her station, here. Torvi has experience and substance in comparison. She's been proven in many ways. Why is the younger woman in such an evident advisory place? 

Lissa: When Harald talks to Astrid again, he proposes the idea that it might have been fate which brought her onto his vessel, and Astrid seems to consider the idea.
Sandi: So is he wanting to use Astrid in a hostile takeover bid or what? (Bonus points for those who catch that reference. Disney movies are apparently on my mind...) 

Lissa: Judith and Aethelwulf and young Alfred the Gr- (wait, shouldn’t use that title yet. SPOILERS! SPOILERS) Alfred the Kid, meet up with Heahmund, who is planning an assault to take back York. They say the Vikings have shored up the city’s defenses but Heahmund knows of a weakness.
Sandi: The business dinner (what else do you call it?) with the House of Ecbert, er, ruling family of Wessex and the Bishop of Thorns, er, Bishop Heahmund, was big on conversation but not so much on filial respect.
Lissa: Floki wakes to find his ship has beached itself. He rolls out of the six inches of water on the floor of the ship onto the sand and crawls forward to sip water off a rock. Dude, you didn’t fill your kegs during the deluge? In any case, he wraps himself in a fur that is strangely dry, given how soaked the contents of his boat are, and wraps his shivering form in it as he lays down in front of a fire. We later see him explore the island, spotting a volcano in the distance, and coming upon a gorgeous waterfall. He whispers an Old Norse prayer of thankfulness, and falls to his knees in front of the waterfall. He has a vision of the water flowing up the falls in reverse and laughs with joy, saying he must be in Arsgard.

Sandi: This was beautiful. Floki, all by himself, made it. Without a sunstone. In dire circumstances. His faith in Fate or his gods was, for him, justified with the green grass upon which he lay his head. We end the episode with The Ivarnator. Ivar gets legs, after a fashion, and is able to look his brothers in the eye. What an experience for all of them. 

He is quite intimidating. I hope that, for actor Alex Høgh Andersen's sake anyway, he will get to move around in an upright manner from here on. His expression makes it clear that Ivar intends to be much more dangerous in the coming times.

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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On My Own: The Next Stage in My Journey

Five years ago, I published my first novel with The Writer's Coffee Shop. Now, only a few days from that anniversary, I find myself out on my own as a self-published writer.

As it turned out, I had only three weeks to make this transition, but everything in my career thus far has been a whirlwind. Thanks to a great deal of help and support from my fellow authors who've already made this leap, I was able to get it done.

My novels now have new covers, and I was able to fix a few typos in the new editions, so there were certainly some positive aspects.

I'm not certain where I'll go from here, but I hope all of you who've been with me thus far will follow me on this new journey.

My ebooks are available on Amazon and GooglePlay and Kobo; I haven't yet completed the process for paperbacks, but they'll be ready soon. 

You may notice that Under These Restless Skies isn't among the books I've republished. That's because I intend to do extensive revisions. I've learned I was wrong about Jane Parker, and I need to make amends by fixing her portrayal in the novel. 
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A Conversation About CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED with Helen R. Davis

This week, I spoke again with Helen R. Davis, who has written several books on powerful historical women. I wanted to talk with her about her work on Cleopatra VII, the amazing Egyptian queen who - like Anne Boleyn - has been treated terribly by fiction.

Lissa: Tell us about your book on Cleopatra.
Helen R. Davis: Books is a better question. CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED is the first in a series that imagines the world after Antony and Cleopatra VII triumph at the Battle of Actium over Octavian. Told in my style of first person as though the queen were my confidante, the first in this series covers Cleopatra VII's life until the Battle of Actium, although I have moved that battle back 6 years from 31 B.C. TO 37 B.C. to coincide to when Cleopatra's second husband, Marc Antony, was beating Octavian in the propaganda war. CLEOPATRA VICTORIOUS will tell of an imagined life with Antony and Cleopatra after their victory. This title will be released late 2017 or early 2018. CLEOAPTRA MAGNIFICA and CLEOPATRA TRIUMPHANT are sequels written about a fictional great-granddaughter of Cleopatra VII, known as Cleopatra X.

 Lissa: What led you to write about her? Was there a particular part of her story that intrigued you?
HRD: I sensed a kindred spirit in Cleopatra VII. Like her, I am intellectual and enjoy politics. I also sensed a woman who was strong but very womanly.  In other words, she was classically beautiful but smart. What a great combo!   I was always intrigued by her demeanor and legend.  I also don't buy that she wasn't pretty. Sorry, but she had to have been something to snag Caesar and Antony.

 Lissa: I wonder if - like Anne Boleyn - it was her charm and  personal magnetism that made her beautiful. I've met some women like that in my own life. To look at a photo of them, you wouldn't think they were particularly attractive, but when they're chatting and laughing, they are just lovely. I imagine Cleopatra was a wonderful conversationalist. As educated as she was, I imagine she was well-read (probably having people bring her books from the Great Library before it was destroyed) so she must have been incredible to talk to.

HRD: There is an aspect of that too. Personalities can add to people. Some people do have all of the outer looks and none of the inner beauty to match.
Lissa: Cleopatra was an amazing woman. She managed to survive the attempts of her siblings to wrest the throne from her, and made two strategic marriages to the rulers of Rome that managed to keep her country independent for years. Why is it, do you think, that she isn’t seen in the same light as European queens who also survived rebellions and made strategic alliances for their nations?

HRD: I think it's because she was seen as a bad woman trying to keep Egypt independent from Rome.  Many people project modern values onto historical characters, or even onto certain contemporary characters who they don't like.  Part of it is also that her death was the end of ancient Egypt, unlike Isabella or Elizabeth I, whose reigns were the 'births' of modern Spain or England.

Lissa: That may be it... She was the closing chapter. And until modern times, there was an aura of judgement or condemnation because she was seen as sexually liberated. Of course, there's no evidence she ever took a lover outside of marriage, but she still had that reputation because Rome saw "the east" as being immoral.

HRD: Cleopatra was actually more monogamous than some of the women Rome held up as examples. She was likely only intimate with Caesar and Antony. 

Lissa: If you ask most people to imagine Cleopatra’s life, they think of her lounging around on silk pillows all day. But she was a very hard-working queen. Can you tell us about some of her accomplishments?

HRD: Yes. She spoke 9 languages, possibly more. She was the first in her dynasty to learn the native tongue of the people. She cared for the poor and made laws stopping tax collectors from gouging them. She donated to the Jewish population in Alexandria, helping build a synagogue. She likely authored several books on cosmetics. She was a devoted mother, unlike other members of her dynasty. She was, for all practical purposes, the world's first career woman.

Lissa: Let's expand a little bit on her domestic side. She does appear to have been a very devoted mother. Do you think that had anything to do with her religious feelings? She regarded herself as an incarnation of Isis, the mother goddess. Do you think that was "publicity" or do you think she internalized it and really did feel herself having a special affinity with Isis? 

HRD:  She was very devoted to all four of her children. Part of it probably was she internalized being an incarnation of Isis, but earlier Ptolemaic queens had done so and they were certainly not devoted mothers! Cleopatra III saw herself as an incarnation of Isis but she had her daughter, Cleopatra IV, killed. There is no evidence of Cleoaptra VII killing her children.  Probably she actually was the devoted mother and  loyal wife she portrayed herself as.

Lissa: Do you think Cleopatra had any emotional attachments to her brother or sisters before politics tore them apart?

HRD: That is a question I can't answer. The age differences between her and her older sisters probably prevented any closeness. I have written Tryphaena as a shallow, older woman, but we know very little about her. Berenice IV, her second oldest sister, was a woman who ruled Egypt on her own. Arsinoë IV was much younger, and my portrayal of her is as a wicked, evil woman—much as the Romans wrote Cleopatra. Her younger brothers she was forced to marry she likely had no affection for—imagine being forced to marry, for example, a bratty immature kid from elementary school.   If she did, I would imagine her being close with Berenice IV or Arsinoë IV.

Lissa: Ptolemy does seem "bratty," and either he had poor impulses, or his advisers did. I've always cringed a bit when I read the part about him presenting Caesar with the head of Pompey. Such a tragic mistake - a mistake I can't imagine Cleopatra making.

 HRD: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Lissa: It seems like Cleopatra’s father chose her to be his heir when he took her to Rome with him, then elevated her to be his co-regent after Bernice was defeated. Why do you think he chose her over his sons or Arsinoë ?

HRD: Cleopatra was Ptolemy XII's favorite daughter. I think he chose her because he saw her potential. He also did favor her over her sisters, as the historical record shows.

Lissa: Had things turned out differently, do you think Arsinoë  or Ptolemy could have kept Egypt independent from Rome? Would either have been a decent ruler?

HRD: Arsinoë came across to me as very spoiled, as did Ptolemy. Cleopatra VII brought Egypt much more time than either of them would have.

 Lissa: Do you believe the historical record that Cleopatra asked or ordered Marc Antony to have Arsinoe slain in the temple? I've always found that detail to be a little jarring for her character. It doesn't seem like something she would do - so publicly, so sacrilegiously.
"Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl"
An example of how each era reinterpreted Cleopatra
through the lens of their own era.
HRD: It's not impossible, but it does seem very out of character for her.

Lissa: If Caesar had named his son with Cleopatra as his heir, how do you think things would have turned out?

HRD: Much better for all involved. I cover that in my alternate history series.

Lissa: Why do you think he didn't? Ceasarion was his only son... the only one he would ever have. He had already shown himself to be bold and willing to break rules that seemed inviolate, such as crossing the Rubicon. Why do you think he held back in this respect?

HRD: I actually did read in one biography that Caesar had a copy of his will where he named Caesarion as his heir, but that it was destroyed by Octavian. I think it was in Cleopatra: Goddess of Egypt, Enemy of Rome by Polly Schoyer Brooks.  I don't know why Caesar held back. Possibly he did not foresee his assassination. But he was a bold man, and I've kept the copy of his will in my alternate history.

Lissa: We know the sad fate of Ceasarion. What about Cleopatra’s twins and her son Ptolemy Philadelphos? Their stories fade into the mists of history. Do you think Octavia was kind to them? We know Cleopatra Selene married, but what do you think happened to the boys?

 HRD: I think Octavian probably had the boys killed. If he killed Caesarion, why wouldn't he kill Antony's sons? Cleopatra Selene was no threat to him. It's become popular to portray Selene as some kind of modern woman living in the ancient world, but I don't believe in the happily ever after fantasy about Selene.  As for Octavia,  she was a kind woman, but it could have been propaganda by Octavian that she was nice to them. After all, what better way to make Antony look like a jerk and Cleopatra like a slut?

Lissa: I'd like to believe she was kind to them. Those poor children... To lose their parents and their kingdom in the way they did! I'd love to speak to Selene. I wonder if she inherited her mother's cleverness.

HRD: Oh no, I'm not saying she wasn't kind to them. I'm just saying how convenient for Octavian!

 Lissa: Hollywood has failed Cleopatra more than any other queen. She’s usually depicted as a wanton or hedonistic creature. Do you think Rome “won” in this respect, and their scornful depiction of her has managed to rob her of the respect she deserves?
HRD: Sadly, yes.  Many people think of Cleopatra as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.  Rome's portrayal of her, though, says far more about Rome than it does about the great Cleopatra. I hope this series will shed light on who she really was and who we are now by imagining what we might have become.

Lissa: Have you ever read Margaret George's book on Cleopatra?

HRD: Absolutely. I read it in college, but I felt it could have been about 100 pages shorter.I had seen the TV series it was based on beforehand. I hope to do my own movie where I play Cleopatra in the future, only I want to play her as the victorious queen she deserved.

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You can find CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED on Amazon or directly from Savant Books.
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