Things Change

So do plans. In my post a few days ago, I explained how some unanticipated events had thrown my writing plans for this year behind schedule. I had intended that I would complete and publish The Beast of Dublin by late spring of this year, then in the fall begin the fifth and final book of The Strongbow Saga, but that did not happen.

Fans of The Strongbow Saga have been waiting too long to receive the conclusion of Halfdan’s story. I do want to risk not getting it to you by next year. Therefore, I am once again setting The Beast of Dublin aside for a time, and am turning to the final installment of The Strongbow Saga (tentative title: To the Edge of the World) with an eye to publishing it, if all goes well, in the first half of 2016. Thank you all for your patience and loyalty.

News From the Farm

20150801_121026How time flies! I did not realize it had been so long since I last posted here.

I will be in Portland, Oregon on Friday, August 7th, to teach two classes at the Willamette Writers Conference. At 9:00 AM I’ll be in a panel discussion, “Do It Yourself: Three Case Studies in Successful Self-Publishing,” with authors Annie Bellet and William Hertling and self-publishing trainer Carla King. And at 10:30 AM, I’ll be teaching “Bringing the Past to Life: Research Strategies and Methods for Writing Historical Fiction.” The Willamette Writers Conference this year has a self-publishing track block of courses that should be very helpful to any writers who are either considering getting involved in self-publishing their own work, or who are already doing so, but are looking to improve their success and skills.

But no doubt you are wondering, after having heard nothing from me for so long, where I currently am with my writing. My plan was to devote this year to completing The Beast of Dublin, a historical thriller novel set in the Strongbow Saga world which I began back in 2009, which is a stand-alone story but also is, in some ways, a prequel to the Strongbow Saga. I’d hoped to complete and publish it by summer, but as often happens, life intervened with my plans and intentions. Much of my time and energy during the first months of this year were taken up with two big issues: helping my stepdaughter Laura make the big move from Texas to Oregon, and battling with my former publisher, HarperCollins, over copyright violation issues–I discovered that they were still selling e-book editions of my books years after no longer having the legal right to do so. Both issues ended well: Laura is now happily an Oregonian, and HarperCollins and I finally resolved our differences satisfactorily, but I am behind schedule on my writing as a result. I still hope, however, to complete and publish The Beast of Dublin by the end of this year, and to write and publish the final volume of the Strongbow Saga in 2016.

But I have learned to accept, in this fourth year in my new home and life in Oregon, that writing will not take place during the summer. Our farm consumes every moment of our time during that season.

My wife, Jeanette, and I produce a significant amount of the food we consume, and each year the percentage we produce increases. We grow a large variety–over 50 different crops over the course of the year–of vegetables in our large garden, the orchard we laboriously planted in 2012 is finally beginning to (literally) bear fruit, and wild blackberries grow abundantly on our land. Summer is a time of tending to the garden, harvesting and processing vegetables and berries, and filling our two freezers with vacuum-sealed packages that will provide us with fresh organic food for the coming year.

20150801_114327This year that has all been complicated by the weather. Western Oregon is in the midst of a terrible drought. Our pastures are so dry that the grass crunches underfoot when we walk across them. The mountains had very little snowfall this past winter, and as a result rivers and streams are at record low levels. Tragically, the low water levels and much higher than normal water temperatures are wreaking havoc with the salmon and steelhead populations: hundreds of thousands have already died while trying to return to their home rivers to spawn. And the effects of the drought have been compounded by wave after wave of extremely high temperatures–we’ve had five 100 degree or higher heat waves already this summer, and virtually no rain. Last week, for example the high temperatures recorded on our farm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were 108.5, 105.6, and 103.4. On such days, we can only work outside for relatively brief portions of the morning and late evenings, and much of that time of necessity is devoted to watering the garden and orchard and caring for the animals’ needs. And the wildfire danger is very high. Earlier this summer we scythed a wide fire break in the pasture around our home, and are now relying on the sheep to keep it eaten short.

Speaking of the sheep, this year our small herd was increased by the birth of three new lambs, and decreased by the death of one sheep. This spring for the first time we culled the herd, and killed and butchered a sheep for meat. We took Ramses, a three year old ram, who was formerly the leader of the herd. He had grown somewhat aggressive over the past year, regularly attacking the younger rams to assert his dominance over them, and even charging me several times. The herd is a much more peaceful community now, and his meat is quite tender and tasty.

Our two mature ewes each had a lamb in early spring. The first we feared would not survive its first 24 hours, because its mother, Sweetie (an absolute misnomer of a name–she has a very cranky disposition), gave birth on the far side of our property, away from the safety of the barn and the small pastures around it where the ewes have always given birth before. Only three days earlier, a cougar had been spotted prowling less that 100 yards away from the area where she gave birth. Our sheep are Soay, a semi-wild ancient heritage breed that originated on an island off the coast of Scotland, and we feared that if we tried to move the baby to safety, Sweetie might abandon it–something that sheep sometimes do if the bonding process between the mother and new-born lamb is interrupted. So we reluctantly left her to fend for herself and the lamb overnight, and our fears for its safety were increased when a cold rain fell for much of the night. But somehow it survived, and the next morning, with the help of Sigrid, our Border Collie, we  encouraged Sweetie and her lamb to slowly make their way across the pasture to the safety of the barn. We named the lamb, a male, Lucky, because we felt he was very lucky to have survived.

Our other mature ewe, Pretty Girl, who is pictured below (she has been unusually slow to lose her winter wool this year–Soay sheep normally shed their coats in the early summer), is a much better mother than Sweetie. Her lamb was born several weeks later, and quickly was awarded the name Allie, because only a few days after she was born we saw her pee–how we usually determine the sex of new lambs–and said Hallelujah, this one’s a girl!

20150727_110458The third lamb was a surprise, and did not arrive until late spring. She was born to Deidre, a young ewe who was one of the twins born to Pretty Girl last year. Because of her young age and the fact that she showed no signs at all of being pregnant, we were not anticipating a lamb from Deidre this year. Deidre is still smaller than full size, so the lamb was tiny, but has seemed very healthy from birth. It has kept us in suspense about its sex, though, because months after its birth we still have not witnessed it peeing–a fact which eventually won it the name of Nopey. In the photo below, the child-mother Deidre is on the left, Allie is in back on the right, and Nopey is in front, chewing on a mouthful of beet greens. From the shape of Nopey’s developing horns, which look similar to Allie’s (plus the absence so far of a visible scrotum), we’re beginning to hope “it” will prove to be a she.

20150727_110518And that’s the news from the farm. In my next post–which will not be so long in coming as this one was–I’ll share some photos from last year’s research trip to Ireland, including scenes that will figure in The Beast of Dublin and in the final portions of Halfdan’s story in the Strongbow Saga.

Niddingsvaark

I have a pervert, sex offender duck. I thought humans were the only species capable of such behavior.

We keep chickens on our small farm, and also have two ducks. The chickens and ducks each have separate coop areas in the barn where they’re closed up at night, but during the day they all free range in a small fenced pasture that the coop area opens into. Our oldest hen, who is named Bard (she’s a Plymouth Barred Rock), doesn’t come out of the chicken coop much anymore, though. Most of her generation of chickens, our first ones, are gone now, and she’s pretty slow moving and often just looks tired.

This afternoon I was in our garden—a fenced area next to the bird’s pasture—washing a head of lettuce I’d just harvested, when I heard a horrible, prolonged distressed squawking coming from the coop area of the barn. I rushed in and saw that the sound was coming from our rooster, Goldie, who was outside of the chicken coop looking in, acting very distressed and absolutely screaming about something inside. I stepped in and saw it. We keep a foot-high board across the open doorway of the chicken coop during the day to keep the ducks out, but the male duck had gotten over it somehow, and was on Bard’s back, pinning her to the ground and raping her, holding the feathers on the back of her head tightly in his beak so she couldn’t move.

It was disturbing and upsetting, almost like coming upon someone’s grandmother being raped.

I grabbed him around the neck—none too gently—dragged him off, carried him outside flapping and gasping for air, and flung him out into the pasture.

Sigrid, our Border Collie, loves the chickens. She likes to follow them around and watch them, and sometimes will just lay down among them while they scratch and forage around her. She knows she’s forbidden to do anything that might hurt them, and shows no inclination to (she does have a game she invented that we call Rooster Tag, where she pokes the rooster in the butt or chest with her nose, then quickly jumps or spins out of reach when he tries to attack her. It’s all in fun—on her part, at least). But when she saw me throw the duck, she realized something unusual must be going on, and promptly ran over and tackled him, which sent him running squawking away down the pasture.

Poor old Bard came out of the coop and all of the other hens and the rooster gathered around her, almost as if they were trying to comfort her. She stayed outside with them for a long time—very unusual for her—and they all stayed close around her.

Eventually the male duck made his way back to the barn, where his mate, looking worried, joined him. What did the damn thing do? He charged into the chickens, scattering them, and jumped on Bard again. Apparently for him she is some kind of very enticing object of sexual desire which he can no longer resist. Both Sigrid and I rushed in and he ran away. For the rest of the afternoon, Sigrid kept the ducks under close guard, safely away from the barn and the hens, until we shut them up in their pen for the night.

20150425_170638The female duck stopped laying eggs over a year ago, and the two of them eat a lot of food, are noisy and messy, and in general give nothing back for the amount of trouble and work they require. My wife, Jeanette, and I have been planning, at some as yet undetermined point in the future, to relocate them from the barn to the freezer. It was very tempting today, while I had his neck in my hand, to go ahead and do the deed. But plucking and cleaning a duck is a time-consuming and tedious process, and it’s best prepared for in advance. However, I can see a duck-pluck party coming very soon. Sentence has been adjudged, and is awaiting execution—as is the duck.

Ancient Archery Skills

Halfdan, the protagonist of The Strongbow Saga, is an archer. In many late Medieval societies, which tended to have more rigid social class structures than did Scandinavian society during the Viking era, the bow–while still an essential element in warfare for providing missile fire against an enemy–was not considered a “noble” weapon, and archers were typically commoners, and considered of lower status than the knights who formed the elite fighting element of most medieval armies.

Viking society was far more egalitarian and pragmatic. While there was certainly a small class of nobility in Scandinavian society, membership in the noble class was not strictly determined by birth–any free man could, by virtue of achieving wealth and success through his own skill and efforts, become a chieftain, a leader of men with his own retinue of followers. And the Vikings greatly admired and valued exceptional skill with all weapons, including the bow.

I have personal familiarity with the use of a bow. Growing up, I spent many hours shooting a recurve bow, both at targets and roaming through woods near my home hunting the same kind of small game that Halfdan did. I now own a yew-wood longbow, handcrafted in the same design as Medieval English and Viking bows, which I acquired to better understand how such a bow shoots differently from modern bows, and to better describe how Halfdan shoots. And I search the old  sagas for stories of Viking archers and the shots they made, to try to ensure that Halfdan’s skill, and the shots he makes, are realistic.

Although I have never found any accounts of such feats by Viking archers, I have read accounts of skill with a bow by Medieval Mongol and Saracen archers involving such incredible accuracy and speed of fire that they seemed almost impossible to believe. But recently Jeff Hays, the very talented voice actor who narrated the audio editions of the Strongbow saga books, sent me a link to the video below. A modern archer named Lars Andersen–ironically enough, a Dane, like Halfdan–has taught himself some of the forgotten techniques and skills of those ancient archers. What he is capable of with a bow will astonish you. Watch, and be amazed.

Book 4 Now in Audio

LongHuntCover AudioThe Long Hunt, book 4 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio book edition. As with the first three books, there are a limited number of free download codes for it available. If you’d like one, send me an email at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.

It will, of course, be a longer wait until book 5, the final book of The Strongbow Saga, will be available in an audio edition, because I have not written it yet. 😉

May you all have a holiday season filled with happiness and peace.

Best wishes,

Judson and Jeanette

Special Barnes & Noble Offer

Northman Books Inc., is the small publishing company that my wife and I set up to sell the Strongbow Saga books. Among the channels we sell the books through is Barnes & Noble. That company has provided us, as affiliated booksellers, a special discount to offer to our readers this Christmas season: 25% off any single item. The offer is good only through this Sunday, December 14th. Here’s the special coupon code and link to use:

Barnes & Noble

These additional special offers on shipping for orders from B&N.com are also available:

Free Standard Shipping on orders of $25 or More. Valid now – 12/16/14.

Free Express Shipping on orders of $25 or More. Valid 12/17 – 12/19/14.

One Day Only! Free Expedited Shipping on Orders of $50 or More. Offer valid 12/20/14 only!

And our best wishes to all for a happy, safe holiday season.

Achtung!

KriegerEbookCover4

Strongbow has invaded Germany! The German language edition of Viking Warrior, book 1 of the Strongbow Saga, is now on sale as a Kindle e-book on Amazon-DE, and in the coming weeks it will be rolled out on other e-book outlets and in a print edition.

Ruth Nestvold

Ruth Nestvold

Making Viking Warrior available in a German translation is the result of a partnership with Ruth Nestvold, an American-born award-winning author who now lives and works in Germany. Ruth is the author of a number of fantasy and science fiction works, and the historical fiction series “The Pendragon Chronicles,” which is set in Britain and Ireland during the period after the Roman legions abandoned Britain, when the historical warrior Arthur–known to legend as King Arthur–led the fight against invading Saxon hordes.


Book 1 of the series, Yseult, is a retelling of the classic tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde, setting it accurately within its correct historical period and context.

Book 2 of the series, Shadow of Stone, continues Yseult’s tale against a backdrop of chaos and war as Arthur continues his doomed struggle to save Britain.

You can learn more about Ruth at her English language website and blog, and see her announcement of the release of the German edition of Viking Warrior on her German language blog.

In other news, book 3 of the Strongbow Saga, The Road to Vengeance, is now available in an audio book edition. A limited number of free download codes are available while they last–to get one, write me at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.
RoadAudio1

Book 2 Now in Audio

Dragons Audio 4

Dragons from the Sea, book 2 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio edition, and the audio version of book 3 is in its final stages of production. Jeff Hays, the very talented voice actor who performed the audio version of Viking Warrior is continuing as the voice of Halfdan (and everyone else in the books).

We’ve created a new cover for the audio edition of book 2, using a photograph from the Danish Viking Ship Museum of three of their full-size Viking ship replicas. In coming weeks, the new cover will be added to other versions of the book as well.

As with Viking Warrior, there are a limited number of free downloads of the new audio book available. If you would like one, please send me an email at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.

The Voice of Halfdan

In my last post, I mentioned that my wife and I have been working to make the Strongbow Saga available in new markets, and reach new audiences. One of those new markets was the Apple iTunes Store. Since May, all of the Strongbow Saga books have been available in e-book editions in the iTunes store, and links to their pages there are now on the “Books” page of this site.

We have also been working closely over the summer with a very talented voice actor named Jeff Hays to create audio book editions of the Strongbow Saga. The first of these is complete: Viking Warrior, book 1 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio book edition from Amazon and in the iTunes Store, and is also available as a selection on Audible.com.

Jeff’s skill as a voice actor is remarkable. He truly brings Halfdan and the other characters in the story to life, and carries the listener away into 9th century Denmark. We’re excited to have him as the voice of Halfdan. His performance of Dragons from the Sea, book 2 of the Strongbow Saga, is now in its final phases of production, and should become available sometime in September.

In conjunction with the release of the audio edition of Viking Warrior, we’ve created a new cover for book 1 of the series. Over the coming weeks, the new cover will be added to the e-book and print editions, as well.

VikingAudio3

To celebrate the release of the audio edition of Viking Warrior, we’re giving away ten copies of the audio book. To request a free copy, send me an email at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com, and I’ll provide you with a code for a free download from Audible.com, with instructions on how to use it. The free copies will go to the first ten email requests received.

08/26/2014 Update: There are still four free copies of the audio edition of Viking Warrior available. And here’s a little surprise that Jeff Hays, the voice actor who produced the audio edition, sent me yesterday:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZvYLATIZPo&feature=youtu.be

In case you’re wondering, I did not pour a bucket of ice water on my head. I’m old enough, and have done and seen and been through enough in my life, that I don’t feel a need to answer every dare. But I did donate $100 to the ALS Foundation (and will only do that once–don’t anyone else bother sending another challenge!).

Are you warm yet, Jeff?

09/05/2014 Update: Jeff Hays, who performed the audio book version of Viking Warrior (narrated sounds too dry for the job he did), just donated ten free download codes for me to add to the giveaway, so there are still free copies available. And Jeff is currently giving a live “Ask Me Anything” chat on how he produces audio books, if anyone would like to learn more about how they’re made. It’s at www.reddit.com/r/audiobooks.

Cycles

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Living on the land–particularly in an area that’s on the border of wilderness–is very different from living in a city. Life is much more in tune with, and to some extent controlled by, the cycles of nature, and the cycles of life and death are much more vivid and closer here.

My wife and I are now well into our third year of our new life on our small farm, which is on the edge of the Cascade Mountain range in Oregon. We are learning about the cycles of life and nature here, and are getting better each year at living in harmony with them.

We want to produce as much of our own food as we can, and each year we move farther along that path. Spring here is a time of anticipation and preparation: planning the summer garden, and starting seedlings to be planted in the garden when the weather warms. Spring also brings new lambs to our small herd. This year our two ewes gave us three lambs. We always hope for females because they are much more useful for growing the herd than males are. Last year’s two new lambs were both males–we’d hopefully named them Dierdru and Fionna, then had to change their names to Danny Boy and Finn. This year we initially held off on naming the first lamb that was born, but at about two weeks of age I happened to see it urinating–the point of origin is a sure indicator of the sex–and the first words out of my mouth–“Dammit!”–became his name. Our second ewe had twins, though, and one, at least,  was a female–she now bears the name Dierdru. But our herd has grown too ram-heavy–we now have three females and five males–so we’ve taken to calling Finn “Lamb Chop” in anticipation of his future destiny. Here’s a photo of the lambs and mothers, taken in April a few weeks after they born:

SAMSUNGSummer is the busiest season. The garden requires much work: planting, weeding, harvesting, and preserving the harvest. The pastures, too, require our attention. The sheep help maintain them, but there is hay to be cut and stored for use in the winter. Summer, I now know, is not the season for writing. Winter will be the writing season, now that I am learning to live in harmony with the cycles here.

But although I am not currently actively writing, that does not mean I am not working on my books. The past few months my wife and I have focused considerable effort to make the Strongbow Saga books available in several new markets. There will be news about that coming later. And we leave in a few days for a research trip to Ireland. The Beast of Dublin, my partially finished novel which is set in Ireland in the year 840, and which tells some of Hastein’s story before the Strongbow Saga and which also will set up some characters and relationships that will figure into the final book of the Saga, is the next book I plan to complete–I hope to release it in the spring of 2015. On our research trip, we will be visiting numerous locations that figure into that story, and well as the location where the final chapters of book 5 of the Strongbow Saga will take place. That book–the final book in the Strongbow Saga–I hope to complete and publish in 2016. There is much more that goes into writing these books than just sitting down at the computer and typing.

This year, two large red-tailed hawks have nested just across the river from our farm. They frequently hunt over our farm, although a flock of crows we have befriended–we feed them regularly, and in exchange they watch over our chickens–usually drives them off when they do. I think of crows as true warrior-spirit birds. It is amazing to watch them attack much larger raptors. They are much faster and more agile than the big birds, and swirl around them, diving at their wings, until usually the hawks give up and move off to hunt somewhere that is not guarded. Once we even saw a single crow attack and harass a bald eagle that was circling over our property. The eagle did not take it kindly–at one point it rolled onto its back in flight and tried to grab the crow with its talons as it swooped by–but eventually even it gave up and flew away.

A few weeks ago, for an entire day the crows disappeared. One of our hens, a beautiful Golden Wyandotte we called Tiger, wandered away from the shelter of the barn and was caught out in the open by the two red-tailed hawks. We heard the sound and I ran up to the barn to see what  had happened, but although my appearance on the scene caused the hawks to flee, I was too late. They had torn Tiger’s throat out–their preferred way to kill–although they had not yet begun to eat her.

Tiger was a big bird–our biggest hen–with a lot of meat on her. We felt it would honor and show respect for her life and death to save it, so I skinned and cut off her legs and breast. We’ll eat them, stewed as coq au vin, as our Thanksgiving dinner this year and remember her fondly when we do. The rest of her body we put out in the pasture, so nothing about her would be wasted. The turkey vultures found her, and her death gave them food. When they’d finished, nothing–not even a stray feather–was left.

Tiger’s last day:

SAMSUNGTiger 2DSCN0766The cycles of life and death are much more vivid and closer here.