Why Is He So Slow!? (A Book Five Update)

A fan of the Strongbow Saga series, Jaeden Byerly, recently asked on the Discussions page of this website when, or even if, book 5 might be coming out. I am painfully aware that I am running far behind on finishing and publishing it. But I really appreciate the very understanding tone of Jaeden’s inquiry, and on reading it felt it is long past time to give readers an update on where I am on the book.

I know that there are authors who regularly manage to publish at least one book per year, and I have one author acquaintance who often publishes more than one per year. Why, I’m sure all fans of the series must wonder, am I so slow? Let me try to explain.

First of all, writing is not a full time job for me. For some authors—like the one I know who sometimes writes more than one book a year—it is. That’s their only job, that’s all they work at. For me, writing is one of four part-time jobs that I have to try to divide my time among.

The most time consuming of my jobs is the farm that my wife, Jeanette, and I moved to five years ago. Although it’s just a homestead farm, not a commercial one—by that I mean that we only grow crops and raise animals to provide for our own food needs, not to sell—it still requires some amount of work (often quite a lot) every day. There are chickens and sheep to tend to every day, and our large garden requires a lot of work to plant, care for, harvest, preserve the food, etc. But after decades of working at often emotionally grueling jobs in law and law enforcement for me, and nursing for Jeanette, it is a life that we find brings us much peace, satisfaction, and pleasure, and to be able to experience that we gladly accept the amount of constant physical labor the life requires.

We have also chosen to embrace this farm life for health reasons. Many people, as they grow older, become less and less active, which tends to have deleterious effects on both the mind and body. We have chosen to fight aging as much as possible by becoming more active, not less.  Additionally, I have for some years now had a chronic health problem: Multiple Sclerosis. Years ago, when I first became ill with it, I was often quite sick, to the point where I could not realistically hold down a full time job any more. But I have in recent years found that I can keep the effects of my MS at a very manageable level through eating a very healthy diet: large amounts of organically raised fruits and vegetables, which are free of any chemical contaminants, and for proteins we eat wild-caught seafood and only pasture-fed meats (to a large extent from our own chickens and sheep). By producing a large percentage of what we eat, we can ensure that our food does not contain chemicals, hormones, drugs, or any of the other contaminants that are frequently found in commercially produced food products. Adopting this diet has wonders on my MS.

Admittedly, when we took on this new life five years ago, Jeanette and I had no idea what we were getting into, nor any concept of how constantly demanding the life would be. Without question, it takes a lot of time away from writing (or anything else, for that matter). But for health and happiness, that is a trade-off I’ve chosen to make.

Another of the part time jobs that consume my time is running our publishing business. The first three books of the Strongbow Saga were originally published by HarperCollins, one of the big publishers. With them in charge, I made almost nothing from the books. So about seven years ago, I regained the rights to the series, and Jeanette and I set up our own company through which we republished books one through three, and eventually published book four in late 2013. Through our company we also arranged for the creation of the audio book editions, and have been gradually getting the series translated into German and on sale in Germany. But running a business takes time. Even when we’re not engaged in a special project, such as audio book production, I spend several days every month bogged down doing business paperwork: logging in monthly royalty payments, paying royalties to our German translator, paying monthly payroll taxes and keeping up with the extensive documentation any business must maintain. Again, it takes away from potential writing time, but if we weren’t publishing the books ourselves, I would not be able to afford to keep writing, nor could we afford to live on our farm.

But the books currently do not bring in enough monthly income to fully cover all of our expenses—do not assume that most writers, including this one, make a lot of money. I have to supplement my writing income so we can make ends meet, which I do by investing, which requires a number of hours of my time every week to manage.

Finally, we come to the writing. From the above, it must be obvious that I do not have time every day to write. That alone is a big part of why book five has been taking so long to see the light, and why book four did, too. But it is more than just a question of time—it also has to do with how I write.

When I begin work on a new installment of the Strongbow Saga story, I initially have only a very broad, general idea of where the story is going to go next. With book four, for example (I don’t want to give out any major spoilers on book 5), my starting outline was basically that:

  • The Danish army returns to Denmark after its victory in Frankia;
  • Halfdan returns to his family’s estate, seeking revenge against Toke;
  • Toke has been forewarned warned by the crew of Snorre’s ship, who left Paris on the night of the duel, before the rest of the Viking fleet departed;
  • Toke kidnaps Sigrid and flees, intending to sell her into slavery in Birka, a major trading center in the kingdom of the Sveas (Sweden);
  • Halfdan and Hastein pursue Toke across the Baltic;
  • A major sea battle occurs.

As an aside here, part of what I have been doing in the Strongbow Saga, besides just telling Halfdan’s tale, is over the course of all of the books presenting the reader with a thorough, historically accurate cross section of what the Viking world was really like in the ninth century. For instance, something that occurs often in the old Viking sagas are violent feuds and nighttime attacks on homesteads, as part of those feuds. Those elements of Viking life appeared in book one, Viking Warrior. Viking raids against other lands were obviously also a large element of the Viking era. Those are reflected to some extent in book one, in the tales of Hrorik’s ill-fated raid on England which brings about his death, plus the earlier raid into Ireland when Derdriu is captured. And the very large scale attack on Frankia—a raid on an entirely different scale, more warfare than raid, and an actual event of the ninth century—provides the the primary setting and historical backdrop for books two and three, Dragons from the Sea and The Road to Vengeance.  Another very iconic aspect of the Viking period was the occasional battles at sea which are related in a number of the old sagas, so I have almost from the beginning intended to at some point work such a battle into the story, and decided to in book four. Similarly, there are specific aspects of Viking life and the Viking period that I have long intended to be a backdrop for that part of the story contained in book five.

Because my goal is to present a very historically accurate picture of the Vikings’ culture and society and of the time period, my writing is very much research driven. What that means is that as I do research for a particular book, invariably the more I learn about an area, a historical event, or the like, the more my bare bones starting outline becomes fleshed out with additional details, or sometimes even new subplots and story lines. In book four, for example, as I researched the route across the Baltic Sea that Toke and his pursuers would have followed, I discovered the island of Oland, with its mysterious series of ancient, abandoned fortresses, and chose to weave it into the story. My research also uncovered that pirates were a serious problem in the Baltic, and that, around the time the story was set, Frankish Christian missionaries were violently expelled from Birka, and a Danish attack on that town was threatened. All of these became elements of Halfdan’s tale in book four as the story developed.

The story also always evolves as I become more deeply engaged with the characters, and try to think about what they would have been thinking and feeling in any given situation or scene. That led me to realize in book four, for example, that it would be unlikely that all of the warriors at Hrorik’s estate would readily accept Halfdan, a former slave, as their leader, and so led to the creation of a whole new aspect of the story I previously had not anticipated.

I’ve explained all of this because it has been a major factor in why book five has been slow to develop. Without getting into too much detail, the first part of the story in book five deals with the efforts by Halfdan, Hastein, and their men to find and rescue Sigrid, who was sold in Birka to an Arab slave trader. The Vikings’ eastern trade routes, and their presence in what now is eastern Russia and the Ukraine, were an important part of the Viking world, and I have always intended to take Halfdan’s story there so the reader can see that side of the ninth century Viking world. But the research has proved to be far more difficult and time consuming than I anticipated. For the ninth century time period when the story is set, there are far fewer sources, and far less concrete historical knowledge, of what was happening in Russia compared to what was happening in the west, in locations like England, Frankia, and Ireland. By the mid-tenth century, a powerful kingdom, known as the Rus, had emerged in Russia and the Ukraine, and it was clearly Scandinavian in origin. But how that kingdom came to be created from what was, in the early and mid-ninth century, apparently just random trading expeditions, is very murky, and even historians who have specialized in the study of the Rus are not in complete agreement.

If I could not understand and see the historical background and locations which formed the setting for the first part of book five’s story, it was proving impossible for me to visualize the story, to put my characters into it and see how they would act and react. That’s how I write—I see the story play out visually in my mind, then put it into words on the page.

The good news is that although researching and understanding ninth century Russia proved to be a major unanticipated obstacle, it is now behind me. The Russia research is essentially compete—I have pulled together the numerous and sometimes disparate facts to reach an understanding of, as much as is known, what was happening around the year 845, and for what is not completely known, I’ve been able to come up with logical, plausible theories to bridge the gaps. In fact, in the very near future I plan to add a detailed article about the Vikings in Russia, based on my research, to the Viking History section of this website. I am finally in the story creation/writing phase of book 5, rather than bogged down in the preliminary research phase which dragged on far longer than I expected (and incidentally, research for the second part of book 5, which is set primarily in Ireland, is thankfully already largely complete).

I am at this point still far from being able to predict a date when the book will come out, but it will. I still have not given up my hope and goal of getting it out this year, though I cannot guarantee than will happen. There is still a long way to go and much to do to make that come to pass. But as soon as I’m able to give a realistic estimate, I promise to do so.

It is coming. I promise.

Viking Recipe: Mussels with Leeks and Fennel in Ale

Here’s another authentic Viking recipe from the previously-reviewed book An Early Meal a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey. My review of the book is here.

This recipe is for mussels, a bivalve shellfish, and is based on archeological finds from Viking-era Dublin and Jorvik (York). The proportions described will provide two persons with a hearty bowl of the stew. It’s a simple but delicious dish: the ingredients are two pounds of mussels, one leek, one fennel bulb, a bunch of cilantro (also known as green coriander), and a 750 ml bottle of ale.

Mussels are a fairly delicate shellfish, and should be handled with some degree of care. They’re a farmed and sustainable seafood, and usually can be purchased at a very reasonable price. They should be alive when you purchase them—ask your fish monger or seller to discard any that will not close tightly when handled. Keep them on ice until ready to use, even after you get them home and place them in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, start by scrubbing the mussels. I like to use a bowl full of cold water and a dish brush—the shock of the cold water should cause any open mussels to close. Scrub the shells lightly with the brush to remove any sand or loose debris, and pull off any “beards”—scraps of fiber, seaweed, or frayed rope that the mussels would have been clinging to in the water—extending from the closed shell.

Slice the white portion of the leek stalk into thin rounds, and finely chop the tender inner green tops. Discard the tough outer top leaves. You may need to rinse the green top portions of the leek after separating them from the solid white bottom, to remove traces of soil which often can be found in between the leaves. Also chop the fennel bulb, and a small amount of the stems, as well.

Melt two to three tablespoons of butter in a pot large enough to hold all of the mussels, and sauté the chopped leek and fennel until tender.



Add the mussels and ale, and stir to mix with the leeks and fennel. The cookbook’s authors suggest, for authenticity, using a Geuze, a Belgian ale fermented in open vats with naturally occurring airborne yeasts, which would be similar to Viking-era ale. The photograph is of the label of one such I was able to find, but if you can’t find a Geuze, you can substitute a medium-bodied modern ale. Just try to avoid one that is heavily hopped, as hops were not known to be used in Viking brewing, and will impart a more bitter taste than an unhopped ale would have.

Simmer the mussels for eight to ten minutes, stirring once or twice until they open. Putting a lid on the pot may help distribute the heat through the pot more evenly. Be careful not to overcook the mussels—they’re best when just done, but still plump and tender. While the mussels are simmering, coarsely chop the cilantro, and add it to the pot when the mussels are almost done. Taste the liquid and add salt to taste. Serve in bowls with the broth, discarding any mussels that did not open.

Viking Recipe: Savory Oatmeal with Leeks, Kale, and Herring

Here’s an authentic Viking recipe from the previously-discussed book An Early Meal a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey. It uses simple ingredients that would have been common in Viking age Scandinavia: coarsely ground oats, leeks and kale–two easy-to-grow vegetables that are cold-hearty–and herring, a commonly caught fish during the Viking period, which was often preserved by smoking. We grow both kale and leeks in our own garden on our farm, and they tend to survive through the winter most years, providing a fresh winter vegetable when such tend to be scarce. Jeanette and I have prepared this dish a number of times and find it makes a delicious and hearty meal. The proportions given are for a batch to feed two.

Leek: slice two to three inches of the white portion of a leek stalk into thin rounds, and finely chop a similar amount of some of the tender inner green tops. Sauté the leeks in butter in a saucepan until they become translucent and tender.

Oats: the closest readily available modern equivalent to oats that were coarsely ground are steel-cut oats. Do not use rolled oats—the cooking time, taste, and texture are totally different. I use Bob’s Red Mill Golden Spurtle Steel-cut Oats (a good Oregon company!), but McCann’s Irish Steel Cut Oats are also a good choice. For the Bob’s brand, use a one-to-three ratio of oats to water, adding 2 ¼ cups of water and ¾ cups of oats to the saucepan, and bringing it to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, turn the heat down to a low simmer and stir periodically. The total cooking time on the oats will be between fifteen and twenty minutes.


Kale: While the oats are simmering, take two or three leaves of kale, cut or tear out the larger stalks and discard (we feed them to our sheep), and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. On this occasion, we used a mix of curly green and purple kales. It will help to tenderize the kale leaves if you roll them back and forth vigorously

between your hands until the leafy part feels somewhat soft and limp. After the oats have cooked for about ten minutes and are beginning to thicken, stir the kale pieces in and continue to simmer until the oatmeal mix is creamy in texture. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for about five minutes.

After the oat mix has rested, stir in about 1 ½ teaspoons of butter and serve. Although the oatmeal is good on its own, it really adds to the savory flavor to do as the original recipe in the cookbook calls for and take a large chunk of smoked herring, break it up in the bowl with the oat mixture, and stir it in to meld the flavors. There are numerous brands of smoked herring (also called kippered herring) readily available. We like the Bar Harbor brand because of its smoky taste, and find one can holds enough to use for two batches of this recipe.

Viking Cookbook Review: “An Early Meal”

An Early Meal a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey

As the author of The Strongbow Saga, a historical fiction series set in the 9th century world of the Vikings, I work hard to present the culture and period as historically accurately as possible, so I’m always on the lookout for sources about the little details of everyday life. This book is an excellent source of information about the types of foods Vikings ate, and how they were prepared.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first provides a general discussion of the types of foods the Viking peoples ate, what cooking methods were used, and specialized details such as seasonings used, methods of preservation, utensils used for cooking and eating, etc. The second section is subdivided into seven sites from across the Viking world which have been the subject of extensive archeological study, and provides general information about the location and recipes for dishes specific to that area during the period, based on foods that would have been available as gleaned from archeological evidence. Each recipe contains instructions on how to cook the dish in a manner authentic to the period, as well as alternative modern cooking directions. The third section of the book contains a detailed appendix with information about plant remains found at the various sites, birds, fish and plants mentioned in the book, cooking techniques and implements, and additional reference sources.

One thing I really value about the book is that the authors, Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg, make a point of explaining the combination of sources—typically a blend of archeological finds and saga descriptions—for their conclusions and recipes, so the reader will know what sort of evidence they’ve relied on. As a historical researcher, I was quite impressed with their thoroughness and documentation.

A few of the details I learned include that a common vegetable was kale—something that makes a lot of sense, given that it is a fairly cold-hardy and easy to grow green—and that the cooking fat used was typically butter. What particularly surprised me was how delicious many of the dishes were. This is not primitive, bland fare—although often made with simple ingredients, the results are very enjoyable. Among the dishes I’ve tried so far are a savory oatmeal cooked with leeks and kale and served with smoked herring, mussels cooked in ale, and stuffed roasted lamb heart. As time permits I’ll post on this site some of the recipes I’ve tried with details and photos on how Jeanette and I prepared them.

Despise Nithings

Over and over during this election campaign the same theme keeps coming up in news stories and in conversations: many, many people don’t like either of the two main candidates. While each candidate certainly has ardent supporters, many voters say they find both candidates so distasteful and dishonest that they don’t want to vote for anyone.

The problem is actually bigger than just these two candidates. As a society, honor and integrity are no longer values that we hold paramount. The evidence is everywhere, not just in the political arena. On college campuses, there is an epidemic of rape and sexual assault. Every year, too many criminal convictions are overturned because the police or prosecutors are revealed to have concealed or falsified evidence. The news recently has been full of stories about unscrupulous drug companies raising the prices of essential drugs far above the price necessary to recoup expenses and make a reasonable profit, just because they know they can—people will die if they don’t get the drugs. In the financial arena, Wells Fargo was recently caught opening bogus accounts in customers’ names to generate extra charges and profits. In our government, members of Congress swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution and to “well and fully discharge the duties” of their office. Not so many years ago, that meant that once an election was over and a majority of the citizens of our country elected a president, the members of Congress in both parties would strive to work together with each other and the president to govern our country. No longer. All that matters to our “leaders” in Congress now is winning, and for the past eight years Congressional members of the party that lost the presidency have repeatedly broken their oaths, have refused to work together with members of the other side or the president, and have expended all of their efforts not to govern, but rather to prevent the duly elected president from effectively governing. And then there’s that special variety of honorless cowards the internet has given rise to: those who hide behind the internet’s cloak of anonymity to launch vile verbal attacks and threats against others—internet trolls.

Actually, there’s another name that perfectly fits the trolls, and all of the others whose behavior is beyond excuse: Nithings.

Over a thousand years ago in Scandinavia, the Viking peoples had a culture and society with values that frankly were in many ways better than ours are today. The real Vikings were not just savage, bloodthirsty barbarians and pirates, although that is how they are often portrayed today in many works of fiction, including the History Channel’s Vikings television series. Part of my mission in writing The Strongbow Saga, has been—in addition to spinning an exciting and moving tale—to provide an accurate portrayal of the Viking peoples and their society and culture. In reality, only a small percentage of the population of Viking-age Scandinavia ever went i-viking, or raiding. Most were farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, and merchants. But whereas in our modern society, and particularly here in the United States, people are held up for high regard based on things such as how much wealth and possessions they’ve acquired, how much power they possess, and whether for some reason they are considered a “celebrity,”  in the Vikings’ culture the most important qualities esteemed in a person were whether they conducted themselves with honor, integrity, and courage. Whereas in our society a person’s actual behavior often seems to be only a minor criteria by which many, especially which the rich and famous, are judged, in Viking society a person’s behavior and character were the measure of the man (or woman).

In fact, the Viking peoples so valued honor that they had a special word for those had none, those who acted dishonorably and without integrity. Such were clearly not beasts, yet because they lacked the finer qualities that human beings are capable of possessing, they were considered less than human, as well. Those without honor were considered to be unique and despised creatures, neither human nor beast, called Nithings. The word is, very appropriately, the root of our modern English language word “nothing.”

Nithing is a term that should be returned to active use. Consider this a call to action. If you would like our country, our society to be one in which we not only highly value, but expect and demand that people conduct themselves with honor and integrity, then I suggest that changing our societies standards must begin with each of us as individuals. Do not accept dishonorable behavior. Let’s all take a stand by calling out those who engage in reprehensible conduct. But let’s do so with a touch of fun. Let’s start a grass roots “Despise Nithings” campaign, and use a little humor and creativity to call out the scoundrels.

I have purchased, and will be giving away free, “Despise Nithings” bumper stickers. They don’t have to be put on bumpers, though. Be imaginative. Maybe place one across a campaign sign or photograph of a politician, celebrity, talk radio host, or other person worthy of the “Nithing” name. Maybe stick one on a crooked corporation’s name or logo. Maybe even stick one on the doors of Congress itself. Take a photo of your call-out, and post it on social media—on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc., with the tag #DespiseNithings. The more we do this, the more widely the call-outs will be seen, and the more the idea will spread. Shameful behavior should be shamed, not accepted.


For a free “Despise Nithings” sticker, send a business-sized (4 x 9 inch), self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Despise Nithings

c/o Northman Books

P.O. Box 336

Walterville, OR 97489

It’s time for a change. It’s up to all of us to make it happen.

Summer Calamari Pasta

At summer’s end, the last of the heirloom tomatoes that come from our garden are usually in less than pristine condition—the cooler nighttime temperatures, plus the shock of excess water intake from an occasional early autumn rain after months of hot, dry conditions tend to make most of our late tomatoes, but especially the thinner-skinned heirloom varieties, split. Although they look ugly, with a little judicious surgery they can still be used, and that special, rich flavor of heirlooms enjoyed.


Earlier this week, using the last of our heirlooms, we created a “goodbye to summer” dish that really showcases the bright flavors of summer tomatoes and fresh herbs, and is fairly quick and easy to prepare. Here are the ingredients you’ll need, for an amount to serve two:

  • One large fresh tomato, heirloom if available, or two medium ones
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions
  • 4 to 5 cloves of garlic
  • One jalapeno pepper
  • One to two limes
  • Mushrooms
  • Butter and olive oil
  • 1 pint of calamari
  • Pasta (we used bucatini)
  • Parmesan cheese

First, make the tomato sauce so its flavors can be melding. Over a bowl so that you catch all of the juice, cut out any splits or other bad parts of the tomato and discard them (we feed them to our chickens), then, while holding it by the stem, with a sharp knife slice a cross-hatch pattern into its surface, then slice under the cuts about a half inch down to separate the pieces, and repeat until the entire tomato has been diced. Be careful not to cut yourself!










Finely mince enough cilantro to make two to three tablespoons, and chop a similar amount of green onion tops. Coarsely chop the garlic and jalapeno (we ended up using two instead of one, because the red one had no heat). Add all to the diced tomato. Juice the lime, add the juice (if the lime is juicy, one will be enough, but use two if it’s dry), and stir to mix the ingredients. Add salt to taste, and set the tomato mixture aside.


Begin heating the water for the pasta, then prepare the mushroom topping.  Using whatever mushrooms you have available or prefer—we happened to have some chanterelles, maitakes, and shitakes on hand, so used a mix of all three—chop the mushrooms, then sauté them in butter until they are just beginning to get crispy. Remove from heat and set aside.









Cook the pasta according to directions. We used bucatini, which looks like thick spaghetti but the noodles are hollow inside, because its chewy texture made a nice contrast to the delicacy of the topping. While the pasta is cooking, cook the calamari by adding a small amount of olive oil to a saucepan, adding the calamari, and simmering on low while stirring. The calamari will give off liquid as it cooks. Be careful not to cook it too long, or it will get tough. Once the edges of the rings begin to curl, it’s tender and done.


Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour some of the liquid from the calamari over it and toss to coat. Serve in bowls as follows: add desired amount of pasta, top with calamari (use a slotted spoon to serve it, to avoid adding too much liquid), top with the tomato sauce, then sprinkle crispy mushrooms and a little grated Parmesan cheese on top to finish.



Book 5 Status

I regularly receive inquiries asking when the next–and final–installment of The Strongbow Saga will be coming out. It has been a while since I’ve given a detailed status update, so here it is.

My goal and plan has been to complete and publish the fifth and final book during 2016. That is still my hope and goal, but my progress is admittedly far behind where I’d thought to be at this point in time.

I suspect many readers wonder, “How can he take so damn long to write a book?” It’s a fair question, and one that deserves an answer. After all, many authors turn out, on average, a book per year, and some more than that. I have one author acquaintance who cranks out two or three books every year. They’re considerably shorter than my books, and they’re urban fantasy, written straight from her imagination, but she’s a talented author and they’re good books. Why can’t I do that? There are several reasons.

First of all, I live on a small farm. My wife, Jeanette, and I produce a large percentage of the food we consume each year. We have animals: a flock of chickens and a herd of sheep. All of that takes time–a lot of time–to tend to. Many times it’s not just time; we do quite hard physical labor. I’m not complaining–I love this life–but I’ll be 65 this year, plus I have Multiple Sclerosis, so often I simply don’t have the energy, after a long day’s labor, to write. The author I mentioned above just walks to her in-home office, sits down, and writes every day. She doesn’t have a farm to run.

Second, in addition to our farm, my wife and I run a small business–our publishing company that publishes my books–on the side. Every month I have to process our company’s royalty earnings, pay the company payroll, pay the state and federal taxes and prepare and submit the various reports required of a small business by the state and federal governments. All of that requires a considerable amount of time each and every month. And periodically there are other time consuming aspects of the business. In recent weeks, for example, a lot of my “writing” time has been taken up with preparing the German language edition of Dragons from the Sea for publication, in the various e-book and print formats it will be released in.

Last, book 5 is proving to be a hard one for me to write.There is a lot of research to do. Book 5 has two main locations: Russia and Ireland, and digging into what was happening in both of those, during the mid 9th century, takes a lot of work and time. Also, this book is the culmination of a long, continuing story that I have been working on for at least fifteen years. I want to get it right. I want the conclusion of Halfdan’s story to be a satisfying, moving finale to what has come before. I cannot rush it just to get something out there. To do so would dishonor myself, not respect Halfdan and his story, and be unfair to all who have been loyal fans of the Saga.

I am truly sorry for the delay. But the book will come when it comes. Until then, to steal a line from the Broadway musical Hamilton, I am afraid readers will just have to “Wait For It.”

Classic Irish Corned Beef With Vegetables

Here’s a recipe for a classic Irish dish, Corned Beef with Vegetables, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. And this is a dish you should make a large quantity of, because there are three bonus meals you can make from the leftovers.

Beef is corned by soaking it for days in a spiced brine mixture. While it’s certainly possible to do yourself, it takes time—most recipes recommend brining the meat for at least eight days. If your grocer can get good quality uncooked corned beef, or better yet, if there’s a local butcher shop that makes its own in-house corned beef, that’s a much easier route. As I mentioned, you should buy extra—as an example, just for the two of us, each year Jeanette and I buy a three pound corned beef roast from Long’s Meat Market in Eugene, Oregon.


You’ll want to start this dish fairly early in the day. Coarsely chop one thick slice of onion and one carrot, and arrange them in the bottom of a slow cooker, aka crock pot. Place the corned beef on top. Add about four bay leaves, plus the following spices: 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds, 1 dried chili de arbol pepper, and 2 whole allspice cloves. To keep them together, tie the spices up in a piece of cheesecloth, or—as I do—put them in a large stainless steel mesh tea ball. Add one to two bottles of Guinness Stout to the pot, until the meat is at least half submerged, and cook. How long and what setting you’ll use depends on your crock pot—we use the high setting on ours, and it still takes close to five hours. Periodically turn the beef so all sides cook submerged for some time.


During the time while you’re waiting for the meat to cook, you’ll need to make two sauces and prepare the vegetables. For the Horseradish Cream Sauce, mix together 1 cup of thick plain Greek yogurt, horseradish to taste (we use about a half of a cup), one-fourth cup chopped green onion, 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and sea salt to taste. A word about the horseradish: try to get pure grated radish. Most of what’s sold is actually a horseradish cream sauce, with much less flavor (we use Tulelake brand Old Fashioned Horseradish, made in Hillsboro, Oregon). After mixing all ingredients together, chill for at least one to two hours before serving. The sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

The second sauce is a Guinness Mustard Sauce, for which you’ll need one-half cup of a good, tangy Dijon Mustard (we use Old World Gourmet brand), 2 tablespoons of a coarse-grained mustard, 2 tablespoons of Guinness, 1 tablespoon of finely minced shallot, and 1 teaspoon of golden brown sugar. After mixing all ingredients together, chill for at least one to two hours before serving.


The basic vegetables for this dish are potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage, but we like to also add parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga. You’ll need a large onion, 4 to 5 carrots, one head of savoy cabbage, and if you add them, about 2 parsnips and one each medium turnip and rutabaga. You’ll also need enough potatoes to make about three cups coarsely diced. When we cooked this dish a few days ago, we were able to harvest the parsnips from our garden, and pulled the turnips and rutabaga, which we’d harvested from our 2015 garden and frozen, from the freezer.


Cut all vegetables except the cabbage into roughly three-quarter to one inch pieces and place into a Dutch oven or similar large pot. Cut the cabbage into wedges and arrange on top. By now, hopefully the corned beef is beginning to show signs of getting tender, but is still a ways from being fork tender. Ladle most of the Guinness broth from the crock pot into the Dutch oven, until the vegetables are almost covered, and add more Guinness to the crock pot to replace the removed liquid. Bring the liquid in the Dutch oven to a simmer and cook until all vegetables are tender, which will probably take 45 minutes to an hour.


If Irish eyes are smiling on you, by the time the vegetables are done, the corned beef will be, also–it should so tender you can shred it with a fork. Remove the beef from the crock pot and cut one to two slices per serving. Add vegetables, and serve with the two sauces.


The leftovers are a wonderful part of this dish, And be sure to save all of the Guinness broth from both pots–you’ll need it for bonus meal number three.

Bonus Meal #1: Corned Beef Hash

This can be eaten either as a breakfast or dinner. Cut several slices of the leftover corned beef, shred, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Dice or coarsely chop some of each of the leftover vegetables, add to the mixing bowl, and stir together with the meat. Beat one egg and stir thoroughly into the hash mixture.

In a large nonstick skillet, add some good quality, flavorful olive oil to cover the bottom plus about a tablespoon of butter. Add the hash mixture, flatten it to a uniform thickness with a spatula, and cook over medium heat, adding oil if necessary, until the bottom browns. Using a large spatula, turn the hash in sections and brown the other side. Serve topped with a fried or poached egg, with the two sauces.

Bonus Meal #2: Corned Beef Sandwiches

Spread slices of a good quality, firm rye bread with your preference of either Guinness Mustard or a Thousand Island Dressing (or both). Top one-half of the slices with sliced corned beef, some good quality sauerkraut (this year, for the first time, we made our own), and sliced Swiss cheese, preferably Jarlsberg. Warm in a 300 degree oven until cheese begins to melt, top with remaining slices of rye bread, and serve.

Bonus Meal #3: Corned Beef-Vegetable Soup

Coarsely chop any remaining corned beef, combine with remaining vegetables and the Guinness broth, and freeze for a future meal.

Our Friends the Crows

I’ve written before on my author page on Facebook about the flock of crows Jeanette and I have formed a relationship with here on our farm. They are astonishing creatures: very communal and social, and extremely intelligent–according to some sources, the most intelligent of all birds. From some of the things we’ve seen, I can well believe it.

It is well documented that crows will sometimes form relationships with humans, particularly if the humans feed them regularly, and on occasion they will even even give gifts, such as some sort of shiny object, in return. Our own relationship with our local flock of crows involves a mutual exchange, but of a different sort: we feed them twice a day, and in return they provide us a valuable service.

It all started one summer about two years ago, when a pair of red-tail hawks set up housekeeping on the forested mountainside just across the river from our farm. We keep a small flock of chickens, and during the day they free range in two small fenced pastures just off the barn, where their coop is located. In the past we had occasionally lost a hen to hawks, but that summer the red-tails caught and killed three of our birds, a rate of loss our small flock could not for long sustain.

Around the end of that summer our Border Collie, Sigrid, had an unfortunate encounter with a nest of yellowjackets, which led to her developing some skin allergies. As part of our efforts to keep those under control, we switched her to a new dry dog food. We had over half of a bag of the old feed left, so we tried putting it out for our chickens. They didn’t particularly care for it, but the large flock of crows that live near our farm loved it–we noticed that whenever we put some of the dog food out, they would fly in and eat it as soon as we left the area.

Hawks and crows are natural enemies, and we had, on occasion, seen crows attack a hawk and drive it away. Crows are incredibly agile, acrobatic flyers, and they fight a hawk by climbing up above it then diving down and swooping past the trailing edges of its wings. Although I’ve never seen a hawk actually get injured by this kind of attack, after it happens repeatedly it unnerves them, and they fly away to escape the harassment. So we decided to start feeding the crows regularly, to see if maybe they’d hang around more frequently.

Crows attacking a hawk over our farm.

Crows attacking a hawk over our farm.

The arrangement has proved more successful than we could have dreamed. We now put food–a small scoop of five grain chicken scratch, and a large one of dog food (Safeway brand small bites formula is their favorite) out for the crows on the driveway in front of our barn twice per day–once in the morning, when we first go up to open the barn and let the chickens out, and again in late afternoon. Some mornings, like today, the crows will be already there, waiting for us, and will greet us with a chorus of loud caws as soon as we step out of the house. Other times they’ll be waiting in the tall trees along the edges of our farm, and as we near the barn they’ll do a flyover just to make sure we don’t forget about them. After we let the chickens out, Jeanette puts the crows’ food out on the driveway, and as soon as she steps back into the barn they come swooping in.

The crows coming in for their breakfast.

The crows coming in for their breakfast.

What the crows give us in exchange is extraordinary. They don’t just hang around more frequently, as we’d hoped. They actively stand guard over our chickens. When our birds go for a walkabout, almost invariably some of the crows will take up posts on the barn roof and/or fence posts along the chickens’ pastures, keeping a lookout for hawks.

Crow sentries on duty while the chickens free range.

Crow sentries on duty while the chickens free range.

And the chickens have become quite used to the crows. After we leave the area, they mingle freely, and the crows will share in any uneaten scratch or treats we’ve put out for our birds. Crows are not quiet birds by nature–they caw back and forth to each other frequently. What is fascinating is that although to us their calls all sound quite similar, the chickens have learned to distinguish them. Generally they ignore the crows’ chatter, but there is a certain call the crows make which the chickens have learned to recognize as an alert, and when they hear that, they run full speed for the safety of the barn.

The chickens and crows socializing.

The chickens and crows socializing.

We have not lost a single chicken to hawks in the past two years, since we began feeding the crows. The red-tails are still around. Just last week, as we were walking up to the barn in the morning, we saw the big male circling overhead. But a few minutes later, after we’d opened the barn and I was washing out a chicken waterer in front of it, I heard a chorus of caws and saw the crows swirling up into the air from where they’d been eating on the driveway in front of the barn. When I looked up to see where they were going, I saw the hawk flying as fast as he could away from our farm with several crows in pursuit.

The crows’ behaviors that we’ve observed raise some very interesting questions about their social structure, intelligence, and communication. Around our farm, we never see a solitary crow. They are very communal–there are always at least several together, and often they congregate in large groups, as many as fifty together at a time (especially at feeding time). On a few rare occasions, always close to dusk, we’ve seen a huge swarm of crows, hundreds and hundreds of birds, flying high overhead, and our flock will fly up from the surrounding trees and join them, swooping and swirling in complex patterns.

And the crows do the same thing for themselves that they do for our chickens: while most of their flock are in the driveway, eating the food we’ve put out, or are wandering through a pasture, foraging, there are always several birds stationed on fence posts, in trees, or other vantage points, standing guard to protect the flock. How do they decide who eats and who stands guard? That suggests very complex, sophisticated social structure and interaction. This is a large community sharing resources and duties and caring for each others well-being, a far more complex thing than the natural protective instinct most animals show for their own young. And how do they communicate who will do what? Typically there are a number of sentries keeping watch, and they all are looking in different directions. But if someone fails to do their job, the results could be deadly. One day by chance I happened to be looking out a window and saw what happened when someone obviously dropped the ball.

Death dropped out of the sky for this crow.

Death dropped out of the sky for this crow.

On this occasion, the red-tail got his revenge on his tormentors. He came down like a blur and hit this crow sentry–by its size, a young bird–hard, killing it instantly. When I stepped outside to take this picture, I could hear the other crows cawing in distress, but they kept their distance. The hawk sat on the fence post for a long time, turing his head back and forth, and if taunting his enemies, then finally flew off, carrying the dead crow in his talons.

Open Letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon

Attacks on Amazon by Authors United—a group of authors, many of whom seem to have cozy relationships with traditional publishers—are in the news again. The group was founded in 2014 by novelist Douglas Preston, during book distribution contract negotiations between Amazon and Hatchette, the traditional publisher with whom Preston is under contract. The current round of attacks have been made this week at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute, during a panel discussion sponsored by, among others, Authors United and The Authors Guild.

According to published news reports on the conference, statements made about Amazon’s “deleterious impact” on, and power over, the world of publishing include such breathless pronouncements as that Amazon is “already affecting the free flow of ideas in our society,” “now controls the vital informational market of books,” that there are potential authors out there “who may never write books because of Amazon’s policy ‘to extinguish’ competitors” (What? Authors are potential competitors to Amazon?), that “Amazon is ‘destroying the culture of book publishing,’” and that “if Amazon’s business practices continue unchecked the result could be a ‘nuclear winter’ for book publishing.”

Wow—are we talking about Amazon, or the First Order from the new Star wars movie? The next thing you know, these guys are going to be claiming that Jeff Bezos is actually Supreme Leader Snoke.

Preston and Authors United have previously accused Amazon of maintaining an illegal monopoly over the entire publishing industry, and have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate and prosecute Amazon for antitrust practices—a request that thus far has gone unheeded.

Coincidentally, last week I received an email from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing division, titled “How Are We Doing?” In the email, Amazon—sounding not at all like an Evil Empire— asked authors to complete a brief survey about their experiences with the Kindle Direct Publishing program, and to offer suggestions for things they’d like to see improved or changed. I did complete the survey, but I’d like to go beyond that here, and offer my own take on the effects Amazon has had on the world of publishing.

To give some context to my remarks and opinions, I’m the author of a historical fiction series called The Strongbow Saga. I am not a best-selling author. I’m what used to be called “mid-list”: my books sell steadily, and have for some years, though not in huge numbers at any given time. The first books in my series were originally published by HarperCollins, one of the big traditional publishers, but after they languished there for a number of years I was fortunate enough to be able to reclaim the rights to them, and have rereleased them, and continued the series, by publishing my books myself, including through Amazon. In other words, I have personal experience as an author with both traditional and independent publishing.

So let’s talk, without all of the hype and emotion, about Amazon’s impact on the world of publishing. Make no mistake—Amazon’s impact has been enormous, and has in many ways turned the way publishing occurs upside down. But judge for yourself whether the impact and change has been a good thing, or the beginning of a nuclear winter endangering the very existence of books, writing, and publishing.

When I began my career as an author, there was no self-publishing option for authors. Self-publishing, in fact, used to mean that an author paid a so-called vanity press to print copies of his or her book, because he couldn’t sell them to a ‘real” publisher. The path to getting a book published was narrow and difficult, and controlled by a series of gatekeepers whose approval had to won. First, an author had to convince a literary agent that his or her book was worthy of consideration, and persuade the agent to actually deign to read the book. If the author was fortunate—and a large part of that, of course, included if the book was sufficiently well written—the agent would agree to represent it, and would take it to the next level of gatekeeper: editors at the big publishing houses. If the agent could find an editor who could be convinced that the book, if published, would make significant money for the publisher, then a contract would be signed, and the author would have broken into the rarified world of being published, and achieved success.

Except, of course, that very few authors, only a tiny percentage of those who have been published through this traditional model, actually ever achieve any kind of significant financial success under this system. Most books that are published are not bestsellers, and if that does not occur with traditionally published books, the author is unlikely to see much monetary return from his or her efforts. This was, and still is, the reality: the publisher typically will take about a year after the contract is signed to actually bring the book out into the marketplace. Once the book finally does go on sale, the author will begin earning royalties, or a percentage of the book’s price when sold—typically somewhere in the range of 6% for paperback editions, and 10% for hardcover. For e-book editions—and when my books were first published, the e-book market was envisioned and anticipated, but for practical purposes did not yet exist—the author’s royalty is 25% of the sale price. At those royalty rates, a LOT of copies of a book must be sold for the author to receive any kind of significant income, and the literary agent will take 15% off the top of anything the author does earn, for as long as the book is published under the contract the agent negotiated.

How did Amazon change that? To begin with, it pretty much created, through its own efforts and at its own expense, the e-book market as it exists today. Two essential elements were needed for a viable e-book market to develop: e-book reading devices that provided an enjoyable, easy to use reading experience, and were reasonably enough priced to persuade a large number of consumers to buy one, and a large supply of e-book content that those consumers could easily acquire, for a price that would cause readers to purchase an e-book edition rather than a print book.

There were e-book reading devices before the Kindle—Microsoft and Sony, for example, were among the early e-reader manufacturers. But those early devices were relatively expensive, there was limited e-book content available to buy, and what few books were released in e-book editions were priced by the big publishers so close to the cost of print editions that consumers were unimpressed, and the market for e-books remained a promising theory that didn’t catch on. Until Amazon entered it.

Amazon began creating and selling its Kindle e-book readers that were smaller, lighter, and easier to use than the competition, and Amazon sold them at a low enough price—supposedly making no profit, or even taking a small loss on each sale—that consumers began to buy them in significant numbers. And year after year Amazon brought out new, improved models, and kept lowering the price. Amazon believed in the potential of the e-book market, but understood that until many, many readers—millions of readers—had devices to read e-books on, that market was never going to come alive. Amazon had the vision and understanding of what the e-book market could be, and was willing to spend its own money as an investment to make that potential a reality. Amazon spent a LOT of its own money, probably millions, to develop a viable e-book market. No one else did. That should not be forgotten.

But e-book readers were only half of the equation. E-book content, making lots of books available in e-book editions, and at a low enough price to entice readers to buy an e-book instead of a print one, was the other half. And the big publishers were not supplying the content, nor were they pricing those e-book editions they did produce at a lower price than print. So out of that need for content, Amazon’s direct publishing program for authors was born. Amazon created something entirely new in the publishing world: a system where authors could bypass the entire traditional publishing path—the literary agents, the editors, the big publishing houses—and publish their books themselves, as e-books, with a major distributor, Amazon, who would handle the entire sales side for them. And Amazon offered terms the like of which no author had ever seen before, or even dreamed might be possible. If an author agreed to price his or her book between $2.99 and $9.99, the target range Amazon had determined was likely to draw readers to e-books rather than print, Amazon would pay the author 70% of each sale. Moreover, it would provide sales data to authors, telling them how many books they were selling, on an ongoing, daily basis, and would produce formal sales reports, and pay royalty earnings, monthly—a far cry from the big publishers’ practice, which continues to this day, of reporting sales and paying authors only twice per year.

Amazon’s vision of what could be proved prophetic. After the introduction of the Kindle self-publishing Program (now called Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP) for authors, and over several years of releases of successively better and less expensive Kindle e-readers, the e-book market grew by large margins, until now it makes up roughly 20% of all book sales in the United States. And Amazon has carried this vision beyond the U.S., establishing Kindle e-book stores in the U.K., and later in many other countries, building a world-wide market for e-books.

Once the e-book market came to life and began generating millions of book sales for Amazon and the authors and publishers who availed themselves of this new way to publish, many other e-book distributors joined in, and have since established their own direct publishing platforms for authors, modelled after the innovation created by Amazon. Today authors can directly publish their books in e-book editions not only through Amazon, but also with Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple (a major flaw, by the way, with the monopoly claim by Authors United, which seems to understand that area of the law about as well as the Malheur malcontents understand Constitutional law), and in Europe with the e-book publishing conglomerate Tolino. While it is true that Amazon still holds the largest share of the e-book market, that is neither surprising nor unfair, given the history of how the market was in its early years largely created by Amazon—and given that Amazon still does the most effective job of selling e-books to readers and attracting authors to its direct publishing program.

But Amazon has not just revolutionized publishing in the area of e-books. Authors can now directly publish their books in print editions, as well, through Amazon’s CreateSpace division, and have them sold all over the world. Through the ACX Exchange, another Amazon division, authors can find partners to create audio editions of their books, and have them sold by both Amazon and Apple through Amazon’s Audible division.

All of these changes have brought benefits to numerous authors, including many who, under the traditional publishing system controlled by the literary agents and big publishers, might never have seen their books published at all. But it is not just authors who have benefited from the innovations Amazon has brought to the publishing world. There are numerous new jobs and opportunities that have come into existence because of these changes. The audio editions of my own books, for example, were created by a young man (and at my age, I’m finding myself using that description “young” more and more frequently) who has been able to carve out a successful independent business for himself by virtue of his strong work ethic, amazing talent as a voice actor (my books have lots of dialogue and numerous characters, but he performs each with a distinct voice), and the ability to connect with authors through Amazon’s ACX Exchange. He has, at a young age, been able to build for himself a career that didn’t exist before Amazon began transforming publishing. Similarly, there are numerous graphic artists who are now able to maintain successful independent businesses designing book covers for authors who self-publish their books through Amazon and other direct publishing platforms. Thousands of people benefit financially from the changes and upheaval Amazon brought to the publishing industry.

The big publishers, and the literary agents whose livelihood is inextricably linked to them have, of course, lost some business due to these changes in how the world of publishing works—what their claim that Amazon is “destroying the culture of book publishing” really means. That change is occurring does not mean, however, that book publishing is on the verge of destruction. Amazon is not destroying the world of book publishing; it is transforming it. Transformation and destruction are not the same thing. There are many, many authors, including me, who can finally make a living from their writing, who could not under the old traditional publishing system. What Amazon has done is to democratize publishing. The oligarchs who used to hold total control over the publishing process are unhappy about that, because they are losing power and money as a result of the changes that are occurring. Thus the overheated outcries by groups tied to the traditional model like Authors United and the leadership of The Authors Guild (and I used to be a member of the Guild, but let my membership lapse due to my disapproval of their positions). Those who have become part of the successful one percent of authors under the old, traditional model cannot see beyond themselves to realize how the changes that are occurring benefit so many.

So Amazon, when you ask “How are we doing?” of the authors who choose to publish their books through the many innovative publishing systems you’ve created, who sell their e-books and audio books in marketplaces you largely brought into being, and who can get print editions of their books sold in many countries around the world thanks to you, I personally would say you are doing damn well.