Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Feb 28, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Siege Warfare and the Myth of Boiling Oil

As someone who studies the Middle Ages, common mistakes in writing irk me. One of them is the use of boiling oil in siege warfare. We're told that when people attacked a castle the defenders poured boiling oil down on them.

This hardly ever happened. Oil made from animal flesh, olives, or other materials was labor intensive to produce and expensive, far too expensive to literally throw away. In general, defenders of castles poured boiling water down on attacking troops. Every castle had a plentiful supply of water. It was one of the critical elements when choosing where to build a fortification. There are numerous instances of castles surrendering when their water supply dried up or got contaminated by the besieging forces.

I'm not sure where the myth of boiling oil came from. There's a Roman account of using boiling oil, but in the vast majority of cases the much cheaper and more available water was used. In one case in France, however, some men-at-arms poured molten lead on a knight. That must have seriously hurt!

Boiling liquids of whatever kind were poured out of murder holes like the one seen here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. These holes opened out onto the outsides of walls of gates, or inside barbicans. Rocks and other nasties could also be thrown down. Medieval warfare wasn't pretty!

Feb 24, 2011

I'm interviewed on Midlist Author!

I just did my second interview. Since Roots Run Deep is my first novel, being interviewed is a new thing for me. It's nice that some people are paying attention to such a brand-new name in fantasy fiction.

Fellow archaeologist and adventure travel writer Sean McLachlan interviewed me on his blog Midlist Writer. I talk about what it's like to finally have my first novel published and some of the research and ideas that went into Roots Run Deep. Check it out!

I also have a third interview in the works and some reviews that should be coming out pretty soon. Check back here for more news and for my regular feature, Medieval Mondays!

Feb 21, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Viking Sunstones, magical myth or primative high-tech?

Welcome to Medieval Mondays! As a medievalist I get a lot of questions about the Middle Ages, so every Monday I'll be giving you some interesting facts about my favorite historic period.

Despite a century of research showing the Vikings were an advanced civilization, they still have a reputation as booze-swilling brutes who could barely grunt out a coherent sentence, let alone make any significant inventions. Hopefully a recent study will help dispel this myth.

We all know the Vikings were expert seafarers, generally the only ability granted to them besides being able to kick some serious ass. They were helped in their navigation by a "sundisc", a type of sundial. But when the skies were cloudy as they often are in the North Sea and northern Atlantic, how did they know which way to go?

A tantalizing clue comes in one of the Norse Sagas. In Rauðúlfs þáttr, King Olaf asks the hero Sigurður to point out the Sun while it's snowing. He points it out, even though it's invisible. Then the king had his men "fetch the solar stone and held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurður’s prediction.”

What's going on here? Is it only a tall tale, or something more? Some scientists believe the "solar stone" was actually a type of crystal called a double-refracting crystal. Such crystals like cordierite, tourmaline, or calcite are common in Scandinavia. These crystals only allow light through them that's polarized in certain directions and thus appear darker or lighter depending on the polarization of the light behind it. While the Sun may be blocked by clouds, it's still sending out a concentration of polarized light that can be detected by the crystal as it's moved around. For a more technical description of how it works, check out this article.

So we can imagine a Viking standing on the deck of a ship in bad weather, trying to find the way to the nearest Irish monastery for an afternoon of relaxing looting. He pulls out his handy sun stone and moves it around the sky until a flash of light shows him where the Sun is. From that he can determine direction, and his seaman's skills do the rest.

Viking ships are fascinating. The one I'm showing here is called the Gokstad ship and it's at the Kulturhistorisk museum, Oslo. It was found in 1880, and dates to around 890 AD, when it was used as a grave ship for a Viking chieftain. Thanks to James Cridland for this cool photo!

Feb 17, 2011

Interview with A.J. Walker, author of "Roots Run Deep"

I've recently been interviewed on Double Dragon Publishing's blog. The kind folks at my publishing house have agreed to let me report that interview here. So read on and get to know a little bit more about me!

A.J. Walker is an archeologist and a medievalist who manages to write engaging fiction as well.  And I say engaging because, quite frankly, the idea of a goblin female falling in love with a male human automatically perks my attention.  I personally have Roots Run Deep in my To-Be Read pile based on that compelling conflict alone.  At present, A.J. Walker is busy at work on the sequel to Roots, but he took the time to answer a few of my questions.

I see by your Author’s Den page that you are an archeologist and such.   How long have you been writing fiction?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. Most of my tales are fantasy, but I’ve also dabbled in science fiction, westerns, and historical fiction set in ancient times. I’ve always been interested in the past and you can see that in my writing. I tend to use a lot of historical cultures and artistic styles in my created worlds. Nobody was really surprised when I ended up becoming an archaeologist. My specialty is the Middle Ages in Northern Europe, a fascinating period that we don’t know as well as most people think.

Who are your three favorite authors?  Can you see their influences in your writing?
I love Tolkien for his intricate world building based on Earth mythology and history. He was an Oxford professor of Old English so he brought a deep knowledge to his craft. While I don’t write like Tolkien, I do try to imitate his level of research. I also love Robert Silverberg, who has been at it for decades. He’s written science fiction (some of the best), fantasy, erotica, thrillers, nonfiction, and more. While his first objective is to entertain, he also puts real-world issues and philosophy into his work, something I also try to do. I also like Bukowski for showing the seamier side of life. You see that in my fantasy. No beautiful elves in fairy tale castles for me!

Tell us a little about Roots Run Deep.
Kip Itxaron is a small-time gambler and mediocre sorceress living on the Goblinkin Reservation. Barred by the ruling humans from most jobs, the goblinkin eke out a hard living on the worst land in the kingdom. But when the human king Roderick is deposed and Kip unwittingly saves him, the two join forces to forge a better world.
Kip has to follow religious visions despite having lost her faith, unite her squabbling people, find the fabled Lost Tribe of Goblinkin, overcome her fear of battle, and somehow be a leader to a people who have never had one.
But that’s nothing compared with the growing affection she feels for someone who reminds her of every human she’s ever hated. Not to mention that when Roderick was in power he treated her people just as badly as the rest of them. Kip can see he’s changed, but has he changed enough? Can she change enough?

Every author has a different way that they approach writing; some have to listen to music, some have to have perfect quiet.  What are some of the habits you have grown into in order to get words on the page?
I like listening to music while I write, but it can’t be in a language I understand otherwise I get distracted by the words. If it’s a language I can sort of understand, like Latin, then it’s even more distracting because I end up trying to figure out the lyrics! I tend to go for classical or traditional music, which make a nice background without requiring any of my attention. I need to write alone for the same reasons. Other than that I have no writing habits. I have to slip fiction writing in between work and office hours, so I tend to write at night or on the weekends.

A lot of people think that they can write a novel, even say that they want to some day, but don’t factor in just how much time and work it takes to get one made.  About how long does it take you to write a book? (Start to finish)
It really depends on the book. Generally it’s about a year from the idea to a coherent, relatively polished second draft. After that there’s a lot of tinkering to do. Yes, if you want to write a novel you’re in it for the long haul!

Are you an Outliner or do you write as the scenes come to you?
A bit of both. I always know the general story arc before I start. I know how it’s going to start and end, but I often don’t know how the characters get from A to B until I work on it. They tend to take me on some interesting tangents. Plus some characters become more prominent that I planned, like Lord Wolsey in Roots Run Deep. He’s an annoying prima donna, but he gets things done and ended up influencing the plot far more than I anticipated!

Writing can be a solitary and oftentimes discouraging task, what do you do when you fall into a “slump” and get frustrated with your own work?
I don’t really. Because I have a demanding career I treasure the time I get to write. I think day jobs are good for writers, as long as they leave you with enough energy to create!

Who is the favorite character you’ve ever written? (No holds barred, if you wrote a character in high school that was you’re favorite that counts too.)
Kip Itxaron in Roots Run Deep. She’s my first female protagonist in a novel and I like how she turned out. She’s feminine, but because goblinkin culture is matriarchal she’s got a leader’s mentality. While goblin females are in charge, the dimwitted males of the species, the hobgoblins, are much bigger and are expected to be the warriors. Despite this Kip ends up being a warrior herself. Her dogged struggle to maintain her own true self while having to develop in order to change the world is the trait I most admire about her.

What do you love about writing?
The freedom it gives me to live in other worlds, other times. I get a fair amount of this in archaeology as well. With my fiction, I get to call the shots.

What do you hate about writing?
The hustling to get published. Like many writers, I just want to write. The business end of sending out queries and writing cover letters is a necessary evil, but that doesn’t make me like it!

You can learn more about A.J. Walker on Author’s Den.  Just follow the link below!
And if you’d like to purchase a copy of Roots Run Deep, just click on the link to Double Dragon and snag one.

Feb 16, 2011

Welcome to my blog!

Hello, I'm A.J. Walker, a medievalist by day and writer by night. Double Dragon Publishing has just come out with my first fantasy novel, Roots Run Deep. I also have a couple more books coming up, a thriller/mystery and a collection of fantasy short stories.

Don't worry folks, this blog won't just be for tooting my own horn. I'll also be reviewing books and ebooks, interviewing authors, and hosting guest posts. I'll even throw in regular posts about Medieval history, which is my work and love. That said, I would be remiss not to talk a bit about my first novel. Below is the back cover blurb.

She fought her way up from a shanty town to a palace in order to change the world, but her hardest challenge was to change herself.

When a small-time goblin gambler falls in love with a deposed human king, the least of her worries is his vengeful usurper. Kip Itxaron has to follow religious visions despite having lost her faith, unite her squabbling people, find the fabled Lost Tribe of Goblinkin, overcome her fear of battle, and somehow be a leader to a people who have never had one.

But that’s nothing compared with loving someone who reminds her of every man she’s ever hated. Human men can barely be called male. Pasty skin, weak bodies. . .they don’t even have tusks! Not to mention that when he was in power he treated her people just as badly as the rest of them. Kip can see he’s changed, but has he changed enough? Can she change enough?

That's all for now folks! See you tomorrow!