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

Dec 24, 2011

A Medieval Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Photo of Canterbury Christmas story manuscript, c. 1140, courtesy British Library.

Dec 16, 2011

Deja-Vu blogfest: Small change in the MIddle Ages

Today is the Deja-Vu blogfest, where people all over the blogosphere are reposting one of their favorite old posts. This is one of my first posts on this blog, so most of you haven't seen it. Enjoy!

One mistake that historical fiction and roleplaying games make in recreating the Middle Ages is how money was used. They seem to assume that money then was like money now, but it wasn’t.

The vast majority of people used an in-kind economy, meaning they exchanged goods or services rather than money. Taxes were usually paid in crops or animals. People did use money, especially in the towns and cities, and there were networks of banks and even checks in places like the Byzantine Empire. Of course only the very wealthy could write a check that would be honored in another city.

One big problem was small change. Most coins were of gold or silver and were worth a lot compared to the daily production of the average farmer or laborer. As one of my grad school professors said, “We simply don’t know how someone paid for a flagon of ale at a tavern.”

Some cultures did have small change. In what’s now the Czech Republic they used painted bits of cloth. The Ottomans had a tiny silver coin called a “para” that was about the size of a capital O. To avoid losing them, people carried them under their tongue! In mining towns small amounts of gold dust could be used. Prospectors also did this in Old West mining towns.

People also could build up credit and then pay it off once it got to the amount of a coin. This was no problem since most people lived in villages or small towns where everybody knew everybody else. A common way to keep accounts was the tally stick. These were sticks split down the middle. Buyer and seller each got one half and they were marked with slashed to show how much was owed. In some remote parts of Europe with high amounts of illiteracy this practice continued well into the twentieth century. This photo shows a selection of tally sticks from the 18th-20th century from Switzerland.

Thanks to Sandstein from Wikipedia for the cool photo.

Dec 13, 2011

Upcoming releases

I've been a bit too quiet on this blog lately. I've been very busy at work and finalizing two upcoming releases. One is Down in the Dungeon, a collection of my short stories inspired by classic RPG gaming. So many fantasy authors are inspired by roleplaying games and try to hide it. Well, I don't. I revel in it! This ebook has a wonderful cover designed by Laura Shinn. It will be coming out within a month from Writers Exchange E-Publishing.

I also have a short story titled "The Witch Bottle" in the upcoming anthology Love and Darker Passions. This will be published early next year by Blood Moon, the horror imprint of Double Dragon. It's based on some research into a real item of folkloric magic called, you guessed it, the witch bottle.

If you haven't sampled my fiction yet, I already have two books available. My fantasy novel Roots Run Deep follows the adventures of a female goblin struggling her way out of a slum in a human-dominated world and becoming a leader for her oppressed people. My mystery/thriller Murder at McMurdo tells the tale of flawed man trying to make things right for his wife and himself while trying to solve a murder.

So while I've been a bit quiet of late, I haven't been sleeping! And you're getting a medieval post later this week, so stayed tuned!

Dec 1, 2011

Sheela-na-gigs: naughty women bare all in church

The Middle Ages were an odd time, as we've discussed before on this blog. One of the oddest things to come from that odd period are Sheela-na-gigs. These are sculptures of women lifting their skirts and spreading their genitalia for all to see.

Medieval porn? Perhaps. The strange thing, though, is that most Sheela-na-gigs are in churches. Why would church leaders allow sculptures of naked women baring all to be plainly visible to their congregations? That's something nobody has been able to answer.

Sheela-na-gigs are most common in Ireland, but many have been found in England and, to a lesser extent, on the Continent. Nobody is quite sure of their date since the churches they're in span several centuries and sometimes the sculptures appear to have been reused from earlier buildings. Nobody is even sure what the name means, although an 18th century ship in the Royal Navy bore that name and in the ship's listing the name is explained as a "female sprite".

Some researchers claim they're pagan survivals like the Green Man, but like with that mysterious figure there's no solid evidence. Others claim it's a fertility symbol or even a Christian warning against the sinfulness of lust in general or women in particular.

Nobody knows, which makes it really fun to speculate!