How would Kol and Thorbrand celebrate Yule?

yule

Gleðileg Jól

Though the earliest recorded feast celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th dates back to the fourth century A.D., the celebration of Christmas didn’t really take hold until the Middle Ages, after the end of the Viking Age in Europe.  However, at the time Seidman takes place (995 A.D. – 1000 A.D.), Viking Age Iceland had been celebrating the tradition of Yule or Jól for several centuries.  Nobody knows how far back the tradition goes, but certainly it dates back to before the 6th century.  (Not in Iceland specifically — Iceland wasn’t settled until 870 A.D — but it was brought there by settlers.)  Also, there are various speculations about the meaning of the word Jól (and it’s variants), but nobody really knows what it meant.  Some people say it’s derived from a word meaning “wheel,” as in the “wheel of the year,” though I don’t think there’s any real proof of that.

It is from the Norse cultures that we get the tradition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Yule lasted from the winter solstice (roughly the 21st of December) through the beginning of January.  In modern Iceland, it goes from Christmas to January 6th, but I believe that’s more modern.*

During this time, the Icelanders feasted and drank — a lot.  In the Sagas, there are several mentions of “drinking Yule.”  And yes, Kol and Thorbrand would have been able to drink alcohol.  In a country and time when it wasn’t uncommon to be married by 15 or 16, nobody stopped a teenager from quaffing ale along with the rest of the family.  Bees are not native to Iceland, so honey would have been imported.  Likewise, the honey-based mead popular in other Norse regions (though generally among the wealthy) would have been imported, so the most common alcoholic beverage would have been ale, made from fermented grain.

The most common meats would have been mutton and pork, with a bit of beef thrown in.  During Yule, a boar would be sacrificed to the god, Freyr, for prosperity over the coming year.  Norsemen would place their hands on the boar before the sacrifice and make solemn pledges about what they intended to accomplish over the next year, so that the animal’s spirit could take their promises up to the god when it was slain.  These were very serious oaths and to break them would offend the god.  The animal would then have its head carried into the hall ceremoniously, and the rest of it would be carved up or stewed for the feast.

There would of course also be plenty of singing.  The Icelanders cherished good singers and good storytellers, who made those long, dark winter nights more bearable.  At this time of year, the sun rises around 11:30 a.m. and sets just a few hours later.

The tradition of wassailing — going door-to-door and singing for free food and drink — began at least a few hundred years before Kol’s time, but it probably wouldn’t have been popular in a country where the farmsteads were fairly isolated in the winter.  I grew up in New England and we had cars, but we were still disinclined to travel very far in midwinter.  People did visit, of course (we’re back in Iceland now), and when they did they probably stayed a few days.  Another tradition that may have been around in Kol’s time would have been that of the Yule Goat, a straw figure of a goat made from the last sheaves of the harvest and possibly derived from Thor’s goats, Tanngrisnir (“Teeth-barer”) and Tanngnjóstr (“Teeth-grinder”).  It was brought from house to house to bless the people who lived there.  But as with wassailing, I’m skeptical about this “house to house” thing in the dead of winter.

Thorbrand’s family might very well have had a Yule Log, though.  Trees didn’t grow very tall in Iceland, but there certainly were trees.  So the custom of bringing one into the longhouse, more or less whole, to keep feeding into the hearth fire for as long as it would burn may have been part of the Yule celebration.

One Icelandic Yule tradition that was most likely not part of Kol and Thorbrand’s Yule, because it doesn’t date back before the 17th century, is that of the Yuletide Lads (Jólasveinar).  I mention them because they’re such an interesting Icelandic tradition.  The Yuletide Lads are the sons of two ogres, Grýla and Leppalúði, who appear in folklore as far back as the 13th century.  These two ogres devoured bad children, so Icelandic parents used them to frighten their kids into behaving.  The Yuletide Lads were similarly used to frighten children in the old days, but by now they’ve come to be known as fairly harmless pranksters, causing mischief but not doing any real harm.

They each arrive on a different day of the Yule season and hang around the household for about twelve days.  They are often accompanied by the Yuletide Cat, a large beast who has the odd habit of devouring children and servants who haven’t received a new set of clothes for Yule — because if they were good, they would have gotten a present of new clothes from their parents or masters.

I’ve taken the liberty of swiping this handy table from a Wikipedia article with only slight modifications.  It lists the most common names of the Yuletide Lads (taken from a popular poem called Jólasveinarnir, written in 1932 by Jóhannes úr Kötlum):

Icelandic Name English translation Description Arrival Departure
Stekkjastaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. December 12 December 25
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. December 13 December 26
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. December 14 December 27
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (wooden spoons with long handles) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. December 15 December 28
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. December 16 December 29
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their askur (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. December 17 December 30
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. December 18 December 31
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr (an Icelandic food similar to yogurt.  I wrote more about it here). December 19 January 1
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. December 20 January 2
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal. December 21 January 3
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð (“leaf bread”). December 22 January 4
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. December 23 January 5
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days was made of tallow and thus edible). December 24 January 6

So, as they say in Iceland:  Gleðileg Jól (“Happy Yule!”)

*NOTE:  If you’re getting the impression that I’m winging it…well, let’s just say I didn’t have time to dig up too many sources, so this article is mostly from memory, with tidbits from a few easily accessible websites thrown in.  If you find any inaccuracies, feel free to send me a note.  🙂

Some interesting links:

An Icelandic article about the Yuletide Lads

A nice informal Icelandic website about Yule

Recipes for Icelandic Yule foods from the site above

A more detailed recipe for laufabrauð

“Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams” has been released today!

My new YA fantasy novel, Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams, is now available for Kindle on Amazon!

Blurb:

A thousand years ago, two factions of gods, the Stronni and the Taaweh, nearly destroyed the Kingdom of Dasak by warring for the land and the frightened humans who lived there. Then suddenly the Taaweh vanished and the Stronni declared victory.

Now, as tensions escalate between the emperor and his regent, Vek Worlen, the vek’s son, apprentice mage Sael dönz Menaük, finds himself allied with a homeless vagabond named Koreh. Together they flee the capital city and make their way across a hostile wilderness to the vek’s keep, mere steps ahead of the emperor’s assassins.

But Koreh has dreams—dreams of the ancient Taaweh—and he knows the looming war between the emperor and the vek will be nothing compared to the war that is about to begin. The Taaweh are returning, and the war between the gods may destroy the kingdom once and for all.

Join me today on the Harmony Ink Facebook page for an author chat from 1-6pm EST!

Dreams of Fire and Gods: DreamsI will be hosting an author chat today on Harmony Ink Press’s Facebook page from 1pm – 6pm EST!

Join me to chat about the release of my new YA fantasy novel, Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams, and win a free copy of the eBook!  And of course I’ll be posting some excerpts!

I’ll also be giving away two free drawings of the main characters, Sael and Koreh, created by artist (and fellow Harmony Ink author) Beau Shemery!

Did I manage to work in enough colors and typeface variants to be exciting?

Interview with YA author Gene Gant

Gene Gant is a fellow YA author whose novel The Thunder In His Head was published by Harmony Ink Press this past May.  I asked Gene if I could interview him months ago, but things kept coming up (on my part).  I’m thrilled that it finally came together!

Author Bio:

Gene Gant lives with his family in a small, rural community in West Tennessee. He has been a ghost writer for many years and is looking forward to publishing more works under his own name.

Interview:

Is The Thunder In His Head your first YA novel?

No, it is actually the fifth young adult novel I’ve written.  It just happened to be the first that, through a couple of revisions, reached a point where I felt comfortable enough to submit it to a publisher.  Sometimes, writing a novel can be a long and painful process, especially when you have to admit to yourself that certain parts of it have to be cut because they just don’t work.  In the case of The Thunder in His Head, that meant dumping almost the entire first half of the book.

What inspired you to write The Thunder In His Head ?

Several kids I know are experiencing a lot of pain and confusion with parents who are in the midst of very ugly, contentious divorces.  I grew up in a stable, two-parent family, as did my neighborhood friends, so it is especially heart-rending to hear these kids talk about the hell their parents are taking them through.  That, and my personal experience with the death of a parent, are the two things that inspired the book.  The parental death theme was dealt with mostly in the discarded first half of the book, but it is still touched on somewhat in the novel.

You mentioned writing some young adult novels before The Thunder In His Head.  Do you think you might go back and polish some of those up for submission now?  Or would you rather just move on to new material?

I’ve already polished one of those manuscripts and it is now in the process of being published.  Some of the other novels also have potential, and I will be going back to see if I can get them to the point where I feel they can be submitted to a publisher.  But there are always story ideas percolating in my head, a character demanding his day in the sun, a relationship or topic that’s begging to be explored.  For now, I’m working on a new project that I’m very excited about, that fantasy novel I mentioned.  Another new idea I’m anxious to get to involves a team of humans colonizing a planet in another star system.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Is The Thunder In His Head much like your personal experience of High School?

Somewhat. The kids I went to school with floated a lot of gossip and rumors about each other.  But there were two openly gay guys at my school, and they never had to fight their way to acceptance the way Kyle did.  Not only were they never bullied or ridiculed because of their sexuality, they had many straight friends, male and female.

Apart from the level of explicitness in sex scenes, what in your opinion makes a story YA, as opposed to a novel for adults?

Well, it is certainly not the age of the protagonist, as some of my friends seem to think.  There are plenty of novels with teenaged main characters that are clearly intended for adults. The main character in The Talisman, a collaborative effort between Stephen King and Peter Straub, is only twelve, but you certainly won’t find that book in any kids’ section.  These days, YA novels cover the same issues addressed in adult novels.  The distinction between the two, in my opinion, is that a young adult novel is one specifically written for and marketed to the 14 to 18-year-old age group.

How long does it usually take you to write a novel?

It takes about six months to finish a first draft.  Rewrites and revisions take a lot longer.  Sometimes, I have to put the manuscript aside for a few months and move on to other projects.  When I come back to it, I’m usually better able to see what does and does not work, and I wind up with a better manuscript.  So the actual process can take about a year.

Do you have a favorite genre?

Not really.  I enjoy all genres pretty much equally.  All I want is a good story that draws me into the author’s world and characters.  I’ve read books in every genre that have grabbed me in such fashion.  I also write in many genres.  I am currently writing a fantasy novel and will soon begin plotting a science fiction story.

How would you describe your experiences working as an author with Harmony Ink Press?

It has been great.  The editors are very supportive throughout the process of taking a work from manuscript to published novel.  They provide invaluable feedback and help polish my writing by reining in my excesses.  I enjoy working with them.

Do you plan on making writing a career, or do you have other career plans?

I’ve been writing for a living for almost ten years now.  Most of that has been in the form of training manuals and such, which requires more creativity than you might think.  It is rewarding work, in its own way, but nothing compares to the sheer fun of the world-building that goes into writing a novel.  I look forward to doing more fiction writing.

What advice would you give novice writers looking to break into the YA M/M Romance genre?

Read every book in the genre that you can get your hands on, and make sure that you write something every day.  Nothing can help a writer learn the ins and outs of a particular genre better than reading.  And writing something every day is great practice.  It doesn’t mean that you have to work on a novel every day.  The daily writing can be a paragraph describing a character, or a page of dialog between two characters who disagree about what to have for lunch, or the jumbled, frantic thoughts of a character who has accidentally fallen out of a ten story window.  Not only does this help develop writing skills, it can spark story ideas.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?

My next YA novel is The Battle for Jericho, which will be published by Harmony Ink Press, probably in January, 2013.  The main character, Jericho, has a girlfriend and strict, highly religious parents.  When he realizes he is attracted to both boys and girls, he not only worries about how this will affect his relationships, he begins to question his faith and his identity.  Despite the somewhat serious theme, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Blurb:

Kyle Manning is a tall, strong, openly gay sixteen-year-old who makes decent grades and plays on his school’s basketball team. He’s a good kid who cares deeply about his family and friends. But his life has become a mess. His mom, Lela, has finally had enough of her husband Joe’s serial cheating. Kyle’s parents are headed for divorce, and the collapse of their marriage torments him.

Divorcing parents is bad enough, but Kyle also has to deal with new people in his parents’ lives. He likes Stephanie, his father’s girlfriend, but he finds himself increasingly attracted to his mother’s handsome boyfriend, Reece. As Kyle struggles with his fear and frustration, he grows angrier and more erratic.

Then he meets Dwight Varley, a buff, attractive athlete from another school who takes an instant liking to him. Having Dwight around doesn’t solve all Kyle’s problems, but it does make life more bearable. As their relationship develops, Dwight becomes a bright oasis in Kyle’s harried life. But Dwight’s life is more complicated than Kyle ever imagined, and just when things start to get better, Kyle discovers the truth about Dwight—and about his father.

An Interview with James Erich (Me) at The Boys On The Brink Blog

I’ve been posting about this on my Facebook page, but I can’t believe I’ve forgotten to post it on my blog!

Jamie Deacon, over at The Boys On the Brink Blog, posted an interview with me here.  There is also an excerpt from Seidman accompanying it here.

Thank you very much, Jamie!

In other news, Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams is done with post-production and will be released on this coming Saturday, the 15th!  There is an author chat with me on that day, on the Harmony Ink Facebook page, so I hope to see some of you there!

“Seidman” has received two honorary mentions at the Rainbow Awards!

rainbowawards_hon_mention3

So yesterday the winners of the Rainbow Awards were announced.  The Rainbow Awards are given out by a panel of judges (quite a large panel, in fact) on the popular Elisa Rolle review site.  I don’t know how many years they’ve been going on for now, but they’re pretty big, with a huge list of books in the competition, so it’s really an honor to win.

Seidman didn’t win, but it did get an honorable mention in two categories:

BEST LGBT YOUNG ADULT / COMING OF AGE

and

BEST GAY DEBUT NOVEL/BOOK!

In honor of this, my publisher has discounted Seidman by 25% for the entire week at All Romance eBooks!

In other news, Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams has gone into galley proof, which means that it’s mostly done — we’re just checking over the formatted novel for typos and other errors.  It will be available on December 15th!

Coinciding with the release, I (James Erich, in case you’ve forgotten who I am) will be doing my first online chat!    It will be on the Harmony Ink Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/HarmonyInkPress

So come and say hello!  And win free stuff!  We’ll be giving away a free eBook copy of Dreams of Fire and Gods: Dreams, as well as some original sketches of the main characters, Sael and Koreh, by Beau Shemery!  I think it’s from 1pm EST to 6pm EST, but I’ll double check that and post the hours here again, when I’m more certain.  The first Harmony Ink chat was yesterday, featuring Beau Shemery (in his author guise, but with plenty of giveaways of his sketches), discussing his steampunk novel, The Seventh of London, and it went pretty well.

Lastly, I’ve submitted Seidman for consideration in the Lambda Literary Awards.  As they say, you can’t win, if you don’t enter.  The competition is steep, but the award is prestigious.  Even being a finalist would be amazing!