Win a free copy of “Seidman” today at 5pm EST!

SeidmanIf you follow Harmony Ink Press on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/HarmonyInkPress ), they’ll be giving away a free copy of my first YA novel about Vikings and sorcery, Seidman, tonight at 5pm EST!

Make sure to grab it quickly—the tweetaway only lasts 20 minutes!

If you’re not familiar with the novel, here’s the blurb and an excerpt:

BLURB:

In Viking Age Iceland, where boys are expected to grow into strong farmers and skilled warriors, there is little place for a sickly twelve-year-old boy like Kol until he catches the eye of a seið-woman—a sorceress—and becomes her apprentice. Kol travels to the sorceress’s home, where her grandson, Thorbrand, takes Kol under his wing. Before long Kol discovers something else about himself that is different—something else that sets him apart as unmanly: Kol has fallen in love with another boy. 

But the world is changing in ways that threaten those who practice the ancient arts. As Kol’s new life takes him across the Norse lands, he finds that a new religion is sweeping through them, and King Olaf Tryggvason is hunting down and executing sorcerers. When a decades-old feud forces Thorbrand to choose between Kol and his duty to his kinsman, Kol finds himself cast adrift with only the cryptic messages of an ancient goddess to guide him to his destiny—and possibly to his death.

EXCERPT:

After more than a week of this isolation, Kol finally reached the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore. So, late in the night when he was certain everyone in the hall was sleeping, he got up and crept to Thorbrand’s bed. He thought his friend was asleep and reached out to touch him gently, but then he heard the young man whisper, “What are you doing?”

Startled, Kol pulled his hand back. “I just wanted to see you,” he said, his voice sounding pathetic even to his own ears.

“I know what you want,” Thorbrand said harshly. “But you’re out of your mind if you think I’m going to….” They had never given a word to what they’d done together in the bathhouse, and he balked at naming it now.

“Not in my father’s bed.”

“I just wanted—”

“Go back to your own bed, Kol.”

Stung, Kol turned and slipped away. But he didn’t return to his bed—he couldn’t. He wasn’t sure what to do, but his throat was constricted and his eyes threatened to brim over. The last thing he needed was for the others to wake up and catch him sobbing. He grabbed his cloak and threw it over his naked shoulders. Then, trying not to make any noise, he opened the door of the longhouse just a crack and slipped outside.

The night air was bitter cold and the ground nearly frozen. He hadn’t thought to put his boots on, and it wasn’t long before his bare feet grew numb. He clutched the cloak to his body, shivering as an icy drizzle fell upon him.

But it was too late to turn back. The tears had overflowed and he couldn’t stop them from streaming down his face.

The sensible thing might be to go to the bathhouse. At least it would be warm there. But it would just remind him of Alfdis’s death and the fact that Thorbrand wasn’t with him. So instead, he climbed a small hill not far from the longhouse and sat down on the damp grass. At least this way he could tuck his feet into the folds of his cloak while he tried to make sense of things.

Thorbrand was chieftain now. And he was being forced to take on immense responsibilities. Kol understood that. But it seemed more had changed than he’d realized. He’d thought Thorbrand might be missing him, needing him. That he would welcome Kol holding him, if just for a short time. But….

“You idiot,” Thorbrand’s irritated voice cut through his gloomy thoughts.

Startled, Kol looked up to see a shadowy figure climbing the hill toward him. Unlike Kol, Thorbrand had had the sense to at least throw on a tunic and some boots, though he’d left his cloak behind.

“What in Hel are you doing out here?” Thorbrand growled. “It’s freezing!”

“Nothing,” Kol replied, struggling to keep his voice even.

Thorbrand snorted as he plopped down on the grass beside him, reminding Kol for a moment of Alfdis. “Nothing. Just sitting on cold, wet grass in the dark, crying like a girl. Some great sorcerer you are!”

This was too much. It was bad enough for Thorbrand to shove him away, but to come after Kol just to make fun of him!

Kol wanted to lash out at him, but before he could do or say anything, Thorbrand had pulled him close and was kissing him hard on the mouth. And it was all there, in that kiss—everything Kol feared had gone away. All the longing; all the tenderness.

When Thorbrand finally broke the kiss, keeping their foreheads touching so that Kol could still feel his hot breath against his lips, Thorbrand said, “Do you think I haven’t been going out of my mind too? I hate sleeping alone, not being able to hold you. But what am I supposed to do about it?”

“I don’t know….”

“I’m a chieftain now,” Thorbrand went on. “Or at least I’m trying to be. We’re not kids anymore, Kol.”

“What does that mean?”

Thorbrand gritted his teeth in frustration, unable to pull away. “Men don’t… want this.”

Kol looked back at him defiantly, watching while the stern resolution in Thorbrand’s eyes gradually gave way to desire. At last, Thorbrand pulled him close again, brushing Kol’s ear with his lips as he said, “Come on, then.”

He led Kol to the bathhouse, where they stayed until the lightening sky forced them to return to the longhouse. Fortunately, nobody had awoken yet, and they were able to sneak back to their separate beds without being discovered.

New 5-heart review of “Seidman” on MM Good Book Reviews!

Seidman

“I absolutely loved Kol. He was like the Viking Harry Potter of his era. He was very shy, but incredibly brave. Even when death was staring him in the face he stood stall and strong.

I recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a very entertaining and historical book depicting young love, magic, and adventure. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.”

(Click the image to read the full review!)

“Fire” coming soon and some reviews of “Seidman” and “Dreams”!

Dreams of Fire and Gods - FireI received the final release versions of Dreams of Fire and Gods: Fire yesterday.  I think it came out great and I’m very excited to have it hit the shelves next Friday, March 1st!  I also can’t wait to get a paperback copy of it to hold and caress and put on my bookshelves next to Dreams and Seidman.

Speaking of Dreams and Seidman, I was also notified of two new reviews—one for each of them.

Rya at Hearts on Fire Reviews gave Seidman 4.5 stars, saying that “The stages of Kol and Thorbrand’s friendship are beautifully presented. I enjoyed their together-scenes a lot. There is so much innocence in their actions and the transition between hugs and kisses was cute, if I may say so.”

Dreams likewise received a 4.5 star rating from CrossroadReview on NightOwlReviews, saying “And let me tell you it is good! He build such a great fantasy world that you just couldn’t stop reading it! I just can’t get over how good this book was! I’m looking forward to more from this author.”

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

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!

Great review for “Seidman”!

Jessica Chambers over at Rainbow Book Reviews has written a wonderful review for Seidman!

The thing that struck me as particularly good about this novel was how we get to see Kol and Thorbrand grow up, following their progress from carefree boys interested only in each other, to mature young men with their own responsibilities. Though the story does have a strong fantasy element, the developing relationship between the heroes is incredibly realistic, taking into account the attitudes towards homosexuality at the time, and is in fact one of the most poignant I’ve come across in a while.

Read the whole review here!