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.

What Was It Like to be a Gay Viking?

I’ve been posting a lot about being gay in a Christian world lately, because it is after all what most young people in this country have to deal with as they’re coming to terms with their sexuality.  But as I’ve stated in previous posts, I am no longer Christian.  Furthermore, religion in general isn’t the main thrust of this blog or of my YA novels.  No doubt relgion will come up again, but for now I thought I’d cover a topic that readers of Seidman might find interesting:

What Was It Like to be Gay in Viking Age Iceland and Scandinavia?

WARNING:  Though I’ve attempted to keep this discussion from becoming too graphic, it does contain some referrences to sexual practices.  It really couldn’t be avoided.  Anyone old enough to read Seidman (recommended 14+) should be old enough to read this post.

I’ve had people try to tell me that there were no gay people in the Viking Age.  This is flatly ridiculous.  First of all, there have always been people with same-sex attractions, throughout history, all over the world.  Always.  Anyone who thinks homosexuality suddenly appeared out of nothing in the past century simply hasn’t bothered to crack a book on the subject.

Secondly, we know that people experienced same-sex attraction in Viking Age cultures, because they had words to describe it and laws to regulate it.  You don’t make something illegal, if it doesn’t exist to begin with.

So how did the Norse actually feel about homosexuality?  Well, the answer is a bit complex.  In general, they didn’t approve of it, which isn’t much of a surprise.  But like many cultures, they mistakenly equated homosexuality with a lack of masculinity, as if being attracted to men (if you’re a man) somehow makes you behave in a “womanly” manner, and likewise being attracted to women (if you’re a woman) somehow makes you “mannish.”  (Obviously, this attitude is still with us in modern western culture.)

But this is where it got a little weird.

The key to understanding the Norse attitude towards same-sex attraction lies in their concept of “manliness.”  We don’t have much evidence one way or another that the Norse gave much thought to same-sex attraction or other forms of sexual contact besides anal intercourse between two people of the same gender.  But we do know that they were obsessed with manliness.

Men had to behave in a masculine fashion (and conversely, women had to behave in a feminine fashion).  Men who acted effeminitely really upset people and in some cases were put to death.  A similar fate awaited women who wore men’s clothing!  And for a man to be accused of being effeminite was a horrible insult — so horrible that the accuser could be challenged to a duel to the death, if he couldn’t prove his accusation, and the law would not protect him.

Two of the words commonly used to describe “effeminite” men in the Sagas are ergi (a noun) and argr (the adjectival form of ergi).  The definition of these words is uncertain, because they are used in so many contexts.  In general, it appeared to refer to a man allowing himself to be used sexually by another man.  (In other words, a man who took the passive role in anal intercourse.)  We might translate ergi as “effeminacy” and argr as “effeminate.”

But there were other usages that suggested somewhat different meanings.  For instance, when used to describe a woman, it meant that she was lecherous or immodest — in other words, too masculine.  It was also said that old age made a man argr and the god, Oðinn, was said to become argr after practicing seiðr.  (Technically, the phrasing was that the practice of seiðr was accompanied by a great degree of ergi.)  However, I seriously doubt that this meant old men suddenly turned gay or Oðinn became effeminite after performing trance magic.

What does make sense is that being old might make a man frail and performing trance magic might make a man feel temporarily weak.  As with the case of women who were called ergi or argr, the main implication appears to have been that a person was violating gender taboos.  The terms were also sometimes applied to men who were incapable of fathering children — another “failure” to be masculine — and argr was also synonymous with cowardice.

So the next question might be, did this association of ergi and argr with masculinity provide a loophole of sorts?  Did it mean that a man might have sex with other men, as long as he was still verifiably masculine?

It might have.

We know that Norsemen often violated male prisoners or slaves, and there did not appear to be a stigma associated with doing this.  (Yet it was still one more reason that being on the “bottom” had such a horrible stigma attached to it — because it was allowing another man to treat you like a slave or a defeated prisoner.)  We also know that there were male prostitutes who served men, and they seemed to have been regarded with contempt.  Yet men did avail themselves of their services.  And in Snorri Sturlusson’s Edda, a man named Sinfjotli boasts that he impregnated another man (as an insult to the second man), which might not be something he would boast about, if being a “top” had any great stigma attached to it.

So it may be that there were certain contexts in which sex between people of the same gender was considered acceptable or at least ignored.  Keep in mind that the only references we have to homosexuality concern accusations of anal intercourse.  We have no record at all of how the Norse felt about mutual masturbation or oral sex.

It was also not unheard of for men to live together as “bachelors” once they were past the age where they were expected to marry and father children.  While these would not have been open same-sex relationships, advanced age might have made it possible for others to look the other way.

One last point to keep in mind:  all of the information we have about Norse attitudes toward homosexuality comes from Christians who wrote about the Viking Age centuries after the events they were describing, and by this point homosexuality was widely condemned by the Christian Church.  It’s difficult to know how much the writers’ personal religious beliefs may have colored their accounts of their ancestors.

Resources:

Probably the best source of information on this subject is Preben M. Sørenson’s The Unmanly Man:  Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, but that can be hard to come by and it’s somewhat dry reading.  A more accessible discussion of the subject can be found at the Viking Answer Lady site:

The Viking Answer Lady doesn’t appear to be updating her site anymore, which is sad, because she really knows her stuff.  But as long as the site is still up, it’s a fantastic reference for a lot of aspects of Norse culture.

The Cover Art For Seidman!

The cover art for Seidman has just been released and it’s beautiful! The artist is Anne Cain and she’s managed to create a striking image that’s simple, memorable, and intense.  There have, of course, been other books about Vikings with Thor’s hammers on the cover, but Anne created a richly layered image with runes fading in and out and a beautiful use of light and shadow.  It really blows me away.

This weekend marks the end of editing.  I’ve received the galley proof, which is a PDF copy of the entire novel, including all of the forewords and afterwards and dedications, and even some ads for other Harmony Ink releases at the end.  The only thing that isn’t in final format is this cover, which didn’t arrive in my inbox until a couple hours ago, and a map I created of Viking Age Scandinavia.

The map was something I’d been working on for a while, but since it wasn’t done when the editors wanted it, I gave up and figured I’d just have to settle for putting it up on my blog.  Fortunately, the editors contacted me and asked me if I still planned on having a map, so I was able to polish it up and send it to them this weekend.  They say it looks all right, so it will be included!

NOTE:  You may have noticed that I’m now calling it Seidman, instead of Seiðman.  This was a decision my publisher and I came to recently (I was actually the one who suggested it), because it just didn’t make sense to call the novel something people couldn’t type without having to look up an extended ASCII code.  How would anybody know what to search for on Amazon?  Inside the novel, we’ve kept the Old Icelandic words as they were, but the title is now easier to remember and spell.

As far as I know, Seidman is on track to be released in mid-June!  This is going to be great!