Questions about relationships in chapter 3 of As the Wyrm Tyrns

Calpurnia's second husband. No, the one on the right. (By Gustave Moreau, 1876)

Calpurnia’s second husband. No, the one on the right.
(By Gustave Moreau, 1876)

What’s a wyrm to do? It just wants to smash through Great Yarmouth and go north to mate with others of its species. Surely the humans should understand that? Well, the humans have relationships of their own to deal with, and Calpurnia finds herself having to tell the tale of her least successful marriage. “It’s complicated” in chapter three of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my weekly serial about dragons, magicians, photographers, and maternity wards. If you haven’t been reading it, you can start here.

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Intrigue raises its head in As the Wyrm Tyrns Chapter Two

Is this barista trying to draw a wyrm on the latte? Is it a clue? (Credit: Wikipedia/

Is this barista trying to draw a wyrm on the latte? Is it a clue?
(Credit: Wikipedia/”Takeaway”)

So far, it’s all been fun and games for magicians Geoffrey MacAlpine, down from Scotland, and Calpurnia Kingsley, in her home town of Great Yarmouth, England. But there’s a wyrm to put down, and other dangers lurk among the coffee shop tables.

Hmm, wait, that doesn’t sound right. The wyrm isn’t in the coffee shop. Unless it’s hiding. Where can one hide a wyrm in a coffee shop? Maybe dress it up as a barista?

In any case, turn to chapter two to pick up the story. If you’re new to the story, begin here. I put up a new chapter every Friday until the story is done.

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A new serial – As the Wyrm Tyrns

Sillyverse was begun to tell long stories in serial form over many weeks. For much of this year, the blog has been all but suspended while I attended to family and personal issues. Between some timely important decisions and being rested from my trip to France last month (including this episode), it seemed like a good time to get the blog going again.

You do not want a wyrm loose in the Water! (Photo; E. J. Barnes)

You do not want a wyrm loose in the Water!
(Photo; E. J. Barnes)

So this week begins a new story: As the Wyrm Tyrns.  “What’s it about?” you ask. Wyrms. Well, a wyrm. (I’m using the word over and over again so you realize it’s not just a typo.) A wyrm is a dangerous creature, all the more so for being poorly understood. Geoffrey MacAlpine, a professor who has studied many things strange and magical, would suggest arm wrestling polar bears as safer than confronting a wyrm. Pity, then, he has to go confront one himself. To find out just what’s going on, start reading Chapter One: Two uncomfortable people, to learn more. (And if you want a bit of background on Geoff, he has appeared in one earlier short story on this blog.)

As with previous serials, a new chapter of As the Wyrm Tyrns will go up every Friday morning until the story is done. Each chapter will be hyperlinked forward and backward, to make it easier to read. And there is a parent page with links to all the chapters as they go up.

Now, I must emphasize that As the Wyrm Tyrns is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between characters in the story and real people, living or dead, is strictly coincidental, except when it isn’t because I begged for permission to smuggle thinly disguised versions of people into my story. But the real people are not the same as my fictional characters. For one thing, the real people are nicer. (I’m required to say that.) And the fictional characters think and do things their real-life counterparts would never do, I think. So don’t confuse them.

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Death of a hat

Where we stayed in Normandy

Where we stayed in Normandy

Besides visiting a fellow blogger, my partner E.J. and I spent several days last month in Normandy. Neither of us had been there before. Friends of ours own a pre-Revolutionary farmhouse that has come down through their family. Considering that in my family an heirloom is something my parents bought, I was impressed. The cat at the farmhouse was not impressed by me, though. I had to wonder if he’d come down through the family, too. (He sort of did.)

There’s an old saying that fish and house guests stink after three days. So E.J. and I decided we’d spend the fourth day on our own, and give our hosts a chance to catch up on their own lives. There was a nearby historical site, an old ruined castle at Gratot, that was only 7 km away. We decided to walk there. There wasn’t much chance we’d get lost. All we had to do was follow the highway signs. And we had the map app on a mobile phone as backup.

See: cows. And Gratot's church in the background. The ruined castle is barely visible to its left.

See: cows. And Gratot’s church in the background. The ruined castle is barely visible to its left.

It was supposed to be a cool, cloudy day with a chance of rain. But the rain held off, so we had excellent walking weather in the morning. The road was a minor highway with very little traffic, and ran through mostly rural countryside. As we walked, we saw hedgerows and working farms on either side of the road most of the way. They were raising everything from cattle to corn. (Probably the corn was meant for the cattle; humans don’t seem to eat corn in Normandy). It was a quite enjoyable walk. Making it just that much better, there were sometimes ripe blackberries on the bushes at the edge of the roads. We helped ourselves.

As we approached our destination, we walked on the road up a ridge, and there were the ruins of the castle and its church off to the left and in front of us.  Now I’ve studied the history of European warfare a bit, and I could tell that this was definitely a medieval fortification, built before the age of gunpowder and cannons. It had tall round towers connected by high but thin walls. It’s a good way to protect the castle against pikemen and cavalry, but cannons would level those walls with ease.

Inside the perimeter wall of the ruined castle

Inside the perimeter wall of the ruined castle

One of the reasons the castle had survived was that it wasn’t in a strategic location. Oh, you could see out to the coast from the towers, which meant you could see Vikings or an invading English army coming. But it didn’t command any important routes and wasn’t that important by itself. So it stayed in the hands of Norman nobility for most of its existence, instead of being seized by the Crown. After the Revolution, the castle passed through many hands, became dilapidated, was all but abandoned, and began falling into ruin. Only a local effort began the restoration of the castle in the last few decades. So most of what’s been left has been stabilized, and some repairs and restoration have taken place. But there’s no money to pay a staff, so you can go where you will, though you are advised not to go past points which are marked as dangerous. A few laminated guide pamphlets, which you are supposed to use and return, provide information about the castle’s features.

There was a moat around the Castle. Unlike the moat we’d seen at Pirou Castle a few days earlier, this one’s water was mostly clear, not scum-covered, which indicated there was some source of running water in the moat, although there was almost no current. The drawbridge had been replaced a long time ago by a permanent stone bridge.

The gray guardian of the castle

The gray guardian of the castle

Which is not to say the castle was unguarded. It was guarded. By cats. (I should have figured this after the farmhouse.) At least three cats, as it turned out, all feral. We first saw two small kittens holding the mainland side of the bridge, eyeing us suspiciously. The gray kitten was very skittish, but the white one was aggressive enough to approach us and let us pet her, if we were careful. They both looked cute, the white one especially so because it was being friendly. They decided to form our honor guard across the bridge. There we met the captain of the guard, the mother cat, who was as white as her favored offspring, the one she played with more. All three cats had scarring on their ears.

Leaving the cats behind, we walked the three levels of buildings open to us, including climbing up as far as we could all three of the remaining standing towers. There was also a display indoors in one of the buildings, going into the history of the castle and the noble family that once owned it. It filled out the story in the printed guides.

It's a ruddy shelduck, E.J.! Don't go for your camera!

It’s a ruddy shelduck, E.J.! Don’t go for your camera!

Cats were not the only inhabitants of the castle grounds. As we prepared to leave the castle, we saw ducks in the moat, swimming near the bridge. And one was a very odd looking duck, of a species E. J. was sure she’d never seen before. So she quickly reached for her camera to get it out of its pouch and to take a picture before the duck did something horrible, like swim away.

Now E. J. likes hats. They are part of her signature style. This day, she was wearing a broad-brimmed “Shaker hat” (made in China but sold at Canterbury Shaker Village), because it was lightweight (a good thing when it is hot, which it was becoming) and it keeps the sun out of her eyes and off much of her face.



But such hats have one undesirable feature: they pick up the wind. Or, rather, the wind picks them up! E. J. had inadvertently demonstrated this during the English part of our trip, when a wind snatched that same hat off her head and blew it into a street intersection . . . where we recovered it before a car ran it over. And now, with both hands busy getting the camera out of its case, Eleanor was not prepared for a sudden gust of wind that picked up, picking up her hat, off her head, and carrying it over the parapet! And then the gust died. Hats, no less than cannon balls, are subject to gravity, and with the dying of the gust, E.J.’s hat began its slow descent . . . down, down, down, until it landed brim-first flat on the waters of the moat.

And there it sat! The lack of current in the moat meant the hat wasn’t moving much, and in no definite direction. Since it landed brim first, the crown of the hat was above water, and the air trapped underneath it ensured it would stay afloat for some time. Yet there was nothing we could do to recover it! We couldn’t fish it out, it was out of our reach, and there was no staff on hand to appeal to for help. And neither of us felt like jumping into the moat and swimming over to the hat. E.J. stood on the bridge, disconsolate, looking down over the parapet at her hat, itching for some way to get it back! But, in the end, she had to settle for taking a picture of her forlorn-looking hat, and then walking away.

We ended up taking a roundabout route back, via the nearby coastal resort town. The sun had come out from behind the clouds, making it a warm and sunny day. I didn’t know it, but my nose was acquiring a sunburn. E.J., of course, missed her hat, so the sun afflicted her, too. When we finally arrived at the shore, I made a beeline for a local bar to get an orange-flavored Picon beer, while E.J.’s feet turned to the ice cream parlor across the square. Each to his or her own preferred form of relief!

E.J. sorely missed her hat. Our hosts lent her one the next day, but that’s not the same. She needed a hat, her hat. The second day after, we went to an open-air market, and she bought a hat. It looked somewhat similar to the one she had lost, though it was whiter and had a smaller brim. It had one ironic similarity: it, too, had been made in China.

E.J. is smiling because she has her new hat

E.J. is smiling because she has her new hat

What was more amusing was that the label also told her that the hat was made of paper! This made it so light and airy that E.J. was initially uncomfortable with it. As she told me, she didn’t expect to feel the wind on the top of her head when she had a hat on, but with this hat, she did. Despite being so insubstantial, and even being rained on at least once, the hat has made it back to the United States intact.

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Review: Dawn Kurtagich, The Dead House

It was the cover, and the tag line “the girl of nowhere,” that snagged me when I was looking for something light to read, because as we all know, Young Adult horror novels are light reading. Well, Dawn Kurtagich’s debut novel, The Dead House, really is light reading, a horror tale with an intriguing twist that will have you wondering for at least a while.

the-dead-houseNow I rarely venture into Young Adult territory, partly because I don’t know what can and can’t be included in it, and partly because my own reading habits didn’t develop that way. But The Dead House was just among the new releases at my local store, so I picked it up, only to see its category afterward. What does it mean in this case? It’s about teens in their last year of high school. It does talk about sex, a bit. And its take on identity issues probably would be more appealing to teens than any other group.

The back cover has R.L. Stine calling it “original.” Well, don’t get too worked up about that. The problem of the protagonist who’s not certain if she’s crazy or really dealing with magic has been around almost since the gothic novel was invented, and the use of documents, including newfangled technology, to tell the story can be traced back to Dracula and even before that to the epistolary novel.

Where Kurtagich deserves credit is in her treatment of her protagonist’s mental condition and in her use of magic. Carly Johnson is a split personality, with her alter ego named Kaitlyn. The relationship between these two is intriguing, especially as we get most of it from Kaitlyn. And then Kurtagich throws in a twist halfway through the novel which confuses even our protagonist as to just what she is. Kurtagich tends to rely on withholding information to build suspense, a technique I greatly dislike, but Carly/Kaitlyn’s odyssey is the real driver of suspense in the novel, and the reason I kept reading.

And then there’s the magic. Some people make a big deal of demanding that one have a full and novel system of magic behind one’s stories. That’s not here. Kurtagich deserves the credit for putting together a type of magic and backstory for it that combines Scotland with what looks to me to be voodoo. It’s not a fully fleshed out system, but then for the story it doesn’t have to be, and given what our characters know, it shouldn’t be shown as a complete system. Let’s be clear: the purpose of magic in a fantasy story is to allow the writer to bend reality in ways to further the story’s plot and themes without seeming arbitrary. And this Kurtagich does.

The Dead House wasn’t quite what I was expecting. But it’s an entertaining bit of horror. I found the psychological elements much more horrifying than the magic, but  that’s me. And the conclusion, while finally a bit predictable, does take a satisfying route to get there. So here’s hoping Kurtagich’s next novel, which should have come out about now, builds on the more successful elements of this one.

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Reaching out to a fellow blogger

Who’s that blogger you follow, or that comments on your blog? Is it a real person, or just someone trying to sell you something? And would you ever want to meet the real person behind that blog in person?

That's Crispina on the left. Me, I'm sporting a t-shirt with the death's head design from Mother Goose's headstone. Call it a tribute to story-tellers.

That’s Crispina on the left. Me, I’m sporting a t-shirt with the death’s head design from Mother Goose’s headstone. Call it a tribute to story-tellers.

For the first time, I’ve actually met someone in person whom I did not know before we encountered each other in our respective blogs. Crispina Kemp, who blogs as crimsonprose, has been a longtime follower of my blogs, and I hers. But the chances of our meeting seemed slim, as she lives in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England . . . which is a long way from New England, where I live. However, along with my partner E.J. Barnes, who blogs at Shunpike, I was going to be visiting Paris this summer. And the trains to Great Yarmouth take only a few hours. I asked Crispina if she would like a visit. She allowed that if U.K. border control didn’t bar me as an undesirable, she’d be willing to see both of us, and so we laid our plans.

Great Yarmouth is not a likely destination from Paris. Just ask U.K. Passport Control for the Chunnel train from Paris, which asked me point-blank, “Why would you want to visit Great Yarmouth?” Facetious answers came to mind: I want to see where the dragon Skimaskall rests under the windmill farm; I have a hankering for seaside resorts of the Victorian Era; I left my terrorist gear there.

Yes, I was in Paris. No, my French is not very good.

Yes, I was in Paris. No, my French is not very good.

But I settled on saying a friend lived there. This earned a raised eyebrow, but it also earned me a visa stamp, so I was happy.

Traveling from Paris to Great Yarmouth is a mixed bag. The Chunnel train is rapid, topping out at near 300 km/hr, or about 186 mph, and Eurostar is so proud of this that the trains have on-board displays that tell you just how fast the train is going. So, great. But then you have minutes to master how to buy a London Underground subway ticket to get to the station for the next leg of the trip, a local train to Norwich. And then you walk a few feet to another platform for the train to Great Yarmouth. After the Chunnel train, these could not help but seem less impressive. Still, they were clean, they were on time, more or less, and we got to see the countryside.

Crispina met us at the station. No, the Earth did not wobble on its axis at this momentous meeting. Instead, there were smiles all around as we all complimented each other on looking better than our photographs (see above).

Well, it's actually the expansion of the windmill farm that's supposed to dig up Skimaskall, but you get the idea.

Well, it’s actually the expansion of the windmill farm that’s supposed to dig up Skimaskall, but you get the idea.

After helping us check our bags with the bed-and-breakfast where we’d be staying, Crispina took us for a walk along Breydon Water. Those of you who follow her blog (for example, her piece on, yep, Breydon Water) know how much she’s attuned to the landscape. But that didn’t stop us from simultaneously having a conversation about ourselves, what we’d been up to, and comparisons with other places. This kept up the whole time we were together; none of us are shy about talking with friends. And, to be fair, we had a lot to talk about. For example, we did get to see where the dragon Skimaskall (featured in the crimsonprose story Neve) is buried, at least in an alternate reality.

No self-respecting medieval wall would be complete without slits for the archers to shoot the besiegers.

No self-respecting medieval wall would be complete without slits for the archers to shoot the besiegers.

After a tour of some of the remaining walls of Great Yarmouth, we settled down to drinks and dinner. We were in England, and in a seaside resort town, so it wouldn’t do but to have authentic English fish and chips now, would it? And we’d got properly prepared by having some fruity hard cider or English bitter beforehand.

By that point, E.J. and I were tuckered out, and adjourned to our room at the bed-and-breakfast. Said breakfast the next morning offered us more options than either of us could eat, but I got in my serving of black pudding (sausage).

Julian's cell (reconstructed after the WWII bombing of the church)

Julian’s cell (reconstructed after the WWII bombing of the church)

Then the three of us were off on the local bus to Norfolk. Yesterday had primarily been a nature walk, so today was a history walk. We explored the old walls and various ancient structures, all the while keeping up a steady conversation. E.J. had a hankering to see the cell where Julian of Norwich, a famed mystic and anchoress, lived and prayed, so that was included among our stops.

At the end, we sat down at a local restaurant by the river for lunch. Chicken and kidney pie for me, such a change after days of French food, and another local beer. And then, too soon, we had to say our good-byes, and depart on the London train, leaving Crispina behind.

We lunched by the Wensum, which is popular with boaters as well as swans

We lunched by the Wensum, which is popular with boaters as well as swans

So was it worth it? If you haven’t figured it out already from the amount I’ve written here, the answer is “yes.” Crispina and I could talk as friends, after so many years of just interacting over the Internet. We had plenty to talk about, from each other’s writings, which took up a surprisingly small amount of our time, to our own histories, to local history, to observing and commenting on the sights of Norfolk. And E.J. is good at making friends, so she quickly found her place in these conversations, too.

And now I need to figure out how to visit Judy, the photographer who blogs at Janthina Images. She’s sent me books to read, so I’m not going to let a paltry 1000 miles or so stop me, not when I went over 5000 to see Crispina!

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Women as werewolves: reviewing Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream

Daddy to the rescue, musn't let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Daddy to the rescue, musn’t let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Horror creatures began as men. Varney the Vampyre and Dracula, Universal’s werewolf, even the original mummy monster, they were all guys. “Ah,” but I hear you say, “what about J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla?” Thank you for making my point. By all rights, Carmilla should be as well-known as Dracula, which it predates by over two decades. And if vampires are about sex and rape, then the bisexual Carmilla should have blown Victorian minds altogether. Maybe it did, and that’s the problem: a sexually empowered female rapist was just not an acceptable possibility in Anglo-American culture in those days. And not very acceptable now, either.

Werewolves can be about sex, too. Remember how in An American Werewolf in London (1981), werewolf David Kessler is symbolically killed by his English lover? And how in the movie Kessler specifically ties the idea back to Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941)?

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

So what happens when we get female werewolves? Well, horror films are typically not noted for subtlety, so we get blood. Not just other people’s blood, but menstrual blood. And sex. Yep, becoming a werewolf becomes a female form of puberty. Somehow with a guy, this can be played for humor, as in the original Teen Wolf (1985). With girls? Oh, the horror! Sexually empowered women are dangerous beasties, as the two films, Ginger Snaps (2000) and When Animals Dream (2014; Danish with English subtitles) demonstrate. Ginger and Marie both have unprotected sex and start killing people. And people thought Twilight was about abstinence!

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger's shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger’s shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

What’s interesting about these two films is that they are effective because they place their werewolves in social contexts that make us concerned about their fate. Dracula preys on women, so we hope he gets staked; we have no personal interest in him. Ginger, on the other hand, has a loyal younger sister named Bridget who goes all-out in trying to save Ginger. While Marie has a troubled family and hostile community that makes her social isolation heartbreaking.

Otherwise, the films couldn’t be more different. Ginger Snaps is a Hollywood film about werewolves. The lead is pretty, her transformations are extensively portrayed, and the menstruation, sex, and gore are all as obvious as can be. Ginger’s every outcast girl who turns into a slut, and we know how troublesome those are. But, ironically, she’s humanized by the sister she’s dominated in past. Bridget, unlike her sister, is still an outcast, but she cares about her sister. Ginger may now be a slut, but she’s also a werewolf and a killer, which means she’s still an outcast, and Bridget wants to reclaim her.

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

Marie, on the other hand, is always an outcast, even before she begins her transformation. She’s not especially pretty, either. We see less of her transformation, and a good deal less blood and gore all around. What makes Marie human, and enlists our sympathies, is that she tries to connect to others. She may be bad at it, and the isolated Danish village she lives in demonstrates how distant Scandinavians can be, but she does try. We cheer for Ginger’s possible redemption because Bridget enlists our sympathies, but we hope against hope for Marie’s salvation because she herself enlists our sympathies.

On the other hand, I'm growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of glass

On the other hand, I’m growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of broken glass

Ginger Snaps is considered something of a cult film these days. Don’t let that label discourage you. If you don’t mind the gore, it’s a touching, scary, and occasionally funny film about growing up and sisterhood . . . and lycanthropy. I doubt When Animals Dream will even reach cult film status in the U.S.; it’s more understated and atmospheric than American films, and is often unfavorably compared to the vampire film Let the Right One In (2008). I would rank it below Ginger Snaps. And yet it has its charms. Here’s a thought that might help you decide whether you want to watch it. Did you see both Let the Right One In and its Hollywood remake, Let Me In (2010)? Or, not quite as appropriate, but still a help: how about the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its Hollywood remake (2011)? If you did, and you liked the Swedish originals in ways the American remakes didn’t capture, then the Danish When Animals Dream may be for you.

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