Showing posts with label Something Red. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Something Red. Show all posts

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interview with Douglas Nicholas, author of Something Red and The Wicked - March 27, 2014


Please welcome Douglas Nicholas to The Qwillery. Douglas is the author of the fabulous Something Red series: Something Red (2012) and The Wicked which was published on March 25, 2014.







TQ:  Welcome back to The Qwillery. The Wicked, the 2nd novel in your Something Red series, was just published on March 25, 2014. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Has this changed from when you wrote Book 1 to Book 2?

Douglas:  I write slowly, partly because I like to make sure that real-life details (as opposed to the fantasy elements) are correct, and partly because I care a great deal about the language, and want to get the prose just right, while a the same time telling a gripping story. I’d like people not to be able to put it down, to keep turning the pages, but then feel that they’d like to go back, sooner or later—or even immediately!—and reread it, just to savor the language. Some people have posted that they went back, two of them immediately, to read Something Red again; one person has read it three times since it came out in 2012.



TQ:  What do you wish you'd known about publishing when Something Red (Book 1) came out that you know now?

Douglas:  I’ve said it before: I was quite surprised at what a sweet bunch I have to deal with at Emily Bestler Books/Atria—not at all like the type of cold cutthroat corporation one sees portrayed, either for chills or for humor, in books and on TV. More like a group of chums.



TQ:  Tell us something about The Wicked that is not in the book description.

Douglas:  The villain, Sir Tarquin, is one of the most evil critters you never want to meet:
Sir Tarquin’s strong pale face was a mask of malignant hunger. Hob had seen a hawk standing with taloned foot on a mouse and tearing it with its hook-knife bill, and it was a model of sweetness beside this face, this expression, that might have been the portrait of Satan in a rage.
And his lady wife is not far behind:
Beside [Sir Tarquin]: Lady Rohese, a woman of smoldering beauty, a woman neither young nor much past youth, dark-haired, dark-eyed. Hob had just begun to think how beautiful she was when she looked at Molly’s table, and he thought to see an expression of the sourest evil, covered over with an attempt at neutral cordiality—an effect as of powdered sugar on a dish of spoiled meat.
Also in The Wicked, Jack acquires a very devoted dog, there’s a shipwreck, a storm, music, two “bar fights” of sorts, bandits, a giant (in the basketball-player sense) knight, a magic water-mirror spy device, a mano-a-mano sorcerous duel between Molly and Lady Rohese, a final conflict that involves swordplay and grim heavy sorcery, and a wedding between two of our favorite characters. That raven on the cover is not just decoration, either: it’s important.



TQ:  What research have you done for The Wicked?

Douglas:  I did a lot of research about the North Sea coast—its appearance, its flora, its fauna, and its history. For example, I needed fresh-plowed fields in August to foreshadow a later metaphor (I told you I work hard at the prose), so I had to find out what one might be planting so late in the summer (the flax and hemp were harvested in July, and then the turnips were planted in August).

As in Something Red, all the names are chosen from thirteenth-century tax rolls or court records. Jack’s dog, Sweetlove, has a name borne by at least three women in the thirteenth century who paid taxes or were involved in a legal dispute. Spellings varied a bit—one was “Sueteloue”—but in other words it’s a perfectly likely name. Another major character, Sir Odinell, is of the De Umfrevilles; he has a castle on the North Sea. There really was an Odinell de Umfreville, but he stayed in Normandy. Remember that at this time the Normans, who had come from France, often had property on both sides of the Channel—King John spent a lot of his time trying to hold on to the parts of France (Anjou, mostly) that were his by inheritance.

The North Sea, by the way, was called the German Sea by the English in the Middle Ages. The Dutch called it the North Sea, because it was north of the Netherlands, and this became the current name.

One noble whose name is not particularly Norman is Sir Tarquin—I chose his name to evoke the Etruscan kings of Rome, before Rome overthrew them and became a republic—Tarquin the Elder, and the last king of Rome, Tarquin the Proud. Why? Because at one point Molly realizes that Sir Tarquin is much older than he appears, and may have been around “for many a long, long year.” (No, he’s not the Devil himself. But he’s working on it.)

YouTube is good for taking virtual walks around Northumberland, and for learning how charcoal is made, including the curious one-legged stool the charcoal-burners employ, which found its way into the book. (If you’ve ever had spaghetti carbonara, that’s pasta “charcoal-burners’ style.”)



TQ:  What appeals to you about thirteenth century northwest England?

Douglas:  When I began Something Red, as a short story(!), I wanted it to end in an isolated, wintry mountain castle. If you want mountains in England, you have to be in the north, where the Pennines run from the Scottish border to about a third of the way down England. Northumberland today (it was bigger in the Middle Ages, and was called Northumbria) is still the most deserted area of England, and was even more so, of course, 800 years ago. The more I looked into the culture and dialect and history of Northern England, the more interesting it became. You say “northwest” England, but Something Red only starts there, and then our little family is trying to get over the central Pennine range to get to Durham and York, cities on the northeast coast. They’re stranded in the north-central castle, Blanchefontaine, and only get underway to the east coast at the end of the book. The Wicked takes place almost entirely on the northeast coast, by the “German Sea.”

I started the tale in 1995, then put it aside for a while. Sometime after that Susanna Clarke also made much of the North Country in her excellent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but I’d already chosen the area for my story.

I discovered that there’s a sort of cultural unity between northern England and southern Scotland, with a lot of linguistic sharing of terms, etc. There are some Scottish villains in The Wicked (even though my half-Irish, half-Scottish mom was from Glasgow), because the Scots were such a formidable warlike people who presented Norman lords with a constant threat of raids, and when they’re bad, you have to take them seriously.




TQ:  In the series so far who is your favorite good 'guy', bad 'guy' or ethically ambiguous character?

Douglas:  We will meet an ethically ambiguous character in the third volume of this series, the papal operative Monsignor Bonacorso da Panzano, but most of the characters in the first two books fall into the good-guy bad-guy categories.

I find it hard to choose: I’m very fond of our four main characters. Nemain is the most prickly, and has not yet grown into the mature kindness of Molly. Sir Balthasar is interesting to me: he’s frightening even to the men he leads, and more so to his enemies, but he’s absolutely gentle with his wife, Dame Aline, a merry character who was also a pleasure to write. Others: the restless, hyperactive, dangerous Sir Jehan and his wife, the enigmatic Lady Isabeau.

I like a lot of the minor characters, some of whom only appear for a page or two: Hodard Squint, the lawman who warns Molly in Something Red, or the dog groom Herluin in The Wicked. The unnamed aged but strong winch-tender in SR, who tells what is essentially a complete murder ballad in one page of dialect (which I hope impatient readers will sound out and not skip). Also from SR, the atte Well twin daughters, Margery and Parnell, and Osbert atte Well himself. From TW: Erec the Irish wolfhound puppy. Rollo, another Irish wolfhound puppy. (There’s a strong canine thread in The Wicked.)



TQ:  Which character has surprised you the most?

Douglas:  They don’t surprise me: I don’t let them. “Stand there—no, a little to the left—and say your lines,” I tell them. “No, once more, and put a little feeling into it.” I have a story to tell; I can’t let them begin to sass me.



TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from The Wicked.

Douglas:  I’ll give you three sentences; two are just for context—the middle sentence is the one I’m fond of:

She watched the road where it curved out of sight. The sea grumbled; the moon burned along the ridges of the waves. Around the bend came a double column of Sir Tarquin’s bewitched knights.



TQ:  What's next?

Douglas:  Next year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. In volume three of this series, Molly will defeat an evil plot by King John to massacre the barons assembled for the signing, including her friends Sir Jehan, Sir Odinell, and Sir Balthasar.



TQ:  Thank you for joining us again at The Qwillery.





The Wicked
Something Red 2
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, March 25, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages

A thrilling and intoxicating journey to a land of legend, where nothing is quite as it seems. . . .

Something evil has come to reside in a castle by the chill waters of the North Sea: men disappear and are found as horribly wizened corpses, knights ride out and return under an enchantment that dulls their minds. Both the townspeople and the court under Sir Odinell’s protection live in fear, terrorized by forces beyond human understanding. But rumors of a wise woman blessed with mysterious powers also swirl about the land. The call goes forth, and so it comes to be that young apprentice Hob and his adopted family—exiled Irish queen Molly, her granddaughter Nemain, and warrior Jack Brown—are pitted against a malevolent nobleman and his beautiful, wicked wife.

Richly set in the inns, courts, and countryside of thirteenth-century northwest England, The Wicked is a darkly spun masterpiece that will leave fans of epic fantasy thirsty for more.



The Demon
An eShort Story
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, March 18, 2014
eBook, 32 pages

Mixing history, fantasy, and legend, The Demon is an exclusive e-short story from acclaimed novelist Douglas Nicholas, perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.

In England’s wild North Country, the men of Blanchefontaine, led by the castellan Sir Balthasar, must hunt an unearthly creature that stalks the nearby woods. But all is not as it seems…

Note that The Demon is presently free!



Something Red
Something Red 1
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, June 18, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Published in Hardcover, September 18, 2012

In an intoxicating blend of fantasy and horror, acclaimed debut novel Something Red transports you to the harsh, unforgiving world of thirteenth-century England. An evil and age-old force stalks the countryside—who dares confront it?





About Douglas

Photograph by Kelly Merchant
Douglas Nicholas is an award-winning poet, whose work has appeared in numerous poetry journals, and the author of four previous books, including Something Red and Iron Rose, a collection of poems inspired by New York City. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife Theresa and Yorkshire terrier Tristan.



Website


Facebook

Twitter @DouglasScribes





Friday, September 21, 2012

Interview with Douglas Nicholas, author of Something Red - September 21, 2012

Please welcome Douglas Nicholas to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Something Red was published on September 18, 2012. You may read Douglas' Guest Blog - The Page and the Palantir - here.




TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Douglas:  I think perhaps it’s a slightly antique quality to the prose.


TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Douglas:  It’s nearly impossible to single out authors from a lifetime of constant reading without doing injustice to a lot of people, but I’d have to start with Jack Vance, and mention Conan Doyle—particularly his medieval books, which he considered his masterpieces: The White Company and Sir Nigel; Ursula K. LeGuin, Cecelia Holland, Tanith Lee; Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels and C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, both set in the British Navy in the Napoleonic era, Michael Chabon, a consistently inventive writer; for modern tough-guy escapism, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels are very good, especially for such an extended series, and Thomas Perry. I especially recommend two of Perry’s earlier works: Metzger’s Dog, and Island, for exuberant quirky fun. Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. When I was young I read a lot of Robert E. Howard who, despite his egregious racism—a product of his time—was a vivid, if simplistic, writer. Tolkien, of course.

Influences: Jack Vance; Lord Dunsany; Robert E. Howard (and, oddly enough, T.E. Shaw’s (Lawrence of Arabia’s) vivid translation of The Odyssey, which reminds me of Howard’s writing); E. R. Eddison (but only The Worm Ouroboros—couldn’t get through A Fish Dinner in Memison and subsequent works); and probably a thousand others who don’t come to mind at the moment.


TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Douglas:  Definitely a plotter. I need to know the story I want to tell, and usually the main events—the most dramatic scenes, which I often, but not always, write first—and then I fill in the narrative.


TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Douglas:  Because I write slowly, and spend a lot of time polishing the sound of the sentences, and the exact sequence of expression (which I think is the influence of my poetry on my prose), it’s difficult for me to turn out a high volume of writing.


TQ:  Describe Something Red in 140 characters or less.

Douglas:  Evil stalks 1200s English winter woods; Irish grandma and family flee in vain to monastery, inn, castle; finally must turn and face threat.


TQ:  What inspired you to write Something Red?

Douglas:  Here’s how I came to write this book:

The Cambridge don M. R. James wrote ghost/horror stories to be read at Christmastime to his friends. They usually featured a mild-mannered antiquarian like himself, and would begin slowly with bits of scholarly detail, very dry. This would go on for about two pages—the stories are quite short—and then, ten or fifteen pages later, you realize that you are never going to sleep again for the rest of your life.

So I thought I would write a story to read to my wife, Theresa, over the holidays. I don’t know where the exact idea for the story came from, but I knew the general arc almost at once, and that I wanted to make a strong woman the hero. Soon I found that I had to explain this or that; I had to get my people from here to there; etc. I wanted to make the story historically accurate and vivid, which involved a lot of research. I finally realized that this was going to have to be a novel.

Then I got very busy with other things and put the story away. Some years later, when things were less hectic, I returned to Something Red and got it done.


TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Something Red?

Douglas:  I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and I studied medieval literature in college and in some grad school courses. So, between reading and formal study, I realized that I had a feel for the period, and I wanted the architectural isolation of a snowed-in castle: nowhere to go, just you and the monster. The movie Alien functions this way, as does John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There? (which was the basis for the 1951 movie The Thing from Outer Space).

I thought I knew a lot about medieval life, but I’d come to something and think, “Wait, I need to know a lot more about this, just to write one paragraph.” So I knew a fair amount, and probably learned an equal amount, about the thirteenth century while writing SR.


TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Douglas:  The boy Hob was perhaps the easiest because I have been a teenage boy myself. Nemain was in some ways difficult, because she is also coming of age, a young girl with a bit of a ferocious older soul; someone coming into power but a little young to temper it with wisdom; someone unsure of whether she’s jealous of Hob or not. Another character who required some work: Sir Jehan. It was a challenge to convey adequately a sense of his peculiar restless energy.


TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Something Red?

Douglas:  The big action scenes, of course, but also, just after the major conflict, there are the reactions of the characters to the aftermath—I was pleased with the way that turned out. And I did enjoy writing the ten murderous mastiffs.

There’s a scene, a little more than a page long, where two servants at the inn are drawing water from a well, and the older man is telling his nephew what happened a long time ago. It’s essentially a one-page murder ballad, a miniature drama told in heavy dialect. Later this episode will bring Hob to a kind of epiphany about adult life, but by itself it’s a tiny story within the main story that was interesting to write.

Other things I enjoyed are small stylistic touches. There’s a scene from “The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” in Irish literature, where Derdriu (Deirdre) sees a raven drinking drops of blood that have fallen on the snow from a dead calf her father is flaying, and she says, “I could love a man with those three colors: hair like a raven, cheeks like blood and a body like snow.” I was thinking of that when I began describing Nemain obsessively in terms of three colors: the white of her skin, the red of her hair and the green of her eyes, which vary from being plain and everyday: “blotchy . . . green as spring grass . . . red as apples”; to goddess-like “white as . . . drifts of snow”, “ruddy . . . as embers”, ”green . . . as smaragds [emeralds]”; to sinister “white as a cleaned skull . . . red . . . as spilled blood . . . green and cold as an old serpent's”; to romantically beautiful “green [as a] fern-shaded pool”, red as roses, white as lilies.


TQ:  What's next?

Douglas:  I’m working on a sequel, which will also be published by Simon and Schuster. It follows directly from Something Red, takes place a year and a fraction later, and follows the same major characters, with the addition of several others who are very, very scary.


TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Douglas:  It’s been my pleasure entirely.



About Something Red

Something Red
Emily Bestler Books / Atria Books, September 18, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

From debut author Douglas Nicholas comes a haunting story of love, murder, and sorcery.

During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.

An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous. 



About Douglas

DOUGLAS NICHOLAS is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in numerous publications, among them Atlanta Review, Southern Poetry Review, Sonora Review, Circumference, A Different Drummer, and Cumberland Review, as well as the South Coast Poetry Journal, where he won a prize in that publication's Fifth Annual Poetry Contest. Other awards include Honorable Mention in the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation 2003 Prize For Poetry Awards, second place in the 2002 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards from PCCC, International Merit Award in Atlanta Review's Poetry 2002 competition, finalist in the 1996 Emily Dickinson Award in Poetry competition, honorable mention in the 1992 Scottish International Open Poetry Competition, first prize in the journal Lake Effect's Sixth Annual Poetry Contest, first prize in poetry in the 1990 Roberts Writing Awards, and finalist in the Roberts short fiction division. He was also recipient of an award in the 1990 International Poetry Contest sponsored by the Arvon Foundation in Lancashire, England, and a Cecil B. Hackney Literary Award for poetry from Birmingham-Southern College. He is the author of Something Red, a fantasy novel set in the thirteenth century, as well as Iron Rose, a collection of poems inspired by and set in New York City; The Old Language, reflections on the company of animals; The Rescue Artist, poems about his wife and their long marriage; and In the Long-Cold Forges of the Earth, a wide-ranging collection of poems. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, Theresa, and Yorkshire terrier, Tristan.

Douglas Nicholas on Facebook and Goodreads and on Twitter (@DouglasScribes)


The Giveaway

THE RULES

What:  One commenter will win an ARC of  Something Red from The Qwillery.

How:   Answer the following questions:

What is one of your favorite novels that is not set in the present day?

Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.

You may receive additional entries by:

1)   Being a Follower of The Qwillery.

2)   Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.

There are a total of 3 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry) and Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry).  This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.

Please leave links for Facebook or Twitter mentions. You MUST leave a way to contact you.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Friday, September 28, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Guest Blog by Douglas Nicholas - The Page and the Palantir

Please welcome Douglas Nicholas to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Douglas' debut novel, Something Red, will be published on September 18, 2012.





The Page and the Palantir

One of the things that I found myself thinking about in the last year or so—and wondering why I hadn’t before—is the magical aspect to reading. I knew vaguely that there was a point when I began to read smoothly as a child, and it was no longer something I had to think about doing as I did it, and that it became very enjoyable.

But recently it occurred to me that there’s a much more strange quality to a good reader. You open a book, you begin to read, you begin to see things unfold before your eyes. It’s like watching your own movie. And yet you’re also seeing the page! If there’s a felicitous turn of phrase, you can stop and appreciate it, seeing it as words on a page, black type against white paper. Then the shadow play resumes, and you’re once again seeing a scene that isn’t there.

How is it possible to see the page and yet see something else simultaneously? If you think I have an answer, dear reader, I don’t. I have read recently that, when summoning a scene before the mind’s eye—someone asks you if there’s a gas station near the library in the next town over, and you’re trying to envision it from memory—your optic nerve stops sending images from the outside world to your consciousness, and passes them to a low-level monitor in your brain. Meanwhile the optic nerve is stimulated directly by the re-created scene. If there’s an emergency, you are shunted back to the “live feed” from the real world. There may be something like this at work in the back-and-forth between the page as physical object and the page that functions as one of the palantir, the seeing-stones that enable visions of far-distant events in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

In the selection below, taken from my new novel (pub date: September 18), Something Red, the boy Hob listens to a tale told by Molly, the Irish leader of a little troupe of travelers in thirteenth-century England. As she speaks, he begins to envision the scene as we readers do.

The action of Something Red takes place in a terribly bitter winter. However, the excerpt you are about to read is from a flashback chapter, recounting events of the summer before, when Hob was only twelve years old. The troupe, consisting of Molly, a woman in her early fifties, her lover Jack, a man in his late forties, Molly’s granddaughter Nemain, and the prentice boy Hob, is camped in a forest clearing on a night in late June.


===========================================================


Hob awoke alone in the middle-sized wagon, with an unsettled, incomplete feeling: a dream ruptured midway, a significant revelation interrupted. He rolled over on his back and looked out the wagon window. The wooden shutter was latched back against the wagon side and the leather shade was rolled high and tied in place, despite the unseasonably cool night. He craned his neck, trying to see the stars, but the overarching branches in full leaf hid much of the sky. Fresh air played over his face, and the scent of yarrow came and went in the interior of the wagon. The lost dream nagged at him, a task left undone.
       A strong golden glow moved and danced on the wagon's ceiling. He hitched himself up on one elbow to see. The fire had been built up again, and there on the other side of the clearing sat Molly, gazing into the flames, her back against a thick-bodied grandfather of an oak and a fired-clay jug by her side. Her hair was unbound, and fell forward over one shoulder in a rich gray tumble, down past her hip.
       Hob reached down a long linen shirt from its peg and pulled it over his head. He rolled off the chest and stumbled barefoot to the door. He was still half asleep. He swung down awkwardly from the wagon and made his way over to Molly.
       He thought she might shoo him back to bed, but she said nothing. She wiped a film of perspiration from her round sun-reddened face with a wing of her shawl, though a cool night wind was moving through the broad leaves.
       He stood next to her and she looked up and wordlessly patted the space beside her. She had spread a cloth between the bases of two large roots, and it was on this that she sat. He joined her, leaning back, the bark rough against his shoulderblades. Molly put her stout arm around his shoulders and drew him to her side, smoothing the fine black hair back from his forehead.
       “Is it that you can't sleep, mo chroí?” she said dreamily.
       “I was asleep, and then I was looking out, and. . . .”
       Thunderous snores from Jack began to rattle through the clearing.
       “Sure and there's not a creature sleeping within a league of that,” she said. “Well, that's all that's left of him this night, that snore.” She laughed a little to herself.
       “I was dreaming, and it was, it was. . . . I wanted to know what it was.”
       She turned a little and looked at him with more interest, although her eyes, blue as summer lakewater, were low-lidded and focused on him with some difficulty.
       “And what can ye bring to mind of it, at all, Hob?”
       “It was. . . . I forget.” The fire, the wind, the trees, crowded in on the memory of the dream; it flew apart like the steam from Molly's kettles. He squinted across the clearing. “It was something that was, that was white, that gleamed, it was a gleam of white, and something else, something red. I wanted to know what, what—it was something important and I wanted to know, but I, I can't. . . .”
       “You men,” said Molly, to Hob's delight. “You men never remember your dreams.” She took a sip from the jug. “Jack, now, says that there's never a dream he remembers on waking, it's like a black sea he jumps into each night. You can learn from dreams: what was, or what's to come. But what's forgotten is no help at all.”
       Beyond the fire's yellow circle the moon threw patches of pale light where it made its way through the net of heavy branches. Close by an owl gave voice to a startling series of barking screeches. The snores paused an instant, then resumed, a snarling undercurrent to the crackling of the fire, the pop of sap in a too-new twig thrown in with last winter's dead logs. Wisplets of smoke played in amid the flames, as though reluctant to join the main upwelling cloud.
       Something about the snoring reminded Hob of Jack's harsh difficult speech. The encircling arm, the stroking hand, Molly's warm bulk, relaxed him, and made him bold. “Mistress,” he asked, “what happened to Jack's neck?”
       Now, he thought, I'll be sent off for being the curious mouse at the larder.
       But Molly tilted the jug up again. From the side of his eye, Hob watched the thick shapely throat quiver as she swallowed, swallowed again.
       “Well, I'll tell you some of it, mo chroí.” Beads of moisture stood out on her forehead. A few damp silver locks had tumbled over her eye, and she pulled them back and tucked them behind her ear.
       “Jack Brown was in the Holy Land. He was carrying a pike for Sir Baldwin, he being the castellan of Aiglemont, when that knight went on pilgrimage. Our Jack was one of sixteen in Sir Baldwin's company, and they traveling along with a whole train of others, pilgrims and men-at-arms on their way down to Jerusalem, and baggage wagons, and the Templars their shepherds on that stretch of road. It was some road of the old Roman folk they were on, dust and dry hills all around, and the heat terrible late in the day as it was, and didn't the Moors come at them in a rush, one minute nowhere and the next down upon them.”
       “The Moors are the Devil's followers, Mistress?”
       “Something like,” she said, and drank again. “Cruel dark men, on horses fast as thaw-water. With curvy swords like sickles, only with the edge outwards, if you see what I mean.”
       With Molly's lilt in his ears and the shifting firelight in his eyes, Hob seemed to see the clouds of dust, the column of wayfarers, the sun's beams stuttering along the polished lanceheads. Pictures came to him as though he were watching, from a mountain ledge, the dwellers in a valley far below: clearly seen but very small, and not quite real.


The first attack swept along the column like a Syrian sparrowhawk stooping at a snake. White cloaks billowed out behind the lean dark horsemen; the burning desert sun flashed and sparkled on the storm of scimitars; the riders in their quilted tunics were shouting what Jack had come to learn was “God! God is great!” in their rapid rattling speech. An uproar began at the rear by the baggage wagons, swelling toward Jack's position in the center of the march, in which was mixed the wails of pilgrims and the clank of colliding metal and the skeeking of wooden whistles as the sergeants tried to rally a defense.
       Jack and his comrades had a scant moment to snatch at swords and war-hammers, and to swing their short kite-shields around from behind their backs. All was confusion on the instant, the pikes out of reach in one of the wagons, no time for forming up. Jack got his sword out and swung his shield up just in time to parry a whistling slash at his head, stabbed ineffectually at the horse, then braced for the next rider, who passed him by but cut Leofric next to him crosswise, left shoulder to right waist, smooth as silk, and then was gone.
       Another blur of striped tunic and white turban, a glimpse of narrowed black eyes, a prominent nose, and Jack hacked at the rider's thigh and felt the bite of the sword-blade into meat, but the horse carried the brown man on away and then the greater part of the fighting was on up the line.
       Jack looked around. Leofric was plainly beyond all help; Jack turned away and set himself, braced for the next assault.
       Three more times the Saracens circled and raced up the column on their swift beautiful horses, the delicate hooves kicking up clouds of dust. The wind was picking up, too, and raising more dust and loose sand from the dry burnt land. The riders came a fourth time, out of the wind, and Jack had to squint against the grit that stung his eyes and half blinded him.
       The day steadily darkened and the wind began to sing. The moving air ripped the top layer from the land and threw it against the stalled caravan and still the bronze men came, wave upon wave. Jack's throat was so dry that it burned. He set his back against an opentop wagon and hunched behind his shield, lunging whenever a rider loomed up out of the murk. He could not see a yard to either side, and the cries of his comrades came dimly above the blare of the gale. He was alone in a tan blankness.
       The sand flung by the storm against his unprotected face and hands was beginning to wear away bits of skin, and his hands were oozing blood from dozens of tiny cuts. There was shouting toward the distant front of the procession, and the hissing ring of steel upon steel, the thud of mace upon flesh, a horse screaming, but nearby was only the moan and shriek of the wind, the gritty patter of sand upon his boiled-leather gambeson. He peered through the dun haze. There was nothing.
       There was nothing, and then there was the Beast. It came bounding out of the brown clouds on all fours, and Jack's stomach turned to ice as he saw the big dark broadbacked shape hurtling toward him: massive black-furred limbs, a naked leathery breast, hands folded into fists the size of Jack's head, the knuckles pounding along the ground, a bestial mask of anger, fangs like a demon, and yet it was like a man and yet, yet, it was not a man.
       The next instant it had slammed him against the wagon, his left arm pinned beneath the great body pressing against the shield, his sword somewhere in the dirt. From the shadow beneath a heavy shelf of bone, little red eyes bored horribly into his; black lips drew back from yellow canines, two inches long. A scorching breath was on his face, a salty animal reek in his nostrils. Giant hands gripped his arms and shook him like an infant; his chin rattled against his collarbone and he felt himself sinking into a dazed lassitude. His head lolled back and he felt the rim of the wagon's side at the back of his neck and he looked up into the roil of brown cloud in a stupor, a vast weight on his chest crushing the air from his body.
       A searing pain at the side of his throat broke the dreamy paralysis of his limbs. He tried to scream but had no breath. He managed to draw up his right leg, and his right hand scrabbled at his calf, groping for the dagger strapped there. He drew the foot-long blade, struck blindly at the demon's side. It was like striking a young oak, but the thing sprang back. Jack fell groaning to the ground and scrambled beneath the wagon, chest heaving and throat a bloody mess.
       He felt a hand close on him, just above his foot. Jack was a powerful man himself, and had wrestled Jack White and other burly men on feast days on the grassy field to the west of his village, but he had never felt anything like this grip crushing down on his ankle. The Beast began to drag him from beneath the wagon bed as though he were a child. Somewhere the wind howled and the shouts and clang of battle echoed, but beneath the wagon Jack was sunk in a soundless sobbing nightmare, his fingers digging into the sandy soil as an arm, thick as his own thigh, drew him slowly toward those drooling tushes.
       He kicked back ineffectually with his free leg. He saw the wagon bed moving backward above him and then he was drawn inexorably from beneath its shelter. He heard a trumpet sounding, faint with distance. He could hardly hear it above the wind and the pounding of the blood in his head. The pounding grew louder and then louder and he realized that it was outside him, and a knot of Templars came barreling up the line, pitiless men on huge horses, appearing out of the whirling sands, the red cross stark against the dull gleam of battle-stained white surcoats. The horses' broad breasts smashed into the Beast, tumbling it under the heavy iron-shod hooves as they thundered past. The chargers, big as twenty-hundredweight draft horses, barely missed a stride. Jack was free.
       Jack saw the demon for a moment, collapsed in a tangle of massy limbs, before the dust obscured it. Blood from his throat soaked the shoulder of his shirt beneath the gambeson. He pulled off his helmet. He ripped the kerchief he wore beneath the helmet from his head and jammed it against his neck.
       He managed to roll over on his belly and crawl under the wagon again before lying still. He was unable to move further, and he lay there gasping and spitting with the sand blowing into his mouth, until the roaring in his ears grew louder than the roaring of the wind, and he fainted.
       When the attack had been driven off, Jack was found beneath the wagon, barely alive. When he was well enough to ask cautiously, much later, concerning the Beast, no one could remember seeing anything like such a creature. There was only the blood-blackened sand; the battered wagons, some burnt; the bodies of two or three of the fined-boned Arab horses; and scores of Christian and Saracen corpses, some of the latter so badly trampled by the Templar destriers with their spike-studded horseshoes that they were naked and unrecognizable.


Molly paused, and drank again from the jug.
       “And they never saw the Beast again?” Hob prompted.
       “They did not, surely.”
       “And did he ever go on to the Holy City, Mistress?”
       “He went to the lip of his own grave and that's no mistake. The Knights of St. John got him well enough to come home, but he was sore sick for a long weary time. There was little enough left of Jack when he found me at St. Audrey's Fair at Ely. You've seen the wee bag about his neck?”
       “Yes. He let me see inside it once, Mistress,” Hob said.
       Jack wore a thong about his neck, from which depended a little leather bag, and he took it off only when they went swimming in the hot part of summer. Hob had asked Jack about it one day, and the silent man had opened it to show him. Within were several small bunches of dried herbs, each tied with a lock of Molly's silver hair, and a little wooden figurine of a seated man, legs folded, with antlers growing from his head. In his hands he held out two serpents, whose heads were those of curl-horned rams.
       “By the herbs in that bag, by potions I brew him up, by the power of the Horn-Man, Lord of the Beasts and a powerful god he is, Jack's relieved of the fevers he had from the bite of that Beast. Sure and had he not found me that feast day, there'd be no more Jack.” She gave a little laugh deep in that soft white throat. “He's man enough now, though, and a bit to spare.”



About Something Red

Something Red
Emily Bestler Books / Atria Books, September 18, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

From debut author Douglas Nicholas comes a haunting story of love, murder, and sorcery.

During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.

An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous. 
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About Douglas

DOUGLAS NICHOLAS is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in numerous publications, among them Atlanta Review, Southern Poetry Review, Sonora Review, Circumference, A Different Drummer, and Cumberland Review, as well as the South Coast Poetry Journal, where he won a prize in that publication's Fifth Annual Poetry Contest. Other awards include Honorable Mention in the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation 2003 Prize For Poetry Awards, second place in the 2002 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards from PCCC, International Merit Award in Atlanta Review's Poetry 2002 competition, finalist in the 1996 Emily Dickinson Award in Poetry competition, honorable mention in the 1992 Scottish International Open Poetry Competition, first prize in the journal Lake Effect's Sixth Annual Poetry Contest, first prize in poetry in the 1990 Roberts Writing Awards, and finalist in the Roberts short fiction division. He was also recipient of an award in the 1990 International Poetry Contest sponsored by the Arvon Foundation in Lancashire, England, and a Cecil B. Hackney Literary Award for poetry from Birmingham-Southern College. He is the author of Something Red, a fantasy novel set in the thirteenth century, as well as Iron Rose, a collection of poems inspired by and set in New York City; The Old Language, reflections on the company of animals; The Rescue Artist, poems about his wife and their long marriage; and In the Long-Cold Forges of the Earth, a wide-ranging collection of poems. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, Theresa, and Yorkshire terrier, Tristan.

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