Ice, ice, baby!

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rykevik-rooftops-1230557-640x480In the summer of 1993, after living in Sweden for six months, I flew back to the States.  My flight had a three-hour layover in Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport, just outside of Reykjavík.  I remained in the airport for the duration, but I couldn’t shake the curious murmur of destiny that tickled my ears.

This place is important.  Not Keflavík or Reykjavík, but farther out.  One day, you must return.

Six years later in Virginia, after I moved in with my husband (then fiancé) Dan, I had a vivid dream.  I drifted with the wind over fjord and field to what seemed a farewell scene.  A woman with long, dark blonde hair stood beside a horse and rider.  The man astride the horse had shoulder-length red hair and a full beard, and I sensed he held a position of importance.

I floated toward the woman’s back and suddenly became her.  The mergence held long enough for me to exchange good-byes with the man.  Then I shifted back out of her and hovered in the air, regaining my modern identity.

Without warning, as though whacked over the head with Thor’s hammer, I became infused with knowledge.  It was the 10th century, and we’d spoken Old Norse.  There’d been a meeting of chieftains, and the red-haired man was setting out on a long journey.  I (as the woman) had used precognitive skills to verify his safety and success.  I knew he cared for me and hoped we’d be reunited soon.  Less clear was our exact location.  I received a strong impression of Iceland, but murmurs beyond it hinted at the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, and a land of promise far to the west.

Then it dawned on me:  the character on horseback was Dan.  The one looked nothing like the other, but their essence was the same.  It didn’t feel like a dream; it resonated as a moment in history, from Dan’s past and mine.

One week later, we snuggled on the couch and watched the film Smilla’s Sense of Snow, part of which takes place in Greenland.

As the movie ended, I sighed.  “I have to go to there someday.”

“Yeah.”  His voice was wistful.  “That’d be cool.  You know where else we should go?  Iceland.  Do you want to?”

Did I?!  By week’s end, we’d booked a five-day excursion departing in mid-February.  His willingness to make the trip in the dead of winter confirmed what I’d come to believe as truth:  I had met my match.

Here was a fellow fan of wind and snow.  Here, too, was the bearded man I’d known and loved in a distant but distinct dreamtime.

26488_1376520863710_7367662_nWe spent a couple of days in Reykjavík and its environs.  Two of the more impressive sights were the Strokkur geyser and the majestic, half-frozen Gullfoss (Golden Falls).  Honorable mention goes to a “Viking restaurant” in Hafnafjöđur.  During our meal, traditionally clad men serenaded us with old Icelandic tunes whose meter and mode conjured visions of longships on the prowl.  The food was delicious…until we tried an Icelandic delicacy called hákarl.  That’s putrefied shark to you and me!  Thanks to a chaser of brennivín, an Icelandic schnapps, we stomached it and lived to tell the tale.

Next, we flew up to the “capital of the north,” Akureyri.  For three days, we braved the elements to cover as much ground as possible.  The snow was deep, and the wind was fierce, which translated to lonely stretches of road where our rental car was the only vehicle around.

There seemed a definite shortage of fellow tourists, but we did come across a group of Icelandic horses.  They squinted and blinked at the icy blasts, and they acknowledged us with quizzical expressions.

 

I could almost hear their thoughts.  Are you two crazy?  Even we would rather be indoors!

 

Still, we carried on, from the old whaling town of Húsavík to the towering lava formations called Dimmuborgir (“Dark Castles”) of Lake Mývatn.  One afternoon as we drove along yet another windswept, deserted road, the clouds parted, allowing a shaft of light to illuminate a giant shape in the distance.

It was a volcanic hill, but it had the aura and majesty of a mountain.  Its relatively flat top was rounded at the edges, which softened its otherwise looming presence high above the snow-covered plateau.  We nicknamed it “Valhalla” because (1) it attracted the only ray of light for miles around, and (2) its brilliance seemed blinding to eyes now accustomed to leaden skies.

Those skies remained our constant companion as we explored numerous craters and other volcanic creations around Mývatn, but whenever “Valhalla” came into view, it shone like a beacon.  We had to laugh.  It seemed preposterous that the sun should ignore every feature of the landscape but one.

That night, in our Akureyri hotel room, a strange sound woke me.  I rolled over in bed and stared at Dan.

He was talking in his sleep, but not in English.  It was a Scandinavian tongue, similar to Icelandic, and I almost understood it.  I felt right on the verge, like when a word or thought is on the tip of your tongue.  Given a slight, indefinable shift, I would’ve comprehended it.

All at once, I knew.  He was speaking Old Norse.

I didn’t wake him, and after a couple of minutes, he stopped.  But his easy pronunciation, fluency, and the authority of his speech echoed in my mind.

I thought of my mom.  Twice before, she heard me speak another language in my sleep:  Irish in Ireland and years later, Welsh in Wales.  For the record, I’ve never learned those languages, just as Dan has never learned a Scandinavian one.

iceland-glacier-lakes-5-1511771-639x960That was 17 years ago this month.  The experience lent the trip a touch of magic.  But all travel has the potential to be magical.  Distant places and different cultures expand our horizons and wake us up in profound ways.  I can’t help thinking of a quote from the movie Dune.  “The sleeper must awaken.”

In The Novels of Ravenwood series, the heroes of Books 1 and 3 are knights who’ve recently returned from the Holy Land.  They experienced the horrors of battle, but also learned to appreciate aspects of the cultural mix they encountered.  I’m still writing the third book, Shadow of the Swan.  But you can check out the first book, Flight of the Raven, to learn how the hero’s time overseas influenced him.  Happy reading!

And the winner is…

aba-valentines-blog-hopA big thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog for the ABA “A Time for Love” Valentine Blog Hop.  I did the drawing for the free digital copy of Flight of the Raven, and the winner is kitsyclare.  Congratulations!  Please email me at judithsterlingmarshall@gmail.com and give me your contact info, so I can send your prize on its way.  Thanks again!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

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In perf5.000x8.000.inddkeeping with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Soul of the Wolf (The Novels of Ravenwood, Book Two) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  The worldwide release date is April 12, 2017.

A Norman lady shows a Saxon sorcerer there’s no greater magic than love.

Pre-order now!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!

 

Souls Forever Bound ~ ABA’s A Time for Love Valentine Hop

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Thanks so much for visiting this stop on the Valentine Blog Hop!  We’re talking about love, and I’ll be delving into my family history.  Comment below, and you could win a free e-copy of my medieval romance, Flight of the Raven, the first of The Novels of Ravenwood.  So without further ado…

This October, my husband and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.  Last April, my parents celebrated their 50th.  But as Valentine’s Day approaches, I want to focus on the marriage of my maternal grandparents, better known as Nanny and Poppy.  Their bond was true and as strong as they come.

When Poppy’s naval ship sank during World War II, Nanny received word he’d been killed in action.  She ignored the telegram and remained calm, but not out of denial.  Her keen intuition—passed down to my mom, me, and my twins—insisted he was alive.  Months later, her belief was vindicated, and they spent the rest of their lives together in Virginia, Peru, and finally, Florida.

After 68 years of marriage, Nanny passed away.  Shortly thereafter, Alzheimer’s seized Poppy, and he moved into a nursing home.  His health plummeted, and my parents rushed to his side.  The nurse told them he was comatose and hadn’t spoken for four days.

My mom took his hand.  “Poppy, I love you.”

 “I love you too,” he replied.

It was a miracle of sorts.  Not only did he speak, but he recognized my mom.  She stayed in his room from that point on.

Two days later, throughout the day, his gaze darted around the room and up to the ceiling.  He repeatedly raised his arms toward what he saw.

The next day, my mom, her best friend, and the nurse witnessed an incredible reunion.  Something unseen lifted Poppy and held him so he sat up in bed.  Though his muscles were dormant, the movement was quick.  He could never have accomplished the feat on his own.

An expression of intense love transformed his features.  My mom sensed another presence in the room and was certain he gazed upon the person he loved most in the world, Nanny.

The next morning and afternoon, seven hawks circled outside his window.  His time had come; still, he hung on.  Toward the end of the day, my mom grabbed the phone.  Her gut told her Poppy needed to hear from his other daughter, so she called her sister and held the phone to his ear.

 “It’s okay to go,” my aunt said.

He murmured his last words, the only ones he’d spoken—besides “I love you too”—for nine days.  “Bye-bye.”

Two hours later, he died.  It was November 23, five months to the day after his wife’s death.  The next night, my three-year-old sons woke me and my husband from a sound sleep to report that Nanny and Poppy had appeared in their bedroom.  My grandparents came together to check on the boys while they slept.

Their love lasted a lifetime and then transcended it.  That’s the kind of love I write about in The Novels of Ravenwood series.  Physical attraction is great, and it abounds in Flight of the Raven, Soul of the Wolf, and the three books to follow.  But you’ll also find something deeper:  the meeting of minds, the interplay of souls.  These are the things which pave the way for true and lasting love.  And on that note, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here’s the scoop on Flight of the Raven!

FlightoftheRaven_w10928_750How eager would the bridegroom be if he knew he could never bed the bride?

Lady Emma of Ravenwood Keep is prepared to give Sir William l’Orage land, wealth, and her hand in marriage.  But her virginity?  Not unless he loves her.  The curse that claimed her mother is clear:  unless a Ravenwood heir is conceived in love, the mother will die in childbirth.  Emma is determined to dodge the curse.  Then William arrives, brandishing raw sensuality which dares her to explore her own.

William the Storm isn’t a man to be gainsaid.  He’ll give her protection, loyalty, and as much tenderness as he can muster.  But malignant memories quell the mere thought of love.  To him, the curse is codswallop.  He plans a seduction to breach Emma’s fears and raze her objections.  What follows is a test of wills and an affirmation of the power of love.

for the next stop on the valentine hop, click below:

1. A Time For Love ~ Casi McLean 2. Spunk & Hunks ~ Anna Durand
3. Love in the Month of February ~ Mary Morgan 4. Love Potions and Charms ~ Sorchia Dubois
5. He said he wasn’t the romantic kind of guy, but… ~ Peggy Jaeger 6. Love and War ~ Gini Rifkin
7. Sexy Chocolate Cakes ~ Kayden Claremont 8. 50 Great Date Ideas ~ Devon Mckay
9. Hearts Abound ~ Tena Stetler 10. Love Every Day ~ Darlene Fredette
11. Importance of Valentines Day ~ Maureen Bonatch 12. Souls Forever Bound ~ Judith Sterling
13. Mysterious Origins of Valentine’s Day ~ Barbara Bettis 14. A Romantic Valentine Dinner ~ Jana Richards
15. Steamy Romance Meets Spooky Suspense ~ Kathryn Knight 16. Book Bling ~ Elizabeth Alsobrooks
17. Sweet Romances ~ Katherine McDermott 18. Historical Heartbeats ~ Brenda B. Taylor
19. An Awesome Bewitching Author Valentines Day ~ Lisa Voisin 20. Idea City ~ Kitsy Clare/Catherine Stine
21. Welcome to the ABA Valentine Hop ~ Linda Nightingale 22. Bridie Hall YA Author ~ Bridie Hall
23. A Time For Love Valentine Blog Hop ~ Amber Daulton 24. ‘Out Of This World’ Romance ~ Hywela Lyn
25. Time Travel For Love ~ Karen Michelle Nutt 26. Valentine’s Day – A Family Tradition ~ Holland Rae
27. Historical Heartbeats

 

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

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Hi, everyone!  Here’s the scoop on Soul of the Wolf, the second of The Novels of Ravenwood:

A Norman loyalist, Lady Jocelyn bristles when ordered to marry Wulfstan, a Saxon sorcerer. She nurses a painful secret and would rather bathe in a cesspit than be pawed by such a man…until her lifelong dream of motherhood rears its head.

A man of magic and mystery, Wulfstan has no time for wedded bliss. He fears that consummating their marriage will bind their souls and wrench his focus from the ancient riddle his dying mother begged him to solve. He’s a lone wolf, salving old wounds with endless work. But Jocelyn stirs him as no woman ever has.

Their attraction is undeniable. Their fates are intertwined. Together, they must face their demons and bring light to a troubled land.

I just got the release date:  April 12, 2017.  It’ll be here before you know it!

If you haven’t read Flight of the Raven, the first in the series, now would be a good time to check it out.  It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers, and of course, from The Wild Rose Press.perf5.000x8.000.indd

 

“I will!” And I would again in a heartbeat.

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In the summer of 1999, I made up my mind to move to Williamsburg, Virginia and work for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  I flew into Newport News and gave myself one week to secure a job and a place to live.  With dispatch, I achieved both goals, which left me with spare time at the end of said week.  I ambled around CW’s historic area, wholly unaware I had a date with destiny.

I schlepped along DOG (Duke of Gloucester) Street.  Thanks to the heat and humidity, I thought I was going to pass out.  Then I spied a divine stretch of shade beneath the entrance to the 18th-century courthouse and made a beeline for it.

A young man in colonial garb with wavy, brown hair and blue-gray eyes guarded the door.  I must’ve looked pathetic, because he grinned as I approached.

“Can I share your shade?” I begged.

“Of course,” he said.

We remarked on the hellish heat, shook hands, and introduced ourselves as Dan and Judy.  We settled into an easy conversation, and I learned he was a native of New Jersey and had recently moved to Williamsburg with the express purpose of working for CW, just as I had.

For some reason, I told him I’d studied at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.  His eyes lit up, and he explained that his ancestors had held lands around Aberdeen.  In fact, Marischal College at the University of Aberdeen was founded by an Earl Marischal of Scotland.

We had a number of things in common.  With minimal adjustments to circumstance, we might’ve met before in England or Massachusetts.  We could’ve talked for hours, but he had to get back to work.

“Good luck with your new job,” he said, shaking my hand once more.  “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

A week later, after I’d well and truly moved to Williamsburg, I was back in the historic area.  This time, I explored the Magazine.

All of a sudden, the memory of Dan’s blue-gray eyes invaded my thoughts.  Where are you, Dan? I asked in silence.

Without knowing why, I marched down the stairs and out of the Magazine.  Then I crossed DOG Street and the Courthouse green in a straight line that led right to the Randolph House.

There stood Dan in 18th-century costume, guarding the gate against the long line of tourists.  Somehow I’d answered my own question and known where to go.  Or perhaps, a part of Dan had “heard” my question and responded on a level of which neither of us was consciously aware.

I started toward him.  “Hi.  You probably don’t remember me, but I’m Judy.  I met you a week ago.”

“Of course I remember you,” he said.

That was a shocker.  But I didn’t have time to react because another costumed interpreter approached us.

Dan glanced at the newcomer.  “Perfect timing.”

Perfect was right.  It was time for Dan’s break, and the other interpreter was his replacement.

We strolled down Nicholson Street toward the Cabinetmaker.  Casual observers might’ve mistaken us for longtime friends.  As for me, I had a gut feeling we were meant to meet.  It felt right to walk beside him.  I knew on some level, I’d chosen to do so.

His break was short, so we parted at Botetourt Street.  But not before he asked me to dinner.

That evening, he took me to a Mexican restaurant where we indulged in freshly baked tortilla chips, a tasty array of enchiladas, and a candid conversation that ran the gamut from our respective childhoods to our impressions of Williamsburg.  It was a long exchange…so long that we were the last customers out the door.

Even so, we were reluctant to part company.  Dan suggested we go to his apartment to watch a movie.  I’m surprised I wasn’t nervous.  Why?  Two reasons.  One:  he invited me to his apartment on our first date.  Two:  we watched Silence of the Lambs.  How’s that for a first-date flick?!

When the ominous soundtrack swelled above the rolling credits, it was the perfect complement to my thoughts, but not about Dan.  The one and only nuisance to my nerves that night was my new job, which would begin in roughly eight hours.  I turned to Dan and confessed my worries.

He covered my hand with his.  “You’ll do fine.”

Serenity, surrender, and a strong sense of déjà vu rushed through me.  It seemed we’d sat beside each other in just that way hundreds of times before.

This man will support me, I thought.  He’ll protect me with his life.

58072_1665016995933_6614003_n  From then on, we spent all of our free time together.  Two months later, I moved in with him.

Two months more, and we were home from work with nasty colds.  Our trash cans overflowed with discarded tissues.  We’d consumed at least a gallon of chicken soup and sneezed on each other more times than we could count.  It was quite possibly the most unromantic day in history.  But then…

Dan sat splayed across the couch as I shuffled toward him in my bathrobe and slippers.  I made a ludicrous joke, and he was gracious enough to laugh.  I knelt on the couch to hug him, and his arms closed around me.

Laughter still touched his voice as he asked, “Will you marry me?”

I thought he was joking.  “Sure,” I said with a dismissive gesture.  “Someday.”

“You mean you will?”

I pulled back to read his expression.  “You’re serious?”

He was indeed.  Our engagement had begun.

We had a choice about whom we would marry.  Most of us in modern times take that for granted.  In my first two medieval romances, the heroines—Emma, Lady Ravenwood and Jocelyn, Lady Nihtscua—must grin and bear arranged marriages, however much they object.  Luckily, their benevolent creator (yours truly!) believes in happy endings…maybe because I’m content in the relationship I was fortunate enough to choose 17 Januarys ago.

                                                     ~ ~ ~

Soul of the Wolf, the second of The Novels of Ravenwood, will be available soon.  The first book, Flight of the Raven, is available now.  Click here!

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When Art Imitates Life

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stairway-on-the-beach-2-1178704-1920x1440            When I was nine, my paternal grandmother died of cancer.  She and I were close, so I dreaded the open-casket funeral.  As it turned out, the experience was quite different from what I expected.  I studied her made-up face with more curiosity than sorrow.

             That’s not Grandma in the coffin, I thought.  It’s just a shell.

The air was heavy with whispers, sobs, and the scent of flowers, but I sensed my grandmother hovering at the back of the room, watching us all.  When my grandfather broke down in front of the casket, she rushed to his side, faster than those of flesh and blood could.  This awareness of her continued presence made the whole event seem like a bizarre play.  Unsure of my role in it, I said nothing of my impressions.

The next time I saw my grandmother was months later in a dream.  She looked much the same as she had in life, though bliss appeared to have smoothed the minimal lines on her face.  We sat together in a well-appointed bungalow, into which drifted the sound of waves crashing on a shore.  We played cards and marble solitaire, and while we didn’t speak, our hearts communicated volumes.  Love and peace enveloped me, but I knew our time together was brief.

Suddenly, she smiled at me, and I heard her thoughts.  Come.  I want to show you something.

We stepped outside where the sky glowed with the rosy hue of twilight.  I followed her along a path of stones to a beach that seemed to stretch into infinity.  Then I noticed the ocean and did a double take.

The water was golden and full of light.  The waves crested, but instead of curving over, they extended–as though over a box–before colliding with the sand.  My mind registered the image of a square, then a cube, and finally something like a hypercube (or tesseract) rotating on a single axis.

Abruptly, I awoke.  I leapt out of bed, snatched a pen from my desk, and wrote in my dream journal:  Grandma in a cottage at the beach.  Square waves.  Fourth dimension.  In a daze, I climbed back into bed, burrowed under the covers, and fell asleep.

At nine years of age, I had no formal knowledge of geometry or physics.  When I observed what I’d written the next day, the idea of a fourth dimension was foreign.  But in the moment I emerged from the dream, it made perfect sense.

The fourth dimension holds meaning for mathematicians and metaphysicians alike.  In geometry, a tesseract (made, in principle, by combining two cubes) is the four-dimensional analog of the cube, just as the cube is the three-dimensional analog of the square.  In spiritual studies, the fourth dimension is linked to a higher frequency or vibration of energy, interpreted as the astral plane (the realm we enter during astral travel and at physical death).  Apparently, we become conscious of it when beings from higher dimensions intersect with our three-dimensional reality.

Maybe my grandmother paid me a visit.  Maybe I traveled via the astral plane to visit her.  All I know is our first reunion was as beautiful and as deep as the shining waters she revealed.

This experience and others like it inevitably find their way into my writing.  In The Novels of Ravenwood series, some of the characters are aware of other dimensions.  They receive information through visions or dreams, sometimes from a loved one who’s crossed over.  It’s historical romance with a dash of magical realism.  Medievals with a hint of the mystical.  I hope you enjoy Flight of the Raven and Soul of the Wolf (soon to be released).  I’m currently writing the third in the series, Shadow of the Swan.

Flight of the Raven is available now on Amazon.  Click here!

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News for the New Year

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Happy New Year!  First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has written a review of Flight of the Raven on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, The Wild Rose Press, etc.  I really appreciate your support and enthusiasm.  Also, congratulations to Maria Narkis, who won an autographed paperback copy of Flight of the Raven by commenting on my LASR Winter Blogfest 2016 post.

On the publishing front, 2017 will be a big year.  Soul of the Wolf, Book Two of The Novels of Ravenwood has been sent to production for the final galley, so I should have a release date soon.  Now I’m writing Book Three, Shadow of the Swan.  I’ve also contracted The Cauldron Stirred, the first book in my YA paranormal fantasy series, Guardians of Erin.  The edits begin soon!

That’s all for now.  Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017!