Sir Kay: Loose Ends

OK, so back a month or two ago–gee, was it only 2 weeks?–I posted the last chapter of Sir Kay. And everybody gave a good sigh at the happily-ever-after ending, and went on about their day feeling good.

So . . . what loose ends did I leave insufficiently tidied up?

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Killing Off a Character

I killed King Arthur yesterday. Well, everybody knew it was going to happen. If you are writing about an already famous character, and in his legend he dies a tragic death, you can either:

– have him die a tragic death.

– write an alternative ending and have everybody ridicule you.

– write slapstick.

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Same Story, Different Novels

Had an interesting experience this week: Writing the same scene in 2 different novels.

In Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail,  I’ve been rewriting/severely editing about Arthur and Kay’s boyhood with Merlin. Here’s a couple of paragraphs with The Grail telling the story (or course she can communicate):

Kay spent even more time at our cottage, and would have just moved in if his father had allowed it. Arthur’s foster brother was slight and awkward—you could already tell he was never going to be a great knight—but his mental agility more than made up for it. Arthur never really cozened onto mathematics, but Kay ate it up like it was fresh bread with honey. Sometimes they would play an early version of chess that Merlin had brought back from the Middle East; other times they would just match wits. Arthur was Merlin’s pupil and his hope for the future; Kay was more like a son. Continue reading


Ah, Guinevere.

Every story must have its heroes and its villains. A story with only good guys would be quite a yawner (and a world with only good girls would be a sorry place indeed).

I’ve not treated Guinevere kindly, I’m afraid. That didn’t exactly happen by design. When I was researching Morgan le Fay for Strange Bedfellows, I came across the following fact from an article on the literary tradition of Morgan.

Her enmity towards Guinevere has its origin in the Vulgate Lancelot, where Morgan is having an affair with Guiomar, Guinevere’s cousin, and Guinevere puts an end to it.

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I’ve posted 10 chapters, and we’ve hardly talked about the book at all! My fault. I should be posting discussions and related materials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’ve been building a deck instead. My son Saxon was on spring break, so we hit it hard every day. After we finished, it was all I could to lift my arms, much less write a blog post. Here’s one thing I already knew but was reinforced dramatically during the week: he’s a LOT younger than I am.

So I compromised and posted only once/week except for chapters. But then Strange Bedfellows came out, and with it a swirl of other activities to blog about.

Bottom line is: I’ve been slacking off on my responsibilities. There’s a picture at the end so you’ll know I haven’t been a total slacker, but that’s not the same thing.

So today, we’re going to talk about the book.

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Religion In Dark Age Britain

Christianity plays a huge part in the traditional Arthurian legend, which high Middle Age writers magically teleported into their own time. But when you move the story back into the background where it would have taken place if it is has historical roots, late 5th and early 6th centuries, the religious picture becomes much murkier. Particularly since we have very limited sources (written, archeological, etc) that contribute to our knowledge of the period.

When developing your own legend, it’s always good to start with what you know. Fiction isn’t bound by any of this, of course.  But if it gets too far afield it becomes Alternative History or Fantasy. None of that is really my intent.


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A Sidekick

One of the items on my writing bucket list was to have a sidekick. I didn’t know it was going to happen in this novel, but I had it on the  checklist to consider as a possibility. And then Oswald happened and suddenly it was a reality.

DEFINITION: A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies.

Wikipedia has this to say about sidekicks:

Sidekicks can provide one or multiple functions, such as a counterpoint to the hero, an alternate point of view, or knowledge, skills, or anything else the hero does not have. They often function as comic relief, and/or the straight man to the hero’s comedic actions. A sidekick can also act as someone that the audience can relate to better than the hero, or whom the audience can imagine themselves as being (such as teen sidekicks). And by asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition, thereby filling the same role as a Greek chorus.

I think Oswald performs a lot of those functions.

So who are our favorite all-time sidekicks?

TV: Barney Fife to Andy Griffith, Ensign Charles Parker to Lt Cdr Quinton McHale

Movies: Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Goose to Maverick

Literature: Sancho to Don Quixote, Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Samwise to Frodo, Fridy to Robinson Crusoe.

Comic Books: Robin to Batman, of course.

Wikipedia further notes that in contrast, “a villain’s supporters are normally called henchmen, minions, or lackeys, not sidekicks. While this is partially a convention in terminology, it also reflects that few villains are capable of bonds of friendship and loyalty, which are normal in the relationship between a hero and sidekick. This may also be due to the different roles in fiction of the protagonist and the antagonist: whereas a sidekick is a relatively important character due to his or her proximity to the protagonist, and so will likely be a developed character, the role of a henchmen is to act as cannon-fodder for the hero and his sidekick. As a result, henchmen tend to be anonymous, disposable characters, existing for the sole purpose of illustrating the protagonists’ prowess as they defeat them.”


The answer is: I didn’t plan it that way. I’ve really liked my kid characters, especially Meg in Return from Avalon (and Points West) and Jonah/J.G. in Strange Bedfellows. But Oswald was merely making a spot appearance when he successfully auditioned for the part of sidekick. Not to mention winning the hearts of all of my first draft readers (and perhaps a touch of mine as well).

When they start teaching my novels in Modern American Fiction courses at all of the best universities, one of the first essays will be to compare and contract J.G. with Oswald. Strangely enough, they are the same age. Again, not by design.

And won’t Oswald make a great character when Sir Kay comes out as a movie?


What’s Going On?

Today’s post will be an update of the things going on in the writing world of Rusty  Rhoad. As Jerry Lee Lewis would say, “There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

FIRST: The Adventures of Sir Kay. I will begin posting chapters TOMORROW, and continue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays until it’s done. The critical read and notes for rewrite are completed, as is the rewrite of Chapter 1. Tell all your friends.

Sir Kay will also be getting a real title soon. I think he’s due, don’t you? After bumbling along all these months on a makeshift title. My latest candidate (not the final choice, just my favorite so far) is: Kaffka, the almost-Holy Grail, and a Woman that Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.

Strange Bedfellows #3 copySECOND: Strange Bedfellows has a release date: March 5th. Yikes! That’s next week! I’ve done a lot to get ready, but there’s still plenty more to do.

*** IF YOU HAVE READ STRANGE BEDFELLOWS, please post a review on Amazon shortly after it is released. Early reviews are important in how a book a touted, listed, etc.

I’ve ordered new business cards with both novels on them. Got word today they’ve shipped, so I should have them in time to hand out at the party this time. Party, crap. Add that to the list of things to do. Hey, if you get a book published, you should have a party. No excuses.

business cardTHIRD: I have made a decision that my next project will be to rework/update Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail. That novel has holy grail 1been sitting around far too long. I will be starting the critical read (the latest critical read–there have already been a half dozen) as soon as I press the “Publish” button for this blog.

FOURTH: Avalon, South Carolina (that is the final title, although the “South Carolina” will be in a smaller font) will be released this summer. Rick, Sabrina, and Chai are ready for their 15 minutes of fame.

FIFTH: Return from Avalon (and Points West) should be coming out in paperback within the next month. That means I can sign copies, make guest appearances, and all that stuff.

As part of the promotion package for Strange Bedfellows, Return from Avalon (and Points West) will be offered for free for 3 days next month. I’ll let you know, although all of you should already have a copy.

SIXTH: The combination of all those things means I’m going to have to get my web page up and running. I’ve have reserved for more than a year now, but didn’t think it would add anything of value until I had two books out. So that moves way up the priority list.

throw up in your mouthSEVENTH: I have finally accepted the fact that I’m going to have to have a presence on Twitter (pardon me while I go get some water; I just threw up in my mouth a little bit). I still don’t get it. But I had some working sessions on building a web presence with somebody who knew a whole lot more about it than I do and, yes, Twitter is the next step.

I’m going to try to get by on 5 hours a week on social media, but frankly, I’m not optimistic.

So there’s a lot going on. But writing is still my first priority (if you’re a writer, it damn well better be).

See you with Sir Kay, installment one tomorrow.

Jerry Lee Lewis2For your entertainment, here’s a video of Jerry Lee Lewis at age 22 (1957), perfoming Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Rusty’s World of King Arthur: When?

I talked a little bit on Tuesday about “where” Rusty’s realm of King Arthur is located (more about that later). An equally important factor is “when.”

The French Romance writers, notably including the 12th century Chrétien de Troyes, place Arthur and his knights in contemporary times. Thomas Malory, writing in the 15th century, follows that practice. Of course, we know for a fact that if King Arthur really did live, it couldn’t have been during these times. The history of the Middle Ages is too well known. We know every king of England and surrounding territories during that period, and Arthur is not one of them.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) places Arthur in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. That tradition is much more popular with modern Arthurian writers, although using literary license to move it around a century or two is not uncommon. Geoffrey traces the legend back to a British king named Vortigern; there is reasonable historical evidence that Vortigern was a real person. According to Geoffrey, Vortigern invited the Saxon brothers Hengest and his brother Horsa to Britain and gave them land in exchange for their sister is marriage and fighting to defend his kingdom–an early historical case of hiring the fox to guard the hen house. Vortigern’s rule is thought to have begun around 455.

Vortigern also instigated the murder of one of King Constantine’s three sons, Constans (Constantine was apparently a rival for the position of high king, which didn’t really exist at the time). The other two sons, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther Pendragon, escaped to Brittany. They later returned to take vengeance on Vortigern. Ambrosius ruled as high king until his death, and was then succeeded by his brother Uther. And as we all know by know from my Arthurian quizzes, Uther was the father of Arthur.

So here, then, are some key dates from Rusty’s Arthurian Timeline.

457AD: Vortigern is killed, beginning the reign of Ambrosius and then Uther 9 years later (Uther would have been 28 when he became high king).

459: Igrane married Gorlois. In the next 3 years they have three daughters: Elaine, Morgause, and Morgan le Fay.

467: Sir Kay is born (there were no stars in the east to mark the event).

469: Arthur conceived; Uther marries Igrane 13 days later. 9 months after that, Arthur is secretly taken away by Merlin and left with Sir Kay’s father, Sir Ector, to foster.

475: Elaine and Morgause are married off because of Uther’s inability to keep his prick in his pants around his step daughters. Morgan is sent to a nunnery. 4 years later, she escapes and ends up in Fairie for 17 years (as told in Strange Bedfellows).

480: Merlin returns from the Middle East and begins the education of Arthur in the art of kingsmanship, and Sir Kay in mathematics (as told in The Adventures of Sir Kay). He is also carrying with him the Holy Grail (as told in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail).

485: Uther dies; chaos reigns until . . .

487: Arthur draws the sword from the stone and begins his reign. It takes him 3 years to finally put down the warring kings who refuse to accept him and assume the role as well as the title of High King.

491: Arthur begins the Saxon Wars. This lasts until the Battle of Mount Baden in 498. The battle may have been a real battle; if so, the date 498 is accepted by some scholars as the best estimate of when it took place.

496: Morgan finally escapes Fairie and comes to live with the Lady of the Lake. 4 years later she finally makes it to Camelot. Within a year, a jealous Guinevere has engineered for her to be married to the brutal King Uriens (story told in Strange Bedfellows).

504: Nimue uses her necromancy skills to place the dying Merlin in suspended animation. George Foster sees the pregnant Nimue for the first time.

505: Monsignor Dagrezia, along with Fathers Gascon and Ignatius, introduce Christianity to the Court of Arthur. NOTE: this is very ahistorical–the Christianization of Britain didn’t begin until the 7th century. But religion plays a huge part in the Arthurian legend, so I applied some of that literary license.

508: The first Grail Quest begins, but is unsuccessful.

509: George successfully makes the permanent transition to Avalon and becomes Nimue’s mate.

512: The Adventures of Sir Kay begins.

516: JD is left on Avalon as a potential sacrifice for the following year.

516??: The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur is critically wounded and Mordred is killed. But maybe not? Perhaps the sacrifice of JD puts this off for a while. Not likely, but I haven’t made the final decision yet.

A notable and commonplace activity of the Knights of the Round Table in all of the stories stories from Chrétien de Troyes to Malory is jousting. Jousting was a sport that began around the 11th century and flourished through the 16th century. But it could NOT have been a sport during Rusty’s Arthurian timeline. Why, you ask? Because the armor of the times simply wasn’t good enough. People would die regularly if you jousted in chain mail. Plate mail, followed by full plate armor, was still several centuries away. To keep the fun, I have invented an early forerunner of jousting for our knights. You should be reading about it a couple of weeks from now.

knight in plate armorKnights in plate armor–as well as their horses–were well protected against harm in the joust.


The Keys to Avalon

In my Arthurian Quiz II post on Friday, I included a picture of the castle ruins at Tintagel. That picture brought about this comment exchange:

STELLA: Question: Have you been to that castle? If not, do you plan to go? How much/many of the things you weave into your story (on the historical side, not the contemporary) have you visited/seen?

RUSTY: While it seems like a simple question, the answer is long and convoluted. So I think I’ll post on that very thing on Tuesday.

STELLA: Oh! I can’t wait to see it!

OK, Stella (and those who are also waiting on pins and needles but didn’t comment)–your wait is over.

Back in 2008 (I think), I went to our chemical plant in Wales on a business trip. It was summer–weather was nice, timing was right–so I invited Kate to meet up with me on Friday and spend a long weekend sightseeing. A week in London 14 years had been our only trip to the UK before that.

Three days to sightsee in SW England or Wales! What did I want to see? Arthur sights, of course. Glastonbury, for certain. Tintagel. Caerleon. Months before the trip, I began researching in earnest about how best to use the limited time.

About that time, my friend Heather (same Heather who comments here occasionally) gave me a book called The Keys to Avalon. It is deep and scholarly, but Arthurphile that I am, I couldn’t put it down.

There were two basic premises for the book. The work that “launched” Arthur as Britain’s foremost myth was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, written in Latin c. 1136. In the introduction, Geoffrey stated that Walter the Archdeacon presented him with “a certain very ancient book written in the British language,” and that he translated that book into Latin. This has long been considered a literary device to give credibility to the book rather than a true statement.

A handful of Welsh translations of the History exist from the period shortly after 1136. But here is the strange thing: all of the Welsh manuscripts contain material that is not in the Latin version. Hmm, the authors thought. What if the Welsh version was the original, and that is the ‘ancient’ book that Geoffrey used?

History of the Kings of Britain locates a number of events in relation to “the wall.” It has long been assumed that this refers to Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification that runs from sea to sea between England and Scotland to keep the Picts at bay. That makes Arthur’s realm the whole of England. Unfortunately, it would have been impossible to maintain a kingdom over that large an area in the 5th and early 6th centuries. That lends evidence that the entire account is fictional.

But the History refers to “east of the wall” and “west of the wall.” Since Hadrian’s Wall runs east-west, those references don’t make sense. The second premise of The Keys to Avalon is: suppose “the wall” doesn’t refer to Hadrian’s wall but rather the Wall of Severus?

The Wall of Severus is more commonly known as “Offa’s Dyke,” an earthen ditch and rampart that runs along the border between England and Wales. It has long been attributed to Offa, an 8th century king of Mercia. But it is highly unlikely that either the technology or the social structure existed in Britain during the 8th century to accomplish that task. So historians also consider that the wall may have been built by the Romans during the reign of Severus, 193-211.

united_kingdom_map2Map showing the locations of Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke

Offas-DykeRemnants of Offa’s Dyke as it exist today (I have been there)

When you put these two premises together, it shifts the landscape of Arthur 90º from the whole of England to Wales. Then the story matches the capabilities of the time, and the reference in Geoffrey’s work begin to make sense.  The authors worked to verify their premises by locating and translating old Welsh poems that existing in single copies in various churches and abbeys in Wales.

By the time I had finished The Keys to Avalon, I was totally convinced that the historical Arthur was a Welsh king or war leader, not  English at all. That made Tintagel a tourist trap rather than a must-see pilgrimage for the true Arthurphile.

Kate and I ended up spending our days in the UK exploring Neolithic ruins instead. Tombs and cairns and standing stones dot the Welsh landscape as well as much of southwest England. We ended in Avebury, which is featured prominently in Return from Avalon (and Points West).

And that’s why I’ve not been to  Tintagel.

Rusty’s Arthurian landscape expands Arthur’s realm out of Wales to take in SW England, including Bath, Glastonbury, and other parts of Sommerset. But that is acceptable artistic license, don’t you think?

PembrokeshireThe stunning Welsh Neolithic Cairn Pembrokeshire