Guest Post: Baby Groot Interviews A.M. Offenwanger

I did a guest post! Baby Groot, who is Kate M. Colby’s writing mascot, interviewed me. Honest, he did! Ask Steve, he was there.

Kate M. Colby

I’ve never done a guest post before. Is that kind of like being a guest speaker, where you get bottles of water and an honorarium? What, no honorarium? Drat. Water bottles, at least? Oh, thank you, Baby Groot. [Takes a sip] So how do we go about this?


You’ll ask me some questions, and I’ll waffle on from there? Sure, no problem. Let’s do this thing. [Squares shoulders, makes an intelligent face.] Go.


Yes, thank you, I’m very glad to be here, too, and to get this chance to talk to your esteemed audience. So what would you like to ask me?

seventh son<I AM GROOT.>

Where do I get the ideas for my writing? Ah yes, that’s a question Us Writers get asked a lot. [Takes on faintly supercilious facial expression, then wipes it off again when she realises…

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Medieval Marriage, or, I Thought I Just Made That Up

The things you find out…

I was watching a really cool BBC documentary yesterday called Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death.  Specifically, this one was episode 2, “A Good Marriage” (at the moment you can watch it here, although it might not stay up forever. Canadians can also stream it off Knowledge Network, which is what I did). And I learned something really interesting: up until the 12th Century in Europe, all it took to get married was for two people to make a commitment to each other. That’s right, you just said to each other: “I take you as my husband” and “I take you as my wife”, and bingo, you were married. It could be anywhere – a pub, a hedgerow, a cottage…

And I was sitting there, watching this, and started to sputter: “That, that, that – I made that up for Seventh Son!! That’s my idea! And it was actually real!!” The marriage customs of Ruph, the place where Cat and Guy live, are exactly that: they say “I marry you,” and that’s it, they’re hitched. But I just made that up – and now it turns out it was exactly like that in medieval Europe! I had no idea. It’s kind of cool when you find that your fiction inadvertently copies reality.

medieval peasantsSo, yes, according to that documentary, the meaning of marriage was two people committing to each other. They didn’t even need witnesses, although if you had some, that helped if the marriage was ever contested (by your spouse who wanted to get out, or by anyone else, say, your parents because they wanted to hitch you to someone with more money). If you had witnesses, your friends John, Joan, Robert and Roberta could confirm that the Thursday after Whitsun, you (Joseph) and your sweetheart Margaret had pledged your troth at the Blue Hare in front of all of them (after you’d quaffed about five pints of ale each, Margaret’s eyes had sparkled exceptionally bright, so you figured it might be a good idea to officially tie the knot. Fortunately, John and Joan had only had about two pints each, so they have a clearer memory of the event than you do). And that was entirely legal.

medieval marriageIt was only from the 12th century onwards that the church figured it should put a bit more of a control on this marrying gig, so they could keep tabs on folks a little better. However, it really was just an extension of the old custom, with the priest serving as the witness and delivering God’s blessing on the union. Legally, it was still the same thing; the priest didn’t have any actual powers – the marriage was in the vows, not in the priest’s role or a legal document. (Apparently, also, the marriage – the spoken “I take thee…” commitment – took place outside the church, in the porch, so the couple was already married by the time they crossed the threshold into the church for the blessing service).

So then I got to thinking: it’s almost like we’ve come full circle again in this day and age. From where I sit, it looks like that in the Western world, a large proportion of marriage-like relationships take place on an informal basis – two people make a commitment to each other, they move in together, and they’re a couple. In the most telling phrase, they’re in a common law marriage. All it takes is a commitment.

The one great, big, ginormous difference between medieval marriage customs and ours today, though, is not the way marriages are contracted – formally or informally, common law or regulatory law. It’s the fact that today, marriages can be un-contracted. If the common law marriage doesn’t work out, you just move your stuff out of your girlfriend’s house; if the formal law one goes sour, you go to divorce court, and (at least in Canada) after a year you can start all over again with someone else. That, in the Middle Ages, was very much not happening. A marriage was a marriage, whether contracted in a hedgerow with just the sparrows and the odd bunny rabbit as witnesses, or in Westminster Abbey with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding. And they took that “til death do us part” thing deadly serious. The only way you could ever get out of a marriage while your spouse was alive was to establish that it hadn’t actually taken place – get it annulled, in other words. Didn’t matter if your wife turned out to be a vicious shrew or your husband a jerk who knocked you about; if you’d slept together (proof positive: children), you were stuck with them for good.

I have to say, I prefer our way of doing things today. Divorce sucks, but at least it means you’re not permanently trapped in a relationship you contracted in the heat of the moment (see “five pints of ale”, above). Could you imagine if you were bound for life to your first boyfriend, the one you thought you couldn’t live without and swore eternal faithfulness to back in grade 10? Urgh, yeah. Mind you, “for life” in the Middle Ages was a considerably shorter time period than it is today. But still.

Incidentally, I hadn’t considered it before, but I do think that in spite of their medieval marriage style, the people of Ruph do have divorce as a last-resort option. It hasn’t come up yet in my stories, but it might, some day. I wouldn’t want anyone to be stuck in a horrible relationship, you know? But I’m sure they’ll think long and hard about it before they call it quits. People are like that in Ruph.

Life, the Universe, and Marriage. The things you find out…

The Old Villa

I just ran across this quite interesting article and video: a mini-documentary on abandoned houses in Europe (filmed in pursuit of a book trailer for the filmmaker’s new book).

And it brought up a memory.

When I was a teen, we lived in a Bavarian mountain village, right across the street from a house just like this – a small country villa with gables and ivy, yellow-stuccoed with a red tile roof, on a large property completely overgrown with trees. It used to be the weekend country house of some rich person whose heirs were uninterested in the place and just let it fall to pieces. My neighbour’s son and his friends reportedly used to go in and set off molotov cocktails in the windows, just to hear the glass shatter, and do target practice on the jars of canned plums that were still in the cellar. (Young hoodlums! Actually, they’ve grown up to be quite respectable men. I’m not sure what that proves – nothing, probably.) That was before we lived there; so I never did hear any of the booms and crashes their vandalism would have produced. By the time we got there, there weren’t any intact windows left, and the rooms pretty much looked like the ones in the video.

We went into the house a couple of times, feeling very daring and trespass-y. Once a visiting cousin wanted to see it – I was probably twelve or thirteen then. We snuck in, trembling, through the servant’s entrance, and got about halfway up the back stairs when we thought we heard a noise from the upper floor – we turned tail and fled, terrified.  I don’t think there was anything there other than our keyed-up nerves; but regardless, I don’t think I ever did go back in after that.

However, now that I think of it, I realised something: that villa is the house I picture in my mind whenever I read a historic novel and come across a description of the rich house of the protagonist – the hallway and drawing room, particularly. You walked up the big front stairs, and into a two-story hall with a staircase going to the upper floor with the bedrooms (I only once snuck up those stairs, the first time I went in the house; later the staircase had broken down. You could still see a bed through one of the open doorways). Downstairs, to the right of the hall was the living room, or drawing room; I seem to remember it having a bow window or alcove across the room opposite the door, and on the long side large windows looking towards the street – or rather towards the trees that were obscuring it from the street at that point. The interesting thing is that the image of the layout of this house, of its front room with the bow window at the side (I think that alcove might have been large enough to have a table in), the staircase rising to the upper floor – that image is stamped on my memory, and shapes the stories I read even now, decades later.

I wonder who they were, the people who lived in that house. Some wealthy industrialist’s family from Munich probably, who spent their summer holidays in the mountains, and perhaps a weekend here or there. Houses do tell stories; and the story of that place is long gone. Sometime in the 1990s, after I had moved away, the house was torn down, the property divided up and a few nice modern holiday homes put in its place. I suppose that now it’s their turn to build their stories.

Random Imagery

Apologies for the Funkstille (radio silence) over the last week or so. I’ll spare you the excuses; suffice to say they involve busyness, weather, not-feeling-well, editing work (yes, Checkmate is being beaten into shape, and will be coming to an online bookseller near you! Soon. Well, soon-ishly. I’ll let you know.) and stuff like that.

I was going to write an erudite post about Story, and narrative structure, and why I don’t like it when silly, fun movies use Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria as one of the characters. But then I got busy cooking lasagne for dinner (I make it in the slowcooker – another post for another day), and the writing inspiration leaked out of my ears, so QE and QV will have to wait. Besides, I want to get back to reading the mystery novel I’m into (P. D. James, Death in Holy Orders. Yet another post: why, oh why did she have to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, when she’s such a good writer in her own right? However).

sweetpeaAnyway, just so’s not to leave you hanging for too long without any effusions from amo vitam, here is some random imagery for you. One a  sweet pea flower that’s blooming in the box on my balcony; the other a very random bit of magnetic, umm, poetry (for lack of a better term), which has its own, uh, imagery. And a magnetic ladybug.

magnetic poetry 2015 (2)And here’s a commentary on the previous one. Just sayin’.

magnetic poetry 2015 (1)Life, the Universe, and Random Imagery. Until further ramblings!

Things Are Such

midsummer sunriseA dear friend gave me a book of poetry by Rumi as a present recently. And this morning, I opened it at random, somewhere in the middle, and found this. Couldn’t help but share it.


Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
or watching the rain, petting a dog,

or singing, just singing – could be doing as
much for this universe as anyone.


(translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

Post-a-Quote Day 3

Borage flowers. Another edible (the leaves taste like cucumber). Aren’t they pretty? They’re only about as big as my thumbnail. I love that shade of blue.

So here we are, Day 3 of Post-a-Quote. (Thanks again for the nomination, Kate M. Colby and Zach Chopchinski). To remind you, the rules (which I’m breaking) are:

* Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
* Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
* Thank the blogger who nominated you.

And here’s today’s quote, which is, in a sense, a continuation of yesterday’s theme as directed at writers (and other artists):

Don’t be led away by those howls about realism. Remember, pine woods are just as real as pigsties and a darn sight pleasanter to be in.

L. M. Montgomery, Emily’s Quest

(In the book, the advice is addressed to Emily, the main character, a young girl at the beginning of her writing career.)

And yes – yes, Yes, YES!! Pine woods are as real as pigsties, rainbows are as real as rubble. Being an English major, I’ve had my fair share of having to read depressing stories of people being miserable and hopeless (Heart of Darkness, anyone?), wallowing in rubble and pigsties. But misery is not all there is to life.Yes, death is a reality, but so is birth. Like Luther planting apple trees in the face of doom, Emily writes about pine woods rather than pigsties – it’s the writer’s raspberry at the doom of the world. So there!

Life, the Universe, and Our Final Quote of the Day. Anyone have a favourite to share?

Post-a-Quote Day 2

So here, people, is my quote for Day 2 of the Post-A-Quote challenge (which, once again, I was nominated for by Kate M. Colby and Zach Chopchinski. Thanks, guys!). To remind you, the rules are:

* Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
* Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
* Thank the blogger who nominated you.

Point #3, done; point #2, don’t wanna today; point #1, here goes:

Even if the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.
(Martin Luther)

I haven’t planted me an apple tree yet, but I’m starting with edible flowers (calendula and nasturtiums, here).

Well, it’s supposedly by Martin Luther. This quote is actually somewhat apocryphal; it’s impossible to find the precise source for it. It’s also sometimes cited in its expanded version, where Luther states that in spite of the impending doom he would also still today pay off his debts and father a child. (Tradition is silent on what his wife Käthe’s opinion on the latter point was.)

I love this quote for its unabashed hopefulness; for its cheerful opposition to gloom-and-doom prophecies and the despair that follows in their wake. It blows a raspberry at the collective naysayers of the world. Yes, there’s darkness in the world – but in spite of it: Plant trees! Be honest with your neighbour! Make babies! And, as I’m sure Luther himself would have added (for that, we actually have documented sources), enjoy a good dinner with your friends and family in the meantime.

And that’s Life, the Universe, and Today’s Daily Quote. One more tomorrow.

Post-a-Quote Day 1

I was going to show you my dragonsbane plant, but it’s looking pathetic right now. So here’s a shot of the purple peavine which grows right next to it.

Happy Canada Day, and Happy First Day of Camp NaNoWriMo!

And on that note, Zach Chopchinski and Kate M. Colby , who just happen to be two of my Camp Nano cabin mates, have done it again: they’ve both nominated me for yet another blogger challenge. This one’s a bit easier: it’s the post-a-quote challenge. I can do that, yup, not a problem.  These are the rules:

* Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
* Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
* Thank the blogger who nominated you.

I think I’m going to rebel yet again and not actually follow rule #2 every single day – so there.
But for day one, here’s my round of nominations (more, ahem, cabin mates). Feel free to ignore them, bloggy friends (and pass the marshmallows).
E. L. Bates

And thanks, Zach and Kate! Esteemed readers, do hop over to their blogs and check out their posts and their books (Zach’s is out, Kate’s not yet – but what she’s been saying about it sure looks good!).

Anyway, on to quoting. Here’s one that I used to have as a signature line in my emails for the longest time. I have no idea who said it first (if you do, let me know so I can attribute it properly).

Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup. (Anonymous)

I think this is very good advice; words of wisdom to live by. I have taken it to heart for many years now, and can assure you that it is an effective way to avoid draconian botherations. Of course, I usually don’t have too many problems with dragons anyway – I haven’t seen even one tiny little one in my garden since I planted dragonsbane (tarragon).

Life, the Universe, and Today’s Quote #1. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

PS: There are still a couple of spots left in our Camp Nano cabin – if you want to participate, give me your username and I’ll send you an invitation. Writing is more fun with others to complain to!