Posts Tagged With: alternate history

Indigenous People’s Day – Plus Free Books!

So, I’ve had a problem with the celebration of Columbus Day ever since grade school when I first figured out that Columbus never set foot anywhere in North America, let alone the part that became the U.S. My disdain for the holiday only grew when I learned that Leif Ericson was actually the first European to land on the continent. Why don’t we have a Leif Ericson Day instead, I wondered. (Actually, we sort of do–October 9. Did you know this? I didn’t until now.)


Statue of Leif Erickson which stands in Milwau...

Statue of Leif Ericson in Milwaukee, WI.  He doesn’t look as Vikingy here as he does in many other statues. Interesting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Where was I? Oh yeah. Columbus Day. Like I said, it was the initial logicfail of the holiday that threw me off the bandwagon, but it was discovering more of what Columbus’s explorations began–colonization and genocide–that really got my goat. Like The Oatmeal asks in his latest cartoon, this guy’s worth celebrating?


My only problem with the cartoon is that, while I agree that Bartolomé de las Casas was the better man and deserves recognition for what he tried to accomplish once he repented of his earlier ways, by turning Columbus Day into Bartolomé Day, we’d still just be celebrating another dead white guy.


Bartolome de las casas

Bartolome de las casas–better than Columbus, but still… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Another dead white guy who, I have to admit, I used as a source while writing my novella “So The Taino Call It.” De las Casas’ book A Short Destruction of the Indies provides a lot of information about what Columbus and the men who came after him did to the original residents they found on the islands they “discovered.” But it is those original residents I think we should really be remembering today. There’s already a name for that holiday: Indigenous People’s Day. What would their lives be like, if the Europeans had never shown up in the first place? Or showed up in peace and humility? We’ll never know, but it’s interesting to think about.


In honor of that holiday, how’d you like to win a digital copy (DRM-free) of the anthology Substitution Cipher, a Candlemark & Gleam book that contains several cool alternate history stories of espionage, one of which is my tale of what might have happened if Columbus’s first voyage didn’t go quite as planned? Substitution Cipher also includes G. Miki Hayden’s tale “In God We Trust,” which explores a different historic path the people of North America might have taken.  There are also tales of Berlin, Venice, World War II, and the Cold War. It’s a neat collection. Comment on this post here and I’ll pick a random winner by next Monday.


Happy Indigenous People’s Day!

Millie Ketcheschawno, filmmaker, organizer and activist for Native American rights; she was one of the founders of the first Indigenous People's Day (still an annual event) in the U.S. 1937-2000

Millie Ketcheschawno, filmmaker, organizer and activist for Native American rights; she was one of the founders of the first Indigenous People’s Day (still an annual event) in the U.S. 1937-2000



Categories: Books/Authors, Holiday Posts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Link Treats

Where have all the link treats gone? Well, they’ve been sitting in my drafts folder waiting for me to get off my ass and post them, is where. *sigh* It’s been kind of busy/nonblogmotivational around here lately. (and that is so a word) There’s been writing, just not of the blog. (New story about to be submitted if I can come up with a title! Psychic Depression-era noir-ish detective thing–any suggestions?)

Not That Girl
I’m not that girl either. Oh wait. I totally am. Some fine writing from the Belle Jar

Today’s Time Waster: Literary Figure Collective Nouns
John Scalzi with a new game. Lots of creativity in the comments.

Evolution 101
Andreas Heinakroon talks about evolution. It’s fun and smart, as his posts always are.

10 Worst Mistakes That Authors of Alternate History Make
Good stuff to take into consideration if you’re writing alternate history. I think I did all right with “So The Taino Call It.” Did you read it? What do you think?

Rules of Writing: Get to the Fucking Monkey
Some good writing advice from Justin Robinson plus a killer song.

That Girl

Okay, how could I not use this random pic?

Categories: Random Linkroll | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Words in Progress

So, the Winter of the Novel is almost over. Spring arrives in about a week and a half. Where does the novel stand?

Well, I’ve edited the bulk of it and spent a lot of time parsing out what (out of everything I’ve written) belongs in this novel and what belongs in the other. I’ve also written about 50 or so pages, and that’s pretty good for me, productivity-wise, so yay. Thirty-seven of those pages are typed up and living in Scrivener now.

Is it done?

Ha ha, no. Not hardly. But it’s coming along, and I may even be ready to begin the final act. Not sure, though. With all the parsing and such, I’m not really clear on how the thing flows anymore, so the next step in the plan (and I’m hoping to have the first 4 parts of that step done by the start of spring) is to:

  1. get everything typed up that needs typing,
  2. including all of my scribbled edits, most of which are not in Scrivener
  3. print the results out, and
  4. give to R, alpha reader extraordinaire, so he can read it in its new form (however long that takes), and then
  5. discuss what needs tending to and where to go next.
  6. Go there.

Seems like a good plan. Here’s hoping it works.

In other writing news, I sent back my galley comments for Winter Well this week. It’s a gorgeous book with really cool stories therein; you’re going to want to read this.

I’m also pondering submitting something to Crossed Genres’ newest anthology in the making, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History. More than pondering; there was actual writing last night. We’ll see how that holds up. Gotta say, it was interesting to switch gears from future dystopian USA to early 19th-century England. That might explain the strange dreams I was having early this morning, none of which I can remember now. Should have written them down!

Want to help make Long Hidden an even better book than it’s already looking to be? Chip in, why don’t you? I did.


Your random pic for the day. Did you know Parse was a place? I didn’t. It’s the Persian name for Persepolis. (Photo credit: m.khajoo)

Categories: Books/Authors, Works in Progress, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekend Linkroll

Happy Holidays, everyone, whatever you celebrate this time of year! Belated Happy Hanukkah and Solstice! We finally have some snow here in Vermont, so it’s not looking so damned gloomy outside anymore. The brown ground and grey skies were starting to get to me.

So, links. Hope you enjoy.

Writer’s High
Empty Pen and endorphins. It’s an awesome feeling when you get that nagging scene right.

So You Want to Read PKD? Here’s Some Help.
SJ over at Snobbery has created an amazing flowchart to help you figure out which Philip K. Dick story you should read next. Personally, with Substitution Cipher just out, I’m hankering to reread The Man in the High Castle.

Day of Rest
Feeling frazzled? A Thousand Shades of Grey shares some thoughts (and great quotations) on the rightness of being yourself. “The message is sending me a universe.”

Possible habitable zone planet is a mere 12 light years away
Tau Ceti, eh? A lot of science fiction has happened there because it’s so close to us (relatively). Will there be spider people? Romulans? Barbarella? Time will tell.

Hasbro to unveil gender neutral Easy-Bake Oven
Thanks to McKenna Pope’s petition for her little brother. It’s about time.

Michigan cousins go after crayfish, hook a mastodon
“The ‘coolest’ show-and-tell item anyone’s ever brought to the sixth grade.”

Categories: Weekly Linkroll | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Obligatory Photo of the Author Reading Her New Book

M. Fenn reading Substitution Cipher

Finished reading Substitution Cipher for the first time this afternoon. I’m pretty pleased. “So The Taino Call It” is in some very good company, and our editor Kaye Chazan did a wonderful job putting this collection together. Very neat to see the worlds that everyone has created. And reading my story in print, as opposed to in manuscript? An amazing feeling. Congrats to everyone involved! And thanks to everyone who helped me become a part of it. It didn’t take a village, but I didn’t do it by myself.

Categories: Books/Authors, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #5


…at the heart of each story is the sense of how easily–and how eerily–the world can be changed.

 Today’s the day, dear readers! Substitution Cipher is out, ready for you to grab a copy and see what I’ve been talking about for the last several weeks. So much super reading in store for you! My story is just one of six cool tales of espionage and alternate history.  And I’m not saying that just to get you to buy the book. My publisher sent me comp copies last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the other contributors’ tales. A beautiful glass orrery in clockwork Venice and Eleanor Roosevelt as president of the U.S. are just a couple of the cool plot elements you might enjoy. Links where you can buy the book are at the bottom of this post.

So, this will be my last post about the real history that lies in “So The Taino Call It.” The previous four posts have been about the explorers, the men who traveled west to find the East and found something completely different. Today’s post is about what and who they found.

There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation concerning Columbus’s first voyage to the Caribbean. No one has ever confirmed, for example, which island he first landed on, other than that it was located in the Bahamas. Even Juan de la Cosa’s map (drawn by a man who was actually there) doesn’t make it clear where the island was located. The jury is still out, and I kind of like the mystery.

It is known, however, that Columbus met groups of natives who called themselves the Taino (good people). Distantly related to the Arawak, another Caribbean people, the Taino lived in densely populated villages on the islands of Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. They had originally emigrated to the islands from South America.

When I first started writing “So The Taino Call It,” I was intimidated by the prospect of writing about people I really knew nothing about, but I love research, so I strengthened my nerve and leaped in. Fortunately, the internet and Smithsonian magazine, among other resources, came to my aid and I was able to discover quite a lot about the Taino people, their culture, and what transpired when they met Columbus and his crew. The October 2011 issue of Smithsonian has a fascinating article, “What Became of the Taino”, that I learned a lot from, including such cool tidbits as the Taino’s knowledge of how to extract cyanide from yucca plants and how they used pepper gas as a weapon. It also has some great photos that are definitely worth taking a peek at. These pictures were a large influence on my writing, especially the one of Mácocael, the unfortunate sentinel of the Taino’s ancestral caves.

None of the Taino characters in my story are based on actual people, although a couple of their names are, most prominently, Anacaona. In “So The Taino Call It,” Anacaona is a young woman who befriends my narrator and teaches him her language and about her people. In real history, she was a Taino cacica (chief) who lived on the island now called Hispaniola (where Haiti and the Dominican Republic share space). Also known as the Golden Flower, she was a composer of ballads and narrative poems as well as a ruler of her people, and is revered as a national hero in Haiti.

cover of Anacaona Golden Flower

Cover of the YA novel Anacaona Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat–part of the Royal Diaries series

Anacaona actually met Columbus in 1496, according to several sources, including Bartolomé de las Casas in his book A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. She and her brother Bohechio negotiated with him over what tribute they would have to pay to the Spanish invaders. That meeting didn’t end well for either of them. According to the book Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti, it’s believed that Bohechio died partly from remorse for not being able to protect his territory of Xaragua from the Europeans. Anacaona’s cause of death is more clear.

In 1494, her husband, Caonabo, also a cacique, was taken prisoner by Alonso de Ojeda, one of Columbus’s men, and died enroute to Spain. A long war ensued as many of the Taino people tried to force the Spanish off of their island. Anacaona was still on friendly terms with the Europeans, or so she thought. Around 1503, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, invited her and 84 caciques to a feast supposeedly to be held in Anacaona’s honor. Once they were there, de Ovando ordered the meeting house set on fire. Anacaona and her noblemen were charged with conspiracy and executed with Anacaona either being hung or burned.

The young woman named Anacaona in my novella has a different story-arc, but I bore the history of her namesake in mind as I wrote about her and hope she holds up as a different nation’s hero.

In honor of both of them, here’s a video of the song that Puerto Rican salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso wrote to honor the real Anacaona. (Sadly, I can’t find any of the songs she actually wrote being performed on Youtube anywhere.)

Where can you buy Substitution Cipher? Lots of places!

Candlemark & Gleam: my publisher. Buy directly from them and all your money supports indie publishing.
Barnes & Noble.
Amazon (U.S.). (Right now Amazon is saying the book is out of stock. It isn’t. That’s just Amazon being Amazon.)
Amazon (Canada).
Kobo Books.
Book Depository.

Categories: Books/Authors, History, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #4

It was a long journey overland from Lisboa to Palos de la Frontera on the southern coast of Spain. I was exhausted when I arrived, as was my horse. She got to rest, but I immediately set out to find Captain Colón.
I visited the inn where my sources informed me he was staying, but he was out. The innkeeper thought he might have had a meeting with his investors at their quarters near the Rábida Monastery, so I headed there next.

In last week’s post about some of the real history that lies within my alternate history, “So The Taino Call It,” I mentioned that Columbus had to sell his plan to reach Asia by crossing the Ocean Sea (aka the Atlantic Ocean) to royalty and investors willing to finance his voyage. He also had to “sell” it to any sailors willing to travel with him.

Yes, the money had to come from somewhere, and Columbus didn’t have much. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella didn’t either, having just completed a little crusade to “rescue” the Iberian peninsula from Muslim control. That story about Isabella selling her jewelry to fund Columbus’s voyage? Didn’t happen.

So, where did the money and men come from?

Well, one of the things I learned in my research is that Christopher Columbus was nothing if not an entrepreneur (I’ve taken to calling him a con artist, but that could just be me). In the two years it took him to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to support his voyage, he had already lined up half the funds he would need from Italian investors. More money and gifts-in-kind did come from the Castilian court, sort of. The royals ordered their treasurer to find money somewhere (ain’t it always the way?), but they also called upon the people under their rule to pony up. Even before sanctioning Columbus’s project, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all their cities and towns to provide food and lodging to him at no cost, just in case they decided to go for his scheme. When time came to prepare for the trip, they ordered the town of Palos de la Frontera to contribute two ships in payment for a debt they claimed the town owed them.

Those two ships? They turned out to be la Pinta (owned by Gomez Rascon and Christoval Quintero) and la Niña (owned by Juan Niño of Moguer). La Santa María, the flagship of the three, was rented  from Juan de la Cosa for the voyage, much to his regret. Interesting to me, as well as to my alpha reader, was that the owners of all three ships joined the expedition.

You’d think they didn’t trust Columbus with their boats or something.

At least two of them didn’t, if Columbus’s journal is to be believed. The owners of la Pinta were none too pleased when the royals forced them to provide a ship for Columbus and, apparently, did all they could to keep it from sailing. When the rudder of la Pinta was damaged, disabling the ship three days into the journey, Rascon and Quintero were suspected of one more last-ditch effort of sabotage.

Fortunately for Columbus, the pilot and master of la Pinta had more vested interest in the voyage’s success and did what they could to help the crippled ship limp into the Canary Islands where it was repaired. These men were Martín Alonso and Francisco Martín Pinzón. Along with their younger brother, Vicente Yáñez, they contributed to Columbus’s voyage financially as well as with their prestige as sailors. Their support of Columbus made it possible for him to recruit much of the crew he needed. They were also responsible for quelling mutiny a couple of times during the voyage and suggesting the course changes that allowed the ships to eventually land safely.

The owner of la Niña was part of another group of brothers who made the journey. The Niño brothers were from the Andalusian town of Moguer and their support of Columbus, as well as their friendship with the Pinzóns, was another aid to recruitment. Juan Niño was master of his own ship (nicknamed after him) and his brother Pedro Alonso piloted la Santa Maria. A younger brother, Francisco, may have also been a sailor on the voyage, but the evidence isn’t clear on this.

So, what do we know about that remaining ship owner, Juan de la Cosa? Like the others, he was an experienced sailor in his own right. He was also a cartographer, and his mappa mundi is the only extant map made by a member of Columbus’s first voyage.

map of Juan de la Cosa

This is it. The New World is shown in green on the left and the Old World in the middle and to the right, in white. (Click to embiggen, if you like.)

The more I researched my story, the more I’ve come to believe that any of the ships’ owners (with the possible exception of Rascon and Quintero–they’re only mentioned disparagingly in Columbus’s journal and then never heard from again; I think there’s another story in that) could have sailed across the Atlantic and back successfully. They had the skill and the courage to do so. They were explorers themselves and, in the Pinzóns’ case, better leaders.

Columbus may not have been the ideal captain for such an expedition, but he had the nerve to think big, a large lust for power and money, and the desire to be “Great Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” And he knew how to sell a deal. More often than not, it’s folks like him that tend to be the winners in this world.

But why did Juan de la Cosa regret the renting of his ship for the voyage? Find out by reading “So The Taino Call It” in Substitution Cipher next week. You could look it up on Wikipedia, too, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.


Categories: Books/Authors, History, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #3

Everyone knows the world is round like a ball.
Well, not everyone knows, I suppose, but the real problem is that Cristóvão Colón believes it to be a much smaller ball than most men who study this sort of thing. That’s why I—and everyone I’m sailing with—won’t be coming back.

So thinks Rodrigo de Escobedo, the narrator of my story, “So The Taino Call It,” on the eve of his departure with Columbus (Colón) to discover a western path to Asia. Continue reading

Categories: Books/Authors, History, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #2

I’ve brought only a few things on this voyage. My belongings fit in a small shoulder bag: a small Bible, my writing materials, a few pieces of clothing, and my rosary.

When I began writing “So The Taino Call It,” I didn’t know how devout a Christian my narrator, Rodrigo de Escobedo, was going to turn out to be. It was a part of his character that developed over time. What I knew from the beginning was that he was a literate man who loved language (he speaks several). Educated by monks, he was given the Bible mentioned above by one of his teachers.

He remembered my love of reading and hoped the book would turn me toward a less sinful life. I don’t know if that’s possible, but reading the Word of God makes me feel closer to Him.

A Bible small enough to fit in a shoulder bag? In 1492? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Not as unlikely as you’d think. It surprised me to discover, as I was doing my research, that portable Bibles first became available in the 13th century. These handwritten books held the complete scriptural texts in one volume for the first time and looked similar to modern Bibles. They were small enough to fit in a saddlebag.

Paris Bible

Kind of like this one.

Paris Bibles, as they were sometimes called, were still a little bulky, though, for priests and friars traveling on foot, so “pocket” Bibles were quickly developed. The script in these books was minute and densely packed, and the parchment or vellum itself was as thin as tissue paper.

Italian pocket Bible

This page comes from a Bible that was 5.5 inches by 3.5.

Technology continued to advance, as it will, and by the time Columbus was considering his western sailing trip, the printing press had been around for almost 60 years. Gutenberg published the first printed Bible in two volumes in 1455; after that the race was on for more beautiful and more accurate versions. Most of these were what you’d expect, large books that were meant for a priest’s lectern. Fortunately, these weren’t the only Bibles printed.

Johann Froben established his printing business in the city of Basel in 1491 (and was good friends with the scholar Erasmus, but that’s a tale for another day). One of the first things he published was a Bible that became known as the “Poor Man’s Bible.” This edition was somewhat larger than the pocket Bible above (6 3/16 x 4 5/16 inches), but it was still small enough to be easily packed and carried on a cross-Atlantic voyage. It’s quite beautiful, as well, showing off Froben’s talent as a printer and publisher. When I saw a photograph of the cover and binding…

Poor Man's Bible

I knew it had to be Rodrigo’s Bible.

It was easy for me to imagine my scrivener/spy reading the inner pages, as well.

Poor Man's Boble inside

The inside with an illustration of St. Jerome based on Albrecht Dürer’s work

Bibles of this size, handwritten or printed, were revolutionary in ways beyond convenience. They made it easier for literate people to read the Bible themselves instead of relying on the rulers of the Church to interpret the words for them, laying the groundwork for the Reformation that would begin a mere 25 years after Columbus set sail. It was a heady time, whatever sort of explorer you were.

Categories: Books/Authors, History, Writing | Tags: , , , , ,

There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #1

December 18! That’s when Substitution Cipher is scheduled to drop. I might have mentioned that one of my stories is in this Candlemark & Gleam collection of alternate history tales.

My first story to ever see print (e-Ink and otherwise), too.

So, I’m kind of excited.

flailing Kermit gif

To help focus that excitement into something useful, instead of just flailing around like Kermit up there (which is fun, mind you, but not very productive), I want to talk a little bit about the story and some of the real history that lies within. Each Tuesday, up to publication day (!), I’ll explore one of the elements in “So the Taino Call It” that I didn’t actually make up myself.

“So the Taino Call It” tells the tale of a Portuguese saboteur, Rodrigo de Escobedo (yes, he has a Spanish name–read the story to find out why!), who gets himself hired onto Christopher Columbus’s first voyage as a scrivener.  His real job, though, as ordered by the King of Portugal? Scuttle Columbus’s mission and return home with knowledge of Columbus’s new sea route to Asia, if there is one.

Why would the King of Portugal want this to be done? Well, I’ll tell you. The rulers of Portugal and Castile (Spain) were the two largest competitors in the vast land grab that was the European Era of Discovery. They eventually divided the globe between themselves, thanks to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas.

No, really. Two little European countries, with the help of the Pope, divvied up the Earth in 1494, and they had Columbus’s successful first voyage to thank for it, a voyage that Columbus initially tried to get Portugal to support. King John II (João) refused the offer, and so Columbus went next to the rulers of Castile, Ferdinand II and Isabella I.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the King of Portugal, while not interested in supporting the voyage, would want to either benefit from it himself or make sure it failed? While I didn’t find any proof of there being a real saboteur on any of Columbus’s ships, at least one that was working for another government, I did find evidence that implies that King John II wasn’t taking any chances.

According to Clements R. Markham’s translation of Columbus’s journal, on September 6, 1492, Columbus wrote that he left the Canary Islands after “having received tidings from a caravel that came from the island of Hierro that three Portuguese caravels were off that island with the object of taking him.”

I thought that was a neat moment of suspense that deserved exploration, so Rodrigo becomes the man who first sees the ships.

A flash of motion or light caught my eye as I pondered, and I looked out over the waves. There I saw ships.
I sat down, hanging my legs over the edge of the ridge, and waited as the ships sailed nearer. After an hour or more, they approached near enough that I could recognize the flag the boats flew.
Was this King João’s alternate plan? Why would he be sending three large warships—for so they were—close to Spanish territory if not to disrupt Colón’s voyage? My guess is that these ships will lie anchored there waiting for us to set sail. Once out at sea, they will attack and put an end to us.

Portuguese caravel

a Portuguese caravel

Portuguese carrack

a Portuguese carrack

I turned the caravels of Columbus’s journal into warships because I wanted beefier boats for my story to, you know, increase the drama. La Pinta and La Niña were caravels, fairly small ships that weren’t really meant for big ocean voyages. Carracks, on the other hand, were the largest European ocean-going ships of the day. The Santa Maria was a carrack. So are my warships.

Rodrigo then goes on to meet with some of the men from the ships. Intrigue ensues. Who’s Rodrigo really working for, after all? Buy the book on December 18 and find out! And join me again next week for more historic geekery.

Categories: Books/Authors, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: