The River Maiden - The song

The River Maiden - The song

In The River Maiden, Sarah spends her time chasing down a particular song. That's where the book get its title. This song itself is fictional. I wrote the lyrics to match the legend of The River Maiden. The legend is also invented but is an amalgam of various motifs commonly found in Celtic folklore. 

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October Reading List

I LOVE October. The weather gets cool enough to make our cheeks rosy. The leaves start turning. Harvest/Celtic/Fiber festivals happen every weekend, and it all leads up to Halloween.  As t

he weather starts getting colder, it's the perfect time to wrap yourself up in a blanket with a mug of warm apple cider and read a scary book. I know the horror genre often gets labeled as pulp and not worthy of literary notice, but I think there is no social commentary quite like talking about what terrifies us. With that said here is my October reading list.


The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

One of my twitter people the other day asked twitter what the scariest books we've ever read were. Then on another forum today, someone asked what is the first "grown up" book posters ever read. I realized after a few minutes thinking that for me, these are in fact the same book.  You've may have seen the 1963 film, The Haunting, with Julie Harris or the more recent 1999 remake, but these movies have nothing on the book. Shirley Jackson was already known for terrifying short stories like "The Lottery" when she this book was published in 1959, but there is nothing more terrifying to me as the mind of Eleanor Vance and the tricks it plays on her.  The most incredible part of this story is that although she has some special abilities (I won't name them), there is something very human and familiar about Eleanor. She's that small, lonely, insecure part of each of us that we try to keep on the inside, and this book is what happens when that part gets stirred up and let loose.


The Mist - Stephen King

You hunker down at home as a thunderstorm rolls in. When it's over your little town is enveloped in a soupy, opaque mist that is filled with man eating monsters that scoop up your neighbors. Your job is to keep your son safe.  Need I say more? Sure plenty of other readers would pick different scary Stephen King books like The Shining or Pet Sematary, but as a mom the idea of trying to herd my children through this kind of situation is terrifying. King is such a pro at creating terror with what you don't see, and this book is a prime example of that.


House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

I picked this book up after hearing a reviewer on NPR describe it at as "James Joyce and Stephen King meet at midnight in a clearing in the woods". Add to that the partial setting of a historic house in the Virginia countryside, and I was sold. I was not disappointed. In fact, my husband couldn't even wait for me to finish this book before he went out and bought his own copy. It's a labyrinth of psychological terror that is just too vivid and too good to be missed.  Don't skim, every word is worth it.  You might want to have extra bookmarks and post-its handy.



The Devil's Tramping Ground (and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories) - John Harden

As a Tarheel (in the diaspora) and a student of folklore, this book is right up my alley. The Devil's Tramping Ground is a round path in clearing in western Chatham County where nothing grows. Anything left laying across the path at night is found moved to the side in the morning. Legend has it that the Devil walks this path nightly pondering what mischief he will do. In addition to this legend, this book had other stories like ghost ships in the Outer Banks, the Brown Mountain Lights, and Theodosia Burr who may yet get a short story in Of Sound and Sea. Last but certainly not least the Disappearance of Peter Dromgoole who's story is mentioned in my novel in progress. You can see that the folklore of North Carolina has strongly influence what I write and some of it's just plain creepy.


The Ghosts of Fredericksburg...and nearby environs - L. B. Taylor

L. B. Taylor has made a career out of collecting and recounting stories of the paranormal from all over Virginia. If you like folklore and ghost stories I recommend any of his books. This one I find the most interesting and a little chilling because the stories come from my home town. There's a story about the church we attended when I was a child, another about the house across the street from my first apartment, and from local highlights like Kenmore, the Rising Sun Tavern, and Chatham. An area filled with as much history and war as Fredericksburg is bound to be loaded with stories and Taylor finds plenty. If you're interested in other parts of Virginia, Taylor also has books about Richmond, Williamsburg and multiple volumes of stories from all over the state.


In Search of Dracula - Raymond T. McNally & Radu Florescu

What would an October reading list be without at least one vampire book? Funny thing about vampires is that as fiction they're sexy and romantic and compelling, but when you look at the historical roots of our modern fictional vampires the reality is more terrifying and gory than any fiction. In this book two historians go in search of the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and how the history of a Wallachian Prince struggling to hold onto power in his country evolved into the a legend of terror and cannibalism.  It truly fascinating stuff.


The Shape of Fear - Susan J. Navarette

Speaking of exploring horror fiction as social commentary, Susan Navarette does that very thing with an eye toward the late nineteenth century. I was lucky enough to take Dr. Navarette's class when I was in college and our examination of Dracula was nothing short of mind blowing. No one analyzes literature quite as completely as she does. I can't recommend her work strongly enough. If you're lucky enough to be a student at Hartwick College, you'd be crazy not to take her class.


Just a little taste...

Summer is hard for me as a writer because my kids are home and there is much shuttling, feeding and referee-ing that goes on. While I do have a share of down time, it's super hard to get into that writing mindset when there is someone in the next room who any minute is going to need a snack or a mediation. On the upside, I'm almost caught up on laundry and am actually enjoying spending time with my little ones. With that said, I'm posting a short excerpt from my WIP for your perusal, feedback, titillation...


"This is Sarah MacAlpin interviewing Alex Budge, October 12th 1995. Also present, Randy Budge and Dermot Sinclair." Sarah said into the microphone before setting it down on the little table facing Budge. They had returned to their original seats on the porch each with a jelly glass of Budge's best stump water to sip while they talked.

"Simon Budge was my grandaddy." Budge said with great significance looking directly at Sarah. "And he did teach me that song you're talking about. But I'm not much of a singer, so I'll tell ya the story he tolt with it."

"Alright." Sarah would keep her talking to a minimum as long as Budge kept going.

"My people come from Scotland back in the colonial times, and they been passing this story down all that time. I can't say how much it's changed, but here 'tis as I learnt it." He leaned back took a deep breath as if he were gettting ready to sing after all. When he spoke again his voice had a far away quality as if he was in a dream.

"Long ago when Scotland was just a wild place with different tribes running their own territories, a family came over from Ireland and made to take over the place. They wanted control of the land. Now, some say they were more civilized than the tribes that were there before, but I don't know that that's true. They say that these fellers tried to get the tribes to all work together, but the old folk, that's what my grandad called the old tribes, they weren't havin' it. They fought over everything and some of 'em made friends with the new tribe and some of 'em resisted. The new people maybe didn't mean any harm, they just thought their ways were better, and they couldn't get why some of the old folk didn't want to change.

So one day the king o' the new folk goes out wandering to think. He's trying to figure out how he can get everybody to come over to his side and get along. So he gets tired and he stops by a riverbank. While he settin' there, up swims this girl. Now, she's about the prettiest thing the king's ever seen and she's wavin' to 'im, 'Come on in, the water's fine'." Budge gave a beckoning wave.

"So he goes in for a swim. Only this girl is so pretty he doesn't pay attention and they drift downstream to an island. Now, the king thinks they're lost, but she says it's her home and he should come and meet her family.

So, she takes the king to meet her father, but her pa is old and sickly and lame. The king starts to wondering who's gonna take care of this girl and her people when her pa dies. He thinks they've got to be pretty poor if they're just living on this island and he's never even heard of her tribe before. But then she takes him over to the hearth and shows him their cookpot. It's a big ole iron kettle and every time he sees someone go to the kettle and put in a bowl or a ladle, it comes up full of food. He keeps watching and thinking that kettle's got to be empty, but they still keep comin' up with food, and they're not even scraping the bottom.

Then she takes him and shows him a cave that's hidden under a hill, and in that cave is a big stone.   And she tells him, 'This is the heart of our people.' Only he's got a different heart in mind. Remember, she's the prettiest girl he's every laid eyes on. So, he kisses her right there in the cave and tells her that he loves her and wants to protect her when her father dies.

Now, just when that happens, a big storm like a hurricane comes up and hits the island.

When the king wakes up he and the girl aren't in the cave anymore, but on shore. And the island is gone. But they find that big iron cookpot on the beach too. So he takes her back with him and makes her his queen. They work to bring the tribes together. The old folk see that she's with him and she's one of them. And they see that he's got this cookpot that never runs out, and they start coming over to his side.

It goes slow, but by the time their son becomes king, all the tribes have come together and since his mother taught him the old ways and his father taught him the new way, he was a good king."

It seemed important to Budge that she understand that the king was good. Sarah nodded. "Did your grandad ever tell you any names for this king or the queen?"

Budge took a sip of moonshine from his glass and shook his head. He blew out a breath     so thick with fumes that Sarah had to blink fast to keep her eyes from watering. "No. He never said names. He did say that the queen's people were older than names. Old as the stone, he used to say."

It was an expression that Sarah had heard before, one that Granny had used. "Do you know where in Scotland your people came from?"

"Can't say I do." Budge shifted in his chair and took another sip of moonshine. "That museum in Franklin says the Budges are Lowlanders. Way I figure it, we been here so long it doesn't much matter."

It mattered to Sarah though. It could help her trace the source of the song. She tried not to show her frustration. She glanced over her shoulder at Randy. He was leaning against the post gazing out at the mountain. Turning back to Budge, "Did you teach that story to your grandchildren?"

"Aw most of em don't have time for an old man and his old stories. 'Cept for Randy over there. He likes learning the old ways." He gave her a wink and a devilish grin, "And you have a lotta time for tellin' stories while you're mindin' a still."

She smiled back at him. That was a fact she knew all too well. She'd learned many a song by the ever present beat of a thumper tank. She was glad she had found Alex Budge. Even if he hadn't known the legend behind the song, she'd have been happy to know him. She laid her hand over his knarled work-worn one where it rested by his glass on the table. "Thank you for talking with me. I appreciate your help."

He turned his hand over to grasp hers his face serious. "I'm glad you could record it. You'll make sure people remember."

She gave his hand one last squeeze before switching off the recorder and beginning to gather her equipment. Dermot pushed himself up off of the top step to help her. Sarah looked over to where he'd been sitting and noticed that his jelly glass was empty. She hadn't taken more than a couple of polite sips.  There hadn't been much in the glass but it was strong. Fortunately Dermot seemed pretty steady.

Sarah was just stepping down from the porch, Dermot by her side when a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Budge?"

"Mmm?" He had been looking into his jelly glass in deep concentration.

"You know a man they call Old Duff?" She realized that she missed the old man, and felt guilty for not having done more to keep track of him.

Budge let out a hearty belly laugh and slapped his knee. "Shoot, girl! Everybody in the hills knows Grant MacDuff! He comes round this way at least twice a year."

Sarah couldn't help smiling back at the man with his dirty worn clothes and missing teeth, and his jelly glass full of stump water. He and Duff and Granny were why she did what she did. Their beauty and their humanity hit her so hard sometimes it took the breath right out of her chest. They were people who lived and died in these hollers and without someone like her their culture would die in these hollers too. "Well, next time he passes this way, you tell him I was here."  She felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes.  and tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. "Tell him I remember everything he taught me."

The old man gave her a solemn nod. He knew what it meant to her. Sarah started to turn away again, but his voice stopped her. "Wait! You never did tell me the secret to your Granny's peach brandy."

Sarah gave him a knowing smile before walking back up the porch steps. Slowly, She leaned over Budge's chair and planted a kiss on his weathered cheek before whispering Granny's secret in his ear.

Budge looked at her closely as if he could verify the truth of what she said in her eyes. After a couple of seconds he burst into gusty laughter accompanied by more knee slapping. "Ha! I knew it! I just knew it!"

Sarah and Dermot climbed into Randy's truck for a ride back down to their car. When they pulled away from the house they could still hear the old man's cackling laugh.