Shieldmaidens – the controversy continues…


A couple of things flew by me in the ether this week, reminding me that we haven’t discussed women and war for a while.

The first thing was a paper from the archaeologists at the centre of the debate about the formerly assigned male, now definitively identified as female, warrior grave remains from Birka.

The other was the ridiculous assertion by the author Andrew Klavan: that women – ALL women, apparently – were incapable of using swords. The reaction from the Twitterverse was pretty predictable, and funny, starting with (although certainly not limited to) pictures of the USA women’s Olympic fencing team.

Now, the Birka osteological study and discussion is erudite and conclusive, neatly demolishing the arguments against its critics. It securely and pretty conclusively shows that the provenance of the remains as beyond reasonable doubt, and equally conclusively shows that the biological sex of the remains is no longer in question, although I suspect that many will continue to fight a rearguard action against the results of the findings.

The Klavan stuff, on the face of it, is just an ignorant, angry old white man, screaming because he might have to change his mind about his own inherent superiority over the rest of the world. One could simply dismiss him as part of the dinosaur class, soon to be dead and forgotten.

But in truth, both Klavan and the scientists arguing from these increasingly fragile positions are part of the same group. Just because one of them makes unfounded, unsupported general statements devoid of known facts, and the other couches their disdain in endless requests for more and more impossible “proofs” not required of similar findings that don’t disturb their worldview, doesn’t mean they aren’t part and parcel of the desperate need of some people to not have to alter their thinking.

But don’t take my word for it.

You can access the finding about Bj. 581 here

and view, if you haven’t already, Klavan’s spittle-laced outrage, it’s here

If we can just survive till these guys all die off, we just might change the world.


NOTE: I’ve written about this stuff before, and if you are interested:

Original post



Getting started: a personal story

spell thumbnail

“A Spell in the Country” was the first book I wrote – and I wrote it on a dare – so I was trying for the simplest, most linear plot arc I could find. I wasn’t writing for publication. I was writing so a book rep would buy me an expensive lunch and admit he was wrong about something.

But I also wanted to stay away from the things that annoyed me in so many fantasy novels: the “young man” and “the Chosen One” central character that was literally everywhere at that point (it was at the Robert Jordan/Wheel of Time peak of the cycle) and I didn’t want to “do” Tolkien, so I needed to find a way to have a plot that didn’t have a “quest” or a “McGuffin” to chase.

I created Keridwen as a kind of accidental heroine. I imagined what it would be like to be a conscientious person, a person with a sense of responsibility towards others, but not especially “gifted” or unique, who randomly gets tangled up in these great events because she doesn’t just walk on by.

(I will say this, though. The people who inspired me the most in my life were my parents. When it came time to write the model of a happy family, I knew the characters of Keridwen’s parents were going to be key.

So I gave her my own.)

Anyway, Keridwen’s character really made the book, in the end. She was funny and awkward and ignorant about things, but with a lot of “common sense” – enough to get her into trouble, at least.


The prequel (“Casting in Stone”) was based, in fact, on one throwaway line in “A Spell in the Country”. It’s a bit of a challenge to write that way: to try and get a completely different story to not mess with a timeline that has already been established, and to see some traditions or historical facts from a different perspective. “Casting in Stone” is a smaller story, in a lot of ways, but it explains or illuminates a lot of things that I made up on the fly for the first book.


If I have a theme, for any of my books, it is that you don’t need to be a “Chosen One” to have a huge effect on the world around you.




Power Dynamics (and why you need to step up your game, fellas)

girl walking

It’s a tradition for me and my nephew to go out for lunch together as an end of the school year celebration. He works pretty hard just keeping his act together for nine months, because focusing on schoolwork is challenging for him, and it’s good for that effort to be noticed and valued.

Also, he’s a hoot and I like hanging out with him. He chose Taco Bell because tacos are his favourite food, and yes, you and I know that what he gets there are not really tacos, but that’s what we have here in the thriving metropolis of Camrose, Alberta, so that’s where we went.

And then, as we were walking back home, I got cat-called by some guys in a pick-up rolling by.

Evan just did not get it, and we had to have a talk on power dynamics (not to mention good manners), which was not what a celebration of completing a school year without driving his teacher absolutely batshit insane was supposed to be about.

First I had to explain what was yelled out, because sexual innuendo isn’t really in a seven-year-old’s vocabulary, and walking the line between enough and too much information isn’t easy.

Then we discussed how this relates to power over others, bullying, and being kind and welcoming to others.

And you know what?

He did most of the heavy lifting himself, recalling situations on the playground where people denied other people the right to occupy space, or made it seem like they had the right to decide those things for others.

He came to the conclusion that yelling comments at strangers was at the very least incredibly rude, and that people should not do this.

I think if Evan can figure this out before he’s out of elementary school, all the adult men complaining about being called out for this stuff should just STFU.

Because you should at least be capable of the maturity of a grade 2 student, right?

Flash Fiction Friday!

She stood in the shadows, watching the wall.

It was a damp, dank alleyway, a place for vagabonds, hookers, and thieves and rarely anything else, and for three nights now, she had watched, but no one came.

This night was different, though – she could feel it. The air was still and humid, and the sounds from the street behind her seemed muted and dim. This was the night. She was sure of it.

The light from the windows above winked out, and it was several moments before her eyes adjusted. There was just that one moment to feel as she had before – the anticipation, the sense of triumph – and then the panic set in.

He was as beautiful as the early dawn, and she hadn’t expected that. Oh, sure, she’d heard the rumours, but she was worldly and experienced enough to have discarded those as simply embroideries on an ancient tale. She’d expected the ugliness of centuries, the twisted remnants of force gone bad, but there he was: tall and pale, with fine-drawn features and a well-tailored suit, not one hair out of place, and his lips curving into an inviting smile of welcome.

She raised the crossbow.

His smile widened.

“Alicia,” he said, softly, and it was like warm cocoa with marshmallows, it was sweet and wise, it was like a fond grandparent, so filled with love…

Had he come closer to her, or was that merely illusion?

“Alicia,” he said, again, and she felt herself weaken.

“No,” she said. It came out thick and raspy. “No, not this time. I won’t let you.”

He stepped one long pace forward. His eyes were sorrowful. “My dear child, don’t be ridiculous. How will you stop me?”

She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth, and her eyes were drawn, inevitably, inexorably, to the shapes beyond, the twisted remnants of his victims, their lives reduced to the terrible graffiti of shadows that lingered, like ghosts, on the wall behind him.

Was she drowning? It felt like it. Things seemed to move so slowly now, and she saw the crossbow begin to droop.

No. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She had studied the history, memorized the patterns, and she’d taken every precaution. He could not win, not this time.

She looked up and realized he had stepped even nearer. He was only an arms-length away now. She tried to raise the bow, but it was heavy in her arms.

“Kneel,” he said simply, and she did not even try to resist this, she sank down in obeisance onto the wet asphalt, feeling the cold and the gravel through the fabric of her jeans, her bow tilting up as the base hit the ground in front of her.

He was only a hands-breadth away, and as he reached out to pat her head, he said, very amused, “Good dog.”

And that’s when she shot him.

Point-blank range and a crossbow bolt made from sky-iron, straight through the heart.

It’s the only way the Elder Gods can die.

Valkyries Redux

And now there’s this:   More Shieldmaidens


I’ve written about this before.

Viking Woman Warrior


But it still never ceases to amaze me, somehow.

When these bones were assumed to be male, there was never a single question about them: he was a warrior.

No one took exception to the idea that a male warrior could still be a warrior even if he exhibited no damage on his body that testified to his having been wounded in battle.

Not one person said a dissenting word.

In over 100 years, there was not even the slightest question that these bones were not male. No one noticed, apparently, anything unusual about the lightness of the long bones, or took a check on that bit of super-tell-tale/clinches-the-argument-every-time skeletal remains: the pelvis.

Weapons in burial = male = warrior.

No ifs, ands, or buts.

But when DNA analysis suggested female, the list of caveats and alternative explanations became endless.

I’m going to suggest that this warrior might have had injuries that don’t show up in the osteological record – there could have been wounds that affected only muscle and tissue, for example.

Or – here’s a thought: maybe she was just that good.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that as a culture, we are so mired in our own prejudices and beliefs about the past and have so completely internalized our own narratives about gender and biological sex that we cannot even seem to see how incredibly hypocritical and intellectually dishonest we are.

One more time: Until every single male “warrior burial” is subjected to the same rigorous testing and questioning as this one has now been run through, with equally pointed interrogation of how true the role of actual combatant is, in each and every case, (and thank you, Heinrich Harke, for being possibly the only male archaeologist to point out that possibility vis-a-vis Anglo-Saxon warrior graves) I say the jury’s still out on most of those as well.


Cafe talk


I was in my local coffee shop (Fiona’s, in Camrose – you should all go! It’s the best.) and there was this man…Okay, maybe not quite a man. He was maybe 20. Perfectly ordinary guy. Accompanied by what I suspect was a new girlfriend.

He came in talking. About Eisenhower and economics. I have to say that while I think (hope) his heart was in the right place, as someone who (unlike this boy) lived through the Eisenhower years, about 99% of what he said was pure BS, when it wasn’t terminally inaccurate and/or bordering on lies.

But okay, whatever.

He talked for the four or five minutes it took for the line-up to move. He stopped long enough for the GF to put in her lunch order. He then resumed his lecture (really, that’s what it seemed to be) and they sat down.

It was crowded, so I wound up at the table beside them. He was still talking.  At odd intervals, the girl put in some head-nodding, some “Uh huh” stuff, and occasionally managed a “That’s interesting”.

At first, she was pretty enthusiastic, which is why I put it down to new-girlfriend-ism. Mind you, none of these responses merited even the tiniest acknowledgement that she had spoken or reacted.

Forty-five minutes later, he was still talking. About politics, about the school system, about autism and learning disabilities – in all of which his half-informed and generally half-assed opinions were presented as incontrovertible fact.

GF was still nodding/uh-huh-ing, but the intervals between were getting longer , and her gaze had gone from at least slightly impressed to vaguely distracted.

At the one hour mark, he was STILL in full flow and showed no signs of stopping. The GF now had that “middle distance” stare on, still occasionally nodding, uh-huh-ing, but it’s not even an open question as to whether she was still listening.

Run, I thought. Run, honey. Grab your stuff, pretend you’re heading to the washroom, and get Patty to let you out the back door. Change your name to Brian Dunleavy and join the French Foreign Legion, because this isn’t just who he is – it’s who he will always be.

If you don’t understand why I hoped she’d do that, you’re probably a man. In fact, you’re probably that man.

The things men don’t know…



Strangely, despite the title, this is a very unpolitical post.


I’m going to tell you male-identifying folks – those of you who seem confused about “what women want” and who complain bitterly about how “girls like bad boys” or “women only want rich men” – I’m going to tell you what we REALLY like in a person, regardless of gender.

It’s not rocket science, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Women – and I use the term loosely here, because this is not about genitalia in any way – women like people who hear them.

When a female-identifying person says they like someone who listens, we don’t just mean that you shut up long enough for us to complete a sentence (although that is nice, as a starting point).

We want some eye contact. We want to feel your attention. We want your response to not automatically be a statement of one-upmanship.

Women-people want to feel valued for more than our visual appearance.

One of the most seductive moments in my marriage was when I was involved in an argument about racism. Pat did not say a single word in that conversation, but sat beside me as I took someone else’s statements apart with a metaphorical scalpel.

Afterward, in the car, I asked him if he had been silent because he agreed with my opponent’s position.

“Hell, no,” he said.

Then why hadn’t he spoken up and supported me?

“Honey, you argue better than any ten other people I know. You didn’t need me.”

If I hadn’t already been madly in love and lust with him already, that would have sealed the deal, kids.


Women-people love to dance, and we especially love other people who dance with us.

Hit any club on a Friday night, and note the number of women-people dancing with each other, if you need some kind of proof.

This is not some kind of “display” for your benefit. This is because we like dancing, and we will dance with practically anyone. If you want to endear yourself to a woman you’ve just met – dance with her.

We like this so much that you do not even need to be good at dancing. All we ask is that you do this simply for its own sake – that you do not automatically see this love of movement and music as any kind of “come-on” or equivalent to foreplay.

Just get out there and dance.

Women-people want to have our interests acknowledged, not trivialized.  Music, movies, literature, all of it: we want to be free to like what we like without having some male-person tell us we are juvenile or ignorant or un-hip.

In fact, what we want more than almost anything is that male-people honour those likes and respect those likes, not deride us. We want you to at least *try* out our stuff: listen to a few Taylor Swift tracks, watch “The Remains of the Day” with us, read “Wuthering Heights” without judging it in relation to Clive Cussler – meet us halfway and stop trying to hog all the culture.

If we need to spend every Saturday in Sephora, evaluating the relative merits of different brands of lip gloss – you should support that, not mock it.

If we cannot watch a documentary on the History Channel without critiquing the lack of scholarly research displayed by the narrator, you should honour our commitment to academia, not complain that we don’t “get” contemporary media constraints.

And once in a while – hand us the damned remote.