The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Burning Questions is available

PART ONE of the 1970's Trilogy: BURNING QUESTIONS is now available from Whiskey Creek Press.

When the teenage heir to a Yankee fortune is found shot to death, the local authorities quickly declare it to be a suicide by Russian roulette. But just a week before, he witnessed the torching of a hotel. Was he murdered by the arsonists? The family's law firm puts bumbling summer intern Nate Lewis on the case and soon he and Christina Lima, the deceased’s beautiful girlfriend are running for their lives in this mystery-thriller set in Gloucester, MA.

Go to The 1970s Trilogy Blog to read an excerpt.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


And so it came to pass that Constantine became Emperor. 

The next thing he does is issue an Edict of Tolerance. All religions within the Empire were now supposed to be safe from state persecution. But that was a fig leaf. All along Constantine angled to give Christians the edge. He thought it might be a good idea dangle the prospect of Christianity becoming the state religion for Rome. After all, if he could get these “Christians” to believe that Rome was scheduled to become God’s Kingdom on earth, he’d have himself a bunch of zealots willing to die for Rome. And the name, Roman Catholic was born.

One of the things that Constantine wanted was a Church that he could work with. He wanted Christian soldiers. So he needed a church behind him that could take care of making sure those soldiers toed the line. So a few years later (325 A.D.) with Constantine’s approval, a bunch of newly legitimized Christian bishops held a meeting in the town of Nicea in Asia Minor. At this conclave, they endorsed a church structure that they knew would please their patron. The clerics cooked up a church hierarchy that looked a whole lot like a military institution. There’d be the Commander-in-Chief, the Pope. Then there’d be a “general staff” of cardinals. The archbishops would be like commanding generals out in the field and they’d exercise their power through a web of senior officers (bishops). Priests were their junior officers, but officers nonetheless. And the masses, well they were the grunts.

Since they were thinking army, it followed that there had to be both rules (lots of them) and discipline. That required offenses to be defined and proclaimed. The doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed the only true dogma. So now you’d have your heresy. And since the church would mirror a military organization, you’d have a proscription against debating dogma as handed down through the chain of command. Whatever the turd was, once the pope and cardinals sent it down through the plumbing the junior officers and grunts would just have to eat it or taste fire. You’d have blasphemy and sins.

The Roman ruling class was a very male-dominant, military-cultish bunch. Whether they were military or religious, most Roman men don’t see much benefit in having women around with power over them. And so the Nicean bishops took the opportunity to declare war against women. They made it illegal for priests to have sexual relations with women out of marriage. They erected a whole bunch of barriers to priests getting married. The decreed that women couldn’t be priests. Only men could dispense the sacraments. They worked overtime to cut women out of any possible civil exchange where a female might give an order to a male. And they promoted this ethic to the grunts as gospel. And from that time forward Christianity adopted misogyny as integral to its dogma.

By the time Constantine passed away, Rome still wasn’t quite ready for the Full Monty when came to Christianity. There were just too many adherents of the old paganism. In some places like the Celtic lands, women had been healers, magistrates and soldiers since time immemorial. Eradicating these inter-gender customs and relationships that were offensive to the new Roman Christianity was going to take some time and dissembling. And so Constantine, consummate politician, never bothered to convert to Christianity (unless you believe convenient post facto accounts claiming that he, like the Bronx racketeer Dutch Schultz, accepted Jesus in a deathbed baptism.)

But even if he did undergo the deathbed conversion number, it is pretty clear that the Jesus Constantine would have “accepted” was not the turn-your-other-cheek guy. He wasn’t the same dude who drove money-lenders out of the temple. Constantine’s Jesus never would have cooked up an argument about rich men finding it more difficult to get into heaven than a camel passing through the eye of needle. No, Constantine wasn’t a tree-hugger Christian. He was a warrior-emperor who needed an army that would fight and he turned to the only people willing to fight and die for a cause. He cynically welded their cause to his, gave swords to the “Christian” adherents of the “Prince of Peace” and set them on their way to world-ruling. 

The Edict of Tolerance was supposed to apply to all religions, but it turned out that Christians, who most benefited from it, given that previously they were the plat du jour for the Imperial lions, quickly dumped the toleration ruse the moment they got the upper hand. (Much in the way Hitler dumped democratic elections once he got control of the government.) In 380 A.D., they got themselves a fairly unbalanced emperor, Theodosius.

And when the Pope asked, “Hey Empy, you wanna do me a favor? You wanna declare Roman Catholicism the state religion? I do you a favor. I say ‘render unto Ceasar’ all of the time, and before you know it Empy, you got yourself a bunch of fightin’ fools on your side.”

Theodosius responds, “Yeah, sure.”

They have a deal. Between 381and 391, Theodosius lets the dogs out. He passes decrees against pagan sacrifices. It becomes a capital offense for pagan priests to do their thing. He dismantles pagan congregations and destroys pagan temples. He confiscates pagan valuables. He cancels pagan holidays, prohibits pagan worship even in the privacy of one’s own home and institutes new decrees declaring pagan practices to be a form of witchcraft punishable by death.  

Now the good a peaceful Christians squander what Roman military resources remain to crush pagan worship, to watch their backs as they provoke and attack Jews and to enforce their decrees of heresy against dissenting Christian.  Not coincidentally, in the two decades that follow travel becomes less safe in the western half of the empire. Barbarian brigands flourish. Roman property in the provinces gets plucked like ripe fruit. Vaunted Roman law is ignored. Roman infrastructure, its roads, bridges and aqueducts start wearing out and not being replaced. Rome’s leaders —increasingly ineffectual, vapid, slothful, and venal —fight among themselves for power that grows weaker and more worthless year by year. No one dares speak out against the Roman Christianity without fear of persecution by the military power of the state.  (Is all this sounding eerily familiar?)

It’s now 410 A.D. There’s this Visigoth barbarian guy named Alaric, who notices all of these things. He’s a Christian, but not a Roman Catholic. He’s pretty pissed off and he’s got a slew of pissed off men with him. It seems that Emperor Honorius, one of Theodosius’s sons, had a panic attack and thought that some of his own legions were out to get him. Maybe he was right. We’ll never know because he managed to actually bump off 30,000 of his own army. But the rub is that these 30,000 dead soldiers had a lot of relatives and friends in other Roman legions. That, and the fact that soldiers don’t particularly like getting stabbed in the back by their own people, meant Honorius had a big problem. They come together under Alaric and are soon bearing down on Rome like a herd of Hannibal’s pachyderms, in full gallop.

Honorius, who it turns out enjoys playing with roosters (really) finally looks up, smells the elephant feces and pulls his last troops, bureaucrats and clerks out of Britannia. “Look to your own defenses,” he tells the Brits as his legions wave goodbye to the startled Britanno-Romans taking a lot of ships and military supplies with them. Four centuries of fucking with the local tribes are over. Adios.

So, a lot of underhanded things already had come to pass by the time Glenys begins reading that Draconian edict of the Vortigern — nailed to the portal of the decaying pagan Temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva —that deprived women human rights and a right to a livelihood much in the manner that Jews were similarly de-humanized under the Third Reich. And when Glenys, a woman in what now has been decreed a man’s profession, is made the scapegoat for a stillbirth, it is clear that she is going to be persecuted. There has been a tragedy. There must be a wrongdoer and it sure isn’t going to be the husband. In such cases, it is helpful to have a sacrifice— to make an example.  The priest will condemn Glenys as a witch, a sorceress.  He will assure the people that “God wants such people to be stoned to death.” And the fearful masses will light their torches, brandish their pitchforks and get set up for a good old fashion stone-the-witch festivity.  

Throughout the ragged empire, Glenys, and women like her will soon be on the run, underground, harassed, stoned, burned, cast out into the cold, shunned.
And their victimization will not cease for more than a millennium. Millions of women will be put to the fire, or stoned. It is the dawn of the Dark Ages.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nan Hawthorne's Booking History: Historical Fiction Roundup for July 2011

Nan Hawthorne's Booking History: Historical Fiction Roundup for July 2011

Prologue to the Flight of the Sorceress

Part 1

When I first wrote The Flight of the Sorceress, I included a prologue. I figured that most readers’ knowledge of the 5th Century was pretty thin and that a little background might help. Pre-publication opinion was loud. “Get to the story,” it shouted. So, despite my craving for context, I took it out, stuffed it in my files and waited for a day of reckoning. Now, here it is — the long suppressed, totally dehydrated, deconstructed, digested, “Prologue to The Flight of the Sorceress” — one hundred years of Roman history compressed into twenty-five hundred words (including snarky commentary.) That that Gibbon!

But first, here’s my point of view:

From time-to-time, down through the ages, men have plotted to rule the world in the name of God. These days, we tend to think of Muslim jihad when we ponder the goal of ruling the world. But if we look under the rocks, we will easily discover lots of historical precedent. Since the beginning, men have plotted to rule the world and were not above using religion as a tool to accomplishing their objective. There have been times when Christian zealots roamed the land with just such a mission in mind.

Many among us do not like to think of Christianity that way. They have a blind spot when it comes to introspection. For such people, Christianity is universally “good.” Rejection of their brand of Christianity is evil, sinful, heretical and blasphemous. They demand conformity to their version of the religion. Opposition to their agendas makes them enemies of God. Thus all opposition must be crushed. And because God seems to consistently ignore His own best interests by allowing subversion in His kingdom, it is pretty clear He needs help eradicating the infidels. Who better to serve God in this way, to institute a reign of terror against the unbelievers than the men tasked by the Almighty of founding God’s Kingdom on earth?  And so, since the dawn of religion, self-proclaimed righteous servants of the Lord have commissioned themselves executioners,  insisting that the mayhem they create is justified because they are merely attempting to rule the world in God’s name.

Well that’s what commenced to happen in the fourth century, about 100 years before the Romans quit Britannia, a century before Glenys of the Silures is declared a sorceress and Christian fanatics torched the great library in Alexandria, Egypt. As the Roman Empire rotted, Christians read their tea leaves and prophesized that a holy kingdom of God on Earth with its capital in Rome, loomed on the horizon — if only they followed God’s commandments.

Sometime between 305 and 310 A.D. Constantine, the Roman General in charge of all the legions in northern Britannia, saw the handwriting on Hadrian’s Wall. His legionnaires looked out across the moors from their parapets on the Wall and saw waves of angry, face-painted Pict warriors—a never-ending opposition. And they wondered whether there was any point in hanging around the grim north of Britannia, soaking wet and cold, when they could be sucking oranges on a Mediterranean beach. Everyone seemed to sense that the days of Pax Romana were numbered. Citizens and slaves alike we’re pretty sure the vaunted Roman Empire had seen better days and that pretty soon, their walls, like the walls of Jericho, could come a’tumbling down. Rome was falling apart. The Empire was on its last legs.

“What am I doing freezing my balls off in Eboracum?” Constantine asked himself. Then, one dark, dank, nearly-Nordic winter, a light came on. “I can be emperor. And this is how I’m going to do it….”

He calls a counsel of his officers. He leans in close to the fire. A dozen scarred, sun burnt, grizzled faces follow suit so that the glow is captured within the circle. It’s bright as day while he’s speaking.

“We all agree the empires going to shit. Our Roman citizens don’t want to fight for it anymore. So, if we want to keep our empire, we’ve got to hire the army. We’ve got to rely on mercenaries, or,” and he leans back now, far enough that his officers have to strain and tilt so that they can see around the flames, see the face of their general as he speaks to them, “we can recruit the most zealous folks who now live among us.”

His minions frown, grimace, scratch their noodles and wait for the punch line.

“There’s basically this one group of people out there with zeal, and a willingness to die for their beliefs,” he tells them. “Diocletian kicked the shit out of them for years – feeding them to his lions. But God bless’em they keep stickin’ to their catapults.”

He pauses; looks each one of them in the eye. “Don’t you wish we had more soldiers like that?”

They nod and make animal sounds of agreement with his every word.

“Well we can,” he assures them. “All we have to do is get the hell out of here and take control of that sorry imperial government.”

Leaving Britannia though is the easy part. Lots of Roman generals, like Julius Caesar have done that. They just pack up their kits; order their legions to march; rip off every ship they can find; cross over to Gaul and invade Rome. But there’s always competition for the top job. To become emperor, you’ve got to fight for it. You’ve got to cross your own Rubicon. And Constantine it is no exception.

It’s late October, 312 A.D. Constantine is about to engage Max, another wannabe emperor, at a place called the Milvian Bridge. Max has a lot of seasoned troops. He’s done pretty good so far, in defeating other challengers. Constantine knows he needs an edge.

The story gets a little confusing here. One Roman historian claims it was the dead of night and Constantine is taking a stroll. Another Roman historian pipes up thirty years later and says “No, it was daytime and Constantine saw it just right next to a brilliant sun.” Anyway, lo and behold, whether night or day, Constantine looks up into the sky and sees this giant cross with the words “In hoc signo victus,” (“By this sign conquer.”) kind of looping like an overly dramatic pole dancer around it.

“Eureka!” he exclaims. 

And so he gets all his army together and tells them, “I just had a vision.” Curiously, if it was the nighttime version, despite the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of soldiers lying there on their backs that night, looking skyward because they can’t sleep, because they’re scared shitless that they’ll end skewered the next day, or the day after that for no good reason, no one besides Constantine happened to witness this message from God. And if it was the daytime version, it’s just as strange that only the general saw it, and he failed to mention it right then and there. It’s not like he was travelling alone. It’s also a little curious that he is spending his time blinding himself by looking directly into the sun. No matter. According to myth, everyone believes him.

And so the next morning or that afternoon, or the next day, whatever, they get up, take paintbrushes in hand and upgrade their shields with crosses. Thus fortified with the patronage of the one true god, off they march, jazzed up with the promise of victory or eternal bliss. (No mention yet of 72 virgins. That’s the Muslim upgrade and not yet available on the market.) They’re building a fucking Kingdom of God on Earth after all!

Yup. You guessed it. The Christian soldiers win at the old Milvian Bridge.

 The Flight of the Sorceress is available as an E-book or in print from Wild Child Publishing: or from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

A limited number of signed copies are available from the author. Click on the "Buy Now" Paypal button below to make a secure purchase.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sorceress is now in print? You Betcha!

It is my pleasure to announce that my historical novel, The Flight of the Sorceress is now in print!

For a limited time only, I am selling a small quantity of signed copies of the novel, including tax, mailing and handling for $15.00. This is a savings over the list price of over $2.00.  Unfortunately, this offer is only good for purchases within the United States. Click on the "Buy Now" Paypal button below to make a secure purchase.

Or you can purchase from my publisher, or at Amazon

Two more authors give Flight of the Sorceress a thumbs up!

Barry Willdorf spent years studying this period and it shows. The world he presents is frighteningly real. His characters are vivid and true to their period and their backgrounds. The writing is crisp, with clear and distinct voices. There is some graphic violence that is integral to the plot. …This is an era that is seldom addressed in fiction, but endlessly fascinating, even more so because the bad guys won, plunging the world into the Dark Ages. You will root for Glenys, Hypatia and Aschi and hope throughout that they will survive because they are such compelling characters living in turbulent times. By all means, buy and read this book. It will change you. Alyssa Lyons author of Last Wishes: Jordan Davis Mysteries, Book 1; Clubbed to Death: Jordan Davis Mysteries, Book 2; Stabbed and Slabbed: Jordan Davis Mysteries, Book 3

Complex characters. Sophisticated dialogue. Understated action. A plot that's easy to follow. The conclusion is humbling yet effective. The impact stays with you long after the last page is turned: Mr. Willdorf has written a superb tale with thought-provoking dialogue and enough research to make it a compelling history lesson. Flight of the Sorceress is a rare book--it holds the reader captive via its intelligence alone. If you're looking for a great historical fiction book, you can't do much better than Flight of the Sorceress.  Jeff Gonsalves, Author of Fork in the Road to Apocalypse.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Importance of Verisimilitude in Fiction

The other day, my eye was caught by a book promo. I am on many lists and perhaps 500 email promos show up on my computer screen every week. It takes something special to get my attention. (The more promos I get the more I begin to understand how easy it is for agents, editors and publishers to miss good stuff because they are swamped.) Anyway, this one particular promo got my attention…because I knew the facts in the promo excerpt were patently wrong.

What this author did was move the homeland of a particular ethnic group from one place to another that was three to four thousand miles away, in a distinctly different environment. It would be like placing the Oglala Sioux (Indians of the Great Plains of North America) in Tierra del Fuego. I emailed the author, asking whether this was a mistake or intentional. The author replied that it was intentional, and that it was within bounds because it was fiction. This response gave me pause. Just cause you can, don’t mean you should. I don’t think what this author did was a wise choice.

That an author should make a conscious decision to take a group or character from one era or location and place them/it in another, just because you can, I find, rather strange. Obviously, my thinking doesn’t apply to a plot point. It’s fair game to imagine what would happen to a particular person or say, ethnic group if they were plunked down in another place or have travelled in time. But if you are just in need of a protagonist or perhaps a victim, you ought to have a good reason to drag a real group or person into a story.

I spent years doing research for The Flight of the Sorceress. Authors, reviewers and historians all have commented on the thoroughness of the work. I have earned the confidence of my customers so that I can better make my point and accomplish my goal of using fiction to expand the reader’s knowledge.

I have a new work of fiction, Burning Questions, about to be released. Even though I lived for many years on location so to speak, I spent a lot of my time doing research. I wanted as much verisimilitude as I can get. I wanted my settings to be accurate both in time and place. I wanted the ocean conditions to be right for the time of year. I wanted the flowers to be blooming or the leaves to be falling as one who knows the location might expect. I wanted the characters to be typical of the kind of people you’d expect to find in the locations I have selected for the story. I want my characters to eat for breakfast the same things that people who actually live on location would be eating. And if the location is fictitious, I still want it to have some of the same sort of features that give the place credibility, so that the reader can have a mooring. My made-up place ought to look like someplace familiar even if it is a spoof of that familiarity.

This is simply saying that even in my fictitious world —unless it is somehow part of a plot line —I would tend to make the leaves of trees green. My skies would be blue or gray and if I went with clouds, I’d be prone to putting them up there in the sky. Water would float boats, and people would drink it. And so, if I were to decide to populate my novel set in Tierra del Fuego with indigenous peoples, I wouldn’t import some random tribe from eight thousand miles away. If there once were actual indigenous peoples at my location I’d try to research legend and lore from the proximate neighborhood. I’d want to build that into my story, to give it a location-based verisimilitude that I would hope might interest a reader. If not, I’d go with my author’s license and make up some phony tribe. But I’d do it in a way that would allow my reader to continue to believe that skies were blue in this land, just as they are in his or her own land.

Fiction works best when the facts and premises are credible. Characters and props, talking points, descriptions, whatever, should all require a plausible explanation for being in a story.  I want my readers to be confident in my research. I want them to find my descriptions of time and place accurate. I want them to accept that people in these particular environs are realistic and capable of acting in the way I have them act in my novel.

And when, as a prominent part of my tale, I stick a naked Fiji Islander in the tundra of the Northwest Territory, I better have a damn good reason for freezing this poor guy’s balls off or having him die of excessive mosquito bites. I just can’t bring myself to stick the Fijian in a snow bank because I’m too lazy to find out what an ethnic Tierra del Fuegan really looked like and whether or not such indigenous folk were habitu├ęs of snow banks. And I’m too invested in creating a credible work to just shrug, palms up, and say when someone wonders why I did such a thing: “Hey, it’s fiction man, let it happen. Don’t be so fucking uptight.”

So my verdict is: do your homework. Build your novel with as much accurate content as you can and don’t leave yourself exposed to criticism by somebody who knows you could have done better, or worked harder, to make the story more real. For me, better fiction involves research to make a story credible to a person who grew up in the neighborhood you are trying to use as the setting for your story.

I buy books. I will pay my money for works where I have confidence that the foundations are solid. I won’t buy a work of fiction where an incorrect fact slaps me in the face. There is no “take” from such a work. For me with my consumer hat on,  your final product is sure to benefit from verisimilitude. So this author lost a sale and may find that savvy reviewers are happy to throw darts at the premise. There’s no upside in doing the hard work of writing a novel but passing on research that can make it the best you can possibly create.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


As you probably know, the first volume of my mystery/suspense 1970s Trilogy, Burning Questions, should be published by the end of the month. I have set up another blog for the trilogy, at All of you "followers" out there are invited to become followers of that blog too. As the books go into production and I begin to do my promo, you will be treated to some interesting stories about Cape Ann, MA in the 1960s and 70s. Then, in volume 2, we'll go to the Mission District of SF in the early 70s and you might even catch a glimpse of a young Carlos Santana. In book 3, We'll be going to the wine and weed country for more murder, mayhem and relationship angst. So here's the probably new cover for book #1. Let me know what you think.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Thanks so much to Joel Gates, who blogs:

"I have been fortunate enough to wander across a really great book!...I picked up the novel and after finishing up "Bitter Seeds" recently (Great book!!), I dove into "The Flight of the Sorceress". It is far, far better than I had even expected. I had not read anything of Mr. Willdorf's before so I did not know what to expect. Here is what I got.

  • The historical research is fantastic! And the settings just "breathe" they are so real. 
  • The characters are so well developed and my heart bleeds for them during their travails.
  • the heroines are plucky, ... in extremely admirable ways that never cross the line into annoying.
(I)t is a really exciting and engaging book and one that I highly recommend!