Friday, September 27, 2019

The Origin of Magical Words

Need to cast a spell? There are several useful words to know that have long magical histories. The roots of the word “magic” itself can be found in Magi or mage, a hereditary class of Zoroastrian priests of the ancient Medes or Persians. Magi was later used to describe men with special abilities such as king, priest or astrologer who could read omens in the skies. The word “magic” goes back to the 1300s, and it originally referred to rituals, incantations, or actions thought to give the user control over the natural world, but the definition has changed through the centuries.  By the 1700s, it also referred to an actual supernatural power. In the 1800s, sleight of hand and card tricks became popular and stage performers used the word to imply they had special arcane abilities.

No one is sure of the origin of the strange word abracadabra, although believed to be Hebrew or Aramaic origin. It is possibly derived either from the Hebrew words ab (father), ben (son), and ruach hakodesh (holy spirit), or from the Aramaic avra kadavra, “it will be created in my words”. In the Harry Potter series, Rowling played with the Aramaic version to create a death spell, Avada Kedavra, which was supposed to mean “let this thing be destroyed.”

The earliest use of abracadabra is in a Latin poem in a medical book. The word was a written charm to protect against bad luck, illness, or evil. It was often worn as an amulet and resembled a “v” with the final letter dropped on each line until only “a” remained.

Hocus pocus
Hocus pocus first appeared in the early 1600s as Hocas Pocas, the common name for a magician or juggler. In 1634, a book appeared entitled Hocus Pocus Junior - The Anatomy of Legerdemain. The author was anonymous but was later dubbed Hocus Pocus after the book's title. It’s also possible hocus pocus evolved from nonsense words that sounded exotic and magical.

Another explanation for the origin of the term came from John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1694. In his Sermons he accuses it of being a parody of the consecration of the Catholic Mass and wrote, “In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.” That Archbishop Tillotson was miffed at both stage performers and Catholics isn’t surprising, and there’s little evidence of his claims.

On a side note, hocus is also believed to be the source for the word hoax, but the word doesn't appear until 1796 and, like Archbishop Tillotson’s claim, there’s no direct evidence for a link.

Alakazam is an invocation of magical power to indicate an instantaneous transformation or appearance that occurs as if by magic. This word has the most mysterious origin. Because alakazam can be a proper name, some suggest it was used to invoke the powers of a particular person. Others trace the origin to a Hindu word meaning “flawless” or the Arabic al qasam, meaning oath. However, the first known appearance was in 1902 and appears likely that it was merely invented by stage magicians to evoke a sense of the mystical power of the Orient.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When your Health was Written in the Stars: Medieval Medicine and Astrology

It’s the middle of the Medieval Ages and you’re not feeling up to snuff. There are no HMO’s so what’s a person to do? Luckily, the local doctor has the right astrological charts to get you back in fighting shape. The basis of medieval medicine was the perceived belief in the connection between astrology and human anatomy. Astral connections weren’t unique to Europeans. The Babylonians created the first organized system of astrology, mostly as a way of divining information about political events in particular locations. Historically, kings and emperors were known to call upon designated court astrologers before going into ward. The Egyptians improved on the Babylonia system and devised the zodiac around the 1st century BC. Ptolemy, who lived in Alexandria further developed horoscopic astrology into signs we know today.

Ancient peoples believed astrological bodies had the power to rule fortunes on Earth, so why not the human body, too? To treat a patient, a medieval physician needed to consult the stars, specifically the location of the moon. In the case of an operation, the first step was to check the moon’s alignment. A close relationship to a constellation signaled that a zodiac sign was active. Unlike solar counterparts, lunar signs last only two or three days, rather than an entire month.  If the moon blocked Leo then Leo was active and when a sign was active, it was dangerous to operate on associated body parts. You better hope that boil on your foot didn’t fester until the doctor considered it safe to lance.

The Middle Ages had no telescopes, so illnesses and their treatments were only ascribed to the seven planets visible with the naked eye along with the sun and the moon. Each one was believed to affect specific body parts and some were clearly holdovers from ancient myths. Venus and Mars, for instance were linked to reproductive systems. Where else would you expect from the goddess of love and the uber-macho god of war? Specific diseases also had their own astrological signs. Poisoning was linked to Saturn, insanity to Mercury and liver trouble to Jupiter.

Astrological signs were connected to specific body parts and covered a person head to toe. Since Aries was the first sign in the zodiac it affected the uppermost region of the head. The next sign was Taurus who affected the throat and neck. Other signs continued the downward progression in order until reaching Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac who had responsibility for the feet and toes.

After voicing a complaint to a doctor, the diagnosis process began by determining where the moon was in location to a constellation when the patient first became ill. Doctors had special almanacs (or calendars) containing illustrated star charts, allowing them to check the positions of the stars before making a diagnosis. They often had illustration for patients, the Middle Ages equivalent of those pamphlets at your doctor’s office. How did the system work? Let’s say, an examination of your astrological chart determined the need for therapeutic bloodletting. Because the moon governed blood flow, it was best not scheduled during a full moon. Then you needed to know where the moon was in a constellation and the birth date of the patient to determine the effect on their astrological sign.

Complex and confusing, no? The presumed relationships between the heavenly bodies and the human body were so complex, numerous, and contradictory that in practice it was impossible to carry out any operation without breaking some astrological rule. Naturally, many patients died, but the reasoning was don’t blame the practitioner, blame the system. Someone simply miscalculated a star chart. It takes one wonder how many patients survived not because of medieval doctors and their lunatic diagnoses, but in spite of them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

New Release: Law of the Claw, Big Easy Shaman Book 4

Big Easy Shaman Book 4

Available now on Amazon

“Life always has the possibility of bloody death. One simply must learn to duck.”
Clovis Landry

It’s Christmastime in the Big Easy and all budding shaman, Peter Whistler, wants is to find the perfect gift for Amelie, but a distraction arrives in the form of a mysterious stranger bringing a threat from abroad. What connection does this new evil have with a hideous painting that falls into Peter’s possession? And why is something that ugly so desperately sought by local criminal, Blinky the Dip? Meanwhile, the New Years’ first full moon means trouble in Bayou St. Gerard. A creature prowls the swamp with unknown designs on one of the Benoits.
Réveillon, rougarous, and ghostly voices from the past. Will the Law of the Claw make peace between ancient enemies or only hasten the destruction of Peter and his friends?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Road Trip! Fantasy and Science Fiction Movie Location to Visit

Summer is here and that means road trips. Turn off the TV, plug in coordinates to the GPS and visit real movie locations. You don’t have to settle for California. Many movies were shot in areas nowhere near La La Land and open to the public. We all know about the beauty of New Zealand thanks to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit movies. If you have the bucks you can actually can pop into Hobbiton and many of the places where the movies were film. On a tighter budget? There are plenty closer to stateside to choose from and they’re not exactly what or where you’d expect.

Ghostbusters Headquarters
The building is actually Hook & Ladder Company #8, a fully working and operational New York Fire Department firehouse at 14 North Moore Street in TriBeCa. Exteriors were shot in New York City and interiors in Los Angeles, Fire Station #23, 225 E. 5th Street. It was decommissioned in 1960 and is now a Historic Cultural Monument for Los Angeles.

This one might blow your mind. Although the movie supposedly takes place in future Detroit, the downtown area is actually a mash-up of Pittsburgh and Dallas. OCP corporate headquarters is Dallas City Hall at 1500 Marilla St. Matte paintings made the building appear taller (and more ominous). Check out more before and afters posted by the Dallas Film Commission.

Star Wars: A New Hope
The Massassi Outpost rebel base on the fourth moon of Yavin in the original Star Wars film was shot on location at the Mayan temple ruins in The Tikal National Park in Guatemala. Director George Lucas picked the location after spotting a poster at a travel agency while shooting in London, England. A trip to Tatooine starts a little farther. The Mos Eisley Spaceport was really Ajim, Djerba Island, Tunisia, while Tosche Station was Sidi Jemour, Djerba. They already sound like science fiction locations. Don’t want to travel halfway across the world? The Tatooine desert was Death Valley National Park.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Poor Katniss had it tough in The Hunger Games. Yeah, sure, real tough when she spent her days basking in luxury at the Marriott Marquis Hotel at 265 Peachtree Center Avenue NE in Atlanta, Georgia. The building served as the Tributes’ Quarters and Training Center. Production designers chose the Marriot for the glass elevators and central atrium, at one time the largest in the world. The Tributes’ living quarters were filmed on the 10th floor and another set built on the hotel roof.

The Shining
Heeeere’s Johnny. Actually, here’s a conglomeration of hotels that inspired The Overlook. The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, California, inspired the interior while exterior and establishing shots came from the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. Stephen King’s original inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in the novel was the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Kubrick never shot there, but it was used in the 1997 made-for-TV version of The Shining.

X Men
The exterior for Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is Hatley Castle, in British Columbia, although Casa Loma in Toronto and ParkwoodEstate in Oshawa, Ontario were also used. Interiors were sound stages. Hatley Castle is a National Historic Site and tours are available.

Logan's Run Before Black Friday Sales
Logan’s Run
A dystopian future never had so much great stuff to buy and check out the nummy hot pretzels at the food court. Although areas around Dallas/Fort Worth were filmed, the domed dystopian future city was actually a shopping mall named the Dallas Market Center.
Logan's Run After

Logan’s Run is one of my favorite cheesy bad movies. It’s quite awful from beginning to end and I’d always hoped to visit and check out the sales while I wandered around recreating the escape of Logan 5 and Jessica 6. Unfortunately, urban development necessitates progress and the The Dallas Market Center now looks like this, a fitting end for the set of a dystopian city.

The real Field of Dreams is a real family farm. Located in Dyersville, Iowa, the Lansing Farm has free admission and live, guided 30-minute tours. Hear stories about the Lansing family who homesteaded in the early 20th century, and the farm’s rebirth as the set for the Kinsella family in the 1989 fantasy classic. The baseball field is still there and used for games. Want to stay overnight and talk your dead daddy into a catch? The house is available for rent on

Groundhog Day
On my top ten list of best fantasy movies ever is Groundhog Day. While the story takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it was almost entirely filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The quaint bed and breakfast where Bill Murray’s Phil Connors stayed was the Royal Victorian Manor, at 344 Fremont Street. Alas, it is now closed. You’ll have to settle for a selfie out front.

The Blob
It’s alive! Well, not exactly alive, but the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania is open for business. If you’re a fan of classic science fiction, you surely can’t pass up a visit to a place where the blob nearly oozed through a building full of teenagers. July 12th this year is the annual Blobfest where you can catch a show and then run screaming from the theater.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Predatory Publishers

Recently, a slight brouhaha flailed at my publisher, the Wild Rose Press, when a writer whined to the Romance Writers of America that the company was “predatory.” This is serious charge. I’ve been associated with WRP for several years, and have five books with them. They are reputable, squeaky clean, aboveboard, and known for being open and honest in all their dealings with writers. RWA dismissed the accusation, so what got this writer’s shorts in a knot? He or she seemed to have a poor understanding of contractual obligations versus options offered by the publishers, and absolutely no idea what constitutes a real predatory publisher.

Warning Signs of a Predatory Publisher

Everyone who’s ever written a book has high hopes of seeing it in print and predatory publishers prey on that. They make their money by charging potential writers for services such as editing and marketing and may also withhold a percentage of sales royalties to supposedly “cover their fees.” There are a ton of these leeches out there ready to steal your money or manuscript and any writer must know the warning signs.

When a manuscript is accepted for publication, a legit publisher (small or large) never charges a writer a fee of any kind. Even a legit vanity press, like Kindle Select, where a writer pays to publish, doesn’t charge a submission or reading fee. A good publishing house never charges for editing, a book cover, or formatting the manuscript into print or an ebook. A vanity press will give you the option, but it’s an option. You don’t pay to distribute the book to outlets. To cut it short: you don’t pay for anything up front. Royalty amounts are always clearly stated in the contract.

This doesn’t mean you can sit back and clutch your wallet to your chest. Small companies can’t promote like big publishers. They do some marketing, but if you want to get your book out there, you must market on your own. Over four thousand ebooks are published each day. If you don’t market, yours will be buried in the avalanche and no one except family and friends will ever read it. This costs money, but how much to spend should always be your decision. A predatory publisher will have mandatory marketing fees. An honest publisher may offer marketing opportunities, but they are never required. This is common practice and shouldn’t scare you away from a company. Wild Rose Press often has marketing options for writers such as having a book listed for a discount rate in NetGalley or a library distribution catalog. I’ve taken advantage of some and passed on others. The choice is always mine. If I decline, it never affects my standing with them.

Rights “in perpetuity”
Run, do not walk, from any contract that has you sign over publishing rights in perpetuity or uses those words in any manner. This mean you never get rights back. No legit company ever does this. All honest contracts have a clearly defined time limit. 

Hi,There. We Want to Publish Your Book
You’re contacted out of the blue. Unless you’re famous, no legit publisher ever contacts you first. Predators buy email addresses from all sorts of companies and websites. Consider it spam and do not respond.

Everybody’s Work is Terrific and Welcome
No. It isn’t. Legit publishers are selective. They require a writer to submit a manuscript for review, and not everyone makes the cut. People often confuse a vanity press with a predatory press. A vanity press makes no judgment on the quality of work and offers a variety of services for a self-published writer. A vanity press can be predatory, but plenty are legit. Kindle Select is a good example. It’s free to use and they’re completely upfront about services (such as layout design) you may wish to pay for. A predatory publisher will dump a pile of praise on your head and then stick you with fees, preying on a person’s desperation to get a book into print.

Other Warning Signs
Is the publisher affiliated with another fee-charging business involved with editing or marketing? Do they pressure you or require its use? Are they secretive about distribution? Do you know how a book will be distributed at home or in foreign markets? Do they clearly define ownership of audio rights? If the publisher produces a print edition along with an ebook, does the author get a free copy? A small press may only offer one, and that’s okay, but being required to buy a certain amount is a sign of a predatory publisher.

Warning Sites
May small publishers are totally legit, but you may not have heard of them. Google them first and check them out in writer's blogs. Below are other sites I've used.
Association of Author Representatives (For agents) They maintain a list of agents that must adhere to standards
(Predators and Editors used to be a good site, but has gone through ownership changes and aren’t as reliable any more. I don’t recommend it.)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

My State Monsters

My State Monsters

Florida is my state and I’ll be the first to admit it’s weird. If we’re not ducking natural disasters like hurricanes, zika virus, and sinkholes that can swallow a town, were dealing with more than our share of monsters. Despite theories that they prefer dark, shadowy corners, several of them seem to have settled happily in the Sunshine State. 

Myakka Skunk Ape
The Skunk Ape is our version of Bigfoot. It was first spotted by an unnamed Sarasota woman back in the 1960s who sent the county sheriff’s department photographs of what she thought was an orangutan in her back yard. It appeared on three consecutive nights at her house near the Myakka River, eating apples from her back porch. It smelled awful, hence the name. In 2013, another Floridian took a fuzzy 1:55 minute video on his iPhone of the Skunk Ape in the Myakka River State Park.

Although Florida wildlife officials deny the existence of the skunk ape, it’s obviously a government conspiracy, as sightings have been reported over the years, with the beast showing up in the day and at night, in all sorts of environments. It appears to favor swampy areas, usually where the consumption of beer is involved. No way does it look like a guy in a monkey suit.

Much like Bigfoot, the evidence collected over time consists of photos, hair samples, and a few foot casts. The Skunk Ape has four toes unlike Bigfoot, which has five. A website devoted to the creature, The Florida Skunk Ape, receives several reports of sightings each week, and spikes during football season when Florida Gator fans hold tailgate parties.

Butt Spider
The Butt Spider is a crafty arachnoid who lurks under toilet seats and crawls out to bite your butt. Why? No one knows. Again, it’s suspected beer is involved. Fortunately, there are no pictures.

Muck Monster
The Muck Monster inhabits Lake Worth. It’s reported to be shy and earned the name “the elusive muck monster” diving to the bottom of the lake when strangers get within ten feet, leaving only deep ripples in its wake and empty beer cans bobbing to the surface. No way does it look like a bunch of junk, a gator, or a manatee's flipper  in the water, unless you’re sober.

The Devil’s Chair
Cassadaga is a small unincorporated hamlet in Volusia County. Called the Psychic Capital of the World for the large number of psychic and medium inhabitants, it also has the Devil’s Chair. Located in a cemetery, the Devil’s Chair is a wide brick bench. Legend states it was built by the devil and each night at midnight, he kicks back and puts his feet up. (Probably with a cold beer.) Rumor says if you sit on it, he whispers evil ideas and you’re forever haunted by the experience. If you leave a full can of beer on the chair (unopened) and return the next morning, the can will be empty and still unopened.

Friday, April 5, 2019

New Release Spotlights by Jean M. Grant: Soul of the Storm and Will Rise from Ashes

Follow Jean's BLOG TOURS and register for giveaways
Will Rise from Ashes, April 18-June 6

Soul of the Storm, March 20-May 8 

Soul of the Storm
(A Deerbourne Inn novella)

Will love help her summit one more peak?

Charlotte MacGregor lost the thrill of conquering mountains five years ago when her sister disappeared on a hiking adventure without her. Still guilt-ridden, Charlotte heads for a vacation to rustic Vermont with a friend—where she's surrounded by reminders of her devastating loss and plagued with unanswered questions.

Matiu Christiansen is an outdoors buff. He works multiple jobs to save for his dream of owning an outfitter in New Zealand. He's never quite felt at home in the United States and he yearns for his Maori roots, but his attraction to Charlotte puts a kink in his plans to move home later this year.

Thrown together by coincidence, Charlotte and Matiu form a kindred bond through their shared love of the outdoors. Can Charlotte surmount her demons to assist Matiu on a rescue when a late-season snowstorm hits? And can Matiu help Charlotte heal from the pain of the past?


“What’s on your agenda tomorrow?” He offered her a brookie. He sat closer this time, his thigh brushing hers.
She unwrapped the brookie, grateful to have something to focus on, inhaled the enticing mixed scent of chocolate and buttery deliciousness, bit into it, and had to cover a moan.
“Choice, right?”
“Heaven. I need to get you to write these sayings down. Though I’m filing them away in my brain. This is choice?”
“Yup or sweet as.”
“Sweet as what?”
“Just sweet as. We leave the conjunction hanging there.”
They shared a chuckle.
“Confuses the hell out of tourists,” he added.
“Easy as.” His eyebrows lifted as he munched. “So, tomorrow?”
“Not sure. If Ronnie hasn’t already ventured there, maybe north to Waterbury to visit the cheese and ice cream factories.”
“Nah, that’s tourist stuff. How about farther off the beaten track?”
“You have better ideas?”
“Of course.”
“What’s your schedule like since you’re Mr. Busy?”
His smiled tipped to a frown. “Another full day. Since I mucked this morning on my day off, maybe they’ll give me a break tomorrow. Plus, I’m waiting on their vehicle to get repaired.”
She found herself nibbling on her lip, and it wasn’t just from the chewy deliciousness in her mouth.
He poured her tea. His clock near the TV chimed. “I gotta change for the inn shift. Be right back. Drink the tea slowly. Let it work its flavor on your palate. Drink it like you would an expensive wine. Slosh it, inhale, savor.” He rose. “Just don’t spit it out after.”
She almost snorted the swallow of tea. God, he was a flirt, even if he didn’t know it. Maybe he did.
She admired his physique as he strode to his bedroom. The T-shirt stretched nicely across his wide shoulders, and she presumed he had a well-defined torso beneath it. She bet his calves were in kick-ass shape from all the work he did. And his butt…
He only half closed the door. She got a decent peek as he took off his dirty T-shirt. Elaborate, curved black tattoos covered his shoulder blade in similar symbols to the ones on the quilt.
She pulled her gaze away as he disappeared behind the door. Veronica had warned her. Fun only, fun only. Oh my God, what the hell was she doing?

Will Rise from Ashes

Release date: April 17, 2019
Available now for pre-order

Living is more than mere survival

Young widow AJ Sinclair has persevered through much heartache. Has she met her match when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, leaving her separated from her youngest son and her brother? Tens of thousands are dead or missing in a swath of massive destruction. She and her nine-year-old autistic son, Will, embark on a risky road trip from Maine to the epicenter to find her family. She can't lose another loved one.

Along the way, they meet Reid Gregory, who travels his own road to perdition looking for his sister. Drawn together by AJ's fear of driving and Reid's military and local expertise, their journey to Colorado is fraught with the chaotic aftermath of the eruption. AJ's anxiety and faith in humanity are put to the test as she heals her past, accepts her family's present, and embraces uncertainty as Will and Reid show her a world she had almost forgotten.

Even from far away, I recognized the man’s plaid long-sleeved shirt and the large backpack, but now he was walking alongside a bike on his approach.
“Hey, look! It’s that guy you drove past this morning!”
 I shuddered inwardly. Well, karma just bit me in the butt.
“How did he catch up with us?” Motherly instinct took over as I rose, my legs wobbly. “Will, stay there. Here, take this,” I said, handing him the tire iron.
 “We already tried that, Mom.”
“Not for that, Will.”
He scratched his brown hair, which was overdue for a cut, and looked at me, confusion wrinkling his brow.
“Be my wizard, Will. It’s your sword.”
“Wizards have wands.”
The circuit connected. “Oh…yes, Mom, I’ll protect you!”
I smiled faintly. “Thank you, honey.” I didn’t want to explain further that it was me protecting him. I didn’t want to say that if something happened, to run and hide in the woods. Because he would run and hide. Then what? Who would come help?
I shoved my hand into my front jeans pocket to nestle my fingertips around the pocket knife I had given Harrison for our wedding anniversary. The man slowed his bicycle as he drew nearer. He gave me an understated, yet significant, nod. The nod of understanding, of kindness. I didn’t buy it.
“Hello, again,” he said.

Available for pre-order at:

Available April 17th at Kobo ~GooglePlay ~ Walmart

Jean’s background is in science and she draws from her interests in history, nature, and her family for inspiration. She writes historical and contemporary romances and women’s fiction. She also writes articles for family-oriented travel magazines. When she’s not writing or chasing children, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, hiking, and doing just about anything in the outdoors.

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