dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

MorrigansCurse_REV coverI had a lot of fun researching this book. A LOT of fun. And since I wrote the first draft all the way back in 2014, I’ve been sitting on all this cool stuff for a long time. With the book finally releasing next week, I’d like to talk about the myths and legends that produced some of the characters – and magical objects – in The Morrigan’s Curse.

As with the first two books, I drew on Arthurian legends for my Transitioner characters. In The Morrigan’s Curse you’ll meet Transitioner lords Calvin Bedivere and Ash Pellinore. The Sir Bedivere of legend had only one hand, so I assigned my Bedivere “the hand of power” as his family talent. Sir Pellinore was known best for his pursuit of a great Beast. Therefore, I gave Ash Pellinore … no, wait. I’m going to keep that one a secret. It’s worth it. You’ll see.

Because some of the major characters in Morrigan are Kin – loosely based on the Tuatha de Danann  – I also had the opportunity to delve into Celtic mythology. Each Kin character is linked to some god or goddess out of Celtic lore: Corra is an oracle, Aeron is the god of war and strife, Ratis is the god of boundaries and fortification.

The MorriganLloyd Alexander drew on this same mythology in his Prydain Chronicles, and I found myself needing to use some of the same names: Llyr, Mathonwy, Arawn. I did my best to make my characters as different as possible from his, even using the alternate spelling of Arawen so as not to draw a parallel with Alexander’s Death-Lord, Arawn.

One of the best and most fun people to write about was the titular character, The Morrigan – a three-in-one deity who embodies chaos and destruction. She appears as either an old crone, a middle-aged woman, or a young girl (named by me as Girl of Crows). When I first stumbled across the Morrigan in my preliminary research, I knew at once that she needed a place in my third book. And when I was hit by THE IDEA, THE DELICIOUSLY SHOCKING IDEA about how to use the Morrigan, I had to go back into the second book, The Inquisitor’s Mark, and revise major sections to set up for her arrival.

Celtic swordsFinally, what’s a fantasy story without a few magic items? Especially ones that might be trickier than they first appear! Here I called upon the Treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan: The Cauldron of Dagda, The Spear of Lugh, the Sword of Nuadu, and the Stone of Fal. In the legends, each one had a very specific magical use, but when I stumbled upon a website describing the symbolic purpose of each item … well, then I had the backbone of this story.

I hope that readers will enjoy how I put this all together! One of the best compliments I received from my editor was, “I kept having to Google the names in your manuscript because I couldn’t tell what you were getting from legend and what you were making up!”

Isn’t that what we aspire to?


One of the things that makes you feel like a real author (even when you already know you are and have held your own books in your hands) is traveling some place for book research. Even if you travel all the time for work, vacation, to visit family, etc, there’s something really cool about saying, “I’m here researching my next book …”

I’ve researched books in a creepy Catawissa cemetery, on top of a 2000 year old Mexican pyramid, and at a Roman amphitheater in Wales. Most recently, I went to New York City to visit the Central Park Zoo.

My family made a whole day out of it. We took the train from the University of Delaware Amtrak stop in Newark, Delaware. It’s a little station.

I mean LITTLE. When the train stops for you, there’s only one car you can board, and you have to cross the tracks to do so.

When we arrived, we went for lunch before the zoo, and I got to meet up with blogger-friend Melissa Sarno.

Then it was off to Central Park. Before the zoo, we made a point to visit the Balto statue. I have an important scene here in The Eighth Day #2.

My daughters were impressed that the entrance to the Central Park Zoo looked just the way it did in the movie Madagascar.

But I was really here to replace a scene I had already written in the manuscript. You see, the polar bear tank played an important part in my Central Park Zoo scene, but sadly, Gus the Polar Bear recently died. The fate of this exhibit is uncertain. I chatted with a zoo employee who said that the Zoo — and Mayor Bloomberg  — would really like to have another polar bear. But acquiring one is tricky. It would have to be a rescue situation, and it would have to be determined by experts that this exhibit was right for that bear.

Chances are, this exhibit will no longer exist by the time The Eighth Day #2 is published. So I spent most of my visit to the zoo surveying a replacement: the snow leopard exhibit. While we were there, the male snow leopard made one of his rare appearances, approaching the observation platform and showing himself to the visitors.

And … we totally FAILED to get a picture of him. We were too busy taking pictures of the eaves of the observation platform. You can tell you’re a writer when people are climbing over each other to take pictures of a beautiful snow leopard, and you’re off to the side taking pictures of how a steel net is attached to a building with eye bolts.

There it is folks, the thing I went to New York City to see. Bolts. It’s a glamorous job, researching books!

I’ll be posting late on Wednesday with the winner of the Very Superstitious e-book. (See below)

And I’ll be back on Friday with a very clever scavenger hunt leading up to Lexa Cain‘s cover reveal for Soul Cutter.

Roman Amphitheater at Caerleon
My upcoming book, THE EIGHTH DAY, has a tie to Arthurian legends – with, I hope, a unique spin on them – so I wanted to do research for the series while I was in Wales. During my visit, I found out that South Wales may truly be the origin of King Arthur, although not in the way I expected.
King Arthur would have lived in either the late 5th or early 6th centuries, if he was a real person. He was called “King of the Britons” – which meant he was ruler of an area that combined today’s Wales and England after the Romans left and during the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion. In spite of fierce resistance, the Anglo-Saxons eventually overran the Britons. The land they conquered became known as England, and they called the original inhabitants “Welsh,” meaning foreigner. (Figures!) Some of the Britons fled and settled in a place that came to be known as Brittany (now part of France). Their descendants returned to England centuries later as part of the Norman invasion in 1066.

Our Welsh tour guide, Paul, took us first to Caerleon, the site of a Roman legionary fortress. This was one of the northernmost outposts of the Roman Empire, one made more palatable to the occupants by the building of an opulent Bath and an Amphitheater on the premises. The connection with Arthur stems from legends that he built Camelot near the ruins of this Roman fortress, or that he used some of the abandoned structures, including the amphitheater, for his own purposes. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the most prominent chronicler of Arthurian legend, specifically mentions “The City of Legions” in connection with Arthur. It’s also been suggested that the “Round Table” was no table at all, but actually this Roman amphitheater.

Ogmore Castle
Of course, there is no proof of this.
Paul also took us to the ruins of Ogmore Castle. This was a Norman fortress and well beyond Arthur’s time. However, some historians believe that Arthur’s final battle – the one in which he was mortally wounded by Mordred – took place on the plain near Ogmore. The wounded Arthur was then transported by boat on Ogmore River toward the sea, where either he died and was buried in a cave or was placed under a sleep spell to wait until his country needs him again.
Of course, there is no proof of any of this, either.
Ogmore River and adjacent plain
We also visited Cardiff Castle. During the 12thcentury, this castle was home to Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of King Henry I. A frequent visitor to this castle was Geoffrey of Monmouth, the cleric who wrote several histories of Britain. Robert was one of Geoffrey’s sponsors and helped him rise to great heights in the church. Geoffrey, meanwhile, wrote histories that pleased Robert … including tales of King Arthur which glorified the Britons who defended the land 500 years earlier (and were coincidentally ancestors of the Normans). Geoffrey’s book catapulted King Arthur, King of the Britons, to world-wide fame. Writers contemporary with Geoffrey and those who came after used his book as the historical reference for their own, while Geoffrey claimed that his own historical reference came from a mysterious, nameless, lost book that was given to him but has never been seen since.
The Keep, a fortress inside the fortress walls of Cardiff Castle
Sadly, there seems to be plenty proof of that part!
Our tour guide, Paul, recommended I read The Camelot Inquisition by John F. Wake. I promptly purchased it on Kindle and read it during my stay in Wales. Wake is a retired police officer who researched the historical existence of Arthur using the standard of a policeman gathering evidence to present before a court. It was very interesting reading, especially while I was visiting some of the sites mentioned.

Next week, I’ll share the details of what I learned, especially what, if any, reliable historical references can be found to Arthur prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Along with the line edits and the revisions, much of the work I’ve been doing on my manuscript for the past couple weeks is checking for historical accuracy – making certain that this item or that detail was appropriate for the setting of my story.

I did a lot of this research while writing my first draft, of course, but I didn’t make a record of it.  Now it’s been so long since I wrote the first draft, I find myself repeating the research, just to make sure. (Lesson learned for next time!)
For example, I can tell you with certainty that cupcakes were an innovation of early nineteenth century Americans and valued for the time they saved in baking.  Originally they were baked in – what else? – teacups, although later in the 1800’s ramekins were used.
While researching what a young lady of means might wear as a wedding dress in 1867, I came across this fascinating article, originally printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1866 — Dress Under Difficulties: American Civil War Fashions in the South During the Blockade.  It seems that making a dress from the household curtains was not so far off the mark.  
The article appears at The Ladies Treasury, an online magazine devoted to Victorian and Edwardian fashion.  There are other fascinating articles on this site that I would love to read … when my revisions are finished.

I love it when I’m researching a project and I discover a fascinating side story that has nothing to do with my WIP, yet pulls me off track for hours, just reading about it.

While reading about Tesla’s experiments on Long Island at Wardenclyffe Tower, I came across a reference to the architect who built the tower, Stanford White. I didn’t recognize the name, but apparently he was an extremely famous and talented architect who was murdered a few years later in what was called The Crime of the Century.

The Crime of the Century? In 1906, the media had already decided that no other crime in the next 94 years could be as important? As a matter of fact, I thought The Crime of the Century (of the 20th century, that is) was the Lindbergh kidnapping.

As it turns out, the media has dubbed countless crimes the most important one of the century – from The Great Brinks Robbery to the Jonestown Massacre. But Stanford White’s murder was the first.

White was shot in the head and killed on the Madison Square Roof Garden by millionaire Harry K. Thaw in front of dozens of witnesses. The motive? Five years earlier, Stanford White (a known womanizer) had carried on an affair with Thaw’s 22-year old wife, Evelyn Nesbitt. The affair occurred before Evelyn, a famous model and chorus girl, had even met her future husband, but Thaw was so violently jealous that he apparently felt the need to kill the man who’d been his wife’s first lover.

Thaw was tried twice for the crime. The jury was deadlocked the first time, and he was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity the second time – although he was subsequently incarcerated in a hospital for the “criminally insane.” His trial (1907-1908) was dubbed – what else? – The Trial of the Century. (Move over OJ Simpson.)

What does this have to do with my current WIP? Absolutely nothing. But it was a fascinating little side trip. And it does make me wonder … what was The Crime of the Century in the 1800’s? And how many of them were there?

In speaking to other historical fiction authors, I’ve discovered many of them experience the same frustration I do when conducting research. You might think that our biggest problem is finding enough information, but that’s not true. The problem is we find so many fascinating stories, and we can’t fit them all in to our work.

I’m currently researching a new book set in the mountainous Columbia County of Pennsylvania in the 1860’s. But I’m also learning about events of the 1770’s, when this county was under threat from British forces and their Indian allies. These events will be only peripherally related to my planned book – history and legend for my 19th century characters. And yet, there are so many tantalizing little tidbits I wish I could use …

Take Moses VanCampen. He was nineteen years old in 1776 when he offered to sign onto a regiment joining Washington’s army near Boston. But some older local men, former soldiers from the French and Indian War, talked Moses into staying at home as part of the local militia. Young Moses was known as a crack shot, a level-headed responsible young man – somebody they could count on to defend the local civilians. He agreed.

A Committee of Safety decided to build a series of forts between the West and North Branches of the Susquehanna River to defend the area. Moses was ordered to find an appropriate location near Fishing Creek and build a fort to provide shelter for the locals in case of an attack. Moses chose the home of Isaiah Wheeler as the central point for his fort and directed the construction of a stockade fence around it, large enough to accommodate all the inhabitants of the area. His choice of this property was probably influenced by personal reasons: he was courting Wheeler’s daughter, Ann.

So, Moses built a fort around the home of his sweetheart, and even before it was completed, it was put to the test. Indian raiders attacked and burned neighboring homes, but the settlers themselves fled to the safety of the half-completed Fort Wheeler, which withstood the attack. For the next year, Moses VanCampen made Fort Wheeler his headquarters as he ably defended the region with his company of sharp-shooters. In fact, Fort Wheeler was one of only two local forts to survive the war.

However, Ann Wheeler married VanCampen’s best friend, Joseph Salmon.

There’s a story here, folks. A very human story amidst all the history. But Moses and Ann and Joseph have no real place in the book I’m actually planning to write – they lived 100 years earlier and on the other side of the county. Maybe I’ll find a use for them – maybe I’ll write about them some other time – or maybe they’ll be just a tantalizing tidbit of history that will always leave me wondering.

My t-shirt contest is still running until Friday, June 18th – my last day of school! Check out the post below and leave your comment to enter.