On Free Books and Poison

First off, I’m thrilled to let you know that my YA dark fantasy adventure novella is featured in a wonderful collection of New Fantasy and Sci-Fi books—all of them are FREE through the end of January. Pick any/all you wish to download in any format. You can also enter to win an additional 52 books as well. You are signing up for people’s email lists when you do so, but you can unsubscribe at any time. I’ve snagged several for myself. Click here for a wonderful choice of free books: https://books.bookfunnel.com/alwaysfantasy/izy7xzaivd

It’s a nice validation, and I’m thrilled. Writing is by definition a solitary act unless you’re in the writer’s room on a television show. Other than that, it’s just you, yourself, and you. I don’t know about your brain, but mine has a few dark corners and downright bad neighborhoods. It’s not good to walk them alone… you may have encountered this on nights when you can’t sleep. It’s worse when you’re awake and on your third cup of coffee and you know what you want to say but are utterly unable to put a sentence together that isn’t utter shite. That’s when my inner mean girl pops out with a bludgeon and her judge-y voice. I have to take that voice and shove it… back down.

Have I mentioned I love writing?

Most of the time.

My current series takes place in 15th century medieval Europe. For a handy reference, that’s about 100 years after the black plague decimated the population. King Edward the IV had scandalized everyone by marrying a commoner. That nasty old murderer Richard the III reigned in this time frame, too. It’s an in-between sort of space where really anything could happen as civilization clawed its way towards the Renaissance. My books will head towards Constantinople and Damascus and the Spice Islands in the series soon, but for now, I’ve been learning about the Black Forest area of Germany (Grimm’s Fairy Tales land) and the port city of Marseille.

I’ve also been researching the foods people ate, what they drank, and a myriad of ways to kill people using poison. Yeah. Don’t cross me. Kidding. I wonder what the FBI would make of my look-up history. There should be a disclaimer for writers. I can only guess what the google history of folks who write apocalyptic fiction looks like. Or people who write murder mysteries, cozy or otherwise. You really have to watch out for them.

From my research, there are two things I’d like to share with you. The first is that in Europe at that time they didn’t have potatoes. Can you imagine? The dark ages would have been much easier to endure with potatoes on the menu. Of course, I learned this fact after my first book was mostly finished and had to go back and remove all the instances I’d mentioned potatoes being eaten or stored. I subbed in turnips instead, but you and I both know that turnips are a poor substitute for a nice carb-heavy potato.

In researching the best way to kill people using agrarian methods, I’ve come to understand that it’s remarkable that any of our great-great-great etc. grandparents lived to sire progeny at all. There were just so many things back then that could kill you aside from the usual pestilence, war, or wild animal.

Rhubarb (I’ve talked about this in a former post about Rhubarb Pie), and a lot of mushrooms, especially the red and white ones that look like fairies should sit on them are tops in “natural” poisons. Oleander (there are several horror stories of scouts using the sticks to cook hotdogs over fires and the whole lot of them dying, but I don’t know if those were true or just cautionary), Water Hemlock, Belladonna/Nightshade, Yew trees, Foxglove, Castor beans, Rhododendron, Jimson Weed, Rosary Pea, Lily of the Valley… I could go on. My favorite deadly plant that I couldn’t use in my stories is a tree that grows in tropical places like Florida called the Manchineel. That one is so bad it’s called the Tree of Death. Every bit is poisonous. You can’t even stand under them when it’s raining, as the dripping water can transfer toxins onto your skin, causing it to bubble and blister. Helpful locals will paint a bright red band around it warning you off… unless, of course, they want to kill you.

On the flip side, I’ve learned a few tasty recipes for alcoholic beverages, as no one really trusted the water in the cities, and rightly so, as the water system was also the sewage system. Ale and beer were their equivalent of Gatorade. Mead was popular with anyone who kept bees. It’s fermented honey, high in alcohol and sweet. You can try that one at a Ren Fair.

Mulsum is spiced honey wine and sounds absolutely delicious. It’s considered to be the oldest alcoholic drink in the world. I know it’s January, and we’ve all given up such things for at least three more weeks, but here’s a recipe for it from the website of http://www.KitchenLoveStories.com

3 cups lukewarm water

1 cup red wine (you can sub in non-alcoholic wine if you’re off booze)

1 cinnamon sitck

1 whole nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

4 Tbsp honey

Slice of orange or lemon in each glass.

Put everything together, mix it up, and put in the fridge for a day. Reheat it if it’s wintertime, don’t if it’s hot out. Remove the spices and serve. This recipe makes four servings, or one if you’re in despair.

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