Writing Wednesday: Imitation vs. Plagiarism

August 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


I mentioned in a few blogs back that it’s okay to imitate your favorite authors’ style, but you should never (repeat: NEV-ER) plagiarize their writing. Let me just clarify the differences between the two:


I’m pretty sure that every aspiring writer deliberately imitates another author at some point in their life. New authors who are just getting into the craft and haven’t developed their own style will draw on the styles of a favorite author in order to learn how to construct an illustrative sentence, storytelling method, dialogue or physical description and that’s perfectly fine. Mimicry is a natural way of learning to do … well, basically anything …

The cons to mimicking another author’s style is that if you get too into the habit of doing so, you’ll never develop your own voice. You might want to have James Patterson’s sales numbers, but honestly, you don’t want his voice. James Patterson is James Patterson, you’re you. You want to be unique, to stand apart from other authors. Furthermore, imitating another’s writing style can have disastrous results: I mentioned before how I really enjoyed Anne Borchardt’s description of food from ancient Rome so much that I tried to emulate it, but the tone was so jarring compared to the rest of the story that it really ruined the flow.

Plus, your readers might not appreciate your attempts at trying to sound like Mark Twain if a) they don’t like Mark Twain or b) they do like Mark Twain but you just sound like a gluten-free, diet-soda version of him (you know, it’s not bad but always seems just a little bit off, which makes it distracting and unpleasant?)


When you plagiarize someone, you have blatantly copied their work without giving them credit for it. Like, you took all of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and slapped your name over JK Rowling’s. If you took sections or large portions of a book and changed some details (such as characters’ names) that’s technically referred to as copyright infringement, but it’s still the same thing in the end: you stole somebody else’s creation rather than putting in the work yourself.

So now I know you’re asking me, “But Kara, I’ve read books that had very similar plots. Is that plagiarizing too?” Well, that depends; two books can have similar plots but are executed differently enough that you can’t say they’re plagiarized. You might be able to argue that the idea was stolen, but sometimes that can be hard to prove. For example, about a year ago fantasy author Sherrilyn Kenyon sued YA author Cassandra Clare for plagiarism, claiming that Clare stole the idea of a group of warriors defending the planet from a supernatural menace from Kenyon. Seeing as how that theme can be found in various forms in mythology—mythology that’s thousands of years old—that’s going to be really hard to prove that it was stolen. Before that, Andriana Pichini sued the studio that produced the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button¸ claiming that they had stolen from her story “Arthur’s Return to Innocence,” which was published in 1994 … except that the movie is actually based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, published in 1921. So who’s copying who here?

Honestly, these ideas are not that difficult to dream up. About five years ago I had a great idea for a story about Nazis camping out in Dracula’s castle in Romania, only to be terrorized by vampires all night long. Imagine my irritation when three friends of mine said (in unison!) that the idea had already been done!

Oh, and that brings me to one more point; I’m sure by now you’re saying, “But Kara, what about books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? That was a book that was already written and some dude just took it and added zombies. Isn’t that plagiarism?” Actually, copyright law states that ownership of an intellectual work (be it book, movie, song, whatever) is credited to the original author for the length of their natural life plus an additional seventy years after their death. Once that time is up, the work then becomes public domain and is therefore free to anyone who wants to use it for their own profit (the Disney corporation is currently sweating over this because starting in the year 2024 cartoons like “Steamboat Willie” are supposed to enter public domain. But don’t you worry, they’ll find a way to extend the copyright. God forbid it should enter public domain and therefore enhance society’s storytelling capabilities.) That’s why you see so many book and film versions of things like Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, The Three Musketeers and so forth, and it’s a good thing because that’s how societies and cultures enhance their stories—creating a new mythology, if you will. All the same, that still doesn’t grant you ownership of Dracula, it just means you can use him in your book without getting sued.

Myth Monday: Why the Cat Always Lands on Its Feet (Islamic Legend)

August 14, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Many years ago in the Middle East, a stray cat heard Mohammed the Prophet preaching. She was fascinated by his words, and as Mohammed traveled from city to city, village to village, caravan to caravan spreading the word of Allah, the cat followed, wanting to learn more.

After one of his visits, Mohammed decided that it was time that he went into the desert for a time to fast and pray. The cat heard this and thought, “Surely such a great man must converse with angels. The things they would tell him! I will follow the Prophet into the desert and learn more from him.”

So, Mohammed went into the desert, unaware that the little cat trailed him into the wilderness. The cat sat nearby and watched as Mohammed prayed and fasted, waiting patiently for new teachings and enlightenment.

Unfortunately, the cat wasn’t the only creature that followed Mohammed into the desert; Satan was determined to keep the Prophet from teaching, and so he sent a venomous black snake to follow Mohammed and strike him dead. Mohammed had no idea that he was being pursued by such a hideous force of evil.

One day as Mohammed prayed aloud, the cat sat on a nearby rock and listened, entranced by his words. As she watched, she heard a strange sound—a vile hiss. Startled, she looked down from her perch and saw a monstrous cobra slithering its way past her, heading straight for the meditating Prophet. Knowing that this was a monster sent by Satan, that its intent was to kill Mohammed, the cat screamed and leapt from the rock, landing on top of the cobra just as it lifted its head and spread its hood. The cat’s scream alerted Mohammed and he sprang to his feet, reeling around in time to see the cat nimbly darting around the writhing, enraged serpent. He watched in shock as the cat batted and clawed at the snake, slapping its head down so she could lunge and sink her teeth into its neck. The cat shook the cobra furiously, beating it against the ground until it hung limp and lifeless from her jaws.

Realizing what had happened, Mohammed broke into a grin and knelt down beside the cat as she dropped the dead cobra. “Wonderful cat! You have saved my life and in doing so have committed a great feat in the name of Allah. So that all will know what you have done, I give you the gift of my mark.”

Awed, the little cat sat still as Mohammed reached down and traced the first letter of his name—“M”—onto her forehead. She purred in delight as the smiling Prophet stroked her back and said, “As well, from this day forward, no man will be able to throw you or your noble descendants onto your backs. No matter from what height you fall, you will always land on your feet. You shall ever stand as the noblest of Allah’s creatures.”

And that is why cats always land on their feet.

Writing Wednesday: Showing, Not Telling

August 9, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”—Anton Chekov


“SHOW, don’t TELL.”

In my junior year of high school, I was thrilled to be able to finally take Dr. Stocking’s writing class, but not so thrilled to frequently see this message emblazoned across my work in his thin but bold handwriting. Show, don’t tell. When I first saw that, I was confused; show, don’t tell. I didn’t get it—what as the difference?

Dr. Stocking, a giant bespectacled, bow-tie wearing man with a gentle voice that didn’t match his height, was more than happy to explain it to me. “You write very well,” he said kindly. “But you frequently slip into this mode where you’re telling the reader what they’re supposed to be looking at or what they’re supposed to be feeling. Don’t tell them … show them. Illustrated it so they can feel it, see it. Make it so the reader feels like they’re there.”

It took me a bit to fully understand what he meant, but one day I was looking over a story I had written for class and all at once, I understood: the paragraphs that described the scenes and actions were very powerful. The ones that just kind of stated what was going on had no punch at all and were very bland and passive. The scenes that were showing me the images and feelings made me care, while the point-blank stated scenes made me feel like I was getting talked at. The illustrated “shown” scenes sounded like they were written by someone who had developed their skill over a long period of time, whereas the “told” scenes sounded like they were written by a sixth grader.

Confused? That’s okay, let me give you two examples:

“Told” scene:

They walked down to the river. It was cold out so it felt like it took them a long time to get there and they were tired. When they got on top of the bank they saw the river water was up high because of all the rain. It was flowing very fast.

“Shown” scene:

Together, they trudged down to the river. The biting chill in the air made the trek seem to take much longer than it usually would, and both of them were exhausted by the effort. Reaching the top of the bank, they saw the river below them, swollen by the storm’s downpour. The dark water snarled as it rushed its way onward.

So in the first scene, the reader is being told what’s going on: the unnamed characters are walking to a river on a cold day. While the description is to the point, it doesn’t make the reader very interested in what’s going on. The “told” scene is the prose equivalent of a stick figure drawing. In the second version, the reader is given more detail: the characters “trudged” to the river—so therefore this requires more effort than just walking. The air is so cold it seems to bite at them—this is a particularly chilly day. The walk seemed to take longer because of the cold and they were both exhausted—this is ordinarily a short trek but it’s so cold out that the characters are expending more energy to get to their destination, and we know that they’re not just tired, they’re exhausted. They reach the top of the bank and saw the river below—a more active description than “got on top” and having the characters look down at the river helps the reader visualize what the area looks like. The river was swollen from the storm—more dramatic than the previous version, adds to the description. The dark water snarled as it rushed by—the reader senses that the river is discolored and moving so quickly that the characters (and the reader) can hear it.

This is also important in showing emotions:

“Told” scene:

She was scared and stepped back away from the monster, trying not to touch it. She tried to scream.  She was so scared she wanted to cry.

“Shown” scene:

Reeling back in terror, she drew her hands in close to her body, not wanting to touch the thing’s slimy skin. A scream hitched in her throat as tears began to blur her vision.

In the first scene, we’re told that the character is in a presence of a monster, that she’s extremely afraid, doesn’t want to touch it and is ready to cry. The lack of description makes the reader unafraid for the character; okay, so she’s scared, so what? In the second version we see the character reel back—she’s moving backwards so quickly that she’s barely in control of her balance. She draws her hands in close to her body—the reader sees that the character is trying to withdraw, maybe to protect herself. She doesn’t want to touch the thing’s slimy skin—the reader sees that the character is confronted by a “thing” (which I know doesn’t sound highly descriptive, but this illustrates that we don’t know what the creature is, which makes it more frightening) that has gross skin covered in slime that she doesn’t want to touch, and how can we blame her? A scream hitches in her throat—she’s so scared that she can’t even get a scream out, and the “hitch” hints that she experiences a little bit of pain as well. Tears began to blur her vision—stronger than just saying that she wanted to cry, by stating that tears are blurring her vision, the reader now knows that the character is not only scared enough to cry, but that the unfallen tears are making it hard for her to see, adding to the danger.

It’s also important when describing landscapes, plants, houses, cars, whatever. Don’t tell me it’s the oldest tree in the neighborhood, show me that it’s gnarled and has a big chunk of the bark ripped off because somebody skidded on the ice one winter and banged into it with their car. Don’t tell me the house has fire damage, show me the boarded-up windows and the black smoke stains stretching across the walls like straining fingers. Don’t tell me that the car is red, show me that it’s a sparkling metallic red, or a shiny tomato red, or that it used to be red but it’s mostly just patchy rust spots now. Like Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Just a word of warning though; don’t go overboard on the descriptions either. Especially with the physical descriptions of your main characters. I know one thing that drives me up the wall EVERY SINGLE TIME is when a writer goes into way too much detail about their character’s description when we first meet them—I get so bored, I usually wind up skipping that paragraph(s) altogether. I don’t need to know that your character has jet black hair the color of a stealth bomber flying through the dead of night, that they have jade green eyes the color of a foaming Mediterranean sea in late spring, skin of alabaster white as smooth as mother of pearl, that they have a scar on their left pinky toe from the time when they were five years old that they scraped against a nail that was protruding out of their kitchen floor—gaaaaaah! ENOUGH! These descriptions are good, but packed into one paragraph it’s information overload. Quit showing off and get on with the story already! (I’ll go into more depth on character descriptions later on.)

There are exceptions to the “show don’t tell rule” though; if you’re writing books aimed at younger readers, say 3rd through maybe 5th grade or so, you don’t have to spend as much time describing scenes because you don’t want to make reading tedious for kids who are just really starting to learn how to do it. When writing in a first person point of view (stories were the main character is the narrator, using “I” statements—sorry if this seems obvious, but there are actually quite a few people who get confused on point of views) and you’re going for a less refined tone—say your character is more Forrest Gump than Sherlock Holmes—your character is likely going to be “telling” the readers what’s going on; the average guy is more likely to say “the river was flowing really fast” whereas a more educated or spiritually deeper character might say “the river was roaring as it flew past.”

(And since I know there are those of you out there who are smugly thinking this: yes, Hemingway was famous for his sparse descriptions, but he still was showing his readers what was going on. I swear the guy had some kind of supernatural ability to do that.)

Oh, and before I finish for today, just a reminder—don’t stress out about it. Write the story first, then go back and see what you can punch up. Trying to get the descriptions right the first time around will stress you out, but the more you practice the easier and more natural it becomes. Trust me on this.

Myth Monday: How the Cat Received the “M” Mark on Her Forehead (Christian Legend)

August 7, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

Black Cat Appreciation Day is August 17th, so I thought I’d celebrate by recounting some great cat stories!



That night the Savior as born to a virgin woman. Mary, the woman blessed by God, had given birth to a son without having known a man. The child was the Son of God, and his adopted father, Joseph, named the child Jesus.

Mary felt no pain, had no difficulties during the birth, and while at first the infant Jesus was quiet and calm, as the hours passed he grew restless. Being half divine, Jesus could feel the suffering in the world, and it caused him great distress. He began to cry and wail, and nothing the worried Mary and Joseph did could calm the distraught infant.


Since there had been no room for the family at a nearby inn, Mary and Joseph had been forced to rest in a stable filled with animals, where Mary had given birth. The animals—horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, chickens—all felt the newborn Messiah’s grief, and each animal in turn did their best o comfort him. The horses and donkeys nuzzled him with their soft noses, the cows and goats offered milk, the chickens clucked and the sheep pressed their warm, fleecy bodies up against the manger where Jesus laid, but nothing could stop his wails.


In a far corner of the stable, a beautiful cat had given birth to a litter of kittens at the same time Mary had given birth to Jesus. Hearing the infant’s heartbroken cries, the mother cat nestled her sleeping kittens together, then hurried to the manger. She stood up, placing two paws over the edge of the container to peer inside at the crying baby. Before Mary or Joseph could react, the mother cat leapt into the manager and stretched herself out alongside baby Jesus, nestling her soft head against his. She began to purr, the sound rumbling through her warm body. Jesus heard the purring, felt the cat’s warmth, and gradually, his sobbing faded. Calmed, he tilted his head towards the mother cat, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

So grateful to see the child peacefully asleep, Mary gratefully extended her hand to the cat. “Thank you, cat, for helping my son rest,” she said. “I will always remember your kindness, and I will make it so the world remembers as well.”

Mary stroked the mother cat’s head, running her fingers over the feline’s brow. Where her fingers brushed the silky fur, the letter “M” for “Mary” appeared in the animal’s fur, and the mother cat passed this on to all of her offspring. That is why cats have the letter “M” on their brows.

Writing Wednesday: A Day in the Life of an Author at a Local Book Fair

August 3, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

I signed up for the New England Authors’ Expo in Danvers, Massachusetts a few months back, and thought I’d keep a record of my day. ‘Cuz, you know, you might be wondering what it’s like to be an author at one of these things. (P.S: the times listed aren’t precisely exact, but it gives you an idea.)


6:45 AM: Wake up in confused daze, 1st mini-freak-out about work, realize that I changed my schedule so I could get to the book fair.

6:47 AM: Doze off.

7:30 AM: Wake up, start stressing about the book fair.

8:00 AM: Up, eat, dress, out the door.

8:15 AM: Hey, traffic’s not too bad right now.

8:16 AM: Crap.

8:18 AM: I HATE rotaries.

8:22 AM: Okay, traffic’s picking up …

8:24 AM: Crap again.

8:30-8:50 AM: Making good time.

8:59 AM: That’s right, you acted like a jerk and now I’m cutting you off. Suck my exhaust!!

9:00 AM: I’m supposed to be taking exit 22, WHY ARE THE EXIT NUMBERS GOING UP?!

9:21 AM: I better not be lost …

9:21:15 AM: Better get out the GPS.

9:21:45 AM: Oh thank God, there’s the exit! Still don’t know where I am though.

9:29 AM: GPS: “Take the next right …”

            Me: “Okie-dokie.” (takes a right)

            GPS: “After this one.”

            Me: “God dammit …”

9:30 AM: Arrive at venue.

9:32 AM: Unpack car, head towards building, realize I don’t know which door to use. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, because people stop me and ask for directions.

9:33 AM: Meet another author who very kindly leads me to the correct door. We authors have to look out for each other.

9:34 AM: We’re the first two inside, so I get a super-sweet spot just to the right of the main doors.

10:00 AM: Meet Olga Morrill, the author of Vagabond Quakers. The book sounds so good, I’m more than happy to trade a copy of Nike for one. Thanks!!

10:20 AM: Break out the tablet and start drafting a chapter for Nike, Part 3. Why the hell is the “a” and the “w” not working on my Bluetooth keyboard?

10:30 AM: Author Ceara (pronounced “Kara”!) Comeau, author of Memories of Chronosalis stops by and is really interested in Nike: The Demon Road.

11:00 AM: 2nd mini-freak-out about work—I am going to be so tired tomorrow.

11:01 AM: Freak-out over.

11:27 AM: Resolve to work hard at writing and marketing to earn enough to hire an intern & publicist to do most of this crap for me.

12 PM: Go to a panel on getting interviews by Mike Morin. Good info, nice to hear tips from an actual professional interviewer on what interviewers want.

1:00 PM: Realize I need lunch. Learn that no food is being served.

1:45 PM: Not wanting to leave the venue to get food and risk getting lost—because that’s what would happen—I download GrubHub and order locally.

1:50 PM: Place order, am told it could take up to 50 minutes to arrive. I hope not. I don’t want to get hangry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry.

2:30 PM: Food arrives early, yay!

2:31 PM: Discover that I should have specified certain details about food in order to avoid a very dry sandwich. Plus, I learned that a “small” order of fries is a relative term.

2:35 PM: Ceara Comeau comes back, we have an amazing discussion about writing, scifi, women heroes, the ridiculousness of “Mary Sue” and how we didn’t have many female heroes growing up. I eagerly offer to trade Nike for a copy of her first novel, Memories of Chronosalis. Thanks Ceara! Hope to hear from you soon!

2:36-2:45 PM: Eat lunch, wonder what the hell I’m going to do for dinner

2:50 PM: 3rd mini-freak-out about work on Thursday. That’s right, for a split second I forgot that I had to work. It was a blissful second, over all too quickly.

2:55 PM: Freak out over, now I want chocolate. No chocolate to be found.

3:19 PM: Downtime, do some proof reading

3:24 PM: Huh, it’s raining really hard outside.


3:24:05 PM: Scoop up valuables & bolt out into rain

3:24:18 PM: Return to venue after successfully closing car windows. Feet, legs & half of chest soaked from running out into the rain, then returning with umbrella only to have incredible wind gusts whip rain under the umbrella’s edge.

3:28 PM: Get back to table after visiting restroom, proceed to reapply lipstick, have people decide this is the perfect time to talk to me.

3:28:08 PM: Pause w/ lipstick half applied to answer question just to have the question-asker be distracted by somebody else’s question to them.

3:29 PM: Rain stops.

3:56 PM: Fellow author Artemis Crow wants to buy my book. AWESOME!! Take her card and swipe it through my card reader. Nothing happens.

3:57 PM: Try again. Hope I didn’t just overcharge her.

3:58 PM: Damn it.

3:59 PM: Damn it.

4:00 PM: DAMN. IT.

4:01 PM: FINALLY get phone to accept the payment.

4:11 PM: Get the approval to use entire table for display. It’s all mine, do you hear me?! MINE!!!!


4:12 PM: Artemis Crow gives me one of her bird-skull necklaces in thanks. How cool is that?!

4:25 PM: Public is starting to trickle in.

4:28 PM: The AC kicked on again, so now I’m feeling cold. I put my sports jacket back on, but it’s still damp from the rain and I’m feeling chillier. Is it possible to get hypothermia indoors in July??

4:31 PM: Offered a visitor some tips and advice on self publishing. Didn’t sell a book. Eh.

4:33 PM: Another author came over to ask about my serval stuffie and to ask what a serval was anyway. Didn’t sell a book. Sigh.

4:40 PM: Telepathically instructing people walking by to buy my book. Apparently, my psychic powers are lacking.

4:54 PM: This going to take a while—HEY, DID SHE JUST WALK BY WITH A HUGE TRAY OF FOOD???

4:56 PM: No, it’s crackers and cheese. Well, better than nothing for now.

5:08 PM: Annnnnd it’s dead again.

6:00 PM: I am dragging now. Time to go on the hunt. Need caffeine.

6:01 PM: Bought the way cool, way-cute coloring book 33 Amazing Women (… and one overeducated gorilla) from author & illustrator Bridget Finnegan. I love the variety of different women in it. Thanks Bridget!


6:09 PM: Sweet, they’ve got tea out and OH MY GOD, THAT IS HOT.

6:15 PM: The guy whose mini Snickers bar I swiped from his table? That was Tim Baird, author of The Dragon in the Whites and Washington’s Dragon Hunter. I thought I recognized him, we met back in April at the Bigelow Library’s Book Fair in Clinton, MA! It was great meeting him again and we traded books. Thanks Tim!

6:18 PM: The tea is no longer surface of the sun hot. Awesome.

6:25 PM: Looking at people’s author photos. I don’t have an author photo. Do I want an author photo? Maybe I could wear a wig. I could pose with a sword—maybe a naginata? Nah. I could do a fall-themed one, but everybody does that. How much does it cost to fly out to the Parthenon for one photo? I could save money by doing a selfie … either I’m getting too much caffeine or not enough right now.

6:39 PM: If I climbed up the balcony, jumped off and started swinging from the chandeliers, would that help me sell my books? If it will, I’ll do it.

6:43 PM: A nice lady encourages me to do lectures about Nike at schools. And she took a business card to look up the book later. Thank you, kind citizen!

6:57 PM: Somebody asked me what age group Nike is appropriate for. I never focused too much on age group; I tried to write the book so it would appeal to adults but also be enjoyable for teenage readers as well. But put it this way … if you tell me that your 11-year-old wants to read it and I look at you in stark horror, that’s a good indicator that it’s not for kids.

7:22 PM: Authors are starting to clear out, even though the event goes until 9 PM. Do I stick it out? Well, less competition if I stay, I guess.

7:50 PM: Had a nice chat with Katrina Fiorella, the author of Calliope (I plan on getting a copy of that book too when I get a chance—all these books sound so good!)

8:05 PM: Well, if nothing else, everybody loves the book cover …

8:35 PM: Okay, everybody else is packing up, I might as well too.

9:00—9:45 PM: Reenact Death Race 3000

10:00 PM: I see a glorious neon light on the hill—fast food restaurants!

10:10 PM: Burger King. Haaave ittt yooourrrr waaaaay—and I plan on that.

10:55 PM: Home

11:50 PM: Okay, going to bed now.

11:50:02 PM: Crap, did I set the alarm for tomorrow?!

And next year I’ll do it all over again. Why? Well, I sold only one book, but I did a lot of networking with other indie authors, which makes it all worth it … although I might Uber it next time. People are idiots on the road.

Myth Monday: Melusine (French Legend)

August 2, 2018

By Kara Newcastle



Now for a mermaid of a slightly different sort; Melusine!

A long time ago, not long before the Crusades, King Elinas of Scotland was riding through the forest when he came upon a natural spring, which was tended to by the extraordinarily beautiful fairy Pressyne. Elinas was immediately lovestruck and asked Pressyne to be his wife. Pressyne agreed, but under one condition; Elinas can never visit her while she was in labor with her children, or when she was bathing them. Elinas saw nothing wrong with the request and they married. Pressyne soon became pregnant with triplets, and when the time came she secluded herself in the castle and gave birth to three girls: Melusine, Melior and Plantina. As Elinas waited for news of the birth, his son from a previous marriage began to worry, wondering why his stepmother had insisted on such secrecy. Fearing that the fairy woman was perhaps committing some diabolical act, he pressured their father to check. Swayed by fear, Elinas barged into the birthing room. Pressyne was devastated that her husband didn’t trust her enough to keep his promise, so she gathered up her infant daughters and fled to a fairy island.

Many years later after the triplets had grown to be young women, Melusine heard the story of her father’s betrayal and was incensed. Plotting with her sisters, Melusine lured King Elinas to a cave and they sealed him there as punishment, wanting him to suffer the way their mother had suffered. Proud of having gotten their revenge, the triplets ran off to tell their mother, but Pressyne was horrified at their cruelty. She scolded the younger two sisters but Melusine, the eldest, she held most responsible, and she cursed the girl to turn into a dragon-like water monster every Saturday for eternity. She then banished Melusine to another spring in a forest far away.

Grief-stricken but unrepentant, Melusine accepted her fate, becoming the guardian fairy of the spring. She lived there in solitude for decades, never seeing another living soul aside from the forest-dwelling animals that would come to drink from her waters. Melusine mourned that she would never have a family.

But then that all changed.


One day Raymond, the Duke of Anjou, separated from his hunting party and lost in the woods, chanced upon Melusine’s spring. Relieved to find water, he dismounted his horse, then jolted back in shock as he glimpsed a beautiful woman leaping into the waters, swimming fearfully away from him. Stunned speechless, Raymond watched as the woman reached the middle of the pool and paused, turning to get a look at him. The nobleman was instantly smitten, and he beseeched the young woman to return to him. The woman refused and vanished beneath the water’s surface.

Raymond returned every day, pleading with the young woman to speak with him. Eventually, the woman, intrigued by the desperate and handsome man, grew to trust him, and told him that he name was Melusine. Raymond declared that he was in love with Melusine and would not rest until she was his wife. Melusine replied that she could not be his wife, as she was bound to the fountain. Raymond declared if Melusine could not leave, then he would build a castle there for her. Astounded by his vow, Melusine agreed to marry him, but under one condition: he must never see her on a Saturday, and never ask what she did during that day. Raymond found the request strange, but, deciding that he would get to see his beautiful wife the other six days of the week, he agreed.

The duke made good his promise and built a castle by Melusine’s spring. The two married happily, and Raymond never visited Melusine on a Saturday, and never questioned what she was doing inside her private chambers during that day. The pair quickly produced children, and while their first few sons were handsome babies, their next few came out increasingly ugly and deformed. Melusine was heartbroken to see her children so disfigured, but she loved them regardless.

However, Duke Raymond was increasingly alarmed at his children’s appearance, and those in his court began to whisper loudly about the cause. Many thought that these ugly children were not actually the nobleman’s sons; they must have been the products of Melusine’s dalliance with a demon. She must have been a witch. After all, she hid herself away every Saturday and never told anyone what she was doing. What better time to practice dark magic?

Raymond paranoid. What if his wife really was a witch? What if these hideous boys were half demon? Eventually he couldn’t stand not knowing what Melusine was doing on those Saturdays, so just before midnight on a Friday, Raymond slipped into her private chambers and hid himself behind the tapestries to wait. Shortly before the bells tolled, Melusine entered her chambers, bidding goodnight to her ladies in waiting then closing and bolting shut the heavy door. Disrobing, beautiful Melusine approached her huge bathtub, filled with water from her fountain, and lifted one long leg …


From his hiding place, Raymond watched in horror as Melusine’s leg warped, the shapely foot growing wider, sprouting claws. Overlapping iridescent green scales burst forth on Melusine’s white skin, climbing up her legs, stopping just before her navel. A long, sinuous tail grew out of her back as a pair of leathery, spiny wings suddenly tore free from her back. Wrapping her tail around her and folding her wings back, the half-dragon woman sighed as she eased herself down into the water, sinking up to her neck …

Unable to bear the shock of it, Raymond screamed and leapt out from behind the tapestry, causing Melusine to shriek in fright and spring up in the water, her wings flaring out over her head. She stared in disbelief as the duke edged past her, pointing a shaking finger at her as he called her a demon, a witch, a succubus, claiming that she bewitched him and damned their children. His cruel words ignited a grieving fury in Melusine, and as tears sprang to her eyes she shouted, “How dare you! You betrayed my promise! We would have lived in love and glory forever, but now you have lost me!”

Sobbing, Melusine sprang from the tub and raced to the nearest window. Raymond felt a scream of horror building in his throat as his beautifully hideous wife threw herself out into the open air, but as he ran to watch her fall, he jumped back in terror as Melusine fully transformed herself into a winged dragon and took flight. Circling the castle three times, the dragon Melusine bellowed out her despair and flew back into the forest.


Raymond never saw Melusine again, and was forever conflicted about spying on her that fateful Saturday. He soon remarried, but had no idea that Melusine in her half-fairy, half-dragon form regularly snuck back into the castle at night to nurse and care for her sons. Her sons all grew to be great kings and mighty warriors, and to this day it is said that when one of their descendants passes away, the fairy-mermaid-dragon Melusine is heard wailing in grief.





duke of anjou





Myth Monday: The Mermaid Bride (English Folktale)

July 24, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


If you ever visit England, try to work a side trip to the village of Zennor, Cornwall. More specifically, go to the church of St. Senara and take a look at a particular chair they keep in an alcove there. You might think that a chair is nothing to get worked up about, but it might interest you to know that the chair is about 500 years old, and is said to have been made to commemorate a fantastical love story—between a mermaid and a human man.


Five hundred years ago, the Church of St. Senara was the parish of the villagers of Zennor. The villagers all knew each other … except that, occasionally, a very beautiful woman would slip into the church and sit with them. No one knew who she was, but all were amazed by her singing. She had the most beautiful voice, it was almost mesmerizing to hear. As soon as services were conducted, the woman would slip out the door before anyone else and vanish.

In time, Mathew Trehwella, the handsome son of a local squire, joined the church and became renowned for his own incredible singing ability. His talent did not go unnoticed by the mysterious woman, and she was seen watching him with entranced, wistful eyes. Mathew would look back at her too and they sang together, their voices rising above the congregation’s.

 Pendour Cove by Tony Atkin

Little did anyone know, but the woman was actually a mermaid named Morveren, and she would emerge out of the waters of nearby Pendour Cove in order to join the humans in their singing. Upon meeting Mathew Trehwella, Morveren fell in love with the handsome youth and visited the church nearly every Sunday to see him. When she couldn’t, she would sit upon the boulders on the shore and sing up to Mathew—and he would sing back.

One day after church, Mathew followed a stream down to the cove. After that day, neither he nor the unknown woman was ever seen again. Many wondered what could have befallen such a talented man, but several years after his disappearance, a ship dropped anchor in Pendour Cove. Almost immediately, a beautiful mermaid surfaced and asked the petrified sailors to raise the anchor, as it was blocking her way to her children. Knowing mermaids to be dangerous, the sailors quickly obliged, but upon returning to town and regaling the locals with their tale, people realized that the mermaid’s description sounded very much like that of the mysterious woman who used to visit their church. They realized that she must have taken Mathew Trehwella down to her undersea kingdom and married him.

Moved by the event, the villagers of Zennor constructed a chair and carved an image of Morveren the mermaid into the backrest, placing it in the church where the two lovers met. And to this day, the townsfolk will tell you that if you listen carefully on an early summer’s night, you can hear Morveren and Mathew joyfully singing to each other from beneath the waves.


Myth Monday: Mermaids and Their Kin (World Mythology)

July 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


If you spend as much time researching mythology as I do, you start to notice certain things that are universally true. For example, every culture/society in the world either believes in or has legends regarding certain creatures, and any culture that largely bases its existence on being near the water has stories of aquatic humanoids. What, you thought that Hans Christian Andersen invented mermaids? Oh, no, no, no, they’re everywhere, they’ve been around for a while, and there have been some instances were people have found that they might actually be real. Here’s just a few of the most interesting ones:

  • Mermaids (Europe): Mermaids and the slightly less popular mermen are of course the most well known of the aquatic humanoids, appearing in legends and artwork from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Norway and beyond. These creatures, collectively called merfolk,  are mostly considered to be sea-dwelling, though there have been stories of them living in pools of water inland. The females, or mermaids, have the upper torsos of beautiful human women, though below the waist they are depicted as having a long, scaly tail like a fish (though interestingly artwork usually shows them as having the up and down tail design of ocean mammals like dolphins, whereas fish have tails that swing from side to side.) Mermaids were reported by sailors as approaching their boats, swimming alongside them, or perching on rocks in the ocean, frequently brushing their hair. Typically, seeing a mermaid wasn’t good; stories abound of mermaids trying to lure sailors into the water with them where they would grab the poor sap and drag him underwater to drown him, or offering to guide the ships to safety while in reality they intend to cause the ships to crash upon hidden rock and reefs, killing everyone on board. Worse than the mermaids were the mermen, who, though possessing a generally human-like torso, was a little more like the Creature from the Black Lagoon on top than, say, Michael Phelps-ish, and they were much nastier than mermaids, often directly attacking passing ships in order to kill everyone on board. Christopher Columbus saw a group of mermaids (probably manatees, but how the hell do you mistake a manatee for a mermaid?) shortly before discovering the New World, Henry Hudson’s crew reported seeing them off the coast of Norway, John Smith (yes, that John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, but take anything he says with a grain of salt) saw a group in the West Indies, and the psychotic pirate Blackbeard was so terrified of them that he’d steer his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, far from areas that were said to be populated with merfolk.


  • Orang Ikan (Indonesia): The orang ikan (“Fish man”) doesn’t quite fall into the category of mermaid, but, as an aquatic humanoid, can be classified as the same species. Said to look like a cross between an ape and a fish, the pinkish-colored bipedal orang ikan lives primarily in the lagoons of the Kei Islands, occasionally journeying out onto the beaches but largely remaining in the water where they can be seen hunting fish with great speed. Ugly and smelly, the native Indonesians choose to keep a respectful distance away from the creatures, and the orang ikan do likewise … with the exception of World War 2. In 1943, the Japanese had occupied the Kei Islands, and during the occupation soldiers periodically ran into groups (schools? pods?) of orang ikan. There were reports of the orang ikan growling at the soldiers and at least one instance of an orang ikan appearing to charge them through the water, but no actual physical interactions are known. The story goes that a commander and his men tried several times to trap one with no success, and when the commander returned to Japan after the war, he urged zoologists to look for the creatures, but no one took him seriously.

  • Selkies (Scotland): Selkies are a unique breed of merfolk; in the sea, they take on the forms of seals, but when they come upon land, they shuck off their sealskins and walk about as humans. Selkies can be either male or female (though, again, females are more widely reported) and are said to be extremely attractive as humans and known to seek out regular humans for romantic interludes. When a selkie is done with whatever business they had on land, they return to wherever they tucked away their sealskins, pull them on like furry scuba suits, and return to the ocean. If a human (and honestly, they’d have to be a real asshole to do this) found the selkie’s skin and hid it, the selkie would be so desperate to get it back that they would do anything for it. A famous folktale tells how a man stole a beautiful selkie woman’s skin and hid it, telling her that she’d get it back if she did what he wanted. He took the selkie home and married her, keeping her on land for years until one of their children accidentally discovered the hidden skin and showed the selkie. Overjoyed to have her freedom back, the selkie took the skin and ran down to the beach, never to be seen again. If you go to Scotland and ask if anyone can claim selkie ancestry, they’ll be easy to find—legend says that the children of selkies have webbed fingers.


  • Oceanids (Ancient Greece): The Oceanids were the three thousand beautiful daughters of the Titan Oceanus and the Titaness Tethys. Among them were the goddess Metis, the mother of Athena, Styx, the goddess of the Underworld river of blood that separated the land of the dead from the land of the living, and Doris, the mother of the Nereids. The goddess Amphitrite, who is the unwilling wife of the sea god Poseidon, is sometimes referred to as an Oceanid (sometimes as a Nereid, sometimes as both … mythology can be confusing) and is the mother of the merman Triton. Each Oceanid is the guardian goddess of a sea, lake, pond, fountain or spring (and because there aren’t three thousand different bodies of water in Greece, some were in charge of things like flowers and clouds), and the Greeks frequently made sacrifices to them to ensure a safe journey over the waters. In ancient art the Oceanids are portrayed as ordinary but beautiful young women who live in the sea. And in case you’re wondering, the Oceanids had three thousand brothers, called the Potomoi, who were the gods of rivers and also normal-looking.


  • Nereids (Ancient Greece): The Nereids were the 50 beautiful and human-looking daughters of Doris, an Oceanid, and Nereus, a shape-shifting river god who was sometimes portrayed with the upper torso of a human man and the lower body of a fish or eel-like animal.  The most famous of the Nereids was Thetis, a sea-dwelling goddess who inherited her father’s shape-shifting ability and is best known as the mother of Achilles, though some sources also cite her as the creator of the Amazons as well.

  • Encantados (South America): Ladies, if you’re ever near the Amazon River and you’re about to get it on with a handsome, hat-wearing local who says he needs to get home before the sun rises, check under the hat first—there could be a blowhole on top of his head! Much like the selkies, the encantados are actually river dolphins that emerge from the water and transform into handsome men in order to hook up with beautiful human women. For some reason that I haven’t found out yet, the encantados can’t get rid of their blowholes, so they hide them by wearing hats. In addition, the encantados can only transform into men at night, and they must return to the Amazon River before daybreak, when they’ll be forced to turn back into dolphins. The native South Americans take the existence of the encantados seriously, and even today there are stories of human women having sex with encantados and then giving birth to their children.

  • Merrow (Ireland): Remember the merrows from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? The merrow is a mermaid native to the coasts of Ireland. The females have a beautiful woman’s upper torso and a fish tail, and the mermen are ugly, as they always seem to be, and both sexes have webbed fingers. What sets them apart from other merfolk is that the merrows genuinely like humans and want to help them. Sailors still fear them because the merrows will surface to warn them about violent storms, but the merrows don’t actively try to hurt humans, and are known to fall in love and marry them, with their half-human children being born with scales on their bodies. Merrows can come on land, but only in the shape of hornless cattle (I have no idea why yet). In the sea, merrows wear bright red caps that help them swim underwater, and if a human is able to snag one of these caps, the merrow cannot return to the sea. A famous story from Ireland recounts how a female merrow was caught in a fisherman’s nets and, knowing that she was dying, she asked the fisherman to take her to a church so she could be baptized as a Christian. The merrow passed away soon after and was buried in the churchyard. A chair was carved with an image of the merrow on the back to celebrate the event.

  • Nixies (Germany): Nixies are nymph-like beings that live in freshwater lakes and rivers. Unlike sea-going mermaids, Nixies aren’t usually reported as being good-looking. In fact, they’re wrinkled and ugly (both the males and the females), and they actively try to lure humans to the water in order to drown them. Strangely, male Nixies look like old men from the neck up, but with a fox body and horse hooves.

  • Sirens (Ancient Greece): I have to include the Sirens here, even though they’re generally said to be half woman and half bird instead of half fish (though they are sometimes depicted that way, and have even been shown as one-third human woman, one-third bird and one-third fish!). The Sirens lived on a large rock in the Mediterranean Sea, and their sweet singing often hypnotized sailors, causing them to drift off course and smash into the rocks, where the Sirens would then devour them. Only one man was able to listen to the monsters and survive: Odysseus, king of Ithaca. En route home from the Trojan War, Odysseus was warned that he would pass the Sirens. Curious to hear what they sounded like but not wanting his men to be affected, Odysseus plugged the ears of his crew with beewax and had them tie him to the mast of his ship to keep him from taking a flying leap overboard. Odysseus got to hear the Sirens’ song and, so distraught that a mortal man had heard them but escaped, one of the Sirens threw herself into the sea and killed herself. The term siren came to mean any ocean-dwelling mermaid that sang to lure men to their deaths, and the medical term Sirenomelia describes a condition where infants are born with flipper-like feet.


  • Rusalki (Russia): Rusalki (singular; Rusalka) are beautiful but deadly water maidens that live in rivers, ponds and lakes. They are human-shaped and have translucent skin, but sometimes have tails that give them away. They can transform into various water creatures and even horses, and are known for their enticing singing. They sing to draw the attention of handsome young men, hoping to seduce them (though some stories say they aim merely to kill the poor saps) and drag them down into their watery world. One folktale recounts how a young man named Ivan was playing music in his house when he noticed a beautiful Rusalka dancing outside. Falling instantly in love, Ivan followed her down into the water, where they lived together for some time. Eventually, Ivan became homesick, but when Rusalka refused to set him free, he made the sign of the cross, scaring the pagan creature off. He managed to escape, but never dared to go near the water again. Sometimes the rusalki are lonely (or just malicious) and try to lure children into the water to keep them company.


  • Ningyo (Japan): Possibly the weirdest-looking mermaid yet, the Ningyo is usually described as a fish with the head of a lovely woman, though the head is also sometimes described as being ape-like, and occasionally the Ningyo has scaly arms with clawed hands. She is peaceful and benevolent … and humans try to catch them to eat them. The story goes that if one were to eat the flesh of the Ningyo then they would live forever, or that old women would become youthful and beautiful again. Stories abound of the Ningyo being caught in fishermen’s nets and pleading for their lives, crying tears of real pearls. Sometimes the fishermen let them go, and sometimes they don’t. It was recorded that one was captured in the year 619 and kept for two days in a tank in Empress Suiko’s court before it finally expired.

  • Mondao (Zimbabwe): While there are many types of merfolk from Africa, I just wanted to end this already-long list with the Mondao. The Mondao is a particularly vicious type of mermaid, said to look like a pale-skinned human with black hair and a fish tail. I didn’t find any particular myth, but in 2012 construction on the Gowke and the Manicaland dams was suspended because terrified local workers claimed that they were being attacked and pursued by angry Mondao, and that a few of them had even vanished. As a solution, the local workers were shipped out and white workers—hired because they didn’t believe in Zimbabwean legends and superstition—were trucked in … only to refuse to work because they were being continuously stalked by angry merfolk. Tribal shamans and chieftains were asked to come in to appease the spirits. The rituals were carried out and the Mondao relented, though the chiefs warned it would only be a matter of time before they became angry again.


christopher columbus


the queen anne’s revenge

Myth Monday: Atargatis, the Mermaid Goddess of Phoenicia (Middle Eastern Mythology)

July 3, 2018

By Kara Newcastle




The divine fish goddess Atargatis (also known as Ataratheh) had an unusual beginning; thousands of years ago, a large egg slowly descended out of the heavens, lowering gently into the dark waters of the ancient Euphrates River. There, a surprised school of fish discovered the egg, and nudged it ashore with their heads. There on the coast of ancient Phoenicia, the egg hatched, and the beautiful goddess Atargatis—possessed of a human woman’s upper body, though her lower body was that of a fish’s tail—came into being.


In time, Atargatis fell in love with a handsome youth and married him. Together they produced a baby girl, but Atargatis was so distraught at seeing her daughter’s wholly human appearance (perhaps realizing that her daughter was mortal, not divine) that she abandoned the baby in the forest in the care of a flock of doves, then retreated back into the sea. Some versions of the myth claim that Atargatis developed her mermaid-like appearance then, while others say that she had been cursed by a rival to fall in love with a mortal, and after giving birth to her daughter Atargatis was ashamed that she had debased herself with a lowly human man and fled into the sea. Other say that she accidentally killed her husband and went into the sea out of shame or grief, while still others claim Atargatis fell in accidentally, and was saved by a huge fish.



Whatever version of the story, Atargatis was worshiped by the Phoenicians as their supreme goddess, the ruler of the seas and fish, a goddess of fertility and love, and represented in the form that we would recognize as a mermaid. The center of Atargatis’s cult was in the city of Hieropolis (as it was called by the Greeks) northeast of Aleppo, but it soon spread outward throughout the Middle East, Israel and Greece, where she was referred to as Derceto (it should be noted that the early Greek goddess of the seas was called Ceto) and was known as “Dea Syria” by the impressed Romans. Her followers abstained from eating fish or dove meat, as the animals were sacred to Atargatis, while her priests would emasculate themselves in her honor. One story recounts how the Assyrian queen Stratonice had a dream that she must rebuild Atargatis’s temple and hired a man named Combabus to help her. Knowing how the queen like the sleep around—and how much her husband the king hated that—Combabus castrated himself (and, gross as it may sound, sealed his pieces in a box of honey and sent it to the king, asking him not to open it) to prevent Stratonice from trying to take advantage of him. Even so, Stratonice still wanted Combabus, and when the irate king ordered his execution, Combabus proved he never slept with the queen by … well … opening the box for the king to see. Cleared of all charges, Combabus went back to the temple and became its priest.



Atargatis was an incredibly important and powerful goddess, and we frequently find artifacts and sites dedicated to her; in October 2017, archeologists discovered a temple to Atargatis in Thouria (Southern Greece) that had held tanks of her sacred fish within.


And in case you’re wondering what happened to her daughter, don’t worry; after being cared for by the doves, the baby was rescued by some shepherds and then grew up to be the badass warrior queen of Babylon Semiramis, whom you can bet money I’ll be writing about in the future.