I wrote the story of Habonde Barleywine and the Woodsman, Rhys, for me. I’d had an idea about goddesses coping with life in the modern world, and I wasn’t thinking of the book’s future in *commercial* terms. After 5 solid years of producing books one after the other in a pattern of write, edit, publish, repeat, I needed to shake up my routine.
So, I indulged myself by writing a story for *me*. Letting my freak flag fly, I followed my urges, pushing myself beyond places where I might have stopped in the past. When the book was finished, I put it up on Netgalley and BookSirens for review.
The Goddess & the Woodsman received hundreds of review requests. I was overwhelmed by the response, and feedback started to come in fairly quickly. At first, I would take a quick peek at what the reviewers had to say – then I would stop. I couldn’t absorb the criticisms. I couldn’t absorb the praise, either, and I began to regret ever making the story public.
But my husband did a thing. Over the course of 6 months, he read every single one of those reviews (with my permission), then compiled a list of the most oft-voiced critiques. He arranged everything into concisely worded bullet points for my ADHD brain, along with a few lines of praise, and kept that document in his ‘draft’ folder until I signaled I was ready for him to hit ‘send’.
Heart pounding, I opened his email. The critiques were far easier to accept than I initially imagined. And because they also made sense, structurally and story-wise, I took the book down from retailers, went back into the manuscript, and made those revisions.The Goddess & the Woodsman (revised edition) is now finished, and I am happier than ever with the story. I loved writing Habonde, a goddess of the hearth also known as Abundia, Abundancia, and other names depending on her locale. I brought in the goddess, Baubo, and made the two besties. Because of pandemic, economic, and other restrictions, I placed the story in Scotland so I could visit it “online” as often as possible. I played with the theme of memory, writing a tragedy into Habonde’s past as a way to ponder what happens when we bury certain things in order to protect ourselves – and what happens when we remember.
Will I go through this process again? Probably not to the same degree. But my manuscripts will continue to go through alpha and beta readers, and an editor, copy editor, and proofreader. I’m also in the process of creating “closed door” versions of every one of my fantasy books, in part because I recognize some readers prefer scenes of sexual intimacy to happen off the page – and in part because I really, really want my 4 sons to read the books (after reading to them night, after night, after night, wouldn’t you agree they owe me? LOL).
Below is an early passage from The Goddess & the Woodsman, where Habonde meets Rhys for the first time. Baubo is also present:
Throwing the same lacy blue shawl over my shoulders, I opened the door, quickly shielding my eyes from the morning’s blinding sunlight. A male figure, taller in height and broader in shoulder than the locals, took a step back, and another, until he was standing on the pebbled walkway, not the wooden stairs, and removed his hat. I blinked hard. Gazing at me was a woodsman. But not just any itinerant woodsman looking for extra work on my croft, one of THE Woodsmen, males from ancient lineages whose magic was intrinsically bound to trees. Though I didn’t know how I knew this bit of information. His button-down shirt boasted no insignia, his pants were free of sawdust and wood chips, he carried neither awl nor axe. I just knew. Birdsong swelled, the stone fruit tree near the corner of the pergola offered its ripest fruit, and I curtsied to the Woodsman like I was one of those plump, juicy plums just waiting to be plucked. The shawl slipped off my shoulder, taking my nightgown for a ride and flashing more of my skin than was comfortable. A slow grin spanned his face, and he pivoted on the heel of his leather-soled boot, giving me a moment to collect myself, as well as a view of his backside. His very muscled backside and the drop-shaped patch of sweat soaking the center of his linen shirt. “Are you Mistress Barleywine?” he asked, scuffing the side of his leg with his straw hat. His bronze and leather bracers fit his forearms snugly and the metal’s gleam found echoes in the tips of his near-black hair. “Ms. Barleywine but call me Habonde. Please.” I readjusted my gown, then crossed the shawl over my breasts and tied the ends behind my waist. “You may turn around.” His grin, the one that heated my lonely, neglected nether regions, had not only stayed on his face, it had deepened. It took every ounce of self-control I had to not smile back. “I apologize for surprising you so early on a summer’s morn, but I received a summons to tend to the yew trees and this is the location the Brethren of the Woods and I were given." “The Brethren?” I squeaked, my eyes rounding at the thought of more of his ilk wandering my croft. “Yes.” He gestured vaguely behind him with his hat. “They’re back there. Somewhere.” “But there are no yews on my land, haven’t been for—" I wracked my brain to recall when the last of the sacred trees had been cut by city-dwellers for the sake of “progress". “Oh, I beg to differ, Ms. Brandy— Habonde. There’s a healthy one just over that hill.” “And I, too, beg to differ, Mr.… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” “That’s because I haven’t properly introduced myself. I’m Rhys. No ‘mister,’ no last name, just Rhys.” His grin widened, revealing a mouth full of healthy teeth and deep crinkles at the outer corners of his eyes. He swiped his forehead with a handkerchief, bringing my attention to his luxurious hair. My fingers twitched to feel its texture, to remember— I shook off the discomfiting sensation I’d felt his hair before and chalked it up to a swell of hormones. “And who sent the summons?” “And good morning to you,” Baubo interjected, elbowing me aside. “I’m Baubo Elefsina, Habonde’s best friend.” She arched an eyebrow at me, then returned her attention to Rhys. “I see we have at least one Woodsman to feed. Did Hekate Herself summon you, and have you brought others of your kind?” “And good morning to you, Baubo Elefsina. Hekate did, and there are three of us in total. I believe you’ll find the others at the yew we raised. I was just coming to introduce myself and inquire about our lodgings.” Rhys set his wide-brimmed hat back on his head and crossed his forearms. I refused his biceps’ invitation to give them a squeeze. “If you haven’t any rooms available, we can build tent platforms. We brought our own wood.” “I bet they did,” Baubo murmured. I tried to nudge her aside, but she stood her ground. Stubborn goddess. “I think Baubo and I need to confer. I’m not sure where we’re going to house and feed everyone. Could you give us an hour or so to figure out the logistics?” “Any chance a man could get a cup of tea while he waits?” Rhys seemed not the least bit inclined to leave the pebbled path. Baubo elbowed me back. “He could get a lot more than a cuppa with those eyes,” she whispered. I pulled on her apron strings and tugged my mouthy friend behind me. The Woodsman’s warm, brown gaze had already gotten an eyeful. “Of course,” I said. “I’ll make a pot and set out mugs for you and the others.” Tipping his hat, Rhys smiled again. “If you’ll hand me a basket, I’ll pick your plums. I noticed a few ripe ones on my way in.” “You do that, and I’ll make a fresh tart,” Baubo shouted from the kitchen. “There’s a stack of baskets under the pergola.” I waved my hand toward the outdoor sitting area. Stepping inside, I closed the screen door and met Baubo in the kitchen. “And don’t you say a word about my plums!”