Reading In by Tam MacNeil – Guest Blog

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Tam MacNeil, whose latest book Salt and Iron, has just been released.


A few years ago, I picked up a book on American folklore by Bill Ellis. I’m not sure why. It actually took some doing to lay my hands on it.

I had seen his name in an article on the folkways of homeless kids in Miami and looked him up on Wikipedia. Turns out Bill Ellis was something of a legend in the field of American folklore. Naturally, I went poking about to see if I could get a book of his to read. Unfortunately, they were all outrageously expensive. Plus, I’m Canadian, and most of the sellers were in the US. The Canadian dollar hasn’t been particularly strong against the US Greenback (especially lately!) so buying the books was out of the question.

If there’s nothing else to know about me, know this: I’m stubborn. I wanted those books, and to heck with this “can’t have them” thing. I got hunting. Happily, my local library is nothing short of amazing. They interlibrary loaned the books for me – one came all the way from Baton Rouge – and on a sunny September afternoon I went out onto the balcony and cracked the first one open.

American folklore is unique, even in the context of North America. Sure, we share some of the stories across the border (tales of phantom hitchhikers and hook-hands left dangling from car doors, for example) but many of the stories I encountered in Ellis’s books were uniquely American.

One of my favourite and, as far as I can tell uniquely American folkways is the practice of “reading in” or “reading out”. For those of you like me, who don’t know what those things mean but are curious, this is it: Books make pictures in your head. They change how we think, and what we think about. Like the old Internet meme says, You cannot unseen what you have seen.

“Reading in” is when someone encounters a book that possesses or obsesses them. In the context of folklore, that’s always a negative thing. In the same way some people blame heavy metal or movies for their actions when they have to make a statement before a court, in some places it’s culturally reasonable to blame a book. Happily, for those who do feel they’ve been “read in” there’s a cure. Someone with sufficient skill can read you back out. Maybe it won’t make you unsee what you’ve seen, but it’s supposed to stop you obsessing about it.

There have been a few books I’ve become genuinely obsessed with. I have my Desert Island Three (Once and Future King, Trickster Makes This World, and the entire run of the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye comics, in case you’re curious) but I never became quite so enraptured of a set of books as I did with Bill Ellis’s curious little tomes. So obsessed, in fact, that the only way for me to shake the obsession was to write in a world where some of those folk traditions are the literal truth. Basically, I got read in, and there was nobody to read me out again. So I wrote a book instead. I’m starting a new folkloric tradition, unique to Vancouver Island. Get read in, write yourself out.

3_9 SaltAndIron_postcard_front_DSPJames van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster hunting family — and the family’s big disappointment. He’s falling in love with Gabe Marquez, James’s oldest friend and the son of the family the van Helsings have worked alongside for years. Things get even harder for James when he becomes what he and everyone else despises most — a magic user.

He didn’t mean to evolve into such a despicable person, and he knows using magic is illegal, but there’s nothing he can do about it, no more than he can stop himself from loving Gabe. Just when things can’t seem to get worse, he and Gabe are called to help nab a network of magicians who are changing destiny. Not just any destiny, but the destinies of the van Helsing and the Marquez families. James foresees a terrible fate, one in which monsters emerge from the cracks, along with his dark secret. And that’s when people start to die.

About the Author: I live on an island off the the stormy west coast, where I write stories of magic, mayhem, and the supernatural under the name Tam MacNeil, and sweet, silly, m/m contemporary romance with a side of angst under the name T Neilson. You can find me at Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or, even better (because inside scoop and book giveaways!) you can sign up for my newsletter at Mailchimp. C’mon over and say hi!

Buy the book at Amazon, All Romance eBooks, or Barnes and Noble.

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