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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Spotlight: Kelly McCrady

Turning to the shelves of books, Leah looked more carefully at the titles. She pulled out a text written by one of Rilliand’s foremost naturalists, and sat to thumb through the book. One color-plate illustration showed textile dyes and mordant and their origins. Sarai had told her about the small sea serpent used to make purples and reds, a process guarded closely by the Houses of Ord, as the precious substance brought them a lot of money from the textile mills in Viconia. The animal did not appear special in the illustration, just a small, spiny, black dragon. The unusual name rolled off her tongue. “Murex ordinensis.”

Where the heck did I come up with that?

Honestly, I don’t remember what led me in this direction, but I stumbled across an interesting creature from the Mediterranean sea: a predatory sea snail whose hypobranchial glands have been used to make a special dye called Tyrian purple since the time of the ancient Phoenicians. The Latin classification for this snail is the family Muricidae, and the specific one I looked at was Murex brandaris, the spiny dye-murex, whose Linneaun classification has been changed to Bolinus brandaris. Don’t ask me why; scientists like to reclassify animals once in a while.

Predatory sea snails have another fun feature, aside from their stunning shells; many are highly venomous.

My writer’s brain added two and two. Murex, therefore, became not only a highly sought-after, expensive dye the seafaring province of Ord could trade to the wool-, linen- and cotton-growing province of Viconia—it is also the source of a potent poison.

Prominent people in the realm of Rilliand turn up dead.

The army surgeon wiped his spectacles, his mouth in a flat line. “He was poisoned.”


“Animal toxin. Water dragon. Causes hallucinations, convulsions, then this rigor.”

“Water dragon?”

The surgeon inserted an instrument into the warrior’s mouth. The lips and fascia had turned purple with a red tinge, not related to the normal colors of flesh and blood. “This particular water dragon is used for its pigment, but the venom is also highly toxic.”

“Ordan purple?” Leah said through her handkerchief, not looking at the body.

“Yes, my lady. You know your cloth.”

Let the court intrigue begin!

As a sci-fi/fantasy fan and author, Kelly believes the best stories contain the human element of romance. Scribbling pieces of stories into spiral notebooks since first grade, she became serious about the craft of writing in 2001. Her dream is to see her work on the bookstore shelf next to Anne McCaffrey's. In her free time, this former zookeeper crochets, knits, quilts and gardens – badly. "I'm better with words than with plants," she says. Kelly lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter. Visit her on the web at

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