Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Stories of Winter


Winter makes me homesick for stories. I read all year long. I hunt folktales throughout every season but there's something about Winter that suggests homecoming and it is a returning to hearth-side with cider, with fresh baked bread, hot stew and the sound of sleet hitting the windows. Here in the South, we don't get a lot of Winter but it does get cold and dreary. We do get frost, occasional freezing rain and, yes, we do see snow. Winter has always been a coming in time of year. Even as a child, after running around in the cold, I loved coming inside, shedding layers and sitting in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate stuffed with marshmallows.

To satisfy my need for stories by the fireplace (a fireplace, might I add, that resides in the house we have a contract on that is as of yet closed on...)I decided to do a little digging into the myths and folktales of Winter. There are a lot of interesting stories out there that center around winter. Tales of cannibal snow-beasts, beautiful maidens who lure wayward travelers into a lonely, snow-crusted wood, friendly gnomes and old Jack Frost. Do a Google search of "winter mythical creatures" or "winter myths and legends" and you'll be supplied for days with interesting tales that will keep you glued to the fireside, if not for warmth than for the safety of the light.

Here's a few of my favorites:

The Snow Queen - Hans Christian Andersen's famous telling of a little boy named Kai who is enchanted by the Snow Queen and taken to her palace of ice. His friend, Gerda goes on a quest to find him and eventually succeeds in melting his heart. There is some speculation that C.S. Lewis modeled his famous White Witch of Narnia after the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. The similarities are definitely there: she offers Edmund cnchanted Turkish Delight and a ride in her sleigh and convinces him to betray his brother and sisters to her in order to thwart an age-old prophecy that would bring about the downfall of her icy kingdom. While Kai's heart was pierced with a splinter from a troll mirror (read the tale), Edmund was merely an angry, confused adolescent. Either way, both boys were easily seduced by the Snow Queen and ultimately imprisoned in her castle.

The Snow Queen on her Throne by Edmund Dulac
Andersen's tale of the Snow Queen hearkens back to a much older and less "fluffy" tale of the Celtic goddess Beira also known as The Callieach. Callieach, when translated into English, literally means "veiled one". Beira/Callieach is the personification of Winter and in Scottish lore, she is the mother of all the gods and goddesses. She can appear as a beautiful woman or an old hag. She rules the world in the Winter but must recede her power during Spring and Summer. Her power begins to grow again after the Summer Solstice, when the days begin to shorten again, and reaches its full power on the Winter Solstice.

Beira/Callieach - The Winter Goddess of Scotland
Many cultures have a Winter goddess - does anyone else find it interesting that it's always a Winter GODDESS? Most of these mysterious figures can appear as either a beautiful young woman or a bent old crone. They are also ambivalent towards humans. They can be helpful or hurtful depending on the true natures of those who approach them.

From the Alps we get the creature Perchta who is very particular about how the home should be kept, especially the spinning wheel. Women took special care to make sure their flax was spun and their homes well kept or Perchta would disembowl them and stuff their stomachs full of rocks. There are also tales of Perchta riding with the Wild Hunt with a group of Perchten - a group of creatures that look a whole lot like our pal Krampus.

Now here's where it gets interesting and shows you how the ancients really understood the dual nature of, well, nature. Perchta is associated with Epiphany, January 06, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. On this night she is known as Holle which means "bright" or "shining". There are both "pretty" Perchten and "ugly" Perchten which you could meet during a typical Perchten run in Alpine regions.

Holle, the bright and shining aspect of Perchta

Lovely old Perchta with her consort Krampus
I want you to take a good look at that last picture. Notice how silly and fake both of these creatures look. The one on the left is Perchta. The one of the right is Krampus. Unfortunately, Krampus has been discovered by Americans and, thus, turned into some sort of orc like goblin from the pits of Mordor. Sure it's fun to imagine a horrible goat-man running after naughty children on Krampusnacht but the REAL Krampus celebration presents Krampus as a made up being. He's supposed to look fake! Not because parents in the Alps are too afraid to expose their children to scary things like parents are here in America but because they want them to understand that there are consequences for their naughty actions and the children are taken out to Krampus Runs and are actually chased by people dressed up as these ancient beings. The kids know it's all fun and games but they also are taught the deeper meanings behind the symbols. That's right helicopter parents: these Alpine children are raised to know the difference between good and bad and aren't sheltered from their imaginations. It's recorded by people who have visited these countries that children there are far better behaved than their American counterparts. And I'm not making this up. For an entire history of Krampus and Perchta and all their wild kin, read the AMAZING book The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas by Al Ridenour. It's been one of my favorite Winter reads since I discovered it a couple of years ago.

This is one of my favorite images of Krampus <3
Hehe...here's a little Vintage Krampus for you.
Me thinks the older boy wasn't the best son he could have been that year...and he knows it!
I bet he was better behaved the following year = )
Krampus Night is celebrated in Alpine countries on the 5 of December, the day before Saint Nicholas' Day. Conveniently, Krampus and St. Nick travel together, with the Krampus dolling out punishment to the bad kids and the good Saint rewarding the good. Dark and Light coexist and travel together. You can't have one without the other. Think of it as bringing balance to the Force.

Tonight, by the way, IS Krampus Night. I hope you were good this year :D

Speaking of Saint Nicholas, we'll end this post with Father Christmas. There are so many names for this jolly character so perhaps a little primer before we continue: St. Nicholas was an actual man from Asia Minor. Father Christmas is the traditional name for the personification of Christmas and is usually depicted as an old man of the forest bringing gifts accompanied by woodland creatures. Santa Claus comes to us from the Austrian gift giver "Christkind" which became "Kris Kringle" and then, thanks to the Dutch "Sinterklaas" Santa Claus.

Oh, and that old legend that Santa looks like he does in America thanks to Coca-Cola? That's not true. An artist by the name of Thomas Nast was commissioned to create illustrations for Harper's Weekly and in 1881, he created what was to become the famous image of the "jolly old elf".

We all know the round bellied, red suited man who travels via reindeer on Christmas Eve. He brings joy to children. He makes adults smile (or should). He symbolizes the spirit of giving and should never be villain-ized (yes, unfortunately, I know too many people who have done this. Makes me wonder about their own childhoods). But for me, I love the image of the Old World Father Christmas and that, my friends, is the image I'll leave you with.

Father Christmas by Corinne Kenner

Woodland Animal Keeper by Peggy Abrams

Father Christmas by Rueben McHugh
All of these images can be found on Pinterest
May your days be merry and bright.
Happy December!


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

November IWSG - Just Keep Plugging Away


Why hello there! It's been a few months since I've participated in the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Summer was a bit crazy and it was best that I stepped away for a while. To be perfectly honest, I just haven't felt much like writing.

So I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month). I should have known that life would get even more hectic and it has (more on that in a future post). I typed a little one Day One. I eked out a few words in pencil on Day Two. Days Three and Four were a bust but I was able to talk to a writer friend a little about writing so I'm not counting those days as a total loss.

As I wandered through Day Five (this past Monday), I had a head cold and had pushed myself too much the day before hiking in the rain. That morning, before heading out to run errands, I clicked on an email from the NaNo admins and saw this quote:



That resonated with me. If you're like me, you want writing to be glamorous. We float down the hall to our writing room, coffee in hand, sit at the computer and away we type, glorious sentence after glorious sentence. The truth is that many times we have a great idea but the minute we start to put it on paper it misses the mark. I'll have these lovely scenes all mapped out in my mind but the minute I start to type, it sounds like I've lost all ability to communicate coherently. To be blunt, the words suck and I'm left with a mess that doesn't resemble the story in my head.

Gardening is a lot of work. You have to prepare the soil, the yard, the garden area. You have to get the plants are start the seeds. You have to plant them, water them, keep them alive until their roots are established and can stand up without fear of losing them in the next mild storm. Then you have to weed and watch and harvest, all the while continuing to tend the ground around you, trimming and plucking, planting and pruning. And that's how we have to go at writing. Unless you buy a house with a mature garden already in tact, you're going to have to do a lot of work to get your yard exactly how you want it. Cottage gardens aren't born over night; it takes years to get that lovely explosion of color and texture. Novels aren't completed in a month. A draft? Sure! I've done it many times. But after the drafting – the seed starting, the rooting, the watering – you have to tend to those words and help them grow.

So what's the point? What's the key to both of these projects? Patience and the willingness to go to the computer (or the garden) a little bit every day. You have to look at the writing, the gardening, the process as important. Even ten minutes a day will get your closer to the words The End than doing nothing. Just because you can't finish a novel in a day doesn't mean you can't work on it daily. Believe that what you're doing is important and it will become important to you. It will become something that you can be proud of, something that will begin to grow, and sprout leaves and then one day you'll see the buds form and flowers will burst forth and you'll realize all those gorgeous blossoms are there because you took the time to tend them and you didn't give up on then when they were just spindly little twigs sticking up out of the cold, hard earth.

Think of every idea as a seed, every word as part of the tending. Think of your stories as plants that need water and fertilizer and weeding 'round the roots. Allow your stories to take root so that they'll grow in strength, in your mind and on the screen. And as you tend them, you'll start to see them change and you'll recognize them by their flowers. When the time comes, you'll get to harvest them – send them off to agents and publishers – and see what kind of beauty and nourishment they can bring you and those around you.

But you can't get tomatoes if you don't plant the seedlings. And you can't get a novel if you don't sit down, day by day, and write the story, word by word.

Happy November,




PS: If you're interested, I'm chronicling my NaNo journey on my Instagram account @jenchandlerwashere. Feel free to click over and join in!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

To Reminisce and Remind - Halloween in Hindsight


Halloween is a little New Year, a day that I like to breathe in deep and remember that it's finally that time of year when it's acceptable to slow down and walk through the mists of morning wearing a long, black cloak. Autumn gives us that ability. Cooler mornings, cold nights. The final click in the shift of seasons that leads into the holidays that really and truly want to be more about loving each other than running to the mall.

To my ancestors, Halloween WAS the New Year. Samhain they called it (pronounced “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow”) and it was the dividing point between the light and the dark halves of the year. At Samhain, the veil that divides this world and the Otherworld was thinnest and the spirits of the dead and of the Celtic Otherworld mingled with the living.

I've always loved the freedom Halloween brings. For one day out of the year I can be whatever, whoever I want to be. No one's going to look at you like you're a freak. They'll smile, gawk, maybe even giggle a little but it's all part of the fun. Sad, really. I mean, if you were to wear your Halloween costume in February how many people would shun you, arch an eyebrow at you, cast stones? Of course, I do live in Savannah and I've seen men in sundresses on a May afternoon and heard tales of women carrying stuffed chickens to River Street. No one batted an eye. My herb witches hat and I should be relatively safe.

Back to the New Year aspect of Halloween. There's a bit of anticipation, a build up to the evening when the ghost and ghouls come out, going house to house, wassailing their candy with the rather hollow threat of “trick-or-treat”. I love giving out candy; I love seeing the costumes. I love seeing kids given the freedom to choose whatever they want to be for the day: super heroes, super villains, monsters, ghosts, rock stars, dentists. I light the candles, put on the Vincent Price flicks, and wait for the knocking to cease. Then it's just me and the darkness.

I think about those I've lost – my father, a favorite aunt, all four grandparents, my writing mentor, a beloved cat. I light a candle and I wonder what it would be like if I could talk to them a moment, tell them how much I miss them, how much they mean to me still. And I know they're smiling, nodding, agreeing, proud of how far I've come, excited about where I'm headed. That's what I love about the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos isn't about skulls and the dead coming back to dance with the living. Rather I should say it isn't only about that. It's about honoring those we've lost, remembering them, inviting their memories back into our daily lives, not allowing the business of “now” to push them back into the cobwebbed corners of our minds and hearts. It's about confronting our own mortality because, let's face it, none of us will live on this plain forever. It's about celebrating life as much as it is remembering the dead and reminding ourselves that life is beautiful and short and we'd better enjoy it and do as much good and let in as much light as we can while we're here.

Samhain. The Day of the Dead. All Hallow's Eve. Beautiful and ancient. Fierce and frightening. Reminiscent, radical in their reminders of the past and of the future. So many people are still afraid of this time of year, turn their backs on it, try and turn it into something that it isn't. “Don't scare the children!” they slobber. Really? I grew up with all the usual suspects: the headless horseman, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, haunted houses. I read as many ghost stories and ghost hunting books as I could get my hands on. I giggled when Icabod Crane was hit with a pumpkin. I slept with the lights on “just in case”. Kids aren't stupid. They know what's real and what isn't. What's important is that we, as adults, allow them the change to let their imaginations run wild and to see for themselves what is “scary” and what is “fun”. Because the fact is, Dear Ones, there's more terror and horror on the national news stations than could ever be dreamed up by the likes of Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, George Romero, Vincent Price or Boris Karlof

Everyone needs a chance to dream, to shuffle off this mortal coil and become – for one night – something truly amazing. Something scary. Something magical. Something not in the everyday vocabulary. I hate seeing adults wander around on Halloween as if they're immune to the shifting of the seasons, the merging of worlds. Sadly, modern life hasn't prepared us for these shifts and merges. They have tried to silence them with science and endless to-do lists. What the world needs now is a little more quiet, a little more sitting and being and a whole lot less rushing and running and eyes-glued-to-our-phones-ing.

I hope this Halloween, you allowed yourself a little fun and games. I hope you put on a mask, a hat, a Hogwart's robe and sauntered out to the grocery store and laughed along with the grandmother who stood in line behind you. I hope you let your kids be whatever they wanted to be, let them visit the neighbors, let them eat some candy and be – wait for it – kids. No matter how old they are. I hope you carved a pumpkin, watched Ghostbusters or Goonies or binged the entire first season of Stranger Things again. And I hope that you took some time that evening, when everything is quiet, to light a candle for someone you miss deeply, breathe a prayer, sip some tea, and feel the earth shift as it does this time of year, every year.

And if you didn't, if Halloween found you just doing what you do without so much as a pack of M&Ms or a black t-shirt, ask yourself why? Be honest and open and then, next year, plan on getting in the spirit a little. It doesn't have to be much. You don't have to deck your halls with cobwebs. You don't have to get dry ice and put it in a cauldron out front. You don't even have to watch a scary movie. Just remember that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that any of us can possible imagine.

But we should try, Dear Ones. We should try.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Ritual is Rooted in the Present

The things that anchor us rarely seem significant. To the casual observer, our most precious possessions look worn and ragged, something to be tossed in the bin or sent away to the thrift store or charity sale. Yet we cling to them, gather them in shrines around the house so that we are always encompassed by the heartbeat of our past, of those long gone, of memories that whisper, "That's right. You did it before. You can be strong again."

Ritual is the same. When one speaks of ritual the image conjured it one of grand cathedrals or temples in jungles surrounded by robed monks and silent nuns, incense clouds and bells of great gongs signifying the soul's ascent to heaven. For me, ritual is rooted in the present and smells of musty decorations pulled from the weird cubby-hole in our bedroom wall, cut into the stone above the make-shift closet and wound somehow in time with the plumbing.

September 01 gives me permission to put away the Summer things and I seek out the burnt persimmon and rich cabernets of fabric and pumpkins that have sat patiently since the day after last Thanksgiving when Christmas signified another changing of the guard.

I have a collection of towels, started simply because one needs towels and why have boring ones when each season plants charming designs in our line of sight whenever we walk into a shop? A long line of linen bearing woman precede me and I'm not about to break the cycle. There's probably a Lady of Shalott curse in that somewhere: Let fly the seasonal changing of the towels and be forever cursed to use stained bar rags and old holey t-shirts! Oh the Doubtful Mocker Beware!

The Summer towels get washed - as does a Spring towel that somehow hid and emerged in time for one last hurrah before being banished to the cubby for another year - then folded and put away.

It's bittersweet, this farewell to the arms of the warm season, and a bit strange as it's still blistering hot most days until after Halloween. The humidity will continue to gather thick like unseen clouds lying in wait for someone to walk - splat! - and face plant into that hard to breathe thickness that you can taste in the sweat on your upper lip.

I feel a catch in my stomach as I put away Summer things. Did I enjoy Summer as much as I should have? What did I miss out on? I should have had more get togethers. We should have made ice cream. We didn't once take the bocce ball set out to the beach. We only toasted the full moon once.

Then I whip the Autumn linens into shape, letting their hems snap before I smooth them on the bed and fold into lovely, straight squares to be laid into the kitchen drawer where they'll go on rotation, their ranks always needed on the front lines of baking and cat-caused spills. The knot inside loosens and I smile at the whimsical beauty of the coming days of longer nights, shorter days, foggy mornings and blustery walks on the beach that transforms from the bathing suit clad sun worshipers to the slowly dwindling numbers of those true beach lovers, the Winter troops who bundle and stroll against the biting winds and driving sand into shins turning blue because of just one more dip in the surf.

And I'm happy again, excited instead of melancholy, as the usual strains of Autumn fill my wistful head. There's treats to bake and stews to make, chili to simmer all day long and bread to spank into submission on a pizza stone where it will shroud itself in a crisp curtain of crunch, broken by knife and enormous pat of herbed butter.

I buy one of those bottles of pumpkin spiced creamer which always makes my husband the coffee purist blanch and laugh and makes me giggle every time I sully his perfect brew to a murk of cloudy artificial deliciousness. And I don't care one bit because it's Autumn and for once I actually do jump on a band wagon that's filled with hay and squashes and those silly little scarecrows that wouldn't scare even the Cowardly Lion out of a hay field in OZ.

This changing of the guard garners a bit of nostalgia, makes me bite back a few tears, then catapults me into full-on Fall and there's a little spark of wonder thrown in: as soon as I turn that calendar again, the ghosts and witch's hats will join the ranks of gnomes and ravens and I'll then add turkeys and probably a few more owls and foxes and mushrooms because, can you really ever have too much woodland magic in your home?

No, I didn't think so.

There will be other rituals, others cleanings, other leavings. The pots outside will need showering. The plants will need pruning. I already had to funeral the rosemary; I shall remember it well. The last of the first herbs I tried to grow in the measly sunlight in the Courtyard of the Shade Demons. Fingers crossed the basil doesn't succumb until I can turn the rest of it to pesto.

xo

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG - September

"I started writing because of a terrible feeling of powerlessness.
 I felt I was drifting and obscure and I rebelled against that.
 I didn't see what I could do to change my condition.
 I wanted to control rather than be controlled, 
to ordain rather than be ordained, 
to regulate rather than be regulated." 
~ Anita Brookner



My fingers itch this time of year.

I long to return to the glen of paper and pen. I begin to breathe easier and the air smells of old books and ink.

Perhaps I'm not as hopeless as I thought.

Perhaps the enduring flame of words, the desperate need to create that I try and try to shake from my shoulders is the catalyst I need, the encouragement that I do have something to say and it's worth saying.

Here's to Autumn and freshness and falling leaves.

Here's to standing up against paralysis that shouts, "Just give up! You aren't cut out for this!" The pen, so I've heard, is mightier than any sword. When powerless, start typing. When drifting, anchor to a shore of the spines of giants, their words ballasts against storms and rising tides. We can change the outcome of anything if we're brave enough to gather up courage and nouns and rage against the darkness that threatens to tear away from us the very breath of creativity that we all carry. The light still flickers, no matter how dim, and we can control the flux of oxygen with the simple scratch of word to screen, pencil to paper.

All healing begins with that most powerful phrase:

What if?

Let it bolster you, let it carry you, let it squeeze from you the scream that needs to erupt so that you can clear the air of any uncertainty you may have that you, too, have a story to share.

xo


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Last vestiges of the halls of Summer

I've always loved the newness of September. It heralds in change with memories of freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and shoes, and the big, old poplar that used to blaze the yard at my parents' house in orange and gold against a backdrop of clearest blue.

My current soundtrack is the cicadas outside. Their song isn't as strong as it was in early August, but still they rattle on, last vestiges of the halls of Summer.

I love Summer; I love the way it calls me outdoors, invites friends over for cookouts, bocce games, homemade ice cream and chilled, white wine. I long for a porch again, for a grassy space to plant my toes for these gatherings. We've not had a traditional Summer get together in years, not since we moved and gave up the porch and yard for a 20 minute ride to the beach. Even that hasn't gone according to plan. Work and rain encroach and we're left with sipping coffee indoors while the courtyard remains shadowed and refuses to dry out.

I wonder if we could get the lane designated as a mosquito habitat. Do they give out those little plaques for that, like that do for other forms of wildlife?

But Autumn brings with it new hope and I breathe a bit easier knowing soon the air will crisp and the bugs dwindle and at least we can sit in the courtyard with wine or coffee and listen for the hoot of the big, brown owl that returns each year, on the hunt for rodents in anticipation of the dimming days of Winter.

xo

Monday, September 3, 2018

September

September came in with blue skies, a warm breeze, and a brief, unexpected shower that looked more to me like someone's grill gone awry than rain.

I sat in the bookstore, attempting to conjure creative words to my pen, the first since Spring I believe, and even then it was editing that consumed me, not the sheer bliss of creation.

I haven't felt much like writing these past few months. Come to think of it, writing hasn't really felt "right" in years. The funny thing is, when I try to get away from it, I think of all the stories I'll be able to tell when I return.

Sure fire sign I'm cursed with the writing gene.

There's a hint of Autumn in the air now. Not in the temperature. Oh no, that won't come for a month or more. This is, after all, South Georgia and the cicadas still serenade the morning and the humidity still drapes you in that strange woolen wet that reminds me of the sheep I fed in Ireland. They were damp, perpetual dew clouds, smelled of musty sweaters and felt a bit oily from the lanolin and dirt. That's humidity, Dear Non-Southerners: a shroud that clings and scratches, a cloak that suffocates yet hydrates. Southern women don't have better skin because of those old wives' tales of buttermilk; we simply cannot gather wrinkles because the humidity plumps up our skin until we're well into our 80's when suddenly the laugh lines appear and people start believing you're actually over 60 ;)

Unless, like my Great Aunt, you spent your youth in a layer of baby oil and iodine and sought the sun from a bed of aluminum foil. True story. She looked like one of those old, apple dolls, wrinkled and worn but with a crinkled smile in eyes and lips that always seemed to be harboring some secret joke that I desperately wanted in on. Her skin was leather and bronzed and I loved it though I'll never seek those same chiseled reminders of youth. I'm way too Irish and my skin doesn't tan like a well-cured hide. I turn lobster, screaming red, and with enough aloe I may get a smidgen of  a tan line that will stay with my arms and legs until a bit past Halloween when I emerge, ghostly once more, draped in sweaters and socks and perpetual mug of tea.

My soundtrack past cicadas is Loreena McKennitt and my mind is lost somewhere between the present of humming refrigerator and a past of wandering bards and tragic ladies who drift from towers in boats to the halls of Camelot. I'm pining for rain, just a little, to wash the dust away that's gathered in the crevices of my brain. A good cleansing, that'll do, and hopefully let the oddments out to play.

xo

Friday, August 24, 2018

When you can't seem to write






"You shouldn't write if you can't write."
~ Ernest Hemingway









I know a lot of people who don't believe this. They believe you have to fight through the blocks and through the inarticulation of thoughts. Others have made me feel like if I can't plow through the walls that I'm not serious about my writing.

Quite frankly, I don't believe them.

There are people out there who can sit down every single day and pound out 100 words, 10 pages, whatever, and then move on with the rest of their day. There are others who can work for 8 hours at their computers or notebooks, putting in a full day's work for their stories and novels. There are others who write when inspiration strikes them. There are others who stare at the screen, at the blank page day after day, week after week, and who literally have nothing left inside them to give.

I'm curious: how do you feel about this? Do you believe that we should write even when every word we scribe is terrible, faulty, a shadow of the truth? Do you think that, no matter what, you need to put your butt in the chair and pound out words, even if they suck? Or do you, like Papa, think that if you simply cannot write, you shouldn't?

I agree with Papa. There's a lot to be said for stepping away. Writer's block does require a bit of chiseling, some dynamite, a good pair of glasses but not being able to write? That's something entirely different. It's less blockage and more dark forest. Instead of beating your head against a wall, you find yourself staring into an abyss with no pinpoint of light.

Hmmm...I wonder what lies ahead?

So tell me? Do you write even when you can't? Do you take a sledge hammer to your inability to put words on paper? Or do you take a break, do something else, wander around a bit and see what else life has to offer?

I've been thinking about that Hemingway quote for a while now. 

Just curious :)


PS: I know. Today was supposed to be my references and links, etc. post. To be honest, that's not working. I've had that idea for years and have tried if off and on for about as long. I figured I'd give it another go and it just fizzled. Sorry about that, but you can't know what works and what doesn't until you try! xo

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back from St. Augustine :)

Hi there! I'm back from a much needed week away. I hope these last few weeks of Summer have been treating you well. We were able to break away for four days and explore St. Augustine, Florida. I'd never been there and it had been about 20+ years since Jon wandered those old streets. Oh my heck! If you love history and old buildings and popsicles, you've got to visit! It is simply wonderful.

Yes, we live in an old city: the oldest city in the state of Georgia. But St. Augustine is the oldest city in the country! The buildings along the waterfront attest to it's mixed heritage of Spanish and British occupation. The old fort is the focal point of the town and while you can pay to go inside and wander around (well worth it!), you can explore the outer walls all you want! There are no fences or gates or annoying, helicopter parenting signs. You just climb up on the 400 year old walls that are a sheer drop into the bay and explore. I loved it! We sat out there for a long time a couple of nights, watching the sail boats and the yachts come in, cause the drawbridge to open up, and sail into dock at the little harbor. It was so easy to imagine being a lookout and seeing pirates come in from the open water.





I know that last picture doesn't look it, but it was about a 12 foot drop into the muck and rocks exposed at low tide.

It was wonderful to get away. We haven't been on vacation in four years and we've never had a whole week together. Believe me, I know it's not available to everyone, but WOW! The difference a week away from "normal" life makes is reason enough to do everything in our power to make a vacation happen each year from here on out. We were both pretty well spent and needed to get away for a while. We spent the last few days at home but it was nice not to have any commitments or obligations. The freedom to wander at will is a lost art in our culture and one I believe we desperately need to get back. I'm also a fan of 2 hour lunch breaks and tapas until dinner at 8pm but that won't be a regular in life unless we move to Spain (which I'm not against).

So pardon my dust while I shake off the sand and get back into the swing of things. I'm refreshed and inspired and ready to roll.

Have a wonderful day, Dear Ones!


Friday, August 10, 2018

Resources, Links, and Something to Smile at 003

Good afternoon! I'm a bit late today but the past two weeks have been a bit rough.

I've been thinking a lot about genre, about where my writing in particular fits into the grand spectrum of the writing world. Things have gotten more complicated over the past decades. When I worked in a bookstore, the only fiction designations were: Classics, Sci Fi/Fantasy, and Fiction. Now there seems to be a new genre every month and I tend to shut down when confronted with too many choices.

Lately I've been looking at Magical Realism. I've read a couple of books that could be considered this genre (one which would also definitely fall under the designation of Experimental Fiction, which is an entirely different animal) and I've seen several movies in the same vein. I love it. Being able to write about the magical in the ordinary in a way where it's not shocking or overpowering but simply a part of everyday life - or is it that there's magic evident in the world around us and we're left, as the reader, to decide for ourselves if what we're reading is real or symbolic or both.

It's confusing, isn't it? But that's what makes it so beautiful and such intriguing research.

Go on. Google it. It's amazing and beautiful and speaks in the tongues of angels and men. It sprang forth from the brilliant talents of Latin America and has spilled over into all cultures. It absorbs realism and folklore, fairy tales and the dirty dishes sitting in your sink right now. I'm still learning about this genre and, as soon as we get back from vacation, I intend to dive into some titles and let myself be consumed by its glory.

If you're interested in learning more, here are some pretty good links to start with:

What is Magical Realism? on BookRiot
What is Magical Realism, Really? on Writing World - this is a beautiful article that digs deep.
11 questions you're too embarrassed to ask about Magical Realism on Vox (this site has a ton of ads and videos but the article is very interesting. There's also a list of books at the end that's worth the scroll."
This article on Michelle Witte's website is the first in a five part series on Magical Realism

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:D

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So tell me:
What's your take on Magical Realism? Read any? Watched any? Written any?
Do you enjoy switching genres to see if where your story might better fit?

Have a wonderful weekend!

OH! I'll be out of town next week so no posts until the following week.

xo


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Even through the storm

Funny story: I was so wrapped up in writing yesterday that I forgot to post here until after 10 pm. Ah well...I suppose if one has to have an excuse to forget their Monday post, writing is a good one :)

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This summer's been a strange one. It came in later than I expected it to and has been pretty hot and unbelievably rainy. Sure, it's Georgia. It's ALWAYS hot in the Summer. Actually, it's hot from about May to Thanksgiving, but we're talking seasons here so I'll leave it at the easily discernible. June was a delight! I was filled with grand ideas and exciting prospects. I had some projects I was eager to get going on and knew I was finally on the right track.

Then July came and pulled the rug out from under me and I landed - THWACK! - face down in the mud that gathers at the base of our carport. Thick, black gunk that smells a bit like the garbage in the bins just outside our door. Not a pretty sight.

Still, I'm thankful because that mighty thwacking the Universe saw fit to bestow upon me showed me exactly how skewed my vision had become.

Tell me: is it just me or do you ever get distracted by a GREAT BIG IDEA and decide that, no, actually what you've been working on for years really isn't what you should have been doing all along? I'm not saying that doesn't happen and isn't true for some people, but for me it's always the WRONG WAY and it takes a great, hulking celestial frying pan upside the face to get me to realize I was doing OK. Really. Even though it looked like I was walking in circles, stumbling in the dark and walking into trees.

I'm a pretty emotional person. I can get excited about something and dive into it, head first, only to find that I'm in too deep in the wrong pond.

Then I'm storm clouds and lightening. I'm wind and hail and funnel cloud. The gale blows through and then I'm a limp willow, gasping for breath while contemplating my blotched reflection in a puddle of my own making.

But you know what? That's OK. It's our messes that make us who we are. They mold us and shape us and, if we are WISE, they teach us things that we would never learn. Had I not gone through that bout of depression in July and the subsequent breakdown I would not have been made more alive in my creative work. I would not be sitting at my computer every chance I've got, pounding out more words in a week than I usually do in months. I wouldn't be gazing into the eyes of a long held dream that has been asking me to dance since I was 18 years old. It now has a name and, though I'm hesitant to speak it out loud just yet, we're bonding and learning the truth behind the fantasy.

I erupted and out flowed stories. The lava I thought would consume me literally bubbled up tales that I'd let fester for a while and almost decided to bury. I'm certainly not advocating putting yourself through terrible emotional tumult. If you have a chronic illness or an auto-immune challenge like me, you may find yourself having many such wave rides when you least expect them and when you definitely don't want them.

But when they happen, because life is quite a ride, don't be afraid of them. Brace yourself. Let the wind and the rain blow through you. Feel them, get them out. Shake out the fallen branches and the hail stones and ask them what they have to teach you. There's always a lesson to found if you're brave enough to wipe up the snot and the tears and look your self in the eyes and say, "Oh, there you are. I've missed you."

We're messy creatures and that's beautiful. Sometimes we have to be broken in order for our riches to be found. They have to be polished and we have to allow them to tumble about, have the rough edges bust off. It ain't pretty and it's definitely not comfortable but I promise you: if you're able to keep yourself in the center of One who is greater than you are, you WILL come out better on the other side. 

You WILL.

Write on, Dear Ones, even through the storm.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Resources, Updates and Something to Smile at 002

Well, I almost missed this new Friday series post, didn't I? I took last week off because  it was my birthday (yippee!) and intended to pre-post for today but our Internet got blown up in a storm and I wasn't able to get to it until this afternoon.

Ah well, what is it they say? Better late than never :D We'll go with that.


Image found HERE
We went out of town last Saturday for a few days and had a nice rest. When we got back, I hit the computer typing on a new novel. I got my first feedback from one of my three readers and I'm waiting on the other two. This reader isn't a huge fan of horror and I really looked forward to her thoughts. She gave me some beautiful comments that really helped me dig deeper into why I write what I write and confirmed that I'm in the right genre. I value my readers and appreciate the fact that they are people I know who will give me a fair shot and won't hold back on the comments. I'm also thankful that they are honest without being brutal. I appreciate hard editing, but not when it makes me feel like my soul's been ripped out and crushed! These three people are best able to stay within that delicate balance.

Speaking of stories, I've been working tirelessly this week on a new novel! In past three days, I've written over 20,000 words in a rough draft and I'll be spending tomorrow morning and early afternoon working on adding at least 10,000 more. This story oozed out of the same red mud as the first novel and has some of the same characters. It's not a series, however, and my goal is to make them both read as stand-alones.


I'm sure many of you are familiar with Jane Friedman and her amazing website filled with fantastic resources for writers. If you're not, click on over there NOW and discover a treasure trove of wisdom!

Going through my bookmarks (of which there are MANY), I found this link from Jane's blog on The Best Literary Fiction Blogs and Websites. I've always struggled with the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. This list of links helped me understand the difference and helped me discover the rather shocking surprise that I may just have a literary fiction story or two waiting in the wings of my imagination. But, who knows. I've tried writing general fiction before; I've even tried outlining a cozy mystery series. They both turned into horror. Ah well...

If you're new to literary fiction or if you're an old fan or if you just need some titles to beef up your TBR pile, check out this link and enjoy. Fair warning: you might want to brew some tea first. You're going to be reading for a long, long time! The Book Riot site alone kept me busy for over an hour. Don't get me started on how long I was at The Paris Review blog...




Have a wonderful weekend!

xo


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

IWSG August 2018 - Pit Falls and Hesitations

Good morning! It's August and that's kind of crazy to type. On the one hand I don't feel like the Summer has flown by, but on the other I'm sure it was just June yesterday. Ah well...

Today is the monthly gathering of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month in order to air our insecurities and to offer encouragement and support to other writers who may be having a tough time with their own frustrations. It's a bit of double duty: you get to air out your laundry AND play cheerleader for those around you.

I love it.

To learn more about the group, click over to the website HERE. You can also read more by wandering over to the creator of the group's site HERE: Alex always has something encouraging to say :)

Our fabulous co-hosts this month are: Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover, Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowry. Make sure you stop in and thank them for their hard work and leave them a little comment love <3

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AUGUST QUESTION: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

I've had a couple of recipes published. I've had a short story published. I've spearheaded a company newsletter and had cover-spot essays for over a year. But I've yet to have a novel published which is one of my ultimate writer goals. These things have no guarantee. We can't arm wrestle our way to publishing glory. It takes hard work, hard knocks, and luck. Yes. Luck. There's just no bones about it. BUT you can do everything possible to get your work out there, into the right hands, as polished and as good as you can make it. 

What does this have to do about pitfalls? Everything. You see, my biggest problem as a writer is having confidence enough in my ability to SUBMIT my work. I hoard it, feeling great about the ideas, feeling secure in the fact that it's there and I've written it or, more likely, outlined it and stuffed it away for that proverbial rainy day. I drag my feet, afraid of letting my words go, afraid of being out of control. 

I finished a novel in April of this year. I finally got around to sending out copies to three trusted readers in June and July. I haven't looked at that novel since. Because of my hesitation, I missed out (again) on the IWSG Twitter pitch last month. I knew that my novel was 90% ready but for me, that wasn't good enough to offer up to agents and publishers who asked for polished manuscripts. Also, I haven't crafted a query yet, not even a draft of one. The idea of hastily scribbling a query letter together didn't feel right. It didn't feel professional. I did, however, sit down and pound out thirteen Twitter pitches for the novel. I'm proud of that step and I'm ready for the next Twitter pitch when it rolls around.

I tell you all of this to say DON'T HESITATE TOO LONG. It's scary. It is. I'm TERRIFIED at the idea of writing a query. I have a 200+ page novel that must be summed up in one paragraph. How? Everything in me says that's crazy! That no one can put their 50,000+ word work into five measly sentences. But people do it all the time and they catch the eyes of a roving agent or publisher. 

See what I mean about that dash of luck?

Don't drag your feet but don't rush into it, either. Find that balance between, "This needs a bit more work before it's ready to be seen by the professionals" and "This still needs a bit of polishing before it can shine as bright as I can make it." We can only put so much elbow grease into our polishing before it becomes redundant. You don't want to buff off the finish, do you?

TELL ME: HAVE YOU EVER MISSED OUT ON AN OPPORTUNITY BECAUSE YOU WERE DRAGGING YOUR FEET? DO YOU THINK IT'S WISE TO NOT SUBMIT SOMETHING WHEN YOU KNOW YOU'RE ONLY 90% THERE OR WOULD YOU TAKE THE CHANCE AND POLISH AS YOU WENT? 

Have a wonderful day, Dear Ones! I'm looking forward to spending more time here and seeing you all more often.

xo

Monday, July 23, 2018

You are Enough, Right Where You are


When I was three years old I told an uncle that when I grew up I was going to be something "great". I was going to do something "great". At three, that "something" was to become a doctor. Over time, I changed my career trajectory to include Archaeologist, Paleontologist, Astronaut, Marine Biologist. If it ends in -ologist, I probably wanted to be it. 

You see, I was the "smart one" growing up. People would ask me questions and I'd have an answer. Deep down, I always knew that's what I wanted to be. The Smart One. I assumed that meant I'd go to college, become a professor, and do nothing but dig in the dirt, excavate temples, and live to share that knowledge with my students and collegues. Then, when I was about 10, I started listening to what I like to call Pie-in-the-Sky ideas for my future. They were given to me by very loving, very well meaning people. I trusted them. I believed them and so I left the artifacts in the dirt and followed the stars.

Nothing ever really came of that Pie-in-the-Sky adventure. Nothing except me, at 35, going back to school in order to finally finish that long hoped for degree. I like to say I crammed 4 years of college into 18. I'm living, breathing proof that you're never too old to finish what you've started.

Still, the -ologies haunted me. Why hadn't I gone on to study more? Why hadn't I progressed to professor? I had the grades, but here's the catch: if I settled on one field of study, I'd miss out on all the others! Yes, Dear Friends, I suffer from a crippling case of FOMO. Ah, you say, that's why you're so stuck! Well, yes, it was. It was until I stopped looking at it as a handicap and started seeing it as my greatest asset.

One morning in the shower, I had an epiphany. All great epiphanies occur around water, especially if you're in said body of water and can't write those epiphanies down. I realized that my FOMO wasn't there to hold me back but to propel me forward. You see, it's the single greatest asset a writer can have. 

And that was the morning I realized that I was, indeed, a Writer.

I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I want to know about everything! I just don't really want to be an expert on anything. That's what's caused me such consternation. Then I realized that's not a burden but a gift. A delicious invitation to explore the world around me with wild abandon. The catch? I had to take it one step at a time.

It's like those step pyramids in Central and South America. You can gaze at them in awe of the builders. You can decide to start climbing them, one step at a time, and get to the very top. The view's great! You can see for miles! Over the trees, away from the tarantulas and howler monkeys you can see all around you and - ah yes. There. Just to the left. There's another pyramid. And another, further away. And that's OK. You can climb those too. But you can only climb them one at a time. You can't reach the summit if you half-ass it. You climb, you huff, you puff, you pause for tea and chocolate, and then you keep on.

You really can have it all, my Muse told me, just not exactly in the way you had planned.

There's so much information out there, so much to know and learn and explore and discover. We can't ever know it all. We can't and that's OK. We can focus on one particular subject or choose a genre and weave in all the amazing things we're fascinated by. But the catch is we're mortal. Repeat after me: I'll never climb all the mountains. You won't. I won't. And that's OK.

Years ago I visited some friends who were living in Colorado. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians. Now, if you've ever been to the Appalachian mountains, any range, you know they roll softly, sensually, dark and blue and shrouded in clouds. After you wind your way around and around and around those roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway you get to the summit and can stroll to the top of a tower and see forever in all directions. And what do you see? Unless it's a clear day, you see clouds with little round humps sticking out of them. It's like Nessie left Scotland to visit North Carolina or Tennessee. Those clouds hug you, beckon you, beneath lie mysteries of a thousand years with a million secrets waiting to be dug up. 

Not so, Colorado. We climbed to the top of Pikes Peak (from that parking lot near the top, the last stop before the 14,000 foot mark. Hey, I'm no Tenzing Norgay) and I sat on a boulder looking out over what seemed to be the entire world. To my right was an endless expanse of nothingness. *shudder* I could never live in the Midwest. I understand why some pioneer women in Nebraska went insane. All that nothing...terrifying. In front of me was a dense, dark forest that made me think of Grimm's fairy tales and werewolves. But to my right, as far as I could see, were miles and miles and miles of snow covered teeth. The Appalachians whisper, "Come in, Honey, and let me tell you a tale." The Rockies grin and say, "I'm gonna eat you. Yeah. You. Un-huh." Think Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. That's how they sound. 

I looked and I shivered and I thought, "I could spend the rest of my life climbing those peaks and I'd never, ever, ever climb them all." That's how I view writing now. Every story idea, every novel I write, every essay or article is a mountain and it's one that I can enjoy every step of the way. Some are higher than others. Some are nothing more than mole hills. Still, each one quenches my thirst for learning something new and sharing it with others. It's the learning, the enjoyment, the sharing that is enough. The creating of something unique, that satisfies my thirst for knowledge and storytelling is enough. I am enough. Even if I never set foot on every single story that comes into view.

The thing is, one day I may summit a mountain and say, "Hey, I like it here. Think I'll stay. I'll build my cottage, plant my garden, put up a dock on the lake and live happily ever after." Most people call that Retirement but we Writers know better. It's just a place to enjoy the view. And what's a part of that view? All those peaks you know you'll never climb. But that doesn't mean they can't inspire your work, right where you are.

And right where you are, Dear One, is enough. Right where I am is enough. Everything we lived up to now is our story. It's there to be used, to be explored and expanded and shared. Even the things we haven't done but long to do, those are stories too. Call it projectional memoir: you get to write about the things you want to do, the people you want to meet.

Just know that you ARE enough, right where you are.

So start writing, start climbing, and share your gift with the world.

xo,
PS: My birthday is Friday (41 here I come!) and then we're off for a weekend in Florida. I won't be blogging again until the August 01 Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Resources, Links, and Something to Smile at 001

In light of my love of learning and research - and a penchant for perusing Pinterest - I wanted to try something new. On Fridays I'm going to start listing the resources and links that I've discovered during my writing journey. And, since it's Friday, I'll throw in something funny because, well, just because!

Let me know what you think and feel free to share your own resources in the comments. I'm always excited to bookmark a new link or to find an excuse to buy a new book!


Podcasts

I'm a little late on the podcast bandwagon, but there's so much stuff out there it's easy to get bogged down. After Googling "best podcasts for writers", I found a lovely list by Bustle. The first one listed is "Magic Lessons" by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's a podcast based on the principles from her book by the same name. I read the book a year ago. It's wonderful and so is the podcast. I started at the beginning and I'm only two in but WOW she's got such a gift for pulling out the "need" to create in others. It looks like the last episode was in September of 2016, but there's more than enough to keep you informed and encouraged for a while. Even after one episode I was ready to pick up my pen and get back to business.

This series is beautiful and raw and real. Elizabeth doesn't let anyone get away with any excuses. Believe me, I needed to find this. Beautiful, big MAGIC <3

Get Serious About Writing

Some of you have noticed through my recent posts that I've been battling a bit of depression as well as some "what the hell am I really doing at the computer" doubts. I had a little revelation the other day which I'll share about on Monday :). It included me getting serious about my writing. So, like any self-respecting researcher, I Googled that very phrase and came up with some marvelous articles that encourage us to do just that..

"8 Ways to Get Serious About Writing" may be three years old, but the advice is timeless. Writing is our passion but it's also a job and, like any job, if we don't put in the effort, we won't get the results. We need to set realistic goals and submit our work as well as read, read, read.

Writing.ie is based out of Ireland and has a slew of great articles. Check them out and be inspired!


and don't forget to...


photo credit

Have a wonderful weekend, Dear Ones!

Allow yourselves to blossom and be pulled up by the stars.
xo

Monday, July 16, 2018

This Fairy Tale We Call Life

The weekend was long and full of bad feeling. I thought I'd shaken the weird stomach thing I'd fought last week but it woke up with me and wanted to tag along to the cafe. I sipped some tea, ate a muffin, and eventually told it to take a hike. Still, I clung to some deep rooted feeling of despair.

Not about writing. About life and there's no pinpoint to it. A general dissatisfaction that crept into my bones and flooded every cell with a hopelessness. Bless my husband for he is long-suffering and a good listener and we walked around the neighborhood and I vented and he tried to take responsibility (as usual) and I grabbed at that and refused to let go (as usual).

This morning the sun woke me up before the alarm clock. All night, between dreams, I'd wondered at my change in mood. The month of June found me feeling great: no pain, no fatigue beyond the norm, and no debilitating brain fog tentacled around a general bad mood and depression. Then July came to stay and brought with it an ogre and I'm swinging my ax left and right and connecting with smoke. And mirrors. The kind that reflect back at you what you "should" have done or what you "should" be doing.

Can I just tell you how much I hate that word?

OK, it's not the word's fault. It's the judgment that comes hand-holding when you look at your reflection and freak out because you aren't exactly where you envisioned you'd be by now. Of course, what do we really know when we're 10. True, our child selves are infinitely wiser than our adult selves and if we want to live authentically, we need to sink deep, kneel down, and ask her/him, "What the hell is going on here?"

So I got my knees dirty and I asked and little old me laughed in my big, adult face and took off running down a pine needled path. My crinkled knees cracked a bit as I wobbled to stand then rushed as fast as I could. I ran through dappled sunlight as the humid breeze rustled past and I heard her laugh, pause, keep going.

Footfalls were muffled and the oaks reached high. A fork in the road made me turn right, left, then I heard her and I kept going straight, through what was more deer track than cleared walkway. Finally, I caught her. I was out of breath and she, still laughing, looked at me and smiled. She jerked her head behind her and I saw a house sat in a clearing, surrounded by gardens, settled in the midst of a circle of trees that widened the sky and let the light all around.

Oh I recognized the house alright; I'd been there many times before. When I was true and real and not trying to BE. When breathing was easy and my feet were bare and I didn't care if my bangs grew past my ears and became one with the rest of the wild kelp bed on top of my head, all strings and frizz and thistle down. I felt the warmth of the sun and slipped off my shoes so my toes could exhale. I could smell the trees again and I knew the rosemary for what it was. My fingers raked over the mint and moths flew past, back to where the little girl I was once stood. She was gone and the moths kept flying back into the dark of wood. And I walked forward, up three steps plus two, and knocked gently on the blue front door.

I suppose it's no surprise that I answered.

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I hope your weekend was lovely and your Monday has started off with a freshness that gives you breathing room. May your work bring you joy and may your thoughts run only to wildness and the freedom that only YOU can bring you :)

Tell me: Have you ever asked your younger self for a road map? Have you ever felt lost in your own life? Have you ever felt the need to run head-long down a faded trail in your mind to see where it leads? Have you ever followed it back to yourself? And tell me, Dear Ones, was it a fantastic, frightening homecoming back to your true reality?

Ah, this fairy tale we call Life...