Month: December 2015

Chasing Out Bad Spirits

What better day than Christmas to drive out discord and evil and welcome peace and harmony?

Some gardeners (the one writing this, for example) become psychologically entwined with their gardens. When something bad happens to the garden, it feels like a physical injury.

Damage happens in gardens all the time. We have had a series of windstorms since the beginning of December, so there are broken branches and drifts of leaves everywhere, along with an overall battered appearance. At other times of year, bugs, blights and munching deer put their own marks on the garden. Plants die suddenly for no apparent reason. Gardens are potential disaster areas, all the time.

But I’m not talking about that kind of damage here. This is about damage that feels like a deliberate attack, even if it isn’t intended that way.

Recently, my garden has experienced two such events.

#1 was when The Dog (otherwise known as Nelly the Newf) hopped the admittedly feeble fence around one of the perennial beds and did some unauthorized digging. Farewell, daylily “Mini Stella,” and maybe some other innocent plants besides. Dug up or buried deep, they may never see another spring.

#2 was when a neighbour decided a certain holly tree was unduly shading their subterranean basement suite. Hired guns with electric chainsaws appeared on a Saturday morning and administered some crude amputations, removing berry-bearing holly branches and heedlessly severing stems of Clematis armandii that had used the holly to climb into an Ailanthus. Never mind that this is permitted by law. Never mind that the neighbour issued a warning some weeks before. Once the cutting started, it felt like I was getting pruned. Crudely.

Which of these was worse? #2, of course. Nelly was just being a dog, and is a member of the household, but the neighbour… Well, just use your imagination. Even though hollies do regrow quite readily, even after crude pruning.

After several weeks, I could actually look at the back garden again without rage or sorrow boiling up, but an unpleasant feeling lingered, sort of like after your house has been broken into and burgled. The sight of the dying clematis hanging limply was infuriating. My negative feelings were corrosive and stress-inducing. Something Had To Be Done.

A ceremony. A symbolic cleansing.

I’m not much of a believer in woo-woo stuff, but recognize that symbolic gestures can be powerful. And in this case, the target was really my own negative feelings.

So, on Christmas Day,  four days past the Solstice, with a full moon rising, I circled the garden, first anti-clockwise, then clockwise, bearing a smouldering faggot of suitable herbs — lavender and sage, bound together with withered daylily foliage — muttering variations on, “Begone, spirits of destruction, welcome, spirits of peace.”

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Lavender is said to bring healing and comfort, and sage (Salvia in this case, not the Artemisia that is sometimes used in such ceremonies) derives its Latin name from “salvation.”

It can’t hurt, especially as I didn’t trip over anything.

 

Two Scenes For The Solstice

Years ago, I wrote a couple of seasonal flash fictions; well, they’re really the same story told in two different styles. They were prototypes for a scene in my novel Hunting the Phoenix.

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I

Winter Solstice In the House of the Phoenix

(An Alchemical Allusion)

Summoned at last, I go, wrapped in my cloak of midnight velvet. I bring gifts for the household, and a gift for the chance-met stranger, honouring the ancient law. For the keeper of the door, a distillation of rainbows in a fiery spirit; for his goodwife, the song of a bird caught in crystal. For the stranger, the warmth of my hearth fire in a vessel of amber. For the alchemist, a book of secret wisdom. And for the master of the house, the blind physician, a golden flower, nourished with heart’s blood and watered with my tears.

My footsteps ring on the stones as I approach him. He is not so large as I had imagined, and older, his face lined with years and sorrows, his hair more silver than gold. His clothing is dark and plain against the splendour of the company, but he wears gold spectacles with lenses of emerald. He accepts my gift, smiling as I place it in his hands.

We file in procession to the place of the fire. One by one, our torches are extinguished and we stand together in darkness. From the silence his voice speaks and we answer, chanting the ancient words of faith and hope. Then comes a red glow, faint but strengthening, until by its radiance we see him again, and rekindle our torches from his glory.

Up and up, from the depths to the highest tower we climb, he before us, the vessel of flame, lighting the lamps anew, and the fire at the heart of the house. In the dance of new light we go singing to the feast, to lay our cares aside and come together in joy. For among us is the one who has died and lives again, radiant, rejoicing until the night ends in the red dawn of the new sun.

 

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II

Last Greeting From Kingsport

I got an invite to a shindig last night, at Phoenix House, up on the hill. I wore my best black velvet duds. Good thing, ’cause everyone was togged to the nines. I brought presents, like you’re supposed to: rainbow liqueur for the guy at the door, crystal chimes for his missus, and a glowing coal in a brass pot to keep the beggar warm. For the old alchemist up there, a book of secret mumbo-jumbo; and for the man himself, that doctor folks say is blind, I brought my golden flower, the one that took seven years to bloom and nearly killed me.

He’s not such a big guy up close – kind of old and dressed plain, except for those emerald specs. I think he liked my present, but who knows? “A kindred spirit,” he said. “You will join us here before long.” And he smiled.

Then the lights went out and we all got torches and trooped down to the cellar. We doused our torches and stood by the rocks in the dark, breathing. Some party this is, I was thinking, when he started to sing and we all joined in, even me, who didn’t think I knew the words. After a while there came a little glow. It got stronger, until it was like a star in his hands, and we lit our torches from it.

We went up and up, into every room, lighting candles and lamps. Then the party – mountains of food and rivers of drink, like I never saw in my life. What a night! Music and singing and dancing until the sun came up, all new and red. He was everywhere with us, the wildest of all. (I don’t think he’s really blind, you know).

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I hope the New Year is a good one. But I’m going back up there now, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.

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Local Author Book Review #10: Arcane by Sever Bronny

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Arcane, by Sever Bronny is the first book in a 5-book YA fantasy series, The Arinthian Line. The story is set in the Kingdom of Solia, a medieval-type society full of peasants, knights and warlocks, who possess arcane powers (which must never be referred to as “magic”).

The book begins with the sufferings and trials of Augum, a 14-year-old orphan (“obligatory orphan,” I almost said), who endures bullying and bad treatment even as he trains as a squire to the bluff and earthy knight Sir Tobias Westwood. This life is shattered by a violent raid on Willowbrook, which destroys the village and launches Augum into a new life. He is caught up by a lightning storm that brings him into the hands of Mrs. Stone, once headmistress of the Academy of Arcane Arts. Another massacre brings Bridget and Leera into the group. The three begin warlock training with Mrs. Stone, while eluding a great peril with a special and horrible connection to Augum.

Bronny combines key elements familiar to readers of fantasy — the orphan with a tragic past, the bonds of friendship, training in the arcane arts by a mentor of power and integrity. Then there is a quest for objects of power, a deserted castle full of perils and surprises — and food! Lots of food, described in loving detail guaranteed to result in trips to the fridge for snacks. The narrative language is lively and colourful, never bogging down in metaphorical mudholes.

The fictional world of Solia is solidly thought out and internally consistent. Choices made in the past have cast the fates of the young protagonists and made them dependent on one another and the development of their arcane abilities. The last 80 pages of the book are a thrilling rollercoaster ride into the unknown. The main characters and their situation are intriguing enough that the reader will want to get hold of the next book as soon as possible. Luckily, Books 2 and 3, Riven and Valor, are now available in the usual places. For a fortunate few, a copy of Arcane is part of the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.

My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

 

Being My Own Publisher

Here is my current writing-related to-do list:

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Nothing in there about writing anything, or even revising. It’s all publishing, all the time. I suppose this is the best reason for having someone else do the publishing stuff.

I passed a major milestone on December 10th, when Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure officially became available in print versions, joining The Friendship of Mortals.

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But because I made all kinds of small changes to the texts of those two books before publishing in print, it only makes sense to transmit those changes to the ebook versions as well. Unfortunately, “transmit” means “go through the lists of edits and make them in both the Smashwords and Amazon KDP documents.” Tedious stuff, transmitting.

Then I can get on with the final book of the Herbert West Series — Hunting the Phoenix — correcting errors I have noted in my e-reader, formatting, writing the back cover description, arranging for the full print cover, etc. And finally, uploading the corrected ebook documents. The whole series will then be fully available in both ebook and print versions. Then I can finally get on with something new.

Now I begin to understand why it can take months or even years between signing a contract with a publisher and actually seeing a published book. And as my own publisher, I can’t even blame anyone else for the slowness of the process.

What Word Describes Your Writing Habit?

Now that almost anyone can become a Writer by writing something and publishing it through the internet, there are many of degrees of “writerliness” (to coin a rather lumpy word).

Writers may select from a wide array of words to describe their writing activity, depending on how large a space it occupies in their lives.

Here are a few, in no particular order…

Job. Meaning you write a lot as part of your paid employment and not at all otherwise.

Profession. Meaning you make enough money from your writing to live on. Mostly. Well, maybe supplemented by a few other activities.

Passion. Meaning you spend some time writing and a lot of time talking about it.

Avocation. Meaning you juggle writing and your day job.

Obsession. Meaning you work on your writing at your day job.

Hobby. Meaning you write for fun, without any expectation of making money.

Therapy. Meaning you write as a way of dealing with difficulties.

Vice. Meaning writing gives you grief but you can’t stop doing it.

Me? Back in my submissive days (when I was sending out chunks of writing to the Gatekeepers), there were times when I regarded it as a grief-producing vice. Now I tend to think of writing as my avocation. With a touch of obsession. And now that I’m approaching retirement, I’m almost OK with the possibility that it might be a hobby. Well, maybe a bit more than that. Call it a Creative Outlet.

Then there’s what writers call themselves. Professional? Dilettante? Hobbyist? How about indie author? I think that term covers most of us, and can be modified by any adjective as needed.