Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

ABNA Minefield after NaNo Haven?

2010 ABNA winner in YA fiction category: Amy Ackley's 'Sign Language'

I, along with several of my writerly-and-blogging friends, entered ABNA 2011 last week. The two-week entry period for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, sponsored by Penguin Group USA and presented by Amazon.com, with Publisher’s Weekly as Review Sponsor, closed last weekend.

The contest’s aim is to ‘publish and promote a manuscript by an unknown or unpublished author’, the winner being awarded a publishing contract with PenguinUSA, including a $15,000 advance.

That’s the carrot.

There are, however, several sticks that drive this donkey forward.

They’ve devised some unexpected hoops for us ‘unknown’ authors to leap through. And to brave those fiery hurdles, you need an iron-clad constitution, or at least the ability to meditate yourself out of those stress-filled moments of Angst before and after the contest’s several stages. It also helps if, in addition to your flair for putting pen to paper, you have a background in agenting, query letters, publicity and self-PR.

Which a lot of writers don’t.

Some of my writerly friends have been so psyched up –nerve-endings shattered, normal life relegated to broom closet– that we ended up sharing some inside information which may be of use to someone thinking of entering future writing and publishing contests. Though, the way I feel right now, I could be wrong.

If I write these lines BEFORE the judges read the ABNA entries and eliminate (most of) us from Round One (announcement due February 24th), then my comments can’t be seen as ‘sour grapes’, either by my writing friends or the judges.

As I see it, compared with the safe haven of NaNoWriMo, the annual creative writing competition which has run every year since 1999, ABNA is a minefield. It’s not difficult to see why. It’s not being run by writers or authors, but by the ‘Industry’.

"Off with her head" -- Disney Queen or ABNA reviewer?

O, skeptical veteran author who has ploughed her way through the mire set with explosive devices designed by agents and publishers to restrict the floodgates of queries and unsolicited MSS to a manageable flow, a readable number: you need read no farther. I commend you, but am not addressing you in this blog.

My thoughts are instead directed to the unsuspecting budding ‘unknown’, author of a work which may have been written in an ecstatic rush during last November’s NaNo, or one which took years to write, hours of editing, polishing and resubmitting; even a work you’ve already self-published, because nobody else seemed interested. These words are for the novelist who at best isn’t sure s/he has written something good, at worst wants to burn the MS; but in her heart –and in hazy days and insomniac nights at the keyboard– believes it will be the next world bestseller.

I’m comparing and contrasting. But I know I’m also talking apples and pears.

After the NaNo experience, you emerge feeling glued to the keyboard

NaNo was conceived 12 years ago by a non-profit group, the stellar Office of Letters and Light in San Francisco. Run by and for writers, NaNo loves its contestants, encourages them with profile pages which fellow participants can access, community posts that share tips and hints, and it stirs them up with frequent email encouragement. It even persuades volunteer group leaders –MLs (stands for Municipal Liaison, but means Motivation Leader)– to keep writers in geographical groups hard at it during the month of November. In essence, it succeeds in inspiring a large majority of its 200,000 participants (2010 figure, a phenomenal number) to write a novel of at least 50k words in thirty days. Those that make it –writing an average of 1667 words per day– are declared winners.

You emerge from the NaNo experience feeling your fingers are permanently glued to the keyboard.

Even if your family and friends have deserted you and you have forgotten how to cook, clean, or sleep, when you’ve written a NaNo novel, you feel you’ve accomplished something. You suspect you might just conceivably –with a little tweaking, triple edits and a couple of final rewritten chapters– throw your baby into the shark-infested waters of the real world of publishing.

ABNA –now in its third year– comes along conveniently in January (humanity in northern hemisphere at a low ebb, dreams in hibernation). It offers a brief window of opportunity for entry into its two fiction categories, young adult and adult, and you, the revved up, rewarded and real-world-rookie writer go for it. After all, you’ve got a new novel in your pocket (or hard drive), so why not?

If that describes your feeling of euphoria, beware: there are pitfalls.

There are several holes in the 2011 competition –not least the fact that 5000 adult fiction authors and nearly-5000 YA fiction contestants have now entered ABNA and been left hanging. No profile page like the friendly NaNo interface, no sharing. Not even a taste of comparing one’s entry with the other 4999 contestants in the same genre, no personal touch, no encouraging emails. All right. It’s a competition to promote professionalism in writers and project two of them to stardom. The contest homepage suggests you join numerous discussion boards and help groups if you need to know more. And the entry format is simple: an upload page for submitting your MS, its description (which goes on Amazon.com if you win), a 5000-word excerpt along with your author Bio, contact details and the pitch. That’s it.

Ah, there’s the rub. The pitch.

A pitch (as in ‘sales pitch’) is a series of short paragraphs which grab the reader/reviewer/listener and give a punchy version of your plot outline: not necessarily in any chronological order, so long as it ‘grabs’.

Round One, which closes February 24th, eliminating 4000 of those aspiring entrants in each category, is being judged solely on the pitch. A group of editors chosen by Amazon will select 1000 pitches they judge most likely to reveal an exciting new concept in the novel beneath. Not the excerpt, not the description, certainly not the author’s past achievements. A 300-word pitch.

And, as we all know, novelists are traditionally lousy at writing their own PR.

Most of the feedback I’ve heard is from (accomplished and innovative) writers who are placing little voodoo dolls of themselves on the desk next to their laptops and sticking pins in them.

‘My pitch sucks,’ ‘I can’t write a pitch for love or money’, ‘I’m going to fail Round One because I don’t know how to pitch my story’ are a few of the comments I’ve read. Sixteen pages of commentary and shared suggestions exist on the NaNo web community helping 2010 NaNo novelists to overcome lack of faith in their 2011 ABNA pitch. These are not first-time writers, not amateurs tossing a ball in the air to see where it lands. These are dedicated, passionate authors throwing themselves and their lovingly-crafted characters (MC, protagonist and supporting cast) to the wolves, oops, sharks.

Because, unmasked, that is what ABNA is. The publishing industry’s undertaker: the smiling, cravatted, pin-stripe suited facilitator, helping put the last nail in the coffin innocently provided by 8000 novelists. Some of last year entrants were so deflated by the reviews they received from ‘industry expert reviewers’ that they will not enter again this year. Some will never try another contest.

According to personal testimony, a few of this year’s potential entrants were so daunted by the prospect of writing a snappy bullet for their pitch, only to be turned down before a single actual word of their novel was read, that they decided against entering ABNA altogether.

They say only the strong survive.

Round One, above, eliminates 90 percent.

Round Two offers a little ray of hope to those 1000 lucky survivors. That’s when Amazon/Penguin editors and reviewers will get to read the fortunate contestants’ excerpts. Not the MS yet: just the first chapters. ABNA chose this to mean not a random excerpt which to another writer might show individual flair, style and voice, but the first 5000 words, i.e. the opening chapters, of your novel. This, they say, gives an insight into the novelist’s grasp of how to hold a reader from the outset. We’re getting closer to the agent-query process. Round Two will be judged on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent) on ‘overall strength, prose, style, plot, hook and originality’ of the excerpt. Then on March 13, 2011, 250 novels will be chosen in each category to progress to the Quarter Finals.

Round Three: Publishers Weekly reviewers select 50 entries to move forward to the Semi-Finals. Announced April 25, 2011.

Semi-Finals April 26 – May 23, 2011
At this stage top excerpts in each category will be posted on the ABNA homepage where the public may view and vote for their favorite entry, but also where each contestant will be reviewed by a celebrity panel, ‘each consisting of at least one well-known author, one agent, and one editor’. That rather sums it up. Now the truth will out.

Finals May 24 – June 1, 2011
Three finalists in each category will have their complete MSS read and chosen by this select panel and excerpts of these six novelists’ work will be displayed on the ABNA homepage. The public get to vote for their own chosen winner –one finalist in each category. Panel reviews of the finalists’ work will also be posted.

Amazon celebrates the winners in both categories in an awards ceremony at a venue yet to be named after an announcement on June 13, 2011.

One blogger estimated the chances of being chosen as the publishing industry’s next top author as 0.02%.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. As the final rounds progress, others will be scanning, not just the ABNA website but the weblogs of entrants who made it through some of the hoops. These are themselves agents, editors, publishers representing other institutions, aware that ABNA may be missing out on some unique talents whose gems are slipping through the cracks. That raises the odds to at least 0.06%.

So all is not lost.

I say this vehemently to absolve any and all of my scribefriends who may or may not mention ABNA in their blogs this month. Nobody wants to bite the hand that (potentially) feeds. I take full responsibility for this blog opinion. Their blogs, here, here and here are talented, informative and mostly talk of other things. But IMHO the odds need to be counted, the truth told.

Agents whose blogs share an industry perspective on the current economical difficulties facing publishers are quick to assure us that, if our work is superb, our concept original and our writing has an individual ‘voice’, it will be heard by the right ear and our work will reach readers.

Readers: ah, them. The reader is, first and last, the audience we really write for. If we forget that amid the media hype, the punchy pitch, we forget who is really important. Without the reader, dear Reader, our writing is just tapping electrons into the ether.

NaNoWriMo helped me create something from the bosom of my Muse which surprises and delights me. Even if it needs another three months to develop it into something readable by another, I love it for the stretching effect it had on my psyche. I may be wrong, but the ABNA setup seems geared to do the opposite: to shrink and contract that flow of inspiration that lies within.

I am certain I shall be a NaNo participant next November. I am not so sure I feel like braving another ABNA in 2012.

Advertisements

February 8, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Energy, Intent and Writing by Jim Vires

Featured Writers Corner

The allure and magic of the printed page

When I first got the idea to feature some of my struggling author friends, it was a seed kernel: a tiny cell in need of germination: I have quite a few writerly friends in various guises, on a couple of continents, some friendships generated through the miracle of electrons… all extremely busy at what they do. The writerly occupation, after all, as we’ve said before, is not something you can pick up and put down. It lives inside. It has its own form of development, its own pace, its own drive. We, the hands on the keyboard, the implement allowing it voice, are merely facilitators.

So, when some of my author friends agreed to write a guestblog for me, I was over the moon. Every writer sees the Muse differently. Every one of them has a unique perspective on our communal pursuit.*

All of them are busy, as I say: as a writer, storyteller, blogger, novelist or journalist, you have to keep at it or you’re doomed. So it was not a surprise when some of my friends said they’d do it, but it would be a while.

Jim Vires, my column guest today, said: ‘when do you want it?’

Jim is just as busy, just as motivated, just as obsessed as the rest of us.

Evolution of a Conceptual God by Jim Vires on Amazon

He has just launched his phenomenal ‘The Evolution of A Conceptual God’ on Amazon – subtitled: ‘Navigating the Landmines’. It is a collection of powerful stories, both fiction and non-fiction in a life curve designed by the author to overcome adversity and his gratitude in being able to do so. Jim arranged for all profits from the sale of his book to go to Salvation Army Homeless Shelters.

He’s moderator/group leader Yinseriv of the NonFiction writers group on KPN Network (run by KeyPublications guru Damian Gray); he’s a video wiz, photographer and music buff; and he writes — and helps others to write — in his so-called ‘spare’ time. He also dashes about the country helping others get their books launched, but we won’t go into that this time around… in short, he’s an inspirer, as well as being inspired.

I am therefore honored — and delighted with his speedy response — to be able to present the spiritual view of storyteller, ‘teller-of-tales’ Jim Vires on writing as a medium to inspire others.

Energy, Intent and Writing by Jim Vires

Often I hear from other writers that they have succumbed to Writers’ Block. To be truthful, these words have passed my own lips. I suffer from this self-imposed malady when I think of writing as a craft, or as my job. For me, there is a cure for the condition, but I never learned of it in any college classroom. The glossy paperbacks touted as ‘How To’ by bestselling authors fail to mention it either. I remind myself that writing came to humankind as a gift.

Before I continue, allow me to address any readers who may bring up that language preceded writing as a gift to humankind. As a member of a tribe with a long history of storytelling, I do agree that language is a gift. I also see the gift of language shared by other dwellers of our planet. To the best of my knowledge, so far, only humans have mastered writing with purpose.

‘Purpose’ is the key word I want to focus on about writing. Often as writers, we start with a set purpose in mind as we put words to page. Our cerebral cortex starts firing as we set our awareness to a task. When all works well, we find that we enter an altered state of awareness as we write. The distractions of outside influence fade as we focus on the words imparted from our brain to the world. You may call this altered state by any number of titles depending on your frame of reference. In the end though, it becomes one writer acting with purpose, to place format to a thought using one letter at a time.

Are you aware of the purpose of your words? Many of us have used the written word to influence, or at times, manipulate the thoughts and emotions of others. When we do this well, we transpose our intent to the will of our readers. This is never ‘bad’. Without the phrasing of a thoughtful love letter, our reproductive prerogative never would have evolved from who is the best physical suitor. Wars have started and ended over the words written on a page. These are just three examples of the power behind the purpose of words.

What happens once the words leave my brain and enter the domain of the reader? All control of my purpose, intent and meaning default to the experience of the reader.

Shall we try an experiment?

Smile.

Jim Vires - perennial optimist, author of 'Evolution of a Conceptual God'

Five simple letters form one word. What did you think of as you read the word? Each of us filtered that one word through our experience. Did you smile at an innocuous request? Perhaps you came from a background where you learned that a smile is a mask. The word smile may signal a harbinger of deceit. The point I make is that as I typed the word there was one meaning in my mind. One purpose. Through the act of reading, we all share the word. It has become our word. This is the Spirituality flowing underneath writing. We connect in a shared experience.

As a writer, I am all too often forgetful of this on a conscious level. Until I enter an altered state while writing, I am imposing my will, purpose, on the reader. Once I do enter that state, words flow from my fingers in an attempt to connect with my projected reader. Instead of imposing, I strive to connect with you, the reader. You become the focus of my being. This is the joy of being out of myself and fully alive in this moment. This is the gift of writing.

Does this seem a little too ‘New Age’? Allow me to challenge this. What is the power of any classic literature? The writer has taken us outside of our existence and placed us within a frame of reference we may never have lived. The writer places words in a careful arrangement that allow us to travel inside of the written word and give life to the words. The words become living words. In a transcending of time and place, we enter into a contract of writer and reader. The writer wrote with purpose. At what point though, did the purpose leave the intent of the writer and become part of a greater purpose? This happens the moment there is a reader.

While in the process of writing, the writer owns the words, and it is the writer’s job to bring meaning to those words. A thoughtful writer always considers the intent of the words. The writer considers the thoughts and emotions that the reader will experience by the selection of the words.

This again brings me back to purpose when writing.

The written word can wound and it can heal. Rarely when writing are our words a null void. Why would we write if they were? Granted, most of us write without intent to hurt others. How often has your intent been to heal? I dare to guess that it is not often enough. When we use our words to educate, lift up, or bring a smile to our readers, we are engaged in healing work. As we enter an altered state while writing, we become funnels for the energy that surrounds us. The words become a balm freely given to the writer with the understanding that they are to share with readers. If we allow the process to shine through us, at the end of the job the words turn into a paper, story, poem, blog or a book. The writer gives up ownership of the words.

At this point, the reader now owns the words.

As stated earlier, we can never tell with certainty the perception that a reader is going to bring to the page. It is now on the reader to take the words to a new sphere of influence. The five minutes a reader spends reading on work break eases some of the tension and worries that are common to so many. The reader interacts with coworkers and family, now infused with the purpose, power, of the words he read. A classic energy string radiates within a community and quite possibly returns to the writer.

I wrote this blog with intent and purpose for you, the reader. As I distill final words to an ending, I understand that my part of this contract ends. Now the contract rests with you when you continue your life.

Smile.

It is a simple word, the word smile. Such a simple word holds so much transformative power.

© Jim Vires 2010

Ed. Thank you Jim for a sidestep into the cosmic realm of dreams, belief, heart and soul and for bringing us back to earth too: because this is where we all have our work cut out for us!

*My other writerly cohorts who have appeared or will appear again in this conspiracy to collude in the crystallization of seed-words on the printed page include:

Cathy Evans
Hart Johnson
Pete Madstone (May 2010)
Natasha Ramarathnam
Genie Rayner (October 2010)
Rob Read
Mehal Rockefeller (April 2010)
Catrien Ross of Energy Doorways
Tara Smith (September 2010)

And to Jim: bless you.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | authors, consciousness, culture, Muse, publishing, spiritual, Uncategorized, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phantom’s Child and the Scent of Roses

PHANTOM’S CHILD

Fyvie eastern front, showing contrast between older apartments and Seton's grand front

‘FYVYNS riggs and towers
Hapless shall your mesdames be,
When ye shall hae within your methes,
From harryit kirk’s land, stanes three–
Ane be in Preston’s tower,
Ane be in my lady’s bower,
And ane below the water-yett,
And it ye shall never get.’
Thomas the Rhymer

In November last year a group of us writers decided to take part in the NaNoWriMo marathon: a project to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. One of the carrots dangled before our writerly eyes — slaving over our Muse-filled computers — was the offer by Amazon’s CreateSpace that ‘winners’ who reached the target would have their novels published by them: one proof copy provided free. Too good to be true. Several of my blogging friends took part and we had until June 30th 2010 (today) to edit, rewrite, get feedback on and submit the resulting MS. It was truly a marathon. I and a number of my blogging buddies miraculously succeeded in reaching the wordcount. Below is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my entry: ‘Phantom’s Child’. Another was featured on this blog back in November last year. The evocative bookcover (shown below) was designed by my talented illustrator friend Joris Ammerlaan. Thank you, Joris.

A haunting scent of roses follows Lady Lillias

‘I AM not as I appear. I have taken many forms. The greatest of these is the one they call the Greene Ladye, but I am many. I have always lived, never died. It is my wraith they see in the drawing room, but my spirit is abroad for all Time. I cannot die.’

History is a strange thing: its tellers and retellers say one thing, historians in books something else. Mother’s tale had such immediacy, such clarity; I might have been there with her.

Kings, queens and courts of old had royal bards recite their oral history. This clever method of continuity made the past sound real. In the earliest times, when only clerics and kings could write, it served a dual purpose: to keep tradition alive (books and manuscripts could be burned and stolen), and to instill in the young a pride and knowledge of their heritage, so that they, too, would pass on a love of nationhood to their children.

Mother’s tale had such tragedy and yet it was full of poignant meaning, I didn’t want her to stop. At first I had no idea why she was discovered searching the Fyvie Charter Room for what I thought was the wedding dress of her ancestor at Straloch. It was only after some details emerged that I knew, not only was she living the life of her Straloch ancestor in her mind. She was being dragged through the minds of all her ancestors; my ancestors; through a long line of past lives.

Dame Lillias Drummond, the wraith who haunts the Ladye's Bower

I have since wondered whether she has passed on to me the ability she expressed that fateful day in the car on the way home with the boys. They were quite oblivious, lost in their ‘I Spy’.

I have many times since then felt myself in my mind standing in a room I do not recognize. If I had been able to ask Mother, I would have tried to find out what to expect. As it turned out, her need to express the tale was so vital, her slight frame shaking throughout, it was beyond us to make her stop. And after the tale was told, I’d already lost my opportunity.

Mother was already in the realm of the ancestors, caressed by their timeless fingers – a flimsy ribbon of time and space, of genealogy and upbringing – which holds the family together.

* * * * * * *

OF course I’d heard of the Fyvie curse. We all had. Many families in the Shire had similar stories. When your family tree is a product of generations of intermarriage and strategic connections, there’s bound to be an overlap. It’s understandable.

Fyvie started out as a domain of kings. Even before 1200 there were royal charters. But in the mists of unrecorded time, local knowledge, a few recopied Pictish Chronicles, and placenames in the countryside were all one had to go on. We knew there was a Pictish royal settlement, nay, even a royal lineage through the female line there, but records were sparse.

The only real window, though, the window of history, had some significant dates.

One I learned at school was the event with ‘all-the-2s’: Alexander II of Scotland held his court there on February 2nd 1222. He was not the only king to make his residence in the turreted stone keep. William I ‘the Lion’ was there before him and probably had something to do with the earlier curse – the curse of the weeping stones.

Mother was less concerned about the stones and more about the second part of its pronouncement,: that, as these displaced sacred boulders would never be found, the ladies of Fyvie would be cursed forever; to survive in the knowledge that they could not bear sons who would live to reach maturity.

I doubt whether the original builder realized he was desecrating sacred ground when he took three stones to build the first stone tower. It’s called the Preston Tower, but it was standing long before that family owned Fyvie in the early 15th century.

Mother didn’t concern herself with such details. She said she was sure it was a Pictish citadel before the Normans took it over in the 12th century, and the Picts hadn’t moved the stones, because they held sacred heritage dear. So it couldn’t have been them.

I guessed the Normans — after 1066 — were the culprits. It’s a long time for a lineage to pay the price of something as simple as moving three sacred boundary stones from Churchlands and building a tower on top of one of them. But that, it seems, is what caused the curse.

And while two of the stones have been found — one in the foundations of the Preston Tower and one residing in a bowl of its own tears in the Charter Room where Mother was caught red-handed — the third is never going to come to light. Thomas the Rhymer, author of the sad song of ‘hapless mesdames’, was fairly clear on that.

Mother said he had it in for Fyvie because he thought they were inhospitable and slammed the great door in his face.

‘But it was only the wind.’ She spoke in a whisper, as if she remembered the day personally.

Great Iron Yett swung shut when Thomas the Rhymer approached

‘Thomas of Ercildoune. Berwickshire was his home. What he was doing up this way, I cannot fathom.’ She continued. ‘He liked to think he was a seer of sorts. He warned Fyvie of his visit, and admonished them to keep the yett open, but it took him two years to arrive. I imagine by that time they’d forgotten or were concerned with other things. He was singing ballads and pronouncing oaths and prophecies at the feast tables of all the nobles between Edinburgh and the North. Anyway, when he finally arrived, a fierce storm arose and the winds caused the great iron yett to slam shut before he reached it. They say, too, that while the castle was surrounded by a vortex of high wind, he stood in a pool of calm just a stone’s throw away.’

His curse certainly had a far-reaching effect. Not just through time in this amazing place, but through generations of families in other houses in the county as well.

It was common knowledge in our circle that since 1433, the castle, its lands and its title of barony had failed to descend through the firstborn son. Since the mid-fifteenth century until it was purchased by the National Trust for Scotland in 1984, the firstborn male of every generation at Fyvie died. The castle changed hands too. So the curse wasn’t family-specific. Mother made me remember that. Or rather, she used to tell me: ‘it goes with the family AND with the house.’

That meant the female line was cursed too, even if it married into another line.

I was never very sure — until that day in the car — whether our family had Fyvie links or not. But now I am certain of it. And, if you believe in curses – and this one seems ironclad – there isn’t much one can do about it.

In 1290 it was king Robert III of Scotland who gave Fyvie to Henry Preston, whose tower remains. He had no male heir, so the castle changed hands through marriage in 1433, passing with Preston’s eldest daughter to the Meldrums. It is known that they did indeed build the second tower to mirror the first.

Their firstborn son died.

However, as the Meldrums had houses elsewhere, they chose not to live at Fyvie and somehow escaped the curse for a generation or two.

The Meldrums sold Fyvie to the Setons, another great Northeast family with houses all round the county. Sir Alexander Seton, first earl of Dunfermline and Chancellor of Scotland who bought it in 1596 had no time for the curse; his dreams of creating a dynasty did not include ‘such nonsense’, Mother said; and he began plans to make it an architectural masterpiece.

Alexander Seton's great south front at Fyvie

His building of the grand southern front which greets visitors today, was inspired by castles he had visited in the Loire and valley of the Rhône, and his vision was truly spectacular. He consolidated the south front with a five-storey wing connecting both the Preston and Meldrum towers and built a great extended work of staterooms and offices stretching out back toward the North. His glorious south façade culminated in central twin towers which greeted his famous guests and royal visitors: it is this Great Entrance which is called the Seton Tower. In dividing his time between the court in Edinburgh, a palace in Dunfermline and creating such grandeur in Aberdeenshire, he had little time for his wife and four daughters. He had no male heir.

‘It was during his grandiose schemes that time passed and he forgot about me.’

I jumped. I had forgotten Mother was still consumed by her persona as one of the Fyvie ladyes: Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me to ask which of the ‘hapless mesdames‘ of the castle had become the one with which she identified the most.

'Phantom's Child', 2009 NaNo winner picked up by Amazon CreateSpace publishing arm

So it was Lady Lillias Drummond, wife of Alexander Seton, later to be known as the ‘Greene Ladye’.

I might have known. Lillias was a sad soul. She gave him five daughters, all hale, healthy, nubile and ready to marry into the best families of the land. But because of his position, or perhaps because he had to prove that the curse was no match for his power and wealth, he wanted a male heir. The long awful tale began with his plan to marry another.

In order to do that, however, he had to be rid of Lillias.

‘I was too strong. He couldn’t poison me and, while he tried, he was unable to starve me to death. I died of a broken heart.’ I’d read many versions of the tale, but wanted to hear it from Mother’s lips.

Lillias heard of her husband’s plan to marry Grizel Leslie and gave up early in 1601. Her husband had her locked in her bower, the so-called Murder Room, and fed her gruel. They said she died there and her body was left to decay. Another story is told of her being walled up in a secret panel. However, Mother was not going to let me dwell on details.

‘He left me there to die, but for the sake of decency, did not take a second wife until October of that year. I was in my room from May till October.’ She made her own death sound quite surreal; her disembodied voice came from another layer of reality. ‘Only on their wedding night, I declared I’d had enough of the charade. He needed to be punished. He did not believe in the curse. He and Grizel were going to have a son, whatever happened to me. I made sure they remembered their act was murder. I stalked them that night. I stalk them still.’

The tale is told to present-day Fyvie visitors that on the night of October 27th 1601 the newly-wed couple had to spend their wedding night in the bedchamber above the Charter room in the old tower, because the new apartments Alexander was decorating for his bride in the Seton Tower were not yet finished. They were disturbed by strange scratching sounds outside their bedroom window, accompanied by heavy sighs which went on through the night. In the morning they discovered a name scratched on the outside window sill upside-down:

‘D. LILIES DRUMMOND’.

As the bedchamber is on the fourth storey, fifty feet above ground in the old defensive wall which has no footholds, it was thought the carving might only be achieved by someone with powers of levitation — or the ghost now called the Greene Ladye.

Mother loved this part of the story. I know she liked being Lillias. She said it was because she has free rein to wander throughout the apartments at night, as she did when she was mistress, but I think it is something simpler.

Lillias always left the room with a lingering scent of roses

Mother always loved her garden and roses were her particular favourite. Whenever I found her in latter years, she had, season permitting, a rosebud in her hand. Lillias, or the Greene Ladye, has been seen by many Fyvie custodians. She is one of their favourite ghosts. And whenever there is a chance encounter, or one of the guides or visitors feels a presence over his shoulder, it is usually accompanied by the scent of roses as the apparition moves through the room.

Mother read my thoughts.

‘Yes,’ she said. I am glad. They took my home, my children and my life. But I was able to bring my roses.’ She smiled and I was certain that she was right. For a moment, in the old family car filled with noise, childish laughter and song, on Mother’s last drive from the coast to the security of home I was sure I smelled the scent of roses.
©2010 Marian Youngblood
This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of Marian Youngblood’s forthcoming historical novel ‘Phantom’s Child’, published by Amazon CreateSpace

June 30, 2010 Posted by | authors, belief, culture, history, novel, Prehistory, publishing, traditions, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Party games and Mnemonics

Angel of the Festive Spirit

The festive season is here.

It’s the time for feeling peaceful, sharing joy and being merry; it’s also time for exercise: not of the body perhaps, but of the mind.

Trivial Pursuit used to be very fashionable; Scrabble keeps the cogs oiled, but old poems and rhymes that jog the cogs have a place too.

Whichever way your mind works, the mnemonic that fits the season is one that comes from the far north: its about wood and logs and burning those valuable resources we now cherish so much and burn less frequently. In Scotland, where we still burn logs in woodstoves and open hearths to celebrate solstice and Yule – Christmas and Hanukkah – wherever it is cold enough to warrant a blazing fire, this poem is not only something to remember the season by, but to remember the value of each yule log that we consume. Precious resource, indeed, but what joy it brings.

Wood for the Season: log burning rhyme
Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year;
Store your beech for Christmastide
With new-cut holly laid beside;
Chestnut’s only good, they say,
If for years ’tis stored away;
Make a fire of the elder tree,
A death within the house you’ll see

But ash green or ash old
Is fit for a Queen with a crown of gold.

Fires of the Festive Season

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last;
Flames from larch will shoot up high,
Dangerously the sparks will fly;
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread;
Elm-wood burns like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold;

But ash wood green and ash wood brown
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.

Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter’s cold;
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;
Apple wood will scent the room,
With an incense like perfume.
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom;

But ash green or ash dry
For a Queen to warm her slippers by.

According to my grandfather, a childlike lovable old churchman who never wished to stop learning, the Victorians were great ones for mnemonics: for the wind and compass directions in clockwise order:

Never Eat Shredded Wheat

to remembering which side of the ship you were on on an ocean voyage:

The ship’s left port

or, more obscure,

Port wine should be left alone when it is red

This suggests port (left) red, so starboard (right) green. However, my grandfather also liked an occasional glass of port himself and his explanation was that as after dinner port is always traditionally passed around the table to the left; the “port” light is always red, just as port wine is always red.

His many interests included classical languages, the rivers of the world, the seven hills of Rome and how to remember them. While I doubt that too many reading this will have a need for mnemonics for such trivia, you never know; it might come in handy one day.

Firstly, the World’s greatest/longest Rivers:

NAM-MI YACH-Y

Nile (Africa) – 4,145 miles
Amazon (South America) – 4,050 miles
Mississippi-Missouri (USA) – 3,760 miles
Irtysh (Russia) – 3,200 miles
Yangtse (China) – 3,100 miles
Amur (Asia) – 2,900 miles
Congo (Africa) – 2,718 miles
Huang-Ho or Yellow (China) – 2,700 miles

Capitoline to the Aventine - hills of Rome

The Great Lakes from West to East:

Sam’s Horse Must Eat Oats

The Seven Hills of Rome:

Can Queen Victoria Eat Cold Apple Pie?
To remember the seven hills of Rome

and for those of us who might have to look that one up: they are:
the Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, and the Palatine hills.

Roman numerals, too, in ascending order, for the classics scholar with a bad memory:

Lucky Cows Drink Milk

L = 50, C = 100, D = 500 and M = 1000.

And while on number, he had a mnemonic to help him remember the exact decimal value of Pi to the twentieth place! Counting the number of letters in each word of the sentence in order gives the value of Pi = 3.141592653 etc.

Sir, I send a rhyme excelling
In sacred truth and rigid spelling
Numerical sprites elucidate
For me the lexicon’s dull weight.

I prefer the simpler version of Pi to a mere seven places:

May I have a large container of coffee?

His wide reading brought him into much more esoteric branches of learning, which I won’t elaborate on – such things as Pythagorean theory, [a very non-pc version: ‘The Squaw on the Hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the Squaws on the other two Hides’] Lord Nelson’s injuries(!), remembering the names of world oceans and continents, and the date of the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight.

The Colours of the Rainbow are worth quoting:

Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain

which my mother (his daughter) abbreviated to the acronym: ROYGBIV.

Henry the Eighth’s six wives:

‘Divorced, beheaded, died;
Divorced, beheaded, survived.’

They were: Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

The Bayeux Tapestry recounts the Battle of Hastings

His greatest mnemonic was, for me, the poem of the succession of the Kings and Queens of England from William the Conqueror, 1066. Not the Scots, or Kings of Picts, mind you; something I wished for at the time and tried in later life to create a mnemonic for and failed miserably. [It is quite difficult to place King Dubh, Kings Aedh, Custantin, Fergus and King Nechtan into a rhyme!]

This one is still popular and while you have to remember another rhyme to insert each monarch into his/her houses, (Plantaganet, etc.), it has a ring to it:

Kings and Queens of England from 1066
Willy, Willy, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard Two,
Harries Four Five Six, then who?
Edwards Four Five, Richard Three,
Two Harries, Edward and Bloody Mairee;
Elizabeth the Virgin Queen
Two Jameses with Charlies in between

Coronation of Alexander III at Scone

[sometimes:
Mary, Bessie, James ye ken,
Then Charlie, Charlie, James again)

William and Mary, Anna Gloria
Four Georges, William and Victoria
Edward Seven next, and then
Came George the Fifth in nineteen ten
Ned the Eighth soon abdicated
Then George the Sixth was coronated
After which Elizabeth
And that’s all folks until her death.

The Royal Houses to which those monarchs belonged:

No Plan Like Yours
To Study HISTORY Wisely

(Norman (1066-), Plantaganet (1154-), Lancaster (1399-), York (1461), Tudor (1485-), Stuart (1603-), Hanover (1714-1901), Windsor (1901/1917-present))

Like Winston Churchill, whom he admired although a younger man, he could recite by heart: Greenleaf Whittier’s Ballad of Barbara Fritchie, a stirring epic from the American Civil War.

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

It goes on for another thirty verses, but its most poignant couplet tells of an order from Stonewall Jackson himself:

‘Who touches a hair of thon gray head
Dies like a dog. March on,’ he said.

It is a fact that Winston Churchill, while visiting Frederick, Maryland in 1943, held up his own welcome party while he stood in front of the house where she is said to have waved the Union flag in Stonewall Jackson’s face; and recited the poem from beginning to end. It is not reported whether his hosts were particularly pleased by this recitation; but my grandfather was!

Of course the old minister would recite from every verse of ‘Remember, Remember the Fifth of November’, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Wreck of the Hesperus and he was particularly fond of ‘Peter, Andrew, James and John, Hold the Horse while I get on’ -a mnemonic for the first four of the 12 disciples.

With such a mentor, is it any wonder that my education was, to say the least, eclectic?

I don’t have to repeat the mnemonic for the months of the year because I think that is one rhyme which has filtered down through oral tradition into the consciousness of now. [Unless someone really doesn’t know and writes me a comment/request to that effect!]

However I think my grandfather would have loved to hear a hurricane rhyme which I learned in the Bahamas in the early ‘sixties: in these times of changing world climate and strange seasons, it is reassuring to find the hurricane season stays (roughly) the same…

Hurricane Season
‘June, too soon;
July, stand by;
August come it must;
September, remember;
October, all over.’

My grandfather had ways of remembering the Arabic names of stars and constellations, too, but I think we’ve covered enough ground for one festive blog. Those gems will have to wait for another time.

Happy solstice.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | ancient rites, culture, history, popular, seasonal | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love and NaNo: Many-Splendored Things?

National November Writing Month

NaNo is half way there; am I boring you?

November continues to be NaNo month; but blogging about writing a minimum of 1650 words a day, in order to get one’s Muse to kick in and write the rest, is a little tiring for others not participating.

So I thought I’d do a little tangential reading about other authors: in particular those first-timers who hit it with an amazing débût work and then go on to clean up on Amazon.

I’m thinking of one particularly fortunate author, Laura Schaefer from Madison, Wisconsin, who got her start as a contributor to the University of Wisconsin’s student paper The Daily Cardinal and went on to write regularly for The Princeton Review and Match.com. Laura lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she can usually be found dancing the lindy hop or book signing her second novel for young readers, The Teashop Girls.

Love is a many-splendored thing …according to Laura in her first book: Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005). And she’s come up with some quite surprising facts about love. If you need proof of this, there follow 25 funny little statistics about love. Study them, scratch your head over them, and share them with someone you fancy.

1. Men who kiss their wives in the morning live five years longer than those who don’t.

2. People are more likely to tilt their heads to the right when kissing instead of the left (65 percent of people go to the right).

3. When it comes to doing the deed early in the relationship, 78 percent of women would decline an intimate rendezvous if they had not shaved their legs or underarms.

4. Feminist women are more likely than other females to be in a romantic relationship.

5. Two-thirds of people report that they fall in love with someone they’ve known for some time versus someone that they just met.

6. There’s a reason why office romances occur: The single biggest predictor of love is proximity.

7. Falling in love can induce a calming effect on the body and mind and raises levels of nerve growth factor for about a year, which helps to restore the nervous system and improves the lover’s memory.

serotonin acts as a happiness trigger

External stimulation of the synapses can trigger happiness or fear

8. Love can also exert the same stress on your body as deep fear. You see the same physiological responses — pupil dilation, sweaty palms, and increased heart rate.

9. Brain scans show that people who view photos of a beloved experience an activation of the caudate — the part of the brain involving cravings.

10. The women of the Tiwi tribe in the South Pacific are married at birth.

11. The “Love Detector” service from Korean cell phone operator KTF uses technology that is supposed to analyze voice patterns to see if a lover is speaking honestly and with affection. Users later receive an analysis of the conversation delivered through text message that breaks down the amount of affection, surprise, concentration and honesty of the other speaker.

12. Eleven percent of women have gone online and done research on a person they were dating or were about to meet, versus seven percent of men.

love song from an Egyptian tomb

Love song from a 4,300-year old Egyptian tomb of the Sixth Dynasty

13. Couples’ personalities converge over time to make partners more similar.

14. The oldest known love song was written 4,300 years ago and comes from an Egyptian tomb of the Sixth Dynasty. Others were found in modern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Maximillian of Austria

Archduke Maximillian gave diamonds

15. The tradition of the diamond engagement ring comes from Archduke Maximillian of Austria who, in the 17th century, gave a diamond ring to his fiancée, Mary of Burgundy.

16. Forty-three percent of women prefer their partners never sign “love” to a card unless they are ready for commitment.

17. People who are newly in love produce decreased levels of the hormone serotonin — as low as levels seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to feel obsessed when you’re smitten.

serotonin, a neurotransmitter and 'happiness hormone'

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter as well as a happiness hormone

18. Philadelphia International Airport finished as the No. 1 best airport for making a love connection, according to an online survey.

19. According to mathematical theory, we should date a dozen people before choosing a long-term partner; that provides the best chance that you’ll make a love match.

20. A man’s beard grows fastest when he anticipates sex.

21. Every Valentine’s Day, Verona, the Italian city where Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet took place, receives around 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet.

22. When we get dumped, for a period of time we love the person who rejected us even more, says Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University and author of Why We Love. The brain regions that lit up when we were in a happy union continue to be active.

23. Familiarity breeds comfort and closeness … and romance.

24. One in five long-term love relationships began with one or both partners being involved with others.

25. OK, this one may not surprise you, but we had to share it: Having a romantic relationship makes both genders happier. The stronger the commitment, the greater the happiness!

Laura Schaefer is the author of Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor. If you want to read her blog, click here.

And, oh yes, thanks to Amazon, not only for making available some amazing books, but for being the sponsor of NaNoWriMo [Sorry, had to bring it up; it’s becoming an obsession] lol PBAWS_LOGO_127px

November 16, 2009 Posted by | authors, consciousness, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment