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Ocean Goddess Hear Our Prayer—TAROT & Numerology for the Insecure

PERSIAN OCEAN GODDESS & TAROT ANGELS come to aid
Those Writing Up a Storm in the IWSG Corner

Patience is a characteristic of writers—even insecure ones like us. We set ourselves tasks and, come hell or high water, we (usually) finish them. Our fearless leader, Alex, does anyhow.

November is NaNo month—thirty days of consecutive writing without let-up—so it’s almost pointless of me to speak to dedicated IWSGers at this time, because they will be setting themselves a goal of 50,000 words on paper—or 1,666 words per day in pixel form—during the month of November.

Instead, a little historical perspective may be in order.

Anahita—Persian Ocean goddess c.200-100BC. found modern Sadak, NE Turkey, courtesy British Museum

In Persian mythology, Anahita was ‘Goddess of all the waters upon the Earth and the source of the Cosmic Ocean’. She drives a chariot pulled by four horses: wind, rain, cloud and sleet; her symbol is the eight-rayed star. She was regarded as the source of life. Before calling on Mithra (fiery sun), a prayer was offered to the sea goddess Anahita, whose name means moist, mighty, pure, Immaculate—the Virgin Goddess. Herodotus and the Babylonian writer Berossus (B.C.3rdC.) both equate Persian Anahita with Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and procreation, emerging from an oyster shell. Other Greeks equate her with virgin goddess Artemis—synonymous with Roman huntress Diana. Venus was her Roman name.

Roman legions marched under protection of Mithras, spread pagan belief from Rome to Scotland

In Zoroastrian-Persian mythology, Mithras was born of virgin goddess Anahita. Mythologist Caitlin Matthews—in her Mysteries of Mithras:the Pagan Belief that Shaped the Christian World was boldly described as “supporting paganism, witchcraft, the supernatural and Wicca”, and that (Matthews’) book offers keen insight into a very old religion that Christianity was (eventually) able to subdue, absorb, and eliminate as competition.

According to Roman historian Plutarch (c. A.D.46-120), Mithraism began to be absorbed by the Romans during Pompey’s military campaign against Cilician pirates around 70 B.C. The religion eventually migrated from Asia Minor with the soldiers, many of whom had been citizens of the region, into Rome and on to far reaches of the Empire. Syrian merchants brought Mithraism to major cities Alexandria, Rome and Carthage, while captives carried it to the countryside. By the third century A.D. Mithraism and its tarot mysteries had permeated the Roman Empire, and extended from India to Scotland.

Abundant monuments litter military routes in numerous (European and Mediterranean) countries, with over 420 Mithraic sites so far uncovered.

Anahita was also a goddess of magic, served by the Magi, priest-magicians whose name gives the root for both magic and magus. These ancient heirophants would meet at her shrine, to read their sacred texts among assemblies of worshippers and offer ‘holy spells’ to Anahita, on the tenth day of the New Moon or during the eighth month—Roman Oct-ober—which were her sacred times.


OURANOS, NEPTUNE and SATURN Cycles Assist in Human Affairs

And God created Adam—Michelangelo’s Creation on Sistine Chapel ceiling has inspired mortals for 500 years

Neptune is currently in a position to deliver some water to help extinguish disastrous widespread California fires in Santa Rosa, according to Sidereal astrologer EmmaNation. From its position in air sign Aquarius the Waterbearer, it stands at 17º degrees sextile to both Pallas Athene at 16º Aries and Kaali at 16º Sagittarius. Kaali is Hindu goddess Kali, ‘she who is dark’, spirit of death. In Vedic belief, she is hard to appease.

Neptune, ruler of the watery depths and mysterious beyond measure, can be appealed to, if you feel you have a psychic connection via your ancestors, or if you have strong ocean energy in your own life. Anahita—or Aphrodite—hear our prayer.

Uranus, on the other hand, may hold the key. With his 84-year orbit around the sun, he has just returned to fiery Aries. Greek ‘Father Sky’—Οὐρανός—was both son and husband to Mother Earth. Killed by his own son Kronos/Saturn, he turned in revenge on the puny human race. The last time Uranus stood in this position in the zodiac was eighty-four years ago, when Adolf Hitler came to power as Kanzler-Chancellor of Nazi Germany.

Ending and Beginning on a Positive Note

IWSGers & NaNoWriMo

As humans, we are progressing from a Saturn-cycle life expectancy—approx. 30 years—to a Uranus-cycle life expectancy of 84 years.

Saturn is in power now, along with his sidekick frozen-ocean moon Enceladus, sidebar below right. Gliding into Sagittarius during the Hallowe’en/All Saints Samhainn season, he is Kronos, Lord of Time. Despite media focus on ghoul star Algol passing through the Veil, our appealing to Saturn renews our past, envisions our future in a changing world.

This Celtic New Year—Samhainn—we IWSGers are asked if we have tackled/completed a NaNo in the past. I can admit to two completions, see sidebar right. And while not competing this year, for family reasons, I shall return!

I hope this helps fellow insecure scribes to make a go of it this November.

Bonne chance, as Gaulish legions would say.
Or, in Roman idiom: Benediximus.
©2017 Marian Youngblood

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November 1, 2017 Posted by | art, astrology, authors, blogging, culture, festivals, fiction, history, Muse, novel, numerology, ocean, pre-Christian, sacred geometry, sacred sites, seasonal, sun, traditions, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bloghopping and Plot Bunnies

MONTHLY IWSG
Plot Bunnies

ABNA ...like nursing your Plot Bunnies and then putting them out for Adoption...

I’ve spent the last ten days in the hutch with my favourite bunnies: the ones that usually come out when my mind is in full right-brain (Muse-driven) fantasy, mid-novel-draft, to help me plot. At those times the Muse seems sensitive to a modicum of left-brain tweaking by these slightly-controlling little guys. Contrarily, these latest fellas came and crawled all over my keyboard and tried to get me to change things in the novel* I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November: that’s the novel even NaNoWriMo veterans suggest is worth submitting only two months down the road to its first literary contest.

We’ve all heard the sound advice: to let a newly-completed novel rest for at least a month before tackling the arduous (less-writerly, more-editorial, left-brain) process of tidying it up.

Plot Bunnies to the Rescue
I had kept nose to grindstone all November — assisted mightly by the little guys, above and below — released my little fantasy baby* into the Word-Cosmos on November 30th (50k in 30 days), and wiped my brow. I hadn’t looked at the MS once over Christmas.

ABNA pops up its timely head at the end of January. I succumbed to its persuasive positive hype last year. I thought maybe I should try a second time. So, throwing caution aside, I went for it again this year.

Thing is, I should never have ventured near the bunny hutch, because what I was supposed to be doing in the last two weeks of January was ‘polishing’ my novel for submission — edit/re-write, i.e. left-brain mode. I had no idea they could switch sides so easily!

Right-brained Plot Bunnies can sometimes appear suddenly during the editing process


But, seriously, nursing one’s progeny (literally your 30-day Wonderbaby) thru NaNo and getting your beloved WIP ready (edits, rewrites, reading by a friend) for submission and then being brave enough to release it into ABNA’s clutches, is emotionally equivalent to raising all your bunnies in one basket and then putting them up for adoption. I kid you not. I am sure they sensed that their babies (the ones I’d allowed them to help nurture all through November) were suddenly being thrown to the lions. That’s why they popped up last week.

Nevertheless, brushing them off lightly with a ‘you’ll get your chance for another WIP again soon’, I succeeded in submitting within the (still open) window and want to share a few thoughts today, on Alex’s bloghop. Somehow, the little guys made me say that. All because I’m submitting to ABNA.

ABNA is not for the faint-hearted. It stretches the writer’s creative schedule to the limits while also tempting her/him with long-term incentive. Amazon must know the vulnerability of the writer –always to have a dream ahead in order to reach her/his goal– how else do we survive the rebuffs of the query circuit? And the prizes are indeed one-of-a-kind.

Small print below: thanks to my intrepid friend and ABNA cohort (she’s done so much better than me in past ABNAs), Hart Johnson.

She says –and she knows– “If you’ve written a sure best seller, don’t enter. i.e. James Patterson should not apply.** The contest would tie up your work for six months, during which time you can’t apply to other publishers.”

Her other caveat:

One-trick ponies with intentions to sell this and only this work NOW. The contest puts you on hold with this work.

“If this is your ONLY work and you want to market it to publishers, you will not be able to do that for six months. That seems a very long time if you only have one book. You can, during this time, seek an agent. You can also write other books, shop other books, polish other books– you can polish THIS book– the only time that isn’t helpful is if they loved the earlier version so much they won’t take your changes.”
Hart Johnson

During the period your work is active in the contest, you give up:

The right to negotiate IF YOU WIN. The contract is the contract is the contract. (Hart already HAS a Penguin contract, and she doesn’t believe they gain anything by not giving a FAIR contract to a winner).

Also, if you win, you take that with you through your whole career.

What sponsors Amazon and Penguin and PublishersWeekly are on the lookout for are new writers. If that’s you, and if you are still in two minds about submitting your latest novel — 50,000 words minimum — I would encourage you to give it a try. What do you have to lose?

The contest started January 23rd, 2012, with a submitting ‘window’ open until February 5th; or until 5,000 entries have been received.

Briefly, the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest timeline is:

From now till Friday midnight, February 5th
open for entry and submissions
February 5th – 23rd
qualifying period in which Amazon editors evaluate the submission Pitch,
February 24th – March 20th
Second round- Amazon editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers evaluate Excerpts from the submission,
March 21st – April 24th
Quarter-Final period Excerpts are posted online for public feedback (through ratings and reviews) and PublishersWeekly reviews the full MS,
April 25th – May 22nd
Semi-Final period where Penguin editors review the full Manuscript to select the Finalists, announced May 22nd. There is a (Final) final period when Amazon customers may vote to determine the Winners.

Seems worth a try, doesn’t it? Besides, there are all of Alex’s fearless bloghoppers here to cheer you along.

Once again, I am grateful to Alex for his supportive leadership in perpetuating this First Wednesday IWSG bloghop. Among its network of versatile scribes, we get to pick up and throw in a few pointers along the way. Following Alex’s lead, in this fiercely competitive world called Publishing, (deeply immersed or on the writerly periphery), it is wonderful to feel there is a support network out there to share our joys and sorrows; and to know they are the first ones to give praise, chivy us along, or render a timely piece of advice. I’ve met some new friends in this bloghop.

It’s catching.

'Coco Bay: The Awakening', 2nd in Green Turtle Cay trilogy, deepsea, deepspace, deeptime

Even the naughty bunnies hope they triggered some good.

In BunnySpeak, they want to wish all ABNA entrants, veteran or newbie, the best of luck both with ongoing works (WIPs), and especially if they enter the ABNA enclosure (BunnySpeak). They also offer to dig a BIG HOLE in the compound’s predator-proof fence, if you need to escape at dawn… … oh those bad bunnies.

*Marian’s Bunny-inspired Baby is ‘Coco Bay: The Awakening’, a deep-sea, deep-space deep-time fantasy and the second in her Green Turtle Cay trilogy. It is set in the azure waters off Abaco in the Bahamas, on the southern edge of the Bermuda Triangle.

**Alex J Cavanaugh will also not be entering because, hold your breath, 🙂 his second novel CassaFire is being released by Dancing Lemur Press on February 28th. We wish him great good fortune.

©February 2012 Marian Youngblood
thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh’s Bloghop Wednesday and the
INSECURE WRITERS’ SUPPORT GROUP

February 1, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Genre-Bender or just Plain Naïve?

INSECURE WRITERS CORNER

NaNo keeps one at it, leaving little room for impromptu extras

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you
~ Ray Bradbury

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog — and coincidentally involved with Alex J Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Group — that November is a heads-down month for writers, authors, part-time-bloggers and scribes of every description. This covers those aspiring authors who blog in the bath, motived teenagers desperate to show they can break away from their school curriculum, to seasoned veterans like the icon quoted above (which, after February’s launch of his second book, CassaFire, will include our host, Alex). Hope he doesn’t mind being called a veteran, but I’m sure he won’t mind being thrown in with Ray Bradbury, 90!

This means that I, newbie NaNo-er only three years in, will make this particular blog shorter than my usual efforts — more inkeeping with my prolific (and self-disciplined) blogging buddies who seem capable of blogging day and night seven days a week for 365 days at a stretch. My headscarf is doffed to them, but I am the first to admit I usually only write when the Muse directs and, under normal circumstances — unless I’m NaNo-ing — I tend to wait for her signal.

This is probably naïve of me. But I admit to being naïve. There’s no point in pretending — particularly when it comes to writing and allowing the word to flow through the mind, down the arms, via hands and fingertips on to the blank page.

I am first to admit I still find the process miraculous. Almost like subconsciously intending to bathe, and five minutes later finding oneself soaking deep in the luxurious warm waters, without any recollection of having undressed, lit candles, found towel, shampoo and soap and turned on the taps to fill the bath. But I digress.

The same goes for knowing how to describe what I write. Naïve. On Twitter — which, as you know, requires a brief description in fewer than 140 characters to describe oneself and one’s tweets — I say I write New Age fiction. But, as far as I know, that isn’t a genuine genre. This was brought succinctly home to me when preparing my new profile and studying the genres suggested in this year’s NaNo — which, as you probably know, has put together a whole new user-friendly novel-conducive webpage, just to get us all fired up to CREATE for the next 30 days.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the genres in question — which have to be mentioned in query letters, and are important concerns to agents and publishers, the serious dramatis personae of the Publishing Industry — are not exactly well-defined. You are supposed to know. And sometimes trial and error is not an option open to you. If you have been writing query letters for the last six years and you’ve been describing your work as Sci-Fi and somebody *in the know* says they like your ‘Fantasy’ work, you swallow hard and start all over — with the knowledge that you’ve probably wasted a lot of time that could have been salvaged if you’d done your homework. Problem is, however much homework you do, it is still difficult to know the difference between ‘magical realism’ and ‘paranormal romance’. Well, maybe some of you experienced authors do know the difference. But, as I said at the beginning, I’m naïve. And it takes time — and loads of errors — to get it right.

So what do you think?

The genres which NaNo lists as ‘standard’ in this year’s contest are:

Adventure, Chicklit, Erotic Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror & Supernatural, Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mystery Thriller & Suspense, Religious Spiritual & New Age, Romance, Satire Humor & Parody, Sci-Fi, Young Adult & Youth, and Other.

No Magical Realism, you’ll note.

When I first started out submitting queries, I was paralyzed by my inability to decide which genre my MS fit into. Being a Brit, it was, for me, even more daunting to read young American beginner writers (on Facebook and elsewhere) bandying about their knowledge of genres with fluent ease — as if I ought to KNOW. It has taken me a decade or two to calm down and use a couple of standards when querying.

Mt.Shasta's presence is awesome, even from a distance of 80miles, photo ©2008MCYoungblood

This quandary is purely self-inflicted, because I wrote historical non-fiction for years, before finding my voice in novels. Since the switch I have written not only historical romance, (Phantom’s Child, pictured below right) but also am blessed that my supernatural novella, Cockatrice is to be published early in 2012 by NetBound Publishing; and my New Age tome, SHASTA: Critical Mass, (sidebar-2, right, and pictured above) has been picked up by AllThingsthatMatterPress, also for publication in 2012. Two of my recent NaNo novels in the Green Turtle Cay series fall under the banner of fantasy, although they are borderline Sci-Fi.

So, you can see my dilemma. It might seem I have not yet honed myself — as any sensible person might — to fit one genre. It certainly makes for intrigue and change of pace. And it keeps me on my toes. But the question remains. How does one decide on one label, when so many strands and possibilities exist within a single manuscript which might make it more suitable under another?

In order to maintain my sanity — and because NaNo calls, which means I shall have to wind this up 🙂 — I blame the system that insists on labels. Bureaucracy in the microcosm. I may not like having to live with it, but live with it I must, if I wish to continue to write and be published.

Your opinions and personal experiences in this thorny field, dear Reader, are most welcome because, at this stage, I suspect I am not alone in this duel with the Publishing Powers-that-Be. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Alex, for allowing me another shot at these insecure blues…
©2011 Marian Youngblood

November 2, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Blogs and Novels and Voice

Fishing the Deep: entering the Contest World

Tongue of the Ocean--deepest channel in the Bahamas which lured ships to their death-and into pirate heaven

GREEN TURTLE CAY is my current WIP, a novel of approximately 60,000 words which I was inspired to write during last November’s NaNoWriMo writing marathon.

All writers are, by virtue of choice, reclusive, immersed in their own fantasy world, sometimes difficult to understand (except by other writers), often remote–even monosyllabic, unless drawn into their subject. It is usually the hardest task for a novelist to emerge from her story and write a self-critique. Even worse: to write a pitch, a review, a ‘sales’ angle to her own story (see ABNA below).

Blogging, now. That’s slightly different: blogging is kind of like writing–only you get to show your readers a little at a time. That’s a lot easier than telling an (unknown) potential audience what you thought you were writing about.

So when a fellow blogger offers you a little help up the ladder along the way you jump at the chance. Don’t you? If this sounds like you–read on. Thank you fellow blogger Hart Johnson–aka Watery Tart (Confessions of) for this headsup.

Amazing blogger Brenda Drake is hosting a blog contest this week. ‘Show Me the Voice Blogfest Contest‘ starts on her birthday–day after equinox–March 22, 2011. She has managed to secure another amazing talent–agent Natalie Fischer–to judge the entries. So far she has over 100 soon-to-be published authors/writers/bloggers who have thrown themselves into the deep water. Sorry — my entry is getting my metaphors mixed!

If you fancy competing yourself, go right now to Brenda’s Voice Blog and join in. All the rules and requirements are there. It can do no harm. It might even advance your career.

The lovely Natalie--new to Laura Bradford's Literary Agency

That is one of the reasons I am submitting the current first chapter of my Green Turtle Cay. One of the rules states that your work-in-progress, your WIP, has actually to be complete. That doesn’t mean you aren’t still working on it–WIPing.

But the story must be finished. Just edits and rewrites to go. Brenda allows one more day of edits to make it better–and to pare the entry down to just 250 words–that’s where your ‘Voice’ comes in–your own unique way of hooking your reader, first off. Then it’s all up to the agenting skills of Natalie Fischer–her critiques being first, second and third prizes!

Natalie Fischer is the new agent on the block at the BRADFORD LITERARY AGENCY in San Diego, who specialize in Romance –historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic– urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers, and young adult. Non fiction topics include business, relationships, biography/ memoir, self-help, parenting, narrative humor. They work long and hard with their chosen writers. It is a partnership for life.

Green Turtle Cay: a Fantasy
So: This is Chapter One of my WIP Green Turtle Cay. Stay with me. I have two days until I can submit the pared down version (first 250 words)… but for those interested, (it does hook you after a while–there I go, another fishy analogy), I posted another excerpt of the NaNo version Evangeline and Teach a couple of months back here.

GREEN TURTLE CAY by Marian Youngblood
“Next stop Marsh ‘Arbour, Habaco.” The boat captain’s solid Bahamian voice echoed through the launch. It took Annabelle right back to her teens. Surely they didn’t still drop their aitches and add H to their As. With all the traffic from Miami and the Florida coast, it was a miracle the spelling had not changed to American.

Bimini via Green Turtle Cay
, it said on her ticket. Two more stops and she would be there, she thought happily as the launch headed out from the Abaco capital.

They still spelled Cay with a C. An old Brit legacy she was grateful for. All the Florida Keys were spelled the American way. Even Bimini, the closest to the Florida mainland, was seen by some as American, until you got there. Isolated. Ooo: it was nice to be back. Thirty years on the ‘mainland’ had not dulled her love of the ocean, the sheer blue clarity of it circling the islands. The way it curled around these barren white atolls and made her somehow comfortable in their watery embrace.

And the wildlife was incredible. The Abaco Bank and Bahamian Trench still held one of the earth’s most stable populations of dolphin, barracuda and basking shark. Shark city was where she was headed, if only for one night.

“Wonder if Tom ever takes time off just to enjoy all this.” She studied the shoreline as they approached Green Turtle Cay, knowing Tom planned to bring her back here from Bimini in his own boat. Nice of him. The old guy had asked his niece–his nearest relative–to check out an offer he’d had from a consortium to run a shark center here. Sounded like fun. She knew it would be paradise for him. He was a shark man from way back. Nothing seemed to have changed. Green Turtle looked as placid as ever. Not a sign of this new project he spoke of, but maybe her eyes had grown accustomed to change. Thirty years was a long time for things to stay the same.

In the ’sixties the Out Islands were where you went only if you had your own airplane, your own private yacht or a friend’s to lift you there magically from the communications hub in Nassau. Nowadays major airlines flew into both Nassau and Grand Bahama where Freeport acted like any airport in the world–faceless, impersonal. In its opaque glass air lounges you could be anywhere.

But when she stepped off the plane—when the wall of heat hit her—she was back in familiar territory, could not wait to get out of the airport, down to the docks, catch the ferry and get back out on the water again.

After the launch left New Providence Island behind, when they were out in the open sea flanking the small, 30-mile stretch of beaches and millionaires’ homes they called the Islands’ capital, she began to relax, to breathe in the smell of the ocean, the salty taste on her lips, the scent of a fresh breeze in her hair. She was back in childhood, where life thrived in a primeval state, in fish swarms, sea egg colonies, forests of drifting kelp and live nutrients for one of the earth’s few remaining wild places: the coral reefs off the US Mainland.

Life on the reef: constantly evolving

Funny that. The USA still thought of the coral reefs of the Bahamas as ‘theirs’. Wonder what the dolphins and fish feel: the gray Caribbean reef shark that visits from its habitat farther south, and the cuddly gray nurse shark that always seems to hug the coastline. They fed on crabs, shrimp, lobster, and octopuses, along with fish, but they always seemed so disinterested in humans because they fed at night and humans are mostly diving and swimming during the day. She had a fondness for the gray creature. It had never scared her. Locals called it the sand tiger.

Tom had started his shark colony on Bimini all those years ago when sharks were plentiful and politically ‘expendable’. Now sharks were in decline worldwide, so what made this blue-water archipelago such a sanctuary? why were they so abundant in Bahamian waters? Had to have something to do with warm water from the Gulf of Mexico hitting the Tongue of the Ocean and its deep flow of pure Atlantic currents straight from the Azores.

She remembered researching a feature piece for National Geographic and the literary details stuck. How Ernest Hemingway hid out in the islands in the mid-1930s with his typewriter and rods. He was stirred to write of fish and fly lines and the steady pull of the sail, but he battled the sharks that ravaged his catch. He killed scores of them in reprisal, shooting them and burning their bodies on the beach. He must have had respect for the animal, though. He had made Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, say of a mako shark breaking the surface,

‘Everything about him was beautiful except his jaws… He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite… He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything.’

That was closer to her own view of the predator. Herman Melville called it ‘pale ravener of horrible meat,’ but his generation had been whalers whose lives depended on their catch. She mused how little had changed here.

Green Turtle Cay–most of the archipelago, in fact—over 700 islands and cays scattered for 500 miles southeast of Florida—was still free of industrial development. That in itself was a miracle. Locals still made a living off catching Bahamian lobster, red snapper and delicious conch. Conch salad was her favorite: chunks of flesh from these succulent shellfish toasted or deep fried with a stunning dressing of hot peppers, garlic and limes. She licked her lips unconsciously, remembering the flavors.

Other memories flooded her mind. The way they called sea urchins sea eggs always made sense to her. You didn’t want to stand on one–EVER. The spiney needles hurt too much: dark brown with red liquid pouring out… or maybe that was her own blood they had drawn when they punctured her skin. She remembered as a child thinking of them lying there on the sandy bottom like eggs laid by some giant beast. It had struck her as funny then and she giggled, but she avoided them wherever possible.

Sharks, on the other hand, were mostly her friends.

Tom asserted more than forty species patroled Bahamian waters. Including lemons, great hammerheads, bulls, blacktips, makos, silkies and nurses. Even migrating blues and massive whale sharks passed through. Others lived here year-round, giving birth in the same quiet lagoons where they were born.

As the launch left Green Turtle Cay and headed out for Bimini, she looked over the side into the clearest of clear blue. In her mind she was instantly back in the water.

* * * * * * *

The name Bahamas came from the Spanish, Baja Mar for ‘shallow seas’. The archipelago rests on a pair of limestone platforms, the Great and Little Bahama Banks, but it was divided by channels that plunge as deep as 13,000 feet. As deep as the Altiplano is high. This combination of sheer drops and shallows, of rocky ledges and sandy shores, of coral reefs, grass flats, mangroves and lagoons nurtured life of all sizes. Clean waters blended to create a seafood feast that drew sharks from near and far.

Now, she thought—like thirty years ago—this clean blue place is still their Eden.

She was swimming lazily through mangrove roots that spidered in all directions, crabs skittering before her into hiding in a deep dense green tidal forest. A baby shark grazed her ankle, sending shivers up and down her spine. She broke out of her reverie and strained her eyes towards her destination.

Tom’s shark nursery off Bimini had kept the species alive, against all odds, a birthing and feeding area where young sharks—barely bigger than wine bottles—could eat and grow without being eaten themselves. She wished someone at the time had thought to create a similar nursery somewhere for whales–darlings of the eco-warriors.

Sharks bit fewer people each year than New Yorkers, according to Health department records. Another piece of her trivia journalist research. It was beguiling to know she was more likely to die in the bathtub or be murdered by her lover than to die in the jaws of a shark. The movie ‘Jaws’ had done the animals a disservice. She strained to look through the moving waves to discover if one followed the boat, but there was only clear sandy bottom below the hull.

Though she had not been with her uncle in several years, she was looking forward to being with the old sea-dog again. With his dark eyes shaded from the sun’s glare behind retro sunglasses, a red bandana tied round his head to fend off more rays and the occasional mosquito, he looked more like an outlaw biker than a marine scientist. She remembered Tom’s fondness for Tiger Sharks.

‘Amazing’ he called them. They did indeed eat anything, but had obviously gotten tired of competing with humans, so mostly cleaned up after them. They ate tires, license plates, other sharks, anything floating by that looked interesting. After the Great White, the Tiger was said to be the world’s most dangerous shark, but to Tom it always seemed too lazy to bother with a human meal when there was clearly plenty other fodder in the deep blue depths.

She once herself encountered a big female that swam by so close, out of sheer curiosity, that she allowed Annabelle to see the pores punctuating her snout—shark antennae that help her sense the electromagnetic energy of living flesh. She clearly was not interested in human smell that day. But she had not left either. Annabelle remembered stretching out her hand while the huge silent creature allowed her to run her hand along her gray blotched skin. It felt like fine-grain sandpaper.

Tom once showed her how to stroke a young Tiger, flipped on its back, allowing it to slip into a dreamlike state called tonic immobility–like in a dream world where the lion might lie down with the lamb. It did not flinch when she stroked it. Almost purred like a cat.

She brought herself back to the present as the launch ate up the intervening miles of ocean and Bimini appeared on the horizon. Tom, a biologist working in his natural shark nursery in the crook of the island, was finally having to come to terms with the ‘real world’. His nursery was under threat of development. That was why the Green Turtle offer was so important for them to check out.

In his makeshift HQ Tom Roberts had been studying lemon sharks for thirty-five years, had amassed a detailed database that was the envy of marine researchers worldwide. He was prickly about the threat of an outsize resort elbowing its way into his territory. He made it his business to keep intruders out, sometimes going to extreme lengths. Even been known to wield a harpoon in mock threat to safeguard his mangroves. Condos, a marina and a casino were the last things he –or his sharks– needed.

Torn fishnets festooned the yard. The lab’s donated truck, when it ran, was a health hazard and passengers were usually put off because of the noxious fumes that filled the cab.

Volunteers recruited from mainland universities for much of the summer work lived in a double-wide mobile home painted in loud colors. Bunking arrangements were sparse but friendly. Young twentysomethings looking sleep-deprived and hungry, lined up in droves to do hands-on research in a place where sharks relaxed and swam in their back yard. Nocturnal net-patrol —catching, tagging and releasing young lemon sharks— helped the team build a lemon shark family tree. Lush mangrove forests and isolation from fishing and cruiseboat routes, helped keep generations of lemons close to home.

Bahamian government agencies were aware than the islands needed better faciites for visitors, because of the cash injection it brought to the resident population, both human and piscean. It was a difficult balancing act. Development done right, gentle on the environment and drawing tourists in manageable numbers could help protect sharks and their ecosystem. Tom knew that. But too much development, like they had in the ’eighties at Freeport in Grand Bahama and Paradise Island in Nassau, would destroy them.

It wasn’t like the rest of the world had grown more sentient, more ecologically-friendly to the shark population in the intervening thirty years. The animal population had shrunk in direct contrast to the increasing human proliferation of the planet. But Tom was convinced that the shark in his school were probably the only ones left in the entire seven oceans with such a natural and unspoiled habitat. He intended to keep it that way.

He scratched his grizzly beard and set his bandana back over his warm forehead as he stretched his sun-drenched arm to his brow to scan the horizon. Another boat coming. He would have to be ready for whoever it brought. It didn’t look like it was headed in any other direction.

Pirately ways and pirate culture were still a way of life here in the Islands

As recently as 2002 there had been a government plan to set aside five marine enclaves to protect the ecological lifeblood of the Out Islands. His area had been one of them. But in a change in government the plan had been set aside, in spite of calls of protestation and corrupt dealings — always the Bahamian way. If your society had grown up surrounding pirate culture, they would always accuse you of piracy. And now the government was selling off its real estate cheap, he told one reporter who had come to interview him from the Miami Herald. The Bahamas Tourist Office didn’t exactly deny the claim, either. They said they needed the cash injection from the US, from foreign nationals even more now since their independence from Britain in 1973.

They were learning their own lessons now and it was likely they would make ‘a few mistakes’. Tom thought this mistake was their biggest yet.

Tourism accounted for nearly half the GDP of the Bahamas. Diving was a multi-million-dollar industry here and sharks were an increasing draw. A single live shark in healthy habitat was worth as much as $200,000 in tourism revenue over its lifetime. It was a daunting thought.

As far as he was concerned, a shark’s ecological value was inestimable. Not only did they weed out sick and weak fish, leaving the healthiest to breed but as apex predators they kept other carnivores in check, preventing them from depleting the algae-eating fish that kept the coral reefs healthy.

Caribbean research studies farther south showed that where sharks were key species, their depletion actually toppled ancient foodchain hierarchies and ultimately brought the downfall of the reef itself.

In the Bahamas commercial long-line fishing had been illegal since 1993 and shark parts could no longer be exported from the country–so that took care of the wasteful Oriental sharkfin soup industry, he was pleased to tell people.

Sport fishermen took some sharks, but demand for meat was low. Thank God. This all helped keep the blue waters a sanctuary for the blacktip, reef and nurse sharks that vied for nibbles from nooks in the coral, for the oceanic whitetip on its global wanderings and for the great hammerhead rocking its bizarre snout side to side in search of prey.

He knew that as developers made their way around the islands, shark habitat would continue to be whittled away. These big creatures were magnificent in their own right and vital to the naturally replenishing system that surrounded the coral. If the sharks went, so would the bountiful ecosystem that fed the locals and kept outsiders coming back to the islands to fish, to dive, to write, to dream.

He wiped his brow and reset his red bandana as he headed down to the jetty to check out what surprise awaited him aboard the approaching launch.
©2010-2011 Marian Youngblood

March 20, 2011 Posted by | authors, environment, fiction, history, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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.

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

Evangeline and Teach

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas: one of Blackbeard's hideouts for his slave-ship raids

Inspired by an episode in my former life, this is chapter 15 of my current novel ‘Green Turtle Cay‘ written as part of the annual NaNoWriMo write-a-thon. NaNo suggests participants write every day for the 30 days of November and then stretch back langorously and take a long look at what the Muse has let them produce. That’s the theory, anyway.

In practice, it works out rather differently. Family, friends, eating, drinking, sustenance, nourishment and a few other of life’s ‘essentials’ go by the board. Friends have been known to fall out over NaNo. Families to starve. Or eat out. Only cats and keyboards remain constant companions. Anybody else with any sense has already taken charge of the situation and is ignoring the solitary writer/novelist-to-be.

words in pictures, courtesy of Wordie

Because at the end of 30 days, that’s what has developed. If not a fully-fledged, plot-intensive, character-filled bestseller which will wow the editors, agents and publishers for years to come, at least the bones of something like it.

With five days to go, I should be pulling in the strands which draw my novel to a close, but instead I am procrastinating — because that’s one of the virtues of NanoWriMo. Chris Baty in the San Francisco Office of Letters and Light says it’s all part of the learning curve. So why aren’t you doing it, too?

EVANGELINE AND TEACH
Evangeline was her English Island name.

Back home in French Guinea she had had another name. She was forbidden by her own sacred tradition to speak it in this life, to reveal who she had been in that former time.

Daughter of the tribal chief, she had their trust, she would one day have ruled when Father was too old to lead. And she wondered if that day had come when Father welcomed the strangers to their shore, gave them food and wine, made them honored guests at his table and provided concubines for a night’s rest in their guest villa overlooking the shore.

Out in the Bay, these French mariners described such a ship. A barque made out of full-grown oak trees that they had in their homeland, not like the sappy fig they grew in Guinea. So large they said, one tree could create four walls of the villa alone and leave wood to spare for roofing. And Father was taken in. He saw something out in the Bay — two vessels, she learned later— that were so foreign to his vision, his mind would not allow him to see such alien craft. So he believed totally what the strangers said and believed them when they said they were bedecked with color streamers, paper lanterns. and that they had only come ashore to replenish their provisions of milk and honey and butter and ale. They even said, if the village were willing to trade with them for such a meager request, they would show them international trawling techniques, practise a little fishing in their offshore fishing grounds. Their barrels had run low, they needed to stock up before heading back into the fray. They would be on their way on the morrow, back on the high seas in pursuit of the foreign English who were attacking their borders.

And Father had believed every word. Father had offered them the prize guest seats next to him at the High Table for the feast which all villagers shared to celebrate such an unusual arrival in their rich fishing grounds. Father had given them the sleeping tent reserved only for honored guests, a canvas awning which few others deserved to use. And two concubines each for the foreign sea captain and his officers. The captain said the rest of his men would remain on board. It sounded reasonable. None of the villagers had any reason to suspect. Father usually did the best for the tribe and trade was always beneficial for everyone.

It would be a long night for Father, so Evangeline went to her own quarters earlier than usual, as she saw her presence was not needed, save to be introduced formally to the French captain. He looked and sounded polite. She had no suspicions on that score. Besides, back then, she had no knowledge of what was going on on the high seas except that two European nations were at war and that didn’t usually affect the dominions of the African continent. Their sea traffic came from neighboring tribes. The farthest travelers came was from shores of the southern desert.

So it was from a deep sleep and a vivid dream that she was awakened in the middle of the night — she remembered the moon had just reached its horizon point and was about to set — so a couple of hours before dawn light would flood the land and wake the tribe. In tribal medicine, it was known as an inauspicious time.

Bermuda sloop fitted out as a man-o'-war, 1831

It had been by stealth they came upon her, her family, her brother and of course Father, the Chief. They tied them together with their hands behind their backs and herded them like cattle down to the jetty where their simple outriggers were the only craft to be seen. Then a huge row boat, wider and longer and more massive than any she had ever seen, rounded the end of the pier and nudged in to shore, where the small harbor afforded shelter. Twenty-one of them were poked and pushed and hustled on board, made to sit in groups on heavy trusses that served for seats in the hull as the vessel was rowed silently out of the harbor. None of the tribal elders heard a sound. Her mother, nursing her youngest, only two seasons old, and with her younger sister in the same bed, had not awakened. Had she known she would never see them again, that vision would have given her pain. As it was, much worse had since happened, so remembering her parental home as it was before the disruption sometimes gave her a moment of joy in her grief.

They were taken as slaves. The European gentlemen with their northern manners and their white faces and blond beards and fancy uniforms were nothing more than thieves. She was rowed out into the bay with twenty other young people and Father. None of them knew why. Then, as they neared the enormous vessel, Father stood up to look.

Then and there they slit his throat and threw him to the waves. At the moment he stood up to look into the decks of a ship he had never seen in his entire existence before, not in reality and not in picture books left by other traders — as he rose to help his people out of the low craft and into this mystery ship — they took his life.

He’d been tethered like the rest, but their purpose was finally revealed. He had merely been taken from the village to ensure silence and cooperation. Out here in the bay, as they saw the vessel prepare for a long voyage into equatorial winds and currents, he was an old man, a nuisance, a hindrance.

Her mind reran the event a thousand times. She watched him rise from an unaccustomed positon in the bottom of the boat and stand proud as they neared the tall galleon. His chiefly stance was brave. He still believed he could rescue the situation. That’s what she meant about Father having outlived his time. His belief in the good of Man had been betrayed. It was perhaps the Great Spirit’s way of showing him his time on earth was over. Without a word, without salutation, greeting, or any show of respect, one of the crew stepped forward from his position at the oars. He had a cutlass in his hand. He didn’t even pretend to hide it. Even before he reached Father, Evangeline knew what was going to happen.

Guineaman, a frigate man-of-war capable of supporting 120 guns

She called out ‘Father’, but her voice was unheard. He still believed he was about to be raised with ceremony into this magnificent ship with rigging above reaching to the night skies, and ropes thrown below to raise them up. He believed he was going on board. That’s how he was deceived. The crewman took him from behind, held his chained arm in his left hand and slit his throat with the cutlass in his right. There was no sound. Father collapsed in the bow of the boat and the other young occupants knew there was now no hope for them.

They were taken then, one by one, shuffling past the silent body of the man who had been their Chief, up a shaking gangway over the side and on to the main deck of the Guineaman. Evangeline had a momentary impression of the French ship’s enormous size — it rose even more powerfully up towards the prow where wheelhouse, rigging and full sail added to its grandeur. This was indeed a trader for a long voyage. The rumors had truth. There were far off lands where young people and children were spirited away never to return to their homes or their culture or their families. Always fated to watch the sun rise on another continent, over a different sea or, for some, never to see the sea ever again.

Now, years later she knew this to be a familiar story. She’d heard of others taken like her friends, her cousins and brother from the sea, overland to foreign places where the earth was dry and crops starved from lack of water. They were made to work, to harvest food not for themselves, but for another man. The man who controlled them operated what was called a plantation, where many had been taken to live in vile quarters with none of the gentle trappings of noble life in a village a million miles away on the other side of the world.

Another life, another time, another earth, another past. A dream ago — when she was young.

Years on, in another future, Evangeline learned that her fate had been blessed compared with the stories she heard of those slaves who were sold to plantation owners in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

The brigantine advanced on the French Guineaman with piracy in mind

Back then, twelve days out, twenty miles off the South Carolina coast, Evangeline’s ropes were untied. Captain’s orders. They were to come forward from where she and four friends were held in the mate’s cabin up to the foredeck where Cap’n stood at the prow: to negotiate, he said.

The hand that untied them and pushed them gently up the companionway to where the Captain stood under the forward mainsail, was the same young hand who had stolen meat to feed her when rations ran out after their first week aboard. They were made to stand beside the ship’s bell: La Concorde, she read on its heavy bronze lip. He whispered as he pointed to where the captain and navigator scanned the horizon with a hand telescope.

‘There is another ship. The captain thinks they mean to board us. You will have to stand forward on display, in case they mean us harm.’

‘What d’you mean?’ Evangeline would remember his answer to her dying day.

‘Captain says it is Teach. The pirate. You will be taken prisoner and we shall go free.‘

Of course the hand had not been correct. There was something about La Concorde that pleased Edward Teach. He needed a new flagship, or he was tired of his old brigantine. Or he had a new girlfriend who wanted a ship. It could have been any one of those reasons. Teach was indeed a brigand and a thief, plundered the rich to feather his own operation. But in the Islands he was known for picking on slave ships because in releasing them, in some way he felt he paid his debt to society for robbing those powerful Europeans who’d banished him from serving as a genuine officer in the British Navy. Queen Anne would suffer for ignoring him. He had become a presence to be reckoned with. He would soon have a fleet of ships which would rule the seas between Bermuda, the Bahamas and the South Carolina coast.

Evangeline stood tall. She felt no fear. She’d heard of the pirate and thought life as a free woman in the islands might not be as wonderful as life had been back home — long ago when Father was alive — but preferable to that working long hours in the dust for an alien white lord. At least they said in the Islands you could work your own property, find a new love, build a new life in a wooden shack and, if the fates favored her, she might even meet the great man Teach himself.

'Blackbeard', Captain Edward Teach of pirate fame

She too had heard the rumors. How he burned firecrackers in his beard and hair to terrorize the crews of the ships he boarded and plundered. But those were merchant ships, carrying gold and jewels and with possessions in the hold belonging to the rich, bound for a new life in Carolina, Virginia and even farther north on that great continent. That’s where the British were fighting for their colonies in America. It was a land for the white man. The black man must find his own future elsewhere. Some day they, too, would have their own empire and way of life — remember the beauty of the old country, the old life and old traditions.

For now she would remain calm. She would allow her fate to unfold before her. If this was indeed Blackbeard’s ship, she would go along with her fate and ask him for mercy.

Looking back on that night in the balmy waters off the Carolina shore, she had no way of knowing how her life would end up in the Bahama Islands, how gentle would be her fate. How kind would be the pirate captain, and how fortunate her life was to turn out.

Evangeline sighed and added another row of stitching to her sampler. She raised a glass of pomegranate juice and stretched her eyes to the horizon. Even Blackbeard was gone now. But those had been the days. She smiled, picked up her fan and cooled her aging brow.
©2010 Marian Youngblood

November 25, 2010 Posted by | authors, fiction, history, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Displacement Activity during NaNo month

FEATURED WRITERS CORNER

November is NaNo writing month

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by
– Douglas Adams

My last two blogs have featured talented — and busy — authors: the GuestBlog is such a boon when you’re feeling not quite writerly yourself.

Er, well, it’s not that I haven’t been writerly, I have. Just otherwise focused.

NaNo started on November 1st and won’t stop until November 30th and we’re not quite half way through the introductions yet. NaNo is when you abandon all hope of having a life, get up each day knowing you have an obligation to fulfill, fall into bed far too late into the wee hours because you know you won’t get a good night’s sleep otherwise, and generally find it difficult to communicate with your family — unless they’re on Facebook for a couple of minutes. Did I say eat? Whatever’s within reach. So long as it’s quick.

By now all leaf color is a leaf carpet

But November is also the month of Scorpio. That black and white personality, do or die, and if you die, don’t expect anyone to come and pick up the pieces — kind of month. Winter approaches. You can feel it in every breath. Watery autumnal sunlight, and where I live up here on the 57th parallel (cf Juneau, AK), light is gone from the day by 4p.m. Leaves are no longer pretending to cling to tree branches because most of the colorful ones are now carpeting the driveway. That kind of month. A time when one should be out there making the nest ready for hibernation through the next three months of dire weather and even direr temperatures.

And yet that’s the month a small group of writer-stroke-genius displacement activists chose to nurture the NaNo Bug.

Those of our critics who aren’t writers themselves say writing is ‘displacement activity’ from Life with a capital L. As a child, were we encouraged to write or were we encouraged to get an education which would slot us into a ‘good job’?

No displacement activity

Nevertheless I am writing. It’s what a writer is supposed to do.

NaNo was founded in 1999 by a looseknit group (I like the picture that conjures up, kind of like a quilting bee) of writerly types in San Francisco, CA. They chose to set aside the month of November — all 30 days of it — to create the bones of a novel. The ‘bones’ amounts to 50,000 words. Or writing a minimum of 1667 words every day. In order to nourish, challenge and encourage each other, certain perks, ‘gifts’, achievement stickers and carrots are used.

While the pain and self-immolation this exercise invokes might seem to be some people’s idea of lunacy, the Nano idea grew.

Gradually a body of supporters, themselves plunging into writerly waters for the marathon type-in, brought Nano fame. And purpose to November for writers. The month made the real world go away. Instead of the world of lethal freeze outside, your world turns inwards, into the novel or what the novel will become. You hand yourself over to an overlighting presence. You become just the fingers on the keyboard. The body on the bed.

NaNo’s acronym grew from the idea that November is now National Novel Writing Month and a website encourages the cotidien and foolhardy habit, suggesting you upload* a daily wordcount, so as to see your own (growing) stats and feel you are accomplishing something. There are free stickers and website widgets to egg you on, should you feel in need of a boost. And at the end of it, when you’ve passed the 50,000 word mark (some achieve 70,000-100,000. Hey, let’s not knock it), they proclaim you a Winner and you get a purple ‘winner’s’ accolade; plus the offer of a proof hardcopy of your book in print from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

But what happens to this human being who has committed her/himself to such a daily chore (sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a chore)? Does the Muse** visit every day and hold her/his hand through the ordeal?

Even if you don’t feel the Muse holding your hand every day, there are a couple of NaNo folks who do. They’ve taken on the volunteer job of keeping you at it. Been there, done that. They too, most of them, are sitting at their laptops in Peoria Illinois and Ashland Oregon and Walnut Creek California and (Rome, Madrid, London and Skye) pitching in again this November to finish writing their very own ‘new’ idea, plot, adventure, MS, WIP, exercise in writer’s-block-removal.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him
– Ray Bradbury

At the end of the 30 days, if you drag yourself kicking and screaming to the keyboard every day, and create a piece of work, long or short — ignoring edits, spelling errors, lack of thought-flow; just get it out there — there’s one thing you’ll have achieved. A 50,000-word story. It may feel awful, scratchy, patchy, unformed or uninformed, and half the characters may have glaring holes in their back-stories, but it’s the bones of your next novel, your very own WIP — the Work in Progress that will make you feel a teensy bit achieving.

It may take another year before it becomes fit to print, but that’s not the point. During the process, and especially in the middle doldrums — Week Two Blues — it’s the vision of a completed task that draws you on when you tell yourself the last thing you want to do today is sit down and write a chapter about some silly characters that won’t talk to each other.

That’s part of the clever NaNo trick. They must have learned it from Jack Kerouac. He pasted sheets of copier paper top-and-tail together and fed the roll into a typewriter carriage, stocked up with coffee and ‘uppers’ and wrote ‘On the Road‘ in three weeks.

I’m not suggesting the ‘uppers’. Besides, NaNo ‘writing buddies’ are quite good at keeping you going if you flag. Or Facebook. Remember what they say: if your Subconscious has been alerted and informed by your Will that it has to regurgitate something every day in November, believe me, the Subconscious does.

And it sends in the Muse.

You may not like Her. You may not even be able to identify with Her, but at the end of 30 days, you will have Her staring you in the face, handing you a story. And when you really have something finished — I didn’t say polished: that comes after — you really feel you have to do something with it! Because it’s your WIP and it’s all yours.

They say writers are the least likely people to market their own wares. Isaac Asimov said:

Rejection slips, query and form letters, and synopses, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil, but there is no way around them.

2010 NaNo in progress

Which brings me back to Displacement Activity. What NaNo does for writers is just such a way around the roadblock that Asimov thought inevitable. It physically takes over space and time and allows the writerly urge to come through. Displacement activity is put aside to make way for words. That means life functions, regardless/oblivious of eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, shopping, paying bills or stoking fires — or any other life chore, for that matter — take a back seat, offering space for the writer and Muse to get to know one another all over again. And ideally during the process, all distractions, such as rejection slips, plotlines, query letter seminars, agent/ editor suggestions or even how the story’s going to end (along with cell phones) fall into the file drawer below the supply of tea/coffee, twinkies/cookies, cheese bits, and granola.

The rest of the world can criticize you for making writing your Displacement Activity from Life. But by the time you’re past Week Two, the halfway hurdle, and you find you’ve got a story going, your characters are coming alive, even if you’re not quite on the home stretch, you (hopefully) don’t believe your activity is displacement at all. You’ve found a new friend.

So why am I here writing this blog? Must be Nano Displacement Activity. Sorry, dear readers and fellow writers, I got to get back. My NaNo Muse is calling.

* An exciting widget until year 2010 was the wordcount widget. You copy & paste your daily output as input to the NaNo page and it counted the result for you and pasted the glorious total as part of your personal and site-wide stats. In 2010 this feature will only become available to site visitors after November 25th when the widget will be available to participants to ‘verify’ their (completed) output/MS/novel.
**Some days She does; some days She doesn’t.

Ed. As evidence of Marian’s supreme NaNo Displacement Activity, she wrote the following little Drabble for entry in the December Drabble contest over at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard – her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Mark ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
A Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less.
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

November 13, 2010 Posted by | astrology, authors, culture, novel, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Writing’s the one thing I can call my own’

Featured Writers Corner

Oftentimes we have no choice: the keyboard calls

Margaret Atwood once said:

“Writing is not a job description. A great deal of it is luck. Don’t do it if you are not a gambler because a lot of people devote many years of their lives to it (for little reward). I think people become writers because they are compulsive wordsmiths”

I think I would put it even stronger: we are compulsive wordsmiths, yes, but sometimes we are actually unable to put the pen down or — in this case in the 21st century — abandon the computer keyboard. We may, like my adorable blogging compatriot, Tara Smith, be compulsive people-watchers and take notes or store the info in our heads until we get a moment to write it down; or we may just be of the temperament that it takes us over, we have no recourse but to let it and we set aside somewhere, some time apart from our Other Life in order to do it. It drives us. It controls us. I am no longer fooled into thinking I have a choice in the matter.

Virginia Woolf said: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ That was an early 20th century view. Nowadays, all we ask is a tiny corner in the middle of the madness, so we and our Muse can be together for a brief (illicit) rendezvous.

As you probably read in my blog on John LeCarré, this little corner is my attempt to feature my favorite real-life struggling authors. By that I mean those of us who are continually pitting our wits against the ever-growing behemoth of the Publishing World: the world we writers are so NOT equipped to tackle and yet, as agents keep on telling us: we don’t get there unless we try. So in addition to being tied down with imaginary ropes and shackles by our Muse, our flow is constricted by being constantly reminded that to publish we must become marketers.

To refute this assumption, Barbara Kingsolver says:
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

I present you with persistent blogger, Princess of Procrastination, ChickLit author of Cardiffella and my Welsh Sista, Tara Smith.

Featured Writer: TARA SMITH

When Marian asked me to guest on her blog, I immediately decided to do it without thinking about it at all. For those of you that don’t know me (which I’m guessing will be the majority of you), that’s very typical of me. I’ll agree to almost anything and I never think about the consequences. I over-commit myself, I allow myself to be persuaded into projects, and I tell myself that it would be rude to say ‘no’ (well, it would be rude to say ‘no’, especially when people specifically think of me to help them with something And I really don’t like to be rude).

Cambrian Princess, Tara Smith

Anyway, along with my Can’t Say No Attitude, I’m also a Procrastinator of the Highest Order. You would think that the two wouldn’t go hand in hand – indeed, they shouldn’t go hand in hand – but unfortunately they seem to be Partners in Crime.

So here I am, at the eleventh hour (24 hours before Marian’s deadline to be exact, and when you consider that I was asked to do this weeks ago, you can probably see how much of a procrastinator I really am) typing up this blog post.

Those of you familiar with Marian’s blog will have come to expect detailed, well thought-out posts which show care and loving attention to every sentence, so I should probably apologise because my efforts are definitely not of the same level at all. As with all writing, I’m a Fly By The Seat Of My Pants kind of girl, which means I rarely research and just dive right in, hoping against hope that I will have produced something legible at the end. I really shouldn’t call myself a writer at all, I’m far too haphazard in my approach to it.

But the thing is, I enjoy writing. No. Scrap that. I love writing.

It doesn’t matter if I am writing for my own blog, for other blogs, for my fan fiction stories, or for my original stories, I just love to write. Sure, I get frustrated more often than not when my Writing Mojo doesn’t do his job properly (my current Writing Mojo looks suspiciously like Jensen Ackles, by the way, and as he’s been so naughty lately I may have to punish him accordingly), but when I get into the flow of it, writing makes me about as happy as it is possible to be.

Writing, for me, is escapism from the busy life of a working mother. I only work part time, but add the 16 hours of my earning job to the endless hours of my ‘mother’ job, and there really aren’t enough hours to go around. Sometimes I think that if I paused for a moment, everything would come crashing down upon me, such is the balancing act that is my daily life. I don’t really have any hobbies (aside from an addiction to reading [and procrastinating] ), so writing is the only thing that I can do that is especially for me. My kids can’t get involved in it, my husband can’t get involved in it, and my cats can’t pester me about it either. A working mother (or any mother, for that matter) is spread so thin that sometimes she can forget all about herself, so for me writing is the one thing that I can call my own that is not accountable to anyone else.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t write for a while, it doesn’t matter if when I do write it is nothing more than the mad mutterings of a crazy person, the writing comes from me and me I don’t really have a current project as such, more a pile of unfinished projects that could probably do with a good dusting off (part of the problem of being a procrastinator is that you tend to be a starter and not a finisher, if you know what I mean). I’d like to say that I have written a novel. Well, actually I have written a novel, it’s just it’s nowhere near ready for publishing yet, so it’s technically a draft.

Soon to hit the bookshelves -- if the Muse is willing -- Cardiffella by Tara Smith

This draft was the finished product of last year’s NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month), and it was the first time I had ever written something so long in such a short space of time. You would think that after achieving 50,000 words in a month I would be able to go back and add another 10k and tidy it up a bit with no problem at all.

Alas, the bane of procrastination!

Still, with another WriMo coming up I am hoping that another month of sleep-deprived crazy writing will give me the kick up the butt that I need. Last year I wrote a Chick Lit comedy – which, let me tell you, was a complete surprise to me, as I had been sporadically working on a fantasy-based novel for a good number of years (yes, years: it’s not a typo. I’m not the most prolific of writers to be sure). This time around I’m thinking of taking another genre path and going for contemporary drama instead. I’ve been known –- despite my reputation for being slightly loopy -– to write good, solid drama over the years, and I’m thinking that’s what I should maybe do. If I do it, that is. Yeah, we’re a dithering bunch, we procrastinators, and can never decide what we are going to do until the last minute (hence this eleventh hour ramble blog post).

That’s the beauty of being a writer though, there aren’t any boundaries. Most jobs in the real world have a routine to them that borders on mind-numbing. Unless you are extremely lucky and have a job that you love, or you work in some sort of challenging academic field, your place of work pretty much fences you in and you have to deal with the same stuff day in, day out. I work in a newsagents three days a week, and although the tasks vary a little for the different days, it’s still the same things that I have to do one week after another. The only upside (or downside, depending which way you look at it) is that along with the regular customers that frequent the shop, you are almost always guaranteed to get a few new people every day. And for a writer, that is good news.

People-watching (or nosing at strangers; you decide) can be a fountain of inspiration if you do it properly. On the few occasions when I am not running around like a headless chicken with newspapers flying out of my hands, I’ll stop for a moment and observe a customer. It may only be for a few seconds, but in that short space of time I’ll have given them a name, an occupation, a relationship status, and a little back story.

Not that I’m a stalker or anything, you understand, I’m just a curious person (as in curious about other people, not curious myself. Then again, I suppose you could call me odd if you wanted to).

NaNoWriMo: writing every day in November

Anyway, that’s what I do in between counting the magazines and putting stock on to the shelves. You see, even when I’m supposed to be working, my brain is still in writer mode. Which is why I call myself a writer. It’s not something that you can make yourself do, you either are or you aren’t.

I’ve had people say to me over the years that they can’t understand how I can write stories from thin air, as they wouldn’t know where to begin. Others have commented on how I can fill blog posts with (mostly) legible words on a daily basis (though, to be fair, that was only during last October and November, which were the only two months that I managed to blog every day. . . *shifty*). But to me it would be inconceivable if I couldn’t write a few paragraphs about any subject in the world. I can’t understand what is so difficult to understand, if truth be told.

Writing, for me, isn’t a job. It’s isn’t a hobby either. It’s just a part of me, like my arms or my legs. I can go months without physically writing anything, but the storytelling instinct lurking inside me is never far from the surface. I could no more stop writing than I could stop eating (and I do love to eat, it has to be said). And let’s not forget that I’m just an ordinary thirty-something woman. I have a crappy job, two kids, a mortgage, and bills to pay (or not to pay some months, let’s be honest). I’m no J.K.Rowling or Dan Brown, I’m just me, Tara Smith, living my ordinary life for the time being while I sit on the pipe dream of becoming a published author.

Everyone needs something to hope for and to aspire to, or life would become stagnant. My writing dream may only ever be a dream, but it’s a darn good one that I’ll keep having until I stop breathing. I love to write. That’s it, that’s me. It’s what keeps me sane in my insane life, and it’s something that I’ll always do, no matter what.

And no-one can take it away from me, because it’s mine.
©2010 Tara Smith

That, folks, was TARA SMITH. Isn’t she fabulous?
OTHER featured writers soon to appear (or appear again) are:

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)
Jim Vires (October 2010)

ED: Tara Smith is author of hilariously funny Cardiffella, a dedicated NaNoWriMo participant, working wife and mother and Blogspot blogger Princess of Procrastination. Enjoy.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

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