Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

The Journey Out and In

Monthly IWSG Corner

SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, soon to be released through All Things That Matter Press, a Maine publisher

I’ve always been one to push it: the over-achiever in me likes to be in control. But sometimes it just doesn’t work.

We all know when the Muse is directing operations, it’s better if we just go along with her, with the tide, and allow her full rein. It’s important to give her loads of room to stir up the subconscious, and then wait and see what little miracles she has planned for us.

At other times, when the outer world directs—like editors, publishers, book-signings; that whole exciting round of putting oneself out there—it sometimes takes us by storm and we need to follow that flow, too.

But our Muse doesn’t like it; does she? Even when we tell her she needs to rest occasionally. Like her human charges, all work and no play… you know.

I wish it were as easy as it sounds: deciding when to write, and when not to. But, especially in the writing-publishing world, it’s never that simple. We writers aren’t totally in charge.

To be honest, we probably never were. We may think—especially during edit-mania—that the left hemisphere of our brain is running the show. But, even then, the direction is more likely to be coming from the reading public, what our publisher expects, what the market wants; what subjects are current darlings of the book-club circuit.

So, because I have been working flat-out—over the last month, at least—to try to get through final edits on my apocalyptic/end-times New Age novel, SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, forthcoming from lovely Maine publisher, All Things That Matter Press, I have to say upfront I have probably let down my blogging/authorly friends in Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group. I know how good it feels to hear a word of encouragement from others in the same position—writers and bloggers and authors beginning to make a name for themselves out there—so I apologize if I haven’t had a chance to make the usual rounds of IWSG authors’ pages in the last few weeks. I promise I’ll try to make up for it, when the current push subsides.

Maine publisher of spiritual, self-help, authorly fiction and non-fiction for new ‘voices’

On the other hand, there may be quite a few IWSG-ers whose work is ideally suited to the ATTM ethos, so I’ll explain. They are a small press who like to introduce to the world of readers those authors who have a message—predominantly spiritual—to relay, a distinctive “self”, which they’d like to share. In these times where the ‘Big Five’ often have little patience with first-time authors or new discoveries, their approach is refreshing. Run by husband-and-wife team, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Phil and Deb Harris, the system operates smoothly, and the cogs are well-oiled and kept rolling by a team of editors, including the superb Marvin Wilson, himself a blogger and author of several books, including the Avatar-Award-winning novel, Owen Fiddler (2009). I couldn’t be in better hands.

For IWSG-ers, it may be of interest to point out that Marvin is also a mentor who delights in assisting writers, bloggers, other authors in the art of good writing.

That said, my Muse is feeling a little restless. She doesn’t like taking a back seat. Edits and reworked points-of-view (POV) are not what she thrives on. But I have told her that she, like me, should take a break from time to time. We all need to make the Journey Out and In. Besides, I’ve had a couple of chapter rewrites where she seemed delighted to pitch in again and throw her weight around!

And, if all goes well, she will be allowed to stretch her wings fully once more next month, when the annual NaNoWriMo marathon starts up again for all of us fledgelings to soar, unencumbered, to dizzy heights.

Until then, I hope she will a-Muse herself—sorry :(—and I have reminded her that we have even greater (Muse-ical) avatars who paced this path before us:

Gazing past the Planets
Looking for total view
I’ve been lying here for hours
Got to make the Journey Out and In

Thank you ©Moody Blues.
And thank you, Alex.
©2012 Marian Youngblood

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October 3, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, fiction, Muse, novel, publishing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Deadline versus the Muse

A-musing, but not funny...

When my Muse is on vacation, any convenient distraction will do. But, as an ex-journalist, I find that doesn’t make filing by the deadline any easier, especially when one has committed to joining an inspiring writer and author like Alex J Cavanaugh and his ‘bloghop’ team of dedicated bloggers/authors/workaholics to write a monthly contribution.

To remind the aspiring writer who may be reading this and who might contemplate joining his awesome throng, Alex suggests we (*bloggers, or *authors-in-waiting) jot down a few thoughts every first Wednesday of the month and share our experiences, worries, troubles, elations and errors in the publishing world with upwards of 170 other bloggers/authors subscribed to his Insecure Writers Support Group [IWSG]. That isn’t counting the thousands of other bloghopper readers, not encumbered by a deadline, as well as possible wannabees who are casing the joint before making a commitment to join in themselves.

Alex suggests that on the first Wednesday of the month we can let our hair down and spill.

This is okay because all the other hoppers out there have had similar experiences. We are among friends. It is all right to express our innermost fears, our weirdest conflict, our secretest doubt, our silliest blunder. Because he is right out front there expressing these things too. If you aren’t totally comfortable with verbalizing the negative (like stage superstition covered by the ‘break-a-leg’ greeting, i.e. don’t tempt fate), you may cheerfully add your good news, your recent success, your final breakthrough into authordom…

What is clever about the support provided by his hopping bloggers is that, not only do we get to share something we may never have admitted to ourselves before, but we suddenly have a built-in audience.

Many of us took on the blogosphere with trepidation a couple of years back, plunged in naïvely, hoping against hope that we were going about things the right way, blind leading the blind, ‘building our platform’, braving the unknown waters of HTML. We scanned site stats on a daily basis, counting our hits… grateful for traffic and every new comment.

The IWSG sorts all that out with one blow: built-in support group, others’ sharing what we had not dared say out loud, and the miraculous sudden ‘following’ of a dozen comments in the feedback section we never expected in our wildest dreams. Who can resist?

...nice to have one's ego stroked occasionally...

It’s a very nice means of having one’s ego stroked. But it’s way helpful, too.

Some of us secretly longed to become recognized in our lifetime for our — Muse-directed — passion: that we have a Voice that sounds like no other; that the novel we wrote on an Olivetti portable before you had to keep changing the ribbons might finally be unearthed and shared with millions. Others see rôle models in e-book epiphanous Amanda (Hocking) or OBE-Jo, (Rowling): imagining ourselves next to hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Still others find solace simply in reading, creating and looking fondly at the written word every day in life.

I am one of the latter. I have no option. I have always written. I doubt if I shall stop now.

This only partially explains why I write New Age fantasy and historical fiction, laced with a little Sci-Fi, for mainstream publication [i.e. hard copy]; while my blogs are hardcore non-fiction, laced with an occasional crop circle!

C’est la vie.

Alex writes this month of a guilty feeling he holds next to his heart: that he did not always want to be an author; that he writes as an outlet for his creativity and it morphed into publishing success. He should not feel guilty about this.

New Age guru and Abraham-channel, Esther Hicks, says in order for us to be successful at what we dream, it’s not the long hard struggle that counts, it’s the ability to allow effortless creation to emerge through joy in doing what we do best. It may sound like a tall order. In shorthand, Esther says if we catch the dream, encapsulate the feeling it gives us and follow through with expectation, all things will come; or, more Abraham-like:

“Once you align with your desire, the Energy that creates worlds will flow through you…which means enthusiasm and passion and triumph. That is your destiny.”
Abraham-Hicks

and

“The feeling is the manifestation.” Abraham

Part of the lifelong occupation of a writer is renewing oneself, finding fresh material that inspires, and sometimes doing little exercises in writing differently. After all, if you’ve been hitting the keys for a couple of decades, you worry about getting stale.

And, if your Muse is taking a break, there’s no harm in pounding the keyboard until she gets back.

Recently I have found myself contemplating suitably short sharp bursts of chatter on Twitter, where one may only submit a total of 140 characters or fewer — to fit in the tweet-box. It is certainly an exercise in brevity. It’s also excellent practice in self-editing. There is always the (future vision/) opportunity to tweet the publisher’s link to your book when launch date arrives!

Another technique practised by those of free-associative or poetic bent, is writing to a ‘spark’ word; or making an idea into a poem. There are Flash Fiction addicts — writing a blog or telling a story in no more than one thousand words, including all dialogue, build-up and plot. There is fun in writing a snappy caption for a random pic.

And then there is the Drabble.

Part way between the tweet and the flash, 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. I assure you it is more difficult than it sounds.

I was asked last fall to contribute to a really fun drabble-thon where each person’s 100-word story followed on from the writer before. Its theme was ‘Pay it Forward‘. The result was a flight of fancy into realms of superspace and back that no one could have foreseen. If you would like to read these brave drabblers, check out The Burrow.

I append another little Drabble which I wrote for last year’s December Drabble contest also at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash. This was a sort of picture caption and drabble combined. I am the first to admit drabbling is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot more editing and self-control than your average flash.

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. Marking ’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
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

So, sorry, Alex. I cheated this month. I’m not sharing an inner woe and I’m not admitting to a fear worse than death.

Unless it’s that my Muse has abandoned me forever…

Well, blame it on my Muse. She’s on vacation, and I’m having a hard time remembering when she’s due to get back!
©2011 Marian Youngblood

October 5, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, fiction, Muse, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Future is Crystal –reworking a WIP

Celestial motif at Honey Street, crop circle formation of June 26, 2011, photo Gordon Burns

When the Crop Circle season really gets going, as it did last week in mid-June this year, their mesmerizing patterns seem to reach out and grab hold of human imagination. And, if you’re a croppie they don’t let go until you’re thoroughly immersed in the ethos of their messages and their beautiful craftsmanship in the corn.

I am hooked every year: I go through the unbeliever stage in early April, when it’s a question of ‘will they–won’t they appear?’ and then when midsummer comes [this year, 2011, the main season was unimaginably late and huge doubt attended any crop appearance], I’m a convert all over again.

In winter the mind wanders to what seasonal miracles appeared and what might have been.

I wrote a whole crop circle-cum-crystal novel for a writing contest in the month of January 2010 and have yet to polish and rework, re-edit and improve it for final submission. So, it is still a work-in-progress, my current WIP. But, because we’re in mid-crop circle season right now, I am daring to share just a taste of its flavor: hope you enjoy. This is one of the middle chapters for
THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL.

THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL by Marian Youngblood Chapter TWENTY–ONE
Just as Mark said it would, the trail led towards the main section: the astrolabe, he called it. On the ground you couldn’t tell, but Megan had overheard Colin and Mark discussing over Mark’s laptop, the intricate way the crop circle had been laid out, complete with its new tail formation that had happened in a flash of light last night. The whole thing was beyond amazing. This time the light orbs, the crop circle creators or whatever you wanted to call them, had done something truly out of this world. And, even more miraculous, Mark had managed to capture them on film with his special Kirlian camera.
Even more miraculous, Megan had managed to get some real cool footage on her own camera. It was just a regular state-of-the-art video, but when Colin persuaded Mark to upload the results, she was thrilled to see she had actually got light orbs on screen. How cool was that.

Astrolabe crop circle from solstice, June 21st, 2009, 'phase one' at Alton Barnes

Now they followed Colin along the curved line through the ‘orbit’ he’d chanced upon first off: looked like Jupiter at the central axis, he said, but each orbit had smaller shadows leading to the largest planetary body. If they followed the Jupiter orbit all the way round they’d reach the astrolabe. From the main stem, they could see it all laid out, straight down the field into the distance — at least four football pitches — down the central axis of the tail.
 He led them carefully along the single file path, moving from the smallest circle to one slightly larger, then larger then larger as they progressed along the orbital arm.
Megan followed close behind with the others trailing a little. She paced slowly past neatly-folded wheat stalks lying exactly parallel one with the other as if a medieval monk had come and gently laid each bundle of stems in neat rows like a rush mat leading to a temple. Colin heard Megan’s breathing –- gentle and rhythmical -– measure for measure placing her footsteps where he put his. Neither of them wanted to disturb the pattern, lying so lovingly in a prearranged layout, willing them on through a series of ever larger ‘moons’ to where the orbits connected to the central solar system axis. From there, Colin was determined, from what he’d seen on Mark’s screen, that the pattern opened out and they would find a space to set down all their equipment and really get a feel for the place.

Alton Barnes Astrolabe crop circle 2009 'second phase', June 22nd

There was definitely a sensation in the air and it wasn’t only his sensing like a dowser: he could feel it: a tangible electrical charge.

‘These stems are bent at the node ever so gently, but the stem isn’t bruised or broken in any way. It’s amazing.’ Megan was right behind him.

‘I know; I was noticing that. It’s so carefully contrived.’
Colin couldn’t help himself. He was quick to launch into the scientific explanation, given any excuse. He continued to pace slowly forward, but spoke quietly over his shoulder to her.
‘You know, It’s been scientifically documented that soil samples taken from inside crop circles show changes in crystalline structure and mineral composition. Expert analysis concludes that heat of 1500ºC would be needed to create such a change.’ Megan gasped, but kept her feet on the path in front of her.

‘So the orbs we saw last night were capable of that kind of heat?’

‘Seems so.’

‘Unbelievable.’ They both continued pacing, aware that the other two were gradually catching up with them.
Mark gave a hoot, like a bird. He too must have noticed the bent nodes on the unbruised plants.

‘There’s a big one up ahead,’ Colin called out, knowing Megan was so close behind him she probably couldn’t see, but to give the others a brief guide. Even though these new generation wheat crops were agriculturally developed to grow roughly no higher than knee height, it was still pretty difficult to get any kind of vista; Colin could see a widening area, with a lot of tufted decorative clumps surrounding it like cherries on a Christmas cake. It had to be the joining of phases one and two and the start of phase three.
He decided to continue his little lecture, since Megan was probably new to the whole thing and might be interested. He’d always been quick to spot a new convert.

‘Did you know crop circles also show evidence of ultrasound? you know, the kind of frequencies that are known to hover at ancient sites like Avebury, stone circles and such like?’

‘No, I didn’t.’ She sounded interested. So he went on.

‘And like all ancient sacred sites, crop circles appear at the intersecting points of the Earth’s magnetic pathways of energy; the nodes. Therefore the size and shape of a crop circle is typically determined by the area and position of these node points at the time of their appearance.’

‘Sorry, you lost me there. I don’t quite get that. Say again.’

‘Well, this electric and magnetic energy, it’s quite common here round Avebury. The whole of Wiltshire, in fact; the Salisbury plain…’

‘Yes, I know about Stonehenge.’ She was still following devotedly, both his argument and his footsteps. He liked that.

‘Thing is, it usually happens in chalk; not so common elsewhere. There are areas where they have similar electromagnetism, parts of Oxfordshire have deep underground waterways, aquifers — and Northumbria. Northeast Scotland is pretty heavily imbued with it. But there the aquifers are in granite. It’s something they think may even have protected the ancient sites -– here especially -– from being broken up; something about it that can interact with human brainwave patterns, and because the human body is itself electromagnetic, crop circles are known to affect people’s biorhythms. Consequently, it’s not unusual for people to experience heightened states of awareness and spontaneous healings in crop circles –- a situation also common to sacred sites and holy places. That effect alone could have protected them from desecration.’

‘That’s interesting.’


Milk Hill, Alton Barnes crop circle phase three (end June, 2009), the 'tail' of the astrolabe, photo Lucy Pringle

‘So, you’ve noticed?’

‘Yes. For instance, back there, in that first little circle, I didn’t want to leave.’

‘I have to say you’re not alone in this. It’s been talked about a lot in recent years. The crowd that gathers at crop circles is usually very placid, peaceful. No rowdy demonstrations like a street crowd after a football match.’ He thought that was a pretty good analogy.

‘I wouldn’t expect that anyway. Must attract a different group, these formations.’

‘Yes.’
‘
So what were you saying about ultrasound? I thought lights were making the circles. Are you saying both sound and light?’

‘There’s no evidence to suggest…’ he stopped and looked back at her. ‘…until what your camera picked up last night. Now we’ll have to start all over.’ He laughed.

‘Well, what about the scientific evidence? You said…’

‘Yes. scientifically speaking, the plants are subjected to a short and intense burst of heat which softens the stems to bend 90º at the plant node just above the ground. They seem to re-harden into their new position without damage. They keep on growing. Research and lab tests suggest that ultrasound is capable of producing that kind of effect.’

‘But short bursts of intense LIGHT could do it, too, right?’

‘Well, with what you just provided the scientific establishment –- I mean, your great video footage -– might send them all back to the drawing board.’ He looked over his shoulder and gave her a congratulatory smile.

‘Wow. I like that. But it doesn’t explain how some of the crop lies in one direction and right next to it there it is lying at right angles; sometimes you get four different directions going in one space.’

‘True. I don’t know how they DO it. I just know that the process has been isolated to make it possible.’

‘Ah. So you don’t really know either. We’re all still guessing when it comes to the magical quality and the designs they come up with, right?’

‘Right.’ Colin thought he’d need a whole lot more time back at the drawing board to convince this new audience. He changed the subject. ‘Clearing coming up.’

‘OK.’ Megan glanced back. The other two had caught up and were right behind her. ‘Could you see anything as you came along? I’ve been a little in the shadow of the expert, here. Dogging his footsteps.’ She burst out laughing and Jane joined in.

‘Yes. He CAN get to be a little pedantic.’ Colin did not react. He’d apparently heard it all before. He stepped into the new space, stopped and laid his bags down gently on the matted ground.
The others joined him and paused to survey their new surroundings.

The vista was breathtaking. It did have a magical feel and it spread out in a swirling pattern that looked phenomenal. Like all the smaller circles, growing in size as they progressed round the curve, as well as the padded path by which they entered, the whole quadrant they stood in was matted at a level less than an inch above the ground and folded criss–cross over and back like a woven blanket. Only where the pattern reached the circle’s central point, did the direction and flow of the lay change, going the opposite way.
They were standing in an ellipse, rather than a pure circle; more the shape of a facial oval. There were four quadrants each with a separate directional lay. This gave the pattern a three – dimensional effect, foreshortening the optical distance, so the far edge of the ellipse seemed closer that it actually was. From their perspective, the complete formation must have stretched as much as thirty feet across and forty feet from side to side. They’d come in on a lateral arm of what appeared to be a graphical rendition of the sun, round which the planets with their little moons –- the spaces they’d walked through were Jupiter’s moons –- clung on one arm.
‘See how those two sides are like an ellipse stretched into points of a compass. Two points: left and straight across, forming a geometric outline. That leads to the sextant instrument, I’m sure of it. It’s acting like a compass needle for the astrolabe itself.’ The other three were silent, in awe of the formation. They let Colin speak. A third arm, to their right didn’t actually project, but led the eye all the way down the field, stretching to where they had parked the car. It had to be fully 800 feet long. 
Mark immediately dug out the laptop from his bag and dropped everything else on the ground.

‘I want to see how it compares: now that we have a kind of aerial shot, thanks to Megan and her camera last night, we can see exactly how it connects from here. The ground falls away from us to where the car is parked. Can you see?’ He pointed to nobody in particular. He was joined immediately by the two girls.
Colin started setting up his dowsing rods next to where he’d dropped his baggage on the forgiving wheat. He turned to Jane, who was starting to gesture if she should help.

‘No, you go ahead. It’s a great video. You should really see what it’s like, so you get an idea of our position here -– makes sense. Super idea, Mark.’ He left them in full chatter, and got back to hooking up his equipment.
Mark was already revving up. He had a rapt audience. He started pointing and gesticulating, fully absorbed.


Immaculate central 'lay' of the June 18th 2011 formation at Cow Drove Hill, Kings Somborne, Hampshire

‘See. We’re in the oval here, sort of the ‘face’ of the Sun and from here the full extent of all three phases are visible: not as brilliantly as Megan’s shots, but…’ He keyed up the passage in the footage where the final tail was completely formed, connecting the other two phases, but before it started standing on its tail like a 3D mirage. ‘Now, watch this.’ He went back a couple of minutes to where the orbs were actually forming the tail with its elusive coded symbols.
‘See how they do it? You’ve got the pattern with its teardrop-shaped center – that’s us here… then there’s the configuration of four connected circles on one side and five more circles of increasing diameters on arcs tethered back to the teardrop center. This is the one we came in on. That’s the bit these light guys’ buddies made last week. Phase one the astrolabe; phase two the planets in orbital arcs. The orbits, the little moons we walked through -– they’re just that bit more complex than the first. They happened overnight, too. Then five days later Megan and I get to see a third addition. And see…’ He traced with his finger on the screen the path the orbs had made. ‘See how they just etch and move, etch another line and move. It appears in seconds.’

‘Awesome.’ Both girls spoke together.
‘Kinda like Maya symbols or something from the early Mid–East –- scripts: you know, cuneiform.’

‘Wow. You’re right, Megan. Hear that, Colin? Megan says like Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieratic. It is, you know.’

‘Problem is deciphering.’ Colin didn’t raise his head. He was preoccupied with his rods.

‘Has to be over eight hundred feet in length from the tip of that compass point back there to the other end of the tail, don’t you think, Colin?’

‘Yeah, one thousand feet, easily.’ He was still fixing rods together.
Megan had perceived something else. She was also pointing first to the laptop screen and then out into space over the field.

‘Each of the tail lines of code or whatever they are come up and attach to the ends of each orbit arc. Do you see that, Jane? sort of like a balance like the way you hold your crystal when you’re dowsing.’
Jane peered over her shoulder with a knowing look and then out at the field.

‘You’re right. The damn thing is telling us dowsing code. Did you get that, Colin?’ she called.

But this time Colin was up and away, totally engrossed in his own world, following his rods where they led him, outward from the middle of the ellipse toward a point where the solar system took off into the imaginary world of dreams: the tale of tails, the stuff of fantasy.

‘I think you’re right there, Megan. Better get my crystals into action.’ And Jane dug her quartz out of her pocket and held it up in front of her face.
The pale transparent beauty hung completely motionless for a moment, dangling in sympathy with the still air and glinting in the sunshine at the end of its slender thread. Then, as they watched, imperceptibly at first and then with more momentum, it began a clockwise spin.

Mark went back to studying the laptop images, but Megan couldn’t. She was completely mesmerized by the gleaming orb.
@2010-2011 Marian Youngblood ‘The Future is Crystal’

Three 2011 crop circles cluster round Honey Street: Barge Inn at upper left with orb #1CC left; centre #2 Knave of Swords, July 4th; upper right #3 cuneiform script, also July 4th, photo Olivier Morel

Interestingly, in 2011, when the season started to get busy — from summer solstice on — a series of ‘orb/orbit’ crop circle images have appeared — at Kings Somborne, Hampshire and near the Barge Inn at Honey Street, Wiltshire. The Barge Inn is famous for its ‘croppie’ clientele and, without fail, the fields in its vicinity get adorned every year at this time. Last year it was the 08/08 Honey Street fractal; this year there have already been three formations: two on July 4th and the spinning space object (photo, top, June 26th, 2011).

There has been much speculation and discussion about incoming intruders from space. Least of these was the June 27th Antarctic special, a non-starter, asteroid 2011-MD, so-called asteroid-doc, which passed earth at 1700UT with 7000 miles to spare. Others include varying reports on the threat posed by comet 2010-X1 Elenin, expected to cross Earth orbit in September. All seem to feature in the rash of orbiting bodies pictured in the 2011 crop circles.

This year’s season, having started late, may still surprise us. If you like, you can take this excerpt of my novel, The Future is Crystal, as a little taster of croppie things to come.
©2011Marian Youngblood

July 4th Honey Street Crop formation #3 points North (rt): 'Milk Hill' script, cuneiform or alien code?


postscriptum: when I posted the above ‘flash fiction’ excerpt from one of my chapters, I wasn’t expecting corroboration… but the Honey Street #3 crop circle which appeared a.m. July 4th is indeed a version of cuneiform [like 1991 Milk Hill coded script] mentioned in my text. Woo-hoo! MY

June 27, 2011 Posted by | authors, crop circles, crystalline, energy, fiction, novel, publishing, sacred sites, stone circles, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

Ladybirch shares the healing touch

FEATURED WRITERS CORNER

Vermont colors influence the heart, fill the mind of artist novelist, Genie Rayner

I first ‘met’ Genie Rayner electronically, when I read her heartrending poem Paradigm Shifts on KPN, a writers’ webcommunity we both belong to. Her fierce stance through personal pain struck me most significantly:

“In the grand scheme
the little things don’t
seem to make much difference …

Just as climate change
shrinks Mother Earth,
my father’s world
shifts too
and he’s lost his little girl.

As he bends closer to the ground,
turns off more lights
as he goes more blind,
he already wears his death mask,
shrinks deep into Alzheimer’s past …

Then a long, warm fall
with hints of the shadows
of spring,
one cat makes friends
with the others,
and new times to write,
to try to sing …
these little things
make all the difference in the world …

Even if
I’m no longer
his little girl.” Paradigm Shifts by Genie Rayner, 2009

For me it gave meaning to Robert Frost’s belief that ‘a poem begins with a lump in the throat’.

I learned more as we got to know each other. You know how these web friendships take time to unfold. Before the years of caring for her dad, Bill, she seemed to me somehow like a southern swallow homing in on her northern perch: originally from New Orleans, she just kept moving north until she found Vermont — and stopped. And stayed.

‘My soul had to find Vermont before I could gain the courage to call myself an artist,’ she says.

Genie Rayner, part migrant bird, part cat-woman, wholly writer

Maybe she is part-bird. Like me, she is deeply caught up in the seasonal movement of the flying creatures, owls, cardinals, hawks; also trees, flowers, anything green; she grows an organic garden, empathizes with frogs, deer, most mammals, autumn breezes. Like me, she has more cats than most people consider ‘sensible’. I make no excuses. I like her. In her writing on her ‘other’ wordpress blog, she goes by the name of Ladybirch — it is, after all, a Birch (B)log. She is poet, novelist, freelance editor, photographer, artist, quilt-maker, chair-restorer, writing mentor and consultant. Co-founder of Rutland’s BirchDel Poets and Druidfarm Creations, she encourages all talents focused on creativity for the wellbeing of mind, body, earth and soul. You get the picture: she’s a busy woman. At the moment she’s working on a poetry chapbook — or two — a novella and, if you need your own work edited, she’s your (Magiclamp Editing) woman. In her spare time she has written her first novel, Song of the Blessing Trees published by British small press Gilead Books.

i wasn’t certain I was being very kind when I asked her to take time in her busy schedule to contribute to my little Writers’ Feature Corner, but she readily agreed. And I’m so glad I did, because she brings to this sharing of our thoughts on writing — so many authors, budding or successful, with so many points of view — a gentle wisdom and deep perspective of what it takes to extract words from the subconscious and place them one in front of the other on the printed page.

Bless you Genie for this insightful piece.

The ‘Whole’ Meaning of Writing by Genie Rayner
When you think about it, words are funny things. There are, after all, easier and quicker ways to communicate: eye contact, touch, music, visual art, dance, even silence can all speak volumes – for good or ill – if we’re aware, attuned and receptive to the possibilities waiting to be evoked.

As writers – and speakers – we know all too well that words can be awkward, slow, difficult to find. They can cause pain or distress, tears, anxiety or fear; they can wound and cause irreparable damage. On the other hand, the right word(s), written or spoken, are among the most beautiful things in the world.

At least to this writer.

As much as I love and need the other arts, as much as I use the other ways to communicate, there is nothing quite like a beautifully-turned phrase, a thoughtful way of putting words together, to inspire a sense of meaning in one’s life.

Almost everyone is familiar with the popular definition – and concept – of logos. In his book A Man’s Search for Meaning, though, Viktor Frankl digs even deeper than the usual translation of ‘word.’ From his experience in a World War II concentration camp, Frankl explains that logos actually denotes ‘meaning’ first and foremost:

Genie at a recent BirchDel Poets' gathering in Vermont

“Frankl relates how he came to discover his new school of psychotherapy … in Auschwitz where he had been interned. He tells how, with his trained clinical eye, he began to perceive that his fellow prisoners were wasting away and dying physically because… they had no ‘meaning’ to live for, so they gave up the struggle and buckled under. Very unobtrusively Frankl started to pick up meanings in the[ir] lives… in casual conversation with them; then, he began very naturally and imperceptibly to feed these same meanings back into the lives of respective prisoners. What he noticed in sheer wonder… was that these companions of his, who had practically surrendered to their fate… came suddenly alive and could go through any torture, any trial, any hardship in the camp, thanks to the meaning or meanings that had been injected back into their lives….

“So it was that Frankl discovered and later developed his logotherapy – that is, making people whole (= therapy) by giving meaning (= logos) to their lives. For the primary signification of logos is ‘meaning’; its secondary signification is ‘word.'”
Discovering Your Personal Vocation: The Search for Meaning Through the Spiritual Exercises (NY: Paulist Press, 2001, pp. 19-20), by Herbert Alphonso, SJ, quoted in Genie’s Master of Arts thesis

I think one of the reasons for this is because words – and by extension, at least for writers, the written word – connect us to one another. They can and do create relationships, sometimes when we don’t even know the other person(s). A wise woman recently wrote to me of the ‘umbilical connection’ writers have with words; that most basic relationship, then, grows and connects to untold others who read our words.

That is one of the fundamental reasons I write: relationship.

Sometimes I’m lucky – and privileged – enough to know that my words have made a positive impact on someone, and that is thrilling. Even when the impact is negative, at least I know I’ve made a connection, made someone think enough to argue with me or want to discuss something further. That, too, is exciting. I’ve done my job!

I’m also enough of a writer to fantasize about the connections some of my now-unpublished works might make after I’m dead and gone. If anyone goes through my desk drawers and the boxes under my bed, they’ll find reams of old poems, essays, jottings, story ideas, and books in various degrees of progress. Maybe that person or those persons will care enough for my efforts that s/he or they will take the time to read them. Perhaps a poem will be found at a time when it’s needed to help someone through a tough spot; perhaps one of the unfinished books will stir up enough ideas for the reader to continue it to fruition; someone might even think something is good enough to submit posthumously and it will finally get published and reach others somehow, somewhere.

But even before then, one can – and does – hope that some of the same things will happen. Some of my poetry and other writings have engendered lifelong or important relationships, just as others’ works have inspired me to contact and connect with them because of something meaningful in their words or craftsmanship.

More often, though, I have no idea how readers take my words or respond to them. Most writers don’t.

So what’s the point of writing?

I keep coming back to ‘meaning’ and relationship and connection. Perhaps the most important relationship, the most meaningful one, is that with ourselves. Though I always hope others will find some kind of meaning in my work and my words, they can’t if I don’t first. I suggest this is why blogging has become such an integral part of our recent technological lives: people need to connect with themselves and with others.

Of course, there are always pieces that will never meet other people’s eyes, heart or soul, but I still had to write them for my sake. I hope I’ve become a better human being because of the letters, poems, stories and fragments that have helped me work through trauma, crises, heartache, joy, even silliness… but they’re too personal or not developed enough ever to crawl out of the desk drawers or boxes under the bed.

Sometimes just putting words to paper – especially putting words to paper, rather than typing on a keyboard – makes that vital connection between head and heart that, I hope, results in a more developed person. Though the works themselves may not be complete, simply making the creative effort to find meaning makes me more complete. If I’m lucky, working through something by writing about it will spark insights and revelations that couldn’t have come otherwise or in quite the same way, and I am even more whole.

Righteous!

It truly is. One understanding of the word ‘righteous’ in the Bible is ‘right relationship with God.’ Though it may sound selfish and self-centered, if I can’t or don’t make that critical connection to me – to what’s going on in and with my ‘I’ (as in Martin Buber’s I and Thou) – first, then I can’t connect to God, or the Other. And I sure can’t connect to all the unknown others I hope will find meaning through my words.

It is, after all, a cooperative creative process, this ‘thing’ writers must and can do. We writers may think we’re solitary, but we’re not really. Call it spiritual, religious, holy, or any other term with which you’re comfortable, writing is a co-creative endeavor that involves many others—some known or intended and seen, some unknown and unintended – and many layers of involvement.

Just as Frankl’s spoken, and then written, words were healing – and ‘wholeing’ – for others, I think most (if not all) of us want our words to do that as well, regardless of genre or theme or plot. At least on a fundamental, intuitive level.

We strive for that connection, those relationships that complete our work – and ourselves – with our work, by our work.

With that intent, we can’t help but contribute to a better, more complete and healed world, even if it’s person by person, reader by reader. It may be a slow process, co-creating a collective world of and with meaning, but it’s worth it, in my view. Maybe it’s even better to be slow, more one-on-one. There’s an intimacy to that concept that really appeals to me.

Regardless of how long or slow writing is, how solitary or collected writers are, I suggest that we are working for and toward the umbilical relationship of wholeness with others and ourselves. That gives a meaning to my work that can be expressed only through more words.

Every time I sit down to write, I look forward to the anticipation of possibilities and connections that will emerge – for something unexpected always occurs. I always find a little more of and about me and I hope I always find a little more of and about others, the world, the human condition, God, and the mysteries of the creative process.

It doesn’t get much more meaningful than that.
©2010 Genie Rayner

October 13, 2010 Posted by | authors, birds, culture, environment, gardening, Muse, nature, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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