9.07.2020

Let's Share Our Favorite Fall/Harvest Legends

 


It's the time of the year for the harvest.
It's when Hades takes Persephone to the Underworld.
The days when the veil between realms is at its thinnest.

What are your favorite autumn/harvest legends?

Christine Rains

I do love all the spooky ghost tales and the origins of Hallowe'en, but the simple delights and the folklore that goes along with them is just as wonderful. Like the catching of falling leaves. Some believe if you catch a red falling leaf, you will have a happy new year. Others make it more challenging by saying for every leaf you catch, you will have a happy day, or that you will be free from colds for a month. A happy day and no colds? That is no simple magic to me!

Meradeth Snow

I'm not certain that I have any favorite legends (I'll admit, I've always been kind of a wuss and don't really go in much for ghost stories--probably because I grew up in a very old, very creaky farm house and valued being able to sleep!), but I do love fall. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors and I love some good pie. Also, I finally live in a place where the fall colors are spectacular, and that's always so lovely. Now, if only fall didn't mean winter was coming...now that would make me happier as a die-hard summer person :)

Catherine Stine
I admit, I don't really know any Halloween-ish myths. But I do LOVE the holiday. Having visited the Newgrange prehistoric burial grounds in Ireland last year, I do find it intriguing that Nick Rogers, a history professor at York University in the UK said, "According to the ancient sagas, Samhain was the time when tribal peoples paid tribute to their conquerors and when the sidh [ancient mounds] might reveal the magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld." He also said that, "Samhain might be less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter." Below, are two photos I took at Newgrange. One is of the entrance with prehistoric inscriptions on it. The other is a side view showing the trench around the burial mound. It's incredible to imagine living back in those days.



Gwen Gardner

My favorite legend is Sleepy Hollow, where the headless horseman comes galloping through the woods on his horse *shivers*. I adore everything autumn/fall/and Halloweeny, from the burnt orange and rust hues of the changing leaves to the hot cocoa with whipped cream and of course, the candy, candy, candy! I’m a big kid when it comes to Halloween, from our annual pumpkin carving party (lots of kids, lots of pumpkins) with signature drinks (for the adults!), pizza, and candy of course. A Halloween music track is a must during the festivities (Monster Mash, I Put a Spell on You, This is Halloween, etc.). Then at the end of the evening, when it’s dark, we light the candles inside the pumpkins and ooh and ahh about how good everyone’s pumpkin looks. And of course there are the Halloween movies all month long. It never gets old!









8.18.2020

Book Review: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, godmother of fairytale twists


    Everything old is new again, so goes the phrase. And Angela Carter's radically strong women, who relish sex, adventure, and find crafty ways to thumb their noses at all manner of annoying traditions and bores fit in this category. 
    Carter was born in England in 1940, and wrote some of her best stories back in the '70s. She died in 1992, way too soon. Yet her stories not only live on, but are still cutting edge and eye-opening, even to my young feminist and activist students.
    As Kelly Link said in the intro to this new edition: 
“Since I first came across The Bloody Chamber, I have kept a copy with me wherever I have been living. . . . The things that I needed, when I was beginning to think about writing short stories, were the things that I found in The Bloody Chamber. . . . Reading Carter, each time, [is] electrifying. It [lights] up the readerly brain and all the writerly nerves. . . . What we don’t have, of course, is any more Angela Carter stories. And how I yearn for exactly this.” —Kelly Link, author of Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters
    My favorite in this collection (which includes twists on "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss in Boots" and more) is the title story, "The Bloody Chamber", a twist on "Bluebeard". It is creepy to the max, yet fantastic in its lyrical beauty, with passages so stunningly gorgeous they take my breath away, yet other passages that make my stomach churn. She does not shy away from awkward emotions: the conflicting emotions of the young bride who is at once disgusted by, and hungering for more physical attention from her predatory husband. In this, Carter is not afraid to be "politically incorrect" to drive home how many levels we exist on. But to be sure, this vile man gets his comeuppance. And in this, too, Carter goes way beyond the "modern" trend of the heroine saving the day, to end on a twist verboten in the acceptable basket of trope twists, yet completely satisfying, and one my female creative writing students cheer on in a sort of shock and awe daze. I won't provide spoilers here. You just have to read it!


I'll end with these two quotes from Carter. You can see her as a young woman, and then older, yet always an original.


8.05.2020

Making New Friends as You Write

One of the aspects of writing I enjoy the most is the discovery of new characters, ones I hadn't planned on or ones that decide to play a much larger part in a story than I had anticipated. I write stories "into the dark." (That's not my term. It belongs to Dean Wesley Smith.) I start with a situation and characters and some vague idea where the tale might end. My best ideas come while I'm putting pen to paper. The vague endpoint becomes a moving target. The story meanders in unexpected directions and usually becomes much longer than anticipated.

In The Great Contagion, my most recent novel, I thought it would be fun to have a pooka who took the form of a stoat. I didn't know what I would do with Slynid, but once he appeared he demanded a starring role. He became a critical player in several chapters. Merliss would not have survived without him. The story would have suffered without him. I can't imagine any new Merliss tales without him. I would detail his feats but I don't want to fill this post with spoilers.

Other characters emerge out of necessity to play a bit part but then they won't leave. Liesael came about because I needed some members of a family with a sick patient that Merliss and the cunning men were visiting. Liesael revealed a love interest in Fendrel, the cunning man's apprentice, and slipped a love charm into his satchel. She later came to stay with Fendrel and nurse the cunning man when he became ill. Liesael doesn't play the prominent role that Slynid does--more of burr in Merliss's fur--but she grew from a mere decoration to a significant player.

Late in the novel, Merliss escapes through the woods, traveling from one scene to another. I thought to add some interest with a chance encounter with another cat. Tawk is the name of a very timid feline who barely escaped his own death. Tawk gave me a chance to depict events in other villages. Merliss finds him annoying and an object of pity. I thought Tawk's first scene would be his last but like Liesael, he refuses to leave the story and tags along to the very end.

Slynid, Liesael, and Tawk will certainly appear in future Merliss tales. I don't know where they came from but I'm very glad they appeared. I know I couldn't have planned them or their exploits ahead of time. Writing is a lot about trusting that the characters you need will appear when you need them. And you have to let them do what they will, even if it throws a wrench in your original plans. The fun part is getting to know your new characters.

7.21.2020

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik #fantasy #fairytale

Literary fantasy set in the Russian winter...


Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik | Waterstones


I've called Spinning Silver literary fantasy because it tries hard - possibly a little too hard - to be "literature" first and fantasy second. Although I knew it was a fantasy novel, I actually stopped to check after the first few chapters, because the book could have been a slice-of-life period drama set among the peasants and landowners of pre-revolution (I guess 19th century) Russia - although place names are all, so far as I could tell, invented. But, a magical fantasy novel it definitely is. It's also quite heavy on exposition and explanation at times, making it read more like a retold and dramatised folk tale - there are elements of Rumpelstiltskin and Baba Yaga in there - than a more traditional fantasy novel.

That all said, I enjoyed this book very much - it's intriguing and beautifully written, offering a very welcome change to the more standard tropes. The magical and fantastical elements are introduced gradually and gently: they creep up on you, just as they creep up on the characters in the book. Farmers and peasants struggle against poverty and hunger, but they're also battling more magical, elemental forces: faerie-like and demonic entities that intrude into the real world as folk-tale and rumour. The deep woods are to be avoided, because that's where the monsters and the malign beings dwell...

The story is told through the eyes of three women: Miryem, a moneylender, Wanda, a servant who becomes a friend, and Irina, the daughter of a nobleman. They're each well drawn, with their own distinctive voices and characters. All the characters are three-dimensional and believable. If there's a flaw in the book, it's that its conscious literariness makes the reader work to discover which character is speaking at any one time: the point-of-view switches a lot (which I personally enjoy), but doesn't give you any direct clue about who is speaking, meaning that you have to work it out from context, an effort that sometimes takes several paragraphs. Perhaps it's just me. This task become harder because a first-person narrator is used throughout, making it tricky to work out which I, "I" actually is quite a lot of the time. Instead of losing yourself in the beautifully-crafted prose, you're thinking, "Who is this again?" It could have been easily fixed: a few tweaks to the text, or just the name of the relevant character above each chapter or section, and the book would have flowed much more easily.

If you're looking for a completely escapist book in these troubled times - and who would blame you - this may not be the one to choose as the flight from our world is not total. Miryem encounters depressing anti-semitism during her experiences, and it's also very definitely possible to read the story as a parable of climate change.

But, overall, I loved it and it's highly recommended. The descriptions of snow and ice and cold are wonderfully done, and I really found myself identifying with and rooting for certain of the characters - including some who start off as "bad". That depth is surely the sign of a good book, and I'll certainly look out for more by the author.

Find more about the book at Goodreads.

7.08.2020

Shifters, Revenge & the Shadow Self

I’m writing a paranormal romance in a shared world shifter series, The Royal Alpha Wolves Club. My book is called Alpha’s Revenge, starring Wayland Leblanc. He craves revenge after his whole royal line is slaughtered by the Tundra, a rival royal pack. The worst thing? They killed Wayland’s fated mate, Sabine and their unborn heir.

It’s ironic that I’m tackling a shifter hero, after I steadfastly avoided reading Stephanie Mayer’s Twilight series (or watching the films), which fueled the newest mania for shifters (Though, let's face it, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were shifters). I thought Twilight was for teens and so I couldn’t quite square it with my reality, though I've realized, I was making assumptions. In fact, I have written about shifters… I’ve created water sprites, ghosts, witches and Dorianna, who forged a deal with the Prince of Darkness, and shifted into a beastly version of herself that became almost unrecognizable.

Another irony is that in the last year, I’ve pinned up lots of wolf, fox and coyote images on my bedroom wall. Why? I identify with their feral drive, their loyalty to family and love for their forest homes. Also, their sharp instincts. Here’s one of the images I love most. It’s a mama coyote and her pups (Photo credit: Jim Zuckerman for the Sierra Club).

In fact, in Alpha’s Revenge when Wayland returns solo to his native Canada to eke out his form of payback, he befriends and enlists a pack of scruffy, wily coyote shifters. I wrote those scenes before I took this card down from my wall and saw that these guys were not wolves but coyotes! Excellent coincidence.

Anyway, I’m reminded of Carl Gustav Jung’s writings on the Shadow Self:

"Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." It may be (in part) one's link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.”

This quote is good too…

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” … “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” – Jung

Finally, here’s the cover of Alpha’s Revenge. It launches on September 3rd and I’m really enjoying writing it!

What do you think is essential in a (wolf) shifter character? What would you like to see in one that you don’t usually see? What’s your favorite shifter type?

6.16.2020

Fractions of Existence - Speculative Fiction Worth Reading #bookreview


Blurb: Once they were humanity's exalted protectors— now they are being hunted.

Xavier will weigh all human life against Gwendolyn's ignorant happiness. The good news is that her choice can blow his away.

Omnipotent beings find each other while playing an online game. Xavier has been searching for Gwendolyn, his true mate and the missing member of the Existence. Only if reunited can the group regain the rest of their memories and access all of their powers. Hidden in plain sight, disguised as humans, they help who they can, as best they can, when they can.

The Eyes in the Shadows, a religious sect, has been trying to free humans from the “prison” of life on Earth for millenniums. The Existence has always been able to thwart them… until now. They've discovered a way to end the world that no one will see coming.

Gwendolyn has her future all laid out. There is a plan. She knows what her parents want for her and how to get it. Then Xavier, a friend from a virtual game, makes her question everything. He's full of secrets, one being an understanding of her fear of the wind.

She tries to suppress her intense attraction to the mysterious and frustrating Xavier. She's engaged, after all, and the thoughts she's having aren't proper. Gwendolyn is swept into a whirlwind of secrets, danger, and a forbidden attraction. She'll drive across the country in her beat-up old car, not knowing if he is genuinely interested or just being polite. (He refuses to kiss her!) Gwendolyn's journey is full of self-doubt, sacrifice, and dark visions that invade her sleep. Will she uncover the truth about herself?


Christine's review: The Existence wants only to protect humanity, but with their numbers split, they do not have the power to stop those who wish them dead. Xavier has been searching for their missing member and his love, but when he finally finds Wend (short for Gwendolyn), she doesn't know who she truly is and is about to be married her a man she doesn't know. The two of them grow close online, and Wend tries to be happy with her life, to do right by her father, but her emotions are in turmoil. Will she find her true self before it's too late?

This is the first book in the NA fantasy series, Existence. It has a unique mythology about The Existence where the members are like superheros or demi-gods. Even those that serve them have the desire to protect and better humanity. I have never read something like this before and it truly fascinated me. I'd love to see more about The Existence and its history. The villains are despicable and only want to destroy the good guys to "free" humans from their Earthly prison. Yet most of this book is concentrated on Xavier and Wend and how they're struggling with their budding relationship. Wend especially has a lot of issues to deal with for she feels a duty to her family and her religion, which makes her very passive, and has no one to support her until Xavier comes along. The relationships of Xavier and the others in The Existence are powerful, and I loved seeing the interaction between them. I also loved the fact Xavier and Wend met in an online fantasy game.

Highly recommended to those who want something new and fresh in the genre.


5.19.2020

The Winter People #BookReview Speculative Fiction Worth Reading

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Set in the rural Vermont town of West Hall, this is a story certain to give you thrills and chills. 

As it was my bedtime reading, it was creepy for that time of day. However, I was soon completely absorbed in this story and had to find out what was going on.

My sister lives near one of the real towns mentioned in the story, so I had to warn her to be careful in her woods.

Spooky, haunting, and addictive, The Winter People was worth staying up late for and I savored every page.



Synopsis: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished.

In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself. Available in paperback, hard cover, ebook, and audio.