Happy October, my fellow creatives! September was a far more draining month than I expected: the drain on the body and soul was fierce. I was able to keep reading for my podcast for a respite from the storm, but sadly, no analysis could be made in time for September 15th or today. BUT, good things are on the horizon, so I’m hoping to take you with me on my adventure into new territory…and maybe some music, and maybe some fictional critiquing…in the coming weeks. Until then, please enjoy this post from the past about an expedition Bo and I were able to take together. Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!
When Bo and I asked for his relations to watch the kids so we could go on a day-date, Bo mentioned Holy Hill. “Weather’s supposed to be nice, and no youth festivals.” He eyed my camera.
Woohoo! I didn’t need those pictures of the kids on vacation anyway.
Because I had already taken several pictures of the basilica itself, I planned to save memory space for the woods surrounding it. All was gold, rich, blinding. Despite the hundreds hiking and picnicking upon the slopes, a peaceful silence remained in the air, so much so that one could listen to the leaves rattle in the breeze and dance as they fell upon the Passion Walk.
Such a set-apart place. One wouldn’t think three minutes in the car would lead to a busy highway, to golf courses and suburbs. When we build our fictional worlds, we so often must condense a universe, grind out the spaces so that things build up up up upon each other so that there’s no chance for an absence of action, let alone finding Holy Water on tap for easy access.
Passion Walk finished, we wandered past the lower chapel, read upon the history of the shrine, and—The Scenic Tower is open!
Bo waves at me to join the line. “I had my fill of that twenty years ago.”
I don’t blame him for bowing out. The tower stairs are ridiculously narrow; well, it’s not like they were built with tourists in mind, let alone so many. But the world reaches up and touches at every window. I can’t click fast enough to just, absorb. Breathe. Smile with the sun.
I don’t go up the last stair; tempting as it was, the congestion of people was driving even me into a claustrophobic fit. The plus side of going solo is that you feel no need to move as a group up and down stairs barely a foot wide.
But when I wasn’t thinking of the elderly man on the verge of losing his dentures onto the basilica roof, or the huddle of nuns (congregation of nuns? choir of nuns? pew of nuns?) with fanny packs determined to get group pictures on every landing, I was thinking about the land. The sky. How a world, even this small little bit of world, can seem so very vast with the right point of view.
Writers don’t need to create entire worlds for a story. We need only a place cradled by the horizon. Look down: there, among the trees and fields, the towns and roads, are countless hiding places where possibilities giggle and whisper in wait. Let’s count to ten.
Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.
As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.
Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.
JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES
Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher may be a reimagining of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, but in five pages it still reads very much as its own unique work. I’m reminded a bit of John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society as far as the wry narrator goes, and of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy with the unsettling, unnatural forms Nature seems to take. Everything is bleak and grotesque–even the sight of mushrooms growing hints at violent death for humanity. Setting this grim landscape inside a fictional country also makes the story feel like it’s one step off kilter from reality–it could be in our Europe, but surely not, right? This book moves at a quick clip, so if you’d like to take a few days to shift into some spookier tales for the coming Halloween season, I can’t think of a better place to start.
As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!
Happy September, my fellow creatives! Fall is not too far away. School is starting for my three Bs while I tackle finals for the summer term. I was blessed to take my kids to see a beloved fellow blogger and friend, Peggy from Where to Next?, as she was traveling through the Midwest this summer. It was so wonderful to chat in person in the midst of Bash’s million questions! Our drive to meet her took us through a lot of rolling hills of bright green farmland, corn and wheat on the cusp of harvesting beneath sapphire skies.
Prologue: Life in Rural Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s countryside has always been near and dear to me, something I feel would be worth exploring in how other creatives like Michael Perry view it…but that’ll be a post for another day. Today, I’d like to return to something I once shared on this blog long long LONG ago about why I write stories set in Wisconsin.
The adventures of Sherlock Holmes resonate deeply with me for two reasons. First, they were dearly loved by my father, who would, on a rare evening when he could delay his church work, read a story aloud to me at bedtime. I still remember the thrill as he described Dr. Roylott’s fate in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” or the sadness in his voice when Watson discovers Holmes’ note by Reichenbach Falls. I devoured these stories, despite my mother’s attempts to interest me in more child-friendly works such as the Little House books. Nothing doing, especially after I read “Copper Beeches,” for that brings me to my second reason: our town, our state, really, fit the description Holmes gave of England’s picturesque countryside.Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably WAS a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.
We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?
This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.
This knowledge of Wisconsin’s hidden evils gave me a new appreciation for the Sherlock Holmes tales I loved as a kid–not because Holmes brought truth and justice to light wherever he went, but because he didn’t just stay in London. Holmes himself knew just how dangerous the countryside could be in spite of its picturesque beauty. Let’s peruse a few cases to see just how the rural setting played a role in his cases, shall we?
A woman seeks Holmes’ counsel as to a job offer with a bizarrely high salary with equally bizarre requirements. The minor suspicion leads to a mystery of deadly deception.
So this is the story with the iconic train ride into the country and the conversation Holmes and Watson have about rural England. Here’s the majority of that exchange:
It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and gray roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage.
“Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.
But Holmes shook his head gravely.
“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”
“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”
“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
Holmes strikes upon a critical point: isolation. Rural communities, then and now, are not nearly as connected as neighborhoods in the urban setting. Even with the internet and all our technological innovations, one can be very, very cut off in the countryside. I still distinctly remember visiting a friend at her farmstead many years ago, and feeling downright oppressed by the silence of the farmland’s night. Absolute, utter silence. No wind. No bugs. No cars. Nothing. The film Alien may have coined the phrase, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” but I put it to you that in the country, no one can hear it, either. That is partly why the villains of “Copper Beeches” were able to get away with shutting away their daughter and allowing her to literally waste away while they spend her money. Who could possibly hear her in the middle of nowhere?
This isolation can be a powerful tool for a writer, whether one’s creating atmosphere, parring down the “noise” and cast a busy setting requires, or even establishing influences that could drive characters to make certain choices.
A famous racehorse goes missing, his trainer found dead out on the moor. The setting is a flat, barren land offering little to anyone without a horse. Few people, fewer hiding places. How could such a creature disappear where everyone knows anyone? The dog could tell you…
“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
A rural community is going to be a small community. In the case of “Silver Blaze,” there are two competing horse stables in the north of Dartmoor. When the landscaped is described to us–
Holmes and I walked slowly across the moor. The sun was beginning to sink behind the stable of Mapleton, and the long, sloping plain in front of us was tinged with gold, deepening into rich, ruddy browns where the faded ferns and brambles caught the evening light….
–I was reminded of the southernmost area of Wisconsin, where the ground has leveled out to very flat plains. Ideal for farming, of course, but for hiding? Not so much. So for something as large as a horse to go missing in a bleak landscape seems like an impossible puzzle.
Now any brain would look at those two competing horse stables and presume Silver Blaze has to be SOMEwhere in those stables. Even Holmes considered as much (“The fact is that I could not believe it possible that the most remarkable horse in England could long remain concealed“). It’s doubly concerning that the horse trainer was murdered the same night the horse went missing. In such a bare, quiet place, where everyone knows everyone. How could such two awful things happen?
Just as the beautiful countryside can hide secrets, so can its people. This is partly why, I think, cozy mysteries have such an appeal. In their sparse setting and cast, there must be hidden layers, things no one has learned that must come to the surface. The clue of “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” reflects that someone familiar, someone known in that tiny, tiny community, took Silver Blaze away from his training stable. From that clue we must dig deeper into those who interact with the horse, and that is where we learn the trainer has a secret life complete with 2nd marriage lived away from Dartmoor. That second life spurred the trainer to attempt laming Silver Blaze for money, and in that process, Silver Blaze kicked him in the head and fled, killing him in the process. The competing stable found the horse–who wouldn’t in such a bleak landscape?–and did the, well, the least criminal thing they could have done in that tiny, tiny community: they painted Silver Blaze so he looked like any other horse. Then Silver Blaze wouldn’t be able to compete in the coming race and they could still gallantly “find” the horse after the race and look good to the neighbors as they return it.
So those familiar interactions, those habits so well known to others…those, writers, could be a marvelous tool in revealing the truth to the cast and readers alike.
The rural setting, though, need not always be cozy.
On the run from Professor Moriarty, Holmes and Watson cut about the continent, finally isolating themselves as hikers among the mountains of Geneva. They reach the falls of Reichenbach. Watson is summoned away on a hoax of a medical emergency. When he returns…Holmes is gone.
As I was gathering stories for this study, it occurred to me that Reichenbach is one of the few settings where Doyle/Watson spend an extensive time describing the scene. So often in the stories we get a sentence or two of sensory details, and then we move on. Not so with Reichenbach Falls.
It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth,which brims over and shoots the stream onwardover its jagged lip. The long sweep of green waterroaring forever down, and the thick flickeringcurtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn aman giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.We stood near the edge peering down at thegleam of the breaking water far below us againstthe black rocks, and listening to the half-humanshout which came booming up with the spray outof the abyss.
Doyle chooses not to have Holmes face Moriarity in some iconic spot of London. Doyle avoids any sort of city altogether. Two men of refinement are to face off where Nature is its most powerful, the force and height of the falls capable of slaying any man no matter how clever he may be. No law exists out here but for the laws of Nature, and Nature cares nothing for Man’s logic and cunning. Is it any wonder that when Watson returns, he sees his friend’s note and the footprints by the cliff and presumes Holmes and his nemesis are both dead?
It had darkened since I left, and now I could only see here and there the glistening of moisture upon the black walls, and far away down at the end of the shaft the gleam of the broken water. I shoulted; but only the same half-human cry of the fall was borne back to my ears.
It’s moments like this where I can see the appeal people have in reading/viewing stories where the sole conflict is Man Vs. Nature. You cannot reason with it or bargain with it. You cannot stop it. You can only survive it…if you are lucky.
Holmes and Watson accompany young Henry Baskerville to Baskerville Hall to claim his inheritance. Mysterious goings-on have already begun in London—would they continue on the Grimpen Mire?
We had left the fertile country behind and beneath us. We looked back on it now, the slanting rays of a low sun turning the streams to threads of gold and glowing on the red earth new turned by the plough and the broad tangle of the woodlands. The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline.
Bo and I have watched many, many adaptations of this particular entry in the Holmes canon. It’s no wonder folks love telling this story over and over again–you’ve got a tight cast, a bleak, peculiar place. Strange signals in the night and suspicious residents. Forbidden romance and, of course, murder.
A particularly crafty move on Doyle’s part was to pull Holmes out of the story for a spell–oh, he’s watching from the Moors, yes, but as far as Watson knows, Holmes leaves him to watch over Baskerville while Holmes returns to London to investigate other avenues or some such excuse. Watson writes daily reports to Holmes and, being the romantic that he is, allows himself space to write about the landscape, too:
The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm…We found a short valley between rugged tors which led to an open, grassy space flecked over with the white cotton grass. In the middle of it rose two great stones, worn and sharpened at the upper end until they looked like the huge corroding fangs of some monstrousbeast.
Such rocks remind me of the formations one can see in the western half of the state, where the hills grow tall and the wilderness is not so keen to have farmers for company:
A person could die trying to climb these rocks, but the difference between these Wisconsin rocks and England’s Grimpen Mire is that the Mire doesn’t look threatening. It’s merely a wide expanse with grass and mud like any other field…until one steps in it. Only then does one realize they are in a kind of quicksand they cannot escape. We are told early on of a pony that had wandered onto the Mire and was slowly sucked under, crying out and crying out, and then nothing. This hidden wickedness is not always thought of, however, for the Legend of the Hound is on everyone’s mind, including the killer Stapleton’s. By taking a large dog and starving it on the Mire, he’s created his own living murder weapon. It worked once on the elder Baskerville, but Henry Baskerville is protected by Holmes and Watson. The starved dog is shot, and Stapleton escapes to the Mire.
Somewhere in the heart of the great Grimpen Mire, down in the foul slime of the huge morass which had sucked him in, this cold and cruel-hearted man is forever buried.
In some stories, Justice will come by Nature, not Man.
Epilogue: the Lonely Land
There will always be those souls who revel in the city life: the dense gathering of peoples, places, and secrets will always provide writers with bountiful writing inspiration. But outside the city limits, in the dark, in the stillness, we wander and survive. We live in Countryside, Anywhere. We keep ourselves to ourselves. We keep Nature at bay (most of the time). We keep our wickedness hidden from the lackadaisical eye.
But if you, fellow creatives, pause…imagine…look…perhaps, yes, perhaps you will see us, and find us out.
“But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields…think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, thehidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”
–Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”
I’ve been listening to Nature a lot lately. Come take an explore with me through its own quiet music…
Welcome to February, my friends! Sunlight is rare in Wisconsin these frigid days. The snow has frozen, and mothers–well, this mother, anyway–cruelly refuse to let children hurl ice at one another for fun. This has led to lots of running about the house, blasting imaginary baddies while flying off on dragons, Transformers, and Federation star ships. So long as their epic battles do not end with more stitches, we’ll be fine.
And then I discovered John le Carré through a whimsical selection of the library: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring the late great Sir Alec Guinness. Bo, ever the student of all things related to cinema, told me Le Carré wrote the George Smiley novels as a literary retort to Fleming’s Bond.
The two authors did actively serve their country in the Intelligence realm, so considering how each approached the world of spies, I’ll leave the idea of a rivalry up to you. Personally, when a character describes protagonist Smiley with “Looks like a frog, dresses like a bookie, and has a brain I’d give my eyes for,” I can see how one could perceive Smiley to be the antithesis to the debonair 007.
In celebration of the incomparable John Le Carré, let us visit the postwar England of his protagonist, George Smiley. Let us see how one author transforms the landscape for a story dark and full of danger…oh, but this is not a tale of international espionage. Oh no. This is but a humble tale of a village murder.
Yet even a village murder can be filled with secrets and lies. Even a village murder can be a story of quality.
Chapter 1: Black Candles
The greatness of Carne School has been ascribed by common consent to Edward VI, whose educational zeal is ascribed by history to the Duke of Somerset. But Carne prefers the respectability of the monarch to the questionable politics of his adviser, drawing strength from the conviction that Great Schools, like Tudor Kings, were ordained in Heaven.
“Ordained in Heaven.” Already, Le Carré establishes Carne School’s feelings of superiority over the rest of the masses. Not only is this school connected to the throne and the aristocracy, but to God himself. Surely no common man would think himself better than such a place.
And indeed its greatness is little short of miraculous. Founded by obscure monks, endowed by a sickly boy king, and dragged from oblivion by a Victorian bully, Carne had straightened its collar, scrubbed its rustic hands and face and presented itself shining to the courts of the twentieth century. And in the twinkling of an eye, the Dorset bumpkin was London’s darling: Dick Whittington had arrived. Carne had parchments in Latin, seals in wax and Lammas Land behind the Abbey. Carne had property, cloisters and woodworm, a whipping block and a line in the Doomsday Book–then what more did it need to instruct the sons of the rich?
“Rustic hands.” “Bumpkin.” A school of the country, nestled in the dirty rural life, yearns to be a part of the “courts” and be “London’s darling.” Classism flows through the novel with a powerful current, the kind that grabs you by the foot and pulls you under if you’re not careful. We must tread on, carefully, for the students are arriving.
And they came; each Half they came (for terms are not elegant things), so that throughout a whole afternoon the trains would unload sad groups of black-coated boys on to the station platform. They came in great cars that shone with mournful purity.
They came to bury poor King Edward, trundling handcarts over the cobbled streets or carrying tuck boxes like little coffins. Some wore gowns, and when they walked they looked like crows, or black angels come for the burying. Some followed singly like undertakers’ mutes, and you could hear the clip of their boots as they went. They were always in mourning at Carne: the small boys because they must stay and the big boys because they must leave, the masters because mourning was respectable and the wives because respectability was underpaid…
Oh, this imagery! All the vibrant energies equated with youth have been cloaked with black and contained with piety.
But more on that in a moment, I just want to pause here on the importance of connecting what is “normal” in one setting is not always normal elsewhere. Sending children away to boarding school is not a common thing in the United States; I did so in high school (that is, for ages 14-18), and even for my religious boarding school, life was nothing like Carne. At first read, I couldn’t help but think of Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and his episode all about poor Tomkinson’s transformation from a lowly first year to…well. You can watch the episode. It’s brilliant. 🙂
For those who did not send or attend a boarding school for children, this idea of youth forced to attend a starkly religious place for education completely justifies this procession of “black angels” and “little coffins.” But Le Carré also says the boys look like “crows,” and this hints at something a bit more malicious, a bit more sinister. After all, crows are the mediators between life and death, and feasters upon the rotting flesh of others.
We’re not two pages in, yet we are already keenly aware Death is afoot in this place.
…and now, as the Lent Half (as the Easter term was called) drew to its end, the cloud of gloom was as firmly settled as ever over the grey towers of Carne.
Gloom and the cold. The cold was crisp and sharp as flint. It cut the faces of the boys as they moved slowly from the deserted playing fields after the school match. It pierced their black topcoats and turned their stiff, pointed collars into icy rings round their necks.
“Gloom and the cold.” I love that this is a sentence fragment after such lines about gloom over “grey towers”–for an institution that considers itself divine, Carne certainly has no physical sense of light or hope. But gloom can be a different thing on warmer days, when sunlight is not so rare. In the wintry days of Lent (Carne can’t even refer to this time as the Easter Term, Easter being a holiday of light, resurrection, glory, HOPE!), when the Divine is at its lowest point in preparation for crucifixion, the cold has a physical power to “cut” the innocents of this school.
Carne isn’t the only gloomy place
in England on this day. London, too, struggles beneath foreboding.
Abruptly [Brimley] stood up, the letter still in her hand, and walked to the uncurtained window…She looked down into the street, a slight, sensible figure leaning forward a little and framed by the incandescent fog outside; fog made yellow from the stolen light of London’s streets. She could just distinguish the street lamps far below, pale and sullen. She suddenly felt the need for fresh air, and on an impulse quite alien to her usual calm, she opened the window wide. The quick cold and the angry surge of noise burst in on her, and the insidious fog followed. The sound of traffic was constant, so that for a moment she thought it was the turning of some great machine. Then above its steady growl she heard the newsboys. Their cries were like the cries of gulls against a gathering storm. She could see them now, sentinels among the hastening shadows.
This theme of proper mourning flows downwards from the school to the nearby village. For instance, Le Carré has readers picture the village’s hotel as “sitting like a prim Victorian lady, its slate roof in the mauve of half mourning” (24). When a policeman meets with George Smiley about the murdered wife of a teacher, he wastes no time in establishing the set-apartness of Carne School:
“Funny place, Carne. There’s a big gap between the Town and Gown, as we say; neither side knows or likes the other. It’s fear that does it, fear and ignorance. It makes it hard in a case like this….They’ve got their own community, see, and no one outside it can get in. No gossip in the pubs, no contacts, nothing…just cups of tea and bits of seed cake….”
“Town and Gown.” What a phrase. Now this definitely recalls something of my own boarding school experience. We were all of us outsiders to this small Midwestern community. We weren’t of their earth, we teens of unknown backgrounds. And with all the rules dictating where we could go and when, we rarely connected with any peers of town. Where no one knows the other, ignorance will take root, and in Carne, those roots run as deep as the currents of classism. All are beneath the sanctity of the School, worthy only of “bits” of seed cake and tea. Not even seed cake–bits of seed cake. It hearkens to the Biblical image of dogs begging for scraps from the Master’s table, and that such scraps of Gospel Truth are the key to salvation.
Yet clearly Carne School does not feel the rest of the town is worth such truth, as one teacher proves in a conversation with Smiley:
“The press, you know, are a constant worry here. In the past it could never have happened. Formerly our great families and institutions were not subjected to this intrusion. No, indeed not. But today all that is changed. Many of us are compelled to subscribe to the cheaper newspapers for this very reason.”
It is quite a surprise to Carne School’s faculty, then, when the new teacher’s wife refuses to follow the rules and restrictions that keep Town and Gown apart. After this same wife is found brutally murdered in her home late one snowy night, both Town and Gown are suspect because, as another teacher’s wife put it, “‘Stella didn’t want to be a lady of quality. She was quite happy to be herself. That’s what really worried Shane. Shane likes people to compete so that she can make fools of them.’ ‘So does Carne,’ said Simon, quietly.”
Let us close this analysis with Smiley’s glimpse of the murder scene.
[Smiley] glanced towards the garden. The coppice which bordered the lane encroached almost as far as the corner of the house, and extended to the far end of the lawn, screening the house from the playing fields. The murderer had reached the house by a path which led across the lawn and through the trees to the lane at the furthest end of the garden. Looking carefully at the snow on the lawn, he was able to discern the course of the path. The white glazed door to the left of the house must lead to the conservatory…And suddenly he knew he was afraid–afraid of the house, afraid of the sprawling dark garden. The knowledge came to him like an awareness of pain. The ivy walls seemed to reach forward and hold him, like an old woman cosseting an unwilling child. The house was large, yet dingy, holding to itself unearthly shapes, black and oily in the sudden contrasts of moonlight. Fascinated despite his fear, he moved towards it. The shadows broke and reformed, darting swiftly and becoming still, hiding in the abundant ivy, or merging with the black windows.
We return to darkness, slick and liquid, seeping into all the cracks seen and unseen. We return to the imagery of a woman from a bygone era and the doomed youth. In this place ordained by heaven to protect and enlighten, the pure innocence has been stained black and red. Beware the Town. Beware the Gown. Beware the Devil flying with silver wings.
Such are the details that catch the reader’s breath in their throat. Hold it there, writers. Take a lesson from the Master of Subtlety and Method, whose Slow Burns creep so delicately the reader never notices the licking flames until it’s too late. Use the details of the setting to bind actor, atmosphere, and action together, leaving no chance for escape until the final page is read and the reader can breathe at last.
Along with more lovely indie author interviews, I’m keen to share my process in worldbuilding for my own fantasy fiction. We’ll have a go at a little mapping, a little digging, a little thrill-seeking. 😉
“Mommy, I’m Bandit!” Biff hops toward me with his bear held high. “And this is Snowman! We gotta go to Texarkana County for cookies!” He runs in place, revving noises loud and strong, and then bolts down the hallway to my room, where there is no trace of cookies or Texas.
Bo sits at the table with his latest P.J. O’Rourke book, tea in hand. He’s trying to look innocent, but it’s not MY doing that the soundtrack for Smokey and the Bandit has been on for HOURS. Biff didn’t find that CD downstairs on his own, oh no. That little bugger had help.
“At least he’s not talking about bootleg beer,” Bo says.
“EW, beer is GROSS!” Biff hollers from my cookie-free room. “I’m on the run for bootleg cookies, not Coors!”
Bo hides behind his book.
“Eastbound and Down” starts up for the 3,511th time.
Must. Go. Outside.
Blondie and Bash are in a fit of camaraderie, which I’ll take over the previous fit of racing and grabbing at each other’s hoods and yanking each other to the ground. The two are blowing bubbles and talking up a storm over their new Comfie Club, choosing with of their stuffed animals will be in charge and whether or not Biff will even be invited.
The last bit, I admit, hurt. Biff’s the middle kid, just like me, and I was often left out of my brothers’ games when we were kids.
“Watch out, Snowman, here comes Smokey!” Biff tears by the window, “horn” blaring as his bear shakes frantically above his head. “We gotta jump the bridge, look out! Aaaaaaaah!”
I watch that boy and his bear leap from couch to chair and back as the banjo strums on. He’s reveling in an adventure all his own. Who am I to force him out of his imagination and into another’s?
We all need our passage out of reality once in a while. Thankfully, Wyrd and Wonder provides the perfect opportunity to escape the humdrum for something new.
Perhaps, like Biff, you wish to escape via the roads. Weeeeell they ain’t exactly paved in Fantasyland.
ROADS in Fantasyland are not good. Tourists have frequent cause to complain. There are several types of Road, each with its characteristic inconvenience.
Ancient magical ways, normally engineered from some black rocklike substance imperviousto wear. These are so old that only short stretches remain. The rest has been torn up or buried in some ancient CATACLYSM. This can be exasperating. You are just beginning to make some decent mileage on this tarmaclike surface when it stops, and you are back to a snail’s pace again.
ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS. These are wider than an eight-lane highway, dead straight, and made of cobbles that preternaturally show no sign of aging. Though hardly ever used today—they are characterized by windswept emptiness—they were clearly built to allow a traffic of horse-drawn carts, four lanes in each direction, travelling at seventy miles per hour.
Old trade routes. These are long-disused and normally serve to do little more than point you in the right direction. If you try to follow them you are quite likely to get lost when the route peters out into pathless moorland or even MARSHES. If the route is obvious, you will find no shelter along it, and no WATER.
Unpaved roads. These are the norm. They are always muddy and full of deep ruts from the passage of MERCHANTS and previous Tours. They lead through dangerous WOODS and abound in rocky defiles ideal for AMBUSH. Nobody ever maintains these, despite frequent representations to the Management, and you have to use them because they are the only way to get about. Some Tourists lose patience and ride across country, but this is not recommended because it is the surest way to get attacked by APELIKE CANNIBALS.
Hmmm. Maybe roads aren’t the best way to go with those cannibals and ambushing bandits hiding all over. What about the mountains?
MOUNTAINS are always high and mostly snow-capped. There seems to have been no ice age in Fantasyland, so the Mountains rise tens of thousands of feet into pointed, jagged peaks, which have evidently never suffered erosion. They are full of rocky defiles and paths so steep you have to dismount and lead the HORSES. Almost certainly there will be at some stage a ledge along a cliff that is only a few feet wide with an immense drop the other side. This will be covered with ice. Snow will be xweeping across it. The Rule is that you always in a hurry at this stage.
MOUNTAIN PASS, BLOCKED. The Rule is that any time you need to get from one side of the MOUNTAINS to the other, the pass across is blocked. The pass will be a narrow rift high in the Mountains, and by the time you have climbed up there, either with the forces of the DARK LORD hard behind you, or knowing you have only so long to get to the other side before the forces of Darkness get there first, you will find the pass…impassable. Usually the Management applies this Rule by prudently sending you off in winter, so that the pass is snowbound; on occasion, though, the blockage can be a landslide or a fall of rocks. In some cases, you can go down and round the long way, but mostly you just have to bash on through. Somehow. See also HARDSHIP and HYPOTHERMIA.
Oh yeah, hypothermia…never mind! Well I do like my rivers. My town’s on a river, my state’s on a river. Heck, did you know that Wisconsin is home to 26,767 miles of streams and rivers? That’s enough to circle around the entire globe and THEN some! (I learned that while digging up facts about Wisconsin for the kids to copy for handwriting. Ain’t that neat?) So, let’s try a river.
RIVERS in Fantasyland are often very peculiar. Some even flow uphill. Setting aside normal features such as the fact that neither WITCHES nor the forces of the Dark are able to cross RIVERS, , we are left with the unaccountable way that each bank of a given RIVER is liable to be different, and even more unaccountable way the local inhabitants ignore this oddity. The reason seems to be that the left bank of a River (face downstream) is often Highly Magical and full of Hidden Dangers, so that the dwellers are unable to see that side of the River at all. Heaven knows what they think they see instead, or the reason for the difference between the two banks.
BRIDGES. The inhabitants of Fantasyland seem to have a distrust of Bridges, maybe because they provide an easy way for an invading ARMY to cross to a VILLAGE on the other side of the RIVER. This is a great inconvenience to the Tourist. The Rule is that, when being pursued by the forces of the Dark, you are going to need to cross a Bridge, and there will be no Bridge. While the Tour is waiting to find a way across, the forces of the Dark have time to catch up. Even if there is supposed to be a Bridge on the route, you are likely to arrive to find it broken–whereupon the forces of the Dark gain steadily again. The only Bridges sure to be still in place are ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, and they will be huge, with, as soon as you get to the middle, a tendency to develop a small but impassable gap right at the apex.
Well, how on earth can we get anywhere when the mountains are blocked, the roads are awful, and the bridges on the verge of collapse? I guess we’ll have to stop at a river’s town and socialize with the townsfolk therein…tomorrow. x
Happy March, everyone! Spring is coming slow and steady to the Midwest. Let’s celebrate a new month with two amazing indie authors who’ve founded a literary journal currently open to submissions.
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourselves, please!
Cendrine: My name is Cendrine Marrouat. I was born and raised in Toulouse, France, and now live in Winnipeg, Canada.
I am a photographer, poet and the author of 15 books in different genres: poetry, photography, theatre, and social media. In my career, I have worked in quite a few other fields, including translation, teaching, social media coaching, and journalism. I was a content curator and creator, as well as an art critic for a while too.
David and I launched Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal and the Poetry Really Matters show in 2019. I am also the co-founder of a photography collective called FPoint Collective. Finally, I created the Sixku (a poetry form) and the Reminigram (a type of digital photography).
David: Hello, my name is David Ellis. I am a British born and raised, I live in the South-East of England.
I am the author of several collections of poetry (my debut collection won an international award in the Readers Favorite Book Award Inspirational Poetry Category). I also have authored a short story collection, co-authored several books with Cendrine and co-founded Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal with Cendrine too.
I have interviewed hundreds of authors about their creative drives and what has inspired the writing in their lives.
What was an early experience where you each learned that language had power?
Cendrine: My mother was a teacher. She was adamant that I learn to read, write and count before the end of kindergarten. My father is an avid reader, like she was. As I discovered the world around me, I realized that words mattered, that the way a person spoke or wrote had an impact on people’s perception of them. Then I studied English and (some) Spanish in school and at university. My understanding of the power of language increased tremendously as a result.
David: I think for me, my epiphany with the power residing in language started with and will always be indebted to the late author Terry Pratchett. I remember when I first started reading his books that I needed a dictionary to keep up with some of his turns of phrase. What I believe was happening was that he was planting seeds that were evolving into the more humourous aspects of my writing. My English grades actually went up higher than any other subject at the time, due to Pratchett forging a love of language inside of me, as I devoured his fantasy Discworld series.
Furthermore, it has been through the act of writing poetry for many years that I have discovered my passion for crafting inspirational and motivational verse. The reactions from people regarding how I have encouraged them over the years with my words have given me even more respect for the magical power that language can have, along with how words can heal people and bring them closer together.
Who are your favorite under-appreciated writers/photographers? Let’s spread the word on them, here and now!
Cendrine: My favorite poets: Kahlil Gibran and Alphonse de Lamartine. The Prophet is loved worldwide. But very few people actually know that Gibran wrote many other stories. His drawings are also beautiful.
Lamartine was a French writer, poet and politician whose most famous piece, The Lake, also contains his most famous words:
“Oh, Time, stop your flight! Hours, don’t run away!
Allow us to savor this delight, the best of life’s brief day!”
My friend Isabel Nolasco, the other co-founder of FPoint Collective, is a very talented photographer. She hails from Portugal and the world is starting to discover her images.
David: If we are talking poets, I would definitely have to go with Edgar Allan Poe, since I wrote an entire book of poetry inspired by all of his poetry! I would say that Poe is remembered more for his short stories but probably less well known for some of the unique gems in his poetry collection. Leonard Cohen is another hero of mine, who I think gets more focus on his music than his poetry, which I find to be really sensual and compelling.
I have a few favourite indie writers who could always do with more reader love any day of the week. Christie Stratos (www.christiestratos.com), who has her own podcast interview show and writes really unique fiction books (check out her Dark Victoriana collection). JD Estrada is another amazing author who has a ton of brilliant books covering fiction and lots of incredible poetry, you can find him at https://jdestradawriter.blogspot.com/. Finally, I would also like to put out a quick shout out to Anais Chartschenko, who is a fabulous musician, poet, author and fellow lover of tea! She can be found at https://anaischartschenko.weebly.com/. All of them are extremely friendly, multi-talented and very inspirational to me in many different ways. They are definitely very groovy people, so go check out their wares soon!
Cendrine, you also regularly update your growing collection of photography. How does visual expression differ from written expression? What does a composition need to contain before you feel ready to hold your camera up for the shot?
Cendrine: Photography and poetry are the same to me. Whether I pen a piece or take a photo, it is all about telling a story but in the “show don’t tell” fashion.
Composition is in the mind before it ends in an image or a poem.
David, you find inspiration in the classic writers of the past, including Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. What is it about such writers that brings the poetry out of you?
David: I’m fascinated with the poetic language that they employ in their writing works. I remember at school being overwhelmed by having to work out what every sentence of Shakespeare’s plays meant, line by line, I actually ended up feeling it was quite a tedious process. It wasn’t until years later that I developed a real fondness for the bard (I’m glad my school years didn’t completely put me off!) when I discovered how he was playing with the language he was using and inventing many idioms that we commonly use to this very day.
I’ve felt that Edgar Allan Poe combines the art of storytelling with his poems magnificently. ‘The Raven’ stirs up such vivid imagery and emotions in me, when I read it and listen to it being read aloud.
There is so much inspiration in the past, providing that you have unique ways of navigating it, appreciating its splendor and inherent beauty. I draw a lot of energy and writing experience from these authors because of what they are describing and the filters they interpret the world through in their own eyes. I find it a privilege to be reading the classics of the past, absorbing them and reinterpreting them for an appreciative future audience.
For me, I’ve actually reached a point where I’ve realised that I can literally find infinite inspirational material from the past and that is an incredible feeling to have in your life. Now, I just have to find the time to keep writing and publishing all of the ideas that I have!
Together you two have created a poetry journal, Auroras and Blossoms. Are you currently accepting submissions? What does it take for a piece of writing to be featured in your journal?
Cendrine: We accept submissions all year long. Our magazine promotes inspirational and uplifting poetry and poetry-related content, no matter the topic. We accept everyone (adults and teenagers alike), as long as they have something positive to say.
Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal is family-friendly, which means that the poetry has to be clean. No swearwords and no erotica / political pieces. The poems we select come from people who understand two things: the meaning of the word “positive” and the essence of poetry as an art form. They have a great message to share, a message that can help readers see the world in a different way.
David: Cendrine and I joined forces together on Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal because we both have a vision to share more inspirational poetry with the world, written by very talented people from all around the world. This specific type of poetry is the main reason why we both started writing and publishing books.
We encourage people to submit to us from all walks of life, we do not judge people on whether they have been published in previous journals. We prefer to instead look at the quality of the poetry a person writes and whether it could deliver an inspirational theme and message to our readers.
We don’t really have a specific type of poetry style that we are looking for, we will accept short and long pieces. As long as you take us on an inspirational journey with your writing and give us reasons to believe that your poem was written to be positive, uplifting, and/or motivating then you have an excellent chance of being published with us.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better poet/photographer as an adult, what would you do?
Cendrine: I would not do anything differently. I had a difficult childhood followed by challenging teenage years. I learnt a lot from my experiences and that is what makes me the artist I am today.
David: As a child, I think I ignored my literary instincts for quite some time, until it became apparent that I was excelling at English Language and English Literature more than any other subjects I was studying. I also developed a passion for song lyrics, in addition to poetry but I refrained from attempting to make music for many years. So, my advice to my younger self would be to start writing and refining your craft as soon as possible because it will take you many years to discover what you are truly good at and what motivates you to write every single day. That’s when the really exciting part of your life begins!
What is the most difficult part of your artistic processes?
Cendrine: Nothing, really. I am just a slow writer. But I have improved over the years.
David: I think for me it is having too many ideas to deal with at once and engaging in the necessary discipline to sit down and list out all of these ideas. This can extend to listing down ideas that I have about the project itself. When I find my focus, I can keep going for hours, often at the expense of not noticing where the time has gone. So yes, focus is the most difficult part for me in the artistic process, once you nail it down and commit to a project, that’s when you can ignore all other distractions and get on with completing a project to the best of your ability.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Cendrine: It energizes me greatly!
David: I used to find writing exhausted me when I worked on many different aspects of it at the same time. Take National Poetry Writing Month for example. When I participate, I tend to write and edit poems every day for a month, make a professional looking blog post and share many other poems that I find too and then attempt to read them all as well. When you are looking at tens, possibly even a hundred posts at a time, in addition to trying to write your own polished post, it is easy to get burnt out.
I’ve therefore learnt to be more considerate of my own time and not to try to cram too many things into one day. Writing has become a lot more fun for me as a result and I can do much more of it, when I appreciate and reflect on how much I have achieved in a single day.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Cendrine: Strongly? I’m not sure. But you cannot be a writer if you are afraid of sharing your voice and emotions (even indirectly) with the world. Because every word you leave on a page bears your mark one way or the other.
David: I think it is imperative for writers to be empathetic and to feel emotions strongly because they can then act in ways that people would do in real life. They can get under the skin of a character or subject matter and write in a way that emotionally connects with the reader.
All I know is that I write deeply, emotionally stimulating poetry and it creates a magnetism that helps me connect with like-minded people. When this is lacking in writing, whether it be the passion, focus or drive from the writer, if this emotional distance is conveyed to me as a reader, I am not going to be compelled to read more of their work, plain and simple.
Cendrine: Most of the aspiring artists I have met lack self-confidence and compare themselves to others way too much. How do you avoid those traps? Do NOT listen to naysayers.
Just know that you cannot please everybody. Do not take negative criticism personally. But pay attention to constructive feedback. Compare yourself to others only to understand your own style.
David: Read the kind of books that you would like to write. Think of the kind of things that you would like to see written but can’t find and then go write them yourself.
Take advice from “How To Guides” as a means to enhance your own creativity but just take what things work for you and discard the rest. Don’t buy many guides and spend all your time reading them as an excuse to neglect your writing.
By all means be prepared but only do enough research to get yourself started. Starting is always the most difficult part in any endeavour. Find a theme, think a bit about it, do your research and get writing as soon as you possibly can. The rest will follow soon enough. If you need guidance, write a short outline of what you want to achieve and then work through all of those points but don’t spend all your time planning and get writing!
Try to write every day, even if it is only a few lines. I have been told constantly in any artistic profession that anyone, no matter how busy they are, can spend at least ten minutes a day indulging in their own creative expression. You will make more time as your passion grows. Diligently find the time to fuel your creative passions, watch an hour less TV a day, shut yourself away for small periods of time, turn off the computer or put aside your mobile phone if you have to and make time in your life to create, your soul will thank you for it.
Be sure to share your work with friends and other writers. Be willing to take constructive (not negative) feedback for your work. Write until you have so much good material that you simply have to publish, then work to get it published!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
It’s high time for some powerful music, especially since it was such a joy to use music to welcome spring last year. I am finally, FINALLY working on a bit of short fiction, and would like to share it with you! We also need to consider the dangers of altering characters mid-story, and how those changes cause disconnect among fans…not to mention plot points.
Hello, everyone! Thanks for sharing your wishes and prayers–yesterday was a rough one, but today can and will be better.It’s been wonderful to write a little every day, so much so that I am going to let myself take it a liiiiiittle bit easier this week, as my university students are starting to submit finals and I know I’m subbing for at least two full days in other schools. So, be on the look out for an indie author interview as well as some guest writing from my awesomely sweet daughter Blondie.
Now, where were we–ah, the mysterious doctor is stirring something while sitting next to a butchered rabbit.
Sumac pulled a long, dirty knife out of the kitchen sink and stabbed what remained of the rabbit’s abdomen. “Hungry?”
“You have got to be kidding me.” Chloe said, one foot already sliding back to the kitchen’s door. She stumbled back, and back, and lunged for the bare bathroom before the heaving started. At least the toilet wasn’t covered in animal blood, oh jeez I cannot STAND IT.
The doctor listened to Chloe puke, then said, “I may have something to help with that.”
“How—” Thomas’ hand swept from the shaven Santa Claus to the carcass and back. “How is this remotely sanitary?”
The doctor furrowed his brow and held up the spoon for inspection while the sounds of Chloe’s wretching lessened. “The dishes have been washed, if that’s your concern.”
“You have medicine next to a dead animal in the goddamn kitchen!”
“And where else is one expected to prepare food and drink?” The doctor’s belly shook as he laughed. “All will be well, Sir, if you calm yourself.”
When Chloe returned to the kitchen, the doctor was politely patting her father’ limp arm. Thomas was standing, but not with the straight back he always kept when a white man talked to him. “Yeah…” The word dropped from his lips, vague and distant.
“Oh, I admit, this place is terribly morbid.” The doctor went to grab the teacup, sniffing it with disdain. “But it won’t do a dying old woman any good to raucous over stuffed birds and dirty stoves. What matters now is giving her a bit of comfort–like a pain reliever in her tea–and a bit of company.” He was only as tall as Chloe, so it was her he looked to with a smile. The scar running along one side of his shaved face almost connected the smile to his eyes–almost, but not quite. “Would you mind attending her with me? Just for a few moments while this brogue tidies up.” The doctor added a rebuking look at Sumac for good measure.
Not that Sumac seemed to care. “Look, the lady wants to keep the crows coming, and they won’t come if there’s no food.” With four slick moves, the rabbits limbs were severed. “There’s proper human vittles in the fridge anyway. Unless you put something off-limits in there.” And this plowman Sumac gave the doctor a snotty stare.
Weren’t doctors supposed to be respected?
Chloe tugged her father’s arm. “C’mon, Dad, let’s—”
“Not your father.” The doctor raised a hand to stop them. He had a pretty fancy ring on, much like the professors who taught at Angela’s college. It reflected the light in their faces as the doctor continued. “Your father can find you something more appropriate to eat. I know I wouldn’t trust that butcher to boil an egg.”
A low rumble: Thomas’ stomach, then Chloe’s. She could picture a full plate of chips, grapes, pb and j, cookies, milk…she must not have emptied her stomach, but her whole body of fuel, and she so needed fuel. Her legs felt like they could buckle right now, and the rabbit didn’t look gross so much as dinner-not-ready-yet…“Nothing with, you know, its teeth still in.”
Thomas smirked, and gave his daughter a wink. “No kidding. Look, I owe your mom some ice, anyway. Five minutes, I’ll be up to get you.”
Thomas held up five fingers. Chloe clapped her hand against his, and said, “Okay.”
Word Count: 553 Total Count: 7434
I was going to go a bit longer, but the boys are demanding basement time, and those groceries ain’t gonna buy themselves. Guess we’ll all have to meet the infamous grandmother tomorrow. 🙂
We drive, kid-free, through the silent Wisconsin countryside. Clouds hang silver and heavy over the corn and soy fields. The occasional tractor turns earth, the sporadic cow chews cud, the episodic cyclist scowls.
Yeah, sorry about my use of the thesaurus here, but I couldn’t help myself, not when I saw “odd” is a synonym for “occasional.” For amongst the normal, humdrum sights in rural Wisconsin, Bo and I are going to a truly odd place. One of the oddest in all the States, in fact.
Bo finds just the right music for our mission.
“What I want to know,” Bo ponders as we park, “is why no Bond villain ever stationed himself here.”
I nod. Christopher Lee’s funhouse set-up in The Man with the Golden Gun has nothing on this house.
Like Dylan Thuras (in the above video), I also grew up hearing the tale that world-famous architect–and Wisconsin’s own!–Frank Lloyd Wrighthad spurned Alex Jordan’s own architectural designs, motivating son Alex Jordan Jr. to build The House atop a natural tower called Deer Shelter Rock…an area less than ten miles away from Taliesin. The tale is likely a crock, and yet…you know, why else would you build so flippin’ close to each other?
I’d only visited The House on the Rock once in my teen years. It’s the sort of place that sticks with you no matter who you are or where you’re from; one visit affected Neil Gaiman so deeply he set a piece of American Godsat The House on the Rock–and yes, they even filmed an episode of the television series there.
Sadly, my phone’s camera cannot do this place justice at ALL, but I do have a few snaps I can share mixed among the far better photos on the Internet.
One of the major architectural highlights is the Infinity Room.
It ain’t exactly a place you want to walk in when lots of people are there–it heats quickly, and, um, wobbles a bit. Still, I managed to get a shot with Bo while the natural light was good.
Once you exit the Original House and Gate House, things start to get really weird.
Ah, the vicious Lake Superior Squid duals with the tempestuous Duluth Whale of Doom.
(Them’s the jokes, folks. For legit humor writing, talk to Bo.)
Would it surprise you to know that tiny children sobbed as their parents dragged them by the whale’s teeth? I sure couldn’t blame’em–I was freaked out when I first saw all this, and I was old enough to drive a car. Bo, bless him, humors me as I grip his arm tight enough to leave a mark as we descend…yes, we not only have to climb up and around this mouth–we have to do it aaaaall again to get out.
Anyway, here we transition with a big ol’ organ into room, after room, after room, of these giant orchestral mechanics.
You get me.
This place just goes on….and on…and on…you move from room to room, warehouse to warehouse. You walk on yet another street of yesterday dedicated to cars, hot air balloons, airplanes. You pass hundreds of trinkets and trunkets of store displays, guns, circuses, dollhouses, DOOOOOOLLS, pipes, ivory carvings, costume jewelry, armor. Battle scenes complete with armored elephants and dogs.
Did I mention the dolls? Like the giant carousel FILLED with dolls?
And then there’s the room with the world’s largest indoor carousel.
In case you’re wondering what’s hanging from the ceiling, those are mannequin angels. Dozens, upon dozens, of mannequin angels.
Probably to fend off Satan from eating people.
I walked down Satan’s gullet, stumped.
“What’s wrong?” Bo asks as we step out onto Inspiration point.
The sudden exit from hours among electric candelabras and mannequins makes my head hurt a little, but the foliage and peace of the forest around us more than make up for it. We’re at Inspiration Point, or Deer Shelter Rock. You can just see the Infinity Room behind the trees.
We must have missed something, I say, staring at a lone red barn on the far hillside (that I failed to get a picture of–sorry!). Wonder what that farmer thought, watching AJ Jr. haul materials and build his crazy concocted collection year after year after year. Did that farmer pay to take a tour like so many others in the 60s? Or did he just wave it off as so many ol’ Wisconsinites do and get back to the plow?
“How?” Bo takes a swig of apple juice as we sit on a bench. It’s our first break in three hours of walking, as our bodies are quick to tell us. “There’s only one way through this whole thing. The staff haven’t let us go off-course. What could we have missed?”
I grimace at the glass wall behind us. “We didn’t see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Bo rolls his eyes. He doesn’t remember the Horsemen from his childhood visits, and has been skeptical of their existence. “Well we’re not done yet.”
But how much left can there be? I ask for my curiosity…and my legs.
“We gotta double-back for another level and…yeah, the map here shows we’ve got a whole ‘nother room yet.”
But I promptly told my leg cramps to shut up once we got there.
This is, by far, my favoritist place at The House on the Rock.
Pillars–no, trees of drums and lights with delicate, narrow stairwells that wound and wound like vines. It was an other-worldly realm, a land of machine and music bathed in softly lit scarlet. It was a sort of room where you knew, you knew, magic awakens when the right song is played.
But alas, we had to move on. There was but one more pathway to the exit out, a pathway that went around the top of the carousel…
…and there they were.
Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah that walkway is so close to these guys Bo could literally reach out and touched Death–
–not that he does, thank goodness.
At last, we find ourselves back by the Japanese Garden and the exit from this one-of-a-kind place.
If Life’s Road ever brings you into Wisconsin, you must find a detour, any kind of detour to bring you to this place. It’s a day you’ll not soon forget, I promise you.
Fangirl Quest and Web Urbanisthave amazing photo collections on The House on the Rock I only partly pillaged for this post. Check them out!
I think every land’s got to have a place like this–not something like The House on the Rock per say, but that unique oddity, that portal where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are frayed, and you can feel magic hum in the air you breathe. What would you say is your land’s portal to an Other-Where? Let’s chat in the comments below!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
The House on the Rock isn’t the onlyplace to inspire a story. I utilized a bit of history from the Mississippi River Valley to help me write my upcoming release, the novella Night’s Tooth. You can read about it here, and pre-order it for just 99 cents here!The novella officially launches next Thursday the 29th, when I share my study of Charlaine Harris’ own fantasy western, An Easy Death. Don’t miss it!
Greetings, one and all! While I run around a massive education conference for my university, please enjoy this lovely chat I had with Indie Fantasy Author Marsha A. Moore.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
As a child, instead of having a bedtime story read to me, my father prompted me to create oral stories with him. Together over a few years, we conjured a series of fantasy tales called The Land of Wickee Wackee. Our characters and sub-plots interwove. Nothing was more exciting than creating new stories in that make-believe world! Bedtime was amazing!
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Natasha Mostert’s Season of the Witch changed how I view my role as an author of fantasy fiction. In her book, magic causes mental effects for both the giver and receiver. I find the complexity of that sort of magical system riveting, something I strive for in my own work.
It’s so cool to find a story that pushes us to think beyond how we’ve previously built our worlds. That kind of care surely takes time. Unfortunately, we don’t always see this kind of care in books currently published by indie writers, do we?
have a growing dislike for the indie practice of pushing books out so fast that
quality is sacrificed. The trend worsens each year. Books are produced that
lack originality and depth, and writers burn out and then teach their
methodology for “success” only because they were unable to maintain the arduous
pace long term. Art requires reflection.
Indeed! It took me eight years of writing, revision, reflection, and more writing to make my own first novel worthy of publication. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Picking up writing a particular story after I’ve left it for a while and it’s gone cold, absent from my daily thoughts. That is a beast I definitely dread tackling.
I’d love to hear more about your series, The Coon Hollow Coven Tales. What inspired you to bring witches and magic to the Midwestern setting?
My series, Coon Hollow Coven Tales, is set in my version of a real place near where I lived in southern Indiana as a child. With its rolling forested ravines and artist residences tucked away in sleepy, rustic log and limestone cabins, the place captured my imagination and never let go.
place is Nashville, Indiana, which lies south of Bloomington. In fact, all of
Brown County and its rolling hills inspires this series.
unusual tiny town in the county, Story, Indiana, is now privately owned and run
as a small bed and breakfast resort. It’s a living fairy tale! And some of the
buildings are haunted! The Blue Lady lives in the rooms above the
inn/restaurant/old general store. If you get a chance to visit, you must!
In Witch’s Mystic Woods, I adapted that little village, renamed it “Fable” and gave it to my Summer Fae King and his faeries to run. In the book, I needed a location to throw a Winter Solstice party. Who else would be better party hosts than fae? So the inn of Fable opened its doors to the witches of Coon Hollow Coven for a memorable night.
The books in my Coon Hollow Coven Tales series are rich with a warm Hoosier down-home feel as well as mysterious magic that lurks in the ravines of those deep woods.
Did Coon Hollow Coven Tales require lots of research? I can’t help but imagine so, considering the subject matter.
Writing Coon Hollow Coven Tales has given me a terrific reason to spend inordinate amounts of time researching all kinds of witchcraft, from group to solitary practices, green witchcraft, wiccan work compared to paganism, Cherokee shamanism (for Witch’s Windsong), and even necromancy (the raising of the dead, for Witch’s Cursed Cabin).
But the most interesting witchcraft I learned about was that of a Hedge Witch, an old, old practice. It relies upon communication with the world of faeries going through the “hedge” or “veil” into their realm. These Hedge Witches are the true-life, Appalachian granny witches, also knowns as “root doctors” or “wildwood mystics.” Their skills riveted me and became the background for my book Blood Ice & Oak Moon. During the past year, I’ve begun a new series, a YA alternate reality/historic fantasy. The series is set in the year 2,355 in what was once the United States, well past an apocalypse that occurred at the end of the Civil War. I’ve done considerate research about the Civil War and how different areas of the country were affected. One of my best references for small things, which books or YouTube cannot convey, has been one of my former high school students who has been an avid 18th and 19th century reenactor for decades. I treasure her advice!
As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?
In preparing to write Witch’s Windsong, the most recent in my Coon Hollow Coven Tales, I studied with a local shaman. My main character, Keir, is a shaman, and I wanted to portray his work accurately. The local shaman taught me how to journey into the different realms and helped me locate and meet my spirit animal, the Coyote, who often teaches me valuable lessons.
The Coyote helps in with my general outlook, including my
writing, always poking at me to take time to “play” with my creative process.
When I listen, the process becomes hugely more rewarding, as much or more than
achieving the final outcome.
Just as writers and readers dream of meeting the authors who inspire them, the Samuelsens dreamed of Horner composing a piece for them.
And, as the happiest of stories go, this dream came true.
Mutual friend and Norwegian director Harald Zwart finagled a meeting with James Horner and the Samuelsens. After performing for Horner, Mari asked if Horner would write a concerto for them.
He said yes.
I feel like I’m transported to the classical style Horner himself loved. The beginning cello solo here reminds me of the bassoon opening Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Then the violin enters, and I can’t help but think of Firebird Suite,also by Stravinsky. It’s no coincidence both works were adapted to accompany visual stories of creation and destruction in Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.
And Horner himself is a storyteller, such a storyteller. The cello and violin are the characters of this story; its setting, the dawn of spring. Can’t you just feel the encroaching sunrise with the muted swell of the woodwinds? And here come the strings: warmth, growth. Green shoots struggle for freedom from thawing soil. Cello and violin walk–no, dance–through the landscape, casting out the final frost fairies to welcome spring’s sprites. The sprites run as the orchestral strings unleash them into the air.
I could go on, but I am sure your own imaginations picture this dance of change and color. It delights me to hear beloved themes from Horner’s other work woven into this tale: the strings bring forgotten magic from Something Wicked This Way Comes, a touch of kindled love from Titanic. The orchestral woodwinds remind me of the bravery buried in Wrath of Khan. Yes, I hear many loved harmonies of my childhood fantasies come and go until the final moment, when all is silent but for the violin and cello, an echo of the song’s beginning.
It helps the harmonies are played with such passionate players. I must find more of the Samuelsens’ work–their expression with bows and breaths are unlike any I’ve heard before.
If you loved Part 1, then please, listen to Part 2 andPart 3 of James Horner’s concerto. It’s such a stunning work, and one of Horner’s last; he died the year this album was released, 2015.
I am so thankful to have found Pas De Deux, and cannot wait to write more about the composer who led me to this album. But that will have to wait. Until then, let me give you a sample in the form of his contribution performed by the Samuelsens. May this song bring you dreams of Spring’s duet, its color and storms ever dancing with ribbons of sunlit magic.
But most of all, may this song fill your heart with a hope defiant of all darkness.