A Summer Evening Spent Fishing

A summer evening spent fishing
On black waters beneath a sunset sky.
Forested hills climbed high in the west,
As dark as shadows and just as safe.

Bears and their young came to fish the creek
That runs past the woods next door.
Deer swam across the lake to eat
Grape leaves and my mother’s roses.

Sunsets seen from my father’s boat
While fishing for perch or crappie.

And morning came, bright and young,
Filled with the scents of home.
Of potatoes and onions, crisp and brown,
And fish frying for breakfast,
And cinnamon rolls just out of the oven,
And coffee perking on the stove.

Smells that signified Sunday morning.
And when the washing up was done
I took my book to the alder grove
And drowsed the day away.

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Credits and Attributions

A Summer Evening Spent Fishing, by Connie J. Jasperson © 2018 All Rights Reserved, reprinted by permission (First appeared on Life in the Realm of Fantasy http://conniejjasperson.com/2018/02/23/flashfictionfriday-a-summer-evening-spent-fishing/ 23 Feb 2018)
Indian Sunset: Deer by a Lake, painted by Albert Bierstadt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ca. 1880 – 1890

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

For much of my childhood, my grandmother, Ethel, lived with us. She had the biggest influence on how I view my life as a woman.

Born in 1909, she had always been a staid, working-class housewife who “knew her place,” which was not what most people would have considered it.

Convinced that men couldn’t think their way of a room with doors nailed open, she expected they would keep their noses out of “women’s business.” That left her free to get on with the real work that kept her world running smoothly.

For more than ninety years, Grandma Ethel was an intrepid cleaner of all things soiled. Woe to the child who brought mud in on their shoes, or the man who thought he could sit down to dinner unwashed and wearing dirty work-clothes. Woe to anyone who sassed grandma—she had an Edwardian view of discipline.

Mothers and daughters don’t always get along. Grandma Ethel and my mother had a rocky relationship, rife with resentment (some justifiable) on my mother’s part and confused indignation on my grandmother’s.

I was often at odds with my mother, who until she defied Dad and went back to work in 1973, was the quintessential post WWII angry housewife. I embodied everything she despised about my generation, and she was articulate in expressing herself.

My grandmother, on the other hand, quietly despaired of my ever finding a dependable man, but believed I did my best and that was all that mattered.

The core of the strife between my mother and me boiled down to our radically different values and domestic styles. I grew up in the 1960s and had made a number of poorly planned relationship decisions that hadn’t worked out as well as I thought they would.

In the 1980s, I was the sole provider for my family, with three part-time jobs to hold down and no child support. Sunday was the only day I had for housekeeping. While the house looked great on Sunday night, by Friday it had become a disaster. I was married, but my ex-spouse’s role as stepdad and husband was like that of an ugly art piece given to you by a good friend. It takes up space on the shelf, and you keep it because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But it contributes nothing to the ambiance of the room, and you cringe whenever you dust it.

Surprisingly, despite the domestic free-for-all in my home, my staunchest supporter and greatest ally in the struggle with my mother was Grandma Ethel.

She was always there for me, a quiet force of nature. I could count on her to pick a spot and just begin tidying. She made it a game the kids enjoyed.

As she got older, Grandma lost her ability to taste food, and she stopped cooking, relying mostly on frozen TV dinners. She took the bus to Woolworth’s every morning, ordering toast and coffee in the coffee shop for her breakfast, and then treating herself by purchasing a small bag of menthol cough drops, thinking they were candy. She had a peculiar habit of sitting beside the fountain in the mall after she left the store, peeling the wrappers off each cough drop, leaving the wrappers in the Mall trash can. Once peeled, she put the drops back in their bag and put them in her purse.

She did this because “it saves time later.” Every afternoon, she sat in her chair reading a Louis L’Amour novel, listening to the radio and enjoying her “candy.”

Whenever we visited Grandma Ethel, my kids dreaded being offered a piece of “candy,” but they accepted it politely and thanked her. Once we were in the car and on the way home, the truth would spill out in that frank way children have, but I was proud of them—they loved her enough to be kind.

On Fridays, my mother bowled with a woman who worked at Woolworth’s. She told Mama that Grandma was known at Woolworth’s as “the cough drop lady” and mentioned Grandma’s habit of wrapper-peeling, saying it was “sweet.” Mama, of course, was horrified and embarrassed, and not very kind about it.

In her golden years, Grandma developed another fun habit. She listened to the local radio station all day, getting the news and singing along with every oldie or Top 40 hit of the 1980s. She knew all the words.

“Like a Virgin.”

“Billie Jean.”

“I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

Grandma knew and sang along with them all, but she adored Bobby McFerrin. In her last years, when she couldn’t remember anything else, she still sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and danced in the kitchen with my ex-husband’s red long-johns.

When she hit the age of about eighty-five, she lost that fire, that thinly veiled resentment of all things male that had kept her going for so many years.

By then I was a single mother again and determined to remain that way. During her final year, Grandma was my closest friend and companion.

She had become vague and was often unsure what day it was or where we were going. She’d always had a sneaky sense of humor, but she became both shocking and hilarious, saying what she really thought without thinking first, quite loudly. She did whatever she felt like on the spur of the moment.

I lost a dear friend when Grandma passed away. But by then, my mother and I had come to an uneasy truce and were actually forging a friendship of sorts.

Did I mention my mother was extremely competitive? “Competitive” is a weak word when describing how my mother viewed any game or contest. She outlived both Grandma and my dad, which meant she had won, and which was all that mattered.

She “loosened up a bit” too, as she approached sixty-five. Mama began having an occasional cocktail at lunch.

Occasionally, every day.

Margaritas.

By 1990 Mama thought Cheech and Chong were a riot and loved the Rolling Stones, Mick the Stick in particular. 1989’s Steel Wheels was her favorite Stones album, and there was a time right after my dad died that if you went anywhere with her, you listened to Mick and the boys… over… and over.

The 1990s were her decade, musically. She loved U2, and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Music blasting, Mama drove her Aerostar like every road was a racetrack, and she was determined to win at any cost. Pedal to the metal, yellow lights mean “step on it and hang on to your hat.”

Mama loved jewelry, nice clothes, Mexico, and going on Caribbean cruises. She played cards twice a week with her girlfriends. She and my Aunt Lillian went to the casino once a week and played the slots like pros. At seventy-two, Mama found an awesome boyfriend and was in love for the first time in her life.

Once she turned eighty, she really began to have fun. When it came to restaurants and hotels, Mama expected a lot and usually got it. Waiters and cabana boys adored Mama because she looked far younger than her age, was an outrageous flirt, and tipped extremely well.

So now I’m the senior grandma–a responsibility I’m determined to fill well. With five adult children in our blended family to appall, I’m really looking forward to my golden years—I’ve earned them.

I’m not sure I can live up to the glorious examples set by my grandmother and my mother, but I’m an author so I should be able to come up with something suitably fun. I figure I have about fifteen years to work up an awesome shtick to trot out in my dotage.

In the meantime, I never forget the two women whose unique personalities and work ethics made me who I am. My motto is Don’t Worry, Be Happy and always tip well.

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Credits and Attributions:

Three Women on board a Ship, ca. 1930 by Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons, Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Sam Hood, photographer (1872-1953) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t Worry, Be Happy ©2018 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved, was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on March 23, 2018. Second publication, ©2018 Myrddin Publishing Group, used by permission.

Polidori’s Vampyre

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He was best known for his involvement in the Romantic movement, an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. He is considered by many as the originator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story The Vampyre (1819), which was the first published, modern vampire story.

Perhaps because John Polidori was a physician, he was able to bring all the disparate elements of 19th-century vampirism mythology into a coherent, compelling short story.  With just that one short story, he spawned an entire literary genre.

How did this come about? The story had its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality.

Lord Byron and his young, twenty-year-old physician, John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

On the run from creditors and Shelley’s ailing, understandably jealous wife, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, visited them.

The group was kept indoors by the incessant rain of that cold, wet, unpleasant summer during a three-day stretch in June. Bored at being cooped up, the five turned to telling fantastic tales, and which inspired them to write their own.

Reportedly, they were fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford’s Vathek, and laudanum, to which Byron was addicted. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley, produced what would become Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

Polidori was the outsider, the man who was only included as he was in the employ of Byron. Lord Byron made him the butt of many jokes at dinner parties, taking great pleasure in humiliating him. This cruel treatment of anyone in his power was well documented by his contemporaries.

Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), which is also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment.” Over the course of several mornings, he wrote “The Vampyre.” The manuscript was overlooked for three years when it was discovered by a disreputable publisher, Henry Colburn. He published it in his New Monthly Magazine under the title “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron.” It was received with acclaim, much to Polidori’s surprise and chagrin.

Polidori struggled to assert his rights to the work, and Lord Byron did have the grace to declare promptly the work was Polidori’s and not his. Despite that assertion, proper credit for authorship of the story was muddy for many years.

Still, Byron was firm that he was not the author. Apparently, Byron felt that the destruction of a man’s soul was no great thing, but theft of his intellectual property was a crime.

Polidori’s work had an immense impact on his contemporary readers. Numerous editions and translations of the tale were published. The influence of The Vampyre as described by Polidori has continued into the twenty-first century, as until recently, his work was frequently considered the primary source of what is accepted as “canon” when writing about vampirism.

What are the traditional tropes of vampire fantasy? First of all, we must think Lord Byron. He was an arrogant, self-centered, charismatic sociopath with a gift for writing brilliant poetry. From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot, and by the time he hired Polidori, he was addicted to laudanum which had been prescribed for the pain. He treated the young Polidori atrociously, engendering deep antipathy for his patient in the young doctor.

Within the pages of Polidori’s diary, I see “The Vampyre” as an allegory of Byron’s abuse of John Polidori himself. It is easy to visualize Byron as a man possessed of the power to drain one of their soul when seen through the eyes of the man he had in his power, and whom he treated abominably as an employer.

Byron was described as the devourer of souls in the book, Glenarvon, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s former lovers.  “Ruthven” is the name Lady Caroline Lamb referred to Byron as in her novel. Polidori had read Glenarvon that summer, and blatantly used Lamb’s protagonist’s name for his vampire, and Byron proudly admitted he was the role model.

The Public Domain Review article, The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire, says this about the rocky relationship between Polidori and Byron:

“It was no great leap for Polidori to believe that Byron was sucking the life from him, just as others had accused Byron of possessing a charismatic power that eclipsed their own identities. Amelia Opie, one of the many women Byron had charmed, described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it,” a mesmeric quality that critics also found in his verse, which had, according to the critic Thomas Jones de Powis, “the facility of…bringing the minds of his readers into a state of vassalage or subjection.”

So we know vampires are charismatic and seductive. Their bite would enslave their victims. Folktales from hundreds of years ago tell us they can take the form of bats and fly through the windows of even the tallest buildings. Historically, vampires are powerful, but unable to withstand the light of day, which would burn them, and destroy them forever.

However, that which was once canon regarding vampires is no longer set in stone.

Modern vampires are often able to stay outside during the day, and some even sparkle.  Many are model citizens who get their blood from robbing blood banks.

But underneath it all, I still have a fondness for the mad, bad, dangerous-to- know Lord Byron style of vampire.

~~~|~~~

Myrddin offers several varieties of Vampire for your reading pleasure:

Carlie M. A. Cullen’s Heart Search Trilogy

Stephen Swartz’s dark Stefan Szekely Trilogy

Nicole Antonia Carros’s hysterically funny Brawn Stroker’s Dragula


Credits and Attributions

Polidori’s Vampyre by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on her blog, Life in the Realm of Fantasy, on 20July, 2016, under the title Physician to the Vampyre. Reprinted by permission.

Food, Fun, and Family

Easter is coming, and while I have no small children at home, my husband and I still celebrate the advent of spring on that day. I will make a special holiday dinner and invite our friends, all of us retired. This year the menu will include a coconut cream pie, which I can hardly wait to try out. I found the recipe on the Minimalist Baker website, and have included the link to it here: Vegan Coconut Cream Pie.

When I first began eating a plant-based diet, I started slowly, with truly meatless Fridays. My first forays into vegan cooking were not good. I had no idea what ingredients to buy and no idea how to make the food taste good. I had the mistaken notion that vegetables were bland.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I realized that I needed to learn how to cook all over again. The first thing I did was to go to the internet. There I found the wonderful website, The Minimalist Baker. There I found an endless source of amazing, plant-based recipes, all requiring 10 ingredients or less. Even better, they could be made with one bowl, and usually took thirty minutes or less to prepare.

I believe that food should be clean, that is, raised without chemical sprays and fertilizers. To that end, I only buy non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food. Why am I so strict about this? Soybeans and wheat and other grains that are commercially farmed in large factory farms are genetically modified so the fields sown with those seeds can be sprayed with ‘Roundup,’ which is a chemical herbicide manufactured by the Monsanto company. Monsanto also manufactures the seeds that can withstand their chemical.

At first glance, this seems like no big deal. But Roundup is glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, and crop desiccant. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops. Glyphosate is absorbed through foliage, and minimally, through roots and transported to the growing points within the plant. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

This chemical is used in many aspects of large factory farming, including desiccating grains for harvest.

The principal of eating organically grown foods is the same as not eating too much fish because of high levels of mercury—the small quantities ingested in each individual plant may not be harmful but the accumulation over time is bad. Because glyphosate is so pervasive in the standard foods available at the grocery store, I am strict about only buying organically grown produce, sugars, beans, and grains, as they are ‘clean,’ that is, grown and harvested without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Organic food is more expensive than chemically raised food but eating a plant-based diet is far cheaper overall.  And, the costs of organic foods are going down as small farmers increasingly embrace the craft. In the Pacific Northwest, where I am from, the small family farm is making a comeback, driven by the demand for clean food. The pressure against the small farmer from “Big Ag,” as the factory farming corporations are known collectively, is great.

But despite the lack of tax incentives and federal subsidies that the largest corporations receive, small organic farms are not only taking root, they are also thriving. A great article on the rise of “Food Forests” can be found here: These Oregon organic farmers figured out how to have nature do all the work.

My new favorite cookbook is “Field Roast: 101 Artisan Vegan Meat Recipes to Cook, Share, and Savor” by Seattle chef, Tommy McDonald. This book now resides on my kitchen counter alongside the cornerstone of my personal cuisine, “The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples” by Miyoko Schinner.

With just these two books and my favorite vegan websites, I have developed a style of cooking that makes each meal a small celebration of the food we are so fortunate to enjoy.

Whether you are vegan, a carnivore, or somewhere in between, food is more than just something we eat to stay alive—food and how we prepare it is a central facet of our lives. I’m so fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, where the food culture is leading the way to a healthier lifestyle, and where small farmers are able to do what they do best: grow amazing food for me to prepare for my family.

K. K. Hatch talks about Katherine Graham

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the movie “The Post,“ with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I was intrigued not particularly by the central theme of the Pentagon Papers, but more by the life and personality of Katherine Graham, the daughter of the founder of The Washington Post and the person who took over the helm at the paper after her husband committed suicide.

After the movie, my friends and I discussed some of the more poignant aspects of the movie for us, including the whole idea of a woman being in charge of a major company back in that era. One woman in our group talked about how she had read the autobiography of Katherine Graham and how interesting it was looking at her entire life and seeing how Hollywood portrayed the snippet of her life that involved the Pentagon papers. My curiosity was piqued by what she said and I seemed to remember that my father-in-law had given me a book from his collection a few years back that was about her. I resolved to go home and look for it, and if I didn’t have it, I’d find it at the library. Sure enough, the book was on my shelf, neatly placed in between Cokie Roberts’ Ladies of Liberty and The Real George Washington.

These three books have been displayed in the bookcase in our family room for who knows how many years now without being read. So, as a belated New Year’s resolution, I decided to read these three books by the end of the year, starting with a Personal History: Katherine Graham. After pulling the book off the shelf, I remembered why my father-in-law had given it to me in the first place: it was because I was a journalist in my pre-married, pre-kid life and he thought I would find it interesting.

I’ll admit, the read is a bit daunting. The book is about two inches thick and tops out at 625 pages, but so far it has kept me captivated. I look forward to learning more about Katherine Graham and maybe in the near future having a fun discussion with my father-in-law, who has incidentally read ALL of the books in his bookcase.

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Author Bio-

K. K. Hatch is the author of “Silent No More,” a work of historical fiction set in the world of Nazi Germany during the waning years of World War Two. She is a busy wife and mother of three teenage girls and little bunny boy named Coco. Up until recently, she and her family called Colorado home, but now she lives in Northern Virginia, opening a new chapter of their lives.

Going Home, a memoir

October had arrived in the Pacific Northwest, chill and damp as always. Our friends, Jonna and Jake, lived on Black Lake, on the north end of the lake where my sister and I had spent our childhood.

A true Northwesterner, Jonna had planned a day on the lake despite the weather. A women’s day out with my sister, Sherrie, our old school friend, Evonne, and our dear friend from Texas, Irene. We planned to cruise the lake and show Jonna and Irene where we had lived from 1963 through the 1990s.

Jake was worried we would wreck the boat, calling instructions as we pulled away from the dock. “Don’t worry,” we called back to him. “Jonna knows how to drive.” Nevertheless, he stood in the rain, fretting at sending his beloved boat out under his wife’s control, loaded with sparkling cider and a group of women he knew all too well. This despite the fact Jonna would drink no wine until after we returned.

Despite Jake’s misgivings, Jonna neatly negotiated the deeper channel between the half-sunk, rotting posts of the old Black Lake Mill, which had burned in 1918, and was never rebuilt. Like many parts of my childhood, the old posts had simply been left where they were, rotting corpses of a time when Timber was King, and money grew in the forest surrounding Black Lake.

Our boatload of women and laughter slowly passed the new summer homes and palaces of the nouveau riche jammed onto narrow lots, professionally landscaped and manicured. Crammed between the mansions were the familiar, now-ancient mobile homes and the older, rundown shanties. Our childhood friends, “Black-Lakers” all, had lived year-round in these flimsy, drafty homes. Oil was expensive, so feeding the fireplace or woodstove was how we stayed warm back then.

In the 1930s, when my father grew up in the hills above the other side of the lake, the area had been exceedingly rural, a poor place teetering on the edge of poverty. In the 1960s, when I was growing up, it was working-class but still small and insular. Many of the people around the lake had gone to school with my father, and he knew them well.

Jonna slowly followed the shore past those homes, old and new. It was surprising which tattered old cabins stubbornly held on, clinging to their places despite being elbowed aside by the beautiful new homes of the well-heeled few.

Hugging the shoreline, we went south, passing down the eastern side of the lake toward the house that had been my family home for thirty-five years. I was curious, wondering what it looked like. As we idled along, I thought about those years that we had spent there, the good and bad.

How many evenings had I sat beside my grandmother at the picnic table, gazing out across the water to the Black Hills rising above the lake and dominating the view? How many campfires in the fire-pit on the beach, and barbecues? How many summers were spent swimming from morning to evening? I couldn’t wait to see it again.

The old landmarks had changed radically–we only recognized where we were because the contours of the shoreline was still the same. Having fished those waters for so many years, Sherrie and I knew which half-sunken log meant we were nearing the neighbor’s house. Ours had been beyond the woods next door.

The neighbor’s house had seemed large and modern when I was young and had been referred to as “the airplane hangar” by the locals when Ken Nolan built it. I was surprised to see how small it really was. It was greatly changed, but I recognized the mid-century wall of glass facing the lake. The new owners had abandoned the small lawn and gone to simply having a large deck, surrounded by tall salal and Oregon grape. They had sacrificed much of the view from inside in the interests of privacy, I suspect.

Even though the neighboring house was so changed, I was filled with anticipation for the first sight of our childhood home, with me going on and on, telling our friends how beautiful the property was.

We never saw that house, despite my eager searching.

Just beyond the now-ancient grove of alders that had separated our property from the neighbors was a rundown building. It did resemble my parents’ house but was definitely not the home I had grown up in.

It had been made into a duplex and was clearly a rental unit for the large house that now sat behind in what had once been the swamp. The acre of lawn and gardens that had been my parents’ pride and joy was lost to the wilderness, with a dilapidated fence cutting the yard in two. On either side of the fence, narrow paths snaked through the weeds, muddy trails to the beach. Grass and weeds stood waist-high, obscuring the once-beautiful home.

The beach and swimming area were gone. A marina dominated the waterfront, with five dilapidated power boats moored at several docks. Thinking back on that sight, I suspect that summers there see few children playing in the shallows, as the formerly sandy beach is now a swampy morass.

I confess I was devastated to see the old family home in such disrepair.

The last time I had approached the house from the lake had been in 1995 after my grandmother passed away, while my mother still lived there. That day, as we returned to the shore, I had viewed the modest home in its park-like setting, with a broad lawn that took an hour to mow even with the riding mower. Cherry trees, alders, and maples had shaded the yard, with roses, camellias, rhododendrons, and other heirloom shrubs framing the house. Blueberries, cascade blackberries, and loganberries had pride of place in the immense vegetable garden that was to the right of the house when viewed from the lake.

When we were growing up there, the inside of our home was cold and damp and frequently in disrepair. There were no carpets because Mama said they would be ruined, and certainly the linoleum hadn’t stood the test of time. Our furniture had been worn out, and Mama wasn’t really into interior decorating.

Besides, as she was always reminding us, there was no money to fix things up. Dad had a good job, but money was tight. Nevertheless, however shabby it had been compared to the homes of our wealthier classmates who lived in town, it was immaculately clean inside and out. Nothing was ever out of place, because what would people think? Mama had strong opinions about people with poor housekeeping habits and was rather vocal about it.

As I said, the house itself had been nothing special, but the yard… 350 feet of waterfront and five acres going back toward the road. The yard and the view were what my parents had made themselves house-poor for.

When I was a child, the yard had been a magical place of refuge from disapproving adults, with many places to hide and read and to be important to someone, even if it was only the cat.

I didn’t know what to think when we saw the rundown hovel with a flock of boats parked in front. I was glad to be in the company of my friends and my sister, as I fought the sting and burn of tears. I think because I’m four years older than Sherrie, her memories were of happier times than mine, when Mama rebelled against Dad’s wishes and got a job outside the home so she could have some extra money.

Our friends in the boat, Irene, Evonne, and Jonna – they knew. These women could tell what had occurred, how it had set me back. They were united, a wall of strength, silently commiserating and allowing us to just take it all in, yet there for us if we needed to talk about it.

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

At last, Jonna turned the boat, and we idled along the shore, cruising south around the swampy end where the Black River begins its journey to the Chehalis River, and then to the “new” development of Evergreen Shores, built in the 1970s. Then we went north along the west shore, passing the strange dichotomy of shanties mingled between high-end vacation manors. Having circled the lake, we finally negotiated our way back through the rotting pilings at the north end and approached Jonna’s dock.

Jake had been standing there the whole time, likely expecting we would sink his boat. But we hadn’t, and bless him, he was happy to help Jonna park it.

I’m an author now, middle-aged. I’ve lived a long and interesting life, and still I find I have lessons to learn. A place is a place, and a building is only a home when someone lives there. I think that what I really discovered by going back to the lake house is that you don’t go home by returning to the scene of your childhood.

My childhood home still shines in my memories, but nowadays home means comfort and cozy evenings on the back porch with my husband. Home is a wall with photographs of our children and grandchildren.

I carry home within my heart and memories, and wherever I am, that is home.


Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

Black Lake Sunset, by Florence Lemke, 1973. Painted by the author’s aunt, image reproduced from the private collection of Connie J. Jasperson. © 2018 All Rights Reserved. Printed by permission.

Star Wars

With the upcoming release of the latest Star Wars movie, yes, I confess that I am a Star Wars fan and have been for as long as I can remember.

I grew up on the bickering of C3-PO and R2-D2 and the clashes of sparkling lightsabers and I never knew a world without them. But behind all that, is the ages old battle of good versus evil, but also with redemption of evil and rogues with hearts of gold. But it’s that triumph of heroes over villains that makes me watch it over and over. Not to mention the original story, new experiences, imaginative creatures, and exotic vistas. I even accepted the underperforming prequels considering they did still have characters to look up to, like courageous Padme who was more than just her office of Queen.

Admittedly though, I didn’t care much for Force Awakens. I keep trying to put a finger on why, since it wasn’t the performance by Daisy Ridley who has now become a hero for a new generation of girls. And it wasn’t the exotic locales with the desert planet very reminiscent of Tatooine, or the impressive ship interiors, as well as the return of the iconic Millennium Falcon and Han and Leia, and the remote end location.

Yes, the villain who threw temper tantrums like a 5-year-old was extremely hard to take seriously and not itch to make him do a time out in a corner, but I think the largest issue I had with it was originality in the plotline. So much of it felt like a retread of the very first Star Wars movie, so much that I started to wonder if they were aiming for a remake rather than a new story. Which brings me around to the upcoming new movie.

If Force Awakens was a retread of New Hope, I worry the new movie will be a retread of Empire Strikes Back. From the previews I know there will be an extended Jedi powers training session with Rey standing in for Luke and Luke standing in for Yoda. Makes me wonder just how much else will be copied. Will there be a scene on the run with Rey hiding out in a field of asteroids?

And will there be a showdown at Cloud City with Rey and Kylo where one loses a hand and a reveal of the relationship between them will be made? (I really doubt he’ll say that he’s her father, though brother is likely. It’s amazing all the bets that are being made over Rey’s parentage. I’m still hoping for her being a Kenobi rather than trying to turn them into Jacen and Jaina from the books instead of the writers coming up with their own original ideas).

Still, all of my quibbles won’t stop me from running to the theaters to see blinding lightsaber duels on a gigantic screen, and visiting new worlds, while the iconic theme of Star Wars blasts, heralding another out of this world experience.


Gypsy Madden is an author and costume designer, living and writing in the Rainbow State, Hawaii. She is the author of Hired by a Demon.

Morality and the Flawed Hero

When we write a tale that involves human beings, it is likely morality will enter into it at some point. What is our responsibility as authors, when it comes to telling our tales? Do we sugar-coat it and pretend our heroes have no flaws or do we portray them, “warts and all?” For myself, I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.

In Huw the Bard I describe a murder, committed in cold blood. I take you from what is the worst moment in Huw’s life and follow him as he journeys to a place and an act which, if you had asked him two months prior, he would have sworn he was not capable of committing. Sadly, this is not the lowest point in his tale. It is, however, the beginning of his journey into manhood.

Does my writing the story of this terrible act mean I personally advocate revenge murders? Absolutely not. I have lived for 64 years, and my view of life is that of a person with some experience of both the joys and the sorrows which living brings us. I believe no human being has the right to take another’s life, or do harm to anyone for any reason. Still, I write stories about people who might have existed, and who have their own views of morality. In each story I write, I try to get into the characters’ heads, to understand why they make the sometimes-terrible choices which change their lives so profoundly.

I have a responsibility to tell the best story I can, even if I am writing for my own consumption. This means sometimes I stretch the bounds of accepted morality, and make every effort to do it, not for the shock value, but because the story demands it. It is entertainment, yes; but more than that, I want the tale to remain with the reader after they have finished it. If I am somehow able to tap into the emotions of the moment and bring the reader into the story, I have achieved my goal.

In the forthcoming months, I will be launching another book in the Billy’s Revenge series, set in the world of Waldeyn, Billy Ninefingers. Billy appears at the end of Huw the Bard and is the man the series is named after.

Having just inherited the captaincy of a mercenary band known as the Rowdies, Billy is on the verge of having everything he ever wanted. However, an unwarranted attack by a jealous rival captain seriously wounds him, destroying his ability to swing a sword. Desperate to hold on to his inheritance, Billy must build a new future for himself and the Rowdies despite his disability. In keeping with the theme in this series, his tale explores the way we justify our actions for good or ill, and how his worst moments shape his life.

Toward the end of this book, Huw’s story converges with Billy’s, a small glimpse his life as a mercenary. Some of my other favorite characters will also make appearances in Billy’s tale of trouble and woe because his story and the Rowdies are the backdrops to their story.

Due to a family emergency over the summer, I was delayed in beginning my final revisions on Billy Ninefingers, but he will launch in the first week of December, in time for Christmas.

 

Life in the Fast Lane

As readers of my author blog, Life in the Realm of Fantasy, know, my husband and I share five children, all adults, two of whom have a seizure disorder.

Both my daughter and son were diagnosed with epilepsy when they were well into adulthood. Both have been hospitalized with severe injuries, but while our daughter’s journey with the seizure disorder has been relatively trouble free for the last ten years, our son has not had such luck.

Daughter 1 responds well to the medication and rarely has issues. Son 2 has had trouble getting his medication regulated, and his high stress lifestyle has often interfered with his ability to stay on track.

In conversation, as soon as folks hear the word ‘epilepsy’ they begin armchair prescribing cannabis, as the new cure-all for seizure disorders, and while the CBD end of the cannabis spectrum does have a miraculous effect for some patients, it is like any other medicine—it is not useful for everyone. My children are among those who do not benefit from it.

A ketogenic diet may help, but again, not every type of seizure disorder responds to this diet. However, it doesn’t hurt to try anything that may help.

Surgery is an option when a cause for the seizures is clear and operable, but for most patients, there is no discernable cause. My children fall into this group, and until a more efficient type of brain scan is available, MRIs and EEGs remain inconclusive.

Epilepsy is caused by a range of conditions that are not well understood, and it is one of the less popular afflictions for research. The way it is treated is to throw medication at it until they happen on one that works, rather like Edison trying to invent the lightbulb.

At times, epilepsy rears its ugly head like Cthulhu rising from the depths, and when that happens life goes sideways for a while. This summer was difficult in many ways, making me unable to focus on my own creative writing. Having deadlines and writing posts for various blogs on the technical aspects of writing was my lifeline, keeping me connected to the craft.

On June 13th, my son had a seizure while cooking, and severely burned his right hand. He then spent four days in Harborview, the regional burn center for the Pacific Northwest. The burns were situated in such a way they were not good candidates for skin grafts, so they healed slowly, over the next two months. In the process, I developed some mad wound care skills.

Now my son is healed, with new meds the seizures have abated, and he is back in his own home, getting on with school and a new direction in his career. This was just life, just the way stuff happens. It wasn’t a hurricane like Texas just experienced. We suffered no widespread devastation, and no one died. The creative muse has returned to me, as it always does.

I was home all last week, and still, my house is trashed. A mountain of dirty laundry lurks in the hall by the washer. Every counter-top in the kitchen has some item waiting to be put away. Two weeks ago, sand from the beach made the journey home in our clothes. Despite having vacuumed several times since then, the carpet needs a good shampooing or replacing, but that’s another story.

My editor’s hat is firmly on, and I am editing for Myrddin author, Carlie M.A. Cullen, a creative fairy tale that will be an amazing book. Revisions on my own work, Billy Ninefingers (a novel set in the same world as Huw the Bard) are progressing well. The first draft of my new series, set in the World of Neveyah (Tower of Bones), is on and off—sometimes more off than on, but each writing session sees progress.

Events in my family during May, June, and most of July temporarily stalled my creative mind. Many projects and plans fell by the way, but there was no other choice. Now, with my son on the mend and back in his own home, I am back to work. No more mornings spending two hours doing wound care, no trips to the burn center in Seattle for follow-up—all that is over and done with.

No cooking and cleaning for an extra person, no trying to find ways to entertain a bored, unwilling houseguest.

Now I am free to get up at 5:30 a.m. and edit until 10:00 or so. Then, when my ability to think critically is exhausted, I have the luxury of writing until noon. If I feel so inclined, I can do a bit of putting away, and maybe a little housework, but then I can sit and write again. This house will never be clean, but my family is once again on track and doing well, my ability to write has returned, and I am privileged to be an editor for Myrddin. This is where I get to read the best work before anyone else and hobnob with the authors.

Every life has challenges, whether it is epilepsy or hurricanes. The west is on fire, forests and grasslands burning and displacing people. Hurricanes are devastating the South. If you feel moved to donate to Hurricane or fire relief but don’t know a good, reliable organization, or for whatever reason choose not to donate to the Red Cross, you can make a donation through:

the ELCA Hurricane Relief website at https://community.elca.org/ushurricanerelief.

Wildfire Relief Fund at: http://wildfirerelieffund.org/

Your dollars and prayers will make a difference, far more than donations of second-hand goods and stuffed animals. What the displaced people are in desperate need of now is food and shelter, which your charitable donations of cash will give them.

Despite the terrible things we sometimes must deal with, life is good. The real task is to not let the bad days destroy all that is good.

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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

#BookReview: Legion Lost By K.C. Finn, review by Gypsy Madden

My blog at LiveJournal (and cross-posted to Goodreads) is where I review books that I read. So, to give you a quick taste of my reviews, I’m sharing one of my latest favorite books by the wonderful indie author K.C. Finn:

Legion Lost By K.C. Finn – I gave it 5 stars

Category: YA

 

Summary: In a dystopian future, there are interconnected cities known as the System and they are ruled over by the corrupt Governor Prudell. Our heroine lives outside of the System in a colony underground. But one day, the Underground is raided by System soldiers, and our heroine manages to escape though her mother and brothers are taken captive. Starving and on her own, she happens upon a young boy who is on his way to join the Legion. The Legion turns out to be the System run army made up of young teenagers. The girl decides to join, as a boy, and perhaps find a way to rescue her family members once she gets inside the System. But she finds that in the barracks everyone showers together, so her secret would be found out immediately, so she tries to hide herself in with the rejects. And in with the rejects she finds a new family of friends for herself.

Comments: K.C. Finn’s writing never ceases to amaze me. I love getting lost in her imaginative worlds and discovering new friends among her cast of characters. Legion Lost is a wonderful coming-of-age story with a dystopian background. I’m personally not a fan of anything to do with military, but it really didn’t bother me in this story. Having joined the military made a wonderful new set of complications that our heroine Raja had to figure her way through. And, yes, I adored Stirling. You could easily see the bashful, shy, awkward teenager, hiding behind his tough roguish captain façade. And all the other rejects had wonderful personalities, too (and especially Lucrece). There really wasn’t a character I could point to in this entire story and say they felt like a cardboard creation. Where so many of the indie YA dystopian books on the market right now read like re-treads of Hunger Games and Divergent, this one blazes its own direction. Yes, there are shades of Hunger Games in this (the corrupt government with a possibly evil leader, rebel factions itching to overthrow the established government, a heroine who grew up on the fringes and suddenly finds herself amid the struggle, not knowing who to trust, a strong heroine beating the odds, and yes, the touching coming-of-age). I hope it isn’t giving away too much, but I loved that this story had a Twelfth Night plot to it (my favorite Shakespeare play!) I can’t wait to see where the next book in this wonderful story takes us to!

You can pick up Legion Lost at https://www.amazon.com/Legion-Lost-K-C-Finn-ebook/dp/B01BKYGD00/ (Right now only $0.99 cents!)

And visit my blog at http://timelady.livejournal.com/ or https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7170704.Gypsy_Madden/blog for plenty of more book reviews!

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Gypsy Madden loves fantasy, science fiction, and anything British and adores making costumes and dressing up at conventions! She has participated in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest for 3 years as well as helping with the pitch workshopping thread, contributed chapters to the round robin stories of the Doctor Who Internet Adventures (DWIAs) and can even be spotted in the Naruto fan movie Konaha vs Chaos, dressed up as Harry Potter at several of the HPEF symposiums, and in LOST as a mental patient. Hired by a Demon is her first novel in print.

Dinosaurs Among the Birds

I graduated from high school in 1971. My friends and I were so close in those years and we have held onto those connections, despite the rough seas of young adult life. We drifted apart during the ‘blender years,’ but as our children left home and our lives became more our own, we drifted back together.

Fifty years ago, we were young and wild, determined to carve our path in the world and desperate to get on with living. We were tired of the war, tired of politics, and tired of being told what to think by a media that was controlled by pin-headed men in suits. We were tired of Congress selling us out.

We were going to change the world.

We did change it, but not exactly the way we naively believed we would. Even though we were unable to solve all the problems we wanted to, we did manage to make some positive changes. Unfortunately, we were too few, voices shouting in the wind.

And now we are somewhat jaded. The country is still divided, big money still buys votes. Congress is still selling out, and the media is still owned by pin-headed men in suits. There is always a war somewhere, and it is never done with.

My generation clings to our belief that we will see positive changes, but we don’t believe we’ll live long enough to enjoy them. Nevertheless, change is inevitable and it will happen, even if, like Moses and the promised land, we stand on the opposite shore and see only what yet may be.

My old friends and I are not exactly who we were in those wild days. Now we’re an amalgamation of everything we once believed would happen and the reality we lived. We are people who survived Reaganomics, who survived raising children through the MTV years. We held down three part-time jobs because trickle-down economics didn’t really trickle down the social ladder to our rung, and we had kids to feed.

We survived the Bush years with some of our dignity intact and didn’t fold under the “you’re with us, or you’re against us” propaganda designed to shut us up. We will survive whatever comes our way with the current regime because old wood is tough wood and doesn’t break easily.

We are jaded, but we have hope, we old hippies, we old women and men who are dinosaurs among the birds of the modern, hyper-connected world. We still believe the world can be a better place for everyone. The difference is now we know we can change the world… just not in the way we thought we would.

Now we put our money where our mouth is, donating to charities and spending our retirement years volunteering in schools and hospitals. We do it in small ways, chipping away, and little by little we have a positive effect.

We lost the battle to make the world a simpler, kinder place. Our parents were The Greatest Generation, and they won the war with their firm, 20th century belief that only through technology would mankind benefit, and that somewhere a miracle drug was waiting, one able to cure every disease known to man.  It just hadn’t been discovered yet. Now the drug companies have the government’s balls in one hand and a claw-like grip on our pocketbooks with the other. That hoped-for miracle cure is still somewhere out there on the horizon, and likely always will be.

My generation was conquered, despite the struggle to keep it simple. We old hippies now embrace technology and make it ours. We do this because we must either adapt or die, and I am not ready to die. We are a wired society, and we old people have the luxury of a little free time and occasionally, extra money. So, we have become wired.

Writing is my opportunity to live in the world as I would like it to be, and it is my chance to get away from the war, from politics, from family problems. Adult children with complicated epilepsy issues, grandchildren having babies too young (did they learn nothing from my trials and errors?) –writing is my escape.

I support creativity and free-thinking on a local level. I volunteer as municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo. I encourage people from all walks of life, and from every point of view to write. It doesn’t matter to me if we agree politically or not. Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are real and incredibly moving, and all the writer needs is the skill to tell that story the way it should be told.

They can gain that skill through participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Children and schools benefit year-round from writing programs sponsored by this organization. For me, November is the busiest month of the year. I will be meeting and getting to know many new people, and I will be writing the framework for a new novel.  For one month, thousands of people will be too busy writing to spend their evening in front of the electronic altar, being fed mindless pap in the form of ‘entertainment.’ Instead, they will entertain themselves and find they are so much more than they ever thought they could be.

With every new book that is written, each new magazine article or essay, the world opens its eyes a bit more, seeing more possibilities. Readers discover they are not islands disconnected from society, cocooned in dark living-rooms, unable to look away from the poorly crafted mind-porn we are force-fed.

I am an old hippy, I admit it. But I am water, wearing away at ignorance, helping the world learn how to tell its story one person at a time.

Crafting Timeless Stories

Romantic love and passion are important to us as humans and also are things we enjoy in our reading.  But truthfully, novels heavy on the graphic “insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ details” don’t interest me. Neither do adventure novels with no hint of romance, I like my reading material highly adventurous and well seasoned with romance. I say this for two reasons:

  1. Graphic romance with no plot is porn, and I think we should just call it that and be done with it. It doesn’t intrigue me, so I probably won’t make a habit of writing it, but I say good for you, if that is what you write. You are smart–there is huge market for it.
  2. Conversely, adventure with no romance is a travelogue detailing a rough trip, but nothing to write home about. I want to read a tale of intense personal growth, horrible setbacks, and love that rises above all odds.

This is not to say that I don’t have my graphic moments as a writer. Anyone who has read Huw the Bard will know  there are some graphic moments in his life. But words splashed on a page for their shock value are not my style, so for me, it’s important to consider the quality of the tale. If a graphic scene appears in my tale, it’s there because it’s a watershed moment for my main character, one that forces a change in the course of their life. And, if I have done it right, each scene will intrigue the reader and challenge them, making them want to read more.

In a book, romance must have a reason for being depicted in graphic detail or it’s not interesting to me. Also, adventure must have some sort of some unattainable goal whether it is love or an object.

I like to look back at history, to see what it was about some tales that have kept the interest of readers, not just for years, but for centuries. What do these tales embody that new works should also have, to make them timeless?

Let’s examine the Arthurian Legend. From the website, www.arthurian-legend.com.

I quote: “The legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table is the most powerful and enduring in the western world. King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot did not really exist, but their names conjure up a romantic image of gallant knights in shining armor, elegant ladies in medieval castles, heroic quests for the Holy Grail in a world of honor and romance, and the court of Camelot at the center of a royal and mystical Britain.”

There we have the essence of what I think constitutes a timeless tale: Powerful people doing heroic deeds, and finding a bit of romance along the way. Set them in intriguing surroundings and dress them in metal or velvet (or both) and voila! Now all you must do is cue the magic–bring on the wise old sorcerer.

In my own work, I want the romance to be romantic and the adventure to be death defying. Billy Ninefingers, a stand alone novel set in Huw the Bard’s world, has entered the editing phase. Billy encompasses all the above criteria for a good fantasy adventure and so far, my early readers like his slightly rough-around-the-edges style.

Depending on how the editing goes, he should launch in September 2017. The cover has been designed, and we are busily arranging promotions. Hopefully, this tale of disaster, desperation, and life gone awry will please the many fans of Huw the Bard who have wanted a sequel, as Huw does have a role in this tale.

And on that note, a more mature version of Huw will also appear in a novella later this year, Knight’s Redemption, which takes place twenty five years after the events in Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers.

I do a lot of reading, and if I am not reading, I am writing (or cooking or doing housework, which is another story). My hope is that at some point in every tale I write, my readers will find themselves completely involved in the tale to the exclusion of the world around them. If that happens, then I have done my job.

The Vegan Cooks for the Family

Homemade veggie broth (using good, clean, blemish free scraps and peels from the day’s veggies). (Don’t use broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage). Toss into crockpot, cover scraps with water, add salt to taste, let cook all night and in the morning strain the liquid into a bowl for later use or freeze it, and toss the scraps. You will have good veggie broth to use as a base for soups, stews, and gravies. And it costs you nothing, as the scraps would have been thrown away unused!

Often I find myself cooking for my extended family. While I am vegan, only two members of my family are, so I will (reluctantly) include some sort of animal protein although I don’t like doing so. The menu will be:

Fried Chicken (a vegan will have purchased it from the deli, so there you go–Vegan Fried Chicken)

Potato Salad – vegan (no dairy/eggs)

Green Salad with two choices of dressing – vegan (no dairy/eggs)

Avocado Salad – vegan (no dairy/eggs)

As I have said before, I was not always a vegan, but the transition was easy for me.  For my health’s sake, I avoid meat, and dairy. I am careful what I consume, because I have an autoimmune response to these foods–inflammation of my joints that cripples me. While I love fried chicken as much as anyone, I really prefer to be mobile and off the cane.

The negative effects of going off my vegan diet are immediate–maximum suffering occurring within 24 hrs. Then it takes two or three days to clear out of my system.

Due to the  way our food is grown and processed by the large food manufacturers, many people nowadays are suffering food related allergies. All the food I prepare for groups is gluten free, nut free, organic and locally grown (except the avocados-they don’t grow in Tenino.) Even the chicken is organic and raised humanely at a local farm.

I have become re-attuned to the notion of being connected to your food as more than a consumer. If you know where it came from, how it was grown, you have more appreciation for it, and each meal becomes a celebration.

Food is love, but only if love went into the preparation of it.

I am a vegan, but those around me are not, and I do love them, so I frequently prepare ‘blended meals,’ keeping the side dishes vegan, and creating a separate high-quality, organically raised meat dish for those who expect it. If I provide dairy, it is clearly labeled so that it isn’t accidentally mixed with the non-dairy foods.

SO–the vegan will fry the chicken, and carnivorous family members will consume it. The vegan really won’t miss the chicken at all. I never really liked it to begin with and have found new sources of protein that really satisfy me in the crucial areas of taste and texture. Tofu, tempeh, and beans are excellent sources of protein that don’t trigger my autoimmune reaction. That is the basis of my ongoing cookbook project that I am working on as I have time.

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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley

The commonly publicized stories of famous men and women are generally focused on their great victories and glorious successes, and rarely touch for long on the less-than-glorious moments in their careers.

And, while I am always inspired by great successes, I am far more intrigued by how the heroes and heroines of history handled the most crushing, personal defeats.

One woman I deeply admire as much for the way she handled disgrace and loss as for her literary success, is Mary Shelley.

The year was 1814, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was 17–young, even by the standards of the day–when she ran away with a married man. That man was Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was (until he eloped with Mary) a close friend of her father.

Mary was the daughter of the famous political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the pioneering philosopher and feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her father was the first modern proponent of anarchism, and (until recently) her late mother’s tempestuous history overshadowed her brilliant work as a writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Her parents were Free Thinkers, and were notorious in their own rights.

Percy was the eldest legitimate son of Sir Timothy Shelley, 2nd Baronet of Castle Goring. Sir Timothy had himself produced an illegitimate child, which (in Percy’s eyes) made his  pious horror at his son’s transgressions seem rather hypocritical.

William Godwin was frequently in danger of going to debtors’ prison as his businesses regularly failed.  Good friends always rescued him, and long before beginning his relationship with Mary, Percy Shelley had agreed to bail the man he admired out of debt.

After their elopement, the enraged William Godwin refused to see them, but still demanded money to be given to him under another name, to avoid scandal. Their assertions that marriage was a matter of mind and God rather than the law fell on primly deaf ears.

Mary viewed her father’s reaction to their elopement as both sanctimonious and motivated by greed. It does appear that way, in view of his past and his political views, and also in view of the liberal way in which he had raised her after her mother’s death.

But beyond Sir Timothy Shelley and William Godwin’s hypocrisy, the couple faced intense censure from society at large, and paid a heavy price for the choices they had made.

After the suicide of Percy’s 1st wife, Harriet, and his subsequent marriage to Mary, the Chancery Court ruled Percy Shelley morally unfit to have custody of his children, despite Mary’s desire to raise them. In what was a well-publicized case, Percy’s children were placed with a clergyman’s family.

Despite having her personal business widely discussed and being snubbed by people she had believed to be her friends, Mary refused to behave as an outcast, writing and living as normal a life as she was able. Forced to live abroad to escape creditors, Mary and Percy found their exile from England hard to bear, despite their famous (and infamous) circle of friends who were exiled for much the same reasons.

When faced with the suicide of her sister Fanny and the deaths of three of her children, Mary suffered a deep depression. She retreated into her writing, and her husband retreated into confusion. Nevertheless, in public she carried herself with grace and dignity, no matter what was said or implied about her. During that time, Percy wrote:

My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone, And left me in this dreary world alone? Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode. For thine own sake I cannot follow thee. Do thou return for mine.

At the age of twenty-two she found herself a widow, and spent the rest of her life raising her only living son, writing, and getting Percy’s works published. Her life with Percy had been a struggle in many ways, far beyond the obvious, but no man ever captivated her more than he had. The wild passion she felt for him was as much spiritual as it was carnal, a true meeting of minds.

They were young, and although he loved her body and soul, he was not entirely faithful to her, and didn’t hide his infidelity from her. They lived beyond their means and were hounded by creditors, which could have meant debtor’s prison. In Mary’s eyes, that lack of security was far more difficult to endure than sly comments about her perceived bad behavior.

Mary Shelley was brave in what she published, and wrote her political thoughts into her novels and essays boldly, despite women having no right to voice their ideas. She believed in the Enlightenment idea that “People can improve society through the responsible exercise of political power,” but she also feared that the reckless exercise of power would lead to chaos, and her works reflect this belief.

Her works reveal her as much less optimistic than her radical parents, Godwin and Wollstonecraft. She doubted her father’s theory that humanity could eventually be perfected.

Even her early works are critical of the way in which 18th-century thinkers, such as her parents, believed radical political changes could be brought about. It has been pointed out that the creature in Frankenstein reads books associated with radical ideals, but the education he gains from them is ultimately useless.

Mary supported her son with her writing, and a small stipend she managed to squeeze from Sir Timothy, who wrote into his will that she should pay it back when her son inherited the title and estate. She was never accepted or acknowledged by her father-in-law, although her son did live to inherit his title and estate.

How people find the strength to hold their heads up in the face of public humiliation, personal tragedy, and intense social ostracism is, to me, a far more intriguing story than their successes. Anyone can ride the wave of glory–it takes a person of great character to surf the shoals of public disaster with grace and step on shore with confidence and their dignity intact.

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#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley by Connie J. Jasperson was first published 7 Oct 2015  on Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Wikipedia contributors, “Mary Shelley,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mary_Shelley&oldid=757791087 (accessed October 5, 2015)

Image: Portrait of Mary Shelley, Richard Rothwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maps: the Art of Going Places

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

I did it that way because I am a voracious reader of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.,  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

One of the best maps of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate well to black and white for print.

But, I’ve been working on that too. The map to the right of me is the current map of the City of Aeoven.

Now, if I can just make it look good grayscaled.

 

That Christmas Feeling

I love the sights and scents of the holiday season. Cookies baking, houses on our street with lighted displays–you don’t have to go wild to make a huge impression. My dear hubby always puts a few decorations out, little trees made of white lights and lighted candy canes.

All up and down our neighborhood, homes are decorated for the season. Anyone driving through our little valley will see some ambitious displays. Our home is really quite simple in its holiday decorating–a tree, candles, a cute centerpiece for the table. We keep it simple because we have to tear it down and put it all away over New Year’s day, and that rapidly becomes a bore.  It’s work, and I don’t like anything that falls into the category of labor. But I love looking at other people’s efforts!

Wrapping the presents is also a bore, but I am now the queen of bags! I love that all I have to do is remove the price-tag, fold a little tissue around it and stuff it in a bag. Jam a little tissue in the top and voila! Christmas is served! No more tape sticking to the wrong place and no more hunting for the scissors I just set down.

Just lazy me, blowing through wrapping the pile of presents like a sleigh through the snow!

We have a lot of grandkids. We’ll make sure their gifts arrive at their houses before the big day. It’s sad when their presents leave our house to go under the trees in their homes because our tree looks a bit lonely. But not for long–we’ll soon have a few bags under there, just a little something for the two old people to enjoy on their quiet Christmas morning with the son who lives nearby.

It doesn’t take a lot to make the place feel festive. A little here and there and the house feels warmer, cozier. An atmosphere of peace and well-being. I will roast a turkey breast for my hubby because he is a carnivore, but I will make a vegan entrée for me, a Hazelnut-Cranberry Roast made by the Seattle-based Field Roast Company. Everything I cook will be vegan except Greg’s turkey, and it will be delicious.

I make all the traditional dishes, substituting Earth Balance vegan margarine and almond or rice milk for the dairy. I use vegetable broth to make the cranberry walnut stuffing. Anyone can eat well if they choose to, and it’s not any more expensive than eating junk food, cheaper if you want to know the truth.

This is my recipe for:

ONION AND MUSHROOM GRAVY

Ingredients:

  •  3/4 cup white or button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (for gluten free, use corn starch to thicken the broth)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning (or 1/2 tsp each of sage, thyme, and marjoram)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

In a large skillet, melt the vegan margarine and add onion and mushrooms. Sauté for just a minute or two over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat.

I love this time of year. Great food, all the Christmas lights, and decorations–I kind of go nuts. When we take the presents round to our children’s homes I feel a sense of having succeeded–they have new traditions for their children, combined some from our past. I feel a sense of continuity–We’re the grandparents now, the old-fashioned ones, the ones who always have time for a cuddle and never deny a grandchild a cookie when he wants one.

We’re always in the background, knowing we’re slightly in the way of our daughters as they work to get things done, but trying not to be. We gladly wrangle the children, delighted to be mauled or sat on, happy to have our hair brushed, or even our toenails painted if that’s what makes a child happy. We’ll play Legos with them until the cows come home so their parents can get the real work of the holidays done.

When we were the parents and our children were small, our parents were there for them, being the old, wise people who loved them as unconditionally as we love our grandchildren

In this holiday dance, the circle is complete.

Things that inspire me

I live 60 miles due north of Mt. St. Helens, an active stratovolcano that has erupted several times in my lifetime. As a teenager in the fall of 1970, 10 years before the eruption, my earth-science class visited the lava-tubes that were popular tourist destinations in those days.  The volcano was considered to be of no threat to anyone, practically dead, really.

Mt. St. Helens from Spirit Lake prior to 1980
Mt. St. Helens from Spirit Lake prior to 1980 via ABC news

As this photo shows, it had a beautiful shape to it, like Mt. Fuji, and was featured on calendars and postcards for its beauty and majesty.  The verdant forests were tall and thick, mostly Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar.  Spirit Lake, at its base, was a playground for summer vacationers.  My family spent many summer holidays at the campgrounds and the lodge there.

PD United States Geological Survey, via Wikipedia
PD United States Geological Survey, via Wikipedia

All that changed overnight on May 18th, 1980, when the mountain erupted.  We could see the ash column quite clearly from the lake in the Bald Hills of Thurston County, where we were fishing that morning, and we knew something really bad had happened at the mountain. Entire forests were blown down and buried under volcanic ash. Spirit Lake was both destroyed and reborn in a different form.

The destruction of the ecology is one of the underlying themes of the Tower of Bones series.

But the miraculous way the land around Mt. St. Helens has rebounded in the last 35 years is also working its way into my World of Neveyah–Tauron’s spell is broken, and the land will recover.  The devastation of Mal Evol looks permanent, and is terrible to those who know what it once was like, but they have hope that it will recover.

In the World of Neveyah series, I created the Mountains of the Moon, out of which the valley of Mal Evol was torn. I understood how mountains can rise high into the sky, blocking the rising or setting sun. Also, I used the climate of the Scablands here in Washington–the climate is typified by large seasonal temperature differences, with excruciatingly hot  summers and severely cold winters, and that is how I made Mal Evol. Remember, dealing with weather offers great opportunity for mayhem in the narrative.

I live on the heavily forested western side of the state, 50 miles west of 14,411 ft tall  Mount Rainier, beneath the Nisqually Glacier. That sight dominates my front-yard skyline on a clear day. The valley I live in was carved by glaciers and eruptions from this amazing pile of rock, ice, and fire. I took this idea, but I made my mountains taller and badder than the Himalayas on a bad Mt. Everest day.

Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier, ©2010 Walter Siegmund Via Wikipedia
Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier, © 2010 Walter Siegmund Via Wikipedia

We here in our bipolar State of Washington are able to see how the landscape can radically change if you just drive east on I-90 for four hours.

Because  of my good fortune of living in the shadow of two large volcanoes, and between two high mountain ranges, the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range,  I have the opportunity to experience a wide diversity of ecologies in one day, going from saltwater to mountain range, to desert.

You may find your inspiration elsewhere. It could be in anything from architecture to ornamental gardens, to cornfields or sage brush. For me, it is in the amazing state of Washington, a wild, beautful place of many diverse and fragile ecologies.


Things that inspire me was first published in September of 2015 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, under the title of  Creating the Landscape by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2015 All Rights Reserved

National Novel Writing Month

htb-225-px-for-2016-banner-boxEvery November I participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Around our house it is also referred to as “National Pot Pie Month,” an homage to my culinary efforts during November.

For the last five years I have been a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia, Washington Region. Last year indie author Lee French agreed to be a co-ML with me, which really took the pressure off in regard to small ML duties. We had 165 active novelists at that time and are gaining new wrimos all the time.

The primary goal of participating in NaNoWriMo is to produce a 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days. That sounds crazy but it can be done–I do it every year. The first draft of Huw the Bard was written from start to finish during November of 2011 as my nano-novel that year.

HOWEVER:  I spent the month of October 2011 outlining the novel. After the first draft was completed, I spent the next three years getting HTB ready for publication, rewriting it through 3 more drafts, having it edited professionally, and finally it was published in March of 2014. Mountains of the Moon was written in 2012, and published 2015.

Many people use the concept of NaNoWriMo to jump-start their noveling career, but there are just as many who spend the month of November writing family histories or memoirs, writing daily blog posts, writing essays, or even working on their dissertations. I know two people who write screenplays during November.

The month of November is when we celebrate the act of creative writing, and encourage every person with an inner author to let that creative energy flow.

Last year, I am worked on a series of mixed genre short-short stories, all of them written during National Novel Writing Month. Altogether I wrote 42 short stories, one of which, View from the Bottom of a Lake, was selected as a finalist in the annual PNWA literary contest. It didn’t win, but hey – I got the honorable mention. That was pretty amazing!

So I am doing it again.

My intention is to write one tale a day, or two or three longer tales a week, many of them set in a Medieval village, but some set in the fantastic future.  Robots, Spaceships, Dragons, Fairies, even Mad Scientists and Crazed Wizards–all will be fair game.

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This year there will be no novel in the traditional sense, but hopefully a LOT of short stories will emerge from my fevered mind, things I can use for contests and submissions to magazines and anthologies. For me, writing the first draft of anything  is only the beginning. Once that struggle is out of the way, the real work begins–making it fit for others to read. Getting it through the editing process with Carlie Cullen and Dave Cantrell are tough but necessary steps.  I don’t rush the revisions. I have nothing to lose by taking the time to do it right. Right now, I have three books on the back burner in various stages of dismemberment, but I am setting them aside for NaNoWrMo and in December I will return to getting them through that process.

Contemplations on the Theater of the Mind

I love poetry because I love the many ways words can be manipulated on a blank page. To me, poetry is something beautiful and visually simple, a thing that looks like it should be uncomplicated. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

I guarrantee you, this post will not scratch the surface of why poetry is so much more than naughty limericks (which I do know a great many of and which are quite hilarious).

Bad poetry can be written by anyone, but writing great poetry takes a certain genius–I don’t consider myself a poet, although I do sometimes feel compelled to attempt poetry.

Poetry doesn’t always rhyme and it frequently involves complicated aesthetics that are both auditory and visual. This is because the reader may not always be reading the poem aloud, and so the visual art of the piece comes into play.

Sometimes, poetry is long, epic in actuality. Consider Manfred, by George Gordon, Lord Byron (From Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge): Manfred: A dramatic poem is a poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. (end quoted text)

Byron himself referred to his works as “closet dramas,” since they were intended more for the theater of the mind than the actual theater.

manfred-lord byronExcerpt from Act III, scene I of Manfred

There is a calm upon me–
Inexplicable stillness! which till now
Did not belong to what I knew of life.
If that I did not know philosophy
To be of all our vanities the motliest, 10
The merest word that ever fool’d the ear
From out the schoolman’s jargon, I should deem
The golden secret, the sought ‘Kalon,’ found,
And seated in my soul. It will not last,
But it is well to have known it, though but once.

And a “theater of the mind” is what Byron’s work sparks in me.

Words are bent and shaped by poets to evoke meanings, bent and formed into precise shapes. We novelists and writers of short fiction have the luxury of creating a long narrative. In poetry, space is intentionally limited by the author, forcing the the poet to write within narrow constraints. Thus, allegory, allusion, and indirection are common motifs in poetry.

Traditional forms have precise constraints: Sonnets are fourteen lines, following a set rhyme scheme and logical structure. Sonnets use iambic pentameter, which is characterized by the familiar “da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum” cadence of five sets of syllables.

Even in free verse, one must pay attention to the meter, the basic rhythmic structure  of a piece, the rhythm and cadence of the syllables. A clear example of this can be found in Walt Whitman’s poems, where he repeats certain phrases and uses commas to create both a rhythm and structure.

I love the poem,  When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, written in free verse in 206 lines. Whitman used many of the literary techniques associated with the pastoral elegy. He composed it during the summer of 1865, a period of profound national mourning. The country was reeling in the aftermath of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, that occurred on April 14, 1865.

Despite the poem being an elegy to the fallen president, Whitman neither mentions Lincoln by name nor does he mention the circumstances of his death. Instead, Whitman used allegory–symbolic imagery:  the lilacs, a falling star in the western sky which was the planet Venus, and a shy bird, the hermit thrush. It is most definitely an elegy because he employed what scholars consider the traditional progression of the pastoral elegy: moving from grief toward an acceptance and knowledge of death.

It is is a beautiful poem, and is one I often return to. Lines 18-22 of Whitman’s leaves of grass-whitman When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d:

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

And how has poetry evolved into the 21st century? For one unique direction of evolution check out the works of Seattle poet, Bill Carty on Pinwheel

For more famous contemporary poets, check out 31 Contemporary Poets You Need to Read.

I have always been a fan of the classic masters: Dickinson, Browning, the Brontë sisters, Byron, Shelley, Frost, Whitman. Wordsworth, and my beloved Yeats, among many.  I was raised in a home with their works proudly displayed on the bookshelves in the living-room, massive tooled-leather volumes from Grolier, smelling of romance and ideas.

I didn’t always understand the works of the great poets, and I still don’t–but I love them.

I leave you with a rhyming poem, The Song of the old Mother by William Butler Yeats:

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their days go over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.


This essay, Contemplations on the Theater of the Mind, was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, by Connie J. Jasperson under the title But what about poetry? © Connie J. Jasperson

The Wayward Son, the new book in the Tower of Bones series

The process of writing Valley of Sorrows spawned a spin-off book: The Wayward Son. That book is in the final stages of formatting and is set to be published in September 2016. It is a companion book that takes place concurrently with Forbidden Road and details some, but not all, of the events that occurred in Aeoven during Edwin’s absence.

The way I ended up writing a companion book is that the original manuscript of Valley of Sorrows was really two separate stories. I didn’t want John’s thread to take away from Edwin, Freidr, and Zan’s story, but his background is intriguing–so I took him back to the day he returns to Aeoven, the same day Forbidden Road opens.

While the two stories dovetail in some places, and familiar characters appear in their usual roles, this book is not so much about the action as it is about a man learning to live again, despite his battle related PTSD.

The Wayward Son Front Cover Cathedral Ruins 2 copyThe Wayward Son tells the story of John Farmer, Edwin’s father, and takes place concurrently with Forbidden Road. This book was far easier to write than many others, as it explores combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition I am all too familiar with, as a bystander.

John’s story opens with an incident that changes his life. Twenty-five years later, John must return to Aeoven and face the past, and somehow learn to live with himself.

We writers all use our knowledge of the world around us to draw on when we are creating a scene or a character, even if we are not aware of having done so. I have deliberately drawn on observations made during my childhood and young adult years to create John’s gut-reactions and to show how his life was colored by his experiences.

My father was a veteran of WWII, and a man who’d intended to make the military his career. Dad was a staff sergeant in charge of a communications outfit and was always just behind the actual battlefront, always passing through the aftermath. He never discussed it, but the enemy knew how important these communications outfits were, so they must have been important targets. I do know he’d survived several aerial attacks and lost several close companions to enemy bombs, men who were there one minute and gone in a pile of wreckage the next.

The (non-combat related) loss of his left leg changed his career path. He never could wear the prosthetic leg they gave him, but became a draftsman and made a very good living. Other than being inconvenienced by having only one leg, everything seemed on the surface to go on normally.

My dad and my uncles never really got over the war, and they all suffered from survivor’s guilt to a certain degree. They came home and settled back into society, and began building the American Dream. When he was sober, all Dad ever really said about the war was that the good guys had won. When he’d been drinking, he might say more, but not much.

Dad was an avid gardener, a musician, a brewer, and a winemaker. He was passionate about his interests, a renaissance man who insisted we read (and discuss) all manner of books from the classics to comic books, be athletic, and learn to play a musical instrument.

But Dad was also a volatile man who drank too much every weekend and partied as hard as he worked. He was often angry and would say harsh things. Years after my father’s death, my late Uncle Wesley explained some of what dad had experienced and during our conversation, many things that had puzzled me fell together.  Uncle Wes put it very bluntly: Dad drank to forget.

Until recently, soldiers suffering “battle fatigue” (what we now refer to as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) were sent home and told to forget about what they had experienced. They were often psychologically abused by the very doctors who should have been treating them,  who basically told them to man up and just get on with life.

I wrote this book out of respect and love for all our veterans. It is a story about soldiers, set in a fantasy world, but dealing with life after the war.

The Wayward Son:

Deeds done in the heat of battle cast long shadows.

The most famous man in the history of the Temple, retired Commander John Farmer, has left the militia behind. War looms and John must answer the call to serve, but his terrible secret could destroy everything. A broken mage trying to rebuild his shattered life, he must somehow regain his abilities, or everyone and everything he loves will be lost.

John must face the crimes of the past to become the hero he never was.

The Wayward Son will launch on September 15. Pre orders are available at Amazon by clicking on this link: Pre-Orders for the Wayward Son