Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Burne-Jones Mystery

I'm still plugging away at the Burne-Jones "Spes/Hope" mystery. I've uncovered more on that front, a similar photogravure (but uncolored) in the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery in England and another as part of a portfolio of 81 photogravures by the Berlin Photographic Company (1890) was sold at auction at Sotheby's in 1998.
There's one watercolour left unaccounted which I'd like to see because so far the coloring is different on the oil in Boston, watercolor in New Zealand and my piece. It's supposedly in the Victoria Gallery in Australia but doesn't come up in their collection database.
Also, there's a whole lot more back story about Mary or Maria Casssavetti Zambaco, the model for Spes, the Greek goddess of hope. Burne-Jones painted her in a number of pieces, Cupid and Psyche, The Beguiling of Merlin, Spes, and Circe Pouring Poison into a Vial and Awaiting the Arrival of Ulysses, which some critics say may represent the suicide pact she wnated Burne Jones to make with her as she showed him a vial with enough laudenum in it to kill them both as they stood at the edge of the regent canal.  He declined, she tried to jump into the canal, and their friends, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning heard them as Burne-Jones grabbbed Mary and wrestled her to the cobblestones. The local constables were called and  Burne-Jones left the scene to faint not too far away. This is only one incident in their rather chaotic affair.
Spes was one of his more compassionate paintings of her, and perhaps had to do with the fact she was married just as Burne-Jones was. The Beguiling of Merlin seems to symbolically place the blame on her, as if he had no choice but to be smitten. But he also painted her in softer paintings, such as Love Among the Ruins.

At this point all pertinent info and a photo has been sent to a Pre-Raphaelite expert, curator and art dealer in England who used to work for Sotheby's so we'll see.  If he doesn't bother to reply, I'll know it's a common piece.  If he does - well, we'll just take it form there.  Any information will be awesome to me, just to know what it is.  I don't imagine I'll be able to trace it's travels form Britian to South Carolina, but it would be very cool if I could.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Researching Your Novel

I couldn't quote the statistics but I'm curious to find out how many hours authors spend researching their novel behind the scenes.  Even when we draw on personal history and experiences, if we go into the past we often end up researching things which happened during our childhood but we didn't pay attention to.  We were kids.  It didn't matter.  I've discovered that about half my published novel, Shaman Circus, and maybe even more for my two WIPs, Shaman Exile and Fireworks: Interference Equation involves a ton of research, many hours.  When I first started writing novels 29 years ago, I had to run to the lbirary, request inter-library loans on books unavailable locally, and write letters to experts.  I also trolled used books stores and bought many volumes which related to the storylines of my books. Maybe that's why my house is full of books and I never finished my first three novels. 
 I like a lot of back story for my characters in addition to a variety of locations. So I need to do lots of research even on the places I've lived.
 It's so much easier now with the internet what with online historic news and town histories as well as immediate answers through e-mails with experts.  And wow, I wish I had places like Amazon and Abe Books to locate the books with the necesssary info instead of always hunting used book stores in person to find such resources.
But even in 2910, rresearch takes hours and hours, sometimes entire days. But it's fun and the payoff is huge.
In the past year or so, I've researched a lot on my father's French Canadian family because I was never told much.  He died when I was very young and even though I spent a lot of time at his aunt's, who raised him, his family didn't tell us many stories. As kids, my sister, cousins and I had to eavesdrop on  conversations between the adults instead.
 So while I broke my recent writing drought yesterday with over 2,200 words for chapter 26 of Fireworks: Interference Equation, only two of those hours was spent on writing. I've tallied it up and so far for Chapter 26, I've spent 12 hours doing research for two hours of writing. Wow that's an eye-opener. I never tracked it time-wise before.   
This chapter, number 26, takes place in a flashback to Great Boar's Head, New Hampshire, a strange promintory which hulks out over the Atlantic, part of the mere18 miles of New Hampshire coastline.  Boars Head, known to geologists as a  lenticular moraine or drumlin deposited years ago by a glacier, has a long, often spectacular history, some of it plesant, much of it not. Howling storms, fires and other natural disasters have assaulted the cliff-top community which has witnessed much on the shale of North Beach or Rocky Beach below on one side and the sand of Hampton Beach on the other. John Greenleaf Whitter wrote poetry here. 
It's been a part of my life ever since I can remember as we swam below its cliff's or hunted seaglass on the rocks below. The shale side was once the launch spot for whalers and  the last resting spot of The Glendon, a three-masted schooner. In 1896, when in danger of splitting in half during a snowstorm, The Glendon was pulled ashore with ropes shot by guns, by people from Hampton Village. All crew were rescued. Up until recently remainders of the ship could be seen rotting away on shore. 
To find the info for just this chapter, I consulted Babelfish to translate French, went to a site to translate a large Roman Numeral into Arabic numbers so I could know the date on an old pamphlet.  Read three historic newspapers online, read and printed out about five different sites on this part of New Hampshire and on Prince Edward Island. Printed out a couple of sites on The Glendon, which I already knew about from a book of postcards of Hampton and Hampton Beach. I viewed 30 or 40 images to get the lay of the land since the 1500's when it was first settled, printed out a number of sites on the Port La Joye settlement on Prince Edward Island, one of the first settlements of the French Canadian seamen, and got sidetracked by videos of the Feb. 2010 fire which took out five blocks of oceanside property at Hampton Beach..  I also used about five books I have in my library, one on shipbuilding in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, another one from the shipbuilding museum there which has photos of whaling boats launched from my beach, books on Hampton and Rye Beach and one on New Hampshire.
Whew - that was a lot of work.  But well worth the time. 
So how do other writers out there conduct their research and what would be the ratio between hours spent on research and hours spent writing? Have you ever kept track of the hours and the resultant word count?  How many authors research the histories of their ancestors for their characters and books? 
I know Brian K. Ladd in my writers' group puts in probably five times as much research as I do because he goes into all the various linguistic aspects of individual words.  
So I'm wondering how other authors view research too. I'd be curious to see how other authors conduct their research and how many hours the figure they spend.  

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Social Media - The Fun, The Work and The PayOffs

I was inspired to write this posat after reading a post by author Karen Gowen on her Coming Down the Mountain blog about what she likes about social media.  My comment was so long I realized I needed to address this topic in my blog as well from a whole different perspective.
As a small press publisher for years, I'm so thankful the internet is available to advertise for free. When I published my magazine The Howling, over 14 years ago, we had to print posters and advertised on a grass roots level. Among stories, poetry and art, Fissure featured local music reviews and the night clubs and musicians spread the word like wild fire. But it still can't match what the internet has done for my current magazine, Fissure which went international in one issue.
While I was writing my first novel, I used Myspace a good bit to talk about the books I was publishing with my small press, Shadow Archer Press. It was an incredible free way to get the word out and I sold a good many books because of that one site.
Then everyone switched to Facebook. I took a long time, but now find it helps to send folks to my blog. I don't write long on there but use it to link up. Twitter is helpful too, but less so. I use it more to keep tabs on what other folks are doing, as well as to invite folks to my blog.
I do find blogger harder to navigate as far as finding bloggers with the same interests because I find the search feature aren't user friendly.  But I like the ease of posting photos and writing at length.
For readers and writers, I love Goodreads because it's such an easy way to find books in your fields and then read honest reviews.  Plus it's easy to network and hold conversations. 
WEBS is also another great tool.  It's what I use for my personal website Gail Gray Studios and the servier I use for the Shadow Archer Press website, (you can build and keep a  free website forever, or pay to have your own domain name and more features)
 When I discovered Clicky through is a web analysis site which tracks how often, where by country and site your traffic comes from in real time.  It offers graphs and all kinds of detailed info so you can target your market.  It helps me fine tune my chapbook release announcments, discover what works on my end as far as content and even more importantly, which social media networks people currently use the most.  And  let's face it.  People jog from one social site to another in trends, just like they try out new restaurants.  Clicky helps me stay aware of which sites I need to focus my energies at any given time, whether it be Myspace, Faceobok, Twitter ot Blogs.  And it's free.!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest author Sal Butacci is Flashing His Shorts!

   Flashing My Shorts
by Salvatore Buttaci is a collection of 164 flash-fiction stories that runs the gamut from humor to horror with everything in between. These quick but thought-out writes have become quite popular today. They tend to accommodate readers on the go who lack the luxury of sitting down for long periods of reading. Like patrons at a smorgasbord, they can taste a little of this fine dish and a little of that and not go hungry. The stories Buttaci flashes in his book can, on one page, make readers laugh, and on the next, cry.



Years of hard drinking had driven him to seed. He slept under cardboard on the coldest New York City nights, and his days were taken up begging for spare change.
One morning a passerby stopped to look at him. He turned his unshaven, toothless face away. But the woman continued staring. “Is your name Thomas?” she asked. He shook his head. “Thomas Cole?” she persisted. Again he gestured no. He could see the tears wetting the woman’s face. She could not see his.
Leaning against the streetlight, he watched his daughter lose herself in the rush hour of pedestrian traffic.


These Stories Are Short, But They Pack A Punch
Salvatore Buttaci masters the short form in his new collection Flashing My Shorts. The stories here are spare but powerful, and each is injected with Buttaci's quick wit, sharp insight, and the sort of emotional depth that causes a reader to pause, for just a moment, before reading on, wanting more.
Buttaci has a delicate touch with his pen and he's fantastic at telling stories, stories with wide range and the commonality of insight, humor and strong resolution. Buy the book for yourself, buy a copy for a friend and get ready to enjoy what a strong short story collection can offer: utter entertainment in bite-sized bits. I like to think of these stories the way I think of those portion-controlled, pre-packaged desserts: when I'm done with one, why not another?
                                                                              -- J.L. Knox, author of Musical Chairs
To read more customer reviews, go to

To order Flashing My Shorts, go to or

For more information about Salvatore, go to or

For more information about ATTMP, go to or

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review of Shaman Circus from Jen Knox, author of Musical Chairs

Jen Knox, author of Musical Chairs,  recently reviewed Shaman Circus on Goodreads and Amazon
rated it:  5 stars
Read in March, 2010

Plot-wise, Gray's book is unique and believably unbelievable (am I making sense here?). The setting is New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The characters are desperate and emotionally fragile, and yet their culture is so incredibly strong that they are never hopeless or weak. What I'm trying to say here is that the book's plot is out there, filled with magic and voodoo, otherworldly things, and yet it's centered on spiritual questions, questions that seem a commonality in the characters' minds. Perhaps in the readers'?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Coffee to a Tea's 1st anniversary with Art Bingo

Friday night, my granddaughter, Kendall, (in the white dress with her back to the camera), a friend and I attended the one year anniversary party of Coffee to a Tea, a locally owned coffee shop in the arts district where I once lived in my studio and participated in art shows at the Village Studio, The Vitti Tile and Pottery Gallery and the Saturday Art Market.
We hung out with old and new friends from greater Greenville, especially the Pendleton Street Art District and had a blast playing bingo. I never thought bingo could be so much fun. The prizes were amazing! Services from local business, oringinal art including:  paintings, mosaics, prints, jewelry, pottery, tiles, photos, and artisan foods and drinks items from Coffee to a Tea (including a $100.00 gift certificate.) I donated some prints, photos and a bottle of my home made pomegranate cordial. 
The ages of those in attendance were all over the place from infants to seniors.  We all played with only one bingo card yet it was tense and exciting! We would have been slayed by the seniors who play ten or twenty cards each in bingo parlours. The camaraderie was awesome, bringing us all together, even as we felt competitive. Many of us are eager for the next bingo night. Kendall, can't stop talking about it and wishes she hadn't been so shy until late in the night when she met other small girls.
 From the humor of the bingo caller (who probably didn't have a voice the next day) to the musical interludes  - it was all so perfect. We discovered, yet again, how awesome Coffee To a Tea is in offering unique experiences in the Pendleton Street Art District while setting the pace for Wild West End culture. What a great way to bring the local businesses, residents, regulars from greater Greenville, and Pendleton area artists all together for an evening of spontaneous, hilarious camaraderie! C2AT sets the pace for lively family neighborhood entertainment like no other. We're so lucky to have the Stevensons and Coffee to a Tea.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Storms at the Edge from Virgogray Press

Just rec’d news from Michael Aaron Casares, publisher at Virgogray Press that they have released my fifth book of poetry.

Virgogray announces the release of its newest collection, Storms at the Edge by Gail Gray. Gail Gray is the founder of Shadow Archer Press, editor of Fissure Magazine and author of several chapbook collections, and a novel, Shaman Circus. The poetry of Gail Gray can best be described as contemporary cauterized with a mystic edge that lucidly delves into realms of myth and fantasy though anchored to realities through the severe connections, emotions and understandings of a world that mystifies the poet sensitive to the true nature of things. Storms at the Edge is a testament to this quality. Bound is a gripping poem layered in spiritual/occult themes and a higher understanding of the elusive meaning behind things. With gracious determination, it readies the reader for subsequent poems in the collection. Vulnerable, the second poem, literally peels away the intensity that Bound created, but elegantly so with a gravity all its own. Storms at the Edge continues with a sense of longing and a frustration for something (or sometime) higher and purer. There is also a sense of delicacy to this book, as in Foreshadow, with phrases like “delighting in the playground of vulnerability” and “Fragile as sea glass.” Drowning at 3:30 AM was one of my favorites. It is fraught with interesting imagery both whimsical and dark. “Wind dismantles / copper tube chimes / a meticulous / manicure of my psyche ‘ as the shadows spooked to the / other side.” This bipolar lapse of tone and context “play cacophony games / with my past-nightmare / pauses” to a stirring conclusion. Gail Gray’s poems are almost mythic in some instances with themes that recall other times beneath society’s veneer. With Storms at the Edge, Gail Gray comes a step closer to perfecting that voice. 21 pages; $7 + S/H.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Author Tour Steve Lindahl with Motherless Soul

For this week's guest author, I'm featuring, Steve Lindahl, a fellow ATTM author who lives just across the border from me in North Carolina.  I recived his book as a gift an am looking forward to readinf it since I once had a past life hypnotist stay at my house for a few days while shre regressed people to their past lives using hypnosis.  She also regressed me and it was an amazing, vivid and emotionally profound experience.
Motherless Soul is the story of Emily Vinson, a woman whose entire life was impacted by the loss of her mother when she was 2 years old. At 82 Emily contacts a hypnotist hoping to draw out hidden memories and to discover as much as possible about the short time she spent with the woman who gave her life. Glen Wiley, the hypnotist, teaches her more about herself than she had expected. He helps her bring out memories of many past lives, including an experience that took place on a smoke filled battlefield. All of Emily's lives have had the same tragic outcome, the loss of her mother at a young age. Her soul is caught in what Glen calls circularity, meaning that the tragedy will occur again and again unless she can break the pattern. She and Glen must revisit her past lives and use what they learn to find the other souls who are part of the circle. They must use the past to change the future. Emily's stubborn desire to know her mother is realized in intricate and unsettling ways no one could have imagined possible.

Excerpt (from Chapter Four)
Glen asked her to count backwards from one hundred. When she passed fifty-nine he started to guide her saying, “Go back, back further to a time before you were Emily Vinson. Keep going back.” His words seemed to run right through her body, like a shot of whiskey. Glen seemed to be growing distant, although she knew he was right next to her. She kept counting toward zero, even as he spoke.
Emily lost track of the counting. She was certain she’d repeated some numbers, but she tried to keep them coming. She knew she had to do what Glen told her to do. She closed her eyes. Shortly after that the dim light she could make out through her lids faded into absolute darkness.
“You’re slipping through time and space into a place that’s been buried in your heart for ages upon ages. Something important happened to you in this place. You’re starting to remember what it was like: the smells, the sounds, the texture of the world around you.”
Her eyes started to burn. Memories were flowing into her head after a period of nothingness and those sensations were different from what she’d experienced the day before. This time it was as if she were two people. The person she had been before the session began, the old woman nearing the end of her life, was now watching someone else from inside that other person’s body. The other person was very young, but in trouble.
Talk to me, Emily. Let me know what you’re feeling.”
Emily started to cry. She wasn’t able to hold back. Her cry was the loud wail of a hungry baby. But Emily knew what she felt wasn’t only hunger. Something was very wrong.

Review: Jen Knox (Author of Musical Chairs)

This is a profound work about the cyclic nature of pain and one woman's desire to confront it and move on. The story begins with Emily's search to demystify the mother she never knew, the figure whom she believes to hold the secret that will break a cycle of discontent. Where this leads her is on a journey of self-discovery that begins with a trip to a hypnotist and introduces Emily to generations past. Emily's journey is filled with realizations that grow exponentially, and ultimately lead to a philosophical and spiritual awakening. This book is phenomenal. The chapters are short and engaging, and the writing is fantastic.

Steve Lindahl has published short fiction in Space and Time, The Alaska Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, Ellipsis and Red Wheelbarrow. He served for five years as an associate editor on the staff of The Crescent Review, a literary magazine he co-founded. His Theater Arts background has helped nurture a love for intricate characters in complex situations that is evident in his writing. Steve and his wife Toni live and work together outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. They have two adult children: Nicole and Erik. Motherless Soul is Steve Lindahl's debut novel.

For a video reading of an excerpt go to - Motherless Soul
For more information about Steve Lindahl go to - or
To purchase Motherless Soul go to - Amazon, All Things That Matter Press, or Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shaman Circus on Location II

I became intrigued with the locations behind the stories in my favorite novels, when Caitlin Kiernan released her novel Threshold and added a small limited edition chapbook from Subterranean Press (now out of print and highly collectible) called Trilobite which was about the writing of Threshold. In it were  photos she'd taken of many of the sites in and around Birmingham, Alabama, which she used in the novel. I'd pictured most of them  just as she wrote them, but some photos added details which enhanced my appreciation of her terrifying tale. Ever since that book, I've been entranced with the specifics of locations I read about in the books I enjoy.
So, to continue with the locations used in my novel, Shaman Circus, here's the house which Jacob flashbacks to where he and Cate lived.  It's one of my favorite scenes in the book. The house is now torn down, bulldozed away and replaced with a gas station.
 Many of the real locations I included are gone.  Exposures Art Gallery closed.  I never took photos. Too busy planning and holding an art show. The location of the ritual was a combination of two real locations, both are intact, one near King's Mountain in NC, the other is intact, but altered for the book. Whitten University is a fictional institution, although Perry's flower shop was an actual location I moved from another city to New Orleans. Alas, it no longer exists and was a wonderful experience, not simply a flower shop at all, but an entrance to a dream land. The temple is fictional but draws aspects from various places in and around New Orleans.
Dougal's, where Alex and Laney, two anthrolpolgy professors from Whitten meet often has been bought and renamed.  Although I'll try and get photos of the interior (which is the same) when I go there tonight for St. Patty's Day. My friend Donna Nyzio, painted huge panels of the Irish, map, flag and a harp, for the outside but those have been removed. It's a shame we never thought to take pictures. It's a true Irish pub, dark, with a huge fireplace, tables and couches, lots of cool touches and ambiance. 
While in New Orleans, Jacob lives in a bus very much like this one.  He did install a windshield and added a few curtains. And the small bar where his band plays: Bad Jacqui's, is based on a club I loved on Decatur St.  in New Orleans, now sold and altered.  

So, writers: how often do you utilize places you've been whether you loved or hated them?  Do you use locales you'd like to go in your novels?
 And readers.  Do you care? 

The Blood-Red Pencil: Pitching to agents: How to throw a fiction fast ball

The Blood-Red Pencil: Pitching to agents: How to throw a fiction fast ball

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shaman Circus on location

Write what you know - they teach you in creative writing courses - and I agree with it half way, but I also think you should write about what you don't know but want to know. However, the latter topic is for another blog post. This one is about location, location, location. Where you set your novels and have your characters suffer through their agonies and relish their victories.
 Shaman Circus takes place partly in Greenville, SC and partly in New Orleans. 
Most of Shaman Circus was written while I worked as a barista at Quarter Moon Coffee located at the Greenville/Spartanburg airport and as a shift manager at The Village Cup. I lived in the blue house on the left at the time.  It was white then. The house is featured in the book as the home of Lily and Alex Hampton. 
The camelback shotgun house on the right, is similar to the house where Mavis lives. She has an art studio in the second floor. She lived here in New Orleans prior, during and after Katrina. And there's a good bit from her perspective as she is trapped in her attic in the aftermath. 
I've learned from other locations that photos should be taken. Many of the locations are gone, have moved or have been sold.  I never imagined while I wrote the book thet they would no longer exist or be the same.
For example Earshot Records where three of the characters have a pivotal scene is not longer there.  I have a photo of the outside but not of the Morrocan interior.
I'm curious as to how other writers choose their locations and if they draw from their lives or make them up.  

Saturday, March 13, 2010

out of balance

I'm being a naughty naughty writer in allowing the seesaw to tip out of balance.  I meant to write today on Fireworks, but have run away to work in the garden due to the weather, which feels more like coastal New England than South Carolina.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Guest Author Blog Tour - Musical Chairs

Each Friday I will host a blog tour of authors who will share info about their recently published books. Many of them are authors from ATTM Press, my publisher, a small indie press in Maine. I'll also invite authors who live in my region or who I've met in my travels.  First, we have the very dedicated and highly talented, Jen Knox from Texas. 
I'm in the middle of reading her memoir Musical Chairs, which is an eye-opener every parent should read. It's a gripping, frightening and brutally honest story of a teen runaway and how she struggles with mental illness. Every parent read this book so they'll be mroe knowledgeable when they address the issue of running away with their teenagers.  The real facts will help negate their romantic notions of being on their own.  And for anyone who left home at a young age, this book will serve as a bonding experience. Those of us who never left the comfort of a normal life could never imagine what happens to vulnerable teenagers once they hit the streets. Musical Chairs offers the insights only a survivor can explain.

 Musical Chairs explores one family's history of mental health diagnoses and searches to define the cusp between a '90s working-class childhood and the trouble of adapting to a comfortable life in the suburbs. In order to understand her restlessness, Jennifer reflects on years of strip-dancing, alcoholism, and estrangement. Inspired by the least likely source, the family she left behind, Jennifer struggles towards reconciliation. This story is about identity, class, family ties, and the elusive nature of mental illness.


Throughout the summer of 2003 I repeatedly underwent what psychologists have since diagnosed as post-traumatic stress and panic disorder. A spiritually-inclined friend refers to the same summer as my rebirthing period. Still others, who claim to have had similar experiences, tell me that such episodes were probably a warning, my body’s way of telling me to adopt healthier eating habits, exercise more or quit smoking. At the time, all I knew was that the onset was swift.

Review: Alvah’s Book Reviews (to read the entire review, click here).
“[Musical Chairs is] well-written, which means Jen Knox knows how to string words together into comprehensible sentences. And her ‘voice’ is honest, unapologetic and – vital! – likeable. In other words, she’s like the Apostle Peter in the Bible. She’s a weak, frail, vulnerable human being, who makes lots of mistakes. Which means – thank God – that she is human. Which means that despite all her flaws and failures, she is not a fraud or a charlatan. She’s not pretending to be someone who has their ‘shit’ together.
Jen and most of her family are gloriously dysfunctional – just like most families. And they have a tendency toward mental illness. And – shockingly – she talks about it. Which is what makes her story and her book so wonderful. It’s downright refreshing to read a book that acknowledges what most people know is true, but are afraid to confess: Most people are one brick short of a load. Which is what makes them and life so interesting.”

About the author:
Jen Knox is a Fiction Editor at Our Stories Literary Journal, and works as a freelance writer, editor, and writing tutor. She grew up in Ohio, and lives in Texas, where she is currently working on a novel entitled "Absurd Hunger."

To watch the Musical Chairs Trailer, go to Knoxworx Multimedia.

To read Jen's blog: JenKnox at blogspot

For more information about Jen, go to

Musical Chairs is available at, ATTM Press and Barnes & Noble
For more information about ATTMP, go to or

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

There  was a third owl sign so now the owl sagas must be written into Fireworks: Interference Equation,  probably in Alice's garden, inmplicating Sean the, quantum physics guy.  I spoke to Doug in NC yesterday a couple of times, as well as many agencies having to do with forest wildlife and Doug was the most  helpful, compassionate and practical.  He has a friend who works at the Carolina Raptor Center and he consulted her and offered me some info which indicated nothing in m y yard killed the owl.
Doug took care of an injured Barred Owl, just like the one I found. He nurtured it, provided mice in the yard so the owl could hunt, and after three months, the owl returned to the wild.  He's a great Irish storyteller and it was a positive tale I needed to hear.  I'm still a bit traumatized, not because of what it means, but because I don't know how it died.  I've spent hours speculating, but feel assured nothing in my yard killed it. The cats haven't touched it in two days, as if they know I consider it sacred.
I wrapped it in a shroud of Egyptian gauze and  buried him in a place near my black wrought iron gate which is sacred to me. On top of his mound I piled many boughs of eucalyptus to accompany him on his otherworldy flights.     
Doug, who reads Tarot and once owned metaphysical bookstores, told me a great deal about the symbolism, omens, and "owl medicine."  his insights have helped to put finding the owl into perspective.
I worked in the garden a good bit of the day, (74 degrees) cleaning out and preparing two flower beds. It was dead silent in comparison to a few days ago.  No raptor sounds, only the rat-a-tat-tat of a small redheaded woodpecker as he made his way around the trunk in circles on the camellia next door.
While I experienced bird signs while writing Shaman Circus, this series of owl events has been much more powerful.  Even the chicken saga, as bizarre as it was, following the shootings and the pit opening up, can't compare.  (The chicken episode of 2008 ended up in a poem.  Perhaps I'll post it next time.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

A second owl event

Warning: this blog contains photos and speaks of a dead owl:

This morning after a few hours revising and writing,  I went outside to work in my garden in my attempt to balance the mental acitivty with the natural world (including physical exercise) and was horrified to find a dead owl in my back garden lying in the leaves and ivy beneath a camellia, as if he had simply fallen out of the pecan tree or fell off my 6 ft. wooden fence. He looks as if he’s just sleeping.

I knew I had a raptor in my back yard, but thought it was a red-tailed hawk because I saw it and often heard it throughout the day. There may still be a red-tailed hawk. From what I can gather online, I'd identify the dead bird as barred owl. They often take over red-tailed hawk, crow, or squirrel nests since barred owls  don’t make their own. Barred owls are territorial and don’t migrate, living in one place and hunting within a mile. They hang out on the fringes of forests alongside red-tailed hawks so they can see across fields. There's an empty lot which looks mroe like a field these days.
No rigor mortis had set in and I can‘t find any wounds on the body. So now I wonder, did it die of starvation, poison or old age? Since I’m highly allergic to chemicals, I only garden organically making my own compost and I never use chemical fertilizers or insect killers.
I’m highly bothered by this. Event though it’s a small owl, only 12 inches, not counting the tail, I’ve never seen such a large bird in the wild this close before, even though I’ve seen many hawks and one snowy owl flying while hiking. Timing is too much of a synchronistic event (as I’ve spoken about in previous posts), since another owl, a much larger owl, perhaps a Great Horned owl, flew over our heads as we left our writer’s meeting in downtown Greenville last week. I blogged about this a few blogs ago and as I mentioned, I'm a believer of bird omens and use them frequently in my writing.
So this has me in a bit of a dither. I’ve called the Dept. of Natural Resources, Clemson University Urban Wildlife Office and the Carolina Raptor Center and no one is doing research on mortality rates. They offered various suggestions as to cause of death: flying into plate glass window. Don't think so, I don't have plate a sliding glass door. I have smaller windows with blinds and he’s far from the house. Electrocution. Don't think so, the nearest wires are far from where he fell. He doesn’t look emaciated although studies online state starvation is the main cause of death, after being shot or getting killed on highways. especially in young owls who aren't good at hunting yet. I have no idea if this is a young owl or not.
And I’m still not sure, if this is the raptor I’ve been seeing. The one I’ve seen looked more like a red-tailed hawk and the sounds I’ve heard were much more hawk like screeches than owl hoots. However, today, my garden has been deadly silent. Mystery upon mystery. Some things we’re not meant to know.
They suggest I incinerate or bury it because it's illegal to own even a feather fiom a raptor. Perhaps I'll may bury it next to my cat, Shisha.

Reedy River Rats meet again!

The Reedy River Rats had a great writer’s meeting on Sat. at Coffee Underground. We got to hang out with one of B. Miller’s highly talented friends, Jack, who is a dancer. He told us all about a copmplex amazing mixed media production he’s working on called, Path, which detailes through dance, music and  videos, the deconstruction of the Red Riding Hood tale. He had to leaveto head to Asheville and the three of us talked about writing in general for a while and then Brian had to leave. But B. and I got into the nuts and bolts on our recent WIP pages and thank goodness for writer’s groups. Once again I was so eager to get to my action scenes that I neglected important features of two transitional chapters 21 and 22 in Fireworks: Interference Equation.

B.’s horror novel of horror and peach orchards and fire is moving along at a rapid clip and I know it will be finished by deadline as it now hovers at the cusp of the roller coaster’s highest hill andis  set to send readers careening down at a stomach-jolting pace.

Yesterday was a day of mundane work to make a living but today I spent the morning fixing those shorted chapters and am so pleased with the results because a good bit of character development resulted, even though I was working more on giving a better sense of time (not my long suit since I don’t believe in time as in a clock, but live more within time as changes in season and atmosphere.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ambient Jazz and Tulips

I guess my birthday this year is going to last a few weeks (like my daughter's and granddaughter's usually does.  Due to my daughter's crazy schedule as a nurse, we had my birthday dinner at her house on Tuesday during the snowstorm.  It was glorious. I walked into her very contemporary living room, (lots of world and oriental influences accented with original art ). There was a blazing fire, candles burning and  ambient jazz  (reminded me of the film score from Stay). Two live tulip plants were on the massive leather coffee table brazonly flaunting the weather ouside.  I felt like I was on a movie set it was all so atmopsheric.
 Beth and Kendall spent the day making all kinds of presents and foods. Kendall made me two stained glass window hangings - one of butterflies since her name Kendall Vanessa, means "Princess of the Valley of Butterflies" and the other of stars and planets in homage to my passion for astrology.
They pampered me like crazy with a hearty beef stew (one of my favorites) and Beth made her first cake ever, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.
What a wonderful birthday evening.   

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Regarding the lack of Genre Fiction at the SC Book Festival

A few words about the South Carolina Book Festival:  This was my second trip having attended last year with Brian K. Ladd.  This time B. Miller joined us for a Reedy River Rats road trip.
 As in last year, I learned a few things at the two panels I attended, one with first time novelists, and the other on a comparison between science fiction and fantasy.  But I was dismayed when their were only two authors featured on this panel.. What does that say about the state of genre fiction in South Carolina?
Janice Hardy, the fantasy side, author of The Shifter, a novel about the dark side of healing and James O'Neal, author of the future world crime novel set in Florida  did offer valuable tips about their genres and the industry.
However, the only author inpsiring me in a big way was Nick Valentino of Tennessee, author of Thomas Riley, a steampunk novel.  He went in there with the confidence and flair of a true writer, decked out in steampunk gear - goggles pushed back on his head, eyes blazing with a contagious excitement and an enthusiasm for his trade and his genre. He animately gave out tips on how to get published along with stories of his ttravels while on his book tour. We stood next so magically enhanced with the real items used in his book,  I couldn't stop looking at it. The display reminded me of an Arts  & Sciences talbe in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  Sure it held the neatly stacked piles of his book, but also boasted Cd's, patches, stickers and even better, the physical accoutrements of his genre, odd little steam punk items. The glass alchemy jars, motors and pestles that Thomas Riley uses, the odd metallic items that conjured a myriad of ideas.  
Armed with stitched badges he sold for a pittance, Nick invited you into the steampunk world of his book before you evern read the back cover or synopsis.  He was a barker in the true sense of the word, but with style, with elegance. You knew he had fun writing his book and what's better, he offered you the chance to take the ride with him, including inviting you onboard as a Sky Pirate.
There was no one else there like him. It takes someone from outside of our state to show us how to bring their love for their genre and literature into scope for potential reader's understanding.
I realize this is a book festival designed to market local books, both current and antiquarian, and not a writer's convention. But sitll, I found it very odd to see genres like horror, magical realism, slipstream etc. left out. Perhaps it's meant to be only a literary festival. There is a large focus on historical and nonfiction books on the state, however, history and sense of place are often included in genre fiction as well. Genre books become both best sellers and Pulitzer Prize nominees. Look at Stephen King and Salman Rushdie for example.  Horror set in a particular place over and over, such as King with Maine. And odd genres like magical realism are recognized by the largest literary prizes available, yet not a word, not a book, nada.
As the owner and editor of Fissure, there's no lack of genre writers in this state. I receive lots of submissions. So what's the deal?
Why are the literary organizers in our state shutting  off to the varied paths to writing and the enjoyment of the reading public? Are we intent on getting a "reputation" in a certain literary style as a state or do we support all writers, aware the next writer to resound throughout the world could be southern based or South Carolinian - and yes, horror of horrors, even be a genre writer.
Neil Gaiman spoke in his journal about how he'd never read or signed in Alabama in the 22 year he's criss-crossed the U.S. on book tours. He asked his publisher about this.  If you're a genre writer, I encourage you to click on his name and read this entry. You'll see what the big publishers think of the south and you won't like it.
If I know Gaiman, he'll work to change that image - but I, as a  genre writer must strive to change it from the inside too. Not by moaning and groaning, but by attending the conventions instead of only running away to conventions in more entlightened states.
Perhaps as genre writers, we could attend en masse.  I don't know. Maybe I'm idealistic. But it wouldn't hurt to ask for panels on genre writing and request to be included to speak on panels.  If Nick Valentino was accepted for a panel and author signings, then they may be open to the rest of us as well.  We could be heard.
There are genre writers right here in South Carolina, good writers, and its easy to bugger off to other cons where the people "get us", where it's easier to market our books. But then things will never change here - not from the inside, not to the point our own state will recognize us as writers and support our efforts to help South Carolina be veiwed as a state which produces books and writers of all kinds.

Oh - and if that's not enough to chew on - all wrtiers out there looking for agents and publishers - you might want to read this post by Charlie Stross on book deal contracts. It's not the final word, but a great intro from a guy who's been there, on a very important and complex subject.

Monday, March 1, 2010

On The Appearance of Owls and foreshadowing

As writers our perceptions are different, maybe even heightened, as we view the occurrences of our everyday lives with some sort of viewing glass which might only be found in steam punk novels. A brass contraption, we can alter from telescope to magnifying glass with the turn of a dial and at the same time capture the sound and the emotion of the moment. Similar to a still or video camera, but more so, because of the ability to save the emotion along with the visual and auditory encounter.
This invisible apparatus allows us to capture images and scenes we can utilize with a technique helpful in speculative fiction and horror: foreshadowing.
I captured such a moment on my birthday eve, a little backstory...
It was a chilly February evening, brisk and clear with clouds, stars, and the moon two days shy of full.  By some happenstance, three writers of The Reedy River Rats Guerilla Writing Group stepped out of our cars around the same time at our free secret spy parking spots in downtown Greenville, SC.
Brian K. Ladd, B. Miller and I chatted and laughed on our way to Coffee Underground, high on the fact we'd each submitted more than 15 pages for critique during our weekly writers meeting. Brian had finished his submission, Asterion, for Lame Goat Press, (accepted the next day by guest editor Michael Crittendon for the anthology, Howl, Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal.  B. Miller's pages clocked in at the 57,000 word mark on the as yet untitled horror novel set in the fictional town of Bulton, SC. And I had brought along, Chapter’s 18, 19 and 20 of my absurdist novel, Fireworks: Interference Equation which deals with quantum physics and is partly set in the Pendleton Street Arts District of Greenville, SC, the outback of Australia and Washington, DC.
We clinked glasses of delicious rose champagne in celebration of my birthday and the release of Shaman Circus, enjoyed wonderful unusual foods, including crab pasties and mocha cheesecake as we exchanged  repartee with each other and our favorite server, Eadris. As a writer’s group we’ve been fortunate to have two great servers for our meetings over the years who have become friends: Charlie and Eadris. Charlie has left CU but Eadris has been pampering us for over a year now, laughing at our revelries with an indulgent smile, patiently waiting for us to stop talking shop to order and who now knows us so well, he anticipates what will make our gatherings more pleasant and constructive.

After much work and much laughter, there was a surreal moment when we exited the 20 odd stairs up from Greenville Under onto Coffee Street, a narrow downtown street lined with locally owned restaurants and bars, circa 1940's buildings. We passed by the huge wrought iron gates which lead to the alley behind CU, (also featured as the location in my short story, Creggie and the Coat of One Color, published in Dark Gothic Resurrected). We walked along, commenting on hipsters and alternative bands, when no more than two feet above our heads, a huge owl swept over, his wingspan so massive, it blotted out part of the skyline. I literally ducked my head as he flew directly over us illuminated by the yellow sodium backlighting on Coffee Street. An odd omen indeed, on busy Friday night downtown evening. After he'd  swooped over us into the alley, I saw him cut West down Washington Street, and then change direction and head East, a raptor intent on mission, of a surveillance or reconnaissance nature. The scene was vivid and cinematic, in setting, action and lighting, it could have been filmed by Alex Proyas or Tim Pope with an owl as guide and in a movie reminiscent  of The Crow or its sequel, The Crow, City of Angels, based on the comic series, The Crow graphic novel,  by James O'Barr. Since the first movie of the series, The Crow, was one of the pivotal movies of my life, I felt humbled and fortunate to experience first-hand such a powerful moment, as if the owl was scouting out the turf just to protect us, as the crow did for Eric Draven in the first movie, and Ashe Corven in the second. I experienced the event in an odd stop-motion, altered with fast-motion, cut-up montage of myriad details, as if  Marc Forster directed it, achieving a similar effect as to what he accomplished in his movie, Stay. Each second was lengthened and enlivened with a potent multi-layered symbolism, not often experienced, even with heightened senses, in reality.
I view this flight of the Great Horned Owl (nearest I can figure due to coloring of the underwings) as a gift from the universe, intended for use in a story. This bird sign, in addition to the hawks in my backyard, four miles from a busy urban downtown, makes me think of Revelations from the Bible - warning signs.  Just as the hordes of blackbirds, descending on my cottage neighborhood, send me running to the window thanks to Alfred Hitchcock being my first introduction to horror. 
Such serendipitous events inspire me to incorporate bird omens in my dark fantasy and psychological horror stories. After all it's long been a tradition in literature. So I borrow from the Greeks or dip into my mother's many superstitions about birds, some from her British upbringing and others she picked up from my French- Canadian father's side of the family. For instance, my short story, The Far End of Folly, submitted to The Land Bridge (seeking submissions, deadline end of April) heavily incorporates bird omens which my daughter, Beth, my friend, Mark and I witnessed throughout our stay on Folly Island.
So don't ignore those odd occurrences,, those moments of connections with the creatures whose heightened senses are aware of things we cannot see or hear - use them as the harbingers they are- to create tension, mystery and curiosity through foreshadowing.
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