Week 25 2016 – Verdi Cries

img_0042I was living in London the first time I heard Natalie Merchant sing Verdi Cries. This was ages ago, in the late 80s (yes, I am that old). It was cold, a bit rainy, and the lights went out and nothing but Natalie Merchant’s voice lit up the little arena. I can’t remember if 10,000 Maniacs were opening for REM or if it was the other way around, but goose pimples rose up on my flesh. It was one of those near religious experiences that music can sometimes evoke. Ever since then, Verdi Cries has been one of my favorite songs of all time.

I am fortunate in so many ways. Years ago, when I was a baby, my grandmother bought a condo by the ocean and passed it on to my mother. All my life, every year of it, I have spent at least one week in this condo by the sea. So much of my innocence was left there, so much of my hope, so many dreams washed away in the sand. There was something in that profound and deep feeling I could not find my own words to express in Natalie Merchant’s song.  This week I spent at that condo by the sea.

The man in 119 takes his tea alone.
Mornings we all rise to wireless verdi cries.
I’m hearing opera through the door.
The souls of men and women, impassioned all.
Their voices climb and fall; battle trumpets call.
I fill the bath and climb inside, singing.

He will not touch their pastry
But every day they bring him more.
Gold from the breakfast tray, i steal them all away
And then go and eat them on the shore.

I draw a jackal-headed woman in the sand,
Sing of a lover’s fate sealed by jealous hate
Then wash my hand in the sea.
With just three days more I’d have just
about learned the entire score to aida.

Holidays must end as you know.
All is memory taken home with me:
The opera, the stolen tea, the sand drawing, the verging sea, all years ago.


I have returned after a week at the shore. It was just me, the dog, some books, and my writing. There was no opera through the doors or pastries to steal, but the ambience was there. While I began writing a new book, I felt a sense of longing and profound sadness there at the shore of the immense sea.

I could not find a video of the London performance, you know back before iPhones and all this technology, so I dug up something that probably comes pretty close. Enjoy.







Week 24 2016 – Page 1 Again

PugBeach (1)I packed my car before dawn on Sunday, ushered my pug into the back seat and drove until I reached the beach. I am taking a week off from the world to begin again.

It is not such an odd thing that a writer will abandon one work to start another. This is what I have done despite some positive feedback from agents and editors. I found that I could not do even one more rewrite. At least not now. I have other stories to explore in my world of Alleysiande, and the one I was telling was no longer drawing my passion.

It will take some time to write a new book, but it is a bit better than page 1 again. I have a lot of material in drawers and folders that will decorate this manuscript and a first chapter stolen from Shadowed Castles that did not fit with the rest of the book.

That chapter and the tale I’ve been aching but afraid to tell fits here in the new book. Life has dealt me some scars as of late, a terrible diagnosis, loss of loved ones, and a world in steady decline that seems to reject light and love, and creeps with ever more deliberate steps toward oblivion.

I am not the person I was nor the same writer. In the words of the inestimable W.B. Yeats, true of those of us who watch freedom erode in the West as it was for the Irish who watched four executed for their audacity to try for a free Ireland, I find myself forever altered.

All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats, Easter 1916

In the past, I shied away from telling a story from extraordinary angles, never daring to tell my stories from a point of view greater than my own so the angels and demons of my tales were mute and met with the same astonishment and blindness truth often encounters.

 My tales were hurt by this lack of confidence in my part. So I must walk a while with demons. And not without hope. If paradise can be lost, can it not be found again? So I begin once more with less time than I had before, but I think I am standing in the right place. I think I am finally here.

I’m not a river or a giant bird
That soars to the sea
And if I’m never tied to anything
I’ll never be free
I wanted magic shows and miracles
Mirages to touch
I wanted such a little thing from life
I wanted so much
I never came close, my love
We never came near
It never was there
I think it was here
They showed me crimson, gold and lavender
A shining parade
But there’s no color I can have on earth
That won’t finally fade
When I wanted worlds to paint
And costumes to wear
I think it was here
‘Cause it never was there
Pippin, Finale
Stephen Schwartz
Evil, Reading, Villains, Writing

Week 23 2016 – Walking Like a Villain

YingYangI spent the bulk of this weekend struggling with the villains of my series. Evil characters who are mindless, snarling, ugly and stink of dog poo are, well, dull. Lazy fiction will create the stock character villain with nothing redeemable or clever about him or her. A great story creates a villain that evokes real emotion. To accomplish that, a villain must have scope. This is difficult as we so desperately need to divide everything into this or that, right or wrong, good or bad.

Writers are tasked with thinking beyond common dichotomies. Almost no one thinks of themselves as evil. In fact, most of us, I would wager think we are good people or at least making a go of being good. Evil, I am afraid, is often in the eye of the beholder. And its not even that simple. We are so afraid to name evil, it often has its way with us. We never see it coming.

This weekend alone, a seven year old boy was executed for blasphemy, more were beheaded for believing something the headsmen did not, and one gunman of the same ilk that executed the child and the unrepentant headsmen, walked into a nightclub and killed fifty people. How easy it would be to simply dismiss all these people as aberrations and mentally challenged individuals with nothing at all in common with each other.

None of these people think they are doing evil. They don’t even think what they are doing is wrong. They believe with all their heart that the people they are killing are evil. Put in more general terms, everyone, no matter how good and decent and tolerant, is thought of as evil by someone else, someone who feels quite justified in making them dead.

When it comes to conflict, for me writing about the dark side of humanity, even in fantasy, is difficult. It’s unsettling to do, but when creating an antagonist to build conflict in a story, writers need to stand in the villain’s shoes and understand why they do what they do and think what they do. Feeling sympathy for the devil is a damn sight easier than understanding a kiddie rapist or a raving fanatic that kills in the name of God.

It is something that if a writer can get it right, they can offer hope that somehow evil can be overcome. Frodo Baggins did finally destroy the ring of power, but if not for the villain, Gollum, he would never have managed. Anyhow, I go to battle my demons. As always, they remain leashed but untamed.


Week 22 2016 – Summer

Atlantis 047I have found that summer no longer thrills me as it once did. Back when summer meant freedom from the drudgery of rote learning in a classroom full of half-wit children who enjoyed stuffing me into lockers, it was something I much looked forward too. Now, apart from the week I spend at the beach walking along the shore, sunning in the lovely sea breeze, reading, and yes, writing, it has lost much of its former appeal.

And summer has arrived again, not as that charming sunny few months of freedom spent at the pool, the beach, and scampering about the creeks, rivers, and lakes of my childhood.  Summer, for me, has become yet another harbinger of passing time. A resource that can’t be bought or bargained for. Yes, I will enjoy my week on the shore in a couple of weeks. But for the moment, it is too hot and too light.

Perhaps, age is darkening me, but I find I write best when the outside world is asleep and full of ghosts. A long summer rain works well, but sunlight distracts me. Not in a come hither sort of way, but in that annoying manner that irks a classic vampire who must be confined to his coffin until the night. So in the summer, I get less sleep as I wait for the sun to go down. Daylight savings time is a wretched curse drawing the light out so long into the evening. Then when all is quiet, gloom creeps across the sky, and there is nothing but the muggy heat left from the day, I can exist for a while. Only when I am writing do I truly feel alive. Otherwise, I am merely a pale imitation of life, simply going through the motions. A pretender playing at being a human.