The Mystical Mystery Sisters

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Guest Post by Amber Foxx

Marion Eaton and Virginia King and I have three different takes on the mystery genre, all of them unconventional. Our protagonists, in various ways, pass through the barrier between ordinary reality and something else—another time, or perception and knowledge not accessible by the everyday mind. We’ve come to appreciate each other not only as writers but as friends. Virginia and Marion have actually met—Marion, from England, happened to have already planned a trip to Australia, where Virginia lives, shortly after we started communicating. I haven’t been so lucky yet, but I feel fortunate in their long-distance friendship. To introduce my Mystical Mystery Sisters, I thought it would be fun for each of us to answer the same questions.

When you started writing the first book in your series, did you know where it was going or did it surprise you?

Virginia: I’m a “how would I know what’s going to happen, I’m only the author” kind of writer. The First Lie started with one sentence: All she had to do was jump. This applied to my main character, Selkie Moon, and also to me. I wrote that sentence with no plot and no plan. Selkie is named after the Celtic seal people—the ones who peel off their skins and dance in the moonlight on human legs—but The First Lie is not a retelling of the selkie myth. Selkie Moon is a Sydney girl who’s run off to Hawaii and got tangled up in the mythological layers of a deep mystery. The mythical elements that popped into the story as I wrote it became complex threads that converge in a stunning conclusion – because it certainly stunned me. It still makes me cry whenever I read it.

Amber: I knew what The Calling was about, but not how it would end. When I put the prologue up for my online critique group, one member mentioned that it was clear that Mae’s missing father was going to be a key mystery. Oh? I’d thought he was backstory. Mae’s struggle with her psychic gift was to be the main plot—but then I realized that her search for her father would be the unifying thread, in the background behind the family struggles and the mystery of what Dr. Tann can do with his own strange gift. Already the book was on a new track based on that observation. I didn’t know how any of the relationships would work out—or not work out. The characters had to go through all of it for me to know.

Marion: It surprised me. I had a rough idea of what I was going to write – a memoir of a special time in my life when I was young and the world was rosy. I started writing and came upon something mysterious to which I had never found the answer, and suddenly, the book took a completely different direction. From a rather boring factual account I suddenly found myself writing a fictional mystery thriller complete with ghosts and a time-slip.

Which of the mysterious phenomena in your book comes closest to something that has really happened to you?

Virginia: I’ve mostly taken true things and let my imagination make them bigger than my own experience. But there is one scene where Selkie has an out-of-body experience and heightened perception of her surroundings. This has happened to me several times—once for an hour in a garden where I felt completely connected to one rose, to every curve and tint of its petals, to every tiny flaw, to every drop of dew. I’ve also had amazing insights into my own mind through psychotherapy and there’s a scene where Selkie has to dive into the murky depths of her mind and discover a dark secret. I couldn’t have imagined the mystical layers of that scene if I hadn’t experienced the process myself.

Amber: Two come very close—one creepy, one beautiful. The creepy one is the wolf spirit. It would be a spoiler to say any more. Some of the visionary and energetic experiences Mae has when she starts practicing as a healer are similar to some things I felt when I had a little training in that field.

Marion: Actually, many of them are close to my personal experience. Perhaps the most unnerving was the sound of a horse being ridden fast up a deserted High Street late at night — when there was nothing to be seen. The experience was even more unnerving because it was so close and so real that my husband pushed me out of the way, and he was not normally given to flights of fancy. The most mysterious was when all the clocks stopped— the incident which provided the title of the book. But that was not my personal experience: I overheard the conversation between two of my friends.

What do you do to refresh your creative source—to water your inner garden?

Virginia: Writing itself refreshes me. I’ve almost finished Selkie’s next mystery, The Second Path, and as my imagination puts surprising things into the evolving story, I get energized to follow them. This is my idea of fun. Then in the middle of the night, connections emerge from that day’s writing, so I keep a note book by the bed and decipher my scribbles in the morning. The moments when I’ve not quite woken up often produce pages of notes and these subconscious connections inspire me back to the keyboard. I live in a valley full of birds in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, so I also carry my notebook when I walk.

Amber: My daily yoga practice smooths out my energy and helps me focus; it’s good for me that I forget about writing while I’m doing it (although I do get ideas for teaching yoga classes). I occasionally incubate dreams to get an answer to a plot problem. I dreamed one of the scenes in The Calling when I was stuck—a new minor character showed up. My best flow happens when I’m running, though. Something gets knocked loose; some little dam in my mind crumbles and ideas move. Often, I get back from a run and have to take notes before I lose track of all the inspirations. And I need to be around people, too. Go out dancing, do something social. Unlike many writers, I’m an extrovert. People give me energy—and they inspire characters, of course.

Marion: I love that you called it an inner garden, because my garden is the source of much delight and renewal. Spending time working or dreaming there, or walking in nature, always calms, refreshes and fulfils me. For many years I have had a daily practice that makes my day go swimmingly. In the morning, I do a little yoga or tai chi, followed by a dancing or breathing meditation, then I take my dog for a walk through the beautiful Sussex countryside. By the time I come back, I am full of ideas and itching to get on with the day, and particularly to write. I also meditate for 10 minutes before I fall asleep at night, so I wake refreshed and happy. If I find myself stuck when writing, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and call on my Muse for help. She never fails me.

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The Mystical Mystery Sisters have teamed up for a giveaway. Enter the drawing to win a paperback copy of the first book in each author’s series. To enter, click here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/eb0a35092/

The drawing will be held midnight, Sunday April 26.

The Calling

The first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Amber Foxx, author of The Mae Martin mysteries

Amber Foxx,
author of
The Mae Martin mysteries

Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions— access to secrets she could regret uncovering.

Gift or curse? When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, nothing can be the same again.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

Amber has worked professionally in theater and dance, fitness, and academia. In her free time she enjoys music, dancing, art, running and yoga. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

When the Clocks Stopped

The Mysterious Marsh Series, Book One

Marion Eaton author of The Mysterious Marsh Series

Marion Eaton
author of
The Mysterious Marsh Series

When lawyer Hazel Dawkins decides to write some wills while she waits for the birth of her first child, she unwittingly triggers dramatic consequences. Mysteriously, she encounters Annie, a woman whose tempestuous life took place more than two centuries earlier when Romney Marsh was a violent place, dominated by smugglers.

Soon that past collides with the present, and Hazel finds herself pitted against an evil that has stalked the marsh for centuries. As her destiny intertwines with Annie’s in the shifting time-scape, Hazel confronts a terrifying challenge that parallels history—and could even change it. If she survives.

Retired from legal practice, Marion lives near the sea in the beautiful Sussex countryside with a long-suffering husband, a lazy Saluki, a wild garden and an urge to write into the small hours—all of which she attempts to keep in some sort of order. 

The First Lie

Selkie Moon Mysteries, Book One

Virginia King author of The Selkie Moon Mysteries

Virginia King
author of
The Selkie Moon Mysteries

Selkie Moon is a woman on the run. In a mad dash for freedom she’s escaped her life in Sydney to start over again in Hawaii. But her refuge begins to unravel and she’s running from something else entirely. A voice in a dream says that someone is trying to kill her. Not that she’s psychic, no way. But the messages and threats escalate until she’s locked in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious stalker. Entangled in Celtic and Hawaiian mythologies, the events become so bizarre and terrifying that her instinct is to keep running. But is she running from her past? Or her future?

Virginia has lived most of her life in Sydney, but has travelled to many places. She’s been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, a producer of audio-books, a writer of fifty-plus children’s books, and an award-winning publisher. These days she’s a full-time writer who paints a bit, living in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband.

From April 21 – 30, each e-book will be on sale for $1.99 US.

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/buy-books-retail-links

http://www.marioneaton.com/mysterious-marsh/

http://www.amazon.com/First-Lie-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00K1VC20Y

To learn more about the authors and their series:

http://www.marioneaton.com/

http://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com

http://selkiemoon.com/

Liturgy for Lent: Saints and Sanctified Time

Nancy Adams:

Oscar RomeroI’m sharing this post from Episcopalian priest Mike Angell’s blog, one of my new favorites. Wishing all those who celebrate Holy Week and Easter a blessed time of reflection and renewal.

Originally posted on Mike Angell:

Mike: Today is one of the most important Feast days for my own faith. March 24th is the celebration of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Episcopal Church, marking the day of his martyrdom in 1980. I’ve marched through the streets of San Salvador with friends from the Anglican Church of El Salvador many times to remember the archbishop who stood with the poor. Romero has not yet been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, that is coming later this year, but the Episcopal Church added him to our calendar in 2009. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Feasts, Fasts, and the marking of time. Ellis and I are in Mexico, and on Friday we were at Chichen Itza for the Vernal Equinox. We saw the sun’s shadow make the body of a snake down the side of a temple, designed to help the Mayans mark this time of…

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Interview with author Gigi Pandian

Gigi Pandian headshot 38 b&w vertical crop QuicksandToday I am pleased to present an interview with one of my favorite writers, USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian.  Gigi is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern Tip of India. After spending her childhood being dragged around the world, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist). Gigi’s debut novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards.

And last week, Gigi’s second novel, Pirate Vishnu, was awarded the Rose Award at Left Coast Crime!

Please welcome Gigi to the blog.

Tell us about your journey as a writer.

I’ve been making up mysteries since I was a kid. As a small child I adored Scooby Doo, so I made up my own Scooby Doo adventures so I could have even more of them. When I was a little bit older, I wrote a cartoon series about Minnesota Smith – a female Indiana Jones. This pattern continued, but I didn’t think seriously about writing novels until many years later.

I left a PhD program once I completed my Masters, because that’s when I finally realized I needed to be doing something more creative in my life. I got a part-time job, started attending art school, and spent my free time at cafes writing a mystery novel. Now that I was following my creative passions, my whole life fell into place.

What was your road to publication like?

I began to take my writing seriously when I was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant [ http://www.malicedomestic.org/grants.html ] for a draft of my debut novel, ARTIFACT. That’s what gave me the push I needed to learn more about the craft of writing, finish polishing the manuscript, and query agents.

I took the time necessary to turn a good idea into a polished book – through workshops, books on the craft of writing, and critique groups – so I found an agent relatively quickly. Finding a publisher was more difficult. I learned that my novel was in between mystery subgenres, which made it a tougher sell to big publishers.

While my agent was pitching the novel to publishers, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. With so much uncertainty in life, I wanted to be in control of something in my life. I decided to self-publish ARTIFACT, with my agent backing my decision that the book was ready for publication. I had a year of cancer treatments, so I used that year to learn how to self-publish successfully. My efforts were rewarded when the book was well received.

Self publishing was so much work that I was thrilled when Henery Press made me an offer to publish the whole series, and when my agent sold my second series to Midnight Ink. Even though it took a while to find my footing, I ended up signing two three-book deals within a few months of each other. The hard work up front paid off.

One of the inspirations behind the Jaya Jones series is the late Elizabeth Peters, a grande-dame of mystery writers. Tell us about that. What else inspired you to create Jaya’s character and the series?

My favorite books when I was a teenager were the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Vicky Bliss is an art historian who’s brilliant and beautiful, and who uses her PhD to go on adventures across the world, solving mysteries and being wooed by a charming art thief. The books are both escapist fantasies and also incredibly smart mysteries that teach the reader about history and involve clever puzzle plots.

When I started writing, I knew I wanted to write books that combined light-hearted adventure with deeper world history, just as those Elizabeth Peters novels do. I grew up going on research trips all over the world with my anthropology professor parents, so the academic life was very familiar to me. My dad is from India and my mom is American, so writing a diverse character from two worlds came naturally.

That’s how I created Jaya Jones, a history professor in San Francisco who was born in India to an Indian mom and American dad, and who solves present-day crimes linked to historical treasures related to India’s colonial history.

Jaya’s sidekick, Sanjay, is an equally delightful character. Where did he come from? The dynamics of the relationship between Jaya and Sanjay are a great source of interest and occasional tension in the books. Was that something you planned from the beginning, or did it just develop as you began to write?

I’ll let you in on a secret. Sanjay was never meant to appear on the page at all! I needed him to play a tiny part off-stage in the first book, but as soon as I put pen to paper, he sprang to life and there was no stopping him.

Sanjay is Jaya’s best friend, a stage magician who goes by the moniker The Hindi Houdini. Magicians are such fun in mystery novels because their art of deception gives them insights into mysteries. Sanjay turned out to be such a colorful character and so good at solving mysteries that I had to give him his own set of locked-room mystery short stories – otherwise he would have taken over Jaya’s books!

Speaking of relationships, the other main character in the series, Jaya’s love interest Lane Peters, is an equally charming guy. I sense shades of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief or Charade. Where did you find this handsome guy with a shady past?

From the loveable art thieves in novels (such as Elizabeth Peters’ John Smyth and Hailey Lind’s Michael X Johnson in her art forger series) to charming con men in movies (such as Cary Grant characters, and Neal Caffrey on the TV show White Collar), I’ve always loved this type of character.

Instagram-Mont-St-Michel-Quicksand-text-Gigi-PandianThe latest Jaya Jones, Quicksand, is set mostly in France in a series of stunning locations, including Mont Saint-Michel. (Movie rights, anyone?) Tell us a bit about this, including how you got the idea for the different locales and how you went about doing the research for the settings.

I knew I wanted to write a series that took the characters on adventures all over the world. Because of my academic background, I do a lot of research in libraries. Even today, there’s so much information you can’t find online! At least not easily. And once I have general ideas, I visit the locations in person. Again, even though there’s so much information available online, visiting a place in person provides perspective and ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise come to light.

For example, I knew that I wanted to set QUICKSAND partly on Mont Saint-Michel. The remote destination on the northern coast of France was once only accessible during low tide and over the years was used as a fortress, a monastery, and a prison. I read up on the fascinating history of the Mont, but once I visited I learned so much more. The experience of walking around the eerily silent cobblestone streets at night helped me create the atmosphere in the book, and my abbey tour guide told me history that I wouldn’t have learned from books. Based on her tidbits of history, I was able to do more research to verify the facts, but I would never have set off on an obscure line of research without that tour.

In Quicksand:

QUICKSAND by Gigi Pandian book cover mediumHistorian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.

Sign up for Gigi’s newsletter at http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/, connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and Twitter (@GigiPandian), and check out her gargoyle photography on the Gargoyle Girl Blog (http://www.gargoylegirl.com/).

Lent, Lenz, Spring

Crocus biflorus photo by Reginald Hulhoven from Wikimedia Commons

Crocus biflorus
photo by Reginald Hulhoven from Wikimedia Commons

Christians are now observing the season of Lent, a time of fasting and penitence, reflection and contemplation. But the church season’s development in the Northern hemisphere also draws on the powerful pulls of body and earth, of humankind’s connection to the natural world, which, like our bodies, is a creation and temple of God.

The word itself, “Lent,” derives from the Germanic root “lang,” meaning “long,” which also forms the basis of the present-day German “Lenz” (“Spring”). According to the 1964 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, “Lent” (and, one assumes, the German “Lenz”) takes its meaning from the lengthening of days in the spring.

Historically, Lent began as a time of preparation for new converts to the Christian faith before their baptism at Easter, and I imagine that over the centuries many pre-Christian traditions and practices associated with the seasonal transition became part of religious tradition as well. In earlier societies, this seasonal transition was a time to use up winter stores before they went bad (hence, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a time for one last big winter feast).  A time to fast because those winter stores, even those that keep, are running low.

A good time to clear out larders and cupboards, making room for the coming abundance of spring. A good time to clear out and examine old habits, tossing out those which haven’t served us well, making room for the abundance of life promised by Christ’s incarnation in human form and loving sacrifice. Spring’s rebirth reminds us that spiritual rebirth is possible, too, something that isn’t always easy to believe in the season of cold and “winter’s discontent.”

The earthly season reminds us that scarcity (those dwindling stores of winter food) can coexist with hope, symbolized by the lengthening of days. (Ancients did not have to deal with the less welcome intrusion of Daylight Savings Time!)

The Germans actually have two words for spring, and both are used in one of my favorite pieces of music, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The Drunken Man in Spring”), the fifth movement from Mahler’s great song cycle Das Lied von die Erde (The Song of the Earth). Especially lovely is Mahler’s setting of the line “Der Lenz ist da!” (“Spring is here!”).

I located a performance on YouTube, sung by tenor Fritz Wunderlich. The English translation follows the German text, and you can see that this celebration of spring is as far removed as possible from the somber beginnings of Lent! I’m certainly not advocating celebrating spring’s arrival by getting drunk, but this is a wonderful piece of music, and you can also take the “drunkenness” metaphorically, as the exuberance of becoming bedazzled by the beauty of nature and the miraculous nature of the season:

Wenn nur ein Traum das Leben ist,
Warum denn Müh’ und Plag’!?
Ich trinke, bis ich nicht mehr kann,
Den ganzen, lieben Tag!

Und wenn ich nicht mehr trinken kann,
Weil Kehl’ und Seele voll,
So tauml’ ich bis zu meiner Tür
Und schlafe wundervoll!

Was hör’ ich beim Erwachen? Horch!
Ein Vogel singt im Baum.
Ich frag’ ihn, ob schon Frühling sei,
Mir ist als wie im Traum.

Der Vogel zwitschert: Ja!
Der Lenz ist da, sei kommen über Nacht!
Aus tiefstem Schauen lauscht’ ich auf,
Der Vogel singt und lacht!

Ich fülle mir den Becher neu
Und leer’ ihn bis zum Grund
Und singe, bis der Mond erglänzt
Am schwarzen Firmament!

Und wenn ich nicht mehr singen kann,
So schlaf’ ich wieder ein.
Was geht mich denn der Frühling an!?
Laßt mich betrunken sein!

If life is but a dream,
why work and worry?
I drink until I no more can,
the whole, blessed day!

And if I can drink no more
as throat and soul are full,
then I stagger to my door
and sleep wonderfully!

What do I hear on waking? Hark!
A bird sings in the tree.
I ask him if it’s spring already;
to me it’s as if I’m in a dream.

The bird chirps Yes!
The spring is here, it came overnight!
From deep wonderment I listen;
the bird sings and laughs!

I fill my cup anew
and drink it to the bottom
and sing until the moon shines
in the black firmament!

And if I can not sing,
then I fall asleep again.
What to me is spring?
Let me be drunk!

Frost Forest on my Window

Frost_on_windowFrost forest
On my window
Snowflake trees on
Icy slopes

(fleeting, passing)

Soon will sun
Melt
My frost forest
Spring is on her way
***

Writing, editing, and winter ailments have kept me from the blog,
BUT
After multiple revisions, my latest novel is ready for show time.
A big editing job is finally done.
My energy level is up.
I’m ready for Spring!

Gargoyles: Mischievous Monsters for over a Millennia

I’m pleased to welcome fellow Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian as today’s guest on the blog. Gigi and I share a fascination with gargoyles, the subject of her post, and Gigi’s latest mystery, The Accidental Alchemist, features a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. Take it away, Gigi!

Gigi-Pandian-with-Notre-Dame-gargoyle-web-text

I’ve always been fascinated by gargoyles, so when I began writing a paranormal mystery about an alchemist, the gargoyle character ended up taking over the story!

I’m not alone. Gargoyles have fascinated people for millennia. Though they were most popular during the medieval era in Europe, the first known use of gargoyles was in ancient Egypt.

Nobody has the definitive answer as to why drainage pipes were anthropomorphized as gargoyles, but many different forces contributed to their rise in popularity. Gargoyles reached the height of popularity in 13th century Europe. Since they look like tormented souls, and were often used on cathedrals in medieval Europe, one common theory is that gargoyles symbolize trapped souls, showing people they would be safe once they entered the interior sanctuary of the church.

Within this theory, it’s up for debate whether or not those tormented gargoyles were trapped human souls, fierce guardians warding off the devil, or creatures ready to harm people who didn’t attend church. As with much religious interpretation in the Middle Ages, it’s likely that all of these interpretations were used. After all, most people were illiterate, so different ideas spread in different areas.

But what was the intent of the stone carvers themselves? Gargoyles provided an outlet where they could let loose with their creativity.

Historian Janetta Rebold Benton speculates that gargoyles have always fascinated people because we’re naturally drawn to the mysterious and the macabre. “The modern horror movie,” she says, “like the medieval gargoyle, pretends to threaten us but does no harm.” And yes, I do read books about gargoyles by historians!

Collection-of-gargoyle-books-Jan-2015-web-text

Technically, a gargoyle is a water spout used for draining rainwater away from a building. But over time, the term has come to be used more broadly, applying to ornamental grotesques perched on buildings. And today, many of these modern “gargoyles” are have a much more benevolent appearance. The gargoyles of Notre Dame in Paris are even said to keep watch for anyone drowning in the Seine.

Notre-Dame-2013-by-Gigi-Pandian-webres1-Gargoyle-Girl-website

Architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was the man who created the gallery of gargoyles at Notre Dame, during the cathedral’s restoration in the 1800s. Those famous gargoyles are a “new” addition to the old cathedral.

I love to use real history in my novels, so in The Accidental Alchemist, I created Dorian the gargoyle using the real history of Notre Dame. Both Viollet-le-Duc and famous stage magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin are important figures in the Accidental Alchemist series.

Viollet-le-Duc-book-w-Accidental-Alchemist-book-instagram-Dec-2014-web-text

The Accidental Alchemist is the first in a series, so there’s plenty more fun with gargoyles to come.

In The Accidental Alchemist: Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text.

“Pandian launches a supernatural cozy series that hits high marks for a modern twist on an ancient practice.”Library Journal

Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Find Gigi online at www.gigipandian.com, connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and Twitter (@GigiPandian), and check out her gargoyle photography on the Gargoyle Girl Blog at http://www.gargoylegirl.com/.

Accidental-Alchemist-Gigi-Pandian-cover-w-text-WEB-medium

Favorite Books from 2014

This past year introduced me to some outstanding books by authors new to me as well as great reads from authors who are already favorites. Here they are, more or less in the order read:

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery Coming in 2014

The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Coming in 2014

Shaman’s Blues (published February, 2014) and Snake Face (published November, 2014) are the second and third novels in Amber Foxx‘s Mae Martin series. Great books that are impossible to classify, having elements of mystery, romance, and women’s fiction. Mae, the series character, is a psychic, but the books will appeal even to readers who aren’t big fans of the paranormal in fiction. Mae is a very real, very grounded character, and her journey makes for compelling page-turners that will keep you surprised. Be sure to start with the very first book in the series, The Calling. For more information, see my interviews with Amber here and here.

the apartmentThe Apartment by Greg Baxter was a find from the local library’s New Book shelf. The unnamed narrator of this book is an American man who has left his desert home in the States because he “wanted to live in a cold city.” The city is never named, but it sounds very much like a place in Eastern Europe or northern Germany.  The author, Greg Baxter, hails from Texas and currently lives in Berlin, but this is a novel, not a memoir. What appealed to me most in this novel was the way in which the small, everyday details of life in this unnamed city are savored and the way the book’s leisurely pace shows an appreciation for the little things that make up life. I loved the European setting and the way the narrator’s past gradually unfolds in the telling.

rhetoric of deathHistorical mysteries are one of my favorite genres, and I found a new favorite series in Judith Rock‘s Charles Le Duc books, which feature an engaging young Jesuit sleuth and are set during the latter years of Louis XIV’s reign, the first, The Rhetoric of Death, taking place in 1686. Charles is an engaging character, the writing just flows, and the setting and plots are always intriguing. Alas, there are only four titles (short-sighted publishers, sigh!), but I was pleased to discover that Ms. Rock is working on further novels, and will certainly keep attuned to her progress. I’ve read the first three so far, all equally excellent, keeping the fourth one in reserve as a special treat. For more information, see my interview with the author here.

What were your favorite books from the past year?

Seasonal Music by Malcolm Dalglish

Years ago I stumbled on the album Hymnody of Earth by Malcolm Dalglish in a bin of holiday CDs in Tower Records (remember Tower?). I was attracted by the title, naturally, and also noticed that most of the lyrics were by Wendell Berry, whose poetry I already knew and loved. That clinched it. I bought the CD and it has become one of my favorite Christmas albums. The Hymnody really should be listened to as a whole, but I hope to give you a little taste here to encourage you to purchase it for yourself. According to the composer’s website, there are two versions/performances of the work available; I have the earlier one from 1991. The later version (1999) has some additional numbers.

The first  piece is an arrangement for two solo singers and guitar; I don’t know if the arrangement is the composer’s or not, but it is lovely and effective and the musicians, Sarah Stevens and Ben Belinski, do a great job. The simplicity of the church setting (Snowmass Chapel) harmonizes nicely with the essential simplicity of the music. The opening verses are in Latin and the two-part voice lines written in the style of early medieval chant. The piece, “Psalm of Solstice,” is Hymnody‘s opening number.

Next, a lovely, very moving performance of “For the Future” (unfortunately the singers and location are not given (I can’t tell if the setting is a church or concert hall).  Here are the lyrics by Wendell Berry (If you follow this blog, you should become acquainted with his work. If anyone is today’s patron saint of trees, it is he!):

Planting trees early in spring,
we make a place for birds to sing
in time to come. How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no other guarantee
that singing will ever be.

The next number on our little concert preview is “Great Trees,” performed by AKSARA. It can only be watched on youtube itself, and here is the link. The a cappella women’s group nicely balances out the a cappella men’s group on the number that follows. Lyrics again by Wendell Berry.

The final number, “Paradise,” is also the final piece on Dalglish’s 1991 Hymnody album, in mood a sort of sacred version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Like the opening number, it is written in medieval style. The all-male Cantus soloists present a moving performance:

Direct links to the youtube performances:

Psalm of Solstice, arr. for guitar and solo voices

For the Future

Great Trees

Paradise

Wishing you and yours a peaceful holiday season!

 

Interview with Fir Tree

santa_final_smToday I am presenting an interview of one of my own characters. The Fir Tree first made an appearance several years ago in the short story “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree,” and has been hanging around the corners of my mind ever since, angling for a sequel. Though that remains so far unwritten, I thought I would appease the Tree by inviting it to come to the blog for a seasonal interview. Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 EST and you’ll be in the running for a “Saint Nick” giveaway book.

(For reasons that will become apparent, this interview was conducted by a third party.)

SAT: How did you meet your writer?

FT: I was planted by a lovely man named Jack, and lived in their backyard for years and years. But time passes more swiftly for humans than it does for trees; Jack and his wife grew too old to take care of the house and yard. Eventually they sold it to Aunt Nancy and her husband. Aunt Nancy loved to garden and made sure I had plenty of yummy compost and trimmed me every year. But nowadays she stays inside more, writing, she says. Someone needs to tell her to get out and take care of me and the other plants in the yard!

SAT: Did you ever think that your life would end up being put in a story?

FT: No, I didn’t. But after I told Aunt Nancy about my little adventure with Saint Nick, she decided to write it down.

SAT: What are your favorite scenes in the “Saint Nick” story?

FT: It really is MY book. Aunt Nancy just wrote down what I told her and added a beginning and end. I suppose her parts are all right, but the really good stuff is all mine. I think I did an especially good job with the snow scene at the end, when I was worried that the ax murderer would return.

SAT: Did you have any difficulty collaborating with your author, er, scribe?

FT: To give Aunt Nancy credit, no, I didn’t. She was fascinated by the whole thing. But now all she wants to do is stay inside and write. If I’d known that’s what my story would lead to, maybe I would have kept it to myself.

SAT: Have you ever appeared in your writer’s dreams?

FT: I wish. If I did, she’d get off that stupid computer and pay attention to those of us who live in her backyard!

SAT: Do you have any hobbies?

FT: I really enjoy bird watching, and I’m in the perfect spot. There’s a hawk couple who live in the neighborhood, and it’s especially exciting when they drop by. Keeps those loud-mouthed squirrels in line, heh-heh.

SAT: Have you ever wished that you were a human instead of a tree?

FT: Of course not. Humans can be pretty strange, if you don’t mind my saying so. I think it’s much more satisfying being a tree. The other trees and plants in the yard are all friends, and so are the birds and rabbits. The squirrels, now—that’s another matter. They’re the rough element in the yard, if you know what I mean.

SAT: Are you happy with your story?

FT: Oh yes! Fir trees mean Christmas and “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” is a wonderful Christmas story. But Aunt Nancy can’t take credit for that–most of the story is MINE. My words. My adventure.

SAT: If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?

FT: Aunt Nancy’s beginning. What she calls a “punk haircut” is all her fault for not trimming me soon enough in the summer, and I don’t see why she had to mention it at all. It gives readers the wrong impression.

SAT: Do you like the way the book ended?

FT: I suppose the bit Aunt Nancy wrote at the end was all right, but personally I think it should have ended with my words. Other than that, I have no complaints. What she said was true.

SAT: I hear that you’re interested in a sequel. Any ideas?

FT: Plenty! If she’s going to be inside writing anyway, she might as well write about me.

SAT: Do you prefer paper books or electronic?

FT: A touchy question. Unless the paper is recycled, it comes from TREES. The very thought makes me queasy. Though Aunt Nancy says electronic readers may end up in landfills and that’s bad, too. If it were up to me, the book would be electronic ONLY.ADAMS St Nick No Title copy

SAT: What do you think of the book cover and illustrations?

FT: I have to admit Aunt Nancy had the right idea: she thought the cover should be all about me. And she found a great designer and a great illustrator. I just love my portraits!

SAT: Do you have any secrets that your author doesn’t know about?

FT: <giggle> I’m not telling.

Thank you, Fir Tree! Leave a comment before midnight Dec. 18 for a chance to win your own copy of “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree.”

Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Nancy Adams:

Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite writers from way back. My favorite work of hers is the novella “Buffalo Gals” and I especially love her short stories. Thanks to Isaac of Ekostories for the original blog posting of this inspirational speech.

Originally posted on Ekostories:

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

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