Sidewalk Dandelion’s Song

 


Refugee dandelion
Squats on a sidewalk
Fleeing the chemical lawn.

(Photo by Themium, from Wikimedia Commons; original is at a higher resolution)

The Alera Codex: a model for coming together in divisive times

Jim Butcher knows how to tell a cracking good story.

He also knows how to undergird it with a morality that is desperately needed in these divisive times.

furies of calderon

First, I should issue a general spoiler alert, not because I’m going to give away any particular details, but because my general observation may spoil some of the twists in his story. So you may want to stop here and read the whole series for yourself, and then come back to this post. In that case, I’ll give you a general picture before coming to my larger point.

I’m not always up for epic fantasy. I think it is one of the most difficult genres to write really well because the characters can get lost in the trappings of plot and setting. But Jim Butcher writes such believable, well-rounded characters that I immediately get caught up in their stories. Even if you think fantasy isn’t your cup of tea, I urge you to give it a try. Then get back to the rest of this post. The first book is called CALDERON’S FURY.

For those who have already read the entire series and those who are simply curious to read on, consider yourself warned of my general spoiler, the whole reason I’m prompted to write about this particular series of books at this particular time. The hero of our series is a young man named Tavy, whom we first meet as a teenager hoping to escape his rural life. Tavy doesn’t want to flee the countryside because he is bored or has no job prospects, but because in his world, where almost everyone is born with some kind of magical talent, he has absolutely none.

Throughout the series, Tavy consistently makes his way by befriending his enemies. Not all of them, to be sure, and not by giving up his values or objectives.

Rather, he unites with those he has been taught to fear and hate in the interest of working together to fight against a common enemy, for common objectives. And in so doing, they create friendships and a better world.

Not a bad model for our times.

Warrior Cats

The New Prophecy, book 1

I just love the second set in the Warrior Cat series, THE NEW PROPHECY (six books). It’s all about coming together across boundaries, a message that we desperately need to hear and act on in these divisive times. If every child read these books and internalized their message, I venture to say that we would be looking forward to a world where justice and respect for the natural environment are key values of society.

I hasten to add that the Warriors series is anything but didactic. They are addictive, page-turning stories about four “clans” of feral cats who live in a forest on the edge of a human community.

The hero of the first set of six books starts out as a “kittypet” named Rusty who becomes curious about the wild cats he sees on the edge of his yard and eventually decides to join them and forsake his safe, comfortable world for the call within himself to hunt his own food, experience the untamed natural world, and enjoy the camaraderie—and the rivalries—of living amongst his own kind, unbeholden to any human providers.

The stigma of being raised as a “kittypet” rather than being born to the clan is one of the many ways that the author, Erin Hunter, artfully raises questions of belonging and prejudice among humankind.

Into the wild

These books teach political lessons, too. The dark shadow of the clan’s deputy, Tigerclaw, overshadows the span of the entire series. Tigerclaw, ruthless and cunning, who seeks power at any cost, forms a stark contrast with our hero, who on entering the clan as a kitten-apprentice is rechristened “Firepaw.” Throughout the series, Firepaw consistently reaches out to cats in need of help—whether they hail from his own “Thunder Clan” or one of the three rival clans who populate the wood and meet in peace only on the nights of the full moon, where they discuss common threats and negotiate boundaries and other concerns, much like nations coming together at NATO or the UN.

I realize these books are wildly popular, and some readers may feel inclined to rail at me for publicizing them rather than equally deserving, but less well known, children’s books. My feeling, however, is that any books which have so much potential to instill a love for wilderness and wild things along with an appreciation for the role of compassion and justice both within and across social boundaries deserve all the publicity they can get.

If you decide to read them or pass them on to the little ones in your life, please note that they really need to be read in order! The original series begins with INTO THE WILD, and there is a handy list of all the books on the website: Http://warrior cats.com. Be careful venturing beyond the booklist on the website, though, or you will encounter spoilers.

Thanks to Sam and Violet, my nephew and niece (niece’s daughter, actually) who piqued my interest in the series.

Earth Day 2017

Favorite Slogans from this year’s March

We speak for the Trees, for the Trees have no Tongues

***

I’m with Her ↓

***

There was also a wonderfully creative poster for a new element called “Trumpium.” Among the properties listed: Noxious gas; No beneficial use found. Bravo to whoever created it!

Groucho the Snake

groucho-the-snake-2

This is Groucho the Snake. (He’s a squeak toy who was made for dogs to play with, but don’t tell him that!)

He was named after Groucho Marx–has those same buggy eyes.

Groucho is also a pretty good dancer.

I got him last October, about a week before the election, to help relieve the tension of a long election night. When you squeeze below his head, he sounds like a rubber ducky (for “rah-rah, go Hilary!”); when you squeeze near his tail, he makes a sad squeak, like he’s crying. (We were all making sad squeaks by the end of the night.)

This is how Groucho and I feel now.

groucho-sad-1

 

Wendell Berry for Easter Week

I know I’ve been remiss about posting, but can’t resist sharing one of my favorite poems, quoted by one of my favorite bloggers:

Mike Angell

I was tempted to read this whole poem for an Easter sermon. I didn’t, but I don’t know of a better sentiment for Easter week than Berry’s “Practice resurrection.”

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace

View original post 274 more words

The Wildness in Wild Things

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

A few weeks ago I read a magazine article written by a young woman who was recalling fond memories of watching fireflies on summer evenings as a child with her family. Her parents would bring along a large cage and give it to the girl and her brother so they could catch the fireflies. Children love to run and try to catch animals. Just watch any toddler waving her arms and stampeding a flock of pigeons. But these fireflies stayed in their cage.

When the family left the park at the end of the evening, they took the firefly cage with them and the parents placed it in the children’s bedroom. A living little nightlight. By the time the children woke up the next morning, the firefly cage was gone, discreetly spirited away by their parents during the night so the brother and sister wouldn’t see what happened while they slept.

The fireflies had died.

The writer’s language, as she recounts her later discovery of this gentle deception, shows an uneasy awareness of the insects’ plight, her description of “the dead little bodies,” with their “half-dried wings and quivering, then quiet, legs” demonstrating an empathy with their suffering, even as she never explicitly acknowledges that caging them was wrong. Later in the article, she cites the statistic that fireflies in the wild live for around two months, while those that they caught and caged died within twelve hours, but says nothing further on the subject. The remembrance of the firefly nightlight that she and her brother shared leads the writer instead to reflections on change and mortality.

The lessons parents teach their children about our relationship with nature are so lasting and important, lessons that will influence their attitude toward the earth and its creatures throughout their lives. My parents and I enjoyed watching fireflies, too, but it would never have occurred to any of us to try to capture the little creatures. My mother in particular valued the wildness in wild things and reveled in the free and untrammeled workings of nature. Any animal or plant, any stray cat, any bird, any wild creature had a right to its existence.

Fireflies are living creatures, not toys to be gathered for our use and then discarded. The lives of these insects have a place in the world, of spiritual value to humans, of essential value to the creatures themselves, and ecological value to the world in which they live.

Thanks to Amber Foxx for her assistance in editing this post.

Summer Visitors

This past summer we hosted an unexpected group of visitors. Sometime in mid-June I was about to take down the spider plant from its hook above our porch for some much-needed watering when I noticed bits of grass and weeds poking out of the top. Closer inspection indicated that a nest had been built around the middle of the dirt in the plastic hanging pot. I decided to leave it alone and spritzed a bit of water around the roots on the side, where some of the plastic had broken off last year (a tumble the plant took when I went out after dark and thought I had hung it up: not).

photo from watching grass grow blog

photo from watching grass grow blog (This is the female; the adult male has a red head.)

As the days went by, we spied Mama and Papa House Finch as they flew from the nest to a nearby wire every time one of us opened the door onto the porch. It was pretty common to see one of them sitting on the wire, complaining at us, as we sat on the porch reading. Eventually the finches became relaxed enough around us to return to the nest even when we were there.

A few weeks after the nest first appeared, my husband (who’s a bit taller than I) noticed the eggs. Days later we heard high-pitched cheeping sounds, and peering out the door screen saw one of the parents sitting on the nest, obviously feeding the demanding baby birds. Eventually, as the chicks grew, we could sometimes see three little heads poking up, mouths open wide.

Then, one day, they were all gone. We were able to actually witness the young’uns’ first flight. All day long, I’d noticed the parent birds sitting on the wire, calling out to the nest. I was out on the porch reading when my husband came home late in the afternoon. As he mounted the stairs to the porch, a little bird flew out of the nest and down to the ground. My husband worried that he had startled the bird into a premature flight and that it wouldn’t be able to defend itself outside of the nest. But I pointed out that the parent birds had been acting differently all day: instead of sitting on the nest and feeding the chicks, they were out on the wire and calling to them. I think the parents had decided they’d had enough and that it was time for the Finches Junior to leave the nest and learn to fly and fend for themselves.

We were surprised when the little birds didn’t come back, and I started to share my husband’s concern. Then I googled “finches nest” (or something like that) and discovered that once the little birds “fledge,” that is, take their first flight, that’s it. No more nest.

I also found something else: a webcam recording of a similar finches’ nest, with up-close shots of the nest interior, that a nature-loving blogger had installed when a finch family decided to build their new nest on top of the wreath on the front door of his house! I didn’t look at the entire set of footage, but what I saw was fascinating. Here’s the link: http://www.watching-grass-grow.com/house-finch/2010/

photo from watching grass grow blog

photo from watching grass grow blog

We gave it a couple more days in case the parent birds needed to stay there for the night, then took down the long-suffering spider plant, the nest inside still intact and encircled with an almost decorative rim of bird poop.

And how did our poor spider plant survive all this? It looked pretty scraggly when all was done and my husband took the nest off, but now, two months later, it’s green and flourishing, thanks to frequent watering. After reading that finches often raise two groups of chicks in a season, we decided to give poor Spidey a break, and have left it on the porch steps for the reminder of the year. My guess as to how the spider plant survived all those weeks without a proper watering?

It was “watered” by the birds.

How I Spent my Summer

scbwi.2My summer began with a writing conference sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was a great experience. I signed up for a peer critique, where we were divided into groups of four and received the first 15 pages of each other’s work to review. Thanks to that, I now have a new critique partner. I loved her book and she loved mine, too, and we both had useful suggestions that would improve our work. The best kind of mutual admiration society!

I also signed up for a critique from an editor at a well-respected children’s publishing house. She had some great comments which opened my eyes to areas where I need to better my writing, comments which will help not only with this book, but all of my fiction projects. It was a privilege to be able to receive this kind of feedback.

In addition to that, there were great lectures and opportunities to meet with other writers and illustrators, both published and unpublished, who work in everything from picture books to those geared for older teens.

Leeza Hernandez, one of the principal conference organizers and a published author and illustrator. Her books include the adorable Cat Napped! She was incredibly helpful when I hit a snag during registration.

Leeza Hernandez, one of the principal conference organizers and a published author and illustrator. Her books include the adorable Cat Napped! She was incredibly helpful when I hit a snag during registration.

I spent the rest of the summer revising my novel about a 13-year-old witch who is uprooted from her comfortable life in a little town where everyone is a witch and thrust into what we would call the “real” world. Her particular witching talent is the ability to understand and speak to animals in their various languages, and she uses this ability to investigate the strange rash of supernatural fires that breaks out in her new, supposedly ordinary, town.

I sent the revised version on to my new critique partner a couple of days ago. I was also accepted for another New Jersey children’s conference where I’ll be matched with a writing professional—an editor, agent, or writer—for further critique. Stay tuned for further developments!

The Mystical Mystery Sisters

sm blue banner

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.

sm blue banner

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/

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: