First Fridays: Chapter Three

20141207_140911~2D: You know, A, I’ve been thinking.

A: This ought to be good . . .

D: What was that?

A: Nothing. You were saying?

D: . . . Yes, well, I was thinking perhaps we could skip this chapter.

A: What?! But D, this is a pivotal chapter.

D: Oh, there are far better chapters than this in the book. Take Chapter 19 for instance. That one was brilliant.

A: Well, thanks – but we’re going to get there eventually. Right now, we’re on Chapter 3.

D: I know, but . . .

A: We’re. On. Chapter. Three.

D: Pedant.

A: Are you pouting?

D: Maybe.

A: Don’t pout. It will give you wrinkles.

D: I’m over 1300 years old. I think I’m past wrinkles, A.

A: (Sigh) Now who’s pedantic?  Stop stalling. We’re reviewing and titbit-ing and footnoting chapter three – and you will enjoy it. Got it?

D: Yes, Master.

A: Stop lisping and pretending to have a hunched back.

D: Yes, Master.

A: (Eye roll). Anyway, If you’re new to the First Friday feature, check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, and don’t forget to pick up your own copy of Changelings so you can follow along!

Three

Maureen’s green eyes glowed in the half-light as she sailed out of the kitchen doorway. Sean followed, feeling slightly sick. He listened to the night, and found himself holding his breath. He was waiting for an alarm to sound – an alarm he knew in his gut would never be raised. After his earlier daring, he did not know what to say. This had been his idea, but it was her show. What happened next was all on her.

The fieldstone church was separate from the rest of the abbey, and built at the top of a hill that commanded views of the surrounding countryside. It was a short trek, and they walked in companionable silence. As they crested the hill, the newly risen moon came out from behind low clouds. Its light threw into stark relief a circle of young oaks that would, one day, tower over the little building. Their branches strained towards the sky, and the moon painted them in silver.

It was eerie and beautiful, and not quite of this world.

He shook himself and reminded himself why they were here. This was no time to allow the power of the morning’s vision to carry him away. He looked around for his friend.

She was gone.

The heavy oak door, the gateway to the church, opened with a grating sigh of wood and age. Panic seized his chest. He nearly bolted until he realized it was only Maureen, opening the door. He wondered where she had gotten the key – or if she had a key at all.

He shook his head. Some things were better left unknown.

She motioned him inside with a jerk of her chin and closed the door behind him. He waited for her to lock it again, hesitant to step foot into the nave without her. She touched his shoulder lightly as she passed him.

“What are we hoping to find in here?” he asked. His voice bounced off the stones and he winced.

* * *

D: What was Maureen hoping to find in there?

A: You know exactly what she was hoping to find. And you know that not finding it (or you, as it happens) is exactly what precipitates the rest of the story. Of course, your particular role in Maureen and Sean’s adventures is why you didn’t want to review Chapter Three. . .

D: Am I so obvious?

A: You’re a character in my head, D. Of course you’re obvious.

D: Now. There was a time when you had no idea what I was on about. Years, in fact.

A: (Sigh). Yeah. Those were the days.

Word of the Day

Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral, with the coloured area showing the nave. "Langhaus" by Benutzer:Leonce49 at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral, with the coloured area showing the nave.
“Langhaus” by Benutzer:Leonce49 at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nave: The nave is the central part of a church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation. In traditional Western churches it is rectangular, separated from the chancel (the space around the altar in the sanctuary) by a step or rail, and from adjacent aisles by pillars (ref: Wikipedia).

Technically, the nave extends from the entrance to the chancel, but I separated them slightly as the entrance is also called the vestibule, and I wanted to indicate that while Sean was inside, he was waiting for Maureen to set foot in the church proper. Plus, so many different words… it’s supper/dinner/lunch/tea all over again!

Devil’s in the Details

Readers may note that Maureen and Sean had to trek to the church, which should not have happened in a traditional abbey – those are generally self-contained structures, with everything – from kitchens, bedrooms, churches, dungeons (kidding!) – linked together. Not so at the fictional Carrickahowley Abbey, where the convent and school are at the base of the hill, while the small chapel commands the top. This was done for two reasons: 1) Sean and Maureen did not start out as orphans and the church was just a community church. Frankly, time travel is easier without parents around, so the elder O’Malleys and McAndrews had to be written out of the story, and the church was changed into the Abbey chapel – but in my head, the church was still all by itself at the top of the hill. Why?

Enter reason No. 2): there have been monuments to some sort of god on the top of that hill since man acknowledged such things – from Dubh’s hermitage to a small chapel of nuns. The lonely chapel is an homage to the mysticism of the hill. The chapel exists by itself, as though home to a power separate from any religious community – old, new, pagan or monotheistic.

Historical (Astronomical) Footnotes

"Lunar Corona" by Wing-Chi Poon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Lunar Corona” by Wing-Chi Poon – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

In Part One, the moon – and its phases – features heavily. Not only was the moon a reliable timekeeper, in the generalized ‘Old Religion’ at use within the pages of Changelings the moon is a powerful magical gatekeeper – but only if used correctly. Dubh, being – as he says – over 1300 years-old, is well versed in the old magics. Maureen and Sean, born in 1943, are not.

Because the moon is used so specifically, I took pains to ensure I had the correct phases for the day/week/month as described in the book, which meant more than a little research to discover not only the phase of the moon, but also the sign. I finally found an online tool to help me – and once I knew that on August 31, 1958 the moon was three days past full, in Aries, I had an approximate date for when they could potentially return home (Feb 14, 1585 – when the full moon was in the opposite sign, Virgo), thus setting up the pacing and timetable for Parts One and Two.

I was very lucky that the tool I found was able to help me with the mundane timekeeping function of the moon as well. Listed on each day is a sun-and-moon rise-and-set time, which helped enormously. There were more than a few times where I would reference the moon only to realize it had not even risen in the sky yet – or, had set hours before.


Enjoying First Fridays so far? Don’t forget, if you haven’t already, grab your very own copy of Changelings, available as an ebook or paperback, from Amazon!

On Tour: Love Aflame by Pamela Beckford

MEET THE POET

Pamela Beckford Introduces Third Poetry Collection

LOVE AFLAME by Pamela BeckfordPamela Beckford publishes her 3rd solo poetry collection. Using various poetic forms she illustrates how love can set the heart on fire but also shows how that same love can turn to ashes. Poetry is an expression from deep within the soul. It can be therapeutic and healing. It can bring out all the best or the worst in life. Her poetry comes from the heart, not the head. It is an outpouring of emotion and she exposes it to the reader in the pages. She leaves a piece of her soul in every poem.

Love Aflame by Pamela Beckford at http://www.amazon.com/Love-Aflame-Pamela-Beckford-ebook/dp/B00SRRKADA/

Reviewers have said things like:

“Pamela’s poems are refreshing since they are truly written from the heart. She has a gift of writing a poem that speaks to each person’s heart and emotions.”

“Breathtaking. That singular word – breathtaking – is the best one-word description of ‘Dreams of Love’ by Pamela Beckford that kept coming to mind as I lingered within the pages.”

DREAMS OF LOVE by Pamela Beckford

Dreams of Love by Pamela Beckford at http://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Love-Pamela-Beckford-ebook/dp/B00NVDUYQS/
“These are not just words strung together in forms. Somehow she manages to share huge and deep emotions with two words – or one.”

“Pamela’s poetry is diverse and creative. Lyrical without self-conscious fluff. Quiet confidence in her abilities with the various forms.”

LOVE LOST and FOUND by Pamela BeckfordLove: Lost & Found by Pamela Beckford at http://www.amazon.com/Love-Lost-Found-Pamela-Beckford-ebook/dp/B00LEST9Z4/

Pamela Beckford has been writing poetry for about two years. She began writing with the encouragement of a couple of friends and has found that it has taken over her mind. She is a nonprofit CEO and enjoys reading with children on a regular basis, as well as her own reading. She lives in northern Indiana where she devotes her life to others through her job and her family.

First Fridays: Chapter Two

Every Friday, for the rest of the year (and then some – there are actually 55 chapters in Changelings), I am presenting the first page of each sequential chapter in the book – but the real fun comes after the chapter, with behind-the-scenes goodies, historical footnotes and a bit of dialogue with a certain Druid. Enjoy it as a stand-alone treat or read along with your very own copy of Changelings. Check out Chapter One and follow along!

20141207_140911~2Two

Maureen clasped two identical boxes beneath her arms as she slipped into the boarding school common room. She shot a bright smile at Sr. Theresa, but the woman barely acknowledged it. She was sitting comfortably in the corner with a dog-eared James Stephens novel. It was a hard-won indulgence in the nun’s otherwise austere life, and Maureen knew she would be a complacent chaperone for the abbey’s only summer residents.

Sean was perched on a chair in the opposite corner, reading a comic book – another indulgence. As soon as he saw her, he leapt to his feet. Brightly coloured pages fluttered to the floor.

“There you are!”

She curtseyed. “Here I am.”

They always met in the common room on Sunday evenings, after chores were completed and supper eaten. Sean always finished first, but tonight she had not been delayed by some creative punishment. She shifted her cargo and grabbed his comic. He would be annoyed later if he’d left it there.

He squinted at her and then eyed the prize in her arms. “Oi, those are—”

“Our boxes.”

The squint turned into an arched eyebrow. “But mine was in my room.”

“And I went to the liberty of getting it for you.” She tried to sound nonchalant as she deposited said boxes on the low table in the middle of the room. It was not the first time she had collected them – she knew where to look.

“I wasn’t aware I wanted it.” He ran his hands through his short, jet-black hair and laced his fingers behind his neck. The arched eyebrow was firmly in place.

“You did. You want to help me find the man.” She stopped and clenched her hands. She had no idea what he had actually seen during mass, and she found herself not wanting to say too much. If Sean had not seen—

* * *

D: If Sean had not seen what? My brilliance? Of course he saw. He was stunned by it, overawed, and if Maureen were paying any attention to him, she would have noticed.

A: Could you not revel in spoilers, D?

D: She takes the boy for granted, A, and you know it.

A: Oh, and picking up his comic when it fell to the floor was taking him for granted?

D: Pure reflex.

A: She’s trying to protect him – and herself, D. It’s the 1950s—

D: But that’s hardly—

A: In Ireland—

D: But of course Ireland, A – it’s a land full of mystics and seers.

A: (Eye roll) Just the same, visions in church are grounds for the asylum.

D: But–!

A: Or candidacy for the priesthood for Sean–

D: Surely you’re reading far too much into this, A.

A: Or the nunnery for Maureen.

D: Oh. That would be bad.

A: Uh huh.

D: As bad as you going into the nunnery. Talk about nightmare–

A: Oi, Druid! That is quite enough of that!

D: Oh, ahem. Well, I see your point, now. Indeed – bad business those visions. Remind me to apologize.

A: I’m pretty certain there’s going to be a list of things to apologize for before we’re done.

D: And now who is reveling in spoilers? Hm? Don’t you have historical footnotes and other flotsam with which to delight and entertain?

A: (Eye roll) Indeed, I do, D. Indeed I do.

Word of the Day

Supper: Often used now interchangeably with dinner, in Ireland and the UK, supper was/is often described as a light repast later in the evening (i.e.: slice of buttered bread and water at 10 pm). Dinner is the midday meal, and was often much heavier, especially on Sundays. Of course, to complicate things, in Ireland ‘supper’ was sometimes used interchangeably with ‘tea,’ especially if that light meal, eaten at 6 pm, had some added accoutrements…sigh.

Regardless, I found ‘supper’ sounded more Irish to my Midwestern American ears, and while I could have used ‘tea,’ many American readers may not have known that tea is a meal as well as a beverage akin to the lifeblood of most Irish men and women.

Devil’s in the Details

James Stephens (1880-1950) was an Irish novelist and poet. Sr. Theresa’s ‘dog-eared’ novel in question is In the Land of Youth, a direct reference to Tír na nÓg. Despite being a Benedictine nun, Sr. Theresa is a believer in – and lover of – faerie stories (or, the Good Folk, as she calls them) and often shared that love with Maureen and Sean.

James Stephens also wrote Insurrection in Dublin, in reference to the 1916 Rising, as well as numerous other retellings of Irish fairy tales. While researching just who Sr. Theresa should be reading, stumbling upon James Stephens’ name was kismet. Given his writings, and given Sr. Theresa’s stubborn refusal to give up this one ‘indulgence,’ may indicate Sr. Theresa has a greater roll to play in the lives of the Changelings.

But of course, you’ll have to wait until Book Two, The Coming Storm to find out.

Bonus: Maureen’s punishments often include peeling potatoes in the kitchen, polishing the silver or, if she’s been really bold, embroidery.

Historical Footnotes

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara Ireland | Photo Courtesy: WikiCommons

Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland*

‘…The abbey’s only summer residents.’ Carrickahowley Abbey is not an orphanage; rather it is a boarding school for international and local students. Just as the Abbey itself is based off  Burrishoole Friary, the school is based (very) loosely off Kylmore Abbey, an international boarding school and local school for girls in Connemara, Ireland.

The main difference between Carrickahowley and most other church-run boarding schools is that it is co-ed. One could argue that there were two different schools housed on the grounds but in my vision of the school, that is not the case (and in case you’re wondering, Carrickahowley

Glenstal Abbey School* - This is Carrickahowley, only a lot bigger!

Glenstal Abbey School* – This is Carrickahowley, only a lot bigger!

looks more like a squat version of Glenstal Abbey School than it does Kylmore – especially since they were built around the same time). However, proprieties have been observed and Carrickahowley has separate dormitories – even if Maureen insists on stealing into the boy’s dormitory to fetch Sean’s orphan box.

 

*Photos courtesy WikiCommons


Enjoying First Fridays so far? Don’t forget, if you haven’t already – grab your very own copy of Changelings, available as an ebook or paperback, from Amazon!

 

Three Ghosts: Part One

While the Christmas decorations were put away this weekend (sniff), one small tidbit of Christmas remains: a short story serial I started, with the help of a text message, a good month before Christmas. Theater productions and plague stood between me and sharing it with the world, which in retrospect, was a good thing. That said, it’s written now, and for the next 4 Mondays, it is my pleasure to present the mystery/thriller short story, Three Ghosts.

Because the content does relate to recent and potentially-touchy political arguments, I’ll remind readers this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of my imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Enjoy.

Three Ghosts: Marley

card“’The first Christmas card was sent in 1843, the same year A Christmas Carol was published,’ she says, trying not to let the baleful stare of her own unwritten cards haunt her.”

“Your tense is wrong.”

Dee – Deirdre O’Brien to those who hadn’t been her friend for twenty years – stopped gesturing with her eyebrows at the teetering tower of Christmas card boxes. She had not sent one to anyone on her list in at least three years, but that never stopped her from buying a new box or two every year. They always looked so pretty. It nearly broke her heart to pack them away with the rest of her things.

“It’s not about the tense, Cat – it’s about the grand Charles Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy.”

Catherine Evans’ grey eyes just stared at her over the tops of her old-fashioned wire-rims. “Is this really your excuse this year?”

Leave it to Cat to bring sense to the nonsensical.

“I didn’t say that.”

A slow eyebrow arched above the glasses and Dee wondered how long her best friend could hold onto the schoolmarm look before one of them broke down into giggles.

“His story lamented greed and miserliness,” Dee insisted as she looked for the wrinkling around Cat’s eyes, which almost always preceded a smile. “Yet here we are, one hundred and eighty years later, celebrating a simple holiday for three months, munching popcorn while Kermit the Frog clings to Captain Picard–”

“And I’m pretty sure your cards can’t stare.”

“I’m not so sure,” Dee mused, fiddling with the lock of black hair that had escaped her pony tail. “See? The Christmas Fairy is looking a little feisty.”

“The Christmas fairy is looking a little tarty. Were you really planning on sending those to your mother?”

“Oh no – she gets these.

Dee plucked a battered, half-empty box covered with an assortment of beatific mothers, sighing angels and cherubic infants. That she sent one of these cards every year while the others collected dust was an irony that had not escaped her.

“And just in case you were wondering, Deirdre O’Brien, your Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy is about as logical as your need to buy Christmas cards you’re not going to send.”

“Yeah, but it entertained you for a second – besides, I might this year.”

Cat snorted. “Not bloody likely. Explain to me again why you’re moving across the globe three days before your most favorite holiday in all of ever?”

“Because seeing London all lit up for the holidays is probably the best Christmas gift in all of ever? Besides – didn’t I offer to spring for you and Henry to join me?”

“Dee.”

“I know, I know, your soon-to-be mother-In-law would have kittens.”

“It’s not just that – it’s just . . . well, you moving to London—”

“It’s temporary.”

“Right, I know – but it wasn’t too long ago that you were cursing the name of every person in Parliament—”

“Yeah, well, everyone in the UK does that, Cat.” Dee shrugged and ignored the skepticism in her friend’s eyes, and the flush creeping up her own neck. “Things change – the war is over. Besides, Doctor Who makes friends of us all – and now I get to watch it for free!”

Cat’s lips twitched. Dee almost had her, and damned if she wasn’t going to get Cat to smile. It was important – ridiculous, yes, but also important. If she could get Cat to smile instead of scold, then perhaps the next three days would be . . . .

She shook her head. Never mind the next three days.

She let a sly grin shade her features as she abandoned the table strewn with the detritus of her life and stepped into the loft’s tiny kitchen. “Besides, you know I’ll be back for the wedding. Planning from afar is what I do – your bachelorette party is going to be spectacular. I’ve already hired the stripper.”

“Dee!”

There – that did it. The twitch broke into a full-fledged – albeit shocked – smile and Dee answered it with one of her own. “Leave the cards and the packing, Cat, and have a glass of wine.”

“Just one – I have to drive, and you really have to pack. You won’t get anything done after two.”

Dee bit her lip to stop it trembling. “Yeah, just one. Come on.”

* * *

“Well done, Ms. O’Brien.”

Dee put her stack of books down with a sigh. “Pardon me?”

“The little performance with Ms. Evans. I think you convinced her quite nicely.”

She rolled her eyes. It had not been a performance, and even if it had been, she would not have been able to convince Cat of anything. Dee wasn’t the terrible liar she claimed, but Cat saw through her little deceptions all the time. Of course, the suit didn’t need to know that.

“How do you figure?”

“It’s my job to know people, Ms. O’Brien.” The suit – a one Agent Marley – looked smug.

“You’ve tapped her phone then, I take it?”

Of course he did, she scolded herself. And it was her fault. She had made Cat – made every one of her family and friends – fair game just as she had made herself fair game over fifteen years ago. That they knew nothing – well, almost nothing – did not matter. Not to Agent Marley, and not to the people who talked in that little earpiece of his.

“Tapped?” Marley looked up from the pile of Christmas cards he had been restacking on the table. Her fingers itched to slap his hands away. “How very old fashioned of you, Ms. O’Brien. No, all we have to do is sort of listen in on the digital airwaves everyone makes so readily available. Tapped is what we did to you twenty years ago.”

“Got it – so, I was right all those times I teased Cat that you lot were listening in because we could hear the clicking?” She fought to keep her face bland under his raised eyebrow. She really did want to know, but she was not going to give Marley the benefit of her obvious curiosity.

“Indeed. You should be glad we keep tabs on these sorts of things. It’s what is going to keep you alive over there.”

“You really are a bundle of joy tonight, Mr. Bourne.” Damn. That had been a throw-away answer for a throw-away asset.

“That’s not—“

Dee rolled her eyes as Marley stopped himself from walking into her bad joke. Because his first name was Jason, and because he bore a faint resemblance to a certain actor, the name had stuck in her head – even though she was not certain Agent Jason Marley knew the right end of the gun from the wrong.

“Ms. Evans was right, you know.”

“About?”

“The cards. You won’t be able to send them.”

“I might—”

“No – sending them could alert the wrong people.” He swept the cards in question into the waiting box. Besides the last pile of books she’d unearthed from under the bed, the cards were the last to go, but they wouldn’t be joining her in London. Nothing but what she managed to stuff in her carry-on was coming with her. Everything – right down to that stack of three-year-old Christmas cards – would be put into storage for if – no, when – she got back.

The show of packing had been just that – a show for Cat.

She stopped Marley from putting the lid on the last box and reached for two cards that had fallen loose.

“I have to send one.” She scribbled a quick note into one sporting an iridescent Mother and Child and signed her name with a flourish.

“I can’t allow—“

Her head snapped up and her cheeks flushed with sudden anger. “Damn what you can’t allow. I’m throwing myself at an organization you and your overseas friends insisted was dead – the least you can do is let me send a card to my mother.”

“Is that so? And who helped with that little subterfuge, Ms. O’Brien?”

“Little? You call faking Pearse Finnegan’s death little? Face it, you fell for it, and now I’m helping you fix it.”

It was an old argument, but she liked having it. They both knew her ‘fixing it’ had happened all too easily.

It had started two months ago, when research had brought her back to Europe after a nearly fifteen-year absence. The whole trip had been a gamble. Once, she had barely been able to escape Dublin, and there was no way she should have been allowed into Heathrow – at least, not without a lot of extra scrutiny.

Yet, the lads had been inactive for so long – hell, she’d been out of the game for so long – it was easy to pretend all the focus really was in the Middle East.

But then she’d seen her husband in London.

Her head of the War Council, supposedly dead husband.

Pearse hated London.

According to those in the know, the London Game was going to be the one that finally tipped the scales for unification and independence. Of course, that plan had been laid out before the Good Friday Agreement had brokered a fragile truce between the British Army, the Loyalists and the Provisionals – and before the Dail gave up its right to the six counties, otherwise known as Northern Ireland.

The war was over – had been over for fifteen years – and Irish unification was a distant dream or moldy memory, depending on who one asked.

And yet, if Pearce was in London, now, after all this time, then it meant he had found a way around the Agreement – or thought he had.

She’d snapped a quick, blurry-but-recognizable picture but ignored the itchy feeling along her scalp and shoulders when getting that hasty digital artistry to the appropriate people had been even easier than flying into London. There was no way Pearce’s miraculous recovery from death was a surprise to the security services, and apparently, neither was her hand in the proceedings.

Agent Marley refused to squirm under her glare. “And we are most grateful to your change of heart, Ms. O’Brien, believe me.”

He gave a slight bow and Dee allowed herself a small smile. Not for the first time she suspected Agent Marley’s blandness – and general bafflement at what he had once called her unruliness – was an act. Sure, he was an ass, and it terrified her to think she was his first field assignment – but there was also a twitch at the corner of his lips that spoke volumes for his overall intelligence – or at least, her preference for faintly dangerous men. In another life – but no, that was just it. That other life was not hers anymore. She had this one. The one she had chosen.

She shook her head. Nope. She was not going to think about it. It was done and here she was, making . . . amends. She gave Agent Marley a half-hearted shrug before flicking the signed card at him.

As he fumbled with the babe born in a manger, she slipped the Christmas Fairy into her bag.

“Send it to my mother,” she ordered. “If you don’t, she’ll know something is wrong.”

Agent Marley paused and searched her face. What he was looking for – and what he found – was a mystery, but after a few deafening heartbeats, he saluted her with the Christmas card.

“All right. It will go out tonight. We will begin routing your calls after takeoff. In the flurry of moving, you forgot to activate the international band on your phone.”

“That’s not going to keep anyone for long. They’ll start to worry.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have very long. Our intel indicates he’ll strike Christmas Day, Ms. O’Brien.”

Agent Marley turned on his heel and headed towards the door. His footsteps echoed in the empty loft.

That’s right. Three days. That was all she had left.

Three days and three ghosts.

. . . to be continued . . .

Part 2 | Part 3

 

A Year of Fridays

Ah, January – every year you inspire me to get organized, lose a pound or two (or ten), rededicate myself to writing every day, and lately, actually make a plan for the blog. And, usually by March, some of that inspiration manages to slip into a sort of inglorious oblivion.

Wisconsin winters, wine, potato chips not to mention a few sugar plums, turtles and Wassail make keeping to a diet so not easy.

Wisconsin winters, wine, potato chips not to mention a few sugar plums, turtles and Wassail make keeping to a diet difficult indeed.

Now, the writing thing almost always succeeds, and while I can’t speak to why my diet fails every year (oh wait, yes I can: ridiculously long Wisconsin winters, wine, and potato chips), my lack of inspiration for the blog comes from a confusion of what I want it to do. Up until November of 2014, I had nothing to offer beyond the dubious wit of one druid hanging out in my head (and the dubious sanity of one writer). I am my greatest fan, so obviously, I think I’m hysterical, but now there is this book baby waving valiantly at the world. It’s here, it’s real and it’s beautiful. . . and it’s given me something to write about, regularly (I swear, angels are singing. And no, it’s not just because it’s still Christmas in my house).

Thus, each Friday, for the next fifty-six weeks, I’ll present the first page of each chapter and/or an epically awesome page from Changelings: Into the Mist, complete with historical footnotes, tidbits, and dialogues with a certain Druid. If you want to grab a copy and read along – even discuss your interpretation of my background notes in the comments – well, by all means, you can pick up a copy on Amazon (or, if you live in southeastern Wisconsin & parts of Illinois, you might be lucky enough to have it at your local library – squee!).

And so, without further ado, the first page of the first chapter of Changelings: Into the Mist.

One

My little stash - plus, an awesome poster!

My little stash – plus, an awesome poster!

I sat in the grove of my own creation and stared out at a world and a people descended of mine own. As I watched, trees gave way to stone and the Many lost their claim to the priests of the One.

Then the wheel turned. The sacred trees grew around my effigy of stone and the Many came out of hiding. I sat in my grove and watched a world outside my imagination, willing it to see.

She saw. She saw me with uncanny green eyes – the green eyes of my mother and her mother before her: witch’s eyes.

Joy rose in me. It was time – time to join the world after years of solitude, time to act after centuries of stillness.

I closed my eyes and reached across the barrier, to touch my future and my past.

†  †  †

Maureen O’Malley’s eyes snapped open. The grove of ancient trees with their twisted branches disappeared.

Daydreaming. She took a shaky breath. It had just been a daydream.

Slowly – too slowly – her senses acknowledged the church, the hard pew beneath her, and the drone of Father’s voice as he said the Epistle.

She was not stranded on a hilltop mired by mist. There was no stand of oaks, and their gnarled branches were not creaking and groaning in the breeze.

There was no breeze, and the curls that had escaped her veil were not brushing her cheek – no, they were plastered against it. The late August heat, trapped amid the dusty black skirts of the nuns surrounding her, pressed in on her and stole her breath.

She gave her head a slight shake, as if the movement would free her from the grip of that dream world.

* * *

D: So is this where you tell us that Maureen’s inattention at mass – her daydreaming which is about to lead her to a glorious vision of yours truly – is just a re-imagining of your own ‘vision’ that eventually gave birth to the book, right?

A: Actually—

D: Of course, since you had that daydream in church when you were merely 14, it means that for a full five years, you had this story – this first book – without my brilliance.

A: Sure, but D –

D: No wonder you put it away.

A: D!

D: What?

A: You are insufferable.

D: (Preens) I thought that was why you liked me.

A: I think you’re mistaking like for loath.

D: No, no I’m pretty sure you like me.

A: Depends on the day, Druid.

D: And is today that day?

A: Don’t push it.

As long-time readers of this blog know, there was a book a few years before D came on the scene. Historically sketchy, it had only a scant reference to Irish gods and mythology, and nothing to do with a time-travelling Druid. That started to change when I was bequeathed a new character who existed within the tale, but had a hard time fitting in with the story as it was. Fifteen years later. . .

D: I’m brilliant, and the story isn’t too bad either.

A: (Sigh) You are brilliant (a brilliant pain in the head). When first we “met,” I wrote the first few lines of this chapter, which are italicized above. Those alone kept me going through ten years of writer’s block, because I knew if I could write the story etched within those scant 140 words, I would have the story to which you belonged. Fifteen years later . . .

D: I’d say you did it.

A: Cheers, D.

Word/Phrase of the Day

The Many vs The One: The Many refers to the pantheon of Celtic gods vs. the coming of the One, the Christos or Christ. In my research, I got the feeling that there was little argument between the Druids and the priests, particularly priests of the early Celtic Catholic Church (that concept alone is a whole other book, or four – in fact, it’s Book 3 and 4), but as Catholicism incorporated and supplanted the native beliefs, much knowledge and lore, I feel, was lost. It is this the Druid laments.

Devil’s in the Details

Nothing – not a single word – has changed in the opening 140 words of this chapter since it was written fifteen years ago. The same is true for the opening sequence of Changelings 3, which was written (and will be re-written next year) 13 years ago, while I played at being a stay-at-home mom with Tom.

Historical footnotes

Carrickahowley Castle, photo via WikiCommons, uploaded May 2007 by Brholden

Carrickahowley Castle; Photo via WikiCommons, uploaded May 2007 by Brholden

The year is 1958 and the place is Carrickahowley Abbey, located just outside Carrickahowley (now Rockfleet), Ireland. The place exists but the Abbey does not, although it was based – very loosely and rather after-the-fact – on the Burrishoole Friary, run by Dominical friars. The Friary, a historical monument, was operated well into the eighteenth century, despite the dissolution of religious orders following the English Reformation. It was abandoned in 1793. That said, boarding schools and orphanages similar to Carrickahowley Abby were established between 1880 and 1950.

It’s also worth noting that Maureen grudgingly wears a veil and thinks Father is pretty boring during the Epistle. Before the reforms of the Catholic Vatican II, women wore veils over their hair and masses were said largely in Latin. Unless Maureen was a very good, attentive student of languages – which she is not, we will find out later – Father’s voice as he said the Epistle would have indeed droned on for her.

Revealed: Memoirs of a Dilettante, Vol. 2

A: D! D! Check it out!

D: What, woman? Good gods, what is the time? I’m aware you keep the hours of owls, but the rest of us do not.

A: Oh, you’ll perk right up for this . . .

D: Is this more of your innuendo talk?

A: My innuendo–you’ve come up with plenty of innuendos yourself, Druid, and the lady we’re about to showcase has had more than a few to say to you as well.

D: Oh. . . OH! You mean Helena! Why didn’t you say so from the first, Mistress A? What news from our favorite Dilettante?

A: Instead of telling you, I think perhaps I’ll do what all writers are admonished to do, and show you!

Cover art by Hastywords

Cover art by Hastywords

COMING SPRING 2015

Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two is the second collection of reminiscences, following Helena Hann-Basquiat, a self-proclaimed dilettante who will try anything just to say that she has, and her twenty-something niece, who she has dubbed the Countess Penelope of Arcadia.

Speaking of Arcadia, this volume delves into Helena’s childhood, as she revisits what she calls the Arcadia of the mind — that place that keeps us trapped and holds us back from our potential. Some of her most personal stories are included here, interspersed with hilarious stories of misadventure. It’s not a novel, really, and it’s not a memoir, by the strictest definition. But most of what follows, as they say, is true. Sort of. Almost. From a certain point of view.

Discover Helena’s tales for the first time or all over again, with new notes and annotations for the culturally impaired — or for those who just need to know what the hell was going through her mind at the time!

Helena is going to be running a crowdfunding/pre-order campaign at Pubslush, a community focused solely on indie writers, and has set up a profile there to launch Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two.

For more information, and to follow the progress, Become a Fan at http://HelenaHB.pubslush.com

If you just can’t wait and you want a taste of Helena’s writing, follow her blog: http://helenahannbasquiat.wordpress.com/

If you just can’t get enough Helena, or you want updates on further goings on, release dates and miscellaneous mayhem, follow Helena on Twitter @hhbasquiat


About the Author

helena-h-bThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.

She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

In 2014, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, several e-books which now make up Volume Two, as well as a multimedia collaborative piece of meta-fictional horror entitled JESSICA.

Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One is available HERE in e-book for Kindle or HERE in paperback.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell.

Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or http://whoisjessica.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat.

Bubbles the Elf

… And we’re back! Combine the holiday season with a theater-kid and the plague, and you have a ghastly soup called: Death or Something Like It.

Because I’m almost certain the last month is pretty close to what Limbo* was like – awareness, but without the ability to do anything, nor take anything but the most cursory pleasure out of being aware.

In short, it sucked, and it sucked all the life out of yours truly and family. Not even a pesky Druid in my head could induce me to do much more than exist through my days. Dumb plague (or flu, as it is more commonly known. I’m a hypochondriac who loves hyperbole). Anyway, I’m back now, and with me is some ridiculousness from my weekend.

(* Before the Catholics decided it no longer existed.)

The following was inspired by Terrible Mind’s “Who the Fuck is my D&D Character” Flash Fiction Challenge from last Friday, which you need to check out, because the challenge itself is awesome.  I’m pretty sure our tale of Bubbles the Elf is not what Chuck Wendig intended! 

Traditional Wassail - which, when drunk with brandy may or may not have had something to do with the story of Bubbles...

Traditional Wassail – which, when drunk with brandy, may or may not have had something to do with the story of Bubbles…

Bubbles the Elf has a storied history.

When Tom was nine, he received a Dungeons and Dragons starter set. His godmother and my best friend, Christine, spent New Year’s Eve with us, and was coerced into playing. She chose to play as the Elf. She named him Bubbles.

The name stuck, and while I think we only played two more times, (D&D is hard… there is all this math. I much prefer computer games that do all that … that … thinking themselves. And yes, this is how the world ends…) the name Bubbles stuck – and in times of need, we reference dear Bubbles to bring a ray of sunshine into our lives.

And that is the history of Bubbles the Elf.

Okay, perhaps his history is not that storied – but he does have an amusing, albeit weird, place in our hearts and this weekend, he finally earned his reward: retirement.

But not just any retirement. He now has a place of honor amongst our latest Clue game: Dungeons and Dragons Clue. And just in case you’re wondering, this is the 8th Clue game we’ve kept – we’ve owned a few more but at least two were given up to the garage sales I keep having in the forlorn hope that I may one day rid myself of clutter. (Yeah, I know. It makes me laugh, too.) We like Clue, and Christine has this amazing ability to ferret out fabulously unique editions each year for Tom’s Birthday/Christmas.

Bubbles' place of honor on the new Clue board.

Bubbles’ place of honor on the new Clue board.

So, in honor of Bubbles’ retirement (and the Clue game, because honestly – how can you not love D&D Clue?), I resurrected a silly but fun game/pastime/thing we used to do as teenagers: stories in the round. Below is the fruit of our nerdy (and juvenilely-perverted – you’ve been warned) efforts. Those of us sitting around the Clue board all contributed at least one section – even D got in on the game – and it has been edited only minimally for grammar.  It’s probably not suitable for work. Or the serious-minded. Or those who enjoy fine literature. Enjoy.

The Story of Boobs and Bubbles

It all started when Boobs wanted to visit the dragon.

“It’ll be great! With my Boobs of Fire Resist, we can’t lose!”

“Oh, we can lose something,” Bubbles muttered.

Boobs McGee rolled her eyes, strapped on her breastplate and tossed the Elven Wizard his gear.

Bubbles the Elven Wizard was notorious for his sexually harassing comments, as most Elven Wizards of the Eladrin School are, of course. But Boobs ignored him. All she wanted to do was see that dragon and get her hands on his gold.

They were nearing the dragon’s lair when all of a sudden, Boobs vanished, leaving Bubbles alone and confused.

In his confusion, Bubbles managed to stumble into a Vorpol Sword-wielding Redgar the Barbarian, Bubbles’ worst enemy. The Elven Wizard fell to the floor, headless.

D&D Clue... The nerdening is strong in my house.

D&D Clue… The elf now named Boobs is in red. . . the one year I chose *not* to be the Ms. Scarlet character. . . 

Boobs, on the other hand, was in the chambers of the great Dragon Lord.

The Great Dragon Lord took the form of a muscular, musky man. She was immediately disarmed by the mere appearance of the beast.

“My dear Boobs McGee,” the Dragon Lord-turned hunky warrior prince crooned. “How lucky for me you decided to drop in.”

Boobs curtseyed.

(And picked up her staff in the process.)

(Oi! No interrupting!)

(Says who? She picked up her staff. Deal with it, Druid.)

(Fine… bloody woman) Boobs trailed her red fingernails over the oaken staff and hugged it close as she stared into the Dragon Lord’s blazing eyes.

“You were expecting me, my lord?”

“I am always expecting you, my lovely Boobs.”

“It’s been a while.” She shimmied along the back wall of the stone cavern. The gold behind the Dragon Lord gleamed with an internal fire, and its glow was reflected in her ravenous amber eyes.

The Dragon Lord rubbed his hands together.

“Too long,” he whispered.

There are a few things people don’t seem to know about dragons. While dragons can transform into hunky humans, they can only do so for a limited number of sexual innuendos, and the Dragon Lord was one too many innuendos over his limit, so back into a dragon he turned.

This was unfortunate for Redgar the Barbarian, whose dirty mind had bade him to enter the dragon’s chamber to peep at the reunited lovers. The dragon transformed back into himself and Redgar’s position left him inside the dragon’s stomach, where he was slowly dissolved into stomach goop.

Boobs, named not for her ample chest, but because of her Brilliant Ornithological Observations Based on science, was slightly miffed at the Dragon Lord’s transformation, but was used to it. In fact, he so frequently blew all of his innuendos at the start of their conversation that it had been several years since he was able to express his affections.

Boobs left the saddened but surprisingly full Dragon Lord, and walked out of his chamber. As she left, she found a decapitated Bubbles. Much to her surprise, Bubbles’ head began to reattach, for as we all know, Vorpol Swords can kill gnomes, humans and especially Jabberwock, but are terrible at killing Elven Wizards. Boobs, sick of the abuse others gave her because of her figure, left him, mostly because his hands had started to grab towards her breasts as she went to help him.

As she walked into the sunset, her eye caught a rare Phoenix and she took out her magical notebook to do what she did best. And she observed it so well, she walked off the cliff.

The End

I'm really hoping the Dragon Lord was better looking than this.

I’m really hoping the Dragon Lord was better looking than this.

A: So, can you figure out who wrote each part?

D: That’s hardly fair – you interrupted my part – and called me Druid in the process.

A: Yeah, I had to. At the rate you were going, Ms. McGee – who is a fierce wizard warrior, by the way – would have been riding the damn dragon – and not like they did in Harry Potter 7, either.

D: (Salacious grin).

A: Oh, ew – stop that!

D: Stop what?

A: You know – smiling – lewdly. It’s gross, D. What would Mairead think?

D: Oh dear – you won’t tell her, will you? Promise me, A. She’s still not talking to me for that whole time-travel/abandonment thing.

A: Gee, go figure. Just stop slobbering all over the idea of Ms. McGee and I’ll think about it.

Happy Monday, folks – thanks for reading and I hope this tiny bit of ridiculousness made you smile, even if at just how bad it is! We’ll be back with some fun (and better, I hope) fiction soon, I promise!

Upcoming posts

An exciting reveal on Wednesday

A special Sneak Peek series, beginning Friday

Three Ghosts, a (belated) Christmas tale beginning Monday, January 19