Unmasked: A love letter to our favorite Dilettante

This is one of my favorite images of the Dilletante.

This is one of my favorite images of the Dilettante.

There’s a rumor going round that our dearest Dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat (not to mention her hair-raising alter ego, Jessica B. Bell) has been unmasked. And well, I think the title of the – ah – revelatory post says it all. Helena is the Goddamn Batman. She doesn’t need to be unmasked.

The name and gender of my writerly-friend matters not at all. There is brilliance that flows from that pen, whether it’s styled as Helena’s frank prose, which is at turns, hysterical and heartbreaking , Jessica’s creepy mastery, or Ken’s bitingly-aware vignettes of human nature. That said, I support Ken’s decision – I support Ken and his writing, because I believe in it. I read his words – even the ones I’m supposed to be editing (ha ha, who’s the lucky chick with her hands on CHUK?!) – and I stand in awe of his talent.

Allow me, for those who may doubt, to defend Ken and his decision – either to unmask himself or to write as Helena – before moving on to why it doesn’t matter. If the name and gender is more important than the writing, well, then you’ve come to the wrong place.  A and D are not always myself and the druid – sometimes the voices fail me, and I fall back on snippets of conversation I’ve heard, or the voice of those within my sphere. I’m a writer. So is Helena. It’s what we do!

Not convinced? One of my favorite authors – Barbara Michaels/Elisabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz – has been writing as three different people since the 60s, probably earlier. It’s just, as Helena says in her post, the weird manufactured intimacy of the internet, in which we expect people to bare their souls to those of us who are interested, makes shifting personas to meet a literary need questionable.  We’re just so damn accessible – and I’m a willing participant in forcing that accessibility (case in point, this Twitter post from last night, attempting to entice Richard Armitage to narrate Changelings…. still waiting, Mr. Armitage).

The fact remains: regardless of this amorphous concept of identity, we as readers have lived Ken’s world – in bits and pieces, in snatches of brilliance and outright terror. We’ve been there every step of the way, and who or what our favorite dilettante is matters less than the journey we’ve taken. I know many who will agree with me: It’s a great journey.

That talent that I crow about can take us from laughter to tears in the space of a few sentences – or to a shocked, but amused, gasp if he’s feeling wicked. A year ago, when I was happily promoting the Kickstarter for Memoirs of a Dilettante Vol. 1, I wrote the following:

Through her words, I see her world. Penny is as familiar to me as people I’ve known my entire life, because that’s how Helena invites you into her world. Some of the things you’ll witness there are raw. Some of them are painfully but beautifully honest and still others are downright silly and fantastic. And all of it will keep you captivated. Every last second. You’ll devour her words and in turn, they will devour you, spit you out and leave you satisfied they did.

Ken does a remarkable thing, which is to create intimacy where there could easily be none. The face and the name don’t matter because the writing connects us to a wider range of human experience – connects us to a raw, captivating nerve, which transcends identity because it has the ability to speak to all of us.

I decided two years ago the mastermind behind “Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante” and I were going to be friends. And my nerdy persistence paid off – even though I’m not the greatest friend out there. Nevertheless, Ken, in turn, has persevered, and trusted me with the information of who-he-really-is, and that is a gift I cherish from the bottom of my crusty heart to the ends of my tippy-toes. Furthermore, Ken has trusted all of us with this information. Treasure it. Hold this writer close to your heart and let him weave his magic over you. Because that, more than names, more than genders, is who he truly is, and that is what we’ve been privy to this whole time.

Vol. 2 of the Memoirs, Cover art by Hastywords

Vol. 2 of the Memoirs, Cover art by Hastywords

Now, Ken has a PubSlush campaign going live in 5 short days. If you’re new here and want to know what all the hubbub is about, check it out. Better yet, head over to “Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante” and read to your heart’s content. You will not be sorry you did. I know I never have been.

~ A and D – otherwise known as Katie Sullivan

Not-So-Shocking Adventure: The Podcast Has Landed

It's Podcast Time!

It’s Podcast Time!

D: Well, it’s about bloody time.

A: Excuse me?

D: How many months ‘hiatus’ did you take from podcasting, Miss A?

A: Seriously? This from the druid who ridiculed the very idea that I put my voice to the interwebs?

D: Well, now, I may have had some reservations, but while you were off not doing the podcast, no one was giving any thought to who should be my voice!

A: But I’ve known all along who should be your voice (and with that hefty revelation, why don’t you stop by GE Recommends for the podcast. Don’t worry – D’s waited this long. He can wait a few more minutes).

D: You have?

A: Uh huh.

D: . . . and why haven’t you shared that with the world? Come on, A – this audio-book isn’t going to act itself out!

A: Oh all right, in the spirit of the week that’s in it, I’ll reveal who not only inspired your um, brooding looks–

D: I do not brood.

A: It could have been worse, I could have called you a lurker.

D: (Sputtering). Fine. Brooding, it is.

A: This gentlemen not only inspired your brooding good looks, but in my head, whenever you speak, it’s his voice. Every. Single. Time.

D: Distracting, is it?

I may or may not encourage silly gifts like these from The Boy on Valentine's Day. What can I say, they just make me smile.

I may or may not encourage silly gifts like these from The Boy on Valentine’s Day. What can I say, they just make me smile.

A: Considering The Boy jokingly gives me movie paraphernalia with his face on it every year for Valentine’s? Yeah, a little.

D: I knew I liked that child. So you’re telling me, I’m based on Thorin?

A: Or Richard Armitage, but yeah, basically.

D: I like it.

A: Really? No push-back? No snark?

D: No. I think it is highly appropriate. He has my gravitas, pathos and a charmingly wicked gleam to his eye. All in all, I believe you found the perfect muse with which to release my greatness. In fact, only one thing remains.

A: I’m afraid to ask. . .

D: Answering the question why you haven’t cornered him and demanded he do my voice?

A: I think he’s a little busy being epic on stage and in the movies.

D: I don’t think that ought to stop you.

A: Oh dear, this not going to end well.

D: In fact, I think you need to fly or sail or swim or, I don’t know, take that broomstick of yours and get yourself over to England and enlist that man’s voice. You can do it – I’ve heard what you and your friends got up to trying to get Conan O’Brien’s attention.

A: (Sigh) And I was right. While I try to talk D off this particular high, head over to Green Embers’ Recommends for the 14th episode of the Not-So-Shocking-News Dialogues, The Podcast Has Landed!

'Twas the week before Valentine's . . .

‘Twas the week before Valentine’s,

And all through the house,

Nary a heart was heard beating, 

No, not even a pulse…

D: Um, A. . .

A: Yes, D?

D: What are you doing?

A: Taking creative license with Valentine’s Day.

D: With a poem ripped off from Christmas?

A: It’s how I roll.

D: Okay, but isn’t it slightly morbid?

A: You’re talking to the chick who wrote a flash fiction story based on a zombie getting it on with Jenny from Human Resources.

D: . . . this is true. So, tell me, have you written something slightly off-kilter for this year’s Valentine’s extravaganza – because I assume that this being Monday, you’ve decided to devote the entire week of posts to this strange, modern holiday designed to sell flowers, ridiculous pieces of lace, and overpriced bits of plastic masquerading as chocolate?

A: I actually like Valentine ’s Day.

D: . . .

A: No, really, I do – amid all that bad chocolate is some fabulous chocolate, which goes on clearance the day after. Plus, all the color is a nice break for all of us in the northern climes completely surrounded by grey, white, more grey and bits of crusted-over, gnarly-looking snow.

D: Uh huh, and?

"Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome" by Circle of Adam Elsheimer - Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome” by Circle of Adam Elsheimer – Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A: And, it has some rather dark and disturbing pagan roots – beyond Cupid – and I just like that kind of thing.

D: Um, A – did you read the article you just linked?

A: Okay, I don’t like the actual Roman Lupercalia ritual, I just find the idea that the Catholics attempted “to put the clothes” back on the ritual when they tried to assimilate the pagans amusing. Of course, we’ve done a rather bang-up job of taking the clothes back off, which is okay, too. However, we can leave the ritual beatings for fertility to those ancient Romans, thankyouverymuch.

D: Thought so.

A: Right, so, we interrupt this Monday’s installment of “Three Ghosts” with the a repost of a story I wrote for The Community Storyboard a few years ago, which is a) based on the ghosts I grew up with, and b) the basis for a far-off book I’ll write when I’m good and ready and D please stop tapping your foot at me.

D: Who, me?

A: (Eye roll) Right – without further ado. . .

My Dearest Love

Portrait of a Union Soldier -- Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

Portrait of a Union Soldier — Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

My Dearest Evelyn,

While war continues, I would not write of it. I would spare you the details of my daily horror.

When I write to you, it is to forget that I am far from you, far from your embrace. I wish that I had been brave enough to speak to your father and ask for your hand before this started. I have faced enough Secesh as punishment for my fear, and I will speak to him.

* * *

Samuel,

Your words fill me with hope that I will see you again. How foolish we were to think that this war would only last a week. Our nation is divided and my heart weeps. I will follow your advice, and think of you only as I remember you, for to imagine you amidst all that devastation is almost more than I can bear.

I think, in light of your new status in the military, you will find Father’s measure of you much improved, or else I have seriously misjudged his character.

Keep safe, my love.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Forgive me for keeping secrets from you. Once I knew that I would be granted leave for Christmas, I wrote to your father straight away. He has granted that we may wed.

I would not take you from the bosom of your family until this dreaded war is over, but please, do me the honor of becoming my bride when I return?

* * *

"Pauline Cushman" Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Pauline Cushman” Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Samuel,

You must ask? Foolish boy, I love you with all my heart.

Mother is already a-flutter with preparations. She laments that we will not be able to go travelling as they did in her day, to celebrate amongst the family, but she is happy just the same.

I, on the other hand, am not merely happy. Your words have filled me near to bursting and I fear I may cry out, laugh or sing with the feel of it! Cook caught me signing the other day as examined what has become of my trousseau, and scolded me something terrible. She tells me such noise is bad luck. But what can she know of it? She is not married and I defy the fates to take this joy from me.

* * *

My dearest,

That I can call you wife, and yet not be by your side is more difficult than I would have ever imagined. Pray for me, my love; pray that I may return to your side, that I may have your sweet whispers in my ear once more. Pray that this war is over soon.

* * *

My love,

Mother says that ardor cools as daily life intrudes, but I have not found this to be true. Perhaps it is that I have yet to know you day-to-day. I remember you though, the feel of you by my side as I slept. At night, I kiss the air where you once were and weep to know that you are not there. My heart is full of the good nights and good mornings that have not yet been.

Knowing that you are mine, that those nights and mornings may yet be, only flames my ardor for you more. You may think me indecent, but my love for you only grows.

Let me be your beacon of light, guiding you home.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Your letters do me well, my love. I feel your kisses at night and they keep me warm, safe in this chill.

I do not find you indecent, dearest. Your blushes and modesty have no place with me anymore. I would fill your days with kisses and more were I there.

And, I will be there. With your love guiding me, I will be there.

* * *

My love,

The neighbors say that this war cannot last much longer. I pray that the year 1865 ends this horror. The thought of your smile, the memory of your touch, and the echo of your laughter stays with me, and cheers me. With them, I traverse the darkest hours of the night and live in hope that I will see you again soon.

* * *

My Dearest,

Your words, you once said, should be my beacon of light. I tell you that they are so. Your love is my guiding star, my heaven. I have suffered but the promise of home keeps me. The war is over, they say. We will be coming home. Once I would have leapt with joy at the news, now I weep that I have been gone so long. Wait for me.

* * *

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier's home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier’s home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

He knocked at the door and collapsed before it could open. Clutched in his hand was a scrap of paper, words scrawled across it with a near-unintelligible hand.

* * *

Evelyn opened the door and nearly tripped on the half-starved scarecrow that lay in a heap. There had been so many returning, so many seeking a warm fire and a bite of food, that she had stopped searching their faces for her dear Samuel.

* * *

He woke, stretched out before the fireplace. The tatters that had once been his fine uniform were gone, replaced by the heavenly scratch of thick wool blankets. The fire blazed, cheerful and comforting. He tried to turn his head, but found that even this small movement cost him more than he could spare.

“Don’t move, Samuel.”

Evelyn. He tried to say her name, to feel it on his lips once more. She kissed him silent. Her lips were salty.

“Don’t speak, my love. We didn’t know if you would wake. The doctor has been and gone; he was amazed you made it this far. Oh, Samuel, my dearest love.” She clutched his last letter in her hand. At least she would understand why. She kissed him again and rested against him. He breathed her in, surrounding himself with her. On her sweet perfume, he drifted off into the darkness, never to wake.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

It was all I could do not to run all the way home when I received my discharge. That I was not permanently maimed or prisoner in some war camp was solely by the grace of God. That I prayed to you instead of Him may have been my undoing. The roads are not safe between our camp and you, and I was set upon in the night, attacked and shot. I fear it will be the death of me.

Forgive me, my love. Forgive me for not being able to be with you; forgive me for those beautiful babies yet unborn, forgive me for not growing into old age with you. I love you, Evelyn and I am so desperately sorry. If God is good, he shall grant that I watch over you, and love you for as long as you are upon this earth, my dearest. I feel your kisses yet, Evelyn and they still stave off the chill.

All my love,

Samuel

Background: The home my parents built – the home I lived in until the age of 18 – was haunted. It was actually two civil-war era log homes dismantled and rebuilt together, and most of the ghosts accompanied the timbers in the move.  Evelyn and “The Soldier” to whom I have given the name Samuel, resided in the formal living and dining rooms, respectively. Their close proximity as ghosts led me to wonder whether they knew each other in life, and the story grew in my head until I was convinced Evelyn had waited for her soldier, only for him to die in her arms upon his return from the war.

Eventually, Evelyn and Samuel will form the backdrop to a multi-generational love story, but until then, I’m happy to let them have this little snippet of a tale.

First Fridays: Chapter Four

20141207_140911~2D: I still think we should skip ahead.

A: . . .

D: It’s just, I didn’t mean—

A: I know you didn’t mean to leave them there, all by themselves, with no one to turn to. . . poor orphans, at the cusp of adulthood, chasing a phantom.

D: You can stop at any time, you know.

A: (Grin). No, really, I know you had no idea that headstrong and ridiculously bright Maureen would decide to break curfew and chase after you. I mean, she’s only your—

D: SPOILERS!!!!

A: Wow.

D: Ahem. I mean, please don’t continue, A. Those are spoilers, and we wouldn’t want to ruin the story, would we?

A: Uh, no. Of course not. Sorry.

D: As well you should be. Good gods, woman – I’m almost happy to let you deconstruct the first page of Chapter Four if it will keep you from divulging information vital to the denouement.

A: Then that is exactly what we will do – hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because this is Chapter Four of Changelings: Into the Mist.

Chapter One | Two | Three | Want to read along? Get your copy here!

Four

 

What does the hill look like? Maybe like this - in an abstract, totally denuded sort of way!

What does the hill look like? Maybe like this – in an abstract, totally denuded sort of way!

“Oh my God, Sr. Theresa was right, you are a Changeling,” Sean muttered. He did not know how long they had been lying in the tall grass, staring up at the starry sky. Long enough to realize that this was not a dream.

The church had vanished, and there were no sounds but those belonging to the night.

No, not a dream, but a huge, hideous mistake. The world started to tilt at funny angles and he dug his hands into the thick, matted earth.

“Me?” Maureen sat up. He winced at her speed. “It wasn’t until you touched my hand that anything happened.” She gave him a half-hearted glare as she attempted to smooth the back the riot of curls that had escaped her braids.

“And what did happen? In case you hadn’t noticed—”

“I know, I know. No church. Nothing.”

Yet, that was not completely true. She turned away and scanned the darkened countryside. Sean followed her gaze and tried to ignore the prickling unease that danced up his spine.

The church itself was gone, but the tumbledown remains of a stone structure, overgrown with weeds, sat in the middle of where the building had once been. Surrounding them was a great ring of oaks, or rather, what was left of them. Someone had been at them with an axe; a few raw stumps gleamed in the light of a moon that had just crested the hill. Beyond the oaks, with their twisted branches, were other stands of broad leafy trees that extended down into shadow.

The abbey, its collection of buildings and the modern trappings of their tiny world, had disappeared – either because they had not yet been built, or because they had fallen to ruin long ago.

* * *

Word of the Day

Changeling: A changeling is often described as the offspring of the Fae, a troll, elf or other legendary creature, who has been secretly left in the place of a human child. The switch is often made to strengthen faerie bloodlines, or out of malice. In Ireland specifically, if one doted on one’s child too much, one was at risk for inviting the wrath of the Fae – and almost daring them to steal the doted-upon child (ref. Wikipedia).*

Use of the term changeling – particularly in medieval times – may have been a psychological need to explain mundane horrors. In a world where infant mortality was ridiculously high, and what we consider common illnesses were ascribed to some sort of devilish defect, bringing the Fae to bear when something is “off” about a child (or in the case of doting, in preventing heartbreak should the child die) is as good a way as any. The repercussions of such a “switch” depended on the religious temperament of the community and their general fear of – or abhorrence for – the old beliefs. As Sr. Theresa is evidence, there were still those in the 50s who referred to the Fae as the Good Folk and left crusts of bread and milk out for them to avoid incurring their wrath.

Devil’s in the Details

I love this chapter, because unlike the first three, it shows just how close Sean and Maureen are – they finish each other’s sentences. They draw strength from each other’s reaction to what happened. Sean is almost catatonic with terror until Maureen just brushes it all aside. Maureen, having no clue what happened but knowing she is the one who did it, knows she has the responsibility to remain cool – even joke about it to a certain extent later in the chapter.

I said in Chapter Three that time travel is easier without parents around, and it is true. Not having parents from such a young age also meant Sean and Maureen learned to rely almost exclusively on one another – and themselves. This independence from the outside world is their greatest coping mechanism, and it is what allows them to handle the fear and terror of traveling through the vortex within the church.

It is also my contention that as children growing up in the wake of WWII – orphans of war heroes whose war record was considered treason by their own government – they would have grown a tougher skin, and built up their own self-sufficiency. That self-sufficiency gives them the emotional and mental elasticity to deal with extraordinary circumstances (like traveling through time, meeting pirates and making war with Fae kings . . . you know, every day, mundane stuff!).

Historical Footnotes

I’m afraid to say there is nothing particularly historically accurate about this chapter – except that if there had been a chapel or religious hermitage on the hill, it likely would have been torn down during the height of King Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Catholic Church.

While a few Catholic religious communities survived the Reformation (the Friary at Burrishoole being one of them – see Chapter One), many others did not. It is my contention, in the alternate history of the area, that the hermitage, surrounded by Oak trees (long held sacred by the Old Religion – especially in the generalized/idealized version in Changelings) would have been just too much for the reformers. Keep in mind, there were many pagan overtones to the Catholic Church before the Reformation (and an interesting study of this is the Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612), but even acknowledging the arcane aspect of religion, asking them to accept a grove of sacred oaks, atop a known sidhe mound, encircling a hermitage that may or may not house an ancient mystic? Saint/Goddess Bridget might have survived the Reformation, but that hermitage did not.

*Note on my reference material – no one has called me out on it, but I am well aware that Wikipedia is not the world’s greatest source, particularly for proper historical research. However, as a quick reference guide, it works well, and it’s a great starting point. I’ve noticed that, in general, its information has corresponded with many of my other source material (all of which are outlined in the Changelings appendix… get your copy today!).

Spotlight on Wednesday

Once upon a time, there was an author who liked to talk to a character – a mighty Druid warrior – in her head, and share her meanderings with the world.

Okay “liked” might be too strong a word to use. “Endured talking to” might be better. And I’m not so sure “mighty Druid warrior” is really how we want to describe D – in fact, I’m pretty sure he’s been messing with my post drafts…

Ahem. . . To expand their reach, and because they liked to catalogue the curious – their very own cabinet of curiosities, so to speak – said author and Druid curated other bloggers. And so, “The Druid Tells the Tale” was born. It further evolved into “Interview with a Druid” or “The Druid asks the Questions,” to help shine a light on those bloggers they knew had something to say – and something to share with the world.

And lo, the people were happy, until the day the author, being fickle and lacking basic time management skills–

Ahem. . .

I mean, until the day the author, pressed in on all sides with real life obligations, let it fall to the wayside. And the people mourned.

But then, January came, and the author had a revelation! Spotlight posts! Every Wednesday! Scheduled in advance!

And so, the author and her character did rejoice, and live happily ever after.

The End.

Empty-stage-with-spotligh-004Okay, not quite, but as you can see, this is another “I’ve found a way to improve my life – or at least my blog – and I’m actually doing something organized about it” post.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I’m not a reblogger – at least, not a reliable one – and I’ve always had fun cataloguing a list of interesting tidbits, fanciful tales, and stories of interest – fact or fiction – for my readers. Of course, a few years into the blogging game, with a book out, another five million in various stages of creation and editing, not to mention a child who insists on getting older, and my time has withered away to nothing. So now, instead of being a curator of the interesting, I want to be a mouthpiece for it – and I need your help.

While I am trying to generate fans, I am aware that most of my readers are artists themselves, and all of them have something to say – something they want others to read and I want to help them do it, every Wednesday until I no longer have material.

What a Spotlight Means

It means shining a light on creative types – artists of all shapes and sizes. All and sundry are welcome – that is, if you write, paint, draw, document, picture, film, chronicle, pixelize, satirize, or in any other way create, you are welcome. You do not need to be selling anything to participate. Guests posts and interviews don’t need product to be successful, they just need you and your wonderful ideas.

And those wonderful ideas can be:

  • Press Releases. These include cover reveals and book launches – or any other type of launch.
  • Guest post. Topic: your passion. Share it with us. The post can be as detailed or as simple as you like. And no, I won’t make you talk with the Druid – of course I won’t stop you, either!
  • Interviews. Of course, for this one, you are going to have to talk to the Druid, because he’s the one asking the questions. Don’t worry, I’ll make him behave. Sort of. (Click to download example questions for writers)
  • Anything else – if you have the material, and it fits into my guidelines, then I’m happy to post (see: the WhoIsJessica Campaign).

The Dirty Details

I do not make a distinction between promoting traditional or indie-fueled content. All I care about is quality work. If the post is error free, compelling, something you’re proud of, and has at least one graphic provided, then it’s good for me.*

Posts will go live every Wednesday until further notice, and are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is a particular time-frame you’d like a spotlight presented, let me know now so I can schedule accordingly.

Art and creativity are subjective and I reserve the right to reject any posts that I feel are not right for this blog. This includes, but is not limited to, posts/promotions of an extreme violent or sexual nature. That’s just not my audience.

*Posts must be edited before submission. Posts with grammar, spelling and syntax errors will be sent back for revision. I will not post anything riddled with errors unless said errors are central to the promotion.

Have something you want to Spotlight?

Use the form below to get started.

I will contact you by the email provided for more details and scheduling.