Saturday
Oct262013

Enthralled: The Playlist

After getting valuable feedback from several brilliant beta readers, I recently finished making another round of revisions to my contemporary fantasy Enthralled. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the story as ZF-360; that was my working title for my retelling of Mozart's The Magic Flute set in modern-day Manhattan and the Hudson Highlands among the elusive Irish Travellers

Well, I've entirely rewritten since I first came up with the story, and I'm very happy with it now. Irish folk music figures heavily in the story. My male protagonist plays in a Celtic fusion band and receives an Abell ZF-360 pennywhistle as a gift.

As I went through the printed manuscript, catching tiny errors on virtually every page, I also made a list of all the (real) songs I mention in the story. Most are Irish folk songs, but some are not. Here's the playlist, with links where available:

"Katie Campbell's Rambles"

"The Green Gates"

"Bold Doherty"

"Summer is Coming"

"The Water is Wide"

"My Funny Valentine

"Clohinne Winds"

"As I Roved Out"

"Strange Fruit"

"Body and Soul"

"Stella By Starlight"

"Ships Are Sailing"

"The Lakes of Coolfin"

"Horo Johnny"

"I's the B'y"

"The Creggan White Hare"

"The Dawning of the Day"

"The Flower of Magherally"

"Green Grow the Rushes

"An Paistin Fionn"

"Rant and Roar"

"Blackbirds and Thrushes"

"The Waxies' Dargle"

"The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

"The Lark Ascending"

Sunday
Oct202013

Svithe: Patience

Christ at the Column, Antanello da Messina, c. 1470

Thmazing Theric coined the term "svithe," and I borrowed it a while back. This post is adapted from words I spoke in church today.

I’ve had plenty of occasions to contemplate patience lately. I thought about patience as I sat in horrendous traffic on my way to the Temple last Wednesday. I thought about it as I scrubbed scorched milk out of a cooking pot for what felt like an hour. I thought about it as I waited to hear back from an editor that has had one of my manuscripts for months. And, when she finally got back to me with a negative response, I thought about patience as I contemplated the seeming lack of progress of my career.

These are garden-variety, everyday trials of patience, but I've have had opportunities to practice patience on a significantly grander scale. When we stood by helplessly twelve years ago as our tiny baby Tess struggled for breath and life in a NICU incubator; when Anne repeated her older sister’s five-week-premature arrival trick and added a collapsed lung to the mix, just for extra drama; and then, last March, as I sat in another hospital room and watched my father fade from this life.

Perhaps my first significant experience with patience as an adult occurred while I was on my mission to Montreal, Canada. I loved every day of my mission. I thrived on the daily intensive study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the country and culture, and I found true, deep joy in serving and working with people who wanted to learn more about our church.

But one day, I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I was so sick that just walking across our tiny apartment to the bathroom or eating a meal would exhaust me, and I’d have to sleep for several hours to recover. After several visits to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This was a relatively new disorder in 1989. The doctors in Canada tried a few experimental treatments with me, but nothing worked.

My mission president was a physician by training, and for some strange reason, many, many missionaries in our mission had already come down with CFS during the first two years of my mission president’s service. He called me in to see him, and told me that after much prayer and consideration, he’d decided that I’d have to go home. I begged him to change his mind. He was compassionate, but firm. He’d seen other missionaries stay in the field for months in my condition, only to have to be sent home in the end.

When I went back to my apartment that evening, I cried and prayed and cried some more. I was so angry; I couldn’t understand why the Lord would do this to me. I was a good missionary. I loved Christ and His good news, and I loved bearing testimony of both. I had become fluent in French and conversed easily. I kept all the mission rules. I worked hard and got along well with my companions. Didn’t the Lord need me? Why was He punishing me?

In the days before I left Montreal, I spent my waking hours in prayer and scripture study; that’s about all I had the strength to do. One day, I came across this verse in Doctrine & Covenants Section 5:

“Yea, for this cause I have said: Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”

That verse cross-referenced to Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15:

“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”

No, that’s right, Isaiah: I’d rather not.

But “in returning and rest shall ye be saved”: those words hit me like a thunderbolt. It seemed like they had been written just for me, and the Holy Ghost whispered their truth to me as I read and re-read them. Suddenly, I saw that my getting sick and going home was neither a random accident nor a punishment. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan for my mission and my life. I might not know the reasons why, but I realized that I could trust Him and obey gracefully.

For the next year, I slept 20 hours every day, and after that, got better very gradually. I learned both patience and humility as I relied on the Lord to guide me through something that I didn’t understand then and still don’t fully understand to this day, almost exactly 24 years later.

Brigham Young taught that when he didn’t understand something, he would pray “Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.” And then he’d keep praying for understanding. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 75) I try to do the same.

Likewise, patience cannot be separated from trust, faith, and hope. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read,

“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Why are we always trying to direct our own paths, when the Lord can do it so much better? Our impatience is actually a lack of trust, faith, and humility; it implies that we know better than God does. When we remember to lean not unto our own understanding, we find the beginnings of patience.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” (Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience," 4/2010)

Oh, that’s hard for me. I have to endure well? When I’m in a trying situation—whether it’s something temporary, like a cranky child, a rude driver, or a broken dish; or something ongoing, like a chronic illness or a relationship that has turned toxic—sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do just to keep my mouth shut.

And that’s a good start. But it’s not enough to grit our teeth and push through; God asks us to work through our trials cheerfully, putting selfish desires aside and reaching out to help others in the midst of our own struggles.

But He does not leave us to that work alone. Speaking to his son Helaman, the prophet Alma counseled, “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 36:3)

Jesus Himself is our ultimate Example of patience in trials. He was patient with His disciples, with His family, and with the multitudes that constantly sought help from Him. He was patient with children and sinners and hypocrites. Then in the Garden of Gethsmane, He patiently bore the weight of every sin and every pain of each one of us, descending below all things (D&C 88:6) that He might raise us all up unto eternal life. At the end of his mortal life, He was humble and patient with those who persecuted and killed Him. No matter what happened, Christ submitted His will to that of His Father and endured to the end with perfect patience.

He calls to us to do the same, always promising His help and grace. He counseled the Prophet Joseph Smith in the revelation recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 101:38: “And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”

In other words, if we first attain the proper perspective—a vision of what our mortal life is really about—we find that patience comes much more easily. When we seek the face of Christ by remembering Him throughout our days, our burdens become lighter. We’ll possess our souls—body and spirit—instead of letting circumstance control us. We’ll be living with agency, acting and not being acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:14)

Neal Maxwell echoed this, saying “Patience is a willingness…to watch the unfolding purposes of God with wonder and awe—rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance.” (Maxwell, “Patience,” 11/1979) I love that image. How often do I imprison myself in a cell of my own worry, irritation, and dissatisfaction? Unlocking the door to that cell is as simple as letting go and looking up. The use of patience, like the use of every heavenly virtue, magnifies our agency—which is exactly why we’re commanded to do so.

Though patience in trials is a significant challenge, and patience with those around us can be difficult at times, my biggest struggle in patience is with myself. I live with my significant weaknesses and frailties every hour of every day; I can’t ever escape them. And every time I falter—which is constantly—I’m tempted to get frustrated with myself. Shouldn’t I be better by now? Shouldn’t I have learned these lessons I keep repeating over and over?

But when I feel that temptation to frustration and despair, I try to remember my “personal” scriptures, those verses that opened my eyes and quieted my heart when I was full of anguish on my mission:

“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength….” “Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”

Thursday
Oct102013

31 Octoberish Books

Living in Southern California, fall didn't really register with me until yesterday. The seasons here are...subtle. But yesterday, the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and it rained and blustered all day. HEAVEN. I pulled out my favorite hand-knit sweater, made Mexican hot chocolate, and cooked up a big batch of boeuf bourguignonne. Gray days have always been my favorite, and tend to lead me to happy contemplation of all things pleasurably meloncholy--and even a little (or a lot) spooky--Octoberish. 

Here's a list of my 31 favorite Octoberish books (in no particular order), some scary, some just a little...other. I've rated them for scariness and/or explicitness. How many have you read?

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Two 19th century English magicians compete to see who is the more powerful--and unwittingly stumble upon the secrets of the shadowy John Uskglass, The Raven King. A companion collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, came out a couple of years after Jonathan Strange, but I can't get enough. Please write faster, Susanna Clarke! I need another fix of your strange and wonderful world. PG

2. Shadowland, by Peter Straub

This is the story of a magical apprenticeship gone very wrong. Straub is most famous for the terrifying novel Ghost Story and his collaboration with Stephen King, The Talisman. Both those books are fantastic, but Shadowland adds an extra level of horror for any parent. R

3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

When I was about 11, I started this book but put it down after reading the first chapter--because that alone was just. Too. Frightening. I did this twice more before I had the courage to keep reading. Spoiler alert: this is not a romance, despite the torrid movie trailers you might have seen. The Yorkshire moors, plaintive apparitions, and tragic love--the Brontë sisters never disappoint. PG-13

4. Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons writes both excellent science fiction and excellent horror. This book is his best. Psychic vampires and Nazi conspirators? BRING IT. R

5. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

I loved the author's first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and when I heard she had a new book out, I was afraid that I wouldn't like it as much. WRONG. Night Film is the story of a reclusive film director, his talented but troubled daughter, and the investigative journalist who pursues their story at the expense of all else. Pessl's interstitial documentation of the journalist's story adds to the dark not-quite-realism. R

6. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Kids: you can't leave them alone for even an hour. If you didn't like this book in high school, give it another try. Patrick and I recently read it with two of our teenagers and had a wonderful discussion about morals, agency, and peer pressure--and just how freaky this book is. PG-13

7. The Children of Men, by P.D. James

Famous mystery writer P.D. James published this novel in the early nineties, long before dystopians became the thing. It's gorgeously crafted and written and dark, dark, dark. R

8. Psalms of Herod, by Esther Freisner

Freisner usually writes humorous fantasy along the lines of Terry Pratchett (I once heard them speak on a panel together), but she took a break from the funny in the mid-nineties and put out this book. It and its sequel, The Sword of Mary, make The Children of Men (above) or Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale look like a romp in the park. Pitch-black dystopian. LOVE. It needs to be on Kindle, but you can get it used on Amazon. R

9. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

Freaky. Deaky. And way meta. With even more cool interstitial stuff along the lines of Pessl's book, above. (Of course, they both copied the stuff that Jared Adair and I created for The Book of Jer3miah: Premonition. YES, THEY DID.) And someone should really write a paper comparing and contrasting this book with Night Film, because the similarities are fascinating. A filmmaker and his family move into a house that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. What's so scary about that? Read it and find out. R

10. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

One of the very scariest of ghost stories. A governess tries to protect her charges from the malevolence of her predecessor and her lover, Peter Quint. No blood, no violence--just taut suspense and chilling allusion. This novella was the seed for the most frightening part of Straub's Ghost Story. (Again: a paper waiting to happen.) See Britten's opera based on the story, if you can. Chilling and wonderful. PG-13

11. Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

I've read all of King's books. Every one. Though his books vary widely in quality, I adore the man, as I've written before. Jerusalem's Lot, a small town in Maine, is a haven for vampires of the most un-sparkly sort. The quiet dread is unnerving. Other favorites by King include The ShiningMisery, and Bag of Bones. If you want PG-13 King, try The Green Mile or Joyland—but Salem’s lot is a definite R.

12. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving

We used to live a half hour from Sleepy Hollow, and when we listened to thunderstorms from our house in the Hudson Highlands, it was easy to see why Irving likened summer storms to the ninepin bowling of giants. All of Irving’s writing is excellently melancholic, but Ichabod Crane’s taut, tragic story stands out. PG

13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

You probably know “The Lottery,” Jackson’s iconic short story, from high school, and you may have heard of The Haunting of Hill House, which is fabulously frightening. This book is not as well known, but every bit as awful (in the best of ways). Magic, murder, and betrayal in New England—Octoberish, indeed. PG-13

14. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Now, THIS is Gothic romance of the highest degree—a forbidding mansion, a mysterious stranger in the attic—and the star-crossed heroine and her employer, Mr. Rochester. Brilliant and haunting. PG

15. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury may as well have invented October. His dreamlike stories always have a hint of the strange about them—and this one is downright eerie. Bradbury realizes the inherent otherness of a traveling carnival—and then exploits it to the nth degree. PG 

16. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

This book reads like something written at least 70 years ago—and I mean that as the highest of compliments. A country doctor is called to attend what’s left of an aristocratic Warwickshire family brought low by two world wars. Their decaying house—and what’s in it—haunts the family, the doctor, and ultimately, the reader. PG-13

17. The Complete Edgar Allen Poe

When I was in fourth grade, I checked a book of Poe’s short stories out of the school library. For years afterward, I lay awake at night, terrified that a pendulum or a tell-tale heart or a black cat would spell my doom. Poe is the American master of melancholy and dread. PG

18. The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins, a close friend of Charles Dickens’s, is most famous for his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White. This lesser-known gem, his first full-length novel, is no less creepworthy. Every chapter is a cliff-hanger, probably because the book first appeared serially in the magazine Household WordsPG

19. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë

The title alone speaks of October. The third and final novel by a Brontë to appear on my list tells the compelling story of a beautiful woman with a tragic secret. Will she ever be free of the past that haunts her? You never know whether you’ll get a happy ending or a tragic one when it comes those wacky sisters from Yorkshire. PG-13

20. Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville

Urban dystopic fantasy can be filled with pensive dread—especially when written by China Miéville. Art, its exploitation, and shadowy conspiracies all thrive in this magnificent book of a parallel London. R

21. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Again, the title itself is brilliant, and the book is no less fabulous. It tells the tale of two travelers—a businessman named Richard and a damaged street girl called Door—to the dangerous world of London Below. This is my favorite of many great books by Neil Gaiman. PG-13

22. In the Forest of Forgetting, by Theodora Goss

Yet another title that I envy—so evocative, and the book lives up to its promise. This collection of short stories is firmly in the gothic/slipstream tradition and reads like a bunch of the darkest, oldest fairy tales. We need much more Theodora Goss. PG-13

23. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by M.R. James

I first became acquainted with the work of M.R. James when I attended a dramatic reading of some of his ghost stories. James was a highly educated scholar of medieval studies; he perfected his disturbing narratives purely as a hobby. His dark tales would be best read aloud by firelight—but be prepared for some sleepless hours afterward.PG-13

24. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Thus begins one of the most powerful Gothic novels ever. Here’s another scholarly paper begging to be written: examine both the prevalence and the role of sinister servants in English Gothic novels. Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers? Yeah: she’ll give you nightmares. PG-13

25. Bellefleur, by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is marvelously prolific, and that’s a very good thing. She tends to write claustrophobic psychological thrillers, and I’ve never been sorry to spend time with any of her books. Bellefleur, the magic realist novel about an inbred family living (and dying) in upstate New York, is one of her best. R

26. Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is best known for his fantasy and science fiction, but he’s written some good horror novels, too. This is one of the saddest ghost stories I’ve ever read. It has staying power; I think our son Christian has read it at least five times. PG-13

27. Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O'Connor

Oh, how I adore Flannery O’Connor. She’s the very best of the Southern Gothic writers, and these short stories are deeply strange. Great stories get better with every re-reading, and that is certainly true of this collection. Hollywood should be mining O’Connor’s work they way they do Philip K. Dick’s. Pure (if tarnished) gold. PG

28. Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s work—all slipstream short stories—fills me with envy and awe. She’s won a ton of awards, and she’s deserved them all. Read “Stone Animals” or the eponymous short story, and the rest of this collection. Then read her other books, Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters. Link’s tales are addictive and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. More, Kelly; more! R

29. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

This is a children's adventure that has often been compared to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's witty and wry, but there's a definite undercurrent of the autumnal throughout. A wonderful, non-scary read-aloud. G

30. The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter

Grim and gritty and PUPPETS. Need I say more? Angela Carter's stuff is all creepalicious, but this novel? Sheesh. For more shudders, read her fairy tale retellings in The Bloody ChamberR 

31. Orlando: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf

This tale of the gender-shifting, seemingly ageless and immortal Orlando is a fascinating, dreamlike trip. What could be more Octoberish than living for centuries and watching those around you age and die? Woolf's prose is gorgeous, and her moody spirit can't help but leak through. PG-13

As I look over my list, I see interesting patterns--lots of English novels, lots of books by women. I go more for the atmospheric than the graphic. Almost without exception, the books are set in England or on the East Coast of the United States; there doesn't seem to be much of what I like set in here in the West. Clearly, I need to invent California Gothic....

I also find that in trying to encapsulate the essence of these books, I want to re-read almost all of them. Ah, Happy October to me! And to you. Let me know what you would add to the list. I'm always up for a new Octoberish read. 

Tuesday
Sep242013

Book Review: Global Mom

The folks at A Motley Vision recently invited me to become a contributor. My first post, a review of Melissa Dalton-Bradford's recently published memoir, Global Mom, is up today. Go check it out!

Tuesday
Sep102013

Stranger than Fiction Redux

I posted the following a few years back, but I think it bears repeating:
While cleaning up my genealogy files last night, I was struck by a number of...interesting names on my family tree. When I write, naming my characters takes a lot of time and thought. I want the names to be distinctive, so that the reader can keep everyone clear in his/her head, but I don't want them to be so distracting that they pull the reader out of the story.
But I'd have to be writing something in the John Irving/Richard Brautigan vein in order to pull off anything close to the names of some of my august forbears. I've put some of the weirdest into loose categories below for your enjoyment.

 

From the British Isles (yes, they certainly do sound like spammers' pseudonyms):
Gotham Howe
Gillachomhghaill O'Toole
Onesiphorus Tileston
Mabilia Talesmache
Benedicta Shelving
Gwair ap Pill
Rollo Bigod
Theopharcia Baliol
John MacHell

 

Scandinavia (Tolkien didn't work in a vacuum):
Frosti Karasson
Eyfuru Svaflamasdatter
Gandalf Alfgeirsson
Frodi Frodasson

 

The American Frontier:
Catherine Vandeventer-Turnipseed
Josnorum Scoenonti Running Deer
Polly Pickle
Thomasine Lumpkin

 

Elsewhere in Europe:
Burkhard von Schweinfurt
Gundreda Monasteriis
Aubrey de Mello
Adam Moomaw
Hienrich von Krickenbeck

 

Finally, Those Wacky Puritans:
Constantia Coffin
Thankful Sprout
Deliverance Nutting
Wealthy Blood
Including my personal favorite:
Preserved Fish
Poor Preserved. I presume that his name was shorthand for "Preserved by the hand of the Lord." Maybe Mrs. Fish almost died in childbed, or something like that. Her maiden name was Grizzel Strange, by the way, so you'd think that she'd be sensitive on the naming issue. Or perhaps her name and that of her son's didn't sound odd at all to 17th-century ears.

 

Oh, well; I guess when it comes right down to it, it's a heck of a lot easier researching folks like Preserved than yet another John Carter or Mary White. And it certainly keeps me smiling.