Following My First Act


I'm in unfamiliar territory here. Therefore, I'm going to try to keep everything and everybody up to date on my FB blog so far with the sincere of embracing that illusion of "control."

Week 1

Doesn’t seem so long ago that I had visions of a “writing space” – a garret, a corner of the basement next to the laundry machines or my craft stash, or just some place that sufficed for the place I did nothing but write. I go in, sit down, fire up the computer and my brain and it all flows like mountain spring water after a spring snowmelt. I’ve had a few spaces: the basement corner, a corner in our bedroom whose door never stayed shut and a loft; but there were three kids and a husband running through and wondering what I was doing. And there were always the words that didn’t come. The writing flowed more like the muddy Mississippi in a dry summer with plenty of distractions to dam up the works. But I kept dreaming. I should tell you, dear friend, that I am Midwestern born and raised. I didn’t so much grow up on a farm as grow up with farm people living in a city with farm values: Keep it simple, work hard and accept what you get. Dreamers like me are odd. Tilting at windmills odd. And just a little sneaky.

That’s how The Daemon Volumes came into being: dreaming and fighting with the words to describe what I dreamt. Then, by sneaking writing time and ideas I never discussed in any detail with family, friends or writing acquaintances, trying to make it all make sense. To me. And I let very few read The Daemon Portfolio before it was finished. And I’m none too sure it is finished, but it’s e-published and making the rounds of publishers and agents. What is left is the rest of the story. Well, four stories, to be exact.

So now I have the room of my own (thanks, Virginia Woolf!). Now the kids are grown and gone, leaving gray streaks in my hair, and my husband has his space and gray hairs as well. The door stays shut, except when our cat wants my lap or to dance his own messages across my keyboard. Now the words have to come to fit the stories in my mind. And those words can be stubborn cusses.

I’ll share some of the words (Spoilers!). And here, with your indulgence and, I hope, some good wishes and laughter, I’d like to share the journey of the “rest of the story”. Specifically, I’ll do my best to share with you the “fun” and struggle of writing the second Daemon book: The Daemon Sacramentary.

Week 2

My children will tell anyone that The Daemon Portfolio took me nearly 20 years to write. They may be correct. I think the story was gestating for eight to ten years in various forms and didn’t really come together in my understanding until about seven years ago, but, yes, it took a long time In my defense, I must say that covers their births and childhood through college age; moving from Michigan to Colorado to Pennsylvania to New York back to Pennsylvania; going back to school to earn a teacher’s certificate; and teaching middle/high school English, all while trying to maintain as happy a home and stable a marriage as possible when five disparate personalities are involved.

Another dynamic in the composition was a spiritual growing-up period for me. Confession: I left the organized religion of my childhood and embraced Judaism when I was 21. Since then, I’ve studied Reiki, T’ai Chi & Qi Gong, Taoism, Kabala, and Wicca. I’ve found strands of each brightly-colored belief to weave into my own life’s tapestry. Evidence: we plant sage at the four corners of our new home, and, in the endless debate over what foods are clean or unclean, I’ve espoused the Taoist “kashrut” that teaches it is not what goes into one’s mouth that makes one unclean – it is, in all ways and times, what comes out.

And here I am, retracing a few of those steps, revisiting the basic tenets. The problem is: “…things change. I changed.” I cannot look at the world with the same wide eyes of 10, 15, even 20 years ago and I don’t think I would want to do so. I do have to relearn some things and build on them as on the rest. Or, as the texts tell us, I am all the ages I have ever been. I have the interests, joys and angers of all those years. And there is a distance to go yet.

P.S. An insight from an author whose faith I’ve also studied in some detail: “But don’t go trying the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

So perhaps I should stop revisiting and move on.

Week 3

**Spoiler Alert**: The past lives in The Daemon Sacramentary deals with the kingdoms of Bohemia and Prussia during the Thirty Years’ War. So there’s research doing and to be done. A LOT of research. It’s taking a larger number of note cards just to keep track of who fought whom and when and why. And the more I learn, the more I shake my head.

There’s a lot been written after the fact and some documents surviving in reproduction from the time, but not a lot of consensus on precisely why Europeans fought, slaughtered, tortured and ruined each other for so long. I have much more to read and think about, but so far, what I have read resonates with the eternal struggle for money and power (in the form of land owned), influence and egos scantily dressed in the costume of religious differences. Institutions and leaders cling to power and money by any means, sending others to fight for them. Men (and some women) claiming to be pious and devout become bestial sadists to those who differ with them in matters of faith. Those caught in the middle lose everything because their religious way of life is just “different.” And, as far as I understand them, most of those differences don’t amount to a bowl of porridge to feed the starving folk dispossessed by the marauding armies and authorities. If it did amount to enough to fill that bowl, I doubt those poor would even see a grain of it.

What saddens/infuriates me as I do this research is that we’re not living in such a different world after three plus centuries, the “blessings” of technology aside. I’m not at a point in this blog that I will mount a soapbox and hold forth on this. Yet. One can only hold one’s outrage in just so long. However, I would ask people to stop, look around, see if you see what I’m seeing.

Week 4

My younger daughter, Juliane Gibbs, left a week ago to live and work in Australia for the next six to 12 months. It’s a wrench for us all, my mother’s heart the more so. But it’s got me thinking about parenting and specifically about the parents I’m creating in The Daemon Volumes.

After I e-published The Daemon Portfolio, I had a disagreement with my beloved daughter-in-law, Katelyn Gibbs, over the fact that I see elements of myself in Loretta. Not the wedding ring, not the repeated criticism and belittling, but I understand her desire to feel in control of so much she cannot really control.

I know her passion for learning and trying new things; I also recognize the danger she seems not to see in taking on too many inflexible credos. I know her mistrust of the established norms and disappointment with a life that veered so far from youthful expectation that she had to build her own life – even if it’s from the cornstalks and beanpoles of a damaged ego. I know her passion to have her children follow the path she chose and the consternation and worry when they choose their own.

I understand her, but I don’t particularly like her, nor would I follow her in her “coven.” She is that necessary person in a life that helps define what Sara and Anna Louise do not want to be. And yet her approval is vital for their emotional life. She is The Mother, after all. And mothers are always right, right? [I hear my children at a younger age reminding me like Caesar’s servant, “Yeah, mom, when cows fly.”]

However, to quote my husband, I do understand.

As for the parents I introduce in The Daemon Sacramentary… In the words of my favorite BBC creations: “Spoilers!”

Week 5

I think I made a brief comment on this site some time back that Benjamin Ashe seems to be driving The Daemon Sacramentary, as opposed to Sara. I suppose it could be argued that Sara didn’t really drive Portfolio so much as Morag Muri drove it in the 16th century and “leaking out” through Sara in the present day, but that’s for the critics and English teachers to haggle over. As the saying goes, “Those who can do; those who can do more, teach; those who can’t become critics.”

Anyway, back to Benjamin Ashe. Working with him (and what author doesn’t find that her/his characters want to take over the writing?), I can hear/feel/write that there is a lot of anger simmering inside him, more than ready to boil over and destroy. To be expected from a man chasing a woman and a dream for five centuries, I’d say. I could be wrong.

To live over and over and come close, then have it snatched away again and again…that’s something I wonder if any of us can endure without some explosion. That he controls it and does NOT take it out on his beloved sets him apart from so many “heroes” I’ve read in popular fiction. Therefore, I would not call him “broken.” Likewise, he does not swoop in to save the distressed damsel at the last perilous moment, as in other pieces I’ve taken up reading for my summer list. Therefore, I would not call him “macho.” He does question Sara on her choices. He challenges her beliefs. He might even mock the poorer choices and more unfounded beliefs so that she has to reconsider and find the better way. But always, he leaves the choice to her.

Does that make him romantic? That depends on one’s definition of “romantic.” There is no doubt he is passionate and determined (as those who read Portfolio can attest). But he’s something beyond the romantic types that seem to burst onto the reading scene like Fourth of July extravaganzas. And it’s going to take some work to keep up with him.

Week 6

By the calendar, it’s just about Summer Vacation time. The kids in the neighborhood were done with school as of last Friday, but the staff will have a few days or a couple weeks to finish up and call 2014-2015 over. As my school secretary daughter commented, “Holy crap, we made it!”

My trouble at present is, when it comes to my research, the exclamation sounds more like, “Holy crap, I need to do more! I know NOTHING!!!”

I admit it, I researched myself crazy for The Daemon Portfolio, studying texts and histories about the Battle of Flodden Field (the usual who, what, where, when, how, and, most importantly, why). I also reviewed writings of Scottish authors and tales to get the dialogue as close to right as I could without losing my non-Scottish audience (I hope). For The Daemon Sacramentary, I’ve had a lot more material to study (and there was much rejoicing. Sigh) and – spoilers! – I expect there will be more for the more recent history in future volumes.

However, what seems to tie it all together is a not just the love story between Sara Herne and Benjamin Ashe/Joseph Lindsay, but I realized I had and will continue to weave in a plea for tolerance. Particularly in spiritual matters.

I do not have the honor to be Wiccan, but I hold many beliefs in common with the Wiccan faith. Chiefly, the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do as ye will.” Bear in mind both clauses in the Rede are essential. Critics and persecutors of Wicca always seem to focus on the independent clause and forget there is the restriction of the dependent clause (yes, I was an English teacher).

There are saints and sinners professing every religious belief in the world. The strength of our own inner peace has to be reflected in the way we respond (or choose not to respond) to those whose faith must be weaker if it cannot stand another point of view. Case in point is Loretta Topedico in her lives past and present. I know I noted her passion for learning, but she is all too eager to disparage any who hold beliefs contrary to her own. Her daughters, in particular, bear the brunt of her contempt, as d those who practice the religion Loretta was raised to practice. There are others equally intolerant of Loretta and Sara’s beliefs, but, as Santayana warned, they have forgotten that such “holier than thou” attitudes made the Thirty Years’ War all but inevitable. Thus we repeat it. Over and over.

Well, I may know nothing, but I am willing to research. And learn. And appreciate the differences.

And I will write on and keep up my plea for tolerance.

Week 7

I had a strange question posed to me last week by someone I trust. I’d updated her on my writing progress, noting that I had to “kill off” two characters. Her strange but insightful question: “Did you want to kill off the characters?”

It made me take a mental step backward. Did I want to kill off two characters that really had done nothing but do their work and love their families? Wow.

My immediate reaction came as a question: what author really wants to kill off any character s/he has created? Most of us scribblers skirt the line between “normal life” and the strait-jacket/padded cell state while writing anyway, what with characters and plots running through the brain in cleats. But wanting to visit violence or death on these “people” seems to be hurdling over that line with a manic “but that’s what the audience wants” cackle.

People and characters die every day in a lot of media (not to mention in the Real World where death seems ordinary and goes largely ignored until the media instructs us as to how the death or the cause of it or the prevention of it will harm us). No murder mystery could earn its name without someone “shuffling off this mortal coil.” Too many TV shows make their bread and butter in killing off one or more characters a week – sometimes more, if one binge-watches. Movies? Fugeddahboutit! If there’s no murder or attempts at killing or unexplained deaths, I wonder how many people would actually be interested?

Back to the question!

The down-and-dirty answer is no, I didn’t want these two characters out of my story/life, but the plot requires it. Concern and caring for those left behind has to be raised for the plot to move forward. Just as the death toll from Nepal’s earthquake and South Korea’s MERS outbreak keep us interested.

I think the body count in The Daemon Portfolio was seven, with hints that two more characters will not survive in the sequels. And I’m not counting the thousands that died on Flodden Field. And I will admit that of those mortalities, there were perhaps three characters that a few people who read Portfolio did say they hoped would die. A variation on the “they needed killing’” point of view, I suppose. But even those three were difficult for me to write.

Writing a death is hard (I won’t offer the joke about it being “murder”). Period. I have particular music to listen to and a good bit of time goes into reflection on when I know someone has to leave the story. I have caught myself several times speculating on how the plot would proceed or not proceed if I stayed the execution. And, like Ashe in Portfolio, no matter how vile the character, I mourn their passing.

I’d rather be writing about life. But, keeping the popular tastes in mind, that don’t feed the bulldog.


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