A writing thing

When I started writing Death and the Mason Jar, I had four primary characters around whom the story revolved. The cast of characters, as well as minor ones, came from all over the globe, as would be necessary in a book that deals with death and the imaginings of what comes next. It’s funny and dark, and poignant at times. I love this story more than I’ve ever loved any other (although I think I say that a lot.)

In the course of the story, the characters brush across old gods and folklore–who also need a place to go when they’ve been forgotten, the only true death of such beings–and one of them was a Jewish trickster character that I loved so much, he ended up being a character.

This hasn’t sat well in my writerly brain.

I’m big on diversity in my work. I don’t want everyone to be generic, or Italian/JerseyGirl/Connecticut housewife. As long as I’m not appropriating a culture, writing everyone as people, not as “insert ethnicity/ culture here,” I feel like I’m good. But I moved from writing a piece of folklore personified to a real being with a past and a motive and complicated culture. Long before the recent RWA and American Dirt fiascoes, this character has been making me squirm. Since these events, I’ve thought even harder about him, about his evolved place in my story. I’ve even dug in my heels (as some writer friends and my daughters can attest to) and declared I wasn’t changing my story to suit this uproar.

But I’m changing my story. My character. Not because I fear the uproar, but because I agree with it wholeheartedly, and have from the moment my character stopped being a folktale and became human. It took all that’s been happening–and will continue to happen, I hope–to push me into truly seeing it.

I’m keeping the character’s basics, and changing his ethnicity to one more in keeping with my own background. The result excites me entirely, because I can keep his backstory, his motives, his actions, but now they have more depth, because it will go from the poignantly obvious to the poignant question. The expected unexpected, as Agent-of-wonder Janna taught me. What had sadly become a caricature of someone I could never have done justice to is suddenly, and with only a few changed details, real and whole and entirely right.

Everyone else stays the same. Roland Nader, Emmet Bautista, Maria Violetta Teresa Abundante. And Aggie, with her mason jar. Writing them isn’t appropriating a culture or events I have no real experience to write authentically. They’re right. Absolutely.

The evolution of this book has been nothing short of astounding for me. It frustrates and thrills and teaches me something new on a(n almost) daily basis. I’ve said it to others and I’ll say it right here–if this one doesn’t top The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) I don’t think anything ever will. (Though I think I might say that a lot, too.)

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Filed under Death And The Mason Jar, Life's honest moments, Writing is Life

A Gym Bro Named Inga

I dreamed of you last night, We

were at a backyard party, and you

were with some friends:

A gym-bro, rather large, and bearded; his name

was Inga. There was also a girl

who had long, rainbow hair. I didn’t

catch her name, though she tried to tell me;

It was too noisy. You were busy monkeying with

your backpack, with something inside, pointedly

avoiding the introduction.

*

You never spoke, though Inga did. He was

quite insistent that I get his name right, while the girl

played with her hair, wanting me to see every

vibrant color, her smile sweet and kind of shy. It was important that

I like her, I could tell. And then off you all went,

the three of you.

*

You waved over your shoulder, barely

looked my way. Avoidance was always

the first clue, one I missed the last time around, but watching

you walk away, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t insist

upon seeing your eyes, or what was in the backpack.

I knew it was okay. You were okay.  (It’s hard for you

to say good-bye, I know. Me too.) Just

anxious to be off, having checked in with your Turtle.

*

Be free, my boy. Be safe and

brave, curious and

adventurous, and

as difficult as it is to say good-bye,

keep checking in. I like meeting your friends.

(I write my way, I write my way, I write my way to you.)

papow

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The dichotomy of being a Bogwitch

When I was a kid, a girl was either pretty but stupid, or smart but not-so-attractive. While there is absolutely no truth in that, it was believed by the masses and thus, “true.” I was undeniably pretty; so, by such standards, undeniably stupid. I didn’t feel stupid. Not all at once. But the truth of the masses, perpetuated by the practices of elementary and middle school*, wore me down. By high school, I was a bonafide ditz. Or so I thought.

*Rarely called on in class or praised for right answers, encouraged to take classes like steno and typing rather than science or math. Etc. Those of you in my age-range will know the drill.

It took a huge amount of work to get past all the crap ingrained in me from the day I was born–and this is not a dig against my parents, but society at large. Women of a certain age and older, maybe a little younger, will understand. Some will never get away from the whole “girls aren’t as smart as boys” thing, and all the other stuff girls were or weren’t. I worked hard, and I did it, but it left scars. One of them is being a huge skeptic.

There. I said it. I’m a skeptic. I realize I present as the sort of whimsical being who believes in fairies and ghosts and magic and all kinds of psychic/superhero powers.

I don’t.

But I do.

Because I am a whimsical being. There is magic/ghosts in everything I write. Tooth fairies lived in my rose garden. All the neighborhood kids knew that. We left bread and butter out for the fae folk at key points in the year, read the story of Persephone, Demeter and Hades every autumnal equinox, decorated the trees for the animals at the winter solstice. The kids were taught to never step inside a fairy ring. I made herbal “potions” everyone swore by, and spoke charms while I crafted them. The kids and I made dream pillows every autumn (something I still do, though more sporadically, with my grandkids.)

But I also knew it was the crows eating the bread and butter (the crows in the neighborhood loved me. It’s true! I fed them daily, and ours was the ONLY garbage can on the block that never got torn apart.) I don’t believe in Gods, or Goddesses. I do believe there are some plusses to herbal healing, but the spoken charms were fun wishes akin to those made on birthday candles. And the tooth fairies? Well, I confess now to all those children who left notes for their fairies in my rose garden, I was the one answering them; tooth fairies did not, in fact, live in my garden.

But I don’t NOT believe in any of it, either. Because…who knows?

Round and round she goes. The skeptic comes from never-ever-ever again wanting to feel or appear stupid. I spent too many years negating my own talents, thoughts, and aspirations. Skeptic has a place in my brainspace, because there’s believing in everything with blind faith and utter devotion, and there’s, “Now wait just a minute there, Janet.”

There is a whole lot about our world, our universe we just don’t know; modesty may be for suckers, but no one can ever accuse me of hubris. I discount nothing, not even fairies. I just need proof before I’ll truly believe they’re real. I know where my skeptic was born, and as much as I understand she’s yet another aspect of the scarring done to my little psyche, (and my not-so-little one) her place is to be respected.

I can be whimsically skeptical, or skeptically whimsical. I can take part in a cleansing, burning ritual on the beach and feel the beauty, the bonding without the need of specific oils and herbs. I can watch my words go up in smoke, and know it’s speaking them aloud that eased the burden, not burning them.  I love to read cards (I have several decks) because of how it makes me think, it creates connections I might not otherwise have noticed. I enjoy listening to a psychic tell me all about auras and chakras and speaking to the dead while picking out the holes in her reasoning. I can dream of my son and feel it was more like visit; feel it, but not know it, because what happens after we die is a mystery no one, not even those who’ve died and come back, knows for sure. And I’m okay with that. I like how those dream visits sit in my heart, in my brain. That’s enough. I like imagining it’s fairies eating the bread and butter, even if I know it’s the crows. I like paying attention. To everything.

What I believe or don’t believe doesn’t matter even slightly where the actual truth is concerned. I believed I was stupid. Society saw my pretty and believed the same. But you know what? My mom saved my report cards, and she gave them to me a few years ago. I was mostly an A/B student all through high school. I spoke four languages. It was confidence I lacked, not intelligence. Though, I do admit math was never my strong suit; I was also never encouraged to it, so…yeah. I get a pass.

There you have it. I’m a skeptic who writes about ghosts but doesn’t necessarily believe in an afterlife. Now, pardon me while I go write my story about how Death collects souls in a mason jar. In my pajamas. Where’d I put that tiara? I guess the fairies must have run off with it. They do that, sometimes.

fairy ring

A fairy ring

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Carry On

(I’m not sure why this never published; I apparently wrote it back in August. In light of my recent brain-singing comments, it seems to be time.)

You are carried on song

like winds, inexorable. I might avoid

the radio, but the music

finds me anyway. In commercials,

while at the grocery store. Snips that cling to

synapses and sparks inside my head. Playing

over and over. Bands you listened to, Songs

you loved, sometimes those you never

even heard. Songs that speak

to me of you. Starry, starry nights, the

lights to guide you home, light up your bones,

You shut up and dance, bid hello to darkness, when you’re

lost and alone, and

sinking like a stone, to join the black parade. Lyrics and

drums and guitars and keyboards, they

play nonstop. Nonstop. Non

stop.

 

Long ago, before you were the ghost always hovering,

never within reach, when it was another ghost

always hovering, never within reach,

it was the same. Music

undid me, and did me up tight. Kept me

sane. Kept the tears coming so I’d not

drown in them, held inside.

 

Music speaks. For the living, and

the dead, the young and

the old. The happy and the sad. The same words

caught inside ears, wiggling and worming into brains

interpreting every note, every word, to its own

experience.

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Clearing the writerly mind

It has been slightly over a year since I started work on Death and the Mason Jar. My writing schedule hasn’t changed much. I have a great premise, fabulous characters, and a handle on all the arcs; I know the beginning, middle, and end. Yet I’m currently writing draft eleventy bajillion, and, so far, haven’t gotten to the end. The novel vehemently opposes category, defies focus, and goes down too many dark alleys where it then gets beaten up and left for the pickpockets. A whole year of wrestling with it, and only about 50K in. For me, who can typically get through a book–outline to final draft–in about nine months, it has been unsettling. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do what I’ve always done. Get it done. Get it right. Get it published.

Until about two weeks ago.

There is no doing what I’ve always done, because this book is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. It doesn’t want a label, or a timeline. I got so bogged down in both that it was really shackling me. A couple of weeks ago, while reading Erin Morgenstern’s new (and fabulous) The Starless Sea–a book that defies category, published eight years after The Night Circus–I had a lightbulb moment. I had to let go. Of category. Of timeline. Of everything but the story. And, wouldn’t ya know, my blurry focus clarified.

If Death and the Mason Jar takes three years to write, it takes three years. Or two. Or five. I’ve had seven books published by three different publishers since 2010. It has been awesome, but I’ve never taken this leisure before. None of my favorite authors come out with a book a year, or even every two years. I don’t have to either. So there.

What happens with Death and the Mason Jar, once it’s finished, happens. Or doesn’t. I’m not going to get bogged down in that, either. I can’t. Every time I do, my brain throws a tantrum and sends my story down one of those dark alleys. In the meantime, I’m able to savor the continuing fun of The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses). The German release happens next June. The Slovakian release is sometime after that. It’s not as if nothing’s happening. I’m more fortunate than most, in this writing thing. I just have to remind myself of that now and again. And again.

th2BI5OUCH

 

 

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Germany, here comes Bar Harbor!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) was supposed to release in September of 2018 under the title, DAS LÄCHELN FRÜHERER TAGE. Obviously, it did not. I won’t go into the whole thing, because that’s not what this entry is about. Suffice it to say, we were delayed for technical reasons, the result of which is  June 2020 release, a new title, and a new cover.

AndAtTheEndtheSea_Bar Harbor

Translates to: And In The End The Sea

Elaine, my foreign rights agent, sent me the above afraid I’d be upset by the changes. The feel is way different from the English language version. BASTEI LÜBBE (my publisher in Germany) decided on a beach read vibe, which is where Bar Harbor fell on so many lists in the summer of 2018. The cover says BEACH! And I love it. I love the poetry of the new title. I just love everything about it, including the June 2020 release date.

My writing life still orbits around The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses).  A year and a quarter after its original release date, I’m still doing book clubs, library visits, fielding the odd request for an interview. I’ve been told a book like this has about a two year active life; so far, so accurate. By the time Bar Harbor starts winding down here in the USA, it’ll be born again in Germany. I’m not anticipating the same kinds of interaction, but it is rather exciting. I’m truly, truly glad it didn’t come all at once. Savoring the experience has been bliss.

And June of 2020 doesn’t end Bar Harbor’s journey out into the world. Another contract has been signed, but until I hear from Elaine, I’m not announcing anything more than that.

Yet.

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Now I’ll Tell You the Real Story

A couple of weeks ago, I told you the story about a car, my kids, and the parking lot hill they rolled down. It’s true, every word. I did pull the car to a stop–and remember, it was a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente, not your average light model of today. I was indeed a beast. I’m not proud of the situation that called forth my inner Hulk, but I am very proud of the fact that she appeared as needed. That, however, is not the real reason for the tattoo I got just a few days ago.

tattoo

I left it big so you could read it

While the first part of the poem speaks to me as a woman, and as a gentle human, it was the second half of it that set off gongs in my head when first I read it. It’s taken me about a year of contemplation before getting this tattoo, because it recalls one of the most heartbreaking days of my life.

When Chris dove headfirst into drugs, it never lasted long. It would be about a month in total, but a solid two weeks of horrificness once, sometimes twice a year. We didn’t know if he’d vanish or die or both. He wasn’t Chris, the sweet, gentle, kind, and brilliant giant of a man. Loving son. Beautiful boy. He was the opposite in every way. He was desperate and scared and out of control. Outside of those horrific weeks, he fought so hard.

One summer day (he was always worst in the summer, a pattern we learned to anticipate) when he was at the end of an especially horrific period, he came home with enough heroin to kill himself. That wasn’t the plan, he said. He just wanted to “use it up” and then he was quitting.

If you know anything about addicts, they don’t tell you they’re going to use. They do everything they can to hide it so you can’t stop them. Chris told us. He was that desperate for us to stop him. But the other Chris, the opposite Chris, wasn’t going down without a fight.

That was the day I unleashed every dragon, every wolf, every monster sleeping inside me. Forty-eight-year old me chased my 22 year old son through the woods, leaping over fallen trees, barreling through bramble, scrabbling over rock and rubble. I wrestled all 6’2″, 230 lbs of him to the ground. Twice. I held closed a lift-up garage door against his body-builder muscles. I ripped his jeans off his body to get the drugs and paraphernalia from his pockets. All to keep him from using. All because I knew it’s what he needed me, wanted me to do, even if he fought me. Because every time he got away, he came back.

When Opposite-Chris finally seemed to give up the fight, I went to clean myself up. We should never, ever have trusted Opposite-Chris. He got into the upstairs bathroom with his drugs. Alone. I was furious. I flew up the stairs, bashed down the bathroom door and mommy-swooped the bags of heroin from his mouth (he’d just shoved it all in) and flushed them. Then 911 was called, because there was no way to know how much he’d actually ingested.

But the calm. My god, the calm in him afterward. When it was all done. When the drugs were gone and the EMTs were taking him to the ER to feed him charcoal and dose him with Narcan. It wasn’t the drugs. I honestly don’t think he got much of it into his system. Chris was grateful. Tearful. We battled, me and Chris against Opposite-Chris, and we won.

It wasn’t the only battle I waged with him. For him. There were many. But the poem…the poem spoke to me of this battle. Again, I’m not proud of the situation that called up my inner-beast, but I’m ridiculously proud to know that dragons, wolves and monsters sleep inside this otherwise gentle human, ready to burst free when needed.

 

 

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Passage

Autumn comes–shorter days, cool and scented

with decay. Leaves without their chlorophyll. Flowers

crisp and brown-edged. The lingering hues saturated

against the surrounding fade. Pinpoints of color,

raging. The earth preparing for

the long sleep.

*

I write my way.

I write my way.

I write my way

to you.

*

Winter comes–silent, gentle–sounds muffled

by the cold. Bare branches reach. Click

against the sky. Crows call, their voices louder for

the silence. Louder for their hunger.

Need. Want. I leave bread for them. Scramble

an egg. They carry messages in return.

*

I write my way.

I write my way.

I write my way

to you.

th

 

 

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Four

Jamie, Scott, Chris and Grace.

I wrote their names, tagging a message to my kids not

an hour ago.

Jamie, Scott, Chris and Grace.

Automatic. Rote. Give me another word

that means it flew out of my brain and

to my fingers, before time could fall and

chop them off at the knuckles,

break me open and

let all the heat out of my body.

*

Four years, two months, and twelve days, give or take

a few hours, and that has never happened before.

I actually wrote his name without

meaning to. Backspace, backspace,

three more times. His name is gone, the message out.

The blank spaces where his name was, glare.

 

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NFReads Interview

This was fun!

Interview With Author Terri-Lynne DeFino

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