Drops of Water

“Can we be like drops of water, falling on the stone, splashing, breaking, dispersing in air, weaker than the stone by far but be aware, that as time goes by, the rock will wear away.” Meg Christian & Holly Near

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Who knew those lyrics, 40 years later, would be so apt? (see below for a link to the entire song)

I’m young enough that I came on the tail end of the women’s and feminist movements of the 70s and 80s. But I knew enough to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of those who fought for the rights and freedoms I came to take for granted.

I think for many of those women, it has been an ongoing sore point that young people, especially young women –  lesbians or queer (or whatever of the million other words they’re using, because, you know, they don’t want to be labeled…) – have no appreciation of what it took to gain what they take for granted. And I know older black people, those who marched with Martin Luther King, those who remember segregated doors and water fountains and everything else, feel the same way about young African-Americans not having a sense of the history that those older folks fought through.

But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe young people should be able to take for granted the expectation that they will be treated equally under the law; that they will not be discriminated against at work; that they will have full access to their medical care and decisions about their own bodies and reproductive rights; that they will have the right to marry whomever they choose.

In a normal world – the world we enjoyed just a year ago – they were entitled to all of those expectations. But a few people have always realized that we cannot take those rights for granted. That realization has been driven home forcefully these past several months, but especially in the last two weeks with the attempt to dismantle women’s rights to birth control and reproductive decisions under their healthcare, and the chipping away at legal protections for LGBTQ people, and the continued controversy over black Americans exercising their First Amendment rights by protesting racial injustice.

Now, more than ever, we really have to stay aware. We have to protest and, when the time comes, VOTE to change things!

Individually, we may be only drops of water hitting back against those who would hold us down but, as the song says, over time, the rock will wear away. And if enough drops fall, the water can turn into a flood – a flood of protests, a flood of outrage, a flood of righteous indignation as we demand the return and the protection of rights we should be able to take for granted.

 

 

 

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Sassenachs and Broomsticks

We just got back from a trip to Scotland. I mean just. Like last night. I’m still muddle-headed, both from jet-lag and from the cold we shared while there. Despite the fog in my brain, I had to start writing about our time there. It really was incredible.

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Gorgeous scenery in the Highlands

I know some people go to Scotland to trace their clan connections, but I’m Irish, so no family connections there. When we went to Ireland two years ago I blogged HERE about how it was a terrible beauty – wild, desolate, lonely, and lovely beyond words – all wrapped up together. Scotland was much the same. I know America’s history is bloody, but Scotland’s seems more so. I think maybe part of the mystique about Scotland is that there’s so much more of it.

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A not-so-wee Highland bull

We’re kind of Outlander fans, but not nearly as rabid as we are Harry Potter fans. The fun thing is, there are lots of signs of both everywhere! We were blessed to have found the services of a wonderful guide, Kirsten, who runs Secret Scotland Tours. She is a real Outlander fan, and the number of local sites they’ve used for filming is absolutely amazing! I think we’ll find the series more interesting to watch now that we can say we’ve seen and been to some of the locations they’ve used. Still not into hunky Highlanders, though… but Claire on the other hand!

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Doune castle, which serves as Castle Leoch in Outlander

We saw all kinds of places and things that helped inspire JK Rowling as she wrote the Harry Potter books: the statue of St. Mungo at Kelingrove in Glasgow; the closes and crooked buildings of Edinburgh; the wild hills and lochs as you travel north into the Highlands. It was so easy to see where the inspiration for Daigon Alley and Hogwarts came from.

When I wrote The Dragonmage Saga, I did a LOT of research into Irish history and geography. But when I wrote the third book of the trilogy, in which Caymin and Péist travel beyond Ireland, I had to dig more into Scottish history and geography. It was gratifying to visit these places and have it feel familiar enough that I got it right.

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The Standing Stones at Clava Cairn

Our last day touring with Kristen took us to Culloden, the somber moor where the Jacobite rebellion brutally ended. It’s a sad, beautiful place.

We got to other places as well, Stirling and Rosslyn Chapel. I’ll blog more about those soon, but for now, wanted to share these thoughts and images with you.

Thanks for reading!

Pax

 

 

Ode to Peanut Butter

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Every person in this house likes PB a lot,

But one, one especially, loves it and not

Just for breakfast. She loves it on crackers, on bananas so much,

She eats it by spoon, on bread and muffins and such.

For years she bought Jif in the four-pound tub,

Until one day, they had none, and there was the rub.

The store wanted to sell its own brand, it seemed,

Only the small jars of Jif were now deemed

The thing they would stock. “I know what we’ll do,”

The store managers said. “We’ll keep just a few

Jars of Jif on hand,

But if they want more, they’ll buy our brand!”

The one who loved peanut butter so much was sad,

And the one who loved her wanted to help so bad.

“Can you just buy the small jars?” she asked, though she knew.

“It’s just not the same,” said the other. “I go through

them too fast.” This was a dilemma she’d not had before.

So she thunk and she thunk till her thunker was sore.

Then she had a thought she hadn’t thought of before.

“Maybe peanut butter,” she thought, “doesn’t have to come from a store.”

So she opened her laptop and held her breath.

There! There they were! Her hopes weren’t dead!

The internet had Jif. They had Jif galore!

She didn’t have to buy from a store!

She ordered not one, not even two tubs of Jif.

“What if they run out? What if they get lost? What if…”

She decided this was serious. Too serious to gamble.

She ordered four tubs. And prepared a preamble.

“Are you happy?” her partner asked. “Yes, yes I am.”

The first tub torn open, the spoon in her hand,

She cradled her peanut butter and sighed a deep sigh.

Peanut butter, she now knew, could come from the sky.

An Even Dozen!

I cannot even believe I’m writing this blog to announce that my twelfth (12!) novel, The Standing Stones, is now available for pre-order HERE. It will go live on June 6!

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This is the third novel in The Dragonmage Saga, and it wraps up this part of Caymin’s story. I did the leave the door open a tiny crack to revisit these characters and their further adventures. I probably will after I get some other books written that have been squirreling around in my head for a while.

But it is hard to leave Caymin and her friends and the world they inhabit. They’ve all inhabited my head and my heart for a long time now.

I wasn’t sure I could pull off a venture into fantasy, but this trip has been more than I thought it could be. I have learned so much. In practical terms, I’ve learned tons about ancient Ireland and Celtic folklore (and badgers!). In writerly terms, I’ve learned even more about how to create action and how to plan a story arc over multiple books.

I hope you like this third entry to the Saga and find it a fitting continuation of Caymin and Péist’s adventures.

Here’s the blurb:

Caymin and Péist, the young dragonmage and dragon who helped to end the last dragon war, have returned from that conflict longing only for peace. But peace is not to be found. Éire is on the brink of being torn asunder as Christians battle pagans, raiders from the north attack the coast, and their enemies—the power-hungry dragonmage and dragon they fought in the otherworld—have escaped from their prison.

Caymin and Péist are the only ones who can thwart them but, in order to do so, they’ll have to do the unthinkable—bring all of the dragons and their mages back to this realm. The dragons can only be summoned and controlled by one who holds the Méarógfola—the Bloodstone. The problem is, the Bloodstone hasn’t been seen since it was stolen a thousand winters ago.

In a race through time, Caymin and Péist will have to go back through the Portal, back a thousand winters, back to set in motion everything that must unfold as it was meant to. Finding the Méarógfola is only the beginning of their challenges. Old factions among the dragons make them as difficult to control as the human clans. Destroying the Bloodstone is the only way to end this once and for all, but there are those who will do anything, anything, to get their hands on it.

Hunger Games?

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If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I’ve done spring and fall fundraisers for a couple of charities: The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Pets of the Homeless.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but know that our political world here in the US has been turned upside down since November. Part of the upheaval is the appointment of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education – a woman who has zero, absolutely zero idea of the role public schools play in the lives of ordinary people. Not only do public schools serve one of our founders’ primary goals in having a literate, educated electorate but, for a long time, they’ve provided free breakfasts and lunches to kids of low income families. She’s playing games with the lives of millions of kids, especially poor kids.

We’ve long had a large portion of our population that is “food insecure” – the term used when families don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The problem has been worse since the 2008 recession. You can learn more about that and what you can to do help HERE. And you can go HERE to learn more about hunger world-wide.

When I was a kid, summers were wondrous times of reading all day or disappearing into the woods near our house to play all day. I always had food for snacks and lunches. I’ve never known a day with real hunger. That isn’t true for lots of people.

Summers are an overwhelming time for many food banks and soup kitchens, when families have to try and figure out how to make up for those breakfasts and lunches not being served by schools during those months.

In an effort to make a difference locally, I’m pledging 100% of my May royalties to The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Any books you purchase – from Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Bella, or Ylva – they’ll all go toward the check I’ll write.

So, if you’ve been thinking about buying any of my books you might not have read, this is a great time to do so! If you’ve already bought all of my books, THANK YOU! If you’re in a position to do something in your community, I’m sure your local food bank could use any amount you can afford to give.

Thank you for your help with this project.

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(Hermione is always hungry, but that’s just because she’s a corgi…)

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

Watch With Me

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“Watch one hour with me. Stay just a way by my side. When my alleluia days streak into blues and grays, be my guide. Stay a while. Watch with me.” © Joe Wise

Those words are part of the lyrics of a hymn based on the gospels, on Jesus’s last night before he was arrested, praying in the garden that this terrible thing might pass him by, and asking his friends to watch with him.

Today is Good Friday, and tonight will mark the thirty-first year since my mother’s passing in the small hours of the night. I was blessed to be with her when she died, and I was especially blessed to have spent quiet hours with her earlier that day. Everyone else was busy elsewhere, and she was sleeping. I didn’t want her to wake alone, so I pulled a chair up and kept my own vigil at her bedside. If you’ve read my books, you’ll probably recognize that scene in one of them.

No matter who you are or what faith you may practice, it isn’t hard to recognize that plea to not be left alone to face something like death. I know we all make that transition alone, but we don’t have to be alone on the path.

I can’t listen to that hymn now or play it on my guitar without thinking of my mom, without remembering that day and those hours we spent together, not speaking much, but saying all that needed to be said.

I wish you all – whether you’re celebrating Easter or Passover or just spring and lots of candy – the peace of family and friends.

Pax

 

 

The Magic Starts Here

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while knows that I am an author. I know we all got gobsmacked by the results of our national election last November, and we’ll be dealing with the fallout from that for years, maybe for the rest of my life given the speed at which the world I know is being dismantled right before my eyes.

Anyway, for that reason, I’ve decided to write this blog post about writing.

I am now (trumpets blaring) at 92,000 words and nearing completion of the third book in my fantasy trilogy-that-may-not-stop-at-three-books.

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For any of you who haven’t read Rising From the Ashes and The Portal, what in the world is wrong with you? For those who have, thank you!

So, for the uninitiated, this trilogy (we’ll stick with that for now) is set in ancient Ireland, about 700-800 CE. This era in Éire’s history is fascinating. Christianity had been introduced only about 300-400 years previously. We really don’t know how stubbornly people clung to the old ways because the monks who wrote the histories had their own agenda. (And we thought fake news was a new thing…)

In my world, the old ways and magic aren’t giving up that easily. Mages and keepers of the old ways are still finding children born with magic, training them and teaching them the old traditions.

We know the Romans never bothered to cross the Irish Sea to conquer Ireland. Too much trouble, I guess. So the Irish Celts were left to the rival clans fighting things out amongst themselves although they had a High King… sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement on just how widespread the High King’s influence was, and there’s a lot of evidence that the rival clans continued to war with one another.

I took a bit (or more than a bit) of liberty with the political environment of Éire in my stories in terms of which clans were Christianized versus which still straddled the line between the old ways and the new.

And then, just to make things interesting, enter… the Vikings! These seafarers from the north countries – modern-day Norway, Denmark, Sweden – were expanding their territories, either for trading, raiding and/or settling. The Viking invasions of Ireland began in this same era that my stories are taking place. The invasions were sometimes successful, sometimes thwarted. The Irish gave as good as they got, and the fighting was by all accounts pretty brutal. We know monasteries throughout Éire and Britannia were sacked repeatedly. Eventually, the Vikings did manage to conquer enough territory in Ireland, that they had their own settlements, such as Dubhlinn, now the capital city of Dublin, as well as Cork, Waterford – mostly coastal settlements.

So the factual part of the history was all stuff I needed to research. See the folder in this photo?

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This is where the magic begins!

This is my treasure trove of most of the research I’ve done for this trilogy. There are tons of bookmarked websites as well, but this folder has traveled with me daily for well over a year and a half. It has all kinds of scribbled notes, lists of Irish names, tons of maps of which clans ruled where in which era.

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It even has a page detailing the sexual habits of badgers. They are horny little critters and apparently quite loud while doing it. They love sex almost as much as they love digging! And female badgers can hold their embryos in a kind of suspended animation so that they implant in the uterus when conditions are favorable for the cubs to survive. They really are fascinating. As we all know. Broc and Cuán were two of my favorite characters in this trilogy.

Folder 2

Anyone who writes historical fiction can tell you how much research goes into tracking down authentic details. You really have to get it right, because someone out there knows more about everything than you do, and if you mess with the details, they will let you know about it (hopefully kindly).

Not everyone enjoys doing research, but I do. I’ve learned so much in the historical novels I’ve written. Only a tiny bit of the research actually makes it into the stories, but hopefully, the knowledge base that is there comes through in a feeling of authenticity when you read the books.

The magic comes when  readers say they felt transported into the world you created. When that happens, it all comes together.

Soon, you’ll be able to delve into The Standing Stones, the third book in The Dragonmage Saga! I’ll reveal a cover and blurb soon.