Introducing the Winged Lady

Or how I won Aristotle’s approval for my novel in progress.

I am working once again on the Glimnodd Cycle, epic sword and sorcery set in a unique magical world.

Presently, I am in the thick of writing the first draft for Book 3, tentatively titled Tournament of Witches. And I don’t mind telling you I’ve had some trouble getting this one rolling. I have a pretty detailed outline, composed some time back, for the second and third parts of the book. The opening was the problem. I needed to collect my crew of characters (six warriors, a witch, and a wandering scholar) where I left them at the end of Book 2 (A Mirror Against All Mishap) and get them going on their next adventure.

Five of the crew are living in a remote colony in the south polar region of Glimnodd. Hiding out, because they now possess the Cloak of the Two Winds, an important magical treasure that , inevitably, powers from all over the world are looking to claim. Meantime, two of the warriors have returned to their former lives as hunters. The other warrior, Eben, has been living in the port city of the polar colony, squandering his loot on drink and dissolute living.

Since Eben is the protagonist of Book 3, I knew I needed to open with him and his sorry circumstances. I imagined him waking up in an alley, hung over and having been robbed. Poor Eben.

One of plot elements that intrigued me most didn’t appear until part 3 in the outline—people with bee wings. By that point, our heroes have arrived in distant Larthang and returned the Cloak to its rightful owners. Now they are embroiled in political and magical intrigue, part of which involves the drell. The drell are insect-winged people from a neighboring land. One of them, a lady, is kidnapped as part of the plot.

Autumn Fairy by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
An image close to my idea of a drell. Autumn Faery, by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. source https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296533956689319731/

So how could I tie all this together and get my characters and story moving.? After worrying over this for some time, a solution came to me. The drell lady from part 3 is an agent for one of the factions searching for the Cloak. She appears in the opening scene with Eben. As I wrote on a social media post:

“Sometimes it’s takes a while to realize that the bee-winged lady from Part 3 is the same as the witch’s agent who discovers the hero drunk in the alley in Chapter 1.”

Shortly after figuring this out, I took it a step further and made the villain from part 3 one of the other parties searching for the Cloak in Part 1. These revelations not only introduce important new characters right at the start, they tie together the dramatic events from part 3 with the book’s opening. The whole plot is now much better unified. And didn’t Aristotle cite unity as a crucial element of drama in The Poetics?

My new book is now okay with Aristotle. What a relief!

Here, in draft form, is the opening scene for the new novel…

Cold wind tickled his forehead and eyelids. Eben blinked, painfully coming awake. Squinting into the gray dawn, he recognized the worn brick wall of an alley, smeared with frost. Rime and icy winds were normal enough in Fleevanport at the end of Third Winter. Waking from a drunken sleep in an alley was also, regrettably, typical for him these days.

Not typical was the sparkling woman floating over him in the air, her vibrating bee-wings blowing cold air on his face.

Eben shut his eyes and rubbed the back of his head. At least the drunken dreams were growing more interesting. Groaning, he reached inside his fur overshirt, fingers groping for his purse.

Gone. Robbed again, no doubt by some doxy he had stupidly followed from a tavern. How often had he fallen for that ploy these past two seasons—roaming the waterfront, drinking far too much, squandering his hard-won loot? At least this time the thief had left his fur cape and hunting knife.

Persistent humming made him open his eyes. Startled, he sat up then squinted hard.

The gleaming lady still hung in the air, her wings a blur. She had the body of a slim woman, dressed in gauzy garments that could have offered little protection from the cold. Black hair, banded by a gemmed silver crown, a slim and angular face, coppery complexion, eyes that turned up at the corners—eyes like black onyx bead, watching him.

Vision or real, Eben thought her the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.

She floated down, dainty belled slippers settling on the cobblestone. Bending to peer at his face, she spoke in halting Low-Tathian.

“You are … all right?”

Stiff and aching, Eben struggled to his feet. He was small for an Iruk warrior. Even so, the top of the lady’s head just reached the level of his chin. He examined her wings, still now, blue-veined, silvery, rounded like bee-wings, sprouting from her back.

“Oh, I am all right,” he said. “And how are you?”

She smiled, revealing white pointy teeth.

“And what are you?” he added.

The wings fluttered and she rose into the air, stopping when her eyes were level with his.

“I am named Trippany. And you are an Iruk?”

“That is so, my pretty flying girl. But from what nation do you hail? For, assuming you are real and not an illusion, I have never seen the like of you.”

Her tone grew solemn and proud, the words coming like a speech she had rehearsed. “I am an envoy from the House of the Deepmind in Larthang.”

That might make sense. Larthang was far away and strange, known to be a land of great mages. Who could say they had not bred such creatures as this by their magic?

“That is odd,” he said. “You do not look Larthangan.”

Her mouth quirked in a half-smile. “My people are the drell. You know … how Larthangans look then?”

Suddenly, Eben realized this was leading into dangerous territory. He rubbed the back of his head. “Well, of course. Their trading ships sometimes sail these waters.”

The lady seemed to sense his secretiveness—and was having none of it. “I seek the Cloak of the Two Winds,” she stated flatly. “Do you know where it can be found?”

Eben tilted back. He forced himself to show a puzzled frown. “Why no …  How should I know such a thing?”

Of course, he did know. The Cloak was in the possession of the witch Amlina. She, along with three of Eben’s former mates, lived in hiding at a farmstead in the hills half a day’s journey from here.

The lady floated a bit higher, glaring down at him now. He hoped she could not read his thoughts

“I’ve head tales of it,” Eben muttered casually. “A great thing of magic, is it not? Stories have reached this port that it was stolen some time back, taken from some great witch of Tallyba who has slain in the battle.”

“Those same tales reached Larthang,” the bee-lady said. “Some of them say the Cloak was stolen by  a witch of Larthang, in league with warriors of the Iruk folk. Others say that same witch used the Cloak to scatter a Tathian fleet … at an  island called Alone.”

Eben shrugged, wondering if he should reach for his knife. He would hate to kill this lovely creature, but he was sworn not to reveal Amlina’s hideout. “You seem to know more about it than I do.”

“I am not so sure.” the lady peered hard into his eyes. “You are Iruk. And you were heard in a tavern last night, boasting that you had seen an entire Tathian fleet blown away by magic.”

Casually as he could, Eben slipped his hand toward the knife handle. “I don’t remember saying that. To be honest, I’ve been told I am a terrible liar when I’ve had too much to drink.”

She eyed his hand on the knife hilt. “I see. Perhaps also you lie at other times?” She flew higher, floating out of reach. “So then, you cannot help me find the Cloak?”

“I fear not.”

“You … disappoint me. But I shall keep looking.”

The angle of her wings changed, and she looped away, higher into the air. Light flashed, and Eben thrust up an arm to shield his eyes. When he looked again, the lady was gone.

Eben wiped his forehead and heaved a deep breath. He glanced suspiciously up and down the alley.

Had the winged lady been real? Certainly the conversation was too prolonged for a simple drunken dream. But perhaps she was a vision, sent by some sorcerer or witch to interrogate him? Amlina had said that many mages would seek the Cloak of the Two Winds, once it became known that it was loose in the world.

Eben vowed to be careful … and avoid so much drinking.

excerpt © 2019 by Jack Massa, All Rights Reserved

You can learn more about the world of Glimnodd here.

Or check out the first two books on Amazon:

Halloween, Ghosts, and the Honored Dead

This month we celebrate Halloween. Many people will dress up in costumes, go to parties, eat candy. Many also will celebrate the dark, mysterious, and otherwordly.

But what’s it all for? Why do we even have Halloween?

House decorated for Halloween
Photo by Jack Massa
Pagan Roots and Christian Makeover

As you may know, the origins of Halloween trace back to an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain.  Celebrated around November 1st, Samhain marked the completion of the harvest and the end of summer. It was also considered the boundary between the light half of the year and the dark, when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thin. Because of this, it was a time for propitiating spirits and honoring the dead.

Newgrange Neolithic Site in Ireland
Newgrange Neolithic Site in Ireland. source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange#/media/File:Newgrange,_Meath.jpg

In Christian times, the pagan festival of Samhain evolved into our Halloween. October 31st became All Hallows Eve, also known as “All Souls Day,” and November 1st, All Hallows Day or All Saints’ Day. These days were dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween

The Honored Dead

In modern Wiccan traditions, Samhain is often considered the most sacred holiday. in the wheel of the year. It is a time both to mark the turning of the year and to honor our ancestors.

Many believe that our ancestors bequeathed to us more than the DNA residing in our physical bodies. There is a growing body of scientific belief (albeit controversial) that emotions and experiences can be passed down to us from our forebears. For an introduction to this topic, see this Wikipedia article on transgenerational trauma.

In any case, we can say with certainty that we are here because of the lives our ancestors lived. And, to some degree at least, their lives shaped us. If, like me, you are of a poetic turn of mind, you might even say that the spirits of our ancestors dwell in the depths of our psyches, and that they may continue to influence us in ways we are hardly aware of.

Halloween Fountain
Photo by Jack Massa

So in your celebrations this month, you might want to remember your honored dead, and contemplate how their legacies have resulted in who you are now, and how they might be influencing you still.

Abby Renshaw Meets her Dad

As a fictional illustration, here is a scene from Ghosts of Bliss Bayou. Late in the story, Abby Renshaw is undergoing a series of rituals to gain magical power. To make room for the infusions of energy, these rites require her to release her complexes and fears, which are obstacles to growth.

Here, in a psychic vision, Abby encounters the ghost of her father, who self-destructed and died when Abby was a young child.

After a while, I don’t know how long, I’m back in front of the gray fountain, leaning on my hands and knees. I stand up. Annie is gone, replaced by…

I suck in my breath. I can’t believe it.

“Dad…Daddy!”

The luminous gray ghost of my father stands before me—wide shouldered, curly haired, and with a worn, sad face.

“Hello, baby.”

I want to hug him, but I’m afraid he’ll vanish into nothing. Like when he died.

“Dad. I’ve missed you so much.” I’m on the verge of sobbing, and so is he.

“I know, Abby. I’m so sorry. I screwed up.”

“Why did you leave us?”

“Because I was weak. I couldn’t face living. Living is hard…but it’s even harder to be dead and have so much regret.”

I stare at him, trying not to cry.

“I know I can’t make it up to you,” he says. “But I want to give you what little help I can. It’s only this: don’t run away, like I did. Once you start running away, it gets harder and harder not to run. Pretty soon, running away becomes who you are.”

As I listen to this, I realize how desperately I’ve wanted to run away these past two days, ever since Grandma fell. I didn’t let myself think about it much, but now I do. I could call Mom tomorrow, get her to book me a flight. Leave all the terror behind. It might work…or I might go completely insane.

But there’s another way out. I could just give up, let Raspis have his way, drown myself in Bliss Bayou. The temptation is surprisingly strong—pain for a few minutes, then peace forever. Living is hard.

But it’s even harder to be dead and have so much regret.

“I understand, Dad.”

“One other thing,” he says. “Be kind to your mother. She’s a good, strong person, much better than I was. You’re sensitive like me, but you have her strength. You must thank her for that and not resent what she is.”

He’s right again. I have resented Mom for being so tough and driven, for caring more about her career than me, for leaving my senior year to go to England. I need to let that go.

“Abby,” Dad says. “I love you. It would mean so much if you could forgive me.”

I see a tear sliding down his cheek. “Yes, Daddy, I forgive you. I love you too.”

The ghost of my father steps close and wraps his arms around me. He does not feel like a ghost at all, but a solid, living man—the one I’ve loved and missed for so long.

I clutch him, shaking, until I lose all track of time, of who and where I am.

When awareness comes back, I’m lying on the floor in my bedroom. The candle and incense have gone out. My face is wet from crying.

In Abby’s case, meeting the ghost of her father helps her face her fears in preparation for the trials to come. And forgiving her father unblocks psychic energy to free her inner power.

Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, and may all your ghostly encounters be good ones.

You can find Ghosts of Bliss Bayou on Amazon hereOr check out Abby’s latest adventure, Ghosts of Lock Tower.

A Visit to the Real Lock Tower – Part 2

In last month’s post,  we looked at the history and exterior of Bok Tower in central Florida, which was the inspiration for Lock Tower in Abby Renshaw’s latest adventure. This month, we’ll open the famous sculpted brass door and step inside.

Tower Bronze Door
Photo by Jack Massa

Note: The inside of Bok Tower is generally closed to the public. In this post, we’ve relied on published descriptions, videos, and photos, and provided appropriate credits.

The Founder’s Room

On the ground floor is the Founder’s Room: vaulted ceiling, marble carvings, colored tiles, iron staircase. Abby’s description of the inside of Lock Tower is based in part on these images:

“… this building is light and full of energy—like a living spirit…It looks like a fantastical palace or some elaborate hotel in a steampunk story”

Founders Room
source: https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/florida-inside-beautiful-bok-tower/bok-inside-looking-out-15feb13/

 

Founders Room Stair
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s

 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s
The Many Levels

This page on the official Bok Tower web site describes the levels of the tower interior.

Tower Diagram
Source: https://boktowergardens.org/?da_image=35483

The two levels upstairs from the Founders Room are used for mechanical and workshops. On the fourth level is the Carillon Library. The library contains many of Edward Bok’s writings and also the largest collection of carillon documentation and music in the world.

Carillon Library
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s
The Carillon and Bells

Above the Library level is the carillon studio, including a practice instrument for rehearsals. From there, the carillonneur climbs a spiral stair to the actual cabinet for playing the bells.

Bells in Bok Tower
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-YFQgC66f4

This video provides a tour of the carillon and let’s you hear some of its music:

The Rooftop

At the climax of Ghosts of Lock Tower, Abby climbs to the parapet for a final confrontation with her evil opponents:

“My footsteps ring and echo on the metal—the black stairs and catwalks that rise into the belfry. The bells of the carillon hang from beams at many levels, some of the bells smaller than me, others enormous. …. The roof is open space except for the fan and the struts that support it, and the parapet, a walkway twelve-feet wide along the edges.”

Top of the tower with Herons
Source: https://www.everydaybythelake.com/touring-bok-tower-gardens/
Tower from Above
Source: the Youtube Video below.

View from the air

This video from 2016 shows a drone flyover of Bok Tower with splendid views of the surrounding landscape:

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this look inside the wonderful Bok Tower. Along with its surrounding gardens, the “Singing Tower” is one of the most unique and fascinating destinations in Florida. If you visit our state, and can tear yourself away from the theme parks and beaches for a few hours, it is well worth the trip.

Ghosts of Lock Tower officially launches October 1. But you can
pre-order the e-book, or buy the paperback, now.

 

A Visit to the Real Lock Tower – Part 1

At last, at last, the third Abby Renshaw Adventure, Ghosts of Lock Tower, is about to be published. The book will be posted for pre-order on Amazon by the middle of August. (Watch the Triskelion Books home page for the announcement.)

In celebration, this month’s post takes you on a visit to the real tower in Florida that was the inspiration for Lock Tower. IRL, it is called Bok Tower. (Names in the novel have been changed for the purpose of making stuff up.)

The Tower and Gardens Today

Bok Tower is located on a tall hill amid beautiful gardens in Lake Wales, Florida.

Bok Tower
Bok Tower, photo by Jack Massa

Abby’s description of Lock Tower in Chapter 1 of the novel mostly applies to Bok Tower as well:

Lock Tower might be the weirdest place in Florida.

I know that’s saying a lot.

But picture this: a pink marble bell tower, 23 stories high, set inside a moat full of goldfish. The tower stands on a hill in the middle of the state, surrounded by acres of flowery grounds with ponds, trails, and a visitor center. They say Emanuel Lock had tons of black soil trucked to the top of this sandy hill so they could plant the gardens. These days the place gets its share of tourists—those willing to drive the back roads to discover “old Florida.”

Moat at Lock Tower
Tower moat with giant koi
Edward Bok and the Gardens

As described on the official Bok Tower Gardens website , the tower and gardens were built in the 1920s by Edward W. Bok.

Mr. Bok, an immigrant to the US from the Netherlands, became a successful magazine publisher and Pulitzer Prize winning author. He wintered in central Florida and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and the vistas offered by Iron Mountain, a hill located near the exact center of the state.

View from Near Lock Tower
View from Bok Tower Gardens

After purchasing the hilltop land, Bok hired famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to lay out the gardens.

Garden Path

Garden Trees
The Master Builders

The tower itself was designed by architect Milton B. Medary, with artwork commissioned from expert sculptors, metalworkers, and tilemakers.

Here are a few images of their work.

Heron Relief

 

Tower Clock

Tower Bronze Door

Bok presented the tower and gardens as a gift to the American people on Feb. 1, 1929.

The Bells

The main feature of the tower is the carillon—a musical instrument consisting of 60 bells and the mechanism to play them. The carillon at Bok Tower is among the largest in North America .

For a taste of carillon music, listen here:

Visiting Bok Tower

As Abby mentions, you can visit Bok Tower Gardens today. Head south from Orlando and get on Route 27. It’s about a 90-minute drive.

Gardens Entrance

While in Lake Wales, you can also visit Spook Hill. (But that is another story.)

But what about the Inside?

In general, the interior of the tower is closed to the public. But, to be honest, gaining access is not quite as rare and difficult as it is for Abby to get inside Lock Tower in the novel.

While visiting Bok Tower a few years back, I was standing beside the moat and thinking about how cool it would be to tour the inside. In that moment, I saw two teenage girls walk across the footbridge as if they owned the place, open the tower door, and walk in.

And that was the inspiration for the opening scene of  Ghosts of Lock Tower.

Next Time

In the next post, we’ll look at the interior of Bok Tower, including some fabulous artwork and the spectacular view from the top. We’ll also hear more carillon music.

Adventures in Audiobooks

I am happy to announce that Ghosts of Bliss Bayou is being produced as an audiobook!

Ghosts of Bliss Bayou cover

The ACX Platform

For indie authors, audiobooks represent another avenue for distributing your titles and gaining a wider audience. The ACX Platform makes it about as easy and inexpensive as can be. Using ACX, you can partner with professional voice actors to produce your work and distribute it via Amazon, Audible, and other marketplaces.

How it Works

This is how the process works for an indie author.

  1. You verify that you own the audio rights to your title.
  2. Create a profile highlighting your project. This describes your book and the kind of narrator-voice you are looking for. Also the kind of promotion and marketing you plan to do.
  3. Find voice talent. Here the voice actors are called “Producers.” ACX makes it easy to search for and invite producers to audition for your title. I received four different auditions from some really excellent actors. (You also have the option to narrate the book yourself. But unless you have a great voice and expertise in sound engineering, I wouldn’t recommend it.)
  4. Make a deal. You can pay the producer by completed hour of audio or on a royalty share basis. In royalty share, you have no out-of-pocket cost, you simply split the royalties earned by the audiobook. There is also a combined option, Royalty-Share Plus, where you pay a guaranteed amount per hour to the producer. This is the route I chose.
  5. Review the Audio. You submit your manuscript to the producer, along with a 15-minute segment, called a checkpoint. You review the checkpoint recording first and provide feedback. From there, you work with the producer in reviewing and finalizing the recording.
  6. Distribute and Promote. ACX distributes the finished title through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Depending on the kind of contract you chose, you may have the option to distribute through other channels. ACX also provides guidance on how best to promote your audiobook.

For more details on these steps, consult the ACX web site.

Our characters find their voices

As of today, I have selected a very talented actor and provided her with the complete script of Ghosts of Bliss Bayou. I marked off several sections in the text to serve as the 15-minute checkpoint.

I also provided these coaching tips on reading the dialog for the different characters.

  • Abby – (the narrator). She is intelligent, introverted, sometimes very scared, but also determined and brave. Appreciates irony.
  • Shadow Man – An evil entity. Creepy and hissy voice.
  • Abby’s Mom – Strong woman in her late 30s. Loves Abby and worries about her, but is focused on her career. High-achiever, workaholic.
  • Grandma (Kathryn). She is in her sixties, but robust and energetic. An old hippie. Runs an antique shop. Loves Abby exceedingly.
  • Timothy (one scene only, in Chapter 2.) Middle-aged shuttle driver from Belarus who quotes Shakespeare. His accent is described in the text, but don’t sweat it.
  • Ray-Ray. (Molly’s brother). Eighteen, son of the small town police chief and working as a police intern. Plans to become a detective. Serious, low-key personality.
  • Molly – Smart, curious, extroverted, obsessive about finding things out.
  • Violet – Energetic woman in her seventies. Leader of the occult circle, very knowledgeable but a little scattered/distracted
  • Kevin – Studious black man in his sixties. Retired anthropology professor.
  • Franklin (Abby’s friend from New Jersey) – Sixteen year old, ironic, flamboyant gay guy.
  • Fiona Alden-Gathers – In her late thirties, realtor and leader of the fight to save Harmony Springs. Polished, determined. Might have a slight Southern accent.
  • Ghost of Margaret Alden (Maisie) – Voice of a strong elderly woman. Formal (grew up in the early 1900s).
  • Ghost of Annie Renshaw – A young woman (contemporary of Maisie, but died young). Earnest, noble, compassionate.

What’s Next?

Now I am waiting for my producer to starting sending the audio files for review. I hope to have the production released by September, around the same time as the publication of the next Abby Renshaw adventure, Ghosts of Lock Tower.

Meantime, you can check out the award winning Ghosts of Bliss Bayou e-book version, currently on sale for just 99¢.

A Visit to Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, the first book of the Abby Renshaw adventures, Abby is a high school student troubled by nightmares and scary hallucinations.

Trying to figure out the source of these apparitions, Abby visits her grandmother in the small town of Harmony Springs, Florida. There, Abby discovers a history of occult happenings and learns that the town was founded in the late 1800s by spiritualists, including one of her ancestors.

The idea of a small town in rural Florida founded by 19th Century spiritualists came to me after reading about Cassadaga which is—you guessed it—a small town in rural Florida founded by 19th Century spiritualists.

Cassadaga Today

Cassadaga is still a spiritualist center, and visitors are welcome. I toured the place with my wife a year ago, and we had a wonderful time.

The entrance to the camp is located on County Road 4139 not far from DeLand, Florida (in between Orlando and Jacksonville).

Entrance to the Camp
Entrance to the camp. Source: GoogleMaps.

The hotel and visitor center stand on one side of the street. On the other side are shops and psychics offering readings. These are “not affiliated with the spiritualist camp.” Everyone wants to be clear about this.

The Cassadaga Hotel  dates to the 1920s. In addition to hotel rooms, they offer psychic readings and healing sessions. The restaurant is called, oddly enough,“Sinatra’s.” The food on our visit was excellent and the atmosphere was atmospheric.

Sinatra's
Dining room of the Casadaga Hotel.
Lecture

The visitor center has a bookstore and a meeting hall. Here you can attend classes and schedule sessions with mediums and healers. We signed up for a introductory lecture and walking tour.

The lecture was given by a young woman who identified herself as “a first level student of the camp.” She used a slide show and talked for twenty minutes about the history of spiritualism in the 19th Century. She touched on Andrew Jackson Davis, the Fox Sisters,  and George Colby, the man responsible for founding Cassadaga. You can read about Colby and the founding of the camp on their official website, here.

Our lecturer also described the philosophy and belief system of spiritualism as it is still practiced in Cassadaga. She said there was an active portal right in the corner of the lecture hall where a boy and girl spirit came through. She had not met the girl but had met the boy many times.

Walking Tour

Following the lecture, our guide led us outside. As we walked down the road, she talked about the hotel and the different houses and their history.

House in Cassadaga
Houses in Cassadaga

This tree outside one of the houses was carved in memory of a child of one of the original families.

Tree Carving
Tree carved with angel and child

Seances, we learned, were often held in attics. There were special windows built into the houses to allow the spirits to come and go.

Spirit Window
Spirit Window in attic

The tour ended at the temple, which our guide unlocked for us. It is a large auditorium with a stage and interesting pictures along the walls. They hold services here every Sunday.

temple interior
Interior of the Spiritualist Temple
The Fairy Garden

The tour guide also pointed out the Fairy Garden, which had an entrance up the hill and borders a forest. Following the tour, my wife and I walked up there. The energy was somewhat spooky. People had left all sorts of statues, chairs, and shiny baubles.

Fairy Garden
Offerings in the Fairy Garden

We walked in a ways and then felt we should not go farther.

Edge of the Fairy Garden
As far as we went.
Conclusion

If you enjoy off-the-beaten track destinations, and are looking for a little adventure, I can definitely recommend a visit to Cassadaga, Florida.

You can learn more about the Abby Renshaw adventures here.

All the Sorrows of the World

Content Warning: Magical Philosophy

I’m very happy to report that I am finally nearing the completion of the third of the Abby Renshaw Adventures, which will be titled Ghosts of Lock Tower. This book’s been over a year in the making and was originally planned as a novella. It took on a life of its own, as stories often do.

Bok Tower, a real building in central Florida on which the fictional Lock Tower is based.

This month’s post is inspired by a phrase that appears in the novel. Midway through the story, something terrible happens. Abby, our protagonist, is devastated by horror and grief. She is also racked by guilt. She had a premonition something bad was going to happen, and feels she should have found a way to prevent it, or at least to warn someone.

Kevin, one of her mentors and an initiate of the same magical order as Abby, tells her this:

“You had a vision, Abby. But you didn’t have enough information to act on it. Or the power to stop what happened. I understand how you feel. But there’s a lesson in the Circle of Harmony that says ‘you can’t carry all the sorrows of the world.’ A true magician is prone to see many things. Sometimes that can include terrible evil. You cannot let yourself be crushed by it—not if you want to keep any hope of doing good.”

 

When I wrote that speech, the phrase carry all the sorrows of the world strongly resonated with me. I was dimly aware that it’s source was something I had read years ago, in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn.

As you may know, the Golden Dawn was a magical society of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Its members included prominent occultists A.E. Waite, Dion Fortune, and Paul Foster Case, as well as artists, authors, and poets, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and W.B. Yeats. (See this article on Wikipedia for more.)  The Circle of Harmony, the secret magical society in the Abby Renshaw stories, is loosely based on the Golden Dawn.

As revealed by Regardie’s book, initiates in the Golden Dawn advanced through a series of grades. Each advancement was marked by a ritual, in which the candidate was given new knowledge. The system of grades and the paths of advancement had correspondences both to the Qabala and the Tarot.

In some rituals, paths would be shown to the candidate but were not yet “open”—until the candidate had attained a higher grade. This was the case with the particular ritual I remembered. The path in question is named for the Hebrew Letter Mem, and corresponds to the Tarot Card, The Hanged Man. It is a path of sacrifice.

Image of the Hanged Man; By Pamela Coleman Smith – a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley (http://home.comcast.net/~vilex/) for the public domain, and retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot (see note on that page regarding source of images)., PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17299698

In this ritual, the candidate is told:

“The Portal of Mem is barred. Yet it is well to be willing for the Sacrifice itself, is as yet, not fully prepared. For in the Path of Mem rules the Hanged Man, the power of the Great Waters. Can your tears prevail against the Tide of the Sea, your might against the waves of the storm, your love against the sorrows of all the world?”

From The Golden Dawn, as revealed by Israel Regardie, Llewellyn Publications, 1990,  page 212).

 

Surely, in the way of poetry, there are many meanings we could unwrap here. To me, an important one is this: No matter how awful the evil we witness in the world (and these days, if your eyes are open at all, you’re witnessing plenty), we must not let it destroy us.

As Kevin tells Abby, we are not required to carry all the sorrows of the world. We are only required to do the good that we can.

I think this quote from the Talmud gives the same message:

Internet meme, source: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3b/ce/44/3bce445d6f971d4ff592b27cea1f32c0.jpg

At least, that’s how I see it.

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Ghosts of Lock Tower is scheduled for publication Summer of 2019

Meantime, you can check out the first two Abby Renshaw adventures here.

 

World-Building for Fantasy – Three Tips

Creating worlds for fantasy and science fiction is a topic beloved by many. And, of course, there is plenty of excellent advice available online. Two of my favorites are Brandon Sanderson’s “Rules for Magic”  and this series by the excellent Brenda Clough.   There are even dedicated tools you can use, such as the highly-regarded World Anvil.

But imagining an entire world is no easy task. For all the great resources available, writers often struggle. In this post, drawing on examples from expert authors, I’ll provide three tips for setting up a fantasy world that is both imaginative and unique.

1. Story Before World

World-building can be great fun. It can also be a rabbit hole. Many people spend endless hours defining every nook and nuance of their world—history, climate, geography, sentient races, religions, magic, technology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But if you want to write fantasy stories, you need to put the story first. Put your focus on the primary elements of story.   Who are your characters? What are their goals? What are the obstacles to those goals? How will they seek to overcome those obstacles? Let all your world building efforts be driven by those questions.

Take for example The Queen’s Poisoner by popular author Jeff Wheeler. The story takes place in a pretty standard medieval-style world (with a few unique and intriguing elements). But the focus is first and foremost on the characters—as we follow our young hero Owen through the tribulations of being held hostage in the castle of a tyrant king. The history, politics, and other background information are revealed gradually and always in terms of how they relate to the dramatic story.

Or consider the massive and massively popular The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss constructs a complex and richly-detailed fantasy world. But again, the setting is only gradually revealed in the midst of dramatic action. In this case, we are presented with multiple narratives—the first, a framing device that introduces the hero, then multiple sequential stories as the protagonist relates his history to the “Chronicler.” This is also a truly epic example of story construction.

2. Make It Distinct

For all the efforts spend on world-building, many writers fall into the trap of imitation. All too often readers find themselves in worlds that seem like copies of Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons: orcs, witches, werewolves, elves, dragons, shapeshifters, vampires…

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But the best fantasy worlds have something that makes them unique and special.

In The Name of the Wind, we find (among other things) a complex set of “arcanist arts” (including Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming) which function according to precise scientific laws.

Or take NK Jemison’s award-winning The Broken Earth Trilogy. In Book 1, The Fifth Season, we meet the orogenes, a unique kind of humans with the power to sense and tap the tectonic forces of the Earth. These books might best be called science-fantasy, since the orogenes’ powers are linked to a biological explanation. But the author’s depictions of how these powers feel and are experienced are nonetheless fantastic.

In world-building for my own novel, Cloak of the Two Winds, I tried to imagine one thing to make the setting unique. The world, Glimnodd, is a place where arcane arts have been practiced for ages. Part of the legacy of all this witchery is that magic winds blow over the seas, changing water to ice or ice to water. Yes, I came up with that on my own!

3. Make it Relevant

Fantasy is escapist literature, and I’m all for it. But unless a story is relevant to readers, they won’t care about it. And for a fantasy story to be relevant, the experience of the world and the characters must be relatable.

In other words: What about the current state of our world does this fantasy world portray?

I learned this lesson when a friend read an early draft of Cloak of the Two Winds. The freezewind and meltwind in the story were created in ancient times as a kind of pressure-release. So much magic and sorcery were practiced that their cumulative effects had plunged the world into chaos. To keep the world in balance, the two winds now bleed off excess magic energy.

In the story, the Cloak of the title can control these magic winds. But it has been stolen and is being misused by a mad sorcerer intent on bringing the world back to chaos.

What about all that is relatable to our world? I didn’t realize it myself until a friend referred to the story as involving a “climate emergency.” In our world, overpopulation and technology are threatening us with chaos. Perhaps technology, wisely applied, will help us restore the balance.

As another example, consider Jemison’s The Fifth Season. The treatment of the orogenes by the dominant humans is relentlessly horrible—and depicts how oppressed people are and have been treated throughout history. The depiction is powerful and brutal. Jemison herself discusses this in a thread on her Twitter feed.

Best of All Possible Worlds

So, if fantasy writing is your thing, consider these three tips to make your world-building and your story as great as they can be.

  1. Put the Story before the World
  2. Make the World Distinct
  3. Make the World Relevant

Let me know what you think.

Books mentioned in this post:

The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Fifth Season by NK Jemison

The Cloak of the Two Winds by Jack Massa

A Priestess of Aphrodite, Part 2

In last month’s post, we introduced Berenicea, one of the main female characters in The Treasure of the Sun God. She is a prosperous hetaera (courtesan) and also a Priestess of Aphrodite.

As mentioned last time, because of the historical circumstances of the ancient world, I found it challenging to create women characters who are both realistic for their time and relatable for a contemporary audience.

The challenge was brought home to me in the reactions of some of my beta readers to Berenicea. One woman had a hard time understanding the character, and in particular thought the scene between her and Thalia (see last month’s post) added nothing of value to the story. Another reader, a man, found Berenicia “too good to be true” and said that she read too much like “a male fantasy.”

“Aphrodite of Rhodes”. Statue of the Goddess rising from her bath, copy of a work from the Hellenistic period. source https://www.theoi.com/Gallery/S10.16.html

 

Responding to Beta Readers

Of course, every reader is different, and it can be hard for a writer to know when to make changes based on beta feedback. But when more than one reader finds a similar problem with a character or plot point, it tells me I’d better examine the issue.

In this case, at least two readers were not finding my priestess understandable or sympathetic. When this happens, I think the writer needs to take a close look at the character and “imagine harder.”

Re-imagining the Priestess

Who was Berenicia in my mind?

Her type of character was based on historical sources: an accomplished hetaera, a mistress and companion to leading male citizens. But she is also more than that. As a teenager, she heard Korax sing of how he saw the Goddess of Love within her. That moment changed her life, and set her on the path to become a priestess. In her mind, being a priestess means embodying her ideal vision of the goddess she serves.

A theme of the whole Conjurer of Rhodes series is that the immortals can only act in our world through human vessels. Berenicea conceives of herself as a vessel for the Goddess of Love. She strives each day to embody that ideal and express love for everyone.

Aphrodite and Adonis. Attic red-figure squat lekythos, ca. 410 BC. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=530718

 

Rewriting the Scene

With these thoughts in mind, I rewrote the scene where Berenicia speaks with Thalia. Here is the revised scene, with the changes in bold. (You can compare this to the original scene in the previous post.)

Standing on the harbor quay, Berenicia pours a libation and speaks a prayer to Aphrodite. She asks that the goddess bless the men of the Rhodian navy who have just sailed off to war, and asks particular protection for two men she loves, Korax and Patrollos. She is overheard by Thalia, a young noblewoman who is the sister of Patrollos and betrothed to Korax.

At last, she turned to leave. But along with her servants, someone else watched her, a small young woman with golden hair and eyes red from crying.

“That was beautiful,” she murmured. “I am Thalia.”

“I know who you are, my lady.”

“I knew that Patrollos and Korax both love you. But I did not realize how you also love them.”

Berenicea smiled. “You did not think a woman like me capable of such love?”

“No … Please forgive me, I meant no insult.” Thalia started to withdraw.

“Wait.” Berenicea approached her. “I took no offense.”

Thalia peered into the hetaera’s eyes. “May I ask you a question, priestess?”

“Of course.”

“Mistress Thalia! Your parents sent me to find you.” One of the woman servants from the House of Philophron called from a few yards away. “It is time to go home now.”

“Tell them I will be there in a moment,” Thalia said.

“Mistress, you should not be speaking with … that woman.”

“I will come in a moment. Go!”

The servant scowled but turned and bustled off.

“What is your question?” Berenicea asked.

“Why are they both so in love with you? You are very beautiful, of course. But so are many other women. I feel there must be more to it.”

“They are my friends, but they are not in love with me, not in the way you mean. Patrollos responds to the goddess, because she loves him so much, loves his weakness as well as his strength. And Korax—Well, he just needs a place to rest his head.” She ended with a fond smile.

But Thalia frowned in confusion. “I do not understand you.”

Berenicea sighed. “They do not love me, but the goddess within me. I am simply her vessel. She is what most men seek in women. Because, whatever love men bring, she blesses it and makes them feel it is wonderful, and that it is enough.”

“But, then … is there nothing for you?”

“Oh, yes.” Berenicea said. “There is service and sacrifice, but also much joy. Because I feel Aphrodite’s love inside me every day. And she loves the whole world.”

Thalia blinked and shook her head. “I am no priestess, and I could never be so selfless. I fear no one will ever love me the way Korax loves you.”

Berenicea stared at her, as if listening to a whisper. “I suggest you pray to the goddess. Ask her to fill your heart. I feel that … First she must teach you to love yourself. After that, well, you may be surprised.” Smiling kindly, she caressed the girl’s hair with both hands, then bent and kissed her forehead. “I give you her blessing, dear child.”

The priestess straightened, to find Thalia’s eyes shining with fresh tears.

Excerpt from The Treasure of the Sun God (c) 2019 by Jack Massa


Results

I sent the revised scene to the two beta readers mentioned above. Both of them felt it was an improvement, and that it gave them a clearer picture of Berenicia.

What do you think, gentle reader? In the context of an historical novel, can you relate to a priestess who strives to live the ideal of loving the whole world?

Aprhodite with Swan, from Rhodes. Source https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Aphrodite_swan_BM_D2.jpg

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Learn more about the Conjurer of Rhodes books

Find The Treasure of the Sun God on Amazon.

A Priestess of Aphrodite, Part 1

In the Conjurer of Rhodes books, I tried to create characters who are not only well-rounded and interesting to a modern reader, but realistic for the times in which they lived. This is a challenge for every historical novelist.

Women in Antiquity

When writing about the ancient world, it’s especially challenging with women characters. Greece in particular, was notoriously patriarchal. Wives were essentially treated as chattel, and women for the most part were either wives, slaves, or prostitutes. (See Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves – Women in Classical Antiquity by Sarah B. Pomeroy.)

Yet free women did have certain legal rights, and wives had considerable power within the home. Prostitutes (hetaera) might be educated and independent, and could rise to social prominence. It was not uncommon for hetaerae who began their lives as slaves to earn their freedom and become quite wealthy.

Hetaera at a Symposium, source https://www.ancient.eu/article/927/women-in-ancient-greece/


From Slave Girl to Priestess

Berenicia, one of the main women characters, fits into that category. When we first meet her (in flashbacks in Book 1) she is a flute girl, of Celtic heritage, red-haired and lovely. A slave in the house of a well-known courtesan, she has just come of age and become a prostitute.

When our hero Korax sings a hymn to Aphrodite and makes it plain that Berenicea has inspired him, the girl feels the stirring of the goddess within her. She begins to believe she can become more than simply a slave girl, and thereafter asks her mistress to train her as a priestess.

The degree to which sacred prostitution existed in Greece is controversial, although it seems to have been well-established in other ancient cultures. (See “Sex in the Service of Aphrodite, Did Prostitution Really Exist in the Temples of Antiquity?” and also “Ancient Greek Temples of Sex.”)

We also don’t know a lot about the priestesses of Aphrodite and their position in society. However, given the evidence we do have for Greece (especially Corinth) and the fact that during the Hellenistic period— when the Conjurer of Rhodes books are set— there was considerable influence from Eastern cultures, it seems plausible that a young courtesan in Rhodes might also become a priestess of the Goddess of Love.

A few of the books used to research the Conjurer of Rhodes series.

 

Courtesan Meets Future Wife

What would such a woman be like?

When we meet Berenicia again, in The Treasure of the Sun God, she is in her early twenties. Both a priestess and hetaera, she is beautiful, educated, and a patroness of the arts. She owns her own house and entertains a select group of clients. She is the lover of both Korax, who has returned to Rhodes, and his rival, Patrollos.

In a key scene, Korax and Patrollos have just sailed off to war. A crowd has gathered to watch the departure of the fleet. As the citizens disperse, Berenicia stands on the dock, pours a libation, and speaks aloud a prayer to Aphrodite, asking that the goddess may protect both of the men she loves. She is overheard by Thalia, who is the sister of Patrollos and betrothed to Korax.

Here is the beta version of that scene.

At last, she turned to leave. But along with her servants, someone else watched her, a small young woman with golden hair and eyes red from crying.

“That was beautiful,” she murmured. “I am Thalia.”

“I know who you are, my lady.”

“I know that Patrollos and Korax both love you. But I did not realize how you also love them.”

Berenicea smiled. “You did not think a woman like me capable of such love?”

“No … Please forgive me, I meant no insult.” Thalia started to withdraw.

“Wait.” Berenicea approached her. “I took no offense.”

Thalia peered into the hetaera’s eyes. “May I ask you a question, priestess?”

“Of course.”

“Mistress Thalia! Your parents sent me to find you.” One of the woman servants from the House of Philophron called from a few yards away. “It is time to go home now.”

“Tell them I will be there in a moment,” Thalia replied.

“Mistress, you should not be speaking with … that woman.”

“I will come in a moment. Go!”

The woman scowled but turned and bustled off.

“What is your question?” Berenicea asked kindly.

“Why are they both so in love with you? You are very beautiful, it is true, but is that the only reason.”

“They are my friends, but they are not in love with me, not in the way you mean. Patrollos adores Aphrodite through me, because she accepts his weaknesses as well as his strengths. And Korax—Well, he just needs a place to rest his head.”

Thalia frowned in confusion. “I do not understand you.”

Berenicea put a hand on her shoulder. “My dear, men adore me because I give them my adoration. Whatever love they bring, I bless it and make them feel it is wonderful, and that it is enough. That is the secret of Aphrodite; she welcomes all offerings with an open heart.”

Thalia’s face was solemn. “I understand your words. But is it really that simple?”

Berenicea lowered her eyes, amused. “Simple to say, less simple to do. But if every wife practiced this secret, even a little, there would be less work in the world for hetaeras.” She caressed the young woman’s hair. “May the Goddess bless you always, my lady.”

Excerpt from The Treasure of the Sun God (c) 2019 by Jack Massa

 

Readers’ Reactions

When I sent the novel to beta readers, their reaction to Berenicea, and to this scene in particular, convinced me I had a problem. What the readers had to say, and what I did about it, will be the subject of the next blog post.

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Check out the Conjurer of Rhodes series here.