Story Structure in The Everett Exorcism by Lincoln Cole

It’s always a pleasure to discover a new author whose work you admire. I experienced that joy this past week reading The Everett Exorcism by Lincoln Cole.

The book is a skillful blending of thriller, mystery, and horror, involving demonic possession in a small town. An investigator is sent by the Vatican, and we follow him as he meets the local parish priest, bishop, and townspeople. We also encounter a “hunter” from a shadowy world-wide organization that troubleshoots supernatural threats, sometimes working with the Vatican and sometimes not.

Here is how I summarized the book in my review on Amazon:

Plenty of action and suspense; unusual and well-drawn characters who grow and change; and a beautifully structured story. I especially enjoyed the use of two protagonists and how the author skillfully mixed their story-lines, showing certain key scenes from both of their points-of-view to add layers of drama.

From a craft-of-fiction point of view, I really liked that last bit. The book starts with an action scene featuring the Vatican investigator menaced by a demon. We then flash back several days to show how he got here. We replay the opening scene and then the Hunter shows up and rescues the Investigator. We then flash back and tell the story of how the Hunter got here. This takes us to about the 2/3 point of the story. The rest of the book skillfully alternates the points of view of the Investigator and Hunter as they work together against the supernatural evil.

All of this worked beautifully for me as a reader, adding plenty of interest, character insight, surprises and drama.

There are many, many ways to tell a good story. It’s always fun to discover a new one.

You can learn more about The Everett Exorcism and Lincoln Cole’s work here.

The Day of Thoth

While researching an upcoming historical fantasy series (working title, A Conjurer of Rhodes), I read a lot to refresh and deepen my knowledge of the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt.

One of my favorite deities has always been the Egyptian Thoth, equated by the Greeks with Hermes. Thoth is the god of writing and magic, indeed of all the mental arts.

Thoth’s Egyptian name was Djehuty (or dhwty) meaning “He Who is Like the Ibis”  (1)  He is usually depicted in the form of a man with an Ibis head.

Source: https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/thot/esp_thot_9.htm

According to some sources ( 2 and 3) August 29 is the first day of the month of Thoth. This time was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, on which the Egyptians depended to make the land fertile.

Someone once pointed out to me that on our modern calendar August 29 is directly opposite in the wheel of the year to February 29, a day which only occurs every four years. This is an odd coincidence given another myth about Thoth. In this story, he established the 365-day solar calendar.

According to the myth, the year was originally only 360 days long, and Nut (the goddess of the sky) was sterile and unable to bear children. Thoth gambled with the Moon for 1/72nd of its light and won five days to add to the year (360/72 = 5).  During these five days, Nut gave birth to the next generation of gods.

Depiction of the Goddess Nut holding up the sky. Source : http://www.experience-ancient-egypt.com/egyptian-religion-mythology/ancient-egyptian-mythology/egyptian-creation-myth

Egyptian mythology has several creation myths. This seems to relate to the fact that the priesthoods in different major cities proclaimed their god as the creator. In Hermopolis, Thoth was the chief deity and the story was that he created the world by uttering a single word. Some sources say this was a primal vibration, others that it was a song.  Still others claim it was the name of the primordial water goddess, Nun.

In other stories, Thoth is credited with helping steer the boat of Ra, the sun god, with helping Isis in her quest to resurrect her husband Osiris, and with assisting Horus in his battle with the evil god Set.

Thoth is also featured in the scroll known as The Papyrus of Ani, (aka, The Egyptian Book of the Dead). In the scene where the soul of the deceased is weighed by Anubis, Thoth writes down the result.

Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/4362462/

Taking all of this into account, I wrote a little ditty in appreciation of Thoth. A hip hop meter seemed appropriate.

Hip Hop Thoth

At Hermopolis town, on the Nile
They’d say Thoth made the world (with a smile)
Spoke one word with his Ibis tongue
And the world spilled out all fresh and young.

Many tough ages have come and gone,
But Thoth still sings his ibis song.
Hanging in the swamp, dressed like a bird:
At night he whispers the magic word.

Older than the Moon and older than the Sun,
He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”

When Ra sails the sky, Thoth steers his boat;
When Horus fights Set, Thoth holds his coat;
When you die Anubis may weigh your soul,
But it’s Thoth who writes it all down on his scroll.

Now Thoth played dice with the Moon and he won,
And Thoth taught Isis how to con the Sun,
And when this world at last spills to its end,
Thoth might just say “Nun” again.

Older than the Moon and older than the Sun,
He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”

 

Review of Zorro by Isabel Allende

I have loved Zorro since I was four years old (so, eh, for 60 years). I have enjoyed his many incarnations, from the original 1919 Johnston McCulley story, through many many film, TV, and comics incarnations, and straight up to this unlikely literary, somewhat magical realist, and (dare I say?) feminist novel.

Source: http://www.sffaudio.com/libivox-the-curse-of-capistrano-by-johnston-mcculley/

The writing is impeccable. Allende IS a grand master, and her Spanish prose is beautifully rendered into English by translator Margaret Sayers Peden. I did not mind at all the long paragraphs and focus on narrative rather than action scenes (which many readers seem to have disliked). Although, I must admit at times this style made for a slower reading experience.

The story comes up with many surprises, including Diego’s half-Native American family tree, his early shamanistic experiences, on to his adventures crossing to Spain, and the political intrigue there involving Gypsies, a secret society, and his involvement with an unfortunate noble family.

The narrative persona is especially intriguing. And, without giving away any spoilers, I can say that it wraps up the whole novel beautifully, even while the character of Zorro himself remains ultimately mysterious (as he always should!)

A quirky but worthy addition to the Zorro canon.

Cover of Allende’s novel. Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24796.Zorro

 

 

Remembering My Brother Robert

I learned that yesterday was Siblings Day and that made me think of Robert. Robert was my younger brother, third child and second boy among four siblings. We grew up in suburban New Jersey, in the orbit of New York City, in the 1960s. When we were kids we played board games together, drank too much soda, and stayed up way too late in the Summer watching old movies on a black and white TV.

All four of us kids were smart in school, but Robert was scary intelligent. He was top of his class for four years in High School, then went on to Notre Dame University. Later he got a Masters in English from Columbia.

During and after college, he spent a lot of time in Europe, especially Germany. A High School friend of mine, who was in the military, ran into Robert in a Beer Garden in Bavaria. What are the odds? Years later, Robert visited me in Atlanta and gave me a fragment of painted concrete that he said “might have been” part of the Berlin Wall. I still have it.

Robert settled in New York City, and while attending Columbia got an internship at the Village Voice. He started writing theater reviews and before long the Voice was running them. Later, he founded a newsletter on the AIDS epidemic, and in 1989 was named the Voice’s editor in charge of AIDS coverage.

I knew Robert was HIV positive, and in the autumn of 1993, he called me long distance and told me he had contracted a related condition that proved terminal “in most cases.” I asked if there was anything I could do, and he asked me to be an executor of his will, to make sure his partner was able to keep their apartment. I flew up to New York to visit him and deal with the legal stuff.

The day I was to leave, we talked about his condition and the chances of survival. He said, “You know, I might get better. But think of how embarrassing it will be after causing all this excitement.”

On my way out the door I hugged him and said, “Get better. Risk the embarrassment.”

He laughed.

Five months later he died, at the age of 37.

I know he was only one of many, many wonderful people who died too early because of AIDs. He documented the epidemic in his writings and helped shape public awareness and policy. The saddest part for me is how his life was cut off, unfinished, and thinking about what other contributions he might have made.

St. Paddy’s Day Dialogue at the Bank

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

I was at the bank today, where I met a young man teller whose name seemed to indicate a Middle Eastern heritage.

Himself: I like your green shirt:  St. Paddy’s Day.

Me: Yup.

Himself: What is St. Paddy’s Day anyway?

Other teller: It’s the Saint’s day. St. Patrick.

Himself:  Oh…Why does everyone drink on a saint’s day?

Me: Well, he’s the patron saint of Ireland. And when the Irish immigrants came over to America — which many, many did in the late 1800s because they were starving  — they wanted to celebrate their saint’s day, and they did it with lots of drinking.

Himself: Oh. I see. Thank you for the history.

Me: I am here to educate the younger generation.

Himself: And we appreciate it.

Me: Well, some do, some don’t. But it’s all good.

******
Meantime, here is a picture of me posted by my Irish friend Kate. I don’t think it quite does me justice.

Fun and Games with Shakespeare

Or What You Will

My wife and I are Shakespeare enthusiasts in the extreme. So we were delighted to discover the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival. Last Friday evening, a couple of blocks from the waterfront, in a courtyard between two Victorian houses, under an enormous oak tree, we watched a wonderful performance of Twelfth Night, one of our favorite plays.

We’ve seen it a number of times before, and talked about some of the puns and hidden meanings. On the long drive home over the Sunshine Skyway, we had another of those conversations.

souce: https://www.emaze.com/@ATOIZTFR/The-Sunshine-Skyway-Bridge

One thing we find interesting is the similar names of several of the characters—Malvolio, Olivia, and Viola. All share the same letters.

According to the website BehindtheName.com, the name Malvolio was invented by Shakespeare and means “ill will” in Italian. From the same site, we learn that “Olivia” was also first used in Twelfth Night, and is probably derived from the name of the olive tree. “Viola” meanwhile, is Latin for violet.

Scene from ‘Twelfth Night’ (‘Malvolio and the Countess’) exhibited 1840 Daniel Maclise 1806-1870 Presented by Robert Vernon 1847 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00423

So if we think of all characters as being projections of the author, and recall that Shakespeare went by the name “Will,” we have Malvolio, or the bad Will. We also have Olivia, the Will who is like the olive, because she is bitter and melancholy. And Viola, the Will who is bright and clever.

Okay, those last two might be a bit of a stretch.

But then again, Shakespeare subtitled the play “What You Will”

Hmmm.

One line that’s always been a bit of a mystery is in Act 2, Scene 5. Malvolio is reading a letter left for him to find by the servant Mary and meant for him to mistake as coming from the Countess Olivia. The letter does not name him, but hints at his name by spelling out M O A I. Malvolio puzzles over whether this is meant to be him, and then reads:

“If this fall into thy hand, revolve…” and there follows the famous quote that “Some are born great, etc.”

But “revolve”? This is sometimes played on stage for comic effect by Malvolio twirling around. That’s good.

According to the Annotated Twelfth Night the word revolve means “think things over.” Also good.

But my brilliant wife discovered that if you revolve the page (turn it upside down) and look at the letters MOAI…

you get something that looks very much like “I VOW”…

…Which also fits the meaning of the text.

Hmmmm.

Sonnet for Aphrodite

In celebration of Valentine’s Day…

Aphrodite
Conceived in wind and foam and born in Spring,
O lovely, tempting Goddess of the wave,
What cunning pleasures, what sweet pains you bring,
How perfectly you crush the dreams you gave.
Since long ago you touched the shore in Cyprus,
Trailing salt and flame from the hissing sea,
Mortals have chased you, desperate for bliss,
Enslaved each other while longing to be free.
Leaving all, like broken shells in sand,
You pass mildly on, blithely out of reach;
Not passion but compassion you demand,
Our hearts divine and perfect Love to teach–
That Love that changes death to life again,
Makes atoms dance and galaxies to spin.

Detail from The Birth of Venus by Botticelli

 

 

Sunken Gardens and Sand Paintings

This week, my wife and I visited the Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.

According to the brochure, the gardens date back to 1903, when George Turner, “a plumber and avid gardener,” purchased and drained a shallow lake, which had filled an ancient sinkhole.  They’re called sunken, because the whole place is 10 to 15 feet below street-level. What a great use for a sinkhole, I must say.

Flamingos at the Sunken Gardens

The gardens are full of streams, ponds, and waterfalls. Along with the Flamingos you can see turtles, parrots, cockatoos and fish. But the real attractions are the trees and tropical plants from all over the world.

This limestone slab was found at the bottom when they drained the lake.

The plaque claims that anyone who sits on the stone is gifted with tranquility, inner harmony, and the talent to make things grow. All new employees of Sunken Garden sit on the stone as part of their orientation. Now that is out-of-the-box talent development, folks.

Naturally, my wife and I took the opportunity to sit on the stone. What happened later might just be a coincidence.

After touring the gardens, we had lunch in downtown St. Petersburg. Walking back to our car, we passed a craft gallery. Inside, four Tibetan Monks were creating a sand painting.

Tibetan Sand Painting (through the window).

We went inside to get a better look. The painting featured a white dove at the center.

The whole experience was one of deep tranquility and inner harmony.

But like I said, it might just be a coincidence.

Old Florida: The Grounds of the Ringling Museum

One of my favorite “Old Florida” spots is the Ringling Museum of Art complex in Sarasota. You can read about how this wonderful place came to be on their official website.

On a nice Saturday in January, I had the chance to tour the gardens…

This pond and statue are near the gate house.

 

A Rainbow Eucalyptus tree showing off its beautiful colored bark.

This is a Bo Tree, under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. Well, not this particular one:

This Banyan grove overlooks Sarasota Bay.

The Gardens are not without their dangers. The Banyan trees, for example, have been known to eat the statues.

…and the Bunya Bunya trees can drop 20 pound “pine cones” on your head.

There are even naked zombie statues lurking in the foliage.

But for the most part, the denizens of the garden are friendly.

…And Mabel Ringling’s Rose Garden is lovely beyond belief:

The Ringlings are buried at the edge of the property. Here, a butterfly is paying her respects.

This lion and sphinx apparently had an argument. I think they are stuck with each other, so hopefully they will make it up.

The courtyard of the art museum. The reproduction of Michelangelo’s David  is used on the logo of Sarasota County.