The Fabled Land of Witches

Tournament of Witches, Book 3 of the Glimnodd Cycle, is finally available. (The paperback is on sale now , and  the ebook up for pre-order on Amazon , with publication set for July 15).

Tournament of Witches Cover

The writing of this novel took far longer than I like to think about. Suffice it to say that the original outline was developed sometime in the last century. So it is extremely gratifying to me for this mind-child to see the light of day at last.

This third volume of the saga sees Amlina the witch and her Iruk warriors sail to Larthang to return the Cloak of the Two Winds to its rightful owners, the witches of the House of the Deepmind. Epic fantasy often involves a journey, as well as a multi-layered plot rife with contending forces and intrigue. Tournament has all that aplenty.

The Golden Land

Larthang, Amlina’s homeland, is the westernmost of the Three Nations and has a long history of deep magic. But along with great witches, it is a land of warriors, sages, scholars, philosophers, and poets. Elements of the cultural background are drawn from ancient China, mixed with other historical sources, and transposed into the magical universe of Glimnodd.

Map of Larthang
Map of Larthang, (c) 2020 by Jack Massa. All rights reserved.

The Iruks, barbarians from the south polar region, are largely unfamiliar with Larthang and unsure what to expect. In this excerpt, as they near the coast, the scholar Kizier gives them an introduction to the history and politics …

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Their destination was Randoon of the Onyx Gates, one of three major ports on the Larthangan coast, each built at the mouth of a river. Kizier described the city one evening, as he and Eben sat in the stern beside the windbringers. It had become their custom to spend an hour or two there each day reviewing and practicing Eben’s language lessons.

In ancient times, the scholar said, the three rivers had flowed free and wild from their sources in the west and north. But during the first centuries of the current era, when the Dynasty of the Tuans was established and the great witches of Larthang practiced their arts, the rivers had been tamed. Now levees and dams controlled the floods and maintained irrigation of the farmlands. Inland, a grand canal linked the three rivers at Minhang, the Celestial Capital.

“But why is it called Randoon of the Onyx Gates?” Eben inquired.

“This you will see when we arrive,” Kizier answered. “On each side of the river stands a mighty tower fashioned of smooth, precious stone. These towers control a magical force that can be raised from the riverbed like gates of onyx to prevent ships from passing in or out of the channel. This witchery guards Larthang from invasion by sea.”

“So? Do the other ports also have such defenses?” Eben asked.

“Indeed,” Kizier said. “Hanjapore of the Jade Gates to the south, and Haji-Chan of the Moonstone Gates in the north.”

“The history is all very interesting,” Lonn grumbled, speaking Low-Tathian. Standing at the helm, he had listened to their talks in Larthangan for days now and was understanding much of what they said. “But I am more concerned with the greeting we’re likely to get when we land.”

“Yes, and with good reason.” Kizier shifted to Low-Tathian himself.

“This war faction that the drell described,” Eben said. “They tried to take the Cloak once. We haven’t spotted any naval vessels since Fleevanport, but once we near the coast of Larthang, what then? Will Amlina wield the Cloak against their ships again? If not, how will she keep them from taking it? But if she does, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be received as friends when we do reach Larthang.”

“All true,” Kizier allowed. “But there are other powers in Larthang.”

“You mean the witches at the House of the Deepmind,” Eben said. “They who sent the drell.”

“They, yes. And still others, I am sure. It’s many years since I studied in Larthang, and no doubt the political situation has evolved. But I can tell you this for certain: by tradition there are three powers in the Golden Land, known as the Three Pillars of the Throne. The Witches, who practice the arts of the Deepmind; Warriors, who practice the arts of war; and Magistrates, who administer the laws and maintain the civil government. Within these three orders, or estates, there are always factions and sub-factions, and constantly shifting alliances. Above all sits the hereditary ruler, the Tuan. In name, the Tuan is supreme, but in practice he or she must balance the contending forces of the three estates.”

“Are the witches always women?” Eben asked. “We know that elsewhere in the Three Nations, mages and sorcerers might be men as well. Is this not true in Larthang?”

“No and yes.” Kizier seemed to relish conveying the complexity of these matters. “The House of the Deepmind, known as Ting Ta Roo, is the supreme magical power and home to the Five Revered Arts. It trains only women and only they may properly be called ‘Witches of Larthang.’ But there are other, lesser traditions of deepshaping and deepseeing that teach both males and females. These schools train prognosticators, alchemists, and conjurers, as well as scholars and sages who may include mysticism as part of their studies. Any of these practitioners might be called mages, but never Witches of Larthang.”

“Sounds very complicated,” Lonn grumbled. “So, assuming we manage to land, Amlina will need to seek out her fellow witches, since she plans to surrender the Cloak to the House of the Deepmind.”

“Yes, but perhaps not just any witches,” Kizier said. “Some witches are allied to the so-called Iron Bloc. This we have seen already. No doubt there are other factions in the three estates who would love to possess the Cloak and the power it brings. Amlina has chosen to surrender the Cloak to the Archimage in Minhang—but how we will get there is an open question. Indeed, what will happen when we land in Randoon? That I cannot even guess.”

— from Tournament of Witches, Chapter Ten.
Copyright (c) 2020 by Jack Massa. All Rights Reserved,

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You can:

Purchase Tournament of Witches here.

Or check out the other volumes of the Glimnodd Cycle,

Read more about the magical world of Glimnodd,

Or sign up here for our mailing list and get a free prequel short story to the Cycle, “Street Sorceress”

Castle Image

 

Interview with Author JC Kang

This month we are pleased to present an interview with John (JC) Kang, author of The Legends of Tivara, a multi-volume epic fantasy “series of series” that includes, among others, The Dragon Songs Saga and Scions of the Black Lotus.

The Dragon Songs Saga Boxset

Welcome JC. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

Thanks for having me!  I’m an acupuncturist by trade, a Wing Chun Kung Fu instructor for fun, and I do a little writing, as well.  I generally write epic fantasy with a mix of cultures drawing from Earth’s history.

When did you first decide to be a writer? What first drew you to writing fantasy?

I grew up both GMing (Game-Mastering) and playing D&D, and as a teen, I’d stood in line waiting for Dragonlance books to come out.  As something of a misfit, I tried to write a story set in my game world then. It was a total mess. Twenty years later, I came across my worldbuilding materials while cleaning out my room in my childhood home. Of course, as an adult, I had a better understanding of matters like economies and gravity, so I decided to recreate the planet that I’d envisioned as a teenager.

On the seventh day, I rested. It was then that I realized I would probably never play D&D again; and since as a DM, my players always frustrated me with their free will, I decided I would write.

Are there particular books, movies, or games that were a major influence on your work?

Besides Dungeons & Dragons, Civilization was a huge influence in terms of giving me the idea of a second world with Earth Cultures.  Of course, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia were huge literary and media influencers when I was growing up.

Do all of your stories take place in the same fictional universe? How do you approach setting and world building?

So far, yes!  The primary characters of one series might make a cameo in another, and there is one character who appears in all of them.

For world building, one of the most important things to me is continuity and interconnectivity.  For example, I created a low-orbit moon which is tidally locked and always in the same place in the sky. I started to think, how would that moon influence the people viewing it from below? What cultural practices would that lead to?

Yes, I remember thinking what a cool idea that moon was. It gave a science fiction touch to the fantasy world. 

I am always interested in the magical aspect of fantasy. What inspires the magic or supernatural elements of your stories?

I give each ethnic group their own form of magic, but it is all based on borrowing wave energy from an abundant mineral on the planet. Each culture describe the manipulation of frequency, wavelength, and amplitude to alter reality it in different terminology:  For example, the “Roman” Diviners hear the Gods’ Whispers to Divine; whereas the “West African” Mystics sense the Resonance for sorcery; South Asians channel Vibrations into fighting prowess, etc.

I think a big challenge of fantasy is creating magic that is plausible and understandable to the reader. Do you construct rules-based magical systems or approach it in some other way?

I would neither call the magic system hard or soft—it’s firm. There are definite rules, but I don’t keep track of mana points or anything like that. The key to me is consistency: if there is magic, how will that affect the development of a culture, and the cultures around it?

Complete Tales of the Floating World Boxset

Of all the characters you’ve created, who are your favorites and why?

My favorites have changed over the years, but now, I would say it is my half Asian/half-elf ninja. Originally, she was just a minor character meant to show the world was a mix of Eastern and Western fantasies; but my first critique partners loved her so much, she got an important back story. She’s fun to write because the snark in her viewpoint.

How would you describe your writing style?

Technical?  Not technical writing—I actually worked in that field at one time—but rather, the idea of structuring variety in sentence structures and patterns. Beyond that, I can’t say I’m a brilliant wordsmith who knows the perfect word to evoke the perfect image.

Your biography includes professional experience as a Chinese Medicine Doctor and a martial arts instructor. How have these experiences added to your fiction?

Martial arts has helped me choreograph fights. Chinese Medicine has helped come up with some cool sayings.

Art of the Floating World cover

What are your current projects? When will we see your next book?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Masters of Deception, which chronologically takes place between Crown of the Sundered Empire and Orchestra of Treacheries (though the sequel to Crown, and possibly a serial) will squeeze in between those last two.

I’m also working on a cyberpunk-Progression Fantasy mashup.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Critique, because if you’re like me, in reading unpolished works, you will see what doesn’t work, and you’ll realize you probably make the same mistakes.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?

I’m deeply humbled by those who’ve spent time reading my stories. Thank you!

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You can find JC Kang’s books on his Amazon page.List of JC Kang Books

To learn more about JC Kang visit http://jckang.dragonstonepress.us/

 

Magic Systems and the World of Glimnodd

To start off this post with a picture, here is the new cover for Cloak of the Two Winds, Book 1 of the Glimnodd Cycle.

Cloak of the Two Winds New Cover

I’m excited to announce I will be re-releasing this series over the next couple of months AND publishing Book 3, Tournament of Witches.

To mark the occasion, let’s talk about magic systems in fantasy and in the Glimnodd books in particular.

I think a lot about magic in fiction (and also in real life for that matter). For fantasy, I find constructing magic systems to be one of the most interesting points of world-building.

But how do you build a fictional magic system that readers will understand and love?

Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic

For many, a cogent answer to this question begins with author Brandon Sanderson’s famous Three Laws of Magic. As presented by the author in a series of blog posts beginning here, these laws are:

  1. First Law: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
  2. Second Law : Limitations > Power (For story purposes, limitations on the magic are more important than the magic powers.)
  3. Third Law: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

Now, as author Max Florschutz points out in a blog post here , these laws are not so much about creating magic systems as rules for how best to use magic in a story.

Nevertheless, when you invent a magic system as an author, you need to be aware of the First Law in particular. In other words, you have to figure out how to make the magic comprehensible to the reader.

Hard, Soft, and In Between

In his essay on the first law, Sanderson elucidates with examples of different magic systems on a continuum from “soft” to “hard”:

On one side of the continuum, we have books where the magic is included in order to establish a sense of wonder and give the setting a fantastical feel. Books that focus on this use of magic tend to want to indicate that men are a small, small part of the eternal and mystical workings of the universe. This gives the reader a sense of tension as they’re never certain what dangers—or wonders—the characters will encounter. Indeed, the characters themselves never truly know what can happen and what can’t. … I call this a “Soft Magic” system…

Sanderson cites Tolkien as a prime example. In The Lord of the Rings, the rules of the magic are never much explained. By the same token, while magic creates the dangerous situation (the Lord of Mordor and his rings), magic is seldom if ever used to solve the characters’ problems. Frodo and Sam don’t magically teleport to Mordor to drop off the One Ring.

Illustration from Lord of the Rings
Illustration from The Fellowship of the Ring. Source: https://www.theonering.net/torwp/2019/02/13/105874-free-lord-of-the-rings-art-show-in-san-jose-ca/

On the other end of the continuum is “hard magic,” where the working rules are explicitly explained:

The magic itself is a character, and by showing off its laws and rules, the author is able to provide twists, worldbuilding, and characterization.

If the reader understands how the magic works, then you can use the magic (or, rather, the characters using the magic) to solve problems. In this case, it’s not the magic mystically making everything better. Instead, it’s the characters’ wit and experience that solves the problems. Magic becomes another tool—and, like any other tool, its careful application can enhance the character and the plot.

Taken to its extreme, hard magic systems can be like table-top gaming, where specific powers are based on point-systems. Many readers want this kind of hard-and-fast rules-based world, but I personally find hard systems less than appealing. If everything is known, where is the sense of wonder?

Fortunately, as Sanderson points out, most writers choose a middle ground between the hard and soft extremes. He cites the Harry Potter novels as a prime example.

Each of these books outlines various rules, laws, and ideas for the magic of the world. And, in that given book, those laws are rarely violated, and often they are important to the workings of the book’s climax. However, if you look at the setting as a whole, you don’t really ever understand the capabilities of magic.

This strategy allows characters to solve problems with magic while avoiding the trap of the magic becoming a predictable, rote system and thereby losing all the mystery and wonder.

Harry Potter artwork
Artwork for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix DVD, source: https://goldendiscs.ie/products/harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-david-yates-1
Magic in the World of Glimnodd

I am big on mystery and the mystical sense of wonder. Nevertheless, magic is integral to the plot of my fantasy stories. Which means my characters often solve problems with magic. Which means the reader has to have a sense of the limits and the rules. So my stories fall somewhere in the middle of the hard-soft spectrum.

In the Glimnodd Cycle, magic is definitely and consistently a deep aspect of the story lines. On Glimnodd, magic has been around for a long, long time. So much so, that the unrestrained use of magic caused the fabric of reality to fray and the world to change. This brought about a time known as The Age of the World’s Madness, where chaos reigned, new sentient species arose, and one of the three moons flew off into space.

Later, balance was restored. To preserve the balance and vent off excess magical energies, great spells were woven. One causes the seas of Glimnodd to shine with a perpetual light. The second causes magic winds to blow which change the seas to ice or the ice back to soft water.

Icy seas on Glimnodd

There are multiple magical systems mentioned in the stories. In terms of magic used to solve plot problems, there are touches of shamanic magic, alchemy, and ancient evil sorcery (with clearly defined rules in A Mirror Against All Mishap).

But the most detailed magical system is that codified and used by the Witches of Larthang. This is based on five arts.

The Five Revered Arts

The Five Revered Arts of Larthangan Witchery are:

  1. Deep Seeing (wei shen) – The art of perceiving thoughts, images, and events through no physical sense but through the mind alone.
  2. Formulation (jai-dah or “weaving”). The creation of mental constructs that are stored and then released at a chosen moment, through incantation and mental casting.
  3. Trinketing (barang-xing). The fabrication of magical objects. In this art, the witch generates a magical design and binds it to a material object, allowing the power to be unleashed at a later time by herself or another person.
  4. Magical combat (weng lei). In this art, a witch trains with dagger, sword, ritual stances, and fighting techniques. With the force of her mind she can send blades through the air or cast weakness into an opponent’s body.
  5. Pure-shaping (quon-xing). The spontaneous use of mental power to create effects in the world.

In terms of their limitations, all five arts depend on the practiced skill and mental strength of the practitioner (the witch or ‘deepshaper’). In scenes where magic is used to solve problems, there is always a sense of struggle, tension, and doubt.

For further reading …

To learn more about Brandon Sanderson’s work, check out brandonsanderson.com.

You can read his posts on the Three Laws of Magic here:

  1. First Law
  2. Second Law
  3. Third Law

To learn more about the magic of Glimnodd, check out these pages:

Or you can pick up Book 1, Cloak of the Two Winds on Amazon.

Or… Sign up here for our Triskelist Newsletter and receive “Street Sorceress,” a short story that takes place prior to the events of Cloak.

Street Sorceress Cover

Use this link to get the free story.

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A Visit to Historic St. Augustine

Since many of us are confined in quarantine these days, I thought a post about someplace beautiful and interesting would be in order. And, of all the places in this crazy world I’ve seen, there isn’t any more beautiful and interesting than St. Augustine, Florida.

Founded in 1565 by a Spanish conquistador, St. Augustine is “the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States.”  Located on the Atlantic, near the Northeast corner of the State, it is a wonderful place to visit.

Source: Google Maps

What makes St. Augustine fascinating to me is the multiple layers of history. After 200 years of Spanish rule, the town was ceded to the British in 1763, and became a haven for loyalists to the British Crown during the American Revolution. In 1783, ownership passed back to Spain, but only until 1821, when Florida was acquired as a territory by the United States. In the 19th century, residents of the town survived the Seminole Wars and then the US Civil War.

Flagler College and the Lightner Museum

Starting in the 1880s, St. Augustine became a winter haven for wealthy northerners as the Florida East Coast Railway, built by industrialist Henry Flagler, opened the state to tourism. Flagler’s Ponce De Leion Hotel (now Flagler College) is one of several grand buildings from the Gilded Age that you can still visit.

Except where noted, all photos by the author.

Flagler College, formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel
Flagler College, formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel

Across the street from Flagler College is another hotel of the era, also built by Flagler and now housing the Lightner Museum of Art.

Lightner Museum
Lightner Museum

The interor courtyard of the Lightner is especially lovely, with its papyrus pond, arcades and gold fish.

Papyrus Courtyard

Arcade

Papyrus Pool Bridge

At the back end of the museum is the reportedly oldest indoor swimming pool in the United States. Now, as you can see, it is a dining room.

Lightner Museum indoor pool

On my visit, I asked an employee “Where’s the water?” She replied: “Wait for the next hurricane.”

The Bridge of Lions and Historic District

Down the street from these fabulous buildings is the Bridge of Lions, which crosses the bay to nearby Anastasia Island. On the docks by the bridge, you can dine at restaurants or take a harbor cruise (in which case you might see dolphins).

Bridge of Lions
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_on_SA_Bridge_of_Lions.jpg

North of the bridge is the historic Spanish fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.

Castillo de San Marcos
Source: Castillo_De_San_Marcos_from_the_west,_February_2012.png By Mainstreetmark – I took a picture with my iphonePreviously published: nowhere, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24953822
The north wall of the Castillo de San Marcos. Taken By Victor Patel Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_de_San_Marcos#/media/File:Castillo_de_San_Marcos.jpg

Across from the fort is part of the historic district dating back to the 1500s. There are narrow brick streets and numerous shops, houses, and courtyards.

Driftwood Horse in yard

 

Courtyard

Bordering the historic district on the North is the site of the original defensive gates. The history of the gates’ preservation and renovations makes an intriguing and amusing story, which we will save for a future post.

Old City Gates

The South side of the historic district is also worth a walking tour, featuring buildings from Victorian times including some that are now inns and B&Bs.

Victorian House

Courtyard

 

View from Balcony

At the southwest edge of the historic district is this lovely inlet:

Inlet

Anastasia Island and the Lighthouse

Finally, if you venture across the Bridge of Lions to the island, you can visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

And if you’re fit enough to climb the spiral stairs to the top, you can enjoy quite a view:

View from the LIghthouse

View from the Lighthouse

More on St. Augustine

Official St. Augustine website: https://citystaug.com/

Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Augustine,_Florida

Vacation and Travel Guide: https://www.oldcity.com/

Till next month, friends, stay safe in there.

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A Cast of Characters

Right now, I am more than delighted because I am finally nearing completion of Tournament of Witches, the third and final book of The Glimnodd Cycle .

Cloak of the Two Winds Cover image

The latest novel truly fits the mold of “epic” fantasy, weighing in at a healthy 95,000 words and featuring a multitude of characters and lots of background (aka world building).

Presenting this amount of information in a story is one of the great challenges of epic fantasy. Of course, the best way to present all of this backstory is to chop it up into little chunks and weave it into the narrative. In a past series of posts beginning here, I described Five Techniques for presenting backstory in this way.

Still, no matter how skillfully the author weaves in character descriptions and background details, readers will sometimes get lost. This is particularly true for readers who might start by reading one of the later books in a series.

To solve this dilemma, an author might provide additional tools that the confused reader can flip to to remind or re-orient themselves. One such tool is a Glossary, which can include definitions of things, places, and concepts that only exist in the fantasy world. Another such tool is a list of characters.

In Tournament of Witches I am including both of these, a Glossary in the back of the book and a character list in the front.

Ad for Book 2: the witch Amlina confronts a dragon spirit.

We’ll leave discussion of the Glossary for a future post. But here, in draft form, is the character listing. Since this is placed at the start of the novel, one thing I’ve tried to do is not only identify the characters, but give a little (hopefully intriguing) information about who they are and what their situation is at the start of the story. Because there are so many, I’ve also used the information designer’s technique of grouping them under subheadings.

Cast of Characters

Amlina – Wandering witch from Larthang, a nation of great witches. Victorious in acquiring the Cloak of the Two Winds, she now seeks to recover from what it cost her.

Eben – Warrior of the barbarian Iruk people. Inclined to poetry; squandering his loot on a life of ease; enjoying it less than he expected.

Eben’s mates, members of his klarn:

Glyssa (f), brave and loving. Trained by Amlina in the magical arts.

Lonn (m), the klarn leader, strong, passionate, stoical. In love with Glyssa.

Draven (m), Lonn’s cousin, brave and optimistic. In love with Amlina.

Karrol (f), brawny, decisive, outspoken. No longer sure where she belongs.

Brinda (f), Karrol’s sister, quiet and reserved. Loyal above all to Karrol.

Others related to Amlina or the Iruks

Kizier – Scholar and friend to Amlina. Ruminating over his past life as a sentient sea-fern.

Buroof – A talking book, once a human. Three thousand years old and full of knowledge.

Beryl Quan de Lang – Amlina’s great enemy. Now a ghost that haunts her.

Bellach – Iruk shaman and sometime mentor to Glyssa in visions.

Witches of Larthang

Drusdegarde – Archimage of the West. Supreme witch of the Land.

Trippany – Bee-winged lady of the drell people. Envoy from the Archimage.

Clorodice, Keeper of the Keys – Powerful and strict. Adherent of the austere Thread of Virtue faction.

Arkasha – Clorodice’s subaltern and member of her circle.

Elani Vo T’ang – Clorodice’s favored apprentice.

Melevarry, Mage of Randoon -Chief witch of that port city. Loyal to the Archimage.

Larthangan Military and Court

Duke Trem-Dou Pheng – Supreme Commander of the Larthangan Forces and leader of the militarist faction, the Iron Bloc.

Shay-Ni Pheng – Admiral of the Larthangan Navy and the Duke’s nephew. Unhappy with his current assignment.

The Tuan (Me Lo Lee) – Supreme Ruler of Larthang. A nine-year-old boy with access to the memories and knowledge of his 154 dynastic predecessors.

Prince Spegis – drell ambassador to the Court. Cousin to Trippany.

Ting Fo -gentleman tutor and interpreter for the Iruks at the Court.

Ancient Chinese Rulers
Ancient Chinese Rulers: Inspiration for the Larthangan court. source: http://earlyworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/01/yao-shun-and-yu.html

 

You can find more background on the magical world of Glimnodd here .

Or check out the series on Amazon.

The Mystical Themes of Groundhog Day

Happy February!

The start of this month is marked by many holidays and festivities, depending on what mythology you follow or what country and century you happen to live in.

In Canada and the United States, February 2nd is of course Groundhog Day . If that rodent in Pennsylvania comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, then it’s more Winter for you.

Themes of note: Emerging from the Underworld, seeing our shadows, projecting ahead.

Standing Groundhog
Standing Groundhog By Marumari at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1779877

Some Christian churches celebrate February 2nd as Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.) The holy day is observed by blessing candles for the year ahead.

Themes: New light for the year ahead; purification.

Source: https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2011/12/question-for-our-readers-rorate-masses.html

 

It is believed that the roots of both Groundhog Day and Candlemas go back to earlier times. Way earlier times.

Candlemas has been linked with Lupercalia, a festival of purification held in mid February in ancient Rome.  Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, after the instruments of purification called februa, which gave February (Februarius) its name. The name Lupercalia, however, likely derives from lupus (wolf) and this suggests association with an even older festival celebrating wild creatures and the worship of nature gods.

Themes: purification, wild nature.

Bronze Wolf's Head
Bronze wolf’s head, 1st century AD. Source; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupercalia

 

In Celtic countries, meanwhile, February 1st is celebrated as St. Brighid’s Day, which derives from an older pagan holiday known as Imbolc.  This holiday (located midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox) celebrates the return of the sun with the lengthening of days. The name Imbolc may derive either from “ewes’ milk” or “budding.”

Imbolc is strongly associated with St. Brighid, as it was with her earlier incarnation as a Gaelic Goddess of the same name. To quote the Wikipedia article:

“On Imbolc Eve, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants. As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year.”

Brigid’s Crosses, woven of grass or rushes, were hung over the door to welcome the goddess.

Brighids Cross. By Culnacreann – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3500722

Themes: Spring, light returning from the darkness.

Imbolc is also a sacred holiday in some neopagan traditions. The coming of Spring is seen as the awakening of the Earth, the Great Goddess. Like Brigid, she comes bringing the light. Like the groundhog, she emerges from her sleep in the Underworld.

To summarize the many threads, we have traditions associated with light for the year ahead, purification, reawakening, rebirth.

On a personal level, of course, none of these come without struggle. These are all good ideas to contemplate, as we reflect on the year past and envision the year ahead.

With some of this in mind, I wrote this little poem about the holiday a while back.

Brighid’s Day

Bloody footprints mar the snow,
A crust of fragile glass on the river.
But the sun is lamping our way again;
Milk for the lambs is quickening.

She appears every year around this time
From somewhere in the forest.
Some say there’s a cave at the base of the mountain,
But no one’s ever found it.

Her red hair hangs wild from too much sleep,
Her eyes half-shut, her cheeks silver.
But she’s a strong maiden, straight as a pine:
Her white cape lined in green.

Most who glimpse her through the twilight
Whirl and rush away in fear.
But if you stay and bow as she passes,
Your dreams will be more real this year.

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Origins of the Frog Monster

As guest author at a book club meeting recently, I was asked about the egregore, a figure in my latest novel Ghosts of Lock Tower. In the story, the egregore is a thought-form, a monster that originates as an internet meme but soon takes on a life of its own.

Ghosts of Lock Tower
Ghosts of Lock Tower is available on Amazon.

As I explained to the book club, as much as possible in my fiction, I like to base magical content on the real thing—that is, magic as it is actually believed in and practiced in our world. I have researched this quite a bit, and both historical and modern occult practices are represented in Lock Tower.

Two Schools of Magic

The protagonist, Abby Renshaw, is an initiate of the Circle of Harmony, a magical order loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Founded in the late 19th Century, the Golden Dawn became a wellspring of modern occultism, and there are still Golden Dawn groups practicing today.

Perhaps the best-known book on the Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie

During the story Abby encounters another tradition, called “Postmodern Magic,” which is (again, loosely) based on contemporary occult practices grouped under the collective term “Chaos Magic.” As explained in Wikipedia: “Chaos magic has been described as a union of traditional occult techniques and applied postmodernism – particularly a postmodernist skepticism concerning the existence or knowability of objective truth. Chaos magicians subsequently treat belief as a tool, often creating their own idiosyncratic magical systems…”

A character in Lock Tower explains to Abby that he was drawn to Postmodern Magic because it is “free of doctrine and bullshit, a completely scientific search for truth.” Abby finds this appealing, but also worrisome. Postmodern magic lacks the structure and guidance she is used to from the Circle of Harmony. Yet is also offers power that she needs.

The Concept of the Egregore

Two concepts from Chaos Magic that figure prominently in Ghosts of Lock Tower are sigils and the egregore.

We’ll leave sigils for perhaps another time, but (again quoting Wikipedia), “Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people.”

Source: Supernatural Magazine, Image Source: https://supernaturalmagazine.com/articles/egregore

Notice that an egregore is both made up of the thoughts of a group of people (usually an occult circle) and also influences their thoughts. An independent entity, created by thought, that manifests in the world and affects peoples’ minds – if you spend any time on social media, it is no stretch at all to see how this idea compares to a meme.

The egregore in Ghosts of Lock Tower begins life as a character in an online game. Soon he is adopted as a meme representing collective rage and hate.

But why a frog?

The egregore first appears early in the book. Abby has a nightmare that takes place in a virtual reality game world. She runs in terror through dungeons and corridors filled with dazed and injured young people. Finally:

I enter an upper chamber, like a temple or throne room. Suits of glittering armor stand along the walls. More kids are lined up in a queue, approaching a throne. On the throne sits a huge white frog, with mad angry eyes in its head—and dozens more eyes in its stomach. A girl approaches the throne, and the frog monster opens its mouth. She shrieks as he sucks her in, like sipping cola through a straw.

A frog monster
A Frog Monster similar to the one in the novel. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/480266747758596316/

When I drafted that scene, the image of the egregore as a giant white frog spilled readily out of my unconscious. It was only later that I realized a connection. In our own little world there is in fact a meme (or egregore) that started as a harmless online character but transformed into a powerful emblem for hate. You may have heard of Pepe the Frog .

Pepe the Frog from New York Magazine
Pepe the Frog, from an article in New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/04/the-whole-world-is-now-a-message-board.html

The ways of the group mind are vast, deep, and strange, gentle reader. Like Abby, we all must look for principles and guideposts to help us navigate the chaos.

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To learn more about Abby’s quest to combine the two forms of magic, check out Ghosts of Lock Tower here .
You can also read more about the frog monster in this (free online) story published by Harbinger Press: “Return of the Egregore.”

Interview with Fantasy Author Kasper Beaumont

This month we have an author interview with Kasper Beaumont, creator of The Hunters of Reloria trilogy (young adult sword and sorcery) as well as fantasy short fiction. December 14 will see the publication of her newest work, a contemporary urban fantasy titled Captive of the Darkness (Hidden Angel Series, Book One).

Kasper Beaumont

Welcome Kasper. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

G’day Jack.  Great to be here, thank you.  Your Triskelion Books website sure looks interesting, and I’ll be checking out your Mazes of Magic book for sure. I love Egyptology.

Oops, back to the question. Yes, I’m an Australian author of fantasy books.  Four in The Hunters of Reloria series (yes I called it a ‘trilogy’ and I fail at maths haha). I have now started on another trilogy (slow learner here) and think it will be three books, but I do find my characters have their own ideas about things, so we’ll wait and see.

When did you first decide to be a writer?

In primary school I was that geeky kid reading Lord of the Rings while my classmates were enthralled by Dr. Suess. I guess that was the first clue. When we swapped our creative writing books and read each other’s work aloud, my friends couldn’t even pronounce, let alone comprehend, some of my stories. Oops, sorry guys. At least we’re on good terms now. One friend named Becky recently gave me a Galadriel award for creative writing. (She totes made up that award, but I gladly accepted.)

I then grew up, went through uni where my assignments struggled to fit in under 2K or 5K word limits. Then after having a few halflings (kiddos) of my own, I rediscovered my love for creative writing.

What first drew you to writing fantasy?

My first thought to answer this is laziness (chuckles). I’m not one to spend hours in libraries researching the past when I can create my own worlds. I have vivid dreams, such a halflings and fairies playing in wheat fields or mace-wielding lizardmen being tossed into the air by a dragon.

I guess another instigating factor was when my eldest child started school and I thought it would be a cool project for us to write a book together and see our ideas in print.

Are there particular books, movies, games that were a major influence on your work?

The Belgariad series by David Eddings was one of my faves growing up. I felt pure joy and the excitement of waiting for the next installment in the series. It’s probably why I chose to pen a series instead of a single novel. You get more time to formulate and expand your ideas over several books.

Movies I enjoyed growing up were madcap adventures like The Three Musketeers, The Goonies, modern spins on classics, such as Neverending Story, magical escapism such as E.T, and I can’t overlook my fave of all time, Star Wars, for sheer entertainment value.

You were born and raised in Australia. In what ways would you say that influenced your work? Put another way, do you see any particular differences between Australian fiction and that of other countries?

Mateship is a strong theme in Australia. Being the driest inhabited continent and prone to bushfires, the people are tough and form deep bonds where we look out for each other. I guess that is why my characters develop such deep friendships and risk their lives for each other, like the traditional ‘Aussie digger’ soldiers in the World Wars.

Sometimes I write of things we lack in my country such as historic castles and particularly documented histories. Our culture here is very old, but has limited written or man-made edifices, more a sense of one with nature and lore stored in the minds of elders and passed down from generation to generation.

Can you tell us about your newest work, Captive of the Darkness?

On Riley’s 18th birthday, she is told she’s a demon hunter, like the rest of her family. She shrugs the news off in disbelief but that very night she unwittingly enters the lair of a powerful demon and her whole world is turned upside down.

She meets a stripper nicknamed Cupid, who states he is prisoner of the demon. He is a graceful ballet dancer forced into slavery but yearning to escape his dangerous master. When she sees a glowing aura around this young man, she realizes he isn’t just any ordinary lad, but something very special. She knows she must try to save him.

Captive of Darkness Cover

As urban fantasy, Angels and Demons is a departure from your Hunters of Reloria series. What influenced you to take this new direction?

Good question. I think my reading interests have been leading me in this direction for many years. After years of loving epic fantasy, I’ve been reading a lot more paranormal and mature content and guess this is where my inspiration developed. Influences would be The Fallen series, Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Sookie Stackhouse, Anne Rice, etc.

Also, my love of culture is evident in the ballet dancing and the artwork (more in the 2nd book, so I won’t elaborate). I still do love coming-of-age and graduation themes though. It’s such an important part of life, and I think that being around and writing about young people keeps me young at heart too.

How would you describe the challenges of writing urban fantasy versus epic fantasy or sword and sorcery?

Hmm…I guess for me it was a more mature writing style and language. They are quite different genres. In the Hunters of Reloria series I could just throw in a twin planet or a new form of magic without having to explain the physics of how that would work or why. The beauty of writing in an alien world, anything is possible.

In the Hidden Angel series, I feel more responsibility to make the paranormal abilities and characters believable as though this is just a part of the real world you didn’t know about. I have thrown in a few little ‘Easter eggs’ of places that people living in Redcliffe and Brisbane may recognize. One is even a hotel which was demolished but has been reborn in another location in Captive of the Darkness.

The Hunters of Reloria books are described as YA (young adult) fiction while Angels and Demons is adult fiction? How did you adjust your writing for the new audience?

I’m hoping there aren’t young readers here, but if so, please look away now.

The main mature concept introduced in Captive of the Darkness is male exotic dancers. You know what they say, sex sells, baby. That may sound a bit cocky, but to keep it real, I write what I like to read and hope there are readers with the same tastes as mine who would like to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Elven Jewel Cover

While we’re on the subject, can you tell us a little more about The Hunters of Reloria?

This fantasy adventure begins when the magical continent of Reloria is threatened by cruel, scaly invaders called Vergai from the wastelands of Vergash. These invaders are barbaric and are intent on destroying the protective elven forcefield and conquering peaceful Reloria. The Vergais’ plan is to steal the Elven Jewel which is the key to the Relorian defence system.

Halfling friends Randir and Fendi and their bond-fairies are the first to discover the invaders, and they embark on a quest to save the Elven Jewel. They leave their peaceful farm village with their fairies and race against time to stop the invaders. They join forces with dwarves, elves, men, and a mysterious dragon, and call themselves the Hunters of Reloria.

The quest is perilous, with numerous encounters with the ruthless Vergai, who are determined to fulfill their mission. The Elven Jewel is stolen and the quest becomes a race to the portal to retrieve the jewel before it can be taken to Vergash. A battle for Reloria ensues where the consequences for the Relorians is death, unless Vergai are stopped.

How would you describe your writing style?

I fly by the seat of my pants. At best I have a general outline of the story and sometimes even then I change the plot in the middle of writing. The uncertainty is quite fun and keeps me on my toes. With work and family commitments, I don’t always get to write every day, but I do enjoy writing a lot when I have the time.

This past year I created two wonderful online groups with my friends Cheryllynn Dyess and Marsha A Moore and later have been joined by around 20 other wonderful collaborators of whom I’d like to particularly mention and thank Rennie St James.

The Fantasy & Sci-Fi Readers Lounge and
The Fantasy SciFi Author Support Group

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Join a group, read aloud, get feedback, and hone your craft. We all have to start somewhere, and practice makes perfect. (I’m the Queen of the clichés today, it seems).

I think the most important advice is to keep going. Not everyone who reads your work will love it. Even the biggest writers in the world have had rejections, so don’t quit when someone doesn’t like your work.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?

May the force be with you. Never give up, never surrender. Live long and prosper. Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight.

If you know and like those four quotes, then you know where to find me.

Also, a review is the best gift you can give an author.

Happy reading, cheers,

Kasper.

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You can find Captive of the Darkness on Amazon

Can an angel be hiding here on Earth?

A veil of secrecy is lifted on Riley’s 18th birthday. She thought she knew the world, but now discovers she is a demon hunter. It doesn’t seem real, but then she meets Him, a charismatic young dancer with special powers.

He is a prisoner of a powerful demon.

What secrets does this stranger hide? Will Riley risk her own family to save Him?

To learn more about Kasper Beaumont visit these links:  

Kasper Beaumont
Hunters of Reloria series
Hidden Angel series
Website: www.huntersofreloria.weebly.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kasperj.beaumont
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KasperBeaumont
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kaz.beaumont/

 

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.