Tag Archives: YA fiction

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.

 

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¢.

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.

*******************************************

Ghosts of Lock Tower is scheduled for publication Summer of 2019

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

 

Discovered Gems – Three Fantasy Novels Deserving Your Attention

As one who commits fantasy fiction, I read a lot. Not only fantasy, but science fiction, mystery, classics, magical realism, thrillers, you name it. Not to mention lots of nonfiction for research.

When I’m working on a story, I prefer to stay away from that particular genre in my reading. So I haven’t read too much fantasy in the last couple of years.

That said, here are my reviews of three books I did read that I think are really great and deserve more attention.

The Healer’s Choice by Kathryn Hinds

The Healer's Choice by Kathryn Hinds

Epic fantasy: a first novel by an author with lots of expertise in history and medieval scholarship.

My review: The characters are varied and true-to-life, and every one is rooted in the imagined cultures in which they live. The world-building is complex and beautifully wrought, from the smallest details of daily living to the intricacies of war, medicine, philosophy, religion, and magic. The story is multi-faceted, with twists and surprises that are alternately exhilarating and heart-breaking.

The author manages multiple viewpoint characters and story lines with a deft touch, keeping the reader intrigued. She even throws in some lovely poetry that feels authentic to the people and times she writes about. Magical!

More, Ms. Hinds! More!

The Dragon Scale Lute by JC Kang

Note: this title has recently been rebranded as Songs of Insurrection: A Legends of Tivara Story (The Dragon Songs Saga Book 1)

My review: Excellent epic fantasy set in a world inspired by pre-industrial Asia.

Beautiful, detailed world-building, sympathetic and interesting characters, well-defined magic, and very skillful writing. To be honest, most indie-published fantasy novels I’ve read have not been up to what I’d consider professional standards. This one is certainly an exception.

First in a series.

School of the Ages: The Ghost in the Crystal
by Matt Posner

A YA urban fantasy and the first of a series.

My review: Like other reviewers, I read the blurb and thought, “Oh, like a New York City version of Harry Potter. I’ll bite.” In many ways the comparison is valid:

  • a secret magic school in the midst of the real world
  • intriguing, quirky, multi-ethnic, convincing teenage characters,
  • a varied set of adults, magical and non-magical, with interesting perspectives and sometimes murky motives.
  • a many-layered plot that keeps cooking with twists and surprises.

What I find unique here is the quality of the magic. Harry Potter magic is fun, a combination of pure invention and recycled pop culture tropes. School of Ages magic is serious—rooted in mystical traditions (primarily Hebrew) and concocted with plenty of mental horsepower. At times I wasn’t sure if I was reading YA fantasy or being taught occult metaphysics:

“They say time is a like a river, always flowing forward, ever changing. Not true. Time is a wind. It goes in all directions, this way and that, moves many things, leaves others in place.”

“The good of magic,” Dr. Archer said, “is not principally in doing, but in knowing what ought to be done.”

Yikes! If, like me, you favor serious magic in your fiction, it doesn’t get any better that this.