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Archive for September, 2011

Today is the date of the Long-Expected Party for Bilbo Baggins. JRR Tolkien fans are shedding their shoes and preparing to party on this most auspicious of days in Tolkien Week. Lovers of the Middle-earth cycle know that this is not only the day Bilbo was born, but 78 years later, Frodo Baggins was born on September 22.

Brown Man 300 B&W For those wanting to celebrate Hobbit Day in The Shire manner, a party with friends and family in attendance should be held. A celebration with dancing, fireworks, tasty foods, and plenty of cold beverages held near a worthy tree is the best. Of course, no Birthday Tree can equal the magnificent tree of The Fellowship of The Ring – but even the tiniest sproutling will serve. And with a pinch of elven magic it, too, might grow to be a marvelous tree worthy of Treebeard’s notice.

Along with the feasting, watching one of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films is a given. Reading an excerpt from The Hobbit is another way to commemorate Bilbo, Frodo, and all other hobbits. Needless to say, both activities should be done in a hobbit-like manner: barefoot!

As for me, I shall raise a mug under the stars and salute JRR Tolkien and his son & editor, Christopher JR Tolkien. “Thanks for the stories,” I shall say. Then, return to working on my own fantasy fiction. But not before sharing a brief quote from my most favorites of books:

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton…Then Thursday, September 22nd, actually dawned. The sun got up, the clouds vanished, flags were unfurled and the fun began..My dear People, began Bilbo, rising in his place. ‘Hear! Hear! Hear!’ they shouted, and kept on repeating it in chorus, seeming reluctant to follow their own advice. Bilbo left his place and went and stood on a chair under the illuminated tree. The light of the lanterns fell on his beaming face; the golden buttons shone on his embroidered silk waistcoat…” [The Fellowship of the Ring: A Long-Expected Party].

Note: the illustration is from my book of fantasy tales, The Greener Forest. http://coldmoonpress.com/quickbuy.html

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Well, shiver me timbers! Once again, September 19th has arrived, and it’s time to celebrate the roguishly fun Talk Like a Pirate Day. The official website offers a new sing-along this year in addition to their usual pirate fare: http://talklikeapirate.com For those of a more delicate disposition, might I suggest viewing the options listed for kids after you enter the site.

Why such interest in pirates? Nowadays, we have Johnny Depp and Disney’s Captain Jack Sparrow to thank for renewed interest in these scallywags of the seas – but long before the films arrived in theaters, pirates had captured our imaginations. William Kidd, Black Bart, Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and others seemed to live a life filled with swashbuckling escapades. They sailed to exotic lands, captured treasures, drank a lot of rum, and had romantic encounters with beautiful women.

And speaking of women, there were a few ladies who cast aside their frilly gowns, dressed in male garb, and pursued the life of a sailor. In the 17th and 18th century, there are records of female pirate captains including Charlotte de Berry, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny. But like their male counterparts, their life of adventure ended badly.

 After a shipwreck, Charlotte’s husband lost the “drawing of straws” selection process, and was eaten by his starving shipmates. Once they were rescued, Charlotte chose to join her dead husband, and jumped from the ship into the sea. Mary Read and Anne Bonny were eventually captured, tried as pirates, and sentenced to hang. They avoided the noose by claiming they were pregnant. Mary died in prison. As for Anne Bonny – she vanished. The romantic in me likes to believe a guard fell in love with her and let her escape, or another pirate was so smitten with her independent nature that he risked all to set her free.

And who can forget Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island? As a teen, I read the novel and saw the movie. The book introduced me (and many other young readers) to: “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest…” (Chapt.1) and “Pieces of eight!” shouted out by Long John Silver’s parrot, Captain Flint (Chapt. 27). The beauty and wildness of the exotic locales visited by pirates was aptly captured by Stevenson, especially in this bit from Chapter 27: “Suddenly a kind of brightness fell upon me. I looked up; a pale glimmer of moonbeams had alighted on the summit of the Spy-glass, and soon after I saw something broad and silvery moving low down behind the trees, and knew the moon had risen.”

But it was the ambiguity of Long John Silver that I liked best in Treasure Island. (Writers take note!) Despicable and likeable, he was the forerunner of Captain Jack Sparrow and his comrades. Robert Louis Stevenson introduced his readers to a most complicated character. And like the charming and deadly, Long John Silver, pirates are to be scorned and envied:

“’John Silver,’ he said, ‘you’re a prodigious villain and imposter – a monstrous imposter, sir. I am told I am not to prosecute you. Well, then, I will not. But the dead men, sir, hang around your neck like mill-stones.’

‘Thank you kindly, sir,’ replied Long John…” (Chapter 33)

The words most often associated with these privateers gone wild: independent, romantic, freedom, and adventure – are, I think, the reason we find the pirate life so appealing. Most of us value freedom and independence. Many of us crave adventure – though more tame than battling opposing pirates with knives, axes, pistols, cannons, and machetes. Lots of us daydream about the romantic life at sea – minus, of course, the scurvy, worm-ridden food, appalling living conditions, and violence.

But let’s set aside the reality of trials and hangings, torture and peg legs, and poor hygiene in the extreme – at least for one day a year, we can shout “Aarrgh!” for no reason. We can relax the  workaday-world seriousness, and greet our office mates with an “Ahoy, mateys” rather than the usual “Good morning.” And we can thumb through a copy of Treasure Island dreaming of adventure.

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 If you’d asked me a year ago what a podcast was, I wouldn’t have known. But I’ve since become acquainted with the technology that allows a writer to share audio recordings of their stories (or poems) with listeners.

Although it’s intimidating to sit in front of a microphone, book in hand, and read — at least I can click on a button, stop the recording, delete the dreadful version, and re-record. Only Sandy the Black-Mouthed Cur knows how many times it took to get a useable recording — and she’s sworn to secrecy.

Public readings aren’t so forgiving. If you stumble on a word or mix-up a phrase or mispronounce your main character’s name — there’s no erase button.

 I have Broad Universe http://broaduniverse.org  that wonderful organization for women who write (and illustrate) fantasy, science fiction, and horror, to thank for pushing me into the world of podcasting. They have a monthly podcast anthology program that presents the work of their members. I participated in the May 2011 “Celebrating Motherhood” and September 2011: “Fairy Tales for Grown Ups” programs.

You can go to the Broadpod site and listen to my first 2 attempts at reading & recording  excerpts from 2 stories included in The Greener Forest:

“Birdling” – http://broadpod.posterous.com/may-2011-celebrating-motherhood – “Birdling” begins 1 minute & 51 seconds into the podcast.

“Blood of the Swan” – http://broadpod.posterous.com/september-2011-fairy-tales-for-grown-ups  – “Blood of the Swan” begins 19 minutes & 47 seconds into the podcast.

Just forgive my mistakes. I hope to get better at podcasting. Who knows, I might even manage to put together some music and a complete short story in the future and post it on iTunes. So take a listen, and enjoy!

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 Folks often ask me how to find the magical, and today’s response is, “Get off of the bus!” Let me explain… In 2009, I visited Scotland with my mom, sisters, and about 45 distant cousins that were part of a Scottish Clan Irwin tour. One afternoon we were scheduled to make a last stop at Balnuaran of Clava before heading back to our hotel. It was late and rain was beating heavily on the roof of our bus. We pulled into the parking area (which seemed to actually divide one of the circles of standing stones), and the tour leader asked, “Does anyone want to get out and walk around? It’s just a bunch of stones.”

 I raised my hand. Luckily, a couple of the other members of the group wanted to see the Neolithic graves with their Bronze Age standing stone circles, too. So a handful of us got off the bus bundled in raincoats and toting umbrellas. And the place was magical!

Balnuaran of Clava is one of a number of prehistoric cemeteries built more than 3,000 years ago in the Inverness region of the Highlands near the River Nairn. It’s surrounded by woods and farmlands — and on that gray afternoon, it was quite lonely. I took out my camera, doing my best to shield it from rain, and snapped a few pictures before the bus driver beeped the horn and summoned me back. But I could have stayed much longer in that misty woods.

 There were 3 stone cairns or graves. The one closest to the parking lot was a passage cairn. The central grave was a ring-cairn with no entrance into its pile of stones. And the grave furthermost from the parking area was also a passage cairn. According to authorities, each grave was constructed for a single individual, and as I touched the moss-covered, lichen-riddled boulders, I felt the ancientness of the site. And I felt it was alive with the unseen.

When I stood at the entrance to the far Southwest passage cairn, it became evident that it aligned with the entrance to the Northeast passage cairn. Later, I learned that alignment marked the Midwinter sunset. Perhaps the astronomical meaning was part of the magic I felt.

 The construction of the cairns seemed a bit haphazard at first glance, but upon looking closely, I could see stones were carefully stacked without mortar of any sort. To help stabilize the smaller rocks, large boulders had been placed around the outside of each grave as kerbs. As I examined the interior of one of the passage cairns, I could swear I heard a murmuring of voices along with the raindrops pelting rocks, leaves, and my raincoat.

Then, I noticed one of the standing stones that surrounded each cairn was split. For what purpose? I had no idea.  But the writer part of me imagined it was a gateway to Faerie or the past or another dimension. So I snapped a quick picture as I realized I was the last person at Balnuaran of Clava.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay longer,” I whispered to the spirits that seemed to hover nearby. I did not take a pebble or even a blade of grass away with me. To do so seemed wrong. Later, I heard one of the locals say that a tourist once took a rock from Balnuaran of Clava home and suffered so much misfortune that he later mailed the rock back to the Inverness Tourist Board. Perhaps the story is a bit of foolishness — but I had known not to take from the unseen amongst us.

 Because I got off of the bus that day in Scotland when others chose to remain warm and dry — I saw the magical. I experienced the mystical. And perhaps, I even caught some of that on film! The images published here have not been altered. The blurred areas in some of the pictures are most certainly raindrips or condensation or faulty photography of some sort. Or perhaps not.

I leave it to the viewer of these photographs and others who’ve visited the ancient burial and astronomical site of Balnuaran of Clava to decide for themselves. As for me?  I still believe the mystical and magical are all around us. And I write about it in my books: The Greener Forest, Owl Light, The Enchanted Skean, and elsewhere. (And here’s the Link for UK readers).

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