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Stubborn as Summer by Justine Graykin

j_graykin_photo “I’m standing on my deck looking out over the leaf-strewn grass, through the woods towards the wetlands. It is a warm October day, drawing close to Halloween, a time, as we say in New England, when the frost is on the pumpkin.

Except there has been no frost.

It is as if summer is holding its breath, refusing to give way to fall.

I am more than half a century old. This seems to me quite remarkable. I remember a world before computers, before the Internet. My grandmother knew an inconceivable world without telephones, cars, or electricity. I was amazed to think about it when she described that world. Now my children look at me the same way.

This year I finished climbing all the mountains in New Hampshire that are four thousand feet or higher, including the Presidentials, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Monroe, windswept rocky piles where the weather can change quickly, the conditions turn deadly, and lives are lost every year. I hiked those mountains and camped out in them alone.

On the trail, the 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, excused themselves to pass me, striding along, leaving me behind. But I kept plodding along, and I reached the summit eventually through sheer stubbornness.

This year saw the publication of one of my novels, at last, after years of effort, writing and rewriting, submitting and compiling the long list of rejections. At last I had success with Archimedes Nesselrode, a whimsical romantic fantasy rather different from my others. But then again, they are all different from one another. I am asked what kind of fiction I write, and I am at a loss to say. It rambles in all sorts of directions, save one: It is never dark. There is enough suffering in reality. I’ll only allow suffering in my fiction if I can put an end to it.

ANcoverLarrythumb So, publishers seeking dark and dystopian, gritty and urban, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching Oprah books, have passed me by, until now. And readers, exhausted from reading all that emotional mayhem, embrace the gentle humor of Archimedes Nesselrode with delight. Because we all need a bit of fun, a touch of the whimsical, now and again.

At conventions and author events, all those 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings have their stack of books, their publishing history. But here I am with Archimedes, and I’ll get there through sheer stubbornness.

In many traditions, Halloween marks the turning of the year. It wears the face of the Crone as it watches summer wither and fade, taking on the appearance of Death as it pulls over its head the cold blanket of winter. But this year, summer digs in its heels, refusing to yield. And here I am, more than half a century old, climbing mountains and persisting in this damn fool ambition to be a writer, suddenly with success. Plodding on. Stubborn as summer.”

Justine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science, Humanity and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. Author of Archimedes Nesselrode, a book written for adults who are weary of adult books, she is producer of the BroadPod podcast. She lives, writes and putters around her home in rural New Hampshire, occasionally disappearing into the White Mountains with a backpack. You can find her on her website at www.JustineGraykin.com

The Wicked, Weird and Whimsical Words Halloween Blog Tour runs every other day October 23-October 31. Join us all five days for Halloween fun! Be sure to say hello on any post to be entered in a giveaway at the end of the tour.

Thanks to Justine Graykin for her guest post. Be sure and visit the other blog sites for fun Halloween-themed posts (including my guest posts). Coming up on Whimsical Words between now and All Hallow’s Eve: speculative authors L.C. Hu, Trisha Wooldridge, Elizabeth Black, and Gail Z. Martin.

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IMG_2217 I’m back after journeying through a small part of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Canadian Rockies. Spectacular is the only word I can use for the mountains towering above the roads and waterways of this beautiful part of North America. Snow-covered, glacier-topped, or just sheer cliffs of rock – the mountains were inspirational.

And journey is the most appropriate word for this trip. The untamed nature of the landscape, the chill of icebergs and glaciers, the smell of the dense forest, and the wild animals who populated this wilderness area made these past 2 and 1/2 weeks a journey of distance and spirit.

I’ve always been a fan of journey stories where the reader follows the main character as he or she ventures down paths, across oceans, or over mountains on a quest for treasure, knowledge, powers…  – or maybe to rescue a captured friend. So much so, that I wrote my own journey story, Enchanted Skean – Book I of The Chronicles of Lifthrasir.

Finding a publisher for this Young Adult novel became another sort of journey with lots of twists and turns including: finding an agent only to have the agency close, not being able to find another agent, submitting the manuscript myself to publishers, being told twice that it was between my YA novel and another – only to come in 2nd, and finally, to finding a small publisher interested in publishing the book in both print and eBook formats.

In celebration of the forthcoming publication of Enchanted Skean, I’ll be including a bit of trivia from the works of JRR Tolkien (a master of journey stories) in my blogs starting today. So here goes:

1- Where must the One Ring be destroyed? Okay, that’s easy for most of my readers. Here’s another one. 2- What was the name of the mountain range The Fellowship tried to cross unsuccessfully, and ended up traveling through the Mines of Moria instead? Still too easy for some of you. For The Lord of the Rings savvy here’s the last trivia question. 3- What was the name of the mountain The Fellowship was climbing when snow and avalanches made them turn round and head for the Moria Gate?

I encourage each of you to begin a journey. It can be traveling to a new place, reading a book that takes you to other worlds, or just putting one foot before the other on your life journey.

Answers to the Tolkien trivia:

1- Mount Doom (also known as Orodruin or Mountain of Fire).

2- The Misty Mountains.

3- “The narrow path now wound under a sheer wall of cliffs* to the left, above which the grim flanks of Caradhras towered up invisible in the gloom… They heard eerie noises in the darkness round them. It may have been only a trick of the wind in the cracks and gullies of the rocky wall, but the sounds were those of shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter. Stones began to fall from the mountain-side, whistling over their heads, or crashing on the path beside them…before long the snow was falling fast, filling all the air…” [The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter III: The Ring Goes South]

* As a nod to Tolkien, I have a range of mountains called The Sheercliffs in Enchanted Skean.

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 I’ve just returned home from a visit to my uncle in Laurel Springs. The journey back and forth to the North Carolina mountains was long, but the time spent with him was wonderful. And even in the most normal day-to-day activities, writing and art inspirations were present.

On the drive south (and on the return drive north), the forsythia, Bradford pears, redbuds, and crab apple trees contrasted with the ever-present pines and splashed the Virginia and North Carolina hillsides with color. In particular, I found the deep purplish pink blooms of the redbuds (also known as Judas trees) stunning. There were swatches along I-81 awash in vivid purple-pink from these small trees. And upon arriving at my uncle’s home, the trio of weeping cherry trees along his driveway greeted me with their gnarled trunks and streaming branches of pink blossoms.

How easy it is to believe in dryads – those lovely wood nymphs who are bound to their own particular tree, and carefully look after it. Typically shy, they will occasionally dance in the shadows of the forest or in the moonlight. The twisted trunks of my uncle’s weeping cherries did indeed have a womanly shape to them, and the strands of blossoms that sprang from the top of the trunks looked like locks of hair. Oreads, or mountain pine tree nymphs, seemed to watch from their swaying evergreens on the slope behind my uncle’s home. Known for being a bit testy – I let them be.

 Always careful to honor nature, and cherish her creatures whether animal or plant or something magical – I did not snip a few branches of cherry blooms to pop in a canning jar. Though they’d have been a cheerful addition to the kitchen table, I didn’t want to hear the tree’s spirit screaming as I cut through its flesh. Not to mention, the revenge for hurting (or worse destroying) a dryad’s tree can be quite dreadful.

Instead, I brightened my uncle’s kitchen with a bunch of narcissus that I’d plucked from the edge of the woods back home, and transported to Laurel Springs in a Mason jar. What a joy to celebrate Spring with her promise of new beginnings – even as I watch my uncle slip away.

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I’m back from a week in the mountains of West Virginia, and I’m filled with both longing for the quiet of the deep forest and eagerness to resume my “normal” life. Coming home after a trip is always like that. I miss the excitement of adventure and travel, but relish the familiarity of Wood’s Edge.

 I think my writing is like that, too. As a writer, I was first a poet. This spring/summer, I worked hard on an essay, “Fairies, Magic & Monsters,” that appears in the latest issue of “Little Patuxent Review,” and on a number of short stories for various magazines and anthologies. By tomorrow noontime, I need to finish my next column for “Harford’s Heart Magazine” and get it emailed to my editor. And before next weekend, I really need to complete an article promised to an editor ages ago. Then, I suppose I’ll write a poem or two. You see, poetry for me is like a faded, well-worn pair of jeans — comfortable and easy to slip into.

 For those who might like to read a couple of my poems, the fabulous new anthology from Maryland Writer’s Association, “Life in Me like Grass on Fire,” contains “Harpers Ferry” and “Venus.” Per usual, I used myth, folklore, and legend in both poems. As a bonus for being part of the book, I got a chance to share “Harpers Ferry” and chat about contributing to anthologies at a meeting of the Howard County Branch of MWA in July. It was lovely to spend an evening with a group of enthusiastic readers & writers.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Sharing the love of words with like-minded individuals. So thanks, MWA for including my poems and inviting me to participate in several special presentations based on “Life in Me like Grass on Fire.”

Now, back to my column…

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