Wednesday, December 9, 2015

South Hadley Library Talk December 12, 10a.m.

So I'll be talking about spooky New England authors,

Howard Phillips Lovecraft , señor al cual le debemos el nombre de la ...
gallery for quotes by Shirley Jackson. You can to use those 6 images ...

and other spooky inspirations for The Hawley Book of the Dead, this Saturday at the South Hadley Public Library, 2 Canal Street, South Hadley MA. Come with ghost stories to share!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

We were watching Love Actually for the 243rd time last night, and it struck me that Emma Thompson is turning into Hillary. Or is it the other way around? Or are they actually the same person? I guess that would explain why I haven't seen Emma Thompson in many films lately. Hmmm...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sometimes the Bear Eats You, But then...

(The culprits in a quiet moment, plotting misdeeds)

Yesterday 4 things happened:

1) Our cat, Smitty, peed on all my clean t-shirts.

2) My husband the Firestarter put the oven on 450 degrees and didn't take out an acorn squash he'd cooked the day before and smoke filled the house and when I opened the oven, sparks were sparking off the coils because of hot butter dripping from the squash. So I threw baking soda on it -- still not sure if that was right, but it seemed to work.

3) I choked on linguine really badly at supper. My throat still hurts from it.

4) Smitty leaped onto the mantel and knocked over a crystal vase and it shattered all over the sitting room and I am still picking up shards.

So that was yesterday.

And now today I am sick, no wonder, but:

1) We had lunch at Rose32 and brought home lots of great pastry including the peach scone I am about to enjoy.

2) I got the ARCs of both the new Helen Simonson and Kris Jansma (!!!), and although they make rather strange bedfellows, I've spent the afternoon enjoying them.

3) Mom is not complaining quite so much about living with us.

4) Though sick, I have the most lovely sense of well-being -- I am here in my not-burned-down house, reading and drinking tea and eating scones. What could be better?

Tomorrow? We'll see, won't we...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

DREAMLAND: An Excerpt, Finally

The beginning of the second book in The Revelation Chronicles. At least a decent draft of the beginning. Some of you have been waiting a long time. Thank you for your patience, and let me know what you think!

Chapter 1: Roving Out

They thought they had all the time in the world. Revelation Dyer and her three daughters felt held by Hawley, the half-abandoned town they lived in. Held in a cupped palm that was the deep hollow of a New England forest. The town enfolded them, hid them from harm with its magic. There they remained, suspended. There they felt safe, surrounded. They all behaved as if they were timeless.
Yet thinking you have all the time in the world is dangerous as a knife-edge worn thin, honed to a slice of likely violence. Reve wondered how long it would last, as she perched on a bench in the cold of December. The illusion of safety seemed guaranteed to battle with reality, and lose. She hugged herself, huffed warm breath into her hands as she watched her twins, Grace and Fai, practice their magic, their horses prancing and curveting in the frost-rimed afternoon. Their breath wisped in clouds around them as they galloped, turned, galloped again. At seventeen, they were still innocent of the vagaries and dangers of time.
Reve’s hair flamed like lava around her, looking as if it might burn her; but it was no good at keeping her head warm. None of them was prepared for the sudden frigid blast of coming winter. Except for the horses. They always wore their fur coats. Fuzzy now, they looked like velvety toy horses. The girls’ hair, the same fairy tale red as their mother’s, tumbled from beneath the shells of riding helmets, mixed with the manes of their horses as they bent to urge them on. Thin legs muscled their horse’s sides, turning them sleekly as fish in deep water. They held the reins lightly, like dainty embroidery floss they were working. Both girls were slim, slight, but the effect they had on horses was powerful. Grace used her weight and her hands to finesse them. All Fai had to do was think what she wanted, and her horse responded as if hypnotized, subject to her will.
All the same, with all their skill, they needed help to accomplish their desire. A magic show, with horses. The revival of the Amazing Maskelynes, magicians and illusionists through three generations. They would be the fourth, they would follow in the wake of their mother, their dead father. Return in triumph to Las Vegas, their old home, to their old theater, the Bijoux. They would be its jewels. Fai had gently bullied them all into reviving a Maskelyne magic show. Cajoling and coaxing until everything was in place. Single-handed, she’d gotten Grace to comply, Reve to write the script, their agent, Henry, to find backers. Miss Marie was discovered by Fai in Lithia, the next town over. A retired trainer of circus horses. Fai had badgered her out of a long retirement to teach them.
Tiny Miss Marie now strode amongst girls and horses, commanding them, her black cloak whipped by the wind. She’d been a master horse wrangler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She’d survived the Hartford fire in 1944, saved her horses, but hung up her whip. Bought Charlie’s Diner in Lithia, changed its name to the Miss Marie, after herself. Never looked back, never stepped foot near a horse for years, until Fai found her.
Even Wesley Knowles, oldest living expert on the history of stage magic, who had never willingly left the Bijoux, had come east, bidden by Fai. To coach them, to measure out this replica – in size and scope, at least – of their Las Vegas stage, exact but for the weather. They’d built a hut to protect him from the elements, and he’d come to iron out the kinks, a space heater at his feet. Even Miss Marie, who listened to no one, listened for Wesley’s reedy voice. The one-hundred-and-fifteen-year-old man.
He called from his hut at the arena’s edge, stop-watch in hand, “Faster, faster! It won’t work if they don’t come at it much faster.” Wesley’s wheezing breath wreathed his elfin-hatted head.
“But when we hit the vom ramp, won’t the sound give us away?” Fai pulled up her grey horse, Rikka, trotted to Wesley’s hut. “Naw,” he told her, “The voms will be matted so thick you won’t hear a single hoof-beat. And if you go fast enough, no one will see you either, Missy.”
The desired effect. The show’s finale. Girls and horses racing toward the audience full-tilt. Then, just feet from the first rows, because of Wesley’s design of scrim, light and shadows, the girls and their horses would vanish. It made Reve shiver to think of it, to think how they had disappeared one fine day in October two years before, Grace and Fai and the horses. Gone for a week, who knew where. They themselves had no clue they’d even been gone. But in this stage act, they would be restored much more quickly, only giving the audience pause to wonder, to marvel, before they re-appeared from their vanish, triumphant. Like Reve used to, her finest stage illusion, her claim to fame as a magician.
She never did it now, that simple vanish. She missed the ease she’d had with it. Everything had become so much more complicated. Everything but staying here, in Hawley. Reve struggled with the idea of returning to Las Vegas, to the Bijoux. The girls’ father had died there, performing the trick called Defying the Bullets. No, I shot him, Reve thought. An accident, driven by bad magic, by an evil magician. Simon Magus. Returning never had seemed like a good idea. There remained too much they didn’t know. And now it was so close, their departure, a hair’s breadth away, a few months.
Could they leave, return to their desert lives? After all this time there had been no sign, even in the Book she carried, of Simon Magus. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe he had been vanquished for good, had fallen from his own pride and now was dead. Never to return. But Reve doubted it. A place beneath her ribs, the place her breath came from, still was clutched with fear of him. She knew he was out there, somewhere. She felt him.
A blaze of sunlight like a beacon pierced the iron clouds over the valley, shone on the houses of Hawley Five Corners. Reve’s own house the jewel among them, glowed pearl-like in the sudden shaft of light that touched the hollow. Reve thought of the artist who had painted the mural in her house, a mural of this very view nearly two hundred years ago. He had stood just here, where she was. Did the magic of the mural come from him, or from the house itself? It seemed the past was always with her here. Two years and a day ago, two hundred years and a day. Maybe it all really did just keep happening, over and over. Maybe time was folded in planes, pleated like a fan. It was what Kestrel John told her. Maybe what she herself experienced. Walking between the worlds, he called it.
But now she was done with all that, for the day at least. Kestrel John had released her from her own practice of the morning, swordfights and history lessons and travel through the worlds of time, and she could watch over her girls. It felt like a luxury, even in the freeze.
Wesley and Miss Marie were in a huddle, discussing speed and the possibilities for disaster. Fai listened intently, walking Rikka around and around Wesley’s hut, while Grace lay on her horse Brio’s black back, staring up at the leaden sky. A few stray snowflakes feathered the air.
 Another shaft of light shone on a man, striding over the hill from the houses. Not Kestrel John in his robes, not her father or a random visitor. Just a dark figure on the horizon. But she recognized the way the man moved, could have picked him out of any crowd. Even with his face obscured by the brim of the felt hat he always wore, the color named ‘burnt umber’ in her daughters’ old box of crayons. He could roll the hat and tuck it in his back pocket. He told her once he wished he could tuck her in a pocket similarly, take her when he went off on his journeys, his vocation to find the missing.
He’d been gone nearly a week this time, tracking lost climbers in Colorado. Two college girls, their parents frantic. She knew that feeling in her bones. She’d prayed for them, opened the Book for them, but saw nothing. As usual. She hadn’t learned it yet, the Book that was her legacy was like a balky horse she hadn’t discovered the key to. Jolon found the lost girls anyway, in a disorienting scrub of backcountry, one girl with a broken leg that might never heal properly. But alive. He’d called Reve the day before, to tell her.
He must have taken the red eye, returning sooner than expected. To get here for this day, of all days. Reve waved to him, but his head remained bowed. He held something in each hand. She jumped off the bench, startling Brio, who threw his head up, looked where she was looking. Grace sat up, clutched the reins, steadied her horse. “What? What’s going on?” She saw the man. “Oh, Mom! It’s only Jolon. You didn’t have to nearly kill me over him.” And she lay back on Brio again, humming a nameless tune that one of the clocks in their house played.
Reve walked until she was beyond the arena, then began to run. Jolon set the go cups he carried in the humps of frozen grass, ran too, and caught her in his arms. Their cold cheeks brushed, then Reve’s lips grazed his temple, his eyelid, before finding his mouth.
She murmured into his neck once they’d finished that first long kiss, that promise of more to come, “What did you bring me?”
            He always brought her something, ever since they were children together. A bird’s nest, or ladybugs he’d caught in a jar. Now he retrieved the go cups from the grass. “Only tea now, to keep you going. Your real present’s at the cabin.”
            She reached for a cup, and their icy fingers touched. They smiled and each could see in the other’s face the children they’d once been. Good friends, first loves. Then after years apart, they’d found each other again, here in Hawley. Reve remembered the words he’d said to her, two years and a day ago. After neither of them had died in the storm of the century. After all they’d been through, after all the lost years, Jolon had told her, “I’ve never loved anyone but you.”
             Reve felt for The Hawley Book of the Dead in her pocket. She kept it always near her. She stroked its leather cover, and wondered why that simple act could always comfort her. The Book had yielded little else in the two years since she’d returned to Hawley and found it. Or since it had found her. But she loved it, that small leather-bound Book. She loved it with a fierce love, the same kind of achy love she felt for her daughters, and the man next to her. Two years and a day. Reve didn’t need the Book to tell her why Jolon had returned early. She knew what was coming.
“Are they almost done?” Jolon nodded towards the arena.
            “No. Come watch with me.” Reve tucked her arm beneath his, held the warm cup to her nose. She led Jolon back to the bench he himself had made, along with the arena, a few weeks in early September before the first frost had even been thought of.
            “Did you see Caleigh?” Reve asked him. Her youngest daughter, thirteen and unaccounted for. “I thought she was going to come out to watch after school.”
            “Mrs. Pike has a cake in the oven. Left Caleigh stringing at the table, waiting on cake.”
            Reve’s daughters were obsessed – Fai with stage magic, Caleigh with the magic that no longer came easily to her, the magic of her string. Only Grace did not seem driven, seemed like a normal seventeen-year-old, worrying over her hair and clothes, what she’d do about her current boyfriend when they left for Las Vegas in a few months. She’d gone along with Fai and her plans to revive the Amazing Maskelynes instead of college. A gap year of magic. A tribute to their father, Reve’s dead husband, Jeremy. Reve watched her girls and turned the ring on her finger, that last thing he’d given her. Hearts Hold Magic, its inscription told her. She sighed, shivered. Jolon eased his arm around her, but said nothing, just let his warmth seep into her, melt her. Like always.            “Get a room!” Grace sniped at them from atop her horse.
            “And you, Princess Grace,” Miss Marie’s crabby voice dripped with sarcasm. “Get your skinny butt over here and let’s try it again. Like Wesley says, faster this time.” She marched away, planted her short fireplug body in the center of the arena.
            So Grace and Fai wheeled their horses, turned them in unison, set them into what seemed a frenzied gallop, headed right toward the bench, toward Reve and Jolon. Their speed made even Reve catch her breath, hold it, fearing for a split second those trampling hooves. But Jolon held her hard, ready to push her down, throw himself over her to shield her with his body. At the last possible moment, just before it seemed certain the twins would crash into the bench, run down their own mother, they parted their horses. They galloped past, inches away. Reve could smell horse sweat and Fai’s shampoo, Grace’s perfume, feel the rush of bodies, horses and girls all snarled in a vortex of motion. She could feel Jolon release the spring of his muscles, his heart pounding against her. Two years and a day, two years and a day, its rhythm told her. She would try to be gentle, to be kind, as Kestrel John kept telling and telling her. But gentle was not her natural state. It never had been. It was something she was learning only now. Stubbornness was easier. Holding tight to what she had and striving to keep it was easier. It was easy to fight for that. It was the not striving, the not fighting, the letting go, that was hardest for her.

While the twins cooled and put away the horses, and Jolon unfroze Wesley and Miss Marie by making the fire roar in the parlor, Reve went to find Caleigh in the kitchen. The heavy scent of roasting meat, laced with the lemon and nutmeg of cake, greeted her. Caleigh and Mrs. Pike did not. Neither her daughter nor her housekeeper looked up when Reve swung the door open. Caleigh’s bright copper hair hung, hid her face, while her hands worked at a web of white string.
            “Pork roast?” Reve asked. Mrs. Pike only nodded in quick time, a jerk of her silvered head, the braids bound so tight around it her freckled old skin stretched tight over her cheekbones.
            Reve sighed, opened the refrigerator door, inspected vegetal options. Pulled out spinach, walnuts, an orange beet big as a heart, and shaped like one.
            “How’s that cake?” A plate on the table in front of Caleigh, crumb-covered, its surface smeared with white frosting, evidence she’d spoiled her dinner, or tried to. Her hands still plucked at the string, her head remained bowed over her task. She ignored her mother.
            The string lost its shape.
            “Mom!” She did look up then, her green eyes piercing. “You made me mess it up! I almost had it!” Caleigh glared. Twelve, nearly thirteen. Time for snarkiness. But Caleigh had been suffering from early-onset snarkiness for two years, and they had all suffered with her. She’d lost, or nearly lost, her prodigious power, the ability to shape events with her string games, to draw things to her. They had all lost so much. A husband, a father, a home. Reve sighed a deep sigh.
            “I’m sorry, honey. What was it?”
            Caleigh teased out the string so it made a snaking double line along the table’s edge. It was a replica of the enchanted string she used to ply, except for the evil magic that Simon Magus had infused in her old string. His ability to feel her family through it, through Caleigh. Who now huffed, “If I tell you, you’ll just get it for me. And that’s no good.” She kicked the chair next to her, sent it screeing across the wood floor.
            Gentle, Reve thought. She brought her cutting board over to the table, replaced the kicked chair, sat next to her daughter, took her hand. “It’s all right,” she said. “You’ll get it. I know you will.”
            Caleigh pulled her hand away. She crossed her arms, flung herself back against the hard wooden spindles of her chair. “You don’t understand, Mom. Nobody does. I had it, I could always do it. Now I can’t. And it was all I had.” Her eyes were fierce with hurt. “You and Grace and Fai, you’re all smart, and you’re athletic and you have your horses, and you’re pretty.” Reve could hear the tears welling in Caleigh’s voice. She wished the tempest would come, and with it some relief for her daughter’s pain.
            But Mrs. Pike chimed in, “Pretty is as pretty does!” She peered at them over the hunk of steaming pork, just out of the oven.
            “You’re not helping.” Reve glared at Mrs. Pike, then back at her stormy-eyed daughter. They’d been through this and through this, and Reve never seemed to say the right thing. But she tried once more.
            “Look, honey, we’re all learning. Grace is, Fai is, and I certainly am. We all keep making mistakes. That’s what learning is about. Look at me! I never even knew what my real power was until we came here. I’m so much older than all of you and I’m just learning, too.”
            “But Nan says…” Caleigh hesitated, her eyes filled now with glassy tears. Nan. Reve’s grandmother. Their queen bee, holder of the Dyer family secrets. Caleigh’s mentor, as Kestrel John was Reve’s. Nan was an enigma, and Reve lost patience with her as much as she adored her.
            “What does Nan say now?” What pot is she stirring now, is what Reve forebore to say.
            “She says…she says the string may not even be my power.” She looked wild then, on the edge of panic. Reve reached for her, to comfort her, but Caleigh pulled away, tears streaming.
            Mrs. Pike plunked a bowl of late peas down on the table between mother and daughter.
            “Here now.” She tisked, shook her silver-crowned head. “All this talk of powers and such. Where does it get you in the end, Missus?” She turned to Caleigh. “String these. And top and tail them, too. I’ve heard enough moaning over what you can’t do. Do this!”
            A look of vast surprise flitted over Caleigh’s face, stopped her tears. Mrs. Pike thrust the mother-of-pearl handle of a knife, her own precious paring knife, towards Reve. “You too, Missus. Get on with that salad or we’ll never be done with this blessed day!” And she spun on her heels, resumed hewing thick slices from the roast.
             Caleigh turned to her mother, her eyes wide.
“Yes, ma’am,” Reve meekly told Mrs. Pike. She winked at her daughter, snapped a salute at the old woman’s rigid back. Caleigh broke down in helpless giggles, and started on the peas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


I know it's a little late for a Thanksgiving post, but since I have been spending most of my free moments lately being very grateful, I guess it's appropriate.

This year, my husband almost died. My mom almost died. At the same time. For awhile I was running between hospitals. Then for the entire summer, we spent a lot of hours in hospitals and doctor's offices.

Both are fine now, fingers crossed.

We decided to move my 94-year-old mom in with us. Through the spring, we searched for a house with an in-law apartment, put a deposit on a one which we thought met our needs, an antique house with an in-law suite -- in spite of powder post beetle issues (which I always want to call powder puff beatles. If f I had a band, I'd name it that). The week of our closing was the week my husband almost died. I put a whoa on the house buying. We lost our $18,000 deposit.

Bummer, right? Actually not. We took a second look at another antique house with an in-law apartment, which we hadn't seriously considered as it was on the other side of the Valley. But the price had dropped $55,000. It was in far better shape than the first house. It already had a barn for my horse. We bought it, and saved money, even after the lost deposit. And it is odd in another way. One of my students had seen a photo of it on my Facebook page, and said it reminded her of the house in my book, Reve's house at the Five Corners. She asked if I drew it to me writing the Hawley Book of the Dead. And I have to say, I guess I did.

My writing has been on hold, what with all the almost dying, then the moving. But here I find myself, in my dream house, ready to plunge into Dreamland again, my mom fixing her hair in her nice apartment, my husband sitting across from me, his hair in the Baby Huey updo it gets after he's been rumpling it up as he writes.

I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be more grateful for all the magical turn-arounds of the past year. If nothing else, this year has taught me that magic really does exist, that some force in the universe, or our guardian angels, or whatever gods may be, ultimately take care of us, and place us on the right path, even kicking and screaming.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Today in Dreamland

Well, went to the opening of the Wadsworth Atheneum exhibit re Coney Island, and it gave me lots of juice. Also, books, magnets and other junk re the early 20th century amusement parks on Coney island. There were two biggies in addition to Dreamland: Luna Park and Steeplechase Park, which had an ACTUAL MECHANICAL STEEPLECHASE as a ride, encircling the whole park. So you could pretend to be Lady Mary (hail, Downton fans).

So today am heading to Dreamland with much more ammunition. Also, researching diving horse girls.

I love my job.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An American Dreamland

Part of the magic of writing is that you can conjure things. It's very cool.

I am working on the second book of The Revelation Chronicles, on the scenes that take place on Coney Island, in 1911. At the amusement park called Dreamland. The book is titled Dreamland.

I just found out the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT is having an exhibition about Coney Island and its various amusement parks, from 1868 to 2008, called "Coney Island:Visions of an American Dreamland." It opens Saturday.

How crazy is that? That there would be an exhibit so directly related to the precise and odd setting I am writing about, at a museum so close to me? RIGHT NOW? It even has the word 'Dreamland' in it, just so I couldn't possibly miss it.

Maybe I'll try to conjure us a February thaw next.