Monthly Archives: October 2015

A brief word from our sponsor – Voices from the Dark

As the days grow short and the nights ever longer, the season for enjoying chilling stories by your fireside creeps in. What luck, then, that a Writing Journey anthology is coming out to fulfill your needs!
Within each of us lies a darkness. A deep, unnerving essence that lurks at the fringes of our consciousness. Some hear it as a voice whispering secrets from the dark shadows. Others feel its presence as a cold chill sent tingling down the spine. However it makes itself known, the darkness is there. It’s real, and it wants to be freed.
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Voices from the Dark is to be released very soon; I’ll keep you posted through my various online presences as soon as it becomes available.

I have a story in it and have read many of the others, and I think this will be a good anthology.

If you’d like to get a taste of it ahead of time, you can do so here:

Storytelling Event: Once upon a Samhain
Sunday, November 1st 2015  from 6pm to 8pm
Atlantic Bar on 5062 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL 60625
(Will be held in the back room; mwa-ha-ha!)
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The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, and me

Part 2 of a series of indeterminate length

Day trip to Bath

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The Royal Crescent

The town of Bath, in Somerset, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a long history, and was apparently well known for its healing waters even before the Romans built a spa there around 60 C.E.

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Roman Bath in Bath

They dedicated this temple and bath to Sulis Minerva, a hybrid British-Roman goddess…because the Romans hardly ever reinvented the wheel; they were far more likely to let a couple of goddess wheels smash together (like Sulis and Minerva) and see who crawled out of the wreckage.

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*Not really Sulis Minerva

As fascinating as the history and mythology was, however, we might never have cared much about Bath if not for Jane Austen (and later, especially for Sis, Georgette Heyer). The Bath we wanted to see was the Bath of the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and the Assembly Rooms, all built out of warm. golden Bath Stone.

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Part of Bath Circus

According to our guide Viv, local legend had Bath being discovered by Prince Bladud, who was banished from the royal court because he had leprosy. In order to keep body and soul together, he became a swineherd, but unfortunately his pigs also contracted his disease. One day, he noticed them wallowing around in some hot springs and—wouldn’t you know it?—coming out completely cured. He hopped in the springs himself, was also cured. When he later became king, he built a city at this magical site out of gratitude. That explains why you see acorns (which Bladud’s pigs liked to eat) all over Bath.

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See the acorns?

We found some other interesting symbols around Bath, especially in the Circus. Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Circus was filled with animals and acrobats? No such luck. The name actually refers to the fact that the buildings in this area of Bath are built to form a circle (aka “circus” in Brit-speak) around a park. There were designs above the columns that are reputed to have Masonic origins. I was so delighted to think of Freemasons being responsible for building large portions of Bath, I could barely contain myself, but instead of dancing, I just took pictures.

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Masonic symbols, allegedly

After oohing and aahing over the Royal Crescent and the Circus, we headed for the Assembly Rooms.

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Gallery overlooking the Tea Room

From 1705-1760, the balls and other social activities at the Assembly Rooms were organized (and apparently ruled with an iron hand) by the town’s Master of Ceremonies, John (aka “Beau”) Nash. He was good at getting people to mingle, but my favorite story about him hearing how he kept an eye on the eligible young ladies who were seated, bleacher-style, on one side of the ballroom. If a young lady wasn’t asked to dance within a certain period of time, she would be escorted to a bleacher near the back wall, out of the light, so people wouldn’t have to look at her pitiful loser-hood. Viv thought this was the origin of the term “wallflower. Seems like a legitimate explanation, but holy cow! This Nash guy was harsh!

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Regency dress

Then it was on to the Jane Austen Centre.

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Where I got to channel Jane Austen…

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Cookie got to practice her flirting…

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and Sis posed with Mr. Darcy (see his portrait, way in the back?) as we awaited our cream tea. Warm scones the size of hockey pucks with cream and jam, and numerous flavors of tea!

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It’s possible that the door above leads to one of the places Jane Austen lived when she lived with her father, mother and sister in Bath. At any rate, it’s in one of her neighborhoods; the family lived in about four different spots during their time in Bath.

We went to the Roman Baths as well, but unless you’re a huge archaeology fan (or you have more time than we had allotted to Bath), you might not want to spend a lot of time there. Cream tea in the Regency Tea Room was much more fun!

The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, & me, Part 1

Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length

Welcome to England: Claridge’s

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Claridge’s: image by Dave Hunt on Flickr

Cookie took care of our arrangements, aided by her travel agent at Artisans of Leisure. We ended up with absolutely fabulous hotels in both London and Paris. Here are some of the cool things that happened at Claridge’s, aka Buckingham Palace’s spare rooms. Apparently when the royal family doesn’t have room for all their guests, they ship some of them over to Claridge’s.

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Tea, fruit, and macarons

Our welcome

Our flight got in before 8 a.m. Luckily, the hotel was able to arrange a very early check-in for us, and brought us tea first thing. It went well with what the travel agency had already arranged: fruit, macarons, and champagne awaited us in our rooms. Thus began our vacation tradition of drinking champagne at the drop of a hat. (Though we were restrained enough to wait for the champagne until evening.)

It took us two days to get through the macarons, three or four days to get through the champagne (it’s all rather a blur), and we never quite finish all the fruit, though we put up a good fight on that front.

Celebrity Spotting

My favorite celebrity quote about Claridge’s comes from Spencer Tracy, who said: “…not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”

Our first morning, our guide Viv saw a British comedian whose name I can’t remember, probably because I wasn’t familiar with him. He was hidden in the celebrity breakfast area (which doubled as a bar in the evenings), just off the public restaurant where we were breakfasted. When the mirrored door leading to this hideaway opened, Viv caught a glimpse of a server bringing something to Mr. Famous Comedian, and got all fan-girly. Then as we were leaving the restaurant the next morning, we saw Harvey Keitel, probably on the way to the same little hideaway. It must have been his first morning there, because they hadn’t yet shown him how to avoid being seen yet. There were also reports of Joan Collins, and we spotted a very well-put-together older woman who was definitely “somebody,” if one judged by the stir she caused when she walked through the lobby. Maybe a British actress?

My favorite, though, was our near-spotting of Matt Damon. The night we were going to the Globe Theatre, our driver Clive said, “You know that fellow, the one who plays Bourne?”

“Matt Damon?”

“That’s probably the name. I don’t watch many films, but I remember Bourne.”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He just walked into the ballroom entrance, up ahead there.”

“Up ahead there” was perhaps ten yards from the car. We stared at Clive, our mouths opening and closing like guppies. Clive is a prize-winning fisherman, so maybe that’s what he was after.

He finally went on. “Yeah, the doorman said there’s a big party tonight for some film. Lots of folks in fancy dress. He looked good, did Bourne. They’ll all be going off to Leicester Square for the premiere after this.”

“The movie—could it be The Martian?”

Clive shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t see a lot of films. I just know Bourne.”

There was some temptation to blow off our theatre tickets and hang out in Leicester Square, but that was momentary. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be able to chat up Matt, Jessica, Ridley, or any of their pals even if we could get into the premiere. So it was off to the Globe for us, to see Nell Gwynn. But that’s a post for another day.

Tea

You can get a fancy afternoon tea in London. Sis took Cookie and me to tea at Claridge’s, and you don’t get any fancier.

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Sis, Cookie, and me

We had champagne (do you sense a theme?) and of course, many types of tea from which to choose. I was boring and predictable, and chose Claridge’s Blend. Sis, being more adventurous, had White Silver Tip. Cookie tried the Iron Goddess of Mercy. Seemed apt.

The ritual was familiar; we began with tea sandwiches, and there were several tasty vegetarian choices. Then we had the best scones (plain and raisin) I personally have ever eaten, accompanied by Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly—fruity and mildly spicy. At this point, we were so full we could do little more than sniff the gorgeous pastries that ended tea: a strawberry mousse nestled on a large, macaron-type shell, a fluffy apricot dessert much like a light cheesecake, lemon cake with raspberry filling, and a mocha pastry with half a malted milk ball on top.

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Our waiter asked if we would like our unfinished pastries sent to our room, to which the answer was a resounding yes. We saw him the next morning at breakfast, and he asked if we had finished them later that evening. We had to admit that we hadn’t been able to. After a walk down to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, we were pretty much done for the night. The pastries ended up being our dinner the next night, if memory serves. We had a lot of dessert for dinner during this trip. That’s okay; we were on vacation.

Thirteen lines…what’s the gee-whiz?

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Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’m following along with the Writing Excuses master class in fiction writing. Slowly. As in, I’m still working on assignments that were given back in April, but at least I’m working on them.

For the assignment I’m on right now, I’m supposed to share the first 13 lines of a story, and then ask alpha readers—that would be you, if you choose to accept the assignment—what they think the “gee-whiz” of the piece is. In other words, what is the reason for telling the story? Is it a certain interesting society, character, piece of tech, kind of magic, or what?

In that spirit, I’m sharing the first 13 lines of a story I’m writing, and asking for responses. Can you guess/predict the gee-whiz?

Kimberley savored a celebratory caramel macchiato in the coffee garden across from campus. Her eyes rested on a bed of pink tulips under a flowering crabapple tree as a light bubble of joy filled her chest. Her old implant pinged. Even before installing her upgrade, she was already thinking of her implant as the “old” one. Marco’s tone. She bit her lip. She’d hoped to tell her mother about her placement first. Mom would have the perfect reaction, but Kimberley’s ping to her had so far gone unanswered. She planned to tell Marco, too, though his response might dampen her mood.

As if anything could. He might not be as happy for her as she might wish, but they would both get over it. And she wanted to hear about his placement. She clicked her tongue to open a line, said, “Hey.”

“Did you find out yet?”

“Yes. How about you?”

“Skank! You first.”

There they are. The first 13 lines, at least in my web browser. Any impressions regarding genre, tone, conflict, story question or characters are welcome, but I’m particularly interested in what you think the “gee-whiz” might be.

In other news, Cookie, Sis, and I just got back from England and France. Photos and anecdotes coming soon…