Thursday, April 20, 2017


Yellow-blue morning

Four male and three female goldfinches perched on the feeder, backed by a lawn that is a low meadow in shades of blue scilla and a few yellow crocuses. Plus a persistent squirrel. I am recalling my father's electrifying squirrel-defenses....

More on my wanderings, for the curious or downright nosey--

Grovewood Gallery by Grove Park Inn
After I returned from Paris, I devoted three weeks to a North Carolina trip. This one was entirely personal, as I went down to give my mother (now 88, not 89, as I had thought--weak math!) a hiking companion (thank you, Etheree Chancellor, for being a good hiking friend) and more. My mother is still active volunteering for the North Carolina Arboretum, gardening at her home in Cullowhee, and weaving, so she is still up for many outings and for hiking in the Nantahala Forest or Panther Falls Trail (near Tallulah Gorge, GA) or Pinnacle Park in Sylva or near Fontana Dam, etc. We also explored interesting or just plain wacky museums (rocks! tartans! historic houses!) all over western North Carolina. We ate out constantly (when we weren't home with such deep-South favorites as green boiled peanuts and field peas and okra) in Asheville and Franklin and Sylva. We marched all over the Asheville arts district, rambling through studios and galleries (stopping to eat at White Duck Tacos because my mother said she had no one who wanted to go there with her) and to the Grovewood Gallery at Grove Park Inn, and to see weaver Susan Leveille at Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, etc. etc.

Now you know.

I came back in time for a wonderful Holy Week, and now here I am, company departed and ready to work. I have a batch of manuscripts to read, a novel to revise, poems to write for a special project in the fall (I'll write about that in The Rollipoke, for those of you who are subscribers), and a talk for Buechner Workshops to contemplate and begin.

Jordan Murray and self-publishing

As Jordan is a friend and daughter of friends and was in Cooperstown to sing (we have occasionally sung together in choir, though she is a far better singer than I am) and babysit doggies, I invited her for Easter dinner. I'm curious about self-publishing and have been interested in her progress. (Remember when her possible covers were posted? "Help Jordan Murray Pick a Cover." She picked one and The Emperor's Horn is now out.) Since she writes fantasy and science fiction, I'm fantasizing that she will find the pot of gold at rainbow's end and go to Clarion and meet lots of writers and have the fun of going through the fine-tooth comb that is Clarion critiquing. (It is transformative fun, or so say the Clarionites. Though the ones I've met also say they didn't sleep all that much for six weeks.) I've asked her for some comments on her road to publishing, and here they are:

There is undeniable value in the artistic freedom that self-publishing enables.

Respecting that value with high quality work takes vigilance and sacrifice, and it takes a great deal of time. Commitments to goals are easily sabotaged by impatience, one of the ugliest enemies of any author or artist. After all, isn't self-publishing supposed to be faster and easier than the traditional route?

Self-awareness is an essential part of the process.

Self-publishing requires the author examine their work with staggering levels of humility and honesty. They must learn to recognize their weakest skills and confront them until they either get better at it or hire professional help. There's no shame at all in hiring a professional editor or artist. True, it involves more up front expenses, but, it also provides the rare opportunity of choosing your collaborators.

It's important for independent authors to realize that extensive editing is only the beginning of their commitment to self-publishing.

Repeated, time-consuming tasks that have very little to do with the simple joy of writing will fill days, months, and years of their lives. Will it make them a better writer? Yes. Will it teach them valuable life skills? Frequently. Will it make them a bitter, frustrated person who resents their choice? It might. But, the choice for one person to do it all need not be a permanent one.

Contracts with editors and publishers elapse, change, and evolve in traditional circuits just as self-published authors may choose to become traditionally published during their careers. There need not be such a strong division between the two. The path an author takes to crafting and publishing a good story can be uniquely suited to their own needs. That is an exciting prospect, and the pursuit of art for art's sake is equally important to keep alive during the process.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Lessons in history, beauty, and the point of life"

Moreau's Jason and Medea,
Musée d'Orsay, Wikipedia public domain
It's a bit odd that I made it to Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu before I ever made it to Paris but so it is. Here are a few scattered thoughts about my just-finished trip, which was quite wonderful and not at all like Lent (aside from sore knees and seeing many skulls and bones and rambling in the chilly rain.) What is so alluring about Paris is the beauty and also the plain fact that there is so much worth knowing: it has many satisfying layers of culture.

How we change! At 19 I loved Burne-Jones. Decades later, I hardly give him a glance because he's hung so close to Gustave Moreau at the Musée d'Orsay. That place alone is proof that high culture in the West cannot do without the "dead white male," like him or not.

Mystery is always an element in the most pleasing work, and I thought about this repeatedly in Paris. Probably the most over-familiar example there or anywhere is La Gioconda. But in La Dame à la licorne tapestries at the Musée de Cluny (Musée national du Moyen Âge), I like the way the final motto, À mon seul désir, can be read in so many different ways that it tends up seeming pregnant with meaning but not at all revealing itself.

Climbing the winding stair from the lovely lower level and turning the corner into the upper level of Sainte-Chapelle: surprise linked to intense beauty is as pleasing in architecture as it is in a garden of winding paths with secret sculpture and discovered vistas. I'd like to go back there again. If you're in doubt as to whether high culture is a worthy and beautiful ideal, Sainte-Chapelle will settle your mental hash.

Perhaps as we grow older, what culture we have tells us what things we don't really need to know. While I regretted not being faster here and there (never quite got to the Manet), I found myself a bit cool on royal gaud at the Château de Versailles. I didn't regret missing some of the rooms, though I loved the outrageous chapel, and it was interesting to see works by Bernini, the Clicquot organ, etc. in a "home" interior. I hung around the Morand clock, waiting for the playlet of the laughing dwarf to appear on the hour, but it seems to no longer function. (I love automatons and clockwork--well, who doesn't?) Enjoyed walking the André Le Nôtre gardens and poking around the grounds and seeing the smaller structures, particularly the adorable hamlet of Marie Antoinette, tumbledown though it is. Perhaps what I was cool on was Louis XIV himself, as the degree of narcissism seemed overwhelming and sometimes comical. Or perhaps it was the Baroque? But I like Bernini. And Caravaggio. Maybe Louis, then? Because I enjoyed seeing the broken royal monument of Queen Adelaide of Savoy, wife of Louis VI. Yes, I think the Sun King's affectations must be why--that and the prodigious ostentatiousness of the place, even though I saw many things to like.

À mon seul désir, Musée de Cluny, Wikipedia public domain

An element that is seldom seen in the states but common in Europe and Asia is that interesting sense of one phase of culture taking over another in architecture. It must be wonderful to live with that constantly. It is a rich thing for a writer, too. Living with tradition is to be fed by culture. You have a sense of ongoing culture in Notre Dame and other churches, but it's even stronger elsewhere. I liked seeing Crypte archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame where the medieval bumps into the Roman--or the Roman frigidarium bumping into the medieval at Cluny--or the constant refurbishing and remaking in churches like St. Severin or St. Pierre. There's also a sense of the place as layered and undermined with the Les Catacombes and sewers and various archaeological underground sites. That must do something to one's mind. And a good thing, too. It's pleasurable for someone from the states and for a writer. I think of all the early writers bemoaning our lack of "thick," built-up civilization, or of Charles Brockden Brown transforming the forests into Gothic structures. We do have some ancient native American sites, but they are not so woven into our cities, and none of them have the presence of the sites in Latin America.

It is possible to walk from rue Meslay up to the Seine and past the Tour Eiffel with lots of side wanderings even if you have a bum knee that makes you sorry you did it later on. What a walkable city! Sidewalks are often a bit narrow, but who cares? I live in a little Yankee village with lots of museums that's quite walkable when we're not in the mad middle of a blizzard, as we are now, but eventually all sidewalks have been thoroughly walked many times....

Did I say that I love the medieval world? I adore medieval carved ivory and stained glass. And bizarre reliquaries and goldsmith work and tapestries. If only I wouldn't drop dead in childbirth (would) or die of illness in childhood (would) or be a miserable peasant (would), I could be a happy medieval traveler.

In lieu of a medieval life, I might just like to live in the Louvre. I managed to stare at the Vermeer show, Egypt, Assyria, the medieval rooms, and a huge amount of European painting, but I think it might take a lifetime to look over the place properly.

Lovely to see the university classes using the Louvre. We live in a time in which American academics kick out the highest achievements of culture in the name of increasing diversity and equality, but we will never achieve a high culture of diversity and equality if artists and writers don't stand on the greats of the past. And in the West, those greats of the past are dominated by those pesky dead white males. But when art goes out from the soul and becomes part of the soul of the world, well, the best of it is beyond considerations of gender or race. And the very finest is what we want to stand on. If we don't stand on tradition and the finest creations of the past, we are but spiders, spinning from our own limited guts.

Food, one must say something about Paris food, no? And I have now eaten ice cream at Berthillon--quite good but not up to the fabulous, weird, magic flavors of Emporio La Rosa in Santiago, Chile. I would hate to admit how many of those flavors I tried in a rather short span of time. Ceviche was better in Peru, but everything else edible in Paris was hard to beat. The food in cafes and restaurants the locals know more than the tourists was wonderfully imaginative. Fun to let them bring whatever they like in many small courses and be surprised. Fun also to visit a market like La Marché des Enfants Rouges and eat in a little rainy tent. Also, I definitely had a weakness for the layered sables and the small cakes at Bontemps in the Marais. (And we met interesting people at restaurants, including a Texan who fell in love with Paris and stayed, and who I now realize was Rick Odums of the Centre International de Danse.)

Paris myths... Perhaps it was the frequent rain and cold at fault, but Paris was not quite as fashionable as I expected it to be, particularly in Paris Fashion Week, though I did enjoy passing by shop windows and staring at clothes (and art and flowers and so on.) We did keep noticing that Asian tourists were wearing pale gray with pale shell pink in beautifully shaped wool coats. Unlike the myth, Parisians are not all mere fashionable sticks for clothes to hang on. They come in all size and shapes. Nor were they rude about a tourist jabbering at them in schoolgirl French, as I was led to expect, but were quite willing to engage, ever helpful and friendly. And now that it is blizzarding outside, I'm ready to return. Already two fresh feet of snow, falling fast, and set to snow into tomorrow...

photo by Chatsam, Cluny, CC via Wikipedia
Roman baths with capitals from the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés


Learning curve: just sent a Rollipoke News out today... And got a bunch of replies. And then replied to one to absolutely everybody enrolled. Sorry out there!

Sunday, March 12, 2017


I'm fresh back from Paris and promise to post soon--hope you have done something wonderful in the past week!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Small hurrah on Shrove Tuesday

Yesterday I finished the draft of a novel. For me, it is quite long--358 pages of text, plus the usual front matter and divisions. And it has a glossary. I'm not sure whether I'll include the glossary. It glosses dialect words and clears up some common misconceptions. Maybe I'll just post it.... I'll take a break from the manuscript, and then start to revise it and also do some  persnickety research to make sure there are no stray historical errors.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Rollipoke News, no. 1

Courtesy of Jenny W. of Honolulu,

For those of you who are waiting with the bated kind of breath: the first issue of The Rollipoke (a.k.a. The Rollipoke NewsThe Rollicking Rollipoke, etc.) will be launched into the interspace tomorrow. And I hope you enjoy the peculiar little newsletter that promises to give you the news about my books and doings before anybody else has it--news that either has not been posted online yet or, in some cases, will never be posted there.

Thank you, rollipokers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Don't be a nozzle!
Tiny Equus africanus asinus
Creative Commons Wikipedia
Note: It seems to me that Roderick Robinson's comments are more interesting than the post. So maybe you should read them!

I've been researching such interesting topics as  total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and so on, hanging with Calvin and the reformed tradition, hanging with Puritans and Separatists. All for the sake of my current novel.

Though in the past I've done lots of reading in seventeenth-century writings, this time I need to understand the theological underpinnings a bit better so I can understand worldview of characters. I'm finding my head a bit hard when it comes to Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, etc. vs. modern-day "Calvinism."

And I've also found lots of curious nuggets along the way. Some of my favorites are words.

How about nazzle?
A "ludicrous diminutive of ass."

Or niffle-naffle?
To trifle and play with one's work.

I like the old word for marzipan. March-pane or marchpane. A still-popular confection of sugar or honey and almond meal. “To make Marchpane to Ice and Gild, and garnish it according to Art. Take Almonds, and blanch them out of seething water, and beat them till they come to a fine paste in a stone Mortar, then take fine searsed sugar, and so beat it altogether till it come to a prefect paste, putting in now and then a spoonful of Rose-water, to keep it from oyling; then cover your Marchpane with a sheet of paper as big as a Charger, then cut it round by that Charger, and set an edge about it as about a Tart, then bottom it with Wafers, then bake it in an Oven, or in a Baking-pan, and when it is hard and dry, take it out of the Oven, and ice it with Rose-water and Sugar, and the white of an Egg, being as thick as butter, and spread it over thin with two or three feathers; and then put it into the Oven again, and when you see it rise high and white, take it out again and garnish it with some pretty conceit, and stick some long Comfits upright in it, so gild it, then strow Biskets and Carrawayes on it. If your Marchpane be Oyly in beating, then put to it as much Rose-water as will make it almost as thin as to ice.”  (A Queens Delight also has a recipe to make marchpane “look like Collops of Bacon.”) From A QUEENS Delight; OR, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. Never before Published. London, Printed by E. Tyler, and R. Holt, for Nath. Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the Royal Exchange. 1671.

Or how about lollop? To lounge about, to saunter (but heavily!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elecampane and pippin-pap

Public domain, Wikipedia.
Doman Hering: Judgement of Paris, c. 1529,
Solnhofen limestone, 22 x 19.7 cm;
Paris (the knight) is a portrait of Otto Henry, Elector Palatine,
Hera a portrait of his wife Susanna. Bode-Museum Berlin.

Well, it's not the admirable and most famous Snail Water, but it might come in handy on these cold winter nights...
An approved Conserve for a Cough or Consumption of the Lungs.

Take a pound of Elecampane Roots, draw out the pith, and boil them in
two waters till they be soft, when it is cold put to it the like
quantity of the pap of roasted Pippins, and three times their weight of
brown sugar-candy beaten to powder, stamp these in a Mortar to a
Conserve, whereof take every morning fasting as much as a Walnut for a
week or fortnight together, and afterwards but three times a week.
I wonder if that is the size of a walnut meat, an unopened walnut in its shell, or a great big green unhulled walnut. Whatever it is, the receipt comes from the marvelous A Queens Delight: The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also, A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. 
London: Printed by E. Tyler and R. Holt, for Nath.
Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the
Royal Exchange. 1671.
Elecampane? Inula helenium. A.k.a. elfdock and helenio. Horse-heal. It's in the same family as sunflowers, Asteraceae. Helenium refers to that most famous Helen, Helen of Troy. I've seen a number of accounts of her relation to elecampane. Her tears turned to Elecampane, according to one version. Not surprising, I suppose, as desirable young men and women themselves seem to have had a fatal tendency to turn into flowers or trees in the ancient world. But elecampane is enormous. She must have been surrounded by a whole jungle of the stuff; surely she could have wept, lost herself in eight-foot stems, and slipped away, saving a world of trouble. I have also read that she simply carried elecampane with her when she was abducted from Sparta by Paris. Why? Because we women, when abducted, like to carry gigantic flowers? I find such a bouquet rather unlikely, though in the legends of the ancient world, women appear to be vulnerable to abduction when picking flowers. It is a wonder any young women were ever tempted into a field, however pleasantly diapered with flowers.

According to (possibly innumerable and sometimes witchy) herbal web sites, all copying one another, elecampane is beloved of the fey. Then I expect elecampane stalks are fairy skyscrapers. Perhaps the fey linkage is why it's claimed that Celtic peoples saw elecampane as a sacred flower? If you are a lovelorn, superstitious sort and have some spare vervain and mistletoe lying about and some time to waste, evidently you may grind them up and mix them with elecampane flowers for a love potion. And if you have a bad scrying habit, well, elecampane flowers are said to be useful by the sort of people who dabble in witchery--that is, by witches, who suggest that you throw a few on the grill to increase your mystic powers. All this business with love and bewitchment and foretelling the future takes us straight back to Paris and Helen, and to Aphrodite promising Paris that she will make sure he steals away with Helen, wife of Menelaus, if only he declares her the most beautiful. Never mind that she fails to mention the little fleabite of the Trojan War.