My Personal Agenda for Aura Lockhaven

I didn’t create Aura Lockhaven just to tell a cool story. Well, if you’ve read my website, you know why I created her and how she now has absolutely nothing to do with that original premise whatsoever. That is a good thing. However, when A Path of Stones solidified into something tangible, I did sit down to think about my underlying philosophies for that book and the rest of the series. So, for those of you who are interested, here is why Aura is like she is and what I hope to accomplish with at least her first three books.

With A Path of Stones, The Fires of Tallen Hall, and Scarlet Cloak, I’m answering my own personal goals as well as the complaints of the fantasy reading community at large. I hope.

GOALS

1. I wanted to write the story I wanted to read.

The typical high fantasy is a neverending chain of interconnected books. Examples include Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth, and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. Personally, I prefer a series of standalone novels in the tradition of the James Bond books or the Dresden Files. So, that’s what I’m doing with Aura’s story. The first three books are one story. From there, they are standalone, unless I need to split a story. Book Four, The Enchantress of Hartshorn, will focus on one week in Aura’s life as she struggles with, and comes to terms with, being the new official enchantress of her town. Elements of the previous books will be referenced, such as why some people are obsessed with her mother’s maiden name. That’s expected, and works without forcing the issue. But it won’t be directly tied to the first three books. Book Five will be similar but with a clearly defined villain, while Book Six will be a Lovecraftian ghost story centered around Elisabeth Lovejoy. The Hound of the Baskervilles with swords and spells. Don’t ask about the rest of the series. Aura hasn’t told me yet.

I also wanted to maintain the foundation that the hero or heroine is good and stands for something. I grew up in the 1970s, when movies were dominated by protagonists who were losers or despicable (The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, etc.). That changed with Star Wars in 1977. That was the first movie, outside the James Bond films and Disney, where the protagonists were good, stood for something worth standing for, and won. I want to continue that tradition in a world that has devolved into the anti-hero or worse, protagonists who are no different from the antagonists. Moral ambiguity is real in our world, but I see fantasy as a modern mythology — it entertains while it educates, encourages, and edifies.

Aura Lockhaven does the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. She is motivated by compassion, and fights from a defensive posture. That does mean she gets her pretty butt kicked more often than she kicks. Good has boundaries it will not cross, while evil will do whatever is necessary to win. That adds to the conflict, would you not agree? Aura will lose from time to time. It’s inevitable. But that’s life.

2. I wanted a female protagonist.

Women are more interesting than men. If I give a sword, wand, or gun to a man, I know what he will do with it. If I give the same weapons to a woman, I don’t know what she will do until she does it. That is because we have 400 years worth of fiction with competent male protagonists, dating back to Cervantes and Shakespeare. We extend that much more if we consider the tales of the Norse, Greeks, and those from Asia and Africa. The first competent woman protagonist in American fiction was Scarlet O’Hara, while the second was Wonder Woman. Both appeared in my mother’s lifetime. Most appeared since I was born in 1963. I want to add to that list. It needs to grow.

Now, it is a fair question to ask how can I know what a woman will think and do? After all, I am a man. Stripped of the cultural conditioning, men and women aren’t all that much different. The basic difference I see is men think like a sword while women think like a shield. Together, they get the job done. Aura’s nation is one that still believes in men and women standing together against a common enemy (although the state religion is changing that). Besides, I’m married. Half of Aura’s personality is based on mine. The other half is based on my wife’s. Aura is essentially half English, half Welsh. My wife is half German, half Irish. So, I just ask my clearly better half, “What would you do in this situation?” and go with her answer.

3. I wanted to create a role model.

This is a dicey prospect. Deliberately creating a role model comes with a sizeable amount of hubris that can only be avoided with great determination. I want Aura to be a model for doing the right thing, letting one’s heart lead, and getting back up when knocked down.

I hadn’t expected her to be a role model for women, but apparently she is. That is out of my hands, and I am not complaining. Women need good role models. Half our species has been kicked around and confined to the kitchen and neverending pregnancies for 10,000 years. If a woman wants to be a mother and housewife, I will stand with her in total agreement, but it should be her own choice, not thrust upon her by a heartless cultural consensus. Aura is not a voice for Feminism or the career woman, any more than she is a voice for the housewife, much less the Religious Right (Aura is a Pagan). She is a voice for self-determination, for choosing one’s own destiny. I hope that works for both men and women. Interference by others in one’s destiny is a subject I will explore in future books. Let’s just say Aura’s greatest enemies don’t cast spells.

4. I wanted Aura to be real.

Aura is supposed to be a realistic and relatable character, while still filling the role of fantasy protagonist and fantasy woman. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with creating a character you’d love to date. I wanted her to be believable enough that the reader would have no problem seeing her step out of the book and sit down for a cup of tea and a good chat.

Aura is beautiful (although she doesn’t see it), sexy, and sexual, yes. If you want a flat-chested woman, go read Little Orphan Annie, don’t look at me. She does have endowments in the chest, but also the hips, thighs, and stomach. In other words, she eats and drinks too much and it shows. She also has a hump in her nose, which frankly I find attractive. She doesn’t wear much, but she has logical reasons, other than the standard of sword-and-sorcery bare essential outfits. Aura is a nudist, cloth absorbs magical power, and as an enchantress, seduction is one of her assets (it helps with diplomatic negotiations). Aura is also smart, competent, wily, and physically strong. She ain’t no bimbo. Aura may have the body of a 1980’s Playboy Playmate, but she has the mind of a PhD. Tell me what is wrong with that! Why can’t a woman be beautiful, sexy, and sexual, while also being smart, competent, and sometimes, lethal. Why does the smart woman have to be asexual and ugly, while the beautiful one is stupid? I also tried to make her class standing realistic. Aura isn’t a princess, nor is she a farm girl. She’s merchant class. In today’s terms, she’s the bar owner’s daughter who double majored in poetry and chemistry, and who now runs a perfume and jewelry shop.

Her greatest strength is the ability to listen to what other people say, add it all up, and arrive at the truth far ahead of anyone else. Half the time she thinks her way out of a problem, instead of using any magical power. But in the 21st Century, common sense is as rare as a glamour spell, so perhaps it does qualify as magic. Aura doesn’t need a man in her life, although she wants one. Wanting and needing are two different things.

She is also highly flawed. I gave her one of my own flaws — arachnophobia. Those are easy scenes to write! In the opening trilogy, Aura looks for validation from external sources, but so do 90% of us. She suffers from low self-esteem, which causes her to be less powerful than she can be. Between her volatile emotions and trauma-related panic attacks, she can be unreliable, and fall apart at inopportune moments. Sounds like many of us. Yet, she perseveres, and that is the greatest magic of all. Aura Lockhaven isn’t perfect. She’s real. That, ultimately, is our goal as humans — to be real in the face of tremendous flaws and overwhelming pressure from society to conform to its ideals of perfection.

 

COMPLAINTS

The first two complaints are almost universal within the fantasy reading community. The third is my own.

1. The books are too big!

The average mystery novel is about 75,000 words long. Science fiction may reach 100,000. Have you seen fantasy books? They aren’t books. They’re tomes. You can kill a troll with those things. Most average 300,000 words. George R. R. Martin seems determined to best War and Peace. Not only are those books too big, but to get them to fit within any readable size (i.e. holdable), the font is often nine point. Those of us who are nearsighted hate you, Mr. Martin.

I determined that no Aura novel would exceed 150,000 words. If it does, I’ll split it into two smaller books. Hence, why the opening story is the worst fantasy cliche’ of all — a trilogy. I’d rather split the story into three parts deliberately than have it do so in your hands. Digital? You don’t want to pay the price for a file of 500,000 words. Size equals affordability.

Besides, I make more money, but you spend less, if I write sixteen 150,000 word novels instead of eight 300,000 word gargantuas.

2. The quest is always about saving the world.

Frodo set a bad precedent. This complaint is so true. From Richard Rahl to Jon Snow, the hero’s quest is always some colossal undertaking. I wholeheartedly agree. Saving the world is important, but most of us just try to save ourselves. A small, localized heroine needs a small, localized quest, and the Scarlet Enchantress of Hartshorn is about as localized as you can get. So, Aura’s quest in her first three books is to gain the power to help more people, and to discover the truth about herself. Her quest is intimate. For the remainder of most of the series, her quest will be to help whoever needs help, even if that someone is herself. That’s a bit more in keeping with the private detective novel, but I like it. Eventually, Aura may undertake to save her country, but it will be from the position of counselor to the monarch, not the warrior. In other words, Gandalf, not Frodo or Aragorn.

3. The hero undertakes the quest way too fast.

This is my personal complaint. Frodo set the precedent, but no one listened. He didn’t undertake the quest to destroy the One Ring until two-thirds of the way through the first book. On the other hand, Richard Cypher (later Rahl) seized on being the mythical Seeker in three paragraphs (Wizard’s First Rule). That is way too fast for my tastes. Aura doesn’t decide to meet the Order of Enchanters until chapter ten of A Path of Stones, and doesn’t accept the position of the Dyrgana (the explorer) until almost the end, and does both with great reluctance and much soul-searching. That’s the way I think it should be. One does not rock her own boat without much consideration and thought.

Not that you will readily see any of these philosophies as you read the Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven. I hope I’m a good enough writer to keep them hidden from all but my own eyes. But now, you know.

 

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The Bogeyman of Child Pornography

Whenever Freedom of Speech and Censorship is discussed, someone always brings up child pornography. As in, “Are you saying that child pornography is all right?” It’s a bogeyman. The obsession some people have with it makes them sound as if they are the pedophiles. Methinks thou protesteth too much. It’s interesting that they never mention snuff, which is far worse as someone actually dies.

So, I am going to discuss child pornography.

I am going to do so in a way that any reasonable person can understand and comprehend. That is a relative concept, of course, because reason and common sense in the United States is as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker or eastern mountain lion; i.e., extinct.

To my way of thinking, child pornography is a photograph or motion picture in which someone is having sexual relations with another person, and that other person is age 16 or younger. The act can range from nudity, to touching, to actual intercourse. The ages of 17 and 18 are murky as young people that age have been having sex together as long as there have been barns and means of conveyance. But the laws in America generally says age of consent is 18, so we’ll go with it.

Someone under the age of 18 (and especially under 14) cannot grant consent for the act. He or she doesn’t know how. He or she has no idea what is happening. He or she is not prepared emotionally, much less physically, for the consequences. Because it is a photograph or film, a real person is being harmed in a real way, usually irreversibly so. That isn’t just a crime in the eyes of the law. It’s a crime against humanity and about as inhumane as one can get. It is an absolute violation of the most innocent and vulnerable of all. It’s a crime in most statutes of the United States, and it usually brings the FBI in on the scene, and I wholeheartedly agree.

So, no. That is not protected by the Freedom of Speech, nor should it be.

Neither is snuff. A film of someone being hanged or crucified is not covered by the Freedom of Speech. A professional filmmaker knows how to stage and edit a movie to make it look like someone has been hanged or crucified, but I’m talking about a movie where someone is actually murdered. Those do exist.

Again, child pornography is a photograph or film in which a real minor is engaged in a real sexual act of any type, with the subsequent real harm inflicted, which is a universally granted byproduct.

Now, how about drawings, paintings, and 3D renders.

To quote Neil Gaiman, “No. You don’t get that one.”

Those are “lines on paper,” brushstrokes on canvas, pixels on a monitor. It doesn’t matter how disgusting that may be, those are not real children. That is not child pornography. It is simply tasteless. There are no laws against bad taste. If there were, reality TV would be illegal.

If you condemn a drawing of Kakashi having sex with a 16-year-old Sakura, then you also must condemn quite a few Renaissance paintings of naked cherubs flying around Aphrodite. Yes, you do! Those are painting of naked babies. You must also condemn Michelangelo’s David. Yes, you do! That is a statue of a naked teenaged boy. You must condemn all depictions of Andromeda. Yes, you do! Those show a teenaged girl in bondage, and sometimes she’s nude. This is a case of what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you condemn one, you must condemn all, or you are a hypocrite.

Freedom of Speech must protect the distasteful, disgusting, and depraved (Sakura-Kakashi), or it won’t protect what needs to be protected (David, and Andromeda). As long as no real person is harmed, it is protected. That is why hate speech is a gray area – the listener may actually suffer harm. If someone is actually harmed, it is no longer a Freedom of Speech issue, but a felony crime. Harm at least equates to assault and battery, if not a far more serious crime. How can representations of people in oil paint on canvas be guilty of any crime, much less raping each other?

That is totally different. Sakura is not actually having sex with Kakashi, as neither are real people. So, no felony has been committed. It’s the same with a vore picture. That is not a real woman being swallowed by a real snake, and she is not really going to be dissolved slowly in darkness and searing agony. It is fiction, so no felony has been committed. No reasonable person would assume that Jim Caviezel was really crucified and murdered in The Passion of the Christ, so no reasonable person should assume that a Sakura-Kakashi ship drawing, a Renaissance painting of nude Andromeda chained to a rock, or any other work of certifiable or verifiable fiction or art actually depicts real children or teens in a real sexual situation. If you do assume that, then you don’t need a lesson in art and censorship, you need a psychiatrist.

Once the process of censorship is started for that drawing of Kakashi and Sakura, it has begun for all art of any erotic nature. Censorship is like kudzu. Once it is established, it never stops. It just keeps growing. It will consume fetish art: crucifixion, bondage, and non-cons. It will consume erotica. It will consume fine art nudes. This is already happening in America, where the Religious Right, Fascist-leaning Mens’ Rights Activitsts, and leftist Social Justice Warriors want all women to be totally covered and devoid of any sexuality. Censorship will eventually reach the point of banning anything that remotely disturbs a small group, and that is a war waged in our libraries for at least the past century.

The answer to this is quite simple. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. I don’t, so I don’t. If you don’t like it, don’t make it. I don’t, so I don’t. I seldom include a child in a render, unless it’s a group scene (a group without at least one child looks peculiar), or I want to depict a character protecting the most vulnerable of all. I also don’t depict hanging, crucifixion, or vore. I don’t like them.

The Freedom of Speech guarantees my right to write or render what I wish. It also guarantees my right to NOT write or render what I do not wish. That is not a case of obeying a law, or cowtowing to community consensus. That is my personal choice. If someone else wants to do something else, that is between him, his conscience, and the FBI. Not my problem.

 

The Problem with Practice

Practice, practice makes perfect, perfect is a fault, and faultlines change. — REM, “I Believe”

The concept of practice is problematic for me. I’m classically trained on the piano and violin (although I’ve forgotten most of it). When I was studying, my parents kept harping “Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect.” I didn’t want to be perfect. Once you’re perfect, there’s no where to go. So, my playing became rote memorization, and mind-numbing repetition, totally devoid of any passion. It sounded good, but my heart wasn’t in it.

I can’t take that into writing and art.

The great jazz masters taught me something, especially Sonny Rollins. Mr. Rollins never practiced. He played! Every time he played a song, he played it better than the last time, even if the last time was ten minutes ago. When asked why it sounded different, he replied, “I already played it that way. Why should I play it the same way again?”

That I can do! I can write this story better than I wrote the last one. I can make this render better than the last one. That’s how I can grow, develop, and continue to push myself, without ever hitting that stale and stagnant point of heartless repetition.

 

Neil Gaiman on Censorship

“I absolutely understand somebody going: you should not be able to depict images of violence towards women. But they’re lines on paper, and they’re covered by the First Amendment. That’s the deal here, because if it doesn’t cover that, then it doesn’t cover the stuff that you need to save. I needed to become a First Amendment absolutist, and I still find it uncomfortable being a First Amendment absolutist. I was not put on this earth to be an absolutist of anything. I’m somebody whose natural response to an awful lot of stuff is to say: yes, I see your point of view, or at least try and find common ground. But when it comes to the First Amendment, there is no common ground.

“There are people saying to me: well, are you saying people should be allowed to make snuff movies? And I’m going no, they shouldn’t, because that involves murdering somebody, and murder is a crime, and you shouldn’t be murdering anybody. And pedophilia is a monstrous crime because it is hurting kids and that’s real. A child cannot give consent, this is bad. I get this. And then I suddenly find myself having pointless arguments online with people about Japanese manga drawings of couples with babyish faces having sex or whatever. “This is being used by those pedophiles to excite themselves and work themselves up!” And I’m going, No. You can’t do that one. These are not real people. These are drawings. And if you think they’re real then you also have to imprison people for murder every time they kill a fictional character.”

Neil Gaiman, The Story of a Writer, edited by Hayley Campbell, Harper Design (2014), pp 191-192.

 

“I think there are lots of threats to freedom of speech and I think that the strange cesspit that parts of the internet, can turn into is definitely something that never occurred to any of us before. The fact that upset people can go and shout and the shoutiness and that other people can see… you get some people interpreting freedom of speech as being freedom to harass, freedom to pile on and scream. And I guess it is, but I can absolutely see it being a threat. You know, it takes one angry person pointing people at one thing that upsets them and suddenly the internet is a hornet’s nest and I don’t think that’s good. Mostly I don’t think it’s good because it means people are having to not say what they think and the point of freedom of speech is that you should be able to say what you think, defend what you think, argue with people, disagree with people. All of that stuff is hugely important.

“If you don’t like my work, that’s great and I think you should absolutely write a book saying why you don’t like my work – or write blog articles or write newspaper articles. Freedom of speech is a hugely important thing. And so is the freedom not to be a dick and the freedom not to make an idiot of yourself and the freedom not to be as unpleasant as you possibly can be. And these are all important.”

Neil Gaiman with Frances Myatt, The Guardian, Aug. 29, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/aug/29/neil-gaiman-banned-books-censorship-interview

Seriously, It’s Time to Get Serious!

It’s time to get serious about being a storyteller.

Please let me preface this by stating a few things up front.

First, I am a professional. I get paid for telling stories. Oh, not much. Yet. But it’s what I do. It’s who I am. I’m trained to be one, too, holding a BA in English an MA in Creative Writing (and I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, thank you very much — not bad for a guy whose grandfather was an illiterate sharecropper). I use both the language of the word and the image, because one conveys a story better than the other. It all depends on the story. The difference between an amateur and a professional is the amateur does it for love while the professional gets paid. I’m lucky. I get paid for doing what I love.

Second, I have a personality disorder. Some of you know that. I’m schizotypal. That’s just a clinical way of describing an eccentric kook. I don’t try to hide it. Heck, I consider it a personality order because diagnosis explained why I’ve had eighteen different careers in my life. Yep. Eighteen. Failed at all but two, and one was unceremoniously ripped out of my grasp. Why try to fit into an office cube when my brain isn’t wired for that? You would think I would have learned that at 25, but that was the 1980s, when a college graduate was supposed to be a successful businessman. I’m dense at times. Anyway, that fact isn’t just important to the ultimate goal of this post, but to say that if you have a “mental illness,” you aren’t alone. I have friendly ears. Talk to me before doing something rash, okay?

Third, schizotypal, unfortunately, comes with a host of nasty side-effects. In my case, it’s chronic depression and crippling social anxiety. The depression is managed. It isn’t controlled. It likes to slip by my doctor and kick me in the head. Anxiety has a mind of its own.

Fourth, I had a severe breakdown in May, 2013, from which I didn’t exactly come back. That was when anxiety decided to move in with me, and not pay rent. I’ve been apartment-bound ever since, unless my wife is home and can go out with me. You don’t want me alone in a crowd! You just don’t. Hence, the job that was ripped from my grasp. I’m also trained to be an English teacher at the community college level. Darn, and it was fun, too.

Fifth, I have hyperfocus. That means the room could be on fire and unless you tell me, I won’t notice.

Those are causative agents. Where am I going with this?

I’ve been working with Aura Lockhaven since 2010. To say she’s my favorite character is an understatement. She isn’t just my favorite character that I’ve created, she’s my favorite character of all time. I feel like Aura is a real woman, just invisible.

In January, 2013, after graduating with my MA, I decided to turn a tawdry, rather awful comic into a written novel. That was the Aura graphic novel that ultimately became A Path of Stones. If you want to read the entire process, it’s here on my website. A Path of Stones was published this past February. It took me four years to finish it and publish it because of that breakdown, depression, and hyperfocus.

The breakdown interrupted my efforts in 2013. It left me numb for the rest of the year. In January, 2014, I finally felt like doing something creative. But I was too depressed to write. So, I worked up a render that became “Barbarian Wall.” That led to the creation of the Sarethian Seven, and 200 pages of short stories. Because of hyperfocus, and seeing only the project at the end of my nose, the S7 took up two months. After that, I still didn’t feel like returning to Aura, so I wrote treatments for two novels that you don’t know about. One is an epic fantasy that reached chapter twenty. I’ll probably eventually finish that. The protagonist is a man (don’t faint!) who is a middle aged burnout of a college teacher. Gee, think he’s a bit of an avatar? The other is a horror story based on my render “Leopard Girl.” I told you that I based novels on renders! By the time I moved on from those, it was a year later. Hyperfocus.

In 2015, I finally forced myself to work on Aura again, and finished A Path of Stones by the end of that year. I got it to my beta reader, who read it and gave me her feedback. What happened? Depression again. Around April, 2016, I created the comic Dandelions. It was a pretty powerful story and I’m proud of it. That consumed most of my time until August, when I shook myself and finally got back to the novel and revised it. By February of this year, I had a hardback in my hands.

What have I done since then? Well, the sequel, The Fires of Tallen Hall is essentially where it was in March; three quarters finished. What happened? Depression again. Distraction again. Hyperfocus again. I became bogged down with a few new 3D characters. They threatened to create yet another storyline. Somehow, I found the discipline to say no to that idea (but it’s still lurking around in my head). Then came my latest, the superheroine comic, Valkyria. I have no complaints about that.

The thing is, between depression, distraction, and hyperfocus so extreme that I ignore everything except the project right in front of my eyes, I forget far too often that Aura Lockhaven is my main lady. She has a story for me to tell that spans sixteen novels. Only one is written. She’s been counting on me for five years. Now, we can add Katie, Stephanie, and Jessica Ashe to that, and Allyson and the Dandelions are still pacing in the corner of the room.

I can’t really speak for the total impact of Valkyria and Dandelions. Others know that better than I do. I can speak for the impact of A Path of Stones. Everyone who has read it and told me of their experience has dumbfounded me. It brought tears to one man’s eyes. Another is demanding the sequel, saying “We need that book right now!” It caused one young woman to realize she could still have faith after suffering extreme spiritual abuse. That’s heavy. I have a gut feeling that Valkyria and Dandelions can have the same level of impact, but in a different direction. In 2017 and probably next year, it is important to know, as Katie says, “the good guys can win!”

I’m sitting on three atomic bombs and I’ve been treating them like firecrackers!

That changed this morning. Is this my job or not? Is it more than a hobby? Is telling stories that entertain, educate, encourage, and edify my reason for existence? Yes, it is. Therefore, I am setting up a schedule. My desk will become my office. That isn’t easy for a guy who pretty much lives organically, but it has to happen if The Fires of Tallen Hall ever sees print, Valkyria advances to Book Two, and Dandelions is actually finished. At the moment, the Sarethian Seven is the project on hold. Besides, I don’t want to release it until I publish Aura Book Five as it’s tied directly to the Auraverse.

So, here we go.

Monday: Aura Lockhaven. This is primarily the novel but includes an Aura 3D art collaboration series I’m halfway into, as well as one-off art pieces. My goal is to write 2,000 words per day. That isn’t unreasonable. Most blogs are 1,000. This journal post is 1,600 words and I wrote it in an hour. That’s easy for a guy who has struck 10,000 words in one day.

Tuesday: Aura Lockhaven. 2,000 words per day, for two days, is 208,000 words per year. That is one novel, people! At my voracious output (when I actually work), and with that schedule, I should average two novels in one year.

Wednesday: Valkyria. This is primarily the comic, but also includes one-off art pieces. I figure two pages per week. Not a bad pace. I’m planning for a full tower comic production computer next year that should increase the page output per week.

Thursday: Valkyria. An planned Aura-Valkyria crossover will go here.

Friday: Dandelions. To start, one-off art pieces to refamiliarize myself with the characters, and also refont the comic so I can post it again.

Saturday and Sunday: Nothing Aura, Valkyria, or Dandelions related. If I do anything at all in DAZ while my wife is working on her jewelry-making, I’ll render something totally different.

At no time on the weekdays, do I work beyond 6 when my wife comes home. I do have a wife. I do have a life. It’s time to talk to her, play with the cats, and read something called a book. I’ve also been ignoring my spiritual practice, which isn’t healthy for a member of a minority, alternative religion. My heart is telling me that I’ve been sedentary for six years. Wow, time to actually exercise. And perhaps staring at a computer screen until 11 PM is why I have insomnia.

I’m building in permission to not write if depression strikes. However, instead of doing something totally random, I’ll focus on the subject of the day. That will keep things moving forward. It will also keep me from getting lost for another four months in yet another storyline.

This doesn’t mean that Aura, Katie, and Allyson will cease being fun. It just means I get more done that is fun, and actually has a purpose.

Now, the question is, can I keep this schedule? Well, we’re all about to find out.

The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM

The Painting

A friend of mine on Facebook found a copy of John William Waterhouse’s gorgeous painting “The Soul of the Rose” at a garage sale. She contacted me and asked, “What’s her story?” Well …

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The young woman didn’t know why she stopped at the garage sale. It offered nothing she needed, just clothes and toys and furniture of toddlers now outgrown them, and CDs for her father’s favorite bands. Ancient DVDs for people too silly to abandon that antique form of entertainment. Stuff called books. Oh, look. A blender. How quaint.

Then, she spotted the painting. It was a simple painting, really. Just a woman stopping at a wall and smelling a rose. She liked the woman’s face, caught in a moment of rapture, the same look she had when she closed a major account. The painting would look pretty against the teal semi-gloss walls of the entertainment room. So, she bought it for a measly $ 50. She made that much it one minute.

For a week, it hung over the Harmon Kardon stereo on the western wall. Most of her friends cast it a quick glance as they sipped their martinis, before turning their gaze to the latest movie she acquired on Amazon.

Then, seven days after the painting’s purchase, the young woman sat in the entertainment room. She pondered which of the Netflix offerings upon which to spend her leisurely afternoon. She heard an unmistakable feminine voice. It said, “Look within.”

The woman leapt up. She glanced around. She lived alone, and the alarms had not alerted her to anyone entering by door or window. If the two Persian cats talked, then she would check herself into the hospital immediately. Someone had said, clearly, “Look within.”

“Who’s there!” she snapped, trembling.

“You are,” the voice answered.

The woman turned her gaze from one side of the room to the other. In the direction the voice seemed to come from, she saw only the painting. She gulped, and whispered, “That’s impossible.”

“Is it?” the voice asked. “You brought me home. Did you not expect me to talk to you?”

This only happened in movies and to lunatics, she thought, slumping to the floor. “What … what do you want?”

“I already told you. Look within.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You live alone in a 3,500 square foot house. You make six digits a year, working only twenty hours per week. Yet, you have never once examined your life. You have never looked at your own mind and heart. Have you ever stopped to sniff a flower for its own sake?”

“That’s silly,” the woman said. “How does smelling a flower get me ahead?”

“It doesn’t. It just makes you more human. Try it. Look within. Find the flower inside yourself, and sniff it.”

“How?”

“Close your eyes. I will guide you.”

She did. All she saw was darkness. The voice said, “Now. Imagine yourself as me in the painting. Smell the rose. Can you?”

“No. I’ve never smelled a rose. It’s silly.”

“Try. What is the most wonderful aroma you’ve ever smelled? Your mother’s chocolate chip cookies? That first cup of coffee in the morning? The sweat on your lover’s chest?”

“The leather upholstery of my new Lexus,” the woman said, with the first hint of enthusiasm since this ordeal began.

“Oh, dear,” the voice said with a sigh. “Well. Just watch.”

The world erupted inside the woman’s closed eyelids. She saw the painting. A woman in a morning gown, her hair elegantly tied back, paused at the wall of her estate. She clutched one of the pink roses and drew it to her nose. The woman’s face changed from that of the figure in the painting to her own. The aroma of the rose intoxicated her. It smelled like life. It smelled like freedom. It smelled like a world beyond corner offices and titles and new imported automobiles and exorbitant houses and vacations to the Caribbean and lovers wearing Rolex watches and carrying stock portfolios. It smelled like the Earth and Creation and being pursued by Pan in the forest and deliberately not running fast enough. In the heat of her back against the floor of the forest and Pan’s body and hands and piercing eyes, she saw the entire world. For once, it was beautiful. She saw beyond the accounts and clients and meetings and cocktails and sometimes betrayals. In one single rose petal, she saw it all. In one single whiff of a perfumed flower, she inhaled it all.

Then, the woman saw all of Denton, all of Dallas, all of Texas. She flew over the United States. She flew over the hemisphere. She saw the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Parthenon. She watched the first man walk on Mars, the battle of Gettysburg, the Great Pyramid being built, and the first strike of flint against stone bringing fire to people. She saw her father, her mother, her brother, herself, you, and me. She saw … a puddle on a road in Texas in August. The water shimmered in the sunlight for the briefest of moments. Brilliant, like a diamond held up to the light. Then, the water vanished, turned into steam by the relentless heat. It left behind a hole not even deep enough to bump the car that passed through it.

The next day, the woman held a garage sale. The tables held the usual items of someone of her status: last year’s purses, last season’s shoes, the previous model Cuisinart, a stack of CDs for a band that no longer played headlines. After all, she had to make room for the newest offerings at Macy’s. The tables also held a single painting, marked $ 5.

 

dawn

 

Philip K. Dick: Writer or Prophet?

Philip K. Dick was a prolific science-fiction writer. He usually depicted a bleak, dystopian future. His works have become more famously known as the motion pictures Blade Runner, Total Recall,  and Minority Report, as the current television series The Man in the High Castle. He died of a stroke in 1982 at age 53.

Below are some of the things he said during his life. Now, remember, he died in 1982.

Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.

There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.

Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.

It’s the basic condition of life to be required to violate our own identity.

There are no private lives. This a most important aspect of modern life. One of the biggest transformations we have seen in our society is the diminution of the sphere of the private. We must reasonably now all regard the fact that there are no secrets and nothing is private. Everything is public.

Look at the world around us today. I ask you, was Mr. Dick a mere writer of science fiction, or a prophet?