Friday, May 30, 2014

Consider The Lilies

30th May, 2014

Oh, stay, May, stay! I hate to see it go! It's the honeymoon after the snow ceremony of winter. The hummingbirds sweep back in with their high-pitched whistle, busy in the branches with blossoms and in my potted geraniums. It rains and the earth is all green and damp smell like the first wet garden. The swallows, earth's ultimate optimists, swoop into the black smudge of flies that hovers over the ground. And all over, the rodents have emerged and are scurrying among the lush grass, sitting back on their hind legs every so often to turn between their fingers an ancient piece of grain. Life has overcome death once more and is bursting at the seams. Nothing can stop the spurt. The grass will grow, without even thinking about it. Consider the lilies.

Consider the daffodils. I used to lie with my head in hosts of golden daffodils when I was young and romantic and not a care in the world except for finding a boy to love me. The smell of those flowers up close in Scottish moss and soil stays with me always and informs the sentences I lay down, like the drone on bagpipes hums in the back of pipish melodies. Scotland is a thing that hums in the background of me, and I am thinking more and more these days of moving back.

See this sign for Dunadd Fort, the setting for my novel Veil Of Time? It appeared on Twitter this last week because my agent was travelling around Scotland and dropped in on Dunadd (quite a drop, since it is far from the beaten track.) You might think it looks rather grey in that picture - but this counts for good weather there, because on balance it is more blue than grey, so I should say he visited this magical place on a good day.  Often it is pelting down on that mound of rock where my story takes place, and before that where part of my own story took place. Dunadd. Doon-ad, as it is pronounced in Gaelic, the original language of Scotland. It is a damp corner of the world, boggy when it rains, overgrown with heather and bracken, pungent in any weather. It's a time warp in itself and has nothing about the Christian era about it. My ancestors were up there worshipping the goddess before the stories of Bethlehem and Galilee, tattooing their skin and carving their totems into the rock. Now that we live in a post-Christian era (so said the Archbishop of Canterbury lately!) nothing has changed. Perhaps the spirit of the place is able now to give out a sigh. Another era of man come and gone.
May we do better in the next.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Truth of the Matter

23rd May 2014

If there is one thing we know about the subconscious, it's that it doesn't lie. Why? Because you can only lie about what you have some control over. Lying is a form of control. Something else that doesn't lie is art, and by "art" I mean any product of human creativity, be it the written word or the visual arts, music etc. This doesn't mean you can't get false art, sentimental art, propaganda art, but none of that comes out of the true creative act. It comes from ideas. The true creative act is connected to the collective experience of humankind - it is subterranean and can't be manipulated.
So in any age you get the subterranean people, the artists. Sometimes they don't know they are that, but truth springs up through them anyway. And then the police of status quo move in and want to silence them.   If you live in a police state, then they lock you up. If you live in a free state, they lock you up anyway, burn the books, try to pretend the voices aren't real.

Art has an unusual and direct line to truth, which is why art is suppressed in totalitarian regimes. Hierarchies come to power through devious means, not through truth but through a bank of non-truths. And so art is perceived as a threat.
Here's a list of just a few of the authors whose works have been burned: Voltaire, Goethe, Shaw, Joyce, DH Lawrence, Kazantzakis, Steinbeck, Rushdie, Vonnegut, Edna O'Brien, JK Rowling.

How deranged do you have to be to burn Harry Potter, and what would you think it might achieve? 450 Million copies sold in 73 languages - do you think it might be speaking to people? Do you think it might be giving voice to a much suppressed aspect of our human experience, that of wonder and magic? There's the truth. If you take 200,000 women and burn them, you might be able to sweep it under the carpet for a while, even centuries, but those voices are going to be heard. The truth will out.  And the "out" is usually through art.
So it is a weighty thing this writing business. It's not just scribbling and conjuring pretty stories, though there's probably a place for that, too. It's about giving voice to long unheard songs with lyrics that speak the truth of our race. That's what it's about.
I'm not kidding.

Friday, May 16, 2014

And Then Is Heard No More

May 16th 2014

Snow dropped on Colorado early this week. It fell in the night and was still slumbering in the trees in my garden, pale hands and fingers of the winter dragon, when I woke up and drew back the curtains. Resolute as a drugged sleeper, it clutched every surface, as though someone had forgotten to tell it to go. This is a scene that in late October might inspire excitement, but in the middle of May offends the eye, just another round of white when hints of floral had been mentioned, when daffodils had been spotted and so had a jocund mood. Well, not to elaborate on it too much, but it pretty well reflects the mood of this author in the wings right now - so much promise weighted under frozen uncertainty. Just note this, ye fervent writers and scribblers dreaming in technicolour of being crowned one day. It takes more than tripping through meadows of flowers. There are days and weeks like this when the Snow Queen settles in and puts you back in the refrigerator.

And then the clouds packed up and moved on. The mood lifted. Life, as they say, turns on a dime. And so it does. You draw back the curtains one morning and the scene has moved on to sunshine and bursts of verdure. All the jocundity a soul could ever ask for.

In the words of Wordsworth, "How could one but be glad?" The spinning world turns on. When I was a young writer and attended a weekly writer's group, the world stretched out before us scribblers as the ocean runs out beyond anything the eye can see, falling off but only to come around again on this bouncing cosmic ball. Twenty years later, that picture has faded in many corners. People that were young and vibrant as myself have stepped out of the frame, too many from suicide, others to disease. The world turns and casts a shadow; one more look and it has turned again into the sun. So our moments in the light are finite - we have a moment to squeak our tune and then we are gone.  Much much sooner than anyone thought. In all the vastness of space and the incomprehensible folds of time, we are a sharp shooting star that lights the earth for a moment and then is heard no more (in the words of WS.)
Snow falls and then the flowers. Make the most of it. The seasons come and fall away; nothing, not even the written word, lasts for very long.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Bully Pulpit

9th May 2014

I just got back from my foray into author-land with five days packed with events in and around Boston. Boston is beautiful in the spring with magnolia trees, cherry blossoms, and parks full of tulips. I was staying at the Park Plaza in a rather ritzy part of town - hence all the flowers. The trip was arranged by my agent Esmond Harmsworth, who, after five years, I finally got to spend more than fifteen minutes with. The one thing he didn't arrange was my book reading at Water Street Book Shop in Exeter, New Hampshire, where some of my in-laws just happen to live. As luck would have it, this is also the book shop where Dan Brown launches his books.

Some artistic soul who works at the store had copied my book cover onto a chalk board by the door! I grew a little nervous as the time for the reading approached and not very many people were arriving. But they did trickle in and soon most of the chairs were filled. I wasn't reading from a script, but gave my presentation ad lib. People asked questions. People bought books (the book store had me sign the copies that were left - nice of them, because otherwise they would be able to return them to the publisher.) Mission accomplished. Afterwards, I happened to notice a pile of Dan Brown's most recent book Inferno stacked against the wall. They were all signed! I was going to buy one, but the kind people in the bookshop gave me one free!

Here's me just after the talk I gave at Muse and the Marketplace about Art from the Heart on Sunday May 4th. Unbenownst to me, my agent's intern was present and tweeting memorable lines - glad she could find some! Here I am standing next to a silly drawing I did to illustrate writer's block.  I was saying that, although this is a popular paradigm of the artist, it isn't a helpful one - the writer shouldn't be trying drag art out of himself/herself like a harakiri artist, but plugging himself/herself into the collective experience of humankind. 

This is one of the Na'vi people of Pandora in James Cameron's film Avatar connecting his ponytail into the Tree of Souls. This image comes over fifty years after Carl Jung coined the term Collective Unconscious, but it is depicting exactly the same thing. 

The night before I left Boston, my agent Esmond put on a literary soiree in my honour (together with the honour of Elisabeth Elo who wrote North of Boston.) Esmond sat us in chairs facing the gathering, and after hors d'oeuvres and too much wine (I should have stopped after the first large glass of Rose) he asked us questions and we entertained, and then we sold books. 
I have signed a lot of books lately - after two glasses of wine, I start mis-spelling names.  But I like to write a little something, too, however incoherent. 
I actually surprised myself on this trip. Despite the nerves, I came through for myself.  Who would have thought? Maybe I could get used to it. Did I say that? No, it must be my evil little twin. I prefer my office and what goes on in there, the ponytail and all that. I feel at ease there.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bones to Pick

May 2nd 2014

Here I am in Boston (down at sea level drunk on oxygen!) on the brink of starting my weekend at Muse and The Marketplace. This is a huge writer's conference in Bean Town put on by The Grub Street creative writing center which offers year round classes and once a year a conference with a big faculty of authors, agents and editors. Authors like myself give lectures, as I shall be doing in two short days. My talk is entitled "Art From the Heart. How to get out of the way of your own writing." I have to speak for about half an hour, which is many pages of type, let me tell you. I drew up a draft last week and sat some friends down to hear it. Well, the consensus was that it was a bit too much like a university thesis, so I had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something more accessible, which I think I have done. I am a tad nervous that no one will ask a question, and then my audience will have to go out and drink coffee to fill up the time. By next week's blog I will be able to tell you how it went over. It's my first foray into lecturing, and I am sure this will get easier as I go along.
One of my duties today is to have lunch with some conference attendees, which isn't much of a chore.  Free lunch, talking about my craft, who can complain? This evening there is a party for the faculty sponsored by my own agency, Zachary, Shuster, Harmsworth. Tomorrow morning I have a reading up in Exeter New Hampshire, stomping ground of Dan Brown. Sunday afternoon after my talk, I am going to the beach to commune with the ocean. Monday night my agent Esmond Harmsworth is putting on a literary soiree for me and another of his clients, Elisabeth Elo. We are going to be interviewing each other and talking about writing popular fiction in a literary way. Elisabeth's book, "North of Boston," was published in January of this year, and is one of the best written books I have read in a while. It's a mystery and a compelling read. So, I am looking forward to meeting her.
Meanwhile, if you are in the vicinity, Grub Street is putting on a fabulous weekend of activities - Come on down!
Last week I had a comment on one of my blogs from someone who wished not to be identified that said they had really enjoyed my book but it disturbed them that all the villains were Christians.  I know I am going to come up against this a lot ( not so much from "Christian Britain" so sayeth Prime Minister Cameron, but from Christian America.) No doubt the Christian right wing nuts will be gathering my books and flinging them on fiery heaps just like the religious right wing nuts always have - especially when the offensive subjects in question are women and especially wise women or witches. Historical fact.
So I want to state my position on this now: I have no problem with individuals and their simple faith. We are all struggling one way or another to feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Therein lies our humanity. I only have an argument with the Christian establishment with its hierarchies of men and its terrible history of demeaning women and of shaming in general. (Just for the record, I am against any male hierarchies, because men were not supposed ever to be given this much power - it's dangerous. Look at the world today - that's what you get. (Just for the record, I am also against Pitkin County Open Space and Trails which is another of these male hierarchies which demean and shoot down opposition. Fear not - I will exact my revenge!! Next book, all the villains will be on the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board.)
What my book does is raise the question of what we lost when the Christian patriarchal system took over the pagan religions. Christianity demonised the pagan right from the start to insure that it got its start. But here's what we lost: seeing divinity in every aspect of life, a healthy humility in the face of nature, a healthy attitude towards our sexuality, a healthy sense of wonder. In short what we lost was the Sacred Feminine. That's why in my book there are villainous monks trying to drive out my good druidess Sula. That's why they are Christian. Because that's the way it happened.