What’s the Date? Writing for a Different Season

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Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843. It was published December 19, 1843 and sold 6,000 copies by Christmas.

One of the things I used to love about reading Stephen King books was the way he would put in the dates of when he started the book versus when it was published. Cujo, for instance, was September 1977 through March 1981. Three and a half years he spent on that book.

I think I must know how he felt when he got the idea. It was September and, in Maine, at least, the season is fall. (In eastern N.C., it’s hurricane season.) The dead leaves were skittering across the pavement leaving a wet smell of decay behind, and all the sounds were louder, crisper. Like the bark of a dog. A really big dog.

Of course, that’s all conjecture, and far from how I conceive my own ideas. I decided to write Dickens Magic right after I starred as “Woman 3” in our community theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. One problem. There’s no time to write around Christmas. Seriously. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November for a reason.

So I ended up putting it off starting the book until spring. By then I’d gained some more stage experience but the Christmas spirit was worn down and put away until this year. I’m only starting to want to put that spirit back on. So how do you write about Christmas in seventy-, eighty-, and ninety-degree weather?

It’s a question every writer eventually has to answer. How do you put yourself in another time? It helps to think of the things you like about that time—sights, smells, sounds. I listened to a lot of Christmas carols, which actually helped me with the magic show at the end of the book. It also helps that snow isn’t really a thing here in eastern N.C., and especially not at Christmas. You might see some in January or February, but not December.

And of course I have to thank Charles Dickens. His story is timeless in more ways than one. It does the soul good no matter what time of year you read it. Considering he sort of self-published it (and did not make the fortune he should have), it does make sense that I would feel a sort of kinship with him about this story.

So, though I didn’t keep exact track of my writing, I think I can guess what the dates at the end of Dickens Magic would be. March 2018-October 31, 2018.

Shout it from the rooftops chimney-sweep style!

Three days to publication of Dickens Magic, book 6 in Sleight of Hand, and I’m doing all the normal stuff. Facebook, Twitter, blog… I’ve currently got a web tour going for Becoming Magic, and I won’t lie, I’ve plugged Dickens Magic several times in that tour.

But how do I get you guys as excited as I am?

Whenever I publish a new book, I think of the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins. If I could convince Dick Van Dyke to shout the news from the rooftops on Wednesday, would that get the word out? That’s what I feel like doing when a new book comes out. I want everyone to know!

It’s a strange world, the publishing world of today. It’s easier than ever to put your words out there, harder than ever to convince someone to read them. The best way to accomplish this now is word of mouth. So, if you’ve ever read any of my books or short stories or poems and liked them, consider telling someone I have a new book out. It’s called Dickens Magic. Shout it from the rooftops!

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Not London… But imagine me standing on the roof shouting about my new book and dancing the chimney sweep dance from Mary Poppins. That’s how I feel when a new book comes out!

 

Dickens Magic: My Exception Proves Nothing

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. It’s just a pretty picture I took and posted here to catch your eye. Do you like it?

I’ve never liked that phrase “the exception that proves the rule”. If there’s an exception, then it proves the rule is faulty, right? Or does it prove that there is a rule to begin with? Or is it that you’re “testing” (proving) the rule with your exception?

No matter what, the expression is rife with possibilities for misinterpretation.

Which is why I’ve decided that Dickens Magic, which is most definitely an exception to my normal formula for Sleight of Hand books, proves nothing. Nothing except that I will go where my characters and their story lead me.

But how is Dickens Magic different from my other books? First of all, the hero and heroine are not magicians. Neither one of them. They aren’t involved in magic (at first, at least) in any way.

Second, Dickens Magic does not take place in any exotic locales like Las Vegas or the Caribbean or Hollywood. There is one very brief scene in New York City. The rest of the book is set entirely in New Bern, N.C., one of the least exotic locales you could ever want to visit.

Third, Dickens Magic’s setting centers around a building. It’s actually a building I love. The Masonic Theatre where RiverTowne Players performs. And it’s based on my own theatrical exploits. I tell everyone my recent desire to be an actress is my midlife crisis. And I’m good with that. But the truth is, if I had never walked into that theater with my daughter when she auditioned for The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the age of five, that midlife crisis would probably have lain dormant forever. I couldn’t do it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure.

Finally, I never put myself in my books. I can honestly say I’ve never read one of my books and seen myself in it. But this one, I kind of did, although I didn’t realize it until the final round of editing. It startled me at first when I noticed it, and certainly it’s not a real clear portrait of who I am, but it’s there. I’m not one of the main characters, though, so don’t think I think I’m the multitalented Kate.

So, my exception is out there. It doesn’t prove a thing. I’ll return to the rules (or most of them, at least) next time. Though maybe I’ll decide it’s more fun breaking the rules, especially the rules I’ve made myself.

 

Time to Get Excited about Dickens Magic!

I’m super excited to share Dickens Magic with you all in a few days! It comes out on October 31 and it’s set in a place that’s become very special to me. The historic Masonic Theatre where Rivertowne Players performs is a very old building with so much history it’s practically got a personality of its own. The people inside the building are awesome, too, but it’s the place itself that has magic for me. I’m convinced that if the Masonic Theatre were a person, she and I would be the best of friends.

That’s probably a result of all the creative energy and wonderful people who have filled

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Me, backstage in my party dress, ready to go to the Fezziwig’s!

the building through the years, but whatever it is, I’ve wanted to set a book there for years. When I finally gave in and auditioned for a part in A Christmas Carol last year, I got my chance to see how the theater’s magic really works first hand. The spirit of that old place got into my blood and I started writing Dickens Magic almost as soon as A Christmas Carol wrapped up.

It’s difficult putting into words what that theater is actually like. And I’m sure some can go in and just see an old theater. Others can admire the architecture and history, but not really feel the magic. But if you go to a play there, let yourself open up to the magic…it’s an amazing thing. And if you can’t make it there, try my book, Dickens Magic. See if I did my friend justice.

To get you started, here’s an excerpt from the book, before the romance between hero Alex and heroine Kate really gets going. For fans of Close Up Magic, yes, the Andre in this excerpt is Andre Hawke!

dickens-magicAs though energized by the way they had begun, the cast fell together almost instantly and the resulting rehearsal was one of the best Alex could ever remember being involved in. Especially considering no one was actually off-script, the run-through went smoothly, as if everyone already knew the blocking that hadn’t even happened yet.

Wisely, Kate let it happen, stopping them only between scenes to make notes about performance and blocking. As Scrooge, Alex was on stage nearly the entire play, which afforded him plenty of time to take note that Andre stayed for the rehearsal. He sat comfortably next to Kate in the front row, his long legs crossed in front of him. From time to time, he’d say something to her that almost always made her smile.

And every single time, Alex felt a jolt of jealousy that threatened to push him out of character. He managed to hold it in check, incorporating it into his character of Scrooge. At least it made it easier to play a jealously guarding old man. And besides, Kate hadn’t given her script to Andre, had she? She’d given it to him. And tonight, he’d read it.

In a strange way, he felt very much like a miser—a kinship with Scrooge he hadn’t expected. But it wasn’t money he wanted to hold tight. If he really had any money, he’d give it all to her to erase the worry lines from her forehead. But he hadn’t really been able to do that, in spite of the fact that he had called Andre to get him to come early. No, Andre had done that. And now Andre was cuddled up with Kate in the front row.

Except he wasn’t. When Alex looked again, Kate was alone. She looked tired though. Her face was pale, and he could see lines of pain around her eyes. Just as it struck him that it must be nearly nine o’clock, Andre reappeared next to her with a glass of water. She gave him a quick smile and took a sip of the water. He bent down next to her and she nodded, looking back at the stage. “We’re going to call it for the night, guys. Sorry, this has been one of the best run-throughs I’ve ever seen so early in rehearsals, but I’m fading fast.”

DNA and our hunt for a more colorful origin story

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Origin stories aren’t always as colorful as we could wish. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every fan of superheroes knows what an origin story is. Every birthday, we celebrate our origin stories. I tell my kids about the day they were born. How I was feeling, how I knew when it was time to go to the hospital, how long I waited there. What the weather was like. How it felt to hold them for the first time. That’s their origin story.

But recently, science—possibly junk science, depending on who you listen to—has made it possible to find out a bit more about your origin story. And which one of us doesn’t hope we can add a little to our origin story by exploring this avenue?

A little color.

Like many others, I have always been told there is Cherokee blood in my ancestry. I remember visiting Cherokee, N.C., as a child. We have pictures somewhere of Native Americans (we called them Indians back then) in full tribal headdress. My mother bought me a little doll from one of the gift shops. A little girl in a fringed leather dress with a feather in her black braids. I loved that doll. I dreamed about one day being a part of that all-too-colorful heritage (if you go back to Cherokee now, you’ll find a much more down-to-earth and realistic celebration of a wonderful civilization). The Tsalagi (Cherokee, originally Aniyunwiya) of North Carolina are the remainder of the proud nation who were forced West on the Trail of Tears by white men, the ones who clung to their traditions and the little bit of land they could lawfully acquire while their families and neighbors were forced on a journey many of them didn’t make it through.

Colorful, tragic, and beautiful. I always wanted it to be true that there was Cherokee blood in my veins because surely it ran a deeper vermillion than the European blood I knew was there.

And yet, when I had my DNA ancestry tested, I came up just about as lily white as can be. 71% England, Wales (this is vaguely interesting) and Northwestern Europe, 27% Ireland and Scotland, and 2% Sweden. Not unexpected at all, but it might have been nice to find something more exotic in my DNA.

I’ve accepted this lily whiteness and the blood that my ancestors have left on my hands. I belong to the most brutal of all races. White Europeans. The ones who destroyed the peaceful civilizations they found in North America and enslaved Africans to work they land they stole.

I saw in today’s news that Elizabeth Warren is being criticized for publicizing the DNA results which showed she has some portion of Native American ancestry in her origin story. Republicans don’t believe her, Native Americans say it’s problematic that she is claiming this ancestry and, hey, why the heck has she not been advocating for Native Americans all along if she wants to believe she’s one of them?

The answer is, I believe, a fairly simple one. All us white folks want to believe we’ve got something special about us. Some of us know we belong to a brutal race and wish we could be one of those our ancestors tortured to ease our guilt. That group includes me and Senator Warren. You’ve got nothing really to fear from us because we see a nobility in your suffering and perseverance. But the others of us want to believe their race is lily white because it’s superior. They won out over all other races not through brutality but because they were chosen. Those are the ones we should all fear.

Weekend Update: Busy and Wonderful!

It was, I won’t lie, an exhausting weekend here. Mumfest happened in a big way! I had a chance to connect with a lot of readers and potential readers, a few aspiring writers, old and new friends. Fantastic!

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With the help of my friend Noel, my purple tent was transformed from this…

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…to this magical place!

I was lucky enough to be able to partner with a very talented artist, Noel McKelvey of Blissworks. (You can see some more of her lovely creations on her Facebook page.) Her artwork grabbed a lot of attention, and I’m thrilled to say she sold several of her lovely paintings! Yay, Noel! Added bonus, some of the folks who stopped to admire her art also took a moment to check out my books. So good for me, too, right? I sold a few, talked to lots of neat people and basically regained a little of my ambition, which can easily be lost when you sit in your office day after day writing words and wondering if anyone will ever read them.

Added added bonus, theater friends also stopped by. I reconnected with several cast and members of Anne of Green Gables and A Christmas Carol. Which was timely since Dickens Magic, which is set in Rivertowne Players’ Masonic Theatre, comes out in just over two weeks!! Though I swear I never base any of my books on actual events in my life, I will say that those two plays gave me the experience I needed to write a story from the point-of-view of an actor/director. Sort of intensive research, I suppose!

So, overall, a great experience. I hope “The Artist and the Author” will make another appearance at another location one day. Noel and I made a good team. Plus, we now have the banner and the tent!

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In other news, my virtual tour for Becoming Magic continues today. Check out my interview on Bookaholic where I discuss the difficulty of writing a romance with a #metoo theme—and why I wanted to do it in the first place.

Poem: “What Good Will It Do?”

In today’s news, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist, disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. It is now reported that he was killed for the stories he routinely wrote criticizing his home country’s government. When it was proposed to President Donald Trump that the United States should cease selling weapons to the Saudi Arabian government, the leader of the free world responded, “What good will that do us?”

My answer? We would no longer be accepting blood money from a repressive regime. We would no longer be upholding a bully. We would no longer be endorsing their human rights violations. 

We would no longer be guilty by association. 

What Good Will It Do?

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

What good will it do?

Sticking your neck out,

Standing up to a bully,

Being courageous.

What good does it do me?

If I refuse to befriend the “strong”

That will make me weak.

 

What good will it do?

Who says I have to help

When others are down?

Got my own life to live.

What benefit is there?

Right and wrong don’t mean

A thing when you’re on top.

 

It’ll do me no good

To give you a handout.

Sure it’s tough all over.

Get a grip on yourself.

There’s nothing in it for me.

Helping others is just a game

Invented by bleeding hearts.

 

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.” –President John F. Kennedy