Happy birthday, Dickens Magic!

dickens-magicHappy birthday, at long last, Dickens Magic! I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! And what better way to celebrate my latest book in my magic series than by indulging in a little of the magic of the day?

I try to release my magic books on Halloween for a couple of reasons. First, it’s Samhain, the day the Celts believed the veil lifted a little between this world and that of the dead. It’s a sort of “in between” time and magic abounds. For instance:

  • Bat magic. Bats are messengers. Did you know you can send a message with a bat to the other side of the veil on Halloween? Just ask when you see one out and about tonight.
  • Spider magic. Don’t squash spiders on Halloween! If you find one inside, it’s probably a dead relative come to visit.
  • Black cat magic. If you find a stray black cat curled up on your doorstep, don’t scare it off. It’s there to guard your house against evil spirits. Or it’s a witch’s familiar sent to spy on you.
  • Jack-o-lantern magic. You probably have one guarding your front door. My favorite legend of the jack-o-lantern comes from the Southern Appalachian Mountains where I grew up. One of many “Jack Tales” I read and heard over the years. I especially like the one from Richard Chase’s timeless collection. In this version, Jack the troublemaker made the first one when, after tricking the devil into agreeing not to take his soul to hell, he was also refused entrance to heaven. The devil, taking pity on poor, homeless Jack’s soul, tossed him a coal from hell and Jack put it into a hollowed out gourd to light his way as he wandered the earth. If you haven’t read the Chase collection, it’s available here: Jack Tales.

Second, it just so happens that the master of escape magic, Harry Houdini died on Halloween. Even he couldn’t avoid the inescapable clutch of death, it seems. Or could he? Toward the end of his life, Houdini was alternately fascinated and disgusted by the “mediums” of the day. He spent a large amount of his time studying their tricks and exposing them.

And yet, he and his wife Bess promised each other that whoever passed away first would find a way to contact the other with a secret code that spelled “Believe”. So, after Houdini’s death, Bess arranged a seance on the anniversary of his death every year until her own death, after which it was taken up by other believers.

I wonder about the death of Houdini. What better way for an escape magician to cross the veil than when it is, by Celtic belief, at its thinnest? And surely, if he so desired, he could escape that veil. Yet so far, no one has heard from him. If you’re curious about this year’s seance, you can find out more here: Houdini seance.

Maybe this year he’ll tell everyone to buy Dickens MagicIt’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, you know. He and Dickens shared a real interest in the paranormal. More about that later.

For Santa Fe High School…and all the others we’ve failed since Columbine

As a parent of teenagers, my heart breaks at these high school shootings and the texts exchanged between parents and children during them. In a way, this is found poetry, based on actual text messages, though I changed the wording so it could be between one parent and child. Please, please, when November comes, think about how long it will be before you are the one who receives that first text followed by the next desperate If-I-die one.
A Last Tenuous Connection
By Michelle Garren Flye
Someone shooting in the school.
I love you.
I’m coming.
Don’t. We’re on lockdown. You might get hurt.
My teacher is dead.
OMG. Stay quiet. Stay safe. On my way.
If I don’t make it, I love you and thank you for everything.
Don’t talk like that.
I’m so scared.
I know you are. I’m almost there.
No matter what I love you.
I love you too.
I’m here. Where are you?

Lessons of a Favorite Teacher: Like a String of Christmas Lights

pexels-photo-632205.jpegToday I found out that my favorite teacher passed away. Mr. Goins was 75 years old, and I never told him he was my favorite teacher. He was the first to teach me the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of journalism, the first to encourage me to check my sources and back them up, the first to impress upon me that journalism is facts only—my opinion and my point of view do not matter in true journalism.

Mr. Goins was too kind-hearted to be a journalist, but he was the best of the best at teaching it. He led the little band of would-be journalists who made up our high school newspaper The Broadcaster to multiple awards. In fact, it was while attending a ceremony to receive one of these awards that I first stepped foot into Howell Hall of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And I knew I would go there and get my degree in journalism. And I did.

I’m luckier than most. I managed to finagle my way into the job of editor of The Broadcaster during my senior year and I helped found The Purple Fridge, the literary magazine of our high school, which Mr. Goins also agreed to sponsor. So I worked closely with this gentle soul who guided and advised and helped, but never ordered. He never yelled, though once or twice I think we all saw those bushy eyebrows flare over the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore. And sometimes he’d take those glasses off and rub the tear-drop shaped indentations on his nose very wearily.

I’ll never forget going into The Broadcaster office—Mr. Goins’s classroom—after school to ask him a question and find him, more often than not, kicked back in his chair with his feet up on his desk smoking his pipe. He’d drop his feet to the floor and motion for me to take a seat nearby, puff on his pipe and listen, think, and answer. He was never to busy for a student.

I never thanked him for that. I never told him he inspired me to pursue my writing career or that I still remember his journalism lessons like they are Christmas lights strung along the journey of my writing career, lighting my way. But they are. His lessons live on in my life, and I treasure their light. Thank you, Mr. Goins.

Poem: The Gift

For absent friends and family.

The Gift

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

it’s a Gift, she said, holding it tight.

why don’t you open it? i replied.

oh no, she laughed, you don’t open it.

 

i studied the golden wrappings,

the shiny, shimmering bow.

what do you do with it then? i said.

 

for answer, she breathed and laughed and cried—

she played and lived as the Gift slowly faded.

but she held it like a treasure the whole time.

 

only then did i see my own Gift bound in gold.

i wondered how i hadn’t noticed it before—

though i’d held it until its light had gone.

Creation’s Child: The Killer in Me

I’ll take a quick break from promoting Movie Magic (see the beautiful cover to the right) to talk a little bit about one of the most powerful and potentially addictive parts of writing: Creation. Because along with creation comes the ability to kill with impunity within the realm of your creation, that is.

There’s a saying that’s popular among writers. It’s on bumper stickers, coffee cups and t-shirts. “I’m a writer. Don’t piss me off or I’ll put you in a book and kill you.” While I’ve never actually done that, I have killed people off in books to move the story along. In fact, in my very first published book Secrets of the Lotus, I killed off the heroine’s imprisoned brother in order to bring her and the hero closer. Heartless? Cold? Maybe. But here’s the result:

Dan bolted up the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. The door of her apartment was ajar. He went in to find her standing in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine, her eyes red.

“Jo?” He closed the door. “What’s up?”

“He’s dead. James.” Josie lifted her glass as if in a toast. Dan could see tears running down her cheeks. “There was some kind of riot, something stupid. But somebody had one of those weapons, the ones they make out of spoons—what do they call them?”

“A shiv?” Dan pulled the term from some movie or other, then felt like an idiot since he was fairly certain she didn’t really care. He crossed the room and took the wineglass from her, leading her into the living room, tossing some cushions on the floor and sitting with her in his arms. “I’m sorry, baby.”

She felt good enough against him to make him feel guilty, but he also knew her well enough to realize what she needed from him at that moment, and if he let her go, he wasn’t sure what would happen to her. He touched his lips to her hair, allowed himself to breathe her scent and offered her the only real comfort he could.

Since then, in twelve books, I have only (sort of) killed off five characters. I say “sort of” because, well, two of those were characters you didn’t really know but that affected the heroines’ backstories, and one of them had a twist that’s not revealed yet. As in he died, but… (Read the Synchronicity series if you want to know what I’m talking about!)

But of all the deaths of all my characters, the only one that really surprised me was the death in Weeds and Flowers. I say it surprised me because I knew this character had more to accomplish in the story. Hell, he’s talking in the last chapter of the book! It was only after I wrote his death scene that I realized he was a ghost.

The phone rang at six thirty the next morning. I groaned and rolled over. No fair being woken up so early on a Saturday. I heard David’s voice on the phone, muffled. He talked for several minutes, his voice low and somehow ominous, like the first growls of thunder. I rolled over onto my back. Silence fell, a humid shadow over the house. Then I heard Mom’s voice, a flicker of lightning. With my eyes closed so I couldn’t see the bright sunlight that snuck past my shades, I felt a thunderstorm approaching. Them Mom cried “No!”, the lightning struck and I sat up, wide awake. Something awful had happened.

J.K. Rowling cried when she killed off Snape. Agatha Christie supposedly killed Poirot because she was falling in love with him. Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes because he was tired of him…and later regretted it. I guess my point—other than trying to entice you to read two of my earliest books—is that with creation comes the ability to destroy. Even if it’s just imaginary people in an imaginary world. It’s thrilling and addicting and devastating at the same time.

Fur Babies and Heartbreak

For those who don’t know, it’s been a rough couple weeks in my household while dealing with pets. My cat, who has been sick for roughly a month, tested positive for feline leukemia last week, even though she was negative as a kitten and is completely indoors. Well, she’s been on antibiotics and steroids and things are looking up for her, thankfully. However, we were dealt a horrible blow two days ago when my sweet, valiant little Freddy, who was spending time in the backyard with our other dog, was bitten by a copperhead. He died about three hours later. I have this horrible, haunting, heartbreaking feeling that I somehow, unwittingly, traded the life of one beloved pet for another. I’m grateful for my cat’s recovery, but I miss my dog. So I wrote this for both of them.

For Freddy

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

The beauty that remains

Can’t take your place

Though she may try.

She can’t fill the dark shadow

Left by your absence.

She may comfort and help,

She may make me smile,

And her purrs may even delight.

I’m glad my beauty remains,

But my heart will always miss

The spot you once filled.

My Elvis died.

supermoon

Another one of my heroes died this week, and it’s left a bigger hole in the world than I’d anticipated. I mean, people die. Even the stars we admire from afar. I’ve got more heroes in heaven than I do on earth at this point. Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Bing Crosby, Steve Jobs… Yet, it just seems so wrong that David Bowie isn’t still here.

Why him more than the others? It’s hard to say, really. I wasn’t the best David Bowie fan. I didn’t love everything he ever put out. I didn’t buy every album. I tended to pick and choose, more of a greatest hits than a B-side fan. I never went to a concert. I own a lot of his music, but I don’t listen to it all the time.

I think he was my Elvis. The one artist that won’t be replaced for me. It’s not just that it’ll be difficult. There won’t be another David Bowie. That incredibly elastic voice and personality can’t be replaced. We won’t see another Major Tom or Ziggy Stardust or Jareth or Thin White Duke. Not again.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. But I’ll never listen to his music again without a sense of loss and the impermanence of life. Which means his music doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did. I can’t just fall in love with his croon and wonder at the hidden meanings to his lyrics. And it’s that loss that I mourn.

So good-bye, Mr. Bowie. I’ll miss you every time I hear your voice.