One moment a maniac…

IMG_1947If you’ve ever read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you know it’s full of bitter truths. That love has no reason. That mankind is cruel. That wealth and status are merciless and religion can be flat out wrong. Of course, most of us haven’t actually read the masterpiece. At best, we’ve seen a movie adaptation. At worst, however, we’ve heard the music of Disney’s adaptation at some point.

When Notre Dame burned last year, I cried. I hadn’t seen it yet and it was on my bucket list. It still is, even though I’ll never see the cathedral that was termed “The Forest” for the network of wooden beams that made up the roof. But some of the grand church was preserved. The fabulous rose windows and stone walls still stand. I can see those…someday.

And then I heard one of our local theatres was doing the musical adapted from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was adapted from Victor Hugo’s epic novel. Of course, I had to audition. And somehow, in spite of my audition, I made it into the choir, so I get to sing many of these songs while sitting or standing on stage the entire time. And as an added bonus, I have a couple of lines as a gargoyle.

It’s been fun. Nerve-wracking at times, but fun. I’ve listened to the music so much I may never want to hear it again, even “God Bless the Outcasts” which I’ve been known to blast in my car for no real reason at all. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people—theatre people are great. Differences don’t matter when you’re on stage. I’ve noticed that particularly with this cast. Race, religion, sexual orientation and the big one—Politics—none of that crap matters when you’re telling the story you’ve been charged to tell.

As for the production, well it’s fun. It’s exhausting. It’s taken a lot of time away from my family, and I’m really kind of looking forward to being done with it. But being in this production has also reminded me of what’s perhaps the most cruel of Hugo’s lessons to his readers: That dreams don’t always come true but life really isn’t worth living without them.

What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Cover Reveal: Timeless! (Finally)

Drum roll, please…Ta…DAAA!

Yes, that is the cover for the final book of my Synchronicity series, Timeless. And yes, it does have a unicorn on it! As all my best covers are, this one was designed by my talented friend Farah Evers of Farah Evers Designs, and I gave her a tough task, asking her to make a non-dorky cover with a unicorn on it. 🙂 (Sorry to all you unicorn fans out there, but…) As you can see, she rose to the challenge magnificently!

This one has been a long time coming. I started writing this trilogy in 2015, and Out of Time was published in 2016. I followed it up with Time Being in 2017. And now, finally, I’m ready to release Timeless. These worlds I invented and the portals between them have been fun to travel. Steeped in the legends of the Cherokee (T’sali) people of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up, I feel like, more than any of my other books, these have a bit of my soul in them. I mean, what little girl doesn’t dream of finding out she’s a princess from a faraway land?

I’ve enjoyed my time in Eladi/Ayeli/Gadusi, consorting with Elves and Meti as well as humans, but I am ready, now, to let it go. So, on June 1, 2019, you can find out how it all ends. For those who have followed this story, the Raven Mocker does make another appearance, and yes, there really is a unicorn.

And if you haven’t followed the story? I’ve slashed the prices on the first two ebooks, Out of Time and Time Being, to 99 cents! (Come on, Disney/Marvel didn’t make you that good a deal and you still went to see End Game!) Don’t get left behind. Be ready for the end of this epic story on June 1!

Jack and Kaelyn have battled an army and realigned space and time to be together. But their greatest challenge yet looms, and it’s from Kaelyn’s own people. 

The joyous reunion with Todd and the Ayeli Meti should bring peace to all they love, but instead Kaelyn discovers a dark underbelly of prejudice. The Ayeli Meti have not forgotten the war with the Elves, and it takes very little to push them over the edge. Now Kaelyn must decide between love and duty.

Trapped on Ayeli, can she overcome the lingering anger against Elves? And can Jack defeat his father on the lost world of Gadusi, making it safe to reopen the portals? Most important, can Kaelyn and Jack find their way back to each other through the locked portals—or are they doomed to spend eternity alone?

Trump Tilts at Windmills

They might be giants…they aren’t, but they might be.

Very seldom these days do the worlds of great literature and American politics coincide, but Donald Trump’s recent attack on windmills cannot help reminding me of the passage in the great novel about an insane man, Don Quixote.

Don Trump says, “They kill birds, they cause cancer, you can’t depend on them to power your television for an entire night because if the wind’s not blowing, there’s no power.”

Don Quixote says, “They’re giants and I shall slay them.”

But where is Trump’s Sancho? Where is the voice of reason to tell him that they aren’t actually giants, but very useful and beneficial machines? If we continue the parallel, Sancho would probably be Trump’s voters. The ones he’s promised will benefit if they follow him. Yet Trump’s Sancho doesn’t seem capable of pointing out that the windmills are not actually giants. So, it would seem, Trump Quixote is destined to break his lance without even a word of warning from his companion.

We might laugh at this. Cervantes certainly intended you to laugh at his misguided knight and even at Sancho. But if we’re stuck in Don Trump, or the Man of Queens, we better hope there’s a Knight of the White Moon out there somewhere who will defeat Trump and make him promise to go home to be cured of his madness.

Otherwise, we may be doomed to subscribe to Quixote’s belief near the end of the first volume that knights errant “are exempt from the application of all laws and statutes, that for them law is their sword, statutes are their spirit, and edicts and proclamations are their will and desire.”

Sounds uncomfortably familiar.

Hidden room dream: Getting older, getting busy again, getting to know who I am

Yesterday, I had to admit—at long last—that I just can’t see my computer screen as well when I wear contacts. So I pulled out an old pair of reading glasses I once used for a Halloween costume. In spite of myself, I was hoping they wouldn’t work.

They did.

Here’s me seeing my computer screen clearly without squinting. So I’m getting older. Better than the alternative, I always say.

Today I find myself in a quandary in spite of my new ability to see clearly. I want to write again, but I’m unsure what to write. I’ve been in stasis mode for a few weeks, though, you see, so it’s harder than I anticipated jumping back into the pool of work. I usually get anxious if I’m not writing something, but I’m surprisingly calm about it this time. And I think I can attribute that to the hidden room dreams.

If you’ve never had hidden room dreams, let me tell you, they’re a trip. For me, I was always wandering through our extraordinarily cluttered house (it was worse in the dream than in reality) only to find a door I opened to reveal rooms I never knew my house possessed. These rooms were always furnished, as though ready for use, but in my dreams I always realized it would take some work to make them functional.

I had this dream often enough so I looked it up online. Hidden room dreams, I found, were an indication that there’s some talent or ability hidden in our psyche that we aren’t making use of. Interesting, considering I started having these dreams right after my first foray into community theater. If ever there was someone you wouldn’t have thought suitable for the stage, it is probably me. I have a definite fear of public speaking. I remember nearly fainting in high school when I had to give a three-minute speech. Just a few years ago, I attempted to conduct a few writing workshops, and, well, they weren’t bad, but they weren’t what I would call good, either.

But theater is different. You’re somebody else, from the makeup (I never wear eyeliner except onstage) to the clothing (ah, those sumptuous nineteenth century dresses I wore!) to the words (speeches I would never have made on my own). Okay, I’ve only had bit parts so far, but in one play I did have more than a dozen lines!

And now, here I am, having just finished directing (and writing, at least a little bit) my daughter’s talent show, taking singing lessons in preparation for auditioning for another musical—and no longer haunted by hidden room dreams. Is it possible my hidden rooms were theater-related all along? Maybe the “clutter” in my dreams was my desire to tell stories, that I’ve always restricted to the arena of writing. If I move it into theater as well, I’ll have another outlet and more room in both parts of my psyche.

But never fear, I’m not giving up on my writing, either. Jessica Entirely, the first of my middle grade Jessica mysteries, will be ready for publication in June. I’m now working on the polishing of Timeless, the final book of my Synchronicity series. And Magic at Sea, book 7 of Sleight of Hand, should be ready for an October 31 release! Plus, I’ve already started planning Jessica Naturally, which I’m hoping to have out by Christmas.

So even as I explore these hidden rooms and try to dust them off so they’ll be functional, I’m adding to the clutter on the other side of my psyche. Can’t be helped, though. I guess I’ll just have to add more shelves over there!

Poem: Red Sky Vow

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of the promise. Like the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.” How do we know a red sky at night means clear sailing? Because nature makes a promise and actually follows through.

This year I’ve decided to depend less on others’ promises to me and more on my own promises to myself. Promises from outside entities may never become reality. I am the one in charge of promises to myself. Michelangelo agreed with me, evidently. He said:

“The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.”

Was he right? Undoubtedly. We cannot depend on the “world”, whether that be our government, our friends, our schools or our churches. What really matters is the promises we make ourselves—more specifically the promises we make to ourselves that we keep.

Nature, after all, does not make its red sky vow to us. It makes it to itself. Tomorrow, it tells itself, I will make a beautiful day. And that vow shows in its beauty that it will be followed through on.

I’ve made myself a vow to reach beyond my comfort zone and try things I’ve never tried because I thought I couldn’t do them. I’ve promised myself when things are wrong in the world, I’ll do what I can to make them right. My promises are not to others. They are to me.

The result is a kind of red sky in my own soul. I’ve written a children’s book though I’ve always sworn I’m not smart enough to write for children. I’m taking singing lessons because, in spite of a lifelong love of music and singing, I’ve never thought I could sing—but I can, at least a little. I’m not as tone deaf as I thought. I’m writing poetry and I’m speaking out instead of shrugging things off. It feels right.

What red sky vow could you make?

Red Sky Vow

By Michelle Garren Flye

Make a red sky vow today.

The power comes from within.

Tomorrow is the promise—

A better and brighter day;

The end of rain, the sun will shine.

Follow through comes from you—

Light the candle of your vow,

Watch the air brighten and clear.

A red sky vow is one you make yourself

And fulfill for the good of your soul.

Kept in the Dark: The dark twin to Dickens Magic

My “magic consultant” R.J. (Arjay) Lewis just happens to have released his own book today, possibly more appropriate to the date than mine is. I was lucky enough to get to read this book ahead of time so I could post a review for him. If you like horror at all and want an extra chill today, give Kept in the Dark a try. Plus, it’s free!

My review of R.J.’s “dark twin” of Dickens Magic:

Kept in the Dark“Everything will make sense once you know what I know.”

Arjay Lewis draws that line in the sand that you just have to cross. You have to know what he—and his protagonist Jake Hurd—know. And once you know it, maybe it makes sense…or maybe you wish you didn’t know it anymore?

Kept in the Dark is Arjay’s latest foray into the psychological thriller/horror genre. A delightfully frightening mix with well-developed characters and a chilling plot, it takes you through the experiences of Jake as told to his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Lucas. Sam has to face the fact that Jake may not be the delusional night guard who’s afraid of the dark, but instead a man who’s been damned by his glimpse into another dimension—and the monsters he accidentally released.

I loved the tie-in to the Ecuadorian legend of El Cucuy and the tragic and the chilling view of mental illness. Well done!

Full disclosure, I was provided a free copy of this novel, and Arjay has worked with me on a number of projects. But I have enjoyed his work since before I met him when I first read The Muse. I think you will enjoy this novel, too.