Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

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El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

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El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

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El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

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“You Put Your Left Hand In . . .”

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What song/dance did you think of immediately when you read the title of the post? It’s considered a novelty/fad dance because of its popularity for a time at wedding receptions and large gatherings of kids. (If you still aren’t sure what that song is, I’ll whisper it to you in the comments if you ask.) I didn’t notice anyone suggesting it at any wedding reception I’ve attended in the last few years. The “Chicken Dance” is still hanging in there as a wedding reception staple.

img_4151Connie Willis’s 1996 science fiction novel, Bellwether, is all about fads and trends. Dr. Sandra Foster, the main character, is a sociologist who studies them. Like this one:

dance marathon (1923—33) Endurance fad in which the object was to dance the longest to earn money. Couples pinched and kicked each other to stay awake, and when that failed, took turns sleeping on their partner’s shoulder for as long as 150 days. (Willis 105)

And yes, Barbie herself (pictured above) has endured past her early fad-dom. (If that’s even a word, which I suspect it isn’t.)

This is not a review of Bellwether, by the way, though I loved the book. (Which I guess is kind of a mini-review.) I’m more interested in the central concept of the book: the bellwether. (Maybe now you’re thinking of the Bellwether character in Zootopia.)

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Assistant Mayor Bellwether

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bellwether is

one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends

States can be bellwethers too. You can check out Wikipedia (click here) for more information on the bellwether’s antecedents. Willis’s book addresses the notion of the bellwether in a very creative way.

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I’ll be bahhh-ck. (A sheep’s impression of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger)

We can’t always predict what will become a fad, thanks to the fickle nature of humans. Even if we’re contemptuous of the fads others follow (especially if they seem dangerous or dumb), if we’re being honest, we’ll probably admit to having followed a few fads at some point in our lives.

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Blue hair on a dude is not uncommon nowadays.
Is this a passing trend? Who knows?

Bellwethers set the trends, sometimes inadvertently. Think of the artists who are simply being true to themselves, but who wind up starting fads, thanks to the adoration of fans.

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as trendsetting bellwethers. But sometimes, for good or ill, we are bellwethers in the lives of someone impressionable. I can’t help thinking of some children I’ve babysat, who use some of the same exclamations I’ve used. “Oh good grief!” a three-year-old said in frustration, using the same inflection I used. This taught me to keep a careful watch on what I say around him.

What fads or trends have you noticed lately that you like or wish would go away? Do you know who started them? Have you ever started a fad? What was the result?

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Willis, Connie. Bellwether. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Assistant Mayor Bellwether image from thefandomnet.tumblr. Bellwether sheep found at Goodreads.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Barbie and Kris dolls by Mattel for the movie Barbie Video Game Hero.

A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

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I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

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At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

Get Cozy!

img_4118When you live in an area where lately the temperature seems to hover between 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 2 below zero, you tend to crave anything that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Like my Sherpa blanket.

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Oh yeah! If I could wrap up with it while waiting for the train on frosty mornings, I would. When I throw it on, I instantly feel the weight and warmth of it. It’s like having a sheepdog wrapped around me.

I’ve mentioned the maple apple cider tea that makes me feel especially cozy. Nancy Hatch and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, expect to get some in the mail soon. (Yes, that is my way of announcing the winners of the giveaway announced in this post. I decided to go with two, since they both said they wanted the tea in the comments. Winners, please confirm below. If you would prefer to have a blend of flavors [click that link to preview] instead of only the maple apple cider, please mention that when you confirm.)

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Another way of getting cozy is to watch a cozy movie. I’ve mentioned in many posts that movies and miniseries adapted from Jane Austen’s books are my usual go-tos. However, Enchanted April is another favorite. This 1991 movie, directed by Mike Newell, concerns four women (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Polly Walker) who rent a villa in the Italian Rivera. It’s based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. With a cast like that, I can’t help feeling cozy, especially with so many sun-splashed days and lovely walks in the Italian countryside.

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Still another way of getting cozy is to curl up with a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh, P. D. James, and Dorothy Sayers were my authors of choice for years on cold winter days. Agatha, Ngaio, and Dorothy wrote during the Golden Age of mysteries (the 1920s and 1930s). There are many cozy mystery series now. For a great review of a cozy mystery, check out FictionFan’s blog. She reviewed one of the Murder She Wrote novels starring the one and only Jessica Fletcher. (Click here for that review.) I used to read those ages ago. I think I’ll pick one up again.

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I feel warmer already!

What’s your favorite way to get cozy this winter?

Book cover from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie.

First Post of 2017!

Happy 2017! Since I didn’t make a list of resolutions nor do I have goals to share, I’ll just get to the point of this post. I wanted the first post of the year to involve a giveaway. Here are the first two items.

In a previous post, I mentioned some Christmas gifts I received, which included this tea (which came in a six-box lot)

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and this book:

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This book, by Jessica Julius, appealed to me for a number of reasons: (1) Zootopia was one of my favorite movies in 2016. (2) I love books about the process of making a film or writing a series. (3) The world building in Zootopia was fantastic, and is well covered in the book.

So I’ll give commenters a choice of one of those items (don’t forget—you’ll get about six boxes of the maple apple cider tea) or one other. Having recently seen and loved the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I was inspired to add the following book choice:

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Please keep in mind that I didn’t read this novel. I only saw the film. But this is the novelization of the film.

So, you might wonder, what’s the catch with all of this? Am I flinging money to the winds because I’ve gone insane? No, but since you asked so politely, I’ll tell you why. Lean closer. . . . Closer. . . . Closer. . . .

That’s close enough. Are you ready? Here’s the answer: no reason. Just because.

Happy 2017! When you comment below, please state which of the three you would like. (Please note: If the tea is your choice, please keep in mind that I’m not sure if Amazon delivers the tea out of the U.S.) When you comment, you don’t have to give a reason for your choice. But if you like, you can share how you rang in the new year. I’ll start: I fell asleep around 11:30, but was awakened by the fireworks outside.

Rogue One novel cover from Goodreads.