Day 2: Amsterdam

Tom and I woke early and went for a walk in Westerpark. It’s a lovely park, a combination of landscaped and wild areas in the middle of the city. OK, not the middle, but close to the docks where we will be embarking on the “River Duchess,” our home away from home for the next three weeks. They were cleaning the wading pond that had produced so many happy childrens’ screams the day before. We saw great blue herons, mourning doves, and a number of birds I didn’t recognize.

This statue of a court dress stands in the middle of a small pond in Westerpark. The lady has evidentially strayed elsewhere.

We returned to the hotel and sat down to order breakfast via Q-code. Our coffee came almost immediately, but not our friends. Or the food. Eventually, Linda texted us. They had decided to sit in the roped-off area for some reason. And the staff had decided to serve them there. So we joined them. Their breakfasts arrived. Ours did not. Tom went to see why not, and apparently the order never went through. No worries—it arrived shortly after Tom inquired.

We had decided to visit the Reichsmuseum today. The Reichsmuseum has the same issues as the Louvre—it is so huge, you would need days to really do it justice. It has a huge collection of Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” which we had seen on our first visit to Amsterdam. It was a bit of a shock to walk into that gallery. An enormous crowd was gathered in front of the “Night Watch.” I remembered from our first visit that we had been one of a few gathered to gawk at it, and we stayed a long time with no interruptions. Then I remembered we had come here in February, which probably explains the difference. It isn’t Rembrandt’s most fascinating work, in my opinion, so I skirted the rapt crowd to focus on other works.

And I got to revisit some faves—Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer, and others, and discovered a new favorite, Judith Leyster, who had the same qualities I so admire in the others—capturing the personality of real people, distinct personalities, on canvas. I will have to further explore Leyster’s work.

One of Judith Leyster’s genre paintings. If it is in the Reichsmuseum, I didn’t see it, but it has all the qualities I love in the Dutch genre paintings.

We wandered through more galleries, and I began to skip over the things that didn’t interest me in favor of the ones that did—there’s just too much to see! Eventually, we dragged aching feet to the cafe and had some lunch. David ordered bitterballen, which I had never tasted before. Bitterballen (which I think means battered balls) consist of a stew rendered down until the gravy is very thick, frozen, battered, and deep fried. Very yummy. Very heavy. I had boar sausage with picked onions and bread.

Susan had arranged for a canal tour. The departure point was supposed to be very close to the museum. This proved to be true, but they told us it was the wrong place for our tickets. Then they kindly put us on a tour departing from that location, complete with wine and goodies, even though we hadn’t paid for them. Great customer service. The canal tour was interesting, and you get a short lesson in Amsterdam’s history, albeit through the recorded voices of a couple who argued coyly with each other. I know know what the Zeiderzee is—the southern sea that was closed off from the ocean at some point, protecting Amsterdam from tidal surges that tended to flood the residents’ houses from time to time. It was pretty crowded on that tour boat, but that’s what we get for coming during the tourist season. Horrifyingly, as we passed under a low bridge, someone on the bridge threw a half-full can of Amstel Beer through the open top and hit Linda’s head, soaking her clothes in beer. Somehow, I didn’t expect hat kind of behavior here. Fortunately, Linda was not badly hurt.

After the canal tour, we walked to the Reichst Restaurant (not the museum cafe), but we didn’t have reservations so they turned us down. We wound up back at the Conscious Hotel, where the food was very good, if not spectacular. This is a town where reservations are really required most places.

I tried to watch the third Jan. 6 hearings, but Judge Michael Luttig, who was one of the witnesses, spoke SO slowly, with so many long pauses between phrases, that by the time he finished a sentence I had forgotten what he was talking about. It drove me nuts and I realized I was probably tired, so I went to bed.

Voyage to Budapest

Days 1 & 2: San Francisco to Amsterdam

We planned this trip for two years, believing that Covid might be over by then. It isn’t, of course, but we came anyway. I thought we would be traveling a lot after we retired but Covid put an end to that for a while. At my age, I don’t know how long we will be able to travel, and it is worth the risk. I, my husband Tom, and our friends Linda and Clod and Susan and David are doing a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, something none of us have ever done. Apart from Amsterdam, this trip will be covering a huge swath of Europe Tom and I have never seen before. (The others in our group have seen some of the places we’re going, but not all.)

The Covid infection rate here in the Netherlands is 14 per 100,000, which is better than any place in the US. I believe this is because they are not encumbered with as many radical conservatives and conspiracy theorists, but that’s just a guess. Very few here are wearing masks, indoor or otherwise. I am not so trusting, and wear a mask indoors. If one of us gets Covid, they get kicked off the ship at the first opportunity to quarantine elsewhere, and who wants that?

We few over on United Polaris—Business Class. They have eliminated First Class. The seats fully reclined, but it didn’t help me. I have never been able to sleep on a plane. I took prescription medication in an effort to overcome this, with no success. I found it massively uncomfortable, but there were a lot of people who looked blissful tucked up in their reclining seats. Being tall does not help. The food sucked. Honestly. I can’t imagine what they served in Economy.

But it was my choice to watch “Cyrano,” with Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence. I love both of them. It was a massive waste of their considerable talent. Pretty much a hot mess with meh music and silly choreography. Cyrano is supposed to be a comedy. It opened with promise, but got less funny as time went on, with a tragic ending. Towards the finale, I found myself impatient for it to end. Don’t waste your time.

We are staying in a hotel in a park. You have to walk from the taxi drop-off to the hotel, not very far. The hotel is called “Conscious Hotel at Westerpark.” I thought that was amusing because when I am in a hotel, it is usually in an unconscious state. But the name refers to being ecology-conscious, green, etc. The front lobby looks like a snack shop, which threw us for a few minutes. The rooms are minimalist, but clean and extremely comfortable. The park is lovely. I fell asleep to the sound of happy, screaming children playing in the park. (I am only perturbed by unhappy, screaming children.)

Sitting in the middle of a pond in Westerpark. A statue of a court dress with no one in it. A statement?

The second couple, Susan and David, arrived not long after we did. We walked around looking for a restaurant with tables in the shade. The only one we could find was a vegetarian restaurant with the most wonderful veggie lasagna I have ever tasted. Then to bed again for about 10 hours of sleep. I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no jet lag—a first. The bed here is seriously comfy.

The next day, we decided to walk to one of David’s fave breweries, located in an old windmill. While we were hoofing it, Linda and Clod checked in to the hotel and we arranged to meet them at a restaurant for lunch. I ordered a Caesar salad, but what arrived was basically a large quantity of fried meat on a meager bed of lettuce. It did have a lot of shaved Parmesan, but it was definitely not what I wanted on a hot afternoon. And I had developed a massive blister and went back to the hotel in a cab rather than walking another 3/4 mile on my abraded and bleeding toe. So I missed the beer. I imagine there will be other opportunities.

It was fun looking in the store windows and just soaking up the city. Head shops everywhere, which I don’t remember from my last visit here. I recall we had to go to a coffee shop to get weed. Not on my to-do list this time.

Tomorrow: the Reichsmuseum! I am so looking forward to that—but I will be wearing different shoes.

Ever Hear of the Fairness Doctrine? No?

I will admit I am an infrequent blogger. It’s not because I’m lazy or have nothing to say. It’s because I have too much to say.

I wanted to keep politics out of my blog and focus on my novels, and curious things I have noticed, or journal my travels. I haven’t traveled in three years for obvious reasons, which eliminated one source of material. And my brain has been on political red alert ever since 45 was elected. His subsequent loss to Joe Biden did not douse my three-alarm brain fire. As his supporters continue to perpetuate 45’s vile lies and to behave like poorly raised six-year-olds, my anxiety over politics has not diminished one bit. 

Even public health issues have to be politicized by the right, resulting in enormous numbers of deaths from Covid. Deaths that in many cases could have been avoided with simple precautions—which were also politicized.

The ugliness and willful ignorance of millions of the people with whom I share a country has been depressing and difficult to deal with. I once believed that most people are basically good, kind, and helpful. I now know beyond any shadow of a doubt that’s not true. Amid the right’s cheering for Putin in his bloody, terrorist war, the vitriol and denigration aimed at good people like Col. Vindeman, and the rightwing hero status of murderer Kyle Rittenhouse— I see a mindless mob, full of hatred and seething with resentment for anyone who isn’t just like them. I see people who have embraced Nazism, who wanted to overthrow our democracy and still do, who would, if given immunity, cheerfully slaughter their fellow Americans for being different in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political principles.

How did America, land of the brave, turn out so many ugly, hateful, ignorant people? I think Fox News, with its endless rabble-rousing and lies, is a huge part of the reason. The Republican Party used Fox as its official propaganda mouthpiece, but they did more, developing rightwing “think tanks” and research centers to bolster their own point of view. They nurtured resentment and anger, depicting Democrats as lazy, snowflake, pot-smoking losers on welfare with no religion, decency, or jobs. (I was accused of all that myself by Republicans.) I was told, at the age of 70 or so, to move out of my parents’ basement and get a job. (This was online, obviously. Anyone who saw me would realize my parents were most likely no longer on this planet.) One man told me that saying that Democrats went to church was a lie—no godless Democrats ever went to church. This is the kind of ignorant hysteria the Republicans have been cultivating for decades.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I’ve probably said enough about how dismal these people are. Why I want to know is how we fix this. I want to know how Fox News can get away for more than 40 years of lying and spreading false information without consequences. Why have we allowed uneducated trash like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Bobert to profane the halls of Congress? How do we put this particular evil genie back in the bottle?

There are no easy solutions, but there are urgent ones. I think one of the most effective things we can do to muzzle Fox’s firehose of lies is to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Most people probably don’t remember the Fairness Doctrine because it was abolished under Reagan in 1987—thus opening the door to Fox News and other sources of grotesquely biased media. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 by the FCC. According to Wikipedia, the Fairness Doctrine “…required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.[5][6]

Modern media—including social media, which didn’t exist in 1987—mandates that a new Fairness Doctrine must be updated to include these seismic changes in communications technology. But it is long past time to demand of the Federal government that the Fairness Doctrine be updated and reinstated to restrain the false information, lies, and propaganda flooding our media.

Please write your senators and representatives and demand that they support a new Fairness Doctrine for our modern world. Let’s pull Fox’s fangs.

To find and contact your Senator or Representative, see https://www.congress.gov/members?q=%7B%22congress%22%3A117%7D

Note: In the interests of transparency and truth, the image depicted with this post is not that of a fox. It’s a jackal. I think that would be a much better name for the organization under discussion–Jackal News. Anyway, none of the fox images I saw were snarling unless they were taxidermied. The live ones just looked really cute.

“Lords of the Night” Chapter One

The following is the entirety of Chapter 1 from “Lords of the Night,” now available at Amazon.com:

“Who do you think you are, Chaco? A drill sergeant?” Sierra snarled. She slipped off the greased bowling ball, dropping the dishes she had been balancing on the end of a broomstick. The dishes shattered on the tile floor of her kitchen. She picked her way through the shards in oily bare feet, muttering, and seized a glass of water, gulping it as she wiped away the sweat pouring down her face and neck.

“I warned you this would be hard,” said Chaco. He passed a hand over the ruined dishes and they disappeared. He cocked his head at her, amber eyes steady. 

“Yeah, you did,” Sierra responded. “But what the hell does standing on a greased bowling ball and destroying crockery have to do with becoming a sorceress? I’m not applying to Cirque du Soleil for a job.”

“Take a break,” Chaco replied peaceably, but his equanimity did not soothe her.

“I AM taking a break,” Sierra shot back. “Are you going to answer my question?”

Chaco lowered his lithe body into a chair, raking fingers through his dark hair. “As I told you when we started, the training is mental, spiritual, and physical. This is part of the physical training. A magic worker will often find him—or her—self in physically dangerous situations. You need to be strong, very strong, and your balance, aim, and precision must be honed to the highest degree. Think of yourself as an Olympic athlete…”

Sierra glanced down at her body, clad in shorts and tank top. She had been toned and on the slender side when she and Chaco had begun her training. Now she saw muscle definition in her thighs, where before they had merely been strong and well-shaped. The training was definitely making a difference. But god, she was working hard! And she hated it.

“I don’t get it,” she said, still cross. She knew Chaco was only doing his best to help, but at the moment, she didn’t care. “You never exercise. You never practice. Sure, you noodle around with trying new magics once in a while, but I’ve never seen you balancing on a greasy bowling ball. Do you do it when I’m not around or something?”

Sensing that Sierra was easing up a bit, Chaco laughed. “I’m a demigod. I don’t have to practice. When you become a demigod—or full-on goddess—you won’t have to practice either.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Well, you can’t expect to become a goddess overnight. You have to work at it. Like becoming Miss Universe or something.”

“Are you telling me that I’ll become a goddess if I continue the training?”

“Oh, no. There are no guarantees. Once you complete the training, there are still the traditional trials and tribulations.”

“I don’t want to be a goddess, Chaco. Your training sucks and I’m done.” Sierra put down her glass and stalked away, leaving Chaco in the kitchen, smiling to himself.

#

One year previously, Sierra had inherited a comfortable sum of money and a house from her fiancé, Clancy Forrester. There was only one problem; she suspected Clancy wasn’t actually dead. No body had been found and her friend Rose, who had witnessed Clancy’s fall from the side of a boat, said Clancy had never hit the water. If he had, he would have died, as the water was boiling from an undersea volcanic eruption. 

The inheritance bothered her conscience, but she rationalized that if Clancy were alive somewhere, she would need the money to find him. She quit her job as communications executive with the Clear Days Foundation—a job she loved—to have the time to search for him. She thought Clancy would forgive her for selling his house and spending his money when and if she ever found him. And she knew she needed training to fully harness the powers that would enable her to find Clancy and rescue him from . . . whatever he needed to be rescued from. Unfortunately, she didn’t know what he needed to be rescued from. In point of fact, she also didn’t know when he needed to be rescued, but she and her friends were working on that. 

While she was figuring out what she needed to do to find Clancy, she sold her own modest townhouse in Mountain View, California as well as Clancy’s highly sought-after ranch house in Sunnyvale. She added those proceeds to the three million dollars Clancy had left her in investments and began looking for a house where she could train in privacy. Her friend Rose, a Native American shaman, had suggested purchasing a remote cabin. 

“You’re going to need privacy—real privacy—and alone time now,” Rose had said. “This training is serious business and you need to concentrate. And you don’t need nosy neighbors.” Sierra bought a cabin in a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which was remote enough to satisfy her friend.

However, Rose had refused to train Sierra herself. “You’ve already gone beyond me in strength,” Rose had said. “There’s really nothing more I can teach you.”

Sierra also asked her friend Mama Labadie to train her. Mama Labadie was a Voudún houngan whose ability to communicate with her loa—or at least with the loa called Madame Ézilée—had come in handy many times during Sierra’s earlier adventures. “No, uh-uh, and absolutely not,” was the houngan’s response. “You’re already scary strong. You should ask Madam Ézilée, not me. She might be strong enough to teach you before you get somebody killed.” 

Kaylee, Sierra’s former work colleague and now a fast friend, was a Voudún practitioner, but claimed absolutely no occult powers. “I’ve been watching you,” Kaylee told her when Sierra groused a bit about Mama and Rose’s refusals to train her. “You’re powerful. You’ve gone wa-a-ay beyond Mama and Rose. They were right to turn you down. Sugar, you need to find someone who’s got more oomph than you do.”

#

One evening, as Sierra was unwrapping china mugs in her new kitchen and putting them on shelves, she complained to Chaco, “They’ve been telling me forever that I need to exercise my powers. That I need to train. But when I ask now? No dice. Mama and Rose won’t help me. Kaylee says she can’t help me. I don’t get it—they like Clancy. They want to get him back. I mean . . . don’t they?”

Chaco, his hands full of packing materials, took a moment to answer. “Of course they like him,” he finally said, swiping raven-black hair away from his face. “They probably liked Clancy more than he liked them.”

Sierra had to admit this was likely true, even if she didn’t like the past tense. Clancy had never been entirely comfortable around the “Three Weird Sisters,” as he called her three closest female friends. “Okay, but still. Wouldn’t you think they would help me to find him?”

Chaco put down a salt and pepper shaker set and sat in one of the kitchen chairs. “Do you want to have a serious conversation about this, or are you just bitching?”

Sierra set two mugs in a cupboard and sat down opposite Chaco. “I want a serious conversation. Tell me.”

“Let me make an analogy. Let’s say you’re a golfer, and you want to improve your game, maybe even play competitively. Do you go to your golfing buddy for training? The one who plays worse than you?”

“Well, obviously no. I take your point. But how am I going to find a teacher who’s better than me, if I’ve somehow gotten so strong?”

Chaco sat quietly, regarding her with his amber eyes. His expressive lips were slightly curved, his body relaxed and boneless-looking in the wooden chair. Like his alternate form, a coyote, he had the gift of seeming at home wherever he was. He continued to gaze at her in silence.

“You mean . . . you?” she finally asked.

“Who else is there?”

And that was that. She began her training in magic to find and rescue Clancy, wherever and whenever he might be. Chaco moved into Sierra’s second bedroom (she didn’t ask where he had been living before) to dedicate his time to her training. She expected that his residency would result in a renewed interest in getting her into his bed, but to her surprise he treated her as a comrade-in-arms with none of his usual sly suggestions. She found herself staring from time to time at Chaco’s face, with its long, chiseled planes, his golden eyes, his nicely muscled…and then she would flush with guilt at the thought of Clancy. Clancy, who would not be lost if it weren’t for his love for Sierra. But having Chaco around was convenient, and he was behaving himself, so the arrangement made sense.

Chaco had concentrated first on her powers, her mana. In the beginning, Sierra had envisioned her mana as colored flames, erratic and difficult to control. Gradually, she had come to see her powers as brightly colored ribbons twining in space, of every color she knew and some she didn’t. Chaco was able to visualize along with her. “There, right there,” he’d say. “That bright pink one? That’s for healing. Wrap it around your sore knee and see what happens.”

In the next moment, Sierra blinked at him in surprise. “The pain is gone!”

“You can heal other people, too. Try it the next time you see someone limping or with a bandage.”

“Won’t that be kind of obvious?”

“How would they know?” he asked reasonably. “You don’t have to wave a magic wand or recite a spell. They can’t see your mana—only you can. And me, of course.”

Sierra rather enjoyed the mana-strengthening sessions. She no longer endured sprained muscles or headaches. The gold ribbons were for battle. The silver ones were for moving things, the black ones were for…Sierra didn’t know what the black ones were for. They weren’t actually black, as they shifted between deepest indigo, bottle green, copper, and . . . something else . . . as she watched them.

“Chaco, what are the black ribbons for?” she inquired one day as she and Chaco took a break by the little creek that ran near her cabin.

“Black ribbons?”

“Yeah, like this,” and she called the black ribbons up, letting them twist and coil in her mind’s eye, glittering slowly.

“No!” Chaco yelled. He shook her and the twining black ribbons vanished. 

“What the hell?”” Sierra scrambled to her feet and glared at him. “What’d you do that for?”

Chaco remained seated, gazing at her seriously. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Those … black ribbons. Don’t use them. That is not mana that you can control. If you try, the mana will control you.”

“Then why do I have it?”

Chaco just shook his head. “I suppose we all have something like that inside. Something uncontrollable and dark. Just don’t use dark mana.” He rose in one smooth motion, then effected a dizzying transformation. His face elongated like melting wax, and as Sierra watched, his body hunched, arms and legs growing crooked and furry. Within a few heartbeats, a large, handsomely furred coyote stood next to her. He turned and trotted away into the shadows between the redwoods. Sierra watched him go, a hundred questions unanswered.

#

While she was training, Sierra tried to determine where Clancy had gone, specifically. The loa had indicated in their usual infuriatingly vague way that Clancy was alive and in the Yucatan Peninsula, but had then become tight-lipped and uncommunicative. The Yucatan constituted 76,300 square miles, which was impossibly large to search. Of even greater concern was the question of when. If Clancy had been whisked off to the Mayan Riviera, or even to a remote jungle, surely, he would have been found by now. Unless he’s dead, whispered a sombre voice in Sierra’s mind. 

“Are we certain Clancy didn’t die when he went over the side of the boat?” she asked Rose and Kaylee, not for the first time. Kaylee hadn’t been in Moloka’i when Clancy disappeared, but Rose had been present.

“No, he never went into the water,” said Rose, patiently. “I don’t want to get too graphic here, but do you remember what happened to all those sharks and other fish?”

Sierra shuddered. She remembered the pale, poached bodies of tiger sharks, boiled to death by the wrath of Pele beneath the sea.

“Yes, I do, and Clancy wasn’t among them. But I feel like I’m grasping at straws here. We have nothing to go on but your amulet. Why did you give it to Clancy, by the way? He didn’t—doesn’t—believe in things like that.”

“Once in a while, I ‘see’ a darkness hanging around a person. It usually means they’re about to die, whether by accident or suicide. I saw this darkness around Clancy shortly before we went out to the wind farm where he went over the side of our boat. My amulet is powerfully protective, so I asked Clancy to wear it. When I handed it to him it was in a little leather medicine bag, but he took the amulet out and wore it around his neck, under his shirt. Probably so people wouldn’t see it, is my guess.”

“Do you know anything about the amulet? Where it was made? When it was made?” asked Kaylee.

“I know it was made in the Yucatan Peninsula during Mayan times, because it represents a scroll serpent or spirit snake, which was peculiar to the region. It represents Kukulcan, the feathered serpent, with an ancestor spirit emerging from its mouth. I don’t know anything more about it,” concluded Rose.

“Wait a minute,” said Kaylee. “I thought Quetzalcoatl was the feathered serpent?”

Rose smiled. “Yep. He was—is. He was the plumed serpent of the Aztecs. But Kukulcan came first, with the Maya. If you encounter him again you could ask, but I suspect they are the same Avatar, viewed through different lenses.”

The women thought for several minutes, each pursuing the question of how the amulet might help them locate Clancy. Rose said, “You know, a few years ago I took pictures of all the Native American artifacts that I’ve collected, just in case I needed them for insurance. I must have photographed the amulet, too. The pictures are on a flash drive that I put in my safety deposit box. Maybe the photo will show us some detail that I’ve forgotten.”

A quick trip to the bank, and the flash drive was inserted into Rose’s computer, Sierra and Kaylee hanging impatiently over her shoulder. She located the right files and brought up two photographs of a green stone carving, an elaborately curlicued serpent figure. Rose pointed out the figure of the ancestor spirit emerging from the creature’s mouth.

“What’s this other one?” asked Kaylee, pointing at the second photo. At first, it looked like a reverse image of the first, then Sierra realized it depicted the back of the intricately carved amulet.

“Rose, there’s something carved on the back! What does it say?” Sierra asked, pointing to the screen.

Rose peered at the image. She shook her head. “I have no idea.”

Where the Ideas Live

People sometimes ask me how I get ideas for my books. The short answer is: I don’t. I think people sometimes envision authors sitting at their elaborately carved Renaissance desk, complete with quill pen, and an exclamation point appears with a brand-new, amazing idea for a story! Eureka!

Maybe that’s how it works for some authors, I don’t know. The way it works for me is that I decide what part of the world I want a story to take place in, and then I go to that place. I let the place tell me the story. If that sounds mystical or authorish, it isn’t. It’s just how it works for me.

The first book of my trilogy, “The Obsidian Mirror,” took place mostly in Silicon Valley because that’s where I was living and working at the time. I understood the high tech industries, so my protagonist, Sierra, was a high tech public relations person (as I had been, many moons ago). The idea for the basis of the story came from my familiarity with the semiconductor industry and the ubiquity of integrated circuits around the world.

The second novel, “Fire in the Ocean,” had its origins in a Hawai‘ian vacation on the island of Oahu. I decided I wanted to set a novel in Hawai’i. Once home, I began planning a research trip the way I thought an author ought to—I contacted the Bishop Museum, the leading museum of Polynesian culture in the world. I contacted the University of Hawaii Dept. of Hawaiian Studies (or some such). I made reservations to go to Oahu to meet with these knowledgeable people.

Crickets. No one ever responded to my requests. So I decided that the story would be set on Moloka‘i, because that is the island of sorcery, according to the ancient Hawai’ians, which made it extremely attractive to a fantasy writer (that would be me). I also wanted to visit my friend in Captain Cook on the Big Island, because I hoped he would introduce me to some local people who could tell me about myths and legends. I changed all the reservations, abandoning the idea of speaking to the academic experts in Oahu.

At this point in my journey, I didn’t have a story. I knew i would be using my protagonist Sierra, and probably her friend, Coyotl the Trickster, but there were several other characters involved, and I wasn’t sure how I would be using them: Clancy, Rose, Mama Labadie—and especially Fred.

So my husband Tom and I jetted off to the Big Island. My friend was not available to meet for a few days, so Tom and I found ways to entertain ourselves—snorkeling, sampling the local goods like honey and macadamia nuts and coffee. We tried the local Captain Cook grocery store for wine, but the selection was unappealing, so we made a trip to Costco in Kona. While standing in line, I noticed an enormous refrigerator nearby, full of leis. I have always wanted a maile leaf lei. They are made as garlands rather than necklaces, and they often use only the pleasantly vanilla-scented leaves, not flowers. Sure enough Costco had them, and I took my prize back to Captain Cook. 

I wore the lei the next day on a visit to Volcano National Park. Kilawea, Pele’s home volcano, was erupting, so I decided to sacrifice my lei to Pele, Goddess of Fire, and ask for her blessing on my work (which I hadn’t started because no story yet). To my disappointment, they wouldn’t let us anywhere near the actual flowing lava, but we were able to approach the rim of the caldera. It was clear this was the right place because there were other offering leis hanging in a tiny tree next to the railing, as well as on the railing itself. I held up my lei, asked for Pele’s blessing and whanged it right into the little tree, where it was securely caught in the branches. Then we turned around and started to walk away, but I wanted a photo of my lei hanging in the tree, so we went back after only a few steps. 

Flinging my maile lei into the tree at the rim of the Kilawea cauldera.

My lei had vanished. All the other leis were still there. It was absolutely still without a breath of wind. We looked all around the ground under the tree. No maile leaf lei to be seen. With that incident, the story began to take shape in my head, with Pele taking an important role. 

When I started thinking about “Lords of the Night” (I didn’t have a title at this point, by the way), I decided to write a historical fantasy—even though my characters were 21st century people. Why? I think it was the challenge. And I wanted to learn more about the ancient Maya. My mother helped to excavate several Mayan ruins in Yucatan and Guatemala, back when most of those great cities were still covered in jungle, and there were no roads to the excavation sites. So in addition to reading intensively about the Maya, their history, arts, mathematics, science, and culture, I set up a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. (Actually, Tom does all the actual trip planning, based on what I want to see. He is wonderful that way!)

The ruins of a palace at Calakmul

I was blissfully untroubled by the problem of getting my 21st century characters back to the 5th century. This is fantasy! I can just make it up! As a writer, I adore that freedom. Why do you think I don’t write science fiction?

I also cleverly invited a couple to go along with us. Clod, the male half of the couple, was born and lived as a young person in Mexico City, with vacations in the Yucatan, which is where his father was raised. Linda studied Spanish in school. I speak Spanish like a first-year student with a strangely good accent (thanks to my Spanish-speaking mother). Tom has never studied Spanish. See how I did that?

The story began to take shape for me when we visited the ruins of Calakmul, which lie within the borders of a large biological reserve on the Guatemalan border. Calakmul had been my primary destination, though we did visit Tulum, Uxmal, and a few other archeological sites. I don’t know why Calakmul drew me so strongly. My mother didn’t excavate there, and I had never heard of it before beginning research for this trip. I had seen photos, and the city has a temple that rivals Egypt’s Great Pyramid for size. Plus, it is located in the middle of a jungle, far from the well-trod tourist trails. Intriguing, no?

There is only one hotel within the borders of the biological reserve. If you want to visit Calakmul, you more or less have to stay at Hotel Puerta Calakmul, because the hotel, deep in the jungle, is still 60 kilometers or so from the ruins, along an unpaved road. When you get to the drop-off place for the ruins, you still have to walk a kilometer to arrive at the actual city. 

At the base of one of the temples in Calakmul.

All of which made my visit to Calakmul everything I could have hoped for. As we walked along, I picked our guide’s brain about Mayan folk tales and we saw peacock-gorgeous oscillated turkeys, and monkeys, and javelinas. The ruins themselves were pleasantly shaded, with very few other people around. It was nothing like the wait-in-line-in-the-tropical-sun-with-a-million-other-tourists experience of the more popular sites. The temples, all of which have not yet been excavated, are impressive. In its time, Calakmul was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient Mayan world, and its name was Ox Té Tuun. Ox Té Tuun is central to “Lords of the Night,” and as I strolled along its broad avenues I developed the character of Ix Mol, a young Mayan girl from Ox Té Tuun with a very big problem who enlivens the pages of “Lords of the Night.”

More Calakmul.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that place is central to my process as a writer. I have no idea why, but there’s nothing like a good trip to someplace far, far away to stimulate my creative juices.

That’s what I tell my husband, anyway.

I Finally Climaxed

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story. To read the first chapter:

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story.

To read the first chapter of “Lords of the Night”: https://wordpress.com/page/theobsidianmirror.net/39

To purchase “Lords of the Night” on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3sZtqkY

For Once, You’re Right. I DO Want to Cancel Your Culture.

The Republicans are whingeing and whining about “cancel culture,” which they seem to regard as a fiendish new invention of the Left. Somehow, it just isn’t fair that those lousy libruls are expressing their disgust with what the Republican Party has become by speaking their minds and taking positive action against people, businesses, and institutions they regard as antithetical to a free democracy.

Couple of points here. First of all, “cancel culture” is probably older than written history. There are other names for it:  boycott, voting with my wallet, voting with my feet, shunning—people have been doing it forever. The only thing new about cancel culture is the name.

Shunning has always played a major role in how people control their societies. The threat of shunning is sufficient to keep people in some societies in line. Boycott utilizes economic power to send a message. Importantly, these social tools are not the tools of the powerful leaders in a culture—they are the tools of the everyday person. 

We have the power of voting—once every few years, and the impact of that individual vote is sometimes difficult to experience, especially when your candidate loses. But shunning and boycotting—you, Mr. or Ms. Everyperson, can decide to do it, execute it yourself, and feel satisfied that you have DONE SOMETHING to express your opinions, values, or ethics. It’s a level of satisfaction that cannot be provided by voting—as important as voting is.

And you would be following an ancient and honorable tradition in doing so. No one can force you to spend time with people who hold values that oppose your own. No one can force you to spend money with a business that supports things with which you disagree. These are YOUR powers, to use as you see fit.

Which is why Republicans are screaming about cancel culture. They are watching in horror as their nasty, bigoted, win-at-all-costs, misogynistic, homophobic, paranoid, entitled white culture swirls slowly down the drain.

They KNOW you want to cancel them, and they are terrified. 

I do not spend money with any business that donates to Republicans—especially to the last incumbent of the White House. I do not spend time with people who do not share my values. I do not spend money in or visit states that allow open-carry, criminalize abortion, pass voter suppression laws, or acted like giant babies during the pandemic. I try to spread the word about people or businesses that are violating the norms of our democracy.

Because, yes, Republicans, I DO want to cancel your culture. I want to obliterate it and you from the face of the earth. I want to bury your barren, mean, selfish “ideas” so deep that no one will ever utter the phrase “trickle-down economics” again.

I want the Confederate flag (which was not the Confederate flag, but the battle flag of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, and thus a sham in and of itself) to become a symbol of such profound shame that when people fly it in front of their houses or off the backs of those stupid oversized pickup trucks, citizens run to destroy it in outrage.

I want every monument to the Confederacy to be torn down and repurposed to help black communities. 

I want anti-abortion proponents to be forced to work (under strict supervision) with pregnant women who have medical counter-indications for pregnancy, or whose fetus has been diagnosed as non-viable, or who is single and is trying to feed four kids on the salary of a fast-food worker because her husband deserted her.

I want states that have passed anti-abortion laws to pass equally draconian laws that control men’s bodies—there never was an abortion that didn’t start in a man’s balls, after all. Mandatory reversible vasectomies for all males at puberty. Death sentence for any man impregnating a women against her will. Death sentence for rape. All rape, even when a married man rapes his wife.

I want the other members of the Supreme Court to rise up in disgust and eject the religious nut and the drunk rapist.

Yes, I want to cancel your culture. Every last bit of it. You are damn right I do.

Cover Reveal: Lords of the Night

I couldn’t have done this without the help of several people who took the time and trouble to offer me advice. I was also smart enough to ask my artistic daughter, Kerry Gil, who has formal training in graphic arts, for feedback.

I am super pleased with the resulting cover. I probably went through eight different iterations before getting to this one. I didn’t post all of them, but I got wonderful feedback from my friends online as well as family. I suppose I have had more difficult creative challenges, but mimicking someone else’s style in a field in which my competence is minimal is one of the tougher goals I have set myself.

In particular, I am pleased that everything fits the ancient Mayan theme of the book–ocean, snakes, temple, palm fronds, Spirit Snake amulet, coyote (Chaco!). The birds flying around the temple refer to a climactic scene in the book (although it’s not the only climax, I assure you).

I hope you like the cover. I will be back soon to announce the publication of “Lords of the Night,” the final (and climactic) ending to “The Gods of the New World” trilogy.

Finally, the Climax! But It Needs a Cover.

It has been about three years since I submitted the third and final book of my “Gods of the New World” trilogy to my publisher. If you have followed this blog, you know that my publisher, Diversion Books, decided to publish only non-fiction going forward. My fantasy, no matter how climactic, did not qualify. Diversion’s first offering in non-fiction was a memoire by Corey Lewandowski, a man so vile that even Michael Cohen despises him. I felt that perhaps Diversion and I were never going to be really close. They are still making my first two books available, so I don’t want to make them mad.

But this did leave me in the middle of a trilogy without a climax. I felt bad for the few people who had read “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean,” who rightly expected a satisfying ending to Sierra and Chaco’s adventures—and relationship.

About a year and a half ago, I attended the World Fantasy Convention, held in Los Angeles that year. I went there with a short list of people I wanted to have a discussion with—an editor for a large publishing company, a publisher, and an agent. I told each of them the quandary I was in—third book in a trilogy, no publisher—and their answers were fairly uniform: I, a fairly obscure fantasy author, was not going to find a publisher to pick up the trilogy, much less the third book of a trilogy. My best bet was to publish on Kindle and move on.

Okay. Not the optimal solution, but I am not Neil Gaiman, either. I asked a dear friend, a graphic designer, to create a book cover for the third and final, climactic novel, “Lords of the Night.” Then I went to Iceland and started writing a completely unrelated fantasy about a slightly defective magician in ancient Iceland. That tale is in the throes of final polishing.

But my designer friend had a very tough year—tougher than for most of us, as horrible as 2020 was. She was unable to complete the artwork. I needed to move forward—I had a delayed climax on my hands, after all! I gave it some thought and then learned a new art program for the iPad called Procreate. I loved it so much that I decided to tackle the cover art myself.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I knew my friend’s graphic talents would result in an entirely gorgeous cover, perfectly in tune with the covers of the other books. I am an artist, but I have no design training, so I realized that the final product would not be as wonderful as the first two covers.

But all we do what we must. So I have produced two covers. I would very much like to hear your opinions on which version is closest in style to the first two covers. First, pleaze take a look at the covers for “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean”:

The first two covers for comparison. Now please take a gander at the next two and tell me what you think.
COVER 1
Cover 2

So which do you vote for? Cover 1 or Cover 2? Or are they both terrible? I can take the criticism—I’m a writer. Please leave a comment–much appreciated!

It’s Been a While, Hasn’t It?

I admit it—I have not been a consistent blogger. My last post went online Feb. 23. In my defense, it was Feb 23 of this year.

In fact, my last posting was right before the pandemic started—or at least right before we realized there was a pandemic going on, because it had reached our shores already.

It has been a very eventful time, but I had trouble coming up with a blog topic. I was consumed with politics (still am) but I wanted to keep my blog politics-free. I’m not, as I have heard other authors say, worried about offending conservative people, who might then never buy my books. Everything I stand for offends conservative people, so they won’t be reading my stuff anyway. I just wanted one place where I did NOT write about politics.

I could have blogged about the quarantine and its many adjustments to a new reality, but all of you went through that too—you’ve been there, done that. I’m sure I have little to add other than my frustration with the people who refuse to practice social distancing and wearing masks—and the politicians who encourage them not to. My only consolation has been the realization that many of them will get sick.

I could have blogged about writing my new novel, but I was hard-pressed to imagine why you would care until I had something to announce—and maybe not even then.

I could have blogged about having the third book of my trilogy go unpublished for two years after I finished it, but I already blogged about that. My publisher decided to publish only non-fiction going forward, which leaves a fantasy writer more or less up the creek without a paddle, especially with a third book in a trilogy. I will be publishing it on Kindle—but I need a cover first.

I could have blogged about my sister’s death, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic—of a heart attack. That certainly provided me with a great deal of blog-able fodder. I just didn’t want to write about it.

I could have blogged about getting a new dog after the death of my beloved Gigi. Poppy is a cutie with a lot of personality. But I didn’t want to.

I could have blogged about the horrific fires consuming California. We nearly had to evacuate, but today it looks like we won’t.

I could have blogged about inheriting my sister’s jewelry—hundreds of pieces of jewelry—and setting up an Etsy store to sell it because I couldn’t wear that much jewelry in several lifetimes. Building the Etsy store was actually one of the most enjoyable things I have done during the pandemic. In case you’re looking for jewelry. I have everything from Victorian antiques to Native American to hand-crafted silver to high-end costume jewelry and everything in between. Come on down: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SilverboughJewelry?ref=search_shop_redirect

I did finish the first draft of my current novel. It is entitled, “The Spell Book of Thorfinn Bare-Butt,” and it is set in Iceland’s Viking Settlement Age, 9th Century CE. The kernel of the story came to me while I was touring a lava cave in the Hauksdalur region of Iceland. The guide told us that archeologists had found signs of habitation in the cave that dated back to the settlement age. He explained that after the eruption, the rock would have stayed warm for a very long time, making it an ideal human habitation. (I can tell you by the time we visited, it was FREEZING.)

I had a vision of a young magician setting out to make a reputation for himself. He occupies the cave because it is both comfy and free, and attempts to summon a spirit to help him become more powerful. Unfortunately, our hero, Odd, is under a curse. This caused some—but not all—of his spells to go awry. Instead of a powerful spirit, Odd conjures up a 21st Century female kickboxer named Hekla. Now both Odd and Hekla have real problems, and the story goes on from there.

I hope to have a final draft in another few months. After that, I will try to find an agent because I am tired of publishers slithering out from under me. I’m hoping a good agent can find me a solid publisher with reasonable terms that specializes in fantasy or fantasy and science fiction. That will give me some confidence that they aren’t suddenly going to switch to the many tell-all books on the way from the Trump administration. Please wish me well!