Old Writings and Decades Past

Monday of a new week, almost a new month, seemed a good time to roll out something I’ve never really shared before. Back in the day (way back in the day) I used to experiment with poetry. I don’t know anything about forms, or proper meter, but that never stopped me from experimenting. Recently, while digging around in computer files, I came across my poetry folder. Random exercises, these have been languishing on my computer. They’re never going to see the light of day in a book or anywhere else, so I decided to share some of them here. We all have early forms of writing we experiment with, and this was one of mine.

The first piece is about King David of the Old Testament. He is someone I loved reading about and still do. Back in day I penned this short poem to express that fondness:

Stained glass image of King David with harpFor the Psalmist 

Ancient words
penned by an ancient hand,
centuries faded but music still sweet.
From pasture to kingdom
your harp sang praise.
That I might do the same
and dance before the ark
or mourn beloved Absalom,
taken before peace could be sown.

Sweet singer of Israel,
Son of Jesse,
I linger still
in the melody of your song.

~ooOOoo~

That was one of the very few poems I wrote without rhyming verse. I still remember as a kid, when my dad introduced me to a rhyming dictionary and explained how it worked. He knew I loved to write, but poetry was something I’d never tried. My first attempts failed miserably. I was in my twenties when I wrote this:

Crossfire

night sky illuminated with lightning above silhouette of treesLightning dances on a midnight sky,
mushrooming fire and ancient sword,
conjured, unleashed by the Nether Lord.

How we struggle to appease our guilt,
puppets pulled by tattered string,
jesters dancing on a broken gallows,
capering and scraping to the Gallow’s King.

The Weaver of Life threads her loom,
cracking and shuddering beneath destiny’s hand.
We wander down corridors soiled with souls,
never stopping to ponder life’s final command,

In a cathedral of stone, we unleash fragile dragons,
quietly ruing our own masquerade,
forever refining and silently polishing,
gold-plaited images of Self we have made.

Tarnished but chosen, we forge our own demons,
plucked from the bowels of a mute, angry fire,
we are children of circumstance, knighted by time,
torn between failure and noble desire.

~ooOOoo~

Yes, I tended to be a bit strange even then. But all of that strangeness and those old creativity avenues—including my attempts at poetry (more to come)—allowed my writing to venture into the areas it has today. I haven’t written poetry in years, but I still look back on those moments with fondness.

What types of writing did you experiment with when you were younger? Have they shaped your writing today? Did you ever try your hand at poetry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Magic of Twelve by Mae Clair

Do you have a favorite number? Mine is twelve. I always think of it as the “betwixt number” because of the change it brings. The twelfth month falls at the end of the year, hovering on the cusp of a new one. 12:00 PM ushers in noon, midnight paves the way for a burgeoning new dawn. Twelve is a magical number in my opinion.

bigstock-New-Year-s-at-midnight-39658513

Today I’m sharing some interesting facts about the “number of cosmic order” as I visit with Christine Warner on her blog.

If you’d like to learn more about this very special number, please join us here.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what your favorite number is. Please share! Is there a reason why it resonates with you?

In Honor of Gloria Mae, by Mae Clair

Although spring officially begins in March, I’ve always considered May 1st as the true date of the season’s arrival. Perhaps it has to do with treasured memories of May Day from childhood or, perhaps, that everything is green and blooming, no longer mired in the muddy browns and bleak charcoals of a fading winter. May 1st holds a special place in my heart – – not only for the renewal it brings, but because it’s my mother’s birthday.

Me and my mom, a few years ago during a beach vacation. She loved the shore. Wow, my hair was short!

Me and my mom, several years ago during a beach vacation. She loved the shore!

She passed away last year on the first day of summer, timing that is oddly poetic to me. Spring, a season of newness and light, gave way to one of warmth and eternal promise, as if summer wanted to embrace her as well.

Had my mother lived, she would have been ninety this year. Rather than write a post to mark her passing in June, I chose today – – her birthday – – to celebrate her life.

It’s been hard without her for my siblings and me. We‘re a close family and we each struggle with the loss, but we’re blessed in knowing that our mother had a long, fulfilling life.

I was fortunate to have not only a mother/daughter relationship with my mom, but an abiding friendship as well.  From the time I was in my middle twenties, my mom and I spent practically every Saturday together – – shopping, the movies, lunch, sometimes all three in one day. We had shopping marathons, discussed movies, swapped books, purses and jewelry. I can trace my love of reading directly to my mother and father and, to this day, it feels odd to try on clothes and not have her there to give her opinion. She would often tell me I was too conservative and needed more “flash.” 😀

My mom (center) and her sisters. This is how I remember her -- always the life of the party.

My mom (center) and her sisters. This is how I remember her — always the life of the party.

Extremely young at heart, she went dancing until she was almost 80 and drove until she was 85. Eventually age and infirmity caught up with her, but she never lost her love for life. We no longer did shopping marathons but we did still go shopping. Mostly for books in those later years. We would collect our bounty, then stake out a table in Border’s café for a few hours and chat before making the way to the checkout with our purchases.

There is so much I could say in this post about who she was – – her love of glitzy clothes and fashionable rings, how she loved dancing (especially disco), or she how enjoyed going out . . . even if it was just to run to the mall for the afternoon. But what stands out most was something that struck me during the last couple years of her life.

My mother was always a socializer when she was out and about. She walked into a room and commanded it, and had the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. What amazed me — and I came to appreciate those last few years — was her natural charm. It wasn’t fabricated, never a façade. My mother had a gift to make anyone she talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world. I saw it time and time again with everyone she encountered. Why had I never noticed it before?

Another shot of me and my mom at the beach. Part of a yearly girls' trip with my sister.

Another shot of me and my mom at the beach. Part of a yearly girls’ trip with my sister.

Was it because that last year of her life was spent in a nursing home, where so many people struggled just to function? And yet my mother always had a kind word, compliment, and a friendly smile. It didn’t matter if you were a resident, medical personnel or staff. Even if she had a down day (and it’s hard not to in a nursing home), she still had compliments for anyone she encountered. People naturally gravitated to her because she made them feel special – – and in her eyes they were. That gift comes from the heart. It makes me wonder if I could do the same, facing similar circumstances. So many people told me, “Your mother is such a delight.” That tells me she touched many hearts, not just mine.

I don’t have her charisma. I am much more of a loner. As I’m the youngest of four siblings, my mom was fond of telling me “You’re my baby.” That never got old, even though I did. 🙂

So in memory of my mother, Gloria Mae, the daughter of Italian immigrants who found the love of her life in a stubborn, blond-haired, blue-eyed German, I’d much rather remember her life than her passing.

For all that you’ve taught me and all that you’re continuing to teach me – – Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you. What a reunion we’ll have . . . some day.

Mom Xmas at Lakewood Hills

Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of Time by Mae Clair

ZeitverlaufWe’ve often heard the expression “time stopped.” But can it really? As much as I love time travel novels and speculating about traversing centuries, time flows in a single direction–forward. Despite cold facts and scientific data, generations of writers, philosophers, artists and musicians remain bewitched by the abstract elements of time.

Consider me one. In the past, I’ve done several blog posts about what I call “betwixt moments,” but I’ve never shared where my fascination with time originated. I can easily trace it back to my father who had a passion for antiques, especially old clocks. I grew up in a house filled with them. I have memories of a large white captain’s clock, several squat mantle clocks, and a pointed steeple clock that would have been at home in a Sherlock Holmes novel. But the star of my dad’s collection was a grandfather’s clock he found at a garage sale. Built in 1902, the clock was his baby.

He pampered it…winding it, oiling it, adjusting the chimes, polishing the pendulum. It had a prime spot in our living room, its chimes resounding throughout the house on the hour. As a kid, I created multiple stories with clocks and would often lay awake at night listening for the deep bass bong of the grandfather’s clock.

When my husband and I bought our second home, the first piece of furniture I purchased for the formal living room was a grandfather’s clock. Never mind there wasn’t a couch or chair, the clock came first. That’s the romantic, impractical side of me. Every time I look at that clock, I think of my dad.

As kids he’d often tell us that when he died, if there was a way to come back, he’d find it. If the grandfather’s clock was running he’d stop it, and if it was stopped, he’d start it. I don’t think my dad intended on dying early—maybe he’d knew he’d have a short life—but the afterlife fascinated him. When I was thirteen, he passed away from colon cancer.

bigstock-Abstract-Time-Piece-1101466Sometime after that, the whole family was gathered in the living room. My father passed away in early September, so I believe this must have been Thanksgiving, because my married sisters were there with their spouses. My mom was the only one not in the room. I think she might have been in the kitchen. Someone went to note the time and realized the clock had stopped. There was a moment of goosebump-silence as we absorbed the impact. My sister immediately told her husband to “start it, before Mom sees it.” We never told her about that incident until much later in life, fearing it might upset her.

Was my dad there? Had he stopped the clock as promised?  I still wonder. Many people would chalk it up to happenstance, but it’s far too coincidental to me.

Today, the grandfather’s clock no longer works and is too old to be repaired. My brother took it to a few different clockmakers without success. Although it no longer runs, he displays it proudly in his home. One hundred eleven years after it was built, it has become an intricate part of our family history. We’ve passed the tale of my dad and his promise to the younger generation, a story often reflected on at family gatherings. The clock–like my father–is still touching lives, a testament of time and memory.

Is there a spooky story in your family history—one that has been passed down to you or that you’ve passed to your kids? Sometimes we don’t have to look beyond our own bloodline to find inspiration for a legend!

Fishing for Plots by Mae Clair

Early in our marriage, my husband introduced me to flounder fishing. That attachment eventually evolved into crabbing, clamming, and a long stretch of boat ownership, but in the beginning, it was all about catching the coveted flounder.

Here’s my hubby, filleting the day’s catch at a bay front apartment we rented with his family in Maryland;

MHarbor

I’d never been fishing in my life the first time he took me out. I learned early on there were several types of fish and sea critters apt to go after the bait I dangled into the water, but not all were desirable. Those that weren’t, always got tossed back into the water.

Recently, I started thinking about fish in terms of plot. Sound crazy? Let me put it in perspective:

SeaRobin_LongIslandSound1

This is a Sea Robin
Photo courtesy of Versageek via Wikimedia Commons

JUNK FISH
When you’re fishing for flounder, just about everything else falls into the category of “junk fish.” The most common junk fish we’d hook were sea robins. These guys will never win a beauty contest. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the gent on the left.

Sea robins look like a leftover from the Paleozoic Era, They have legs, spines that inject poison, and wing-like fins. They also croak like a frog and will complain loudly when caught.

Despite that bizarre appearance, I always thought they were intriguing. They have pretty blue eyes, an opinion not shared by my husband.

Junk plots are much the same. Pull one from your writer’s hat and you’ll quickly realize no matter how you tweak it, you can’t make it work. It might have some redeeming value (like the sea robin’s pretty blue eyes) but, in the end, all you can do is toss it back into the plot bin and fish for another.

HARD SHELL CRABS
You’d be surprised how many hard shells go after a fishing line. In the beginning, we considered them a nuisance (they make nasty work of your bait). Then we realized we could steam them and have stuffed flounder!  After that, any (legal) hard shell that wandered onto our lines was fair game. It wasn’t long before we were baiting and setting crab pots, collecting them in earnest.

Hard shell crabs are the plots that start out looking hopeless, but with polish and attention turn into gems. It takes some work to get them to that point, but when you do, they’re golden!

SAND SHARKS
These guys rarely got snagged in the bay. When they did, thankfully they were small. My husband once caught one that was about eighteen inches long. At that size, they’re utterly bewitching, gleaming tin-foil bright in the sun. 

You know this plot, right? The one that beguiles you with possibility. You’re enraptured by it, treating it like a prized jewel. Until you realize it can’t be manipulated to fit your needs. It blinds you with its beauty, but once you return to writer terra-firma, it becomes fool’s gold. Back into the plot bin it goes.

FLOUNDER
There was always a lot of excitement when we hooked a flounder. It’s why we’d spend 5-6 hours tooling around the bay, burning in the sun, maneuvering through channels and getting swamped in bigger wake.

Flounder is the ideal writer’s plot. Perfection. Oh, you might have to filet it, to make it work the way you want, but you know you’ve got a winner as soon as you hook it.

I haven’t been flounder fishing in many years, but I remember those times with extreme fondness. My husband’s mother eventually bought a place at the beach, and hubby and I spent a couple of decades going down most every weekend during the summer.

This is a picture of the family pontoon boat moored at his mom’s place in Delaware. She has since sold, and although we hung onto the boat for many years afterward, its life finally expired. Salt water is extremely hard on a boat!

PontoonTwenty years of boating results in a lot of tales–and a lot of fish, LOL. I also did a lot of plotting on this pontoon and dreamed up some wonderful stories and characters. Here’s hoping you find more flounder than sea robins when you go fishing for plots!

How do you think my comparisons stack up? Do you recognize any of these fish/plots?

A Writer’s Fiefdom by Mae Clair

What do you do when your work space is usurped? When chaos, clutter and disorder intrude upon your writer’s fiefdom?

Although I can plot, visualize, and jot story notes just about anywhere–and don’t mind working on my laptop now and again–like most authors, I have a preferred spot for writing.  When I want to buckle down, concentrate, and knock out a decent word count, I need my den and desktop computer. I want the big screen PC and the mojo that comes from a long established domain. My territory.

My den.

My husband might poke his head in occasionally, but it’s foreign territory. He has his own laptop,  workshop/shed, and thus no desire to sort through my books, notes, WIPs, and writing paraphernalia.

A perfect yin-yang balance of space.

Until last week when we decided to remodel two rooms in our house–my den and a spare bedroom. In order to start, we had to move everything (everything!) from the spare bedroom into my existing den so we could rip up the carpet. That means–Kodak moment, please–my den is now overflowing with two rooms of furniture that have been haphazardly stuffed into one. Please dwell on the word “stuffed.”

Woman in a small office

Why is this chick smiling? Doesn’t she get this is NOT how I want to work!

I have a single path that allows me to move from the door to my desk, another from the desk to the closet. Other than that, the room is an obstacle course. Bookcases, dressers, a flatscreen TV, file cabinet, two tables, a monstrosity of a desk and assorted odds-and-ends all vying for space. My fiefdom suddenly feels the size of a box.

A common question between hubby and me these days is “Where did you put the (insert name-of-thing-you-haven’t-needed-in-three -months-and-probably-won’t-for-another-six-but-it’s-now-insanely-critical-that-you-find).”

There is clutter everywhere, and it’s doing nasty things to my organizational OCD. Although my desk is routinely littered with post-it notes, purple index cards, magazine clippings, photos and colored stones (I fiddle with them when I’m stalled on a scene), there’s structural madness to my disorder. Or maybe structural disorder to my madness.

In any event, the disruption couldn’t have hit at a worse time. I’m working on galleys for TWELFTH SUN and putting a final polish on ECLIPSE LAKE before shipping it off for submission. So how am I dealing with the mess? By reminding myself that when all is said and done, I will have a brand new den and a brand new work area. I can’t wait! In the meantime, I hold a vision of the finished product like a mantra in my head as I wend my way through a labyrinth of uprooted furniture and bric-a-brac.

Have you ever had your work space disrupted? How did you handle it? Do you have a preferred place for writing? I’d love to know if I’m the only one set in my ways when it comes to my writer’s fiefdom.

Mae Clair: Old Cemeteries & Princess White Feather

I picked up several habits from my parents, including my love of reading and writing, and a rather strange one from my father. He liked to explore old cemeteries and make etchings of tombstones. I thought that was an odd habit to have, but as early as my tween years, I was poking around the local cemetery in the town where I grew up.

My father had traveled all over the country when he was younger, leading a nomadic existence even before joining the army at the start of WWII. Family genealogy says he hoboed around on trains, went to art college, and taught at an Army War Barracks. I know the last two are true, I’m not so sure about the first. My father’s life, prior to meeting my mother, is a bit of a mystery — one he never made any great effort to clarify. Although he died when I was a child, I inherited his love of words, history, and that strange passion for old cemeteries and churches.

As a kid, I remember an old white church on a hill with a cemetery dating back to the 1700s. It was sheltered by trees and wrapped in a hush that felt positively ancient. A friend and I used to ride our bikes there to look at tombstones. Many had birthdates that pre-dated the American Revolutionary War, including that of Thomas Lingle, born in 1742. Lingle was a private with the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Revolution, and eventually founded the town of St. Thomas.

Yet the gravestone that stayed in the forefront of my memory throughout the years belonged to an Indian Princess named White Feather. It was a small, wind-pitted stone, tucked at the back of the cemetery beneath a row of trees. As an adult I searched for it again, many years ago. It was still where I remembered, but the inscription had faded with time, barely legible.

I did a little research on Princess White Feather and learned she was a Sioux, only a baby when her People were killed in an army massacre. Her uncle was Chief Iron Tail whose likeness appeared on the U.S. nickel, her second cousin Sitting Bull. She had other names later in life — Mary Greene, Mary Redd, Mary Taylor – but to me she’ll always be Princess White Feather. According to one obituary, more than 500 people, including many Native Americans, attended her funeral services.

I was spinning stories long before I stumbled over her tombstone with my friend, but I will never forget the feeling I had standing in that cemetery as a child, looking down at her grave. It made me wonder who she was, what her life had been like, and how she’d come to be buried there. It was the first time I felt a strong affinity for the past and, although my friend and I rode our bikes home without knowing the answers, I was already writing versions in my head.

Just for the record, I still like to scope out old cemeteries. Although some may view it a morbid hobby, it makes me value the lives of those who came before me, including the obstacles they faced and the wisdom they shared.

What about you? Would you poke around an old cemetery or does the idea of reading tombstones make you uneasy?

For more on Princess White Feather, you can find two obituaries celebrating her remarkable life here.

Mae Clair: What does Autumn Taste Like?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts but, in the spirit of autumn’s arrival, I thought I’d engage in a short creativity exercise and invite you to do the same.

Want to give it a try?  All you have to do is match the sense (sight, taste, smell, touch, sound) to the season, connecting a concrete impression with the abstract. Sound confusing? Nah! ‘Tis simple. Check it out:

What does autumn look like?
Fat orange pumpkins and floppy scarecrows reclining on front porches

What does autumn taste like?
Apple cider

What does autumn smell like?
Wood-smoke rising from a hearth

What does autumn feel like?
The touch of frost on a brisk morning

What does autumn sound like?
Dried leaves crunching underfoot

How about it? What are your impressions of this vibrantly colorful season?

Even if you only try one or two, take a moment to engage your senses and your creative muse. I’d love to read what you come up with!

Mae Clair: The Lovely Blogger Award

The wonderfully prolific Kitt Crescendo recently nominated me for the One Lovely Blogger award. If you’re not familiar with Kitt’s blog theinnerwildkat you need to hop over and start reading pronto. She’s brilliantly creative and always delivers a thought-provoking post. Thanks for the nomination, Kitt!

So how does this particular award work? Well, to start I’m supposed to share seven random tidbits about moi. Yes I realize the anticipation is tantamount to a lunar shuttle launch, but try to restrain yourself while I collect my thoughts. 😉

Ready?  Here goes:

  1. I’ve always been a romantically idealistic dreamer. You never expected that, right? In high school I was known as “the Starchild.”
  2. I am addicted to most anything related to Sherlock Holmes, especially the BBC series SHERLOCK, and Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant portrayal of my favorite detective. I’m currently suffering from Benedict Cumberbatch withdrawal.
  3. I love disaster movies and plague movies. They’re a guilty pleasure. The strange part is I tend to think they fall flat once the disaster happens. I love the spine-tingling string of circumstances and discoveries that lead to the ‘event,’ but not so much the aftermath.
  4. I was collecting anime and manga before most people knew what it was, and have a pristine collection.  Hmmm…must throw some of that stuff on eBay.
  5. I am in love with Aloysius Pendergast. My world will come to a screeching grinding halt on December 11, 2012, when Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child release the next book in their series. Time must/will stand still until I can devour it. 
  6. I love warm windy days and stormy skies, especially together.
  7. As a teen, I volunteered for the Red Cross and held multiple medical certifications.

Now for the Rules of Participation:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
    Thanks, again, Kitt!
  2. List seven random things about yourself.
    Done! Riveting facts above.
  3. Nominate fifteen other awesome bloggers.
    Wow, fifteen is a lot, but here are my nominees for those of who’d like to participate: 

Alicia Coleman
Angela Quarles
Calisa Rhose
Christine Warner
Donna Cummings
Jessi Gage
JM Stewart
Karen Michelle Nutt
Kate Meader
Kate Warren
Maryellen Brady
Renita Pizzitola
Stanalei Fletcher
Susan Koenig
Veronica Scott

Okay, ladies ~ spill the beans on your blogs. What would you like to share about yourself? 😀

Mae Clair: A Lifetime’s Journey

I recently discovered Google Alerts. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a pretty cool system that allows you to type in a string or reference phrase. Any time those words appear in web content you receive an email alert. Because I’m anxious to learn when WEATHERING ROCK is going to appear on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and a few other sites, I set up alerts for the book title plus Mae Clair.

Yesterday I received a death notice for Ola Mae Clair. At first I had that sad creepy sensation that always overcomes me when I learn of someone’s passing. Then I started thinking about Ola’s life. She was 93 when she died. Can you imagine the sweeping changes she saw in her lifetime?

In 1919 when Ola was born, Woodrow Wilson was president, prohibition was one year away and the jazz age was just beginning. Ten years later, the Great Depression turned life on end and sent the country into a plummeting downward spiral.  By 1941, she would have had to face the horror of Pearl Harbor and the long dark hours of WWII.

By 1950, life had settled into recovery and production. In 1968, the Summer of Love, a 49 year old Ola might have looked askance at the events taking place in Haight Ashbury, California, and been grieved by the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement; the tragedy of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

She would have seen the introduction of the floppy disk in the 1970s, the premiere of M*A*S*H, Patty Hearst’s kidnapping , disco, pet rocks and platform shoes. By 1989, a 70 year old Ola would have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the passing of Lucille Ball, the birth of moonwalking and parachute pants—a far cry from the homespun clothing of 1919.

The 1990s brought the horrific standoff in Waco, Texas, the birth of the World Wide Web going public, Oprah Winfrey’s book club and Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls. In 1999 we hit the staggering turn of a century. Remember Y2K? My husband and I started a new tradition—lobster tail for New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s something we’ve kept up every year since.  I wonder what Ola did. She would have been 80 years old.

The last decade brought the tragedy of 9/11, ipods, Geocaching and speed dating. I wonder what Ola would have thought of the latter. All in all, I like to think she had an amazing life and a happy one. Certainly it was a long one. It makes me realize I have so much learning and growing yet to do…including this new venture of writing!

Be at peace, Ola. You have a new journey ahead of you and I’m sure you won’t walk it alone.