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!

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’s Mythical Monday: The Benevolent Giant of Loch Ness

The water is dark, murky and cold,
layered with shadow along the shore,
ancient cradle to a primordial beast,
past, present, forevermore.

Do you have certain myths that resonate with you? Ones that you hope will never be disproven? The Loch Ness Monster is my magical myth. I’ve been enamored of Nessie since childhood, hoping she lives somewhere in that deep, cold lake in the Scottish Highlands.

I think it’s only natural we crave definitive proof fantastical elements exist. Admittedly, there is a part of me that would do a giddy lake-monster jig if Nessie were ‘found.’ But the greater part would be saddened by the loss of mystery and the fiasco that would certainly ensue. Can you imagine the media circus? The scientific knowledge we’d gain would be phenomenal (yes, I’m a geek), but I’d lament the loss of whimsy. In the long run that’s far more important. And I would never want any creature as ancient and celebrated as Loch Ness’s ‘monster’ subjected to captivity or even examination.

So why do reputable scientists spend time searching for a legendary creature that has been duped a hoax and wishful thinking?

Because an element of doubt exists. The seductive “what if” whisper of possibility that reminds us we don’t know everything. That, yes, magic could exist in the form of a lake monster.

And, because, (drum roll please) there is credible proof she might exist. Nessie falls into the category of cryptozoology, the study of hidden or living creatures that could/maybe/possibly exist. Given sightings, sonar readings, and photographs (yes, some proven hoaxes) there is plenty of wiggle room for speculation. Doubt can be a strong motivator.

I think the reason I’m most attracted to Nessie is because I see her as a benevolent giant. I couldn’t say the same about the Abominable Snowman or Sasquatch, but I see Nessie as being happy in her lake home, contentedly diving beneath the frigid grape-purple waters.  Did you know Loch Ness is 750 feet deep at its bottommost point and contains more water than all the lakes in Scotland, England and Wales combined? If I were a lake monster looking for a nice secluded home, Loch Ness would definitely be a place I’d consider hanging my shingle.

The legend of Loch Ness dates back to 565 A.D. when St. Columba tried to banish her. Her existence has not been proven despite repeated efforts and scientific expeditions. Just last month, Nessie made the news again when Scottish sailor George Edwards snapped a new photograph he claimed was the legendary monster. Debate continues to rage with others claiming the new image may be a submerged log or tree trunk brought to the surface by buoyant gases.

Personally, I think Nessie is camera shy, but enjoys playing with the strange humans who repeatedly intrude on her watery domain.

What’s your opinion? Do you have a ‘special’ myth that you hope will never be disproven or, perhaps, one that you’d like to see make headlines as being real? For me, it’s the benevolent lake giant of Loch Ness. For you, it might be something entirely different. On this Mythical Monday, pull up a computer screen or smartphone and do some musing. After countless centuries of speculation, the Loch Ness monster has plenty of time to spare.

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.

Mae Clair’s Summer Serenade

Although summer hasn’t officially rolled up and called it a season (that will happen later this month), once the calendar inches past Labor Day, I consider it over. Maybe it goes back to childhood when returning to school ended afternoons of roaming sun-soaked fields and playing hide-and-seek well past dark. Who can forget the whimsical magic of a summer night with friends?

When I was in school, we didn’t start the new year until the day after Labor Day. To the child in me, that was the official end of summer. Game over, welcome to a reality check.

The first day of school was always one of excitement…getting to see friends I hadn’t since early June, discovering new classes, classmates and teachers. But after the initial gloss wore off, I was more than ready to return to the frolicking routine of summer’s carefree lifestyle.  

Now I see the passage of the season differently, but still mark its demise with a sense of sadness. Don’t get me wrong—I love autumn. I’m constantly telling my husband I couldn’t live anywhere that didn’t include all four seasons. I’d miss the change from one to the next (although I could do with a shorter winter). He, on the other hand, would gleefully sign up for a zip code that offered tropical temperatures 365 days a year.

As summer fades, I note how the air smells differently, underscored by the brewing musk of autumn;  how the evenings grow shorter with the smoky kiss of September, and how even a slight breeze will send a kite-tail of leaves fluttering to the ground. The flower beds and decorative pots that once cried for water have sprouted into ungainly bushes, creating vibrant bursts of color in my yard. I have to turn lights on earlier than I used to in the evening, and my Green Mountain coffee selection has morphed from Island Coconut to Pumpkin Spice.

Seasonal change. It’s here.

I’m generally a productive writer, but admit summer puts a bite into my output. There are more events to distract me–picnics, parties and outdoor gatherings. In that respect, I’m looking forward to an autumn where I can snuggle inside and let my fingertips dance across the keyboard, creating characters and stories that involve all four seasons. Yes, I love summer, but autumn brings a new and different sense of exhilaration.

What about you? Do you have a favorite time of year that coaxes you to write more often than others?

Mae Clair: My Shameful Addiction

It began at an early age. My parents made several attempts to intervene and steer me onto the straight and narrow. I believe they thought I‘d grow out of it given time. Later, my husband tried to help me break the habit, suggesting I go cold turkey. Instead, I ended up corrupting him and introducing him to the dark side.  You see…I am a chipaholic.

Yes, you heard correctly. Those innocent crisps of potato and salt are my downfall. Before you roll your eyes and reach for an Utz, allow me to put this craving in perspective.  My willpower runs like this:

Chocolate? Eh. I have to be in the mood.
Ice cream? Eh. Maybe some mint chocolate chip a few times a year.
Cakes, cookies, donuts? *yawn* They don’t speak to me.
Soda? Never. I hate the fizzy stuff.
Chips. Oooh, look how pretty and tempting!

That’s not to say I don’t have standards. I’m not much for flavors like sour cream and onion, cheddar, salt and vinegar, Cajun, dill pickle (seriously?) and pizza. Give me plain, or the occasional barbeque. Old-fashioned, kettle brands, and russets are great too, as are those fancy gourmet colored ones you buy in the organic aisle (as if that’s going to make them healthy. Yeah, right).

But I digress. Any chipaholic worth their salt will tell you there is a proper method to christening a fresh bag of chips. The following steps must be followed precisely:

  1. Grip bag to release auditory crinkle of foil (this builds anticipation)
  2. Tug bag apart/open (do not tear)
  3. Inhale/savor the bouquet
  4. Eat one chip, and one chip only, to absorb flavor. This must be done to appreciate the vintage of the batch, the same way you would sample wine after allowing it to breathe. Not all chips are created equal.
  5. If spouse is present, share chip with him.
  6. Pretend snobbery and control
  7. Devour bag, then tell yourself it’s the last time

Pitiful, yes, I know. Since my will power is notorious for gleefully hopping the Middleswarth or Martin’s Kettle Cooked train, we don’t often buy chips in my house. Occasionally, however, my husband will want a bag and I don’t feel it’s fair to deprive him.  The solution? After much discussion (and hysterical sobbing on my part about unwanted weight gain….okay, kidding, but you get the idea), we determined he would buy only ripple chips. Why is this a big deal? Because, I hate ripples. They’re thick and ridgy and don’t taste anything remotely like a chip should.

Genius, right? I was happy. He was happy. We threw confetti. Then he brought the innocuous ripples home.

Guess what?

When there is no other chip in the house, the siren call of a ripple is enough to awaken the slumbering beast of a chipaholic. It wasn’t long before it dragged me into the kitchen whispering I should taste ‘just one’ to remind myself how wretched they were. After all, I’m a chip snob. A ripple had no power over me. Or so I thought. *hangs head in shame* 

The end result?  We don’t buy ripples anymore. If I’m going to cave, I want it to be for the real McCoy. So I’m back to banishing chips from the house and eating carrot sticks. Er, most of the time anyway. After all, what good is a guilty pleasure if you can’t wallow around it in once in a while?

So, how does all of this relate to writing? Simple. I’m addicted to that too, and that’s something I won’t banish from the house. Ever!

Now that I’ve fessed up to my woefully embarrassing addiction, what’s yours? Do share! 😀

The Magic of Betwixt

Enchantment lingers in transitional periods, those fleeting moments when time hangs suspended before hurtling forward into definitive change.  I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by those passages.  Not sure what I mean? Here are some of my favorites:

The first tentative rays of dawn.
The transition between seasons.
The arrival of a storm front.
The sliver of time between 11:59 and midnight.
New Year’s Eve at midnight.
The awe-inspiring cusp of a century. Remember how you felt on New Year’s Eve 1999?

As far back as childhood, betwixt moments have conjured a sense of wonder in me.  

For the most part, I’m a disciplined writer. Over the years I’ve trained myself to sit down and begin story-crafting with minimal effort. Let a transitional element wash over me, however, and the need for discipline vanishes. Creativity unfurls in its rawest form and my muse, bless her fanciful little soul, starts spinning out ideas like shooting stars. I feel connected, acutely aware of the ephemeral passage of time.  Creatively awake.

Perhaps that’s why transitional periods resonate so strongly. They transport me back to those days when technique had little to do with writing. When it was all about snagging the tail of a comet and hitching a ride to a brooding mansion, a magical forest, an underwater labyrinth, or a forgotten graveyard. To this day I feel that familiar rush at twilight, or when the weather turns warm and windy, the sky black with storm clouds. The thought of New Year’s Eve is sheer magic, and the sound of a clock striking midnight, every bit as enchanting as a fairy-tale spell.

What about you? What are the moments that inspire your creativity to blaze out of the ordinary?  I’d love to hear about them!