Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What is Death? by Eleanor Stem

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Egyptian Judgement in the Afterlife

I believe in reincarnation, that’s all there is to it. Souls clump together and help each other through lifetimes. We learn, collect good and bad karma, love or dislike each other, hurt or shore up the other. When we’ve known souls for several lifetimes, and one leaves this plane, it is difficult to bear. We miss them. Our hearts break for our losses, while they are glad to be back. Once we move on, we again remember what we thought we’d never forget, but did.

As 2015 shot out of the gate, and within weeks of each other, both my husband and I lost life-long friends, people we knew since we were children. We grew up with them, rode bikes together, suffered through puberty, know their children, their spouses. 

Husband’s friend lived down the street. He was always intense, and dedicated all of his energy to whatever he did. While young, he played in a band, traveled all over. One interesting place he lived was in Oklahoma among the Native Americans. He was a collector. He collected Native American artifacts, arrowheads. He loved music. It was part of his life. He breathed it, felt the thrumming of chords and notes in his flesh and sinew. He collected rare cd’s, band tee-shirts, memorabilia. Loved to have his picture taken with a musical group and post it on facebook.  One Saturday in mid-February, his chest hurt. By morning, he was gone. 

My friend and I started out as pen pals when I was twelve and she ten. At the time, I was embarrassed to have a friend so much younger than me, and I didn’t tell anyone about our age differences, fearing I’d be ridiculed. She lived in the West Midlands of England, near the Potteries where people in her neighborhood worked in factories and crafted Wedgewood and Prince Albert dishware. I visited her more than once, met her family, her aunt and uncle. I lived the same town for a year with my boys while I researched a novel. She saw my anger when I divorced; I saw her sorrow when her father died. Just before Christmas, she was diagnosed with cancer, and left this mortal coil a month and five days later.

We were shocked by these quick deaths, so unexpected. Medicine today is quite good. The doctors should have saved our friends, our loved ones. Why didn’t they? People with the worst, most insidious cancers can live quite a long time. Why didn’t my friend, or my husband’s friend stick around?

Because we are the ones who choose when we come or go, what our lessons will be, how we will learn these lessons, who we want to run with, love and dislike. Once our life's lessons are complete, we leave. We review. We either hang out in the clouds or begin another life. Our guides help us. God aids us. We are not alone.

I had vivid dreams of my friend laughing at my sorrows. She was glad to be on the other side. I asked where her life review took place, and she answered, on a hot, sandy beach. She was always cold in England, and this satisfied her a great deal. Almost a year ago, she told me she was bored. In my dreams, she admitted her life had been too constricted, controlled. Now, she wants to play, have a more exuberant life, be slightly naughty. She stuck around for her memorial service, then with a sweep of her skirts, she was gone. I hope this new place she goes to will be filled with more love, more light, and be better than the violence and hate of this earthen plane.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Easter Bunny Went AWOL by Gail Roughton

One work day afternoon, more years back than I care to admit, my desk phone rang. I grabbed it immediately, both because I was (and still am) very good at my “day job” and because it was a school holiday and my children, ranging in age from fifteen to twelve, were home alone. Now that in and of itself should tell you how long ago it was since nowadays, all kids call their parents at work on their cell phones, but cell phones at that time were large, square and black and generally lived as permanent fixtures on car dashboards.  (Told you it was a long time ago.)

“Mama?”  Uh-oh.  My eldest child and only daughter had that accusatory edge in her voice, as though miffed at something. Or someone. I braced myself for some tale of sibling strife.

“Hey, baby.  Everything okay?”

“No, everything is not okay! I’ve been through this house from top to bottom and I can’t find the Easter Bunny anywhere! Now, don’t you think you or Daddy need to get busy, hmmmmm?”

At this point, I should explain that Easter was a big deal in our family.  So was Halloween and so was Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong, I know we’re not unique in that, it’s just – how shall I phrase this?  My husband and I went a little crazy on holidays.  Any holiday.  Every holiday. Okay, we went completely over the top.  We kept right on going over the top for years after most families dispense with any pretense that baskets of candy are delivered in the dead of night by a magical rabbit or that the presents surrounding the tree on Christmas morning came down the chimney with a jolly, bearded old man in a red suit.

The unfilled Easter baskets themselves were part and parcel of the magic.  All three of my children had their own Easter basket, chosen for them on their first Easter. The basket itself never changed, not in all the years the Easter bunny came. They sat their empty basket out on the kitchen table every Easter Eve, after we’d dyed the Easter eggs and carefully arranged them in the big Easter basket saved from my own childhood. And sometime during the night, the Easter bunny filled those baskets with enough gaily wrapped chocolate candy and jelly beans to give an elephant a sugar rush.  Then he tiptoed down the hall and left each filled basket by each child’s respective bed, and sat a big boxed chocolate bunny beside the filled basket. It had to sit beside the basket because the basket was too dang full for the chocolate bunny to fit inside it. Of course, a new stuffed animal always sat on the other side of the baskets to finish things off.  The new stuffed animal didn’t have to be a bunny, though, sometimes it was  a duck or a lamb.

All this was easy enough to pull off when the kids were little. Things got a bit more complicated as they aged. Especially since neither they nor we were about to acknowledge the fact that either Mama or Daddy went down the candy aisle of the grocery store filling their cart with bags of candy and hid it to await Easter Eve, or that it was Mama who lined the baskets with grass and tore open the bags of candy on the kitchen table,  carefully dividing it between the three baskets by counting out “one, two, three, one, two, three…”. Certainly no one would ever admit it was Mama who snuck into the dark rooms and sat the baskets beside each respective bed. 

As they aged, by tacit agreement, without it ever being discussed, I moved “Operation Easter Basket” from the kitchen table into my bedroom closet, sitting on the floor in the late night and early morning hours to count out “one, two, three…”. The boy who would become our son-in-law entered our door at the age of seventeen, and the count shifted to “one, two, three, four…” because of course, Jason had to spend the night on Easter Eve so the Easter Bunny could bring his basket, too.  And by tacit agreement, without it ever being discussed, the kids turned their lights off at least by midnight and climbed into their respective beds.

Whether the kids were really asleep during those teen years when I snuck into dark rooms to deposit baskets, I don’t know.  I didn’t ask, and it didn’t matter.  All that mattered was the continuity, the tradition, the celebration of the magic interwoven into childhood and holidays. I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t sure that celebration mattered as much to my teenage children as it did to us as parents. At least, not until my fifteen year old daughter made it known that the Easter Bunny was an anticipated visitor who’d apparently gone AWOL and she expected the situation to be rectified immediately.  And no, the Easter Bunny wasn’t AWOL. His candy stash was sitting behind me in an office closet, safely away from exploring teenagers. He doesn’t come to my house anymore, but that’s as it should be. He certainly comes to her house, leaving baskets of goodies and surprises beside two little beds. Because magic is a legacy, a gift from one generation to the next.  Pass it on and never let the magic die. Happy Easter!
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Alexander Hamilton Returns


It’s no mistake that people are discovering Hamilton again, that least known, most difficult to appreciate, and perhaps the most personally conflicted, of America’s Founding Fathers. Less a politician than a matchless administrator, Hamilton was a leader who actually seems to have believed the things he said, a man who did not use his time in government to feather his own nest.  He was self-made, without family or fortune, but with a unique, nuts and bolts understanding the new science of economics and the realities of international trade, of money and banking. The men Hamilton worked beside, men like Washington and Jefferson, were American aristocrats, slave owners, whose power base lay in land. Jefferson, particularly, took an almost feudal view of the future, imagining a new nation comprised of large landowners ruling over laboring classes of sharecroppers and slaves.

Hamilton’s political enemies, busy calling his patriotism into question, conveniently overlooked the fact that a large part of his character was almost Quixotic. Far from being a man obsessed with self-interest, he often behaved like a knight strayed in from some earlier age. At the start of the Revolution, he gave his hard-won college money to outfit a rebel artillery company. He crossed the Delaware with the remains of George Washington's army as a foot-sore captain, freezing and hungry beside his men. During the war, he was the kind of officer who led from the front, and also the kind who intervened when his soldiers, still hot from battle, wanted to summarily execute their prisoners.  As an aide-de-camp, he served his boss George Washington selflessly and tirelessly, becoming the perfect secretary/assistant to a beleaguered general with no other such brilliant props upon which to lean. After the war, in his new incarnation as attorney, he was not afraid to defend ex-loyalists whose property had been illegally seized by vengeful neighbors. Hamilton also advocated for ordinary men, one a humble ferry owner, whipped and bullied by a local landlord. Law, Hamilton said, should be dealt alike to all citizens, whether rich or poor.

For a brief time, he even may have dreamed, during the heady first years after America’s founding, that we could have a “pure” government, one without party, because servants of this new republic would be genuinely ‘public-spirited’. After all, if a person wished only the common good—as opposed to only ‘good’ for ones’ friends-- by use of the ancient tools of common law, common sense and ordered debate--pragmatic, mutually agreeable solutions must, naturally, emerge. ‘The People’ (as then defined) could govern themselves, not only without the aid of a king or dictator, but without special interest groups, too. 

But Hamilton was also an outsider, an immigrant, a “come here,” a fact his enemies never forgot or forgave. Worse, he was born illegitimate. An orphan, he arrived on these shores as a charity child. He was called, slightingly, a “Creole,” or, with franker hostility, by John Adams, “the bastard brat of a Scots peddler.”  Interestingly, this is the trope which has moved Hamilton back into public consciousness. Lin-Manuel Miranda, a multi-talented first generation American, is making a big splash with a hip-hop opera at The Public Theater in NYC.  I learned about this exciting theater piece around the time I’d begun re-editing a decade old “in-the-drawer” book—The Master Passion—but this unforeseen enthusiasm, and its success, truly delighted me. After all, someone young, gifted and vocal also wanted to make some art out of the life of this colorful, fascinating genius. 

Hamilton has been in my life since I was ten. I’d early learned that he’d worked against slavery, and that, like the wandering lost prince of all the fairy tales, he’d come to the ‘Kingdom’ with nothing but the brilliant head on his shoulders. As a teen, he'd fought for freedom. He’d won the respect of a legendary commanding general and won the hand of a local 'princess'. He’d spent the rest of his life devising ways to help his adopted country become well-governed, rich and happy. He'd fought like a tiger to get his brilliant—but far-less well-informed and/or insightful 'founding brothers'—to understand and assist his plans.

I won't go into Funding & Assumption or his many other financial plans here. The simplest way to explain Hamilton's importance to America is that if he hadn’t created a system to unite those thirteen bickering colonies by getting them to pay the debts incurred to fighting men—and to the businessmen who’d backed the war of independence—there would be no United States today.  Then as now, nation or family, paying the bills is essential to safety and security, the firm base from which all creative endeavor and industry flows.

Unavoidably, Hamilton was also a man of his time, one scarred by a childhood full of violence, poverty and humiliation. He was a true genius and as result could be vain, brash and impatient with slower minds. He injured and embarrassed his family and friends with a sordid love-affair. His insecurities and his anger toward the enemies who dragged him through the mud caused the political missteps which destroyed his own Federalist party. The duel in which Hamilton died might have been avoided by a more circumspect man, one more assured of his status as a 'gentleman'.

Beyond all, he remains--to me and to others--a true tragic hero, a great man destroyed by fatal flaws. If Alexander Hamilton hadn’t come here, hadn’t fought in the Revolution, or practiced law and set still important precedents, hadn't been one of those critical first creative, hard-working public servants,  there probably would be no United States today.

A few good books on a large subject:


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow ISBN: 1594200092 Penguin, 2005

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 21 volumes, Harold C. Syrett, Ed., Columbia University, 1987

Founding Brothers by Joseph L. Ellis, ISBN: 9780375405440, Knopf, 2000

Hamilton by Forrest McDonald, ISBN: 9780393300482, W.W. Norton, 1988

Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, by Clinton L. Rossiter, Harcourt, Brace, ISBN: 9780151042159, 1964

~~Juliet Waldron

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Negative Traits = The Perfect Villain by Connie Vines


Looking for the perfect, or not so perfect, villain for your story?

Finding a hero, well that is perfectly simple.  A dash of Prince Charming, a sprinkle of Albert Einstein, a quarter cup of Fred Astaire, a hint of Hans Solo. . .well, you get my drift. A quick whisk or two and TADA!  You have a hero!

Not so, with a villain, that is an entirely different cup of (hemlock) tea. 

Deeply flawed, and driven by: dark forces, questionable morals, a wounded soul, or simply bad fashion sense, villains must connect with readers in some realistic way.  A strong villain forces the hero to step up, demanding more moral fiber than he, the hero, knew that he possessed.  Remember, there is no “Happily Ever After” without the twists and turns supplied compliments of the villain!

Remember unless your villain is a serial killer, or the embodiment of pure Evil, he—the villain, must possession a rich and complex character and past.  He must be a worthy antagonist for protagonist (aka: Our Beloved Hero).  So, how exactly do you plan to come up with the perfect villain?

I like to start with back-story (of course for most of the novel this is known only to me). I pepper hints and drop in a few clumps of info.  Later, the reader will say, “Of course!  I should have guess sooner!” The reader may harbor sympathy (which I like to develop in my Tween stories).  Everyone can relate to an event, which made a profound change is his/her life.  Sometimes this even makes a person better/stronger.  Other times (as in the villain’s case) it drives them to the edge of insanity, or damages them beyond (mental/emotional/physical) recover.  However, in the beginning, the story all about the hero.

It is not until the middle of the story; we appreciate the villain’s ability to set those nasty plot twists into motion.

Your villain can be your hero’s mirror.  Oh, you can go for the classic blonde vs brunette, if you are looking for campy.  Or, you can look to character traits.  The hero may be shy, fearful of horses, and a back-words sort of dresser with a gentle way with those in need.  While the villain is confident, articulate (with a sexy accent), owns a stable of show-horses, wears Armani suits, and (at times the veil slips) he sees gentleness as weakness.  He discovered as a child, only the strongest survive!

Give him quirks, sensitivities (remember the movie “Red Dragon”), an awareness of himself. Your villain must evolve also.  He may escalate into pure Evil, or see the light.  Or, perhaps, reside somewhere in between the two places. 

Remember to open his old wounds.  Something, be it a place, event, smell, or sound must trigger his behavior.  Show the villain trying to avoid a situation, event.
I can’t divulge too much about my “villains” due to the manner in which they tie into a story’s plot.  However, I will give you a hint, or two.

Whisper upon the Water, my YA/Tween novel set in the late 1880s in a Native American boarding school deals with the aftermath of the Indian Wars.  The story also addresses the way the children were treated and forced to become “White”.  My villain is Sister Enid.  The reader will discover that Sister Enid as a story of her own.  My romance and romantic suspense novels, Lynx and Brede (Rodeo Romance Book 1 & 2), also have carefully constructed villains.

My next BWL release, is an anthology, Gumbo Ya Ya has five separate stories.  
And, a myriad of delightful villains to boo and hiss at! 

·        “Marrying off Murphy” my villain is a friend who shoves my hero into an ‘unwelcomed situation’. 

·        “Love Potion # 9” brings us two villains: “element of magic” and. .well, that’s enough of a hint. 

·        “A Slice of Scandal” is a murder mystery where villains abound. 

·        “The Ghost of Gombi Island” we have a pirate, a ghost, and a witch on the high seas (I will let you ponder the villain’s identity.)  

·        “1-800-Fortune” (a T.A.R.A. and Fool for Love, finalist). Brings us an unnamed villain (at least until the final pages—remember, no peeking when you purchase the book).

What character traits.

Or what I’ve discovered usually irritate me, and, consequently, my hero the most.  Remember, just like the menu at “Denny’s” you can mix or match your selection.
Abrasive, Antisocial, Catty (one of my personal faves), Confrontational (perfect for a co-worker when combined Catty and Devious).  Or, Obsessive (no wait, that’s me!), Paranoid, Perfectionist, Self-Destructive, Vindictive.  These are just a few traits, I am certain you can name many, many more.

Does you villain need the limelight? Alternatively, does he prefer to hide in the shadows?  Does he have a driving need to belong? To be loved?

Your villain did not just crawl out from beneath a toadstool. 

Write that backstory and make certain your villain is the worst that he can be!

Thank you for visiting the BWL blog today.

Connie Vines

Friday, March 27, 2015

ASTARA the ancient Goddess of Easter - by Vijaya Schartz

The 8th century British writer Bede, mentions that the name for Easter is derived from a Pagan spring festival of the goddess ASTARA. Revered by the Babylonians, Sumerians and Persians, this goddess derived from ASTRA and OSTARA the Greek goddess of spring and fertility. The name means STAR and she is sometimes referred to as the Star Goddess.
She is said to be the last Pagan goddess to leave Earth, bound for the stars, during the Bronze Age, and was worshiped throughout the civilized world of that time, even in Asia (under the name of Kali). Ancient Alien theorists will tell you that she must have been an alien visitor, who remained on Earth to teach the populations of the time, then flew back to the heavens.

The familiar Easter bunny and the multicolored eggs (both symbols of fertility) come not from the Christian or the Jewish Passover traditions, but straight from the Pagan festival of ASTARA. Since this was a spring festival, around the same time as the Jewish Passover and it marked the resurrection of Christ, the early Church made both events coincide, and blended the traditions.

In other words, if you cannot prevent the Pagans from celebrating their festivals, join them and call it a Christian holiday. This technique worked well for early Christian rulers, and helped impose Christianity in many Pagan societies.
Even the last supper that inspired the modern communion was a tradition from ancient Egypt, where the priests and priestesses symbolically partook of the body of Osiris during religious rituals.

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Now that we have forgotten the origins of our festivals, we take for granted that Christian or Jewish holidays include only Christian and Jewish traditions, but the deeper roots of these traditions go far back into our ancient past. It seems that religions change and evolve, but somehow, the traditions remain.
Learn more about ancient traditions by reading THE CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE, a Medieval series based on authentic Celtic legends. Find these books on my Amazon page HERE.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Blasters, Romance with a Kick

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Returning to old friends--Tricia McGill


Writers who read this will know what I am talking about, but if by chance there are perhaps a few people who just like to read, then this is for you.

I am in the process of editing an old book of mine and to me this is just like catching up with old friends and acquaintances. Perhaps I am peculiar but I love the process of going over old work and doing my best to improve it.

I’m currently re-writing Book 2 in my Wild Heather series. Book 1—The Laird is available now and this next one will be titled Travis (previously published as My Highland Love)

For non-writers only, I thought you may be interested in my personal researching process that goes into creating a story. Because the Wild Heather series is Time-Travel obviously there is a marked difference to writing a contemporary. We not only need to know a lot about history for the protagonists living in the present but also a great deal of how life would have been in the past when they get back there.

And this series is set in Scotland, creating a whole range of questions needing answers. The research in my case starts just after I have the idea of what the book will be about. It would be no good writing pages about the castle they found way back in 1050 if I made it a stone construction with battlements etc. which weren’t built until the 13th century onwards. 

I needed to know some of the history of Stirling Castle, which features prominently in The Laird, as my heroine Liz is extremely interested in it and its past.

This information taken from: http://www.instirling.com/sight/castle.htm

“Stirling Castle is the grandest of Scotland's castles and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country. 250 feet above the plain on an extinct volcano, Stirling became the strategic military key to the kingdom during the 13th and 14th century Wars of Independence and was the favourite royal residence of many of the Stuart Monarchs.

Many important events from Scotland's past took place at Stirling Castle, including the violent murder of the eighth Earl of Douglas by James II in 1452. Stirling Castle played an important role in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. She spent her childhood in the castle and Mary's coronation took place in the Chapel Royal in 1543.” 

I needed to know what flora and fauna would be around in that time. Also what food the Scottish folk ate now and what they would have eaten then. I had to know what clothing the people wore in 1050, how they wore their hair and how they went about day to day living. I had no idea the kilt as we know it today didn’t evolve until the 16th century and the Scottish word for kilt derives from the Old Norse word ‘kjalta’. I would have looked silly if I had my 1050 laird wearing a modern day kilt.


We end up with reams of notes, most of which never enter our stories, but come into the ‘need to know’ category to get a feel of the time and place. Then there are the weapons used in the time period we send our protagonists back to.
 (apologies for my rough sketches, but you get the idea)

I didn't know wolves once roamed the Scottish hills until the last one disappeared two centuries ago. The elk have also gone, but the eagles remain, along with the red deer. I abhor all kinds of sport that includes the slaughter of animals for enjoyment. In Travis’s time they killed purely for food but the practice of shooting deer still goes on in the highlands. The stag casts his antlers each spring around March or April and new horns grow quickly. The stags are not considered suitable to kill until the velvet has left the horns, a fact I had to learn in my research.

Lucky for me I enjoy the research entailed as I haven’t stuck to one sub-genre in my writing career. I’ve also had to learn about the Vikings (who intrigue me), the Ancient Brits (who fascinate me), early Australian settlers (who have my utmost admiration), and London during WW1 and WW11 (a period I learned a lot about through my older siblings). Perhaps the easiest to research would be my Beneath Southern Skies series as these are all set in present day Australia. Then there is my venture into futuristic, the easiest of all, as this is set on another planet. In this book my imagination was allowed to run riot and create characters, mode of transport, and setting as the fancy took me, and who could challenge me on my facts.

The Laird: Wild Heather Book 1

Australian Andrew reluctantly answers a plea to visit his ailing uncle in Scotland. His PA, Liz, persuades him to take her along. In the dilapidated castle, while exploring an attic, they set off a course of events that propel them back in time to 1050 where they meet The Laird.

Travis: Wild Heather Book 2

In Book 1 we met Travis and his clansmen. In Book 2 we are reunited with them. Driven by revenge and set on annihilating all his enemies, Travis has little time in his life for another woman from the future. Amid the violence and bloodshed a great love grows.

My Books We Love books can be found here
My Books We Love books can be found here


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