Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Category: Uncategorized

Witchcraft, Chemistry, and Waking Up, Excerpt

Moon At Dawn 2

NaNoWriMo is almost over, and I’m not going to make my goal of writing a 50,000 word draft of a novel. But I do have a draft, and I’m very excited about it, though it needs way more work yet. Let’s see what we have here . . .

Stella is a witch who manages her family’s farm alone, while her mother and sister are under a sleeping spell. Stella is beginning to discover that her sister, Astra, is able to meddle in Stella’s life, even while sleeping. And se we begin:

By moonlight, Stella performed a ritual to attract spiders to the garden, as they were her best defense against pestiferous insects. She walked the perimeter of the space, invoking their spirit. She sang a song welcoming spiders to come and enjoy the abundance of insects that would surely come to her garden. She promised to avoid disturbing them and their webs as much as possible.

She also left honey, in a tulip bloom, at each corner of the garden and along the borders, to propitiate the fairies. They didn’t like spiders, because they were vulnerable to their webs. As she placed each tulip, she explained that she meant no harm to fairies, but that spiders assisted her to maintain the balance of nature. She warned them that the tulips marked the boundaries of the garden, within which there would be a higher density of webs.

Does the human who talks to plants love the human who is blind to fairies?

 What? Of course not. He helps me to grow the plants we eat. Nearly all humans were blind to fairies, but Trevor was unusual in that regard, here at the farm.

 The human who talks to plants grows food but not love, and the human who flies at night grows love, but not food! Amusing! Their laughter tinkled like tiny bells.

 Who is the human who flies at night?

 An image appeared in her mind, of a cascade of curls, shining gold in the moonlight. Fairies dancing among the shimmering waves, free of danger of entanglement in the hair. They could fly through it, as if it weren’t real, but some kind of non-physical form.

The face of the human who flew at night bore the same cheekbones and jawline as Stella.

The human who flies at night does not know what she is doing. She has no right to manipulate the human who talks to plants. The human who flies at night will not be successful in making other people love each other. Fairies may wish to lure the human to fly elsewhere, rather than disturb the sleep of other humans, who mind their own business.

They didn’t say goodbye. Stella immediately regretted her outburst of anger. Fairies were terrifically empathic, and probably felt it as if she were angry with them. She, an enormous human, lobbing her emotions carelessly at some tiny innocent fairies. It was worse than slapping a child.

That was what Astra did. She made Stella lose her center, and lose control. She didn’t have the power to coerce Stella to love Trevor, though. Stella would not give it to her. Astra would not make Stella fall in love.

Somewhere in Stella was a niggling little voice, so quiet she could pretend she didn’t hear it whisper, because it’s already happening anyway.

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Setting in a novel

NaNoWriMo is coming soon, and I’ve resolved to do it this year. I have an idea, I’m excited about it, and I’m beginning to outline it so that next month I can sit down and fill it out into a 50,000+ word novel in one month.

It turns out that, previous novel experience notwithstanding, I have no idea what I’m doing. I knew last time that plot was a weak area for me, and I’m determined to improve this time around, but I’m having trouble materializing concepts about love and familial obligation into events that take place in three dimensions, which is where my characters live.

With Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, my previous novel, I had distinct settings, and I basically placed my characters in them and let them flail around and figure out what to do. I took much inspiration from the Flint HIlls prairie, where I live. Writing about the prairie was one of my essential motivations for writing the book, and some of the highest praise PRLC got was about my nature writing.

This time around, I’m writing from a dream. The heroine, Stella, is a farmer and a witch. She lives alone, because her mother and sister, years ago, disappeared. She obviously spends a lot of time outdoors, and she works with plants and, I suppose, some chickens. So the location of her farm is going to be pretty relevant.

At first I was thinking New England. It’s a natural place for witches, and there are beautiful old mountains to place a family farm, and lots of trees and water. The problem is, though, that I don’t know how people farm in New England, and I don’t know any particular places to work into the story. My New England experience is largely limited to a summer in Boston, twenty-five years ago. Nice city.

It would be sensible to place the book in the Flint Hills, to write what I know, as the adage goes. I’ve done a little work on a farm in this region. I know the climate and landscape well. But when I imagine Stella on the open prairie, she doesn’t seem to fit. I don’t know that I have more to say about the prairie at this time. I don’t see Stella as a rancher, and I don’t see the prairie as the place for all the changes she’s going to go through.

At this time I’m kind of leaning toward an imaginary place, with temperate forests and abundant water, with cities closer than they are out here (it’s 75 miles to either Topeka or Wichita, which some wouldn’t even consider to be cities at all). A place with very old trees, rich soil, roads and streets that wind among ancient mountains. A place with a culture that’s been more or less continuous for at least a couple hundred years, as opposed to the 150 or so since the Native Americans were kicked out of Kansas and replaced by the Europeans.

There’s freedom in making up my own place, but in some ways it’s more work. Most of the writing about the prairie in PRLC came directly from my own experience. At times, when I didn’t know what to do next, I could close my eyes and recall the prairie and feel the answers, or even go there and hike and listen to the sound of my boots on the earth and stone, or watch turkey vultures ride the wind overhead. How could I not write such a place?

I have just under a month to figure out where Stella’s farm is located. Then the marathon begins.

Readers, what are your thoughts on setting, on writing place, on preparing for NaNoWriMo?

How could I not write this place?

How could I not write this place?

Your Good Old Days Are Right Freaking Now

I met Bryn Donovan at Knox College, and she wrote good poetry back then. Now she has an MFA and writes romance novels. I recently discovered her blog, where she shares writing tips and practical wisdom.

Snow In May

Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.

Snows of the Prairie

White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May

The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.

white heath by fence

The Autopsy

It was probably a kitten

As psychologist James Hillman once put it, ‘It was only when science convinced us the Earth was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.’ The greatest act of disobedience to the mechanistic model is to reclaim our empathy with the living planet, our ability to feel.   —Stephen Harrod Buhner, in The Sun, Dec 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Ursula LeGuin was a favorite of mine way back. I can’t even think of words to describe what she means to me, so watch this speech and think your own thoughts.

Ekostories

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

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The Bees Know

I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.

Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.

I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.

Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.

Lunar Eclipse in Ottawa, Kansas

Having kids in school puts a damper on my natural tendency toward being a night person. Fortunately Diana Staresinic-Deane was willing to stay up for us to get this amazing shot of last night’s lunar eclipse. Take some time to browse around her excellent blog, while you’re there.

Diana Staresinic-Deane

It was totally worth staying up late and shivering in the cold.

Lunar eclipse, as seen in Ottawa, Kansas. Lunar eclipse, as seen in Ottawa, Kansas.

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Blur

First thing in the morning it occurred to me to buy something, but I knew I’d be tied up and couldn’t get to the grocery store before afternoon. Then I started rushing and sorting and packing Girl Scout cookies and texting and doing math and managing children, my own as well as others.’ Well before I got to the store I knew I had no idea what it was I was supposed to buy there. I stalled on the way, but it didn’t come to me. I talked with my husband about what to buy for dinner, but what was that other thing I was going to get? I wandered the aisles of the store, hoping I would know when I saw it. I was exhausted and bracing myself to come home and do some cleaning and start dinner. I gave up.

As soon as I walked into the kitchen I knew it: lightbulbs. Too tired to go back to the store so I’ll be cleaning and cooking in the dark for another day.

And that’s all I have to say. Too tired to hunt down a cat picture, so here’s one of a girl roller skating. Photo by Kevin Ireland.

There was a better one, but the blurriness is more expressive of how I feel right now.

Book Review: Write the Body–Post Rock Limestone Caryatids by Rachel Creager Ireland

I just have to share my excitement. Shawn St. Jean gave me a positive review on his blog. It means a lot to me because he is a writer whom I admire.

Clotho's Loom, by Shawn StJean

Image

By Shawn StJean

Surely for not the first time in history, modern feminists proposed, forty years ago, that genuine women’s writing follows patterns that would seem alien to male readers: perhaps circular or spiral–or at least non-linear, non-phallic, and non-formulaic (this lack the greatest source of readerly anxiety: a defeat, though not a disappointment, of expectations).

Beginning with its title, one clearly not designed to enhance marketability (what genre is this?  Sci-Fi? Chick-Lit?  Naturalism?,) Ms. Ireland’s debut novel fits the non-pattern.  Although the setting eases us in–human beings living on the eve of the 22nd century, insulated, born into robotic nurseries and raised into cubicles and having contact only through computerized avatars via sanitized social networking and virtual sex, their bodies slowly falling to atrophy while the world outside slowly recovers from the human virus, in remission.  Meanwhile, privileged children are genetically modded and sponsored into Matrix-like docility/productivity as…

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