Kate Clifford Series Blog Tour 3-21 July!

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What is a blog tour, you might ask. Think of it as a virtual book tour–instead of hopping around the country appearing at bookstores and being interviewed on radio and TV, I’m touring around book blogs, where the first two Kate Clifford books will be reviewed. I’ll also be interviewed on one (4 July), and I’m writing guest posts for three. You can follow them from this link! AND, for readers in the US, you can enter a giveaway for both books.

Huge thanks to Amy Bruno of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for setting it up!

The Subject Is Roses

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First, an exciting announcement for readers in the US who have wished for Owen Archer audiobooks: The Apothecary Rose is available now, in a new Tantor audiobook narrated by the award winning Derek Perkins. (The Lady Chapel will be available in November, The Nun’s Tale in December.)

https://tantor.com/the-apothecary-rose-candace-robb.html

 

The second rose is this gorgeous one, which Jane Hibbert brought me, fresh from her garden, as she arrived for my talk in the Festival of Ideas in York last month. Called Minster Rose, it has the most exquisite scent. Thank you, Jane!

I believe this is the York Minster Rose bred especially for a minster fundraiser, or so I was told by Richard Shephard as I set it out on his kitchen table. Perfect!

I just wish I might have brought it home. But I’m going to hunt it down. It will look beautiful beside my apothecary rose and in front of my climbing City of York, a white rose (of course!).

The third rose is a rosewood fountain pen made from the remnants of some old rosewood furniture by Bob Newman, a thank you for the Owen Archer books, particularly The Apothecary Rose. This will have pride of place on my desk. Isn’t it beautiful?!

Thank you, Bob!

More about my trip coming soon…

Meet Chris Nickson, Chronicler of Leeds

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In several weeks (8 June) I’ll be sitting down at the historic Leeds Library (7 pm) with my friend Chris Nickson, engaging in a conversation about our work and our friendship. I’m grateful for this opportunity to share the stage with a friend whose work I so admire. We share a love for the north of England, past and present, and for talking shop. Our almost daily email exchanges are chronicles of our work and inspiration.

We both explore the political landscape of the past in our writing and how it mirrors our contemporary concerns. I might seem more overt in my politics because I include the politics of the realm in my books, but we both aim to show how the wider issues affected the people far from Westminster. Trust me, we’ll entertain you with our chatter.

You’re not familiar with Chris’s book? Most of Chris’s crime series are set in different eras in Leeds, although he’s also set short series in Seattle and Chesterfield. Let me just say, I highly recommend all of his books. You are in for a treat.

His most recent published book is the fifth book in his Tom Harper series, On Copper Street, which was named by Booklist as one of the best crime novels in the past twelve months. Congratulations, Chris! (Yes, it is that good.) The Tom Harper books are set in Victorian Leeds. Although Tom is a great character, I am always eager for scenes with his wife Annabelle. You’ll know why when you read the books. Begin with the first, Gods of Gold.

Three years ago I introduced Chris on this blog, talking about how we’d lived in so many of the same places, but never at the same time. Though we’ve since discovered that’s not quite true, we were in Seattle at the same time for a short stretch–we just didn’t know it! It wasn’t until he had returned to the UK that he contacted me. And we haven’t shut up since.

If you haven’t yet discovered Chris’s books, let me entice you with some samples of his writing.

Chris is a music journalist as well as a crime writer–I mention this because he brings a rhythm and a lyricism, to his writing that enriches his crime novels. The streets his sleuths walk are alive with sound. And he can write about music in a way that teases me into thinking I’m actually hearing it. Here’s a passage from Dark Briggate Blues, the first Dan Markham mystery (1950s Leeds): “The music began just as he walked down the stairs, piano, bass, drums and a young tenor player he’d never seen before. He barely looked old enough to shave and dressed awkwardly in something that could have been his father’s demob suit. But he could play, twisting a world of ache and pain through the melody of ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ with a heartbreak that went beyond his years. Markham waited in the doorway until the tune ended in a slow flurry of notes that rose like smoke.”

Chris doesn’t stop at one sense, he works them all:
“An early mist had come down as the Constable walked into Leeds, giving a cobweb light to the land. Somewhere off in the trees crows were cawing and he could hear the soft smack of hooves on the earth, but he couldn’t see them.” (Come the Fear, a Richard Nottingham mystery)
“Leadenhall Carcass Market stood behind an arch next to Smith’s Tailors and Outfitters, on one of the thin lanes that ran between Vicar Lane and Briggate. It was late in the day but they were still at work, oil lamps glowing everywhere. The flagstones were slippery with frozen blood but the men working under the overhangs walked around easily, laughing, joking and shouting as they wielded their knives and carelessly hauled around sides of beef. There was a sharp tang to the air, and the flesh steamed as men sliced it open to gut and joint the carcasses that hung from iron hooks. Harper felt himself starting to gag as the bile rose in his throat. He stood still for a moment, hardly daring to breathe until the feeling passed.” (from Two Bronze Pennies, a Tom Harper mystery)

He encapsulates Leeds history in his descriptions. “Rob knew about the bell pits; everyone in Leeds did. They were holds that extended just a few feet into the ground, opening into chambers ten or twelve feet across and shaped like the bells that gave them their names; places where folk gathered scraps of coal for their fires. They’d existed for generations, all over the city, for so long that no one really knew who’d first dug them.” (from At the Dying of the Year, a Richard Nottingham mystery)

Now that I think of it, his books beg to be read aloud.

Chris does far more than simply choose a time and place in which to set a mystery, he recreates that time, researching the cultural history as well as the political history, walking the streets. He has a knack for knowing just when to add words common at the time, yet avoids the danger of slowing down the action with dialect. He has an ear for what will bring the scene to life.

You can see why I’m looking forward to our conversation at the historic Leeds Library on 8 June. Come join us! Ticket info here.  Thank you, Leeds Big Bookend and The Leeds Library for sponsoring this event!

 

 

 

 

 

I Hope to See You!

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Just as the 2nd Kate Clifford (A Twisted Vengeance) is about to be released (9 May in the US and Canada, late May in the UK), the events page on my website goes down! But not to worry, I’ve reinstated the Appearances/Events page on my blog and will be keeping that up to date. The schedule for May and June 2017:

11 May at 1:30-3:00 pm  part of the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University
session 49: When Medievalists Fictionalize the Middle Ages
my paper: The Mean Streets of Medieval York: The Murder Mystery as Cultural Lens

13 May at noon-1:00 Kazoo Books in the bookroom at the International Congress on Medieval Studies
Q&A and signing with a host of great writers

14 May 1:00 pm Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop 
signing with Sharan Newman and Greg Jolley

17 May noon Seattle Mystery Bookshop  signing

8 June, 7-8:30 pm Leeds Library, Leeds Big Bookend is sponsoring  In conversation with Candace Robb—my friend and fellow historical crime writer Chris Nickson will be talking about our craft!

12 June, 6:30-7:30 pm at York Explore
part of the York Festival of Ideas
For What It’s Worth… a workshop exploring the late medieval York setting for my books and the types of objects one might possess in the city for which people may steal (or kill!).

23-25 June, Historical Novel Society Conference, Portland, OR
23 June: 3:45-4:45  Session From Backlist to Frontlist with Jennifer Weltz and Ann Moore
open book signing on Saturday, 24 June

Hope to see you at one of these events!

 

A Twisted Vengeance, A Starred PW Review!

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I was not going to check my phone this morning until my second cup of tea–silver needle, so delicately fragrant, sip and enjoy and watch the birds discover the sun’s out in the garden. But halfway through the cup I had this urge to check my email. I saw one from Jennifer, my agent, the subject: I’m seeing stars in the PW review! Followed by a reply from my editor, Maia. How could I not open that email? And here’s what I discovered! A starred review for A Twisted Vengeance, Kate Clifford #2!

If you don’t want to click on the link, I’ve provided the text below. But really, you do want to go to PW online and see that red star!

A Twisted Vengeance: A Kate Clifford Mystery
Candace Robb. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-68177-452-7

Lovers of Shakespeare’s Richard II will find Robb’s intricate sequel to 2016’s The Service of the Dead a particular treat, as it charts the course of Richard’s downfall and his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke’s rise through the fears and uncertainties of the residents of the city of York in July 1399. These anxieties are worsened by a series of strange deaths connected to the extended family of Kate Clifford, a fierce young widow struggling to cope with not only her own household of jostling servants and the recently arrived illegitimate children of her late husband but also the return of her quarrelsome mother, Eleanor, from Strasbourg with religious women in tow. The character of Clifford is compelling and finely drawn, and for those readers who are patient enough to manage an unusually large number of secondary characters, the answers to a series of mysteries, starting with the reason for an intruder’s attack on a beguine (or poor sister) in the middle of the night, are highly satisfying. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (May)

 

Snippets about Writing & Fairy Tales

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First it was the run up to the Medieval Women’s Choir concert (songs of pilgrimage), and the concert itself, and now I’m deep into the middle of Kate Clifford #3, in which I’ve been reacquainted with a beloved cast member of the Owen Archer series who is now elderly but still vibrant. At such times, my blog is sadly abandoned.

But it needn’t be! I thought I’d share some snippets of things that have caught my attention recently.

This morning, it was this exchange on Twitter, where it’s #folkloreThursday. I tweeted a quote I’d come across that I love:
A fairy tale is a story where one king goes to another king to borrow a cup of sugar.–Angela Carter
The moderator of the hashtag for that hour responded, Ouch – that’s a bit cynical – I’d have thought it was where one king visits another to borrow some unicorn horn.
And I said, Cynical?! Not at all! Down to earth.
And loads of women expressed delight at my tweet (one adding The queen’s words.)
How much better it would be for all of us if kings/queens/presidents/etc. peaceably swapped homely things like cups of sugar instead of sending armies to take all the sugar cane in the fields. I’m channeling Magda Digby here.

And then recently there was this article by the writer George Saunders, in which I discovered a kindred spirit. We have such similar processes! No, I don’t imagine the P and N on my forehead, but in essence, it’s spot on for me, especially section 7, about the pins.

“A work of fiction can be understood as a three-beat movement: a juggler gathers bowling pins; throws them in the air; catches them. This intuitive approach I’ve been discussing is most essential, I think, during the first phase: the gathering of the pins. This gathering phase really is: conjuring up the pins. Somehow the best pins are the ones made inadvertently… Concentrating on the line-to-line sound of the prose, or some matter of internal logic, or describing a certain swath of nature in the most evocative way (that is, by doing whatever gives us delight, and about which we have a strong opinion), we suddenly find that we’ve made a pin. Which pin? Better not to name it. To name it is to reduce it. Often “pin” exists simply as some form of imperative, or a thing about which we’re curious; a threat, a promise, a pattern, a vow we feel must soon be broken. Scrooge says it would be best if Tiny Tim died and eliminated the surplus population; Romeo loves Juliet; Akaky Akakievich needs a new overcoat; Gatsby really wants Daisy. (The colour grey keeps showing up; everything that occurs in the story does so in pairs.)

“Then: up go the pins. The reader knows they are up there and waits for them to come down and be caught. If they don’t come down (Romeo decides not to date Juliet after all, but to go to law school; the weather in St Petersburg suddenly gets tropical, and the overcoat will not be needed; Gatsby sours on Daisy, falls for Betty; the writer seems to have forgotten about his grey motif) the reader cries foul, …  and she throws down the book and wanders away ….

“The writer, having tossed up some suitably interesting pins, knows they have to come down, and, in my experience, the greatest pleasure in writing fiction is when they come down in a surprising way that conveys more and better meaning than you’d had any idea was possible. One of the new pleasures I experienced writing this, my first novel, was simply that the pins were more numerous, stayed in the air longer, and landed in ways that were more unforeseen and complexly instructive to me than has happened in shorter works.”

It’s a rich, thoughtful article.

Until next time!

The Murder Mystery as a Cultural Lens, part 1

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In November of last year I was invited by the Classics, Medieval, and Early Modern Studies Graduate Research Cluster at the University of Washington to talk about my career writing fiction about late medieval England, Scotland, and Wales. I flailed around for a topic specific enough to provide some focus, yet sufficiently expansive–so far it’s been quite a ride and I’ve lots to say! I finally chose to talk about the murder mystery writer as a cultural lens.

In case you haven’t encountered the term before: A cultural lens is another term for viewing things from the perspective of a foreign culture. In order to apply a cultural lens on a situation, skills like empathy and understanding are needed. I explained that it’s important for my sleuths to not assume that the people of York (or Edinburgh, Perth, Windsor, St. David’s, etc.) view things the same way they do, or their places of origin did. So this applies on both a personal and government level. I like to emphasize empathy: In an investigation, a detective needs to listen—deep listening—and needs to hear all sides.

I thought I’d share with you the conclusion of that talk, given shortly after the US presidential election.

***

Something odd keeps happening—my books mirror current affairs in uncanny ways. I’d begun writing about the Scottish Wars of Independence from the perspective of the Scottish people—the Margaret Kerr trilogy, seeking to expose the horror of living in a war zone, and how that might give rise to violent rebellion, when 9/11 happened. And we declared war.

The Riddle of St (Small)When I wrote The Riddle of St. Leonard’s [Owen Archer #5]—about corrodians in medieval hospitals and the financial crisis they were causing at St. Leonard’s in York—the care they received helping them live longer—too long, costing too much to support, I found echoes in political arguments about Social Security and Medicare bankrupting the nation.

And most recently, … in A Twisted Vengeance [Kate Clifford #2] I’m writing about A Twisted Vengeancethe edginess of the populace in the midst of political upheaval. As I worked through my editor’s notes on the manuscript last week I felt a sense of déjà vu as the election results came in and I realized the enormity of the changes ahead —talk about political upheaval. As a writer I was pleased with the veracity of my depiction of the characters’ fear about the future. Personally I’m in shock to be in their shoes. I have a character question why people have rushed to support the king’s cousin, Henry, who is a cipher to them—yes, he strikes a heroic figure, a tournament champion, but why do they believe his rule will be better for them than Richard’s? Because he says so? And then… almost half the voters in my country go for the guy who promises change—huge change—though he’s never held public office and… well, you see the similarity.

How does this happen? Is it because in writing about the past with empathy novelists are tapping into universals? I think so.

So—since the election I’ve been wondering what lessons I can take from my work. How would Owen and Kate approach what has happened? They would examine the things the other side holds dear, they would frame their questions in ways that opened up dialogue, so the others would reveal themselves. When they met resistance they’d explore different routes in. All in the interest of understanding so that they might see how to restore order.

I’m hoping that the deeper reward for me in using the mystery as a cultural lens, even more resonant and life confirming than my original fascination with discovering what life was like in the past, is in teaching me how to open my eyes in the present, in this difficult present in which I find myself. To look at those I don’t understand as a cultural anthropologist, and to engage them as my sleuths do, with unloaded questions that have some hope of opening up a dialogue in which I might find clues as to how to communicate that we’re all in this together, and this is what’s at stake.

Women in Community–& a preview!

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Ever since the Women’s March on Washington I’ve been thinking about the power of women in community.

I’ve been writing about strong, clever, resourceful women throughout my career. Even in the Owen Archer series I surround my male sleuth with strong women–Lucie Wilton, the Riverwoman Magda Digby, Bess Merchet, Dame Phillippa…  But it wasn’t until I was writing the Margaret Kerr novels that I realized how much I believe women’s power lies in their wisdom about the importance of community–in the middle ages and today. That was Margaret’s Achilles heel–even before she left her home in Perth she had no such community. Gradually she learned to appreciate the help of her serving woman Celia, her mother Christiana, her friend Ada, and, as we left her, she was on her way to seek the help of her Great-Aunt Euphemia. Margaret’s path to wisdom and power.

In between writing about Margaret and creating Kate Clifford I became fascinated with the Beguine movement–communities of lay religious women. [See two guest posts about Beguines here and here.]

Service of the Dead KD2b REVYou will recall that toward the end of The Service of the Dead Kate’s mother, Eleanor, arrives in York in the company of three Beguines from Strasbourg. Eleanor returned when she did so that I might use her as the catalyst for Kate’s cathartic outburst at the end. The Beguines are merely her companions. But Dina, Clara, and Brigida move to center stage in A Twisted Vengeance. In the US and Canada it will be published in hardcover and ebook on 9 May. (And The Service of the Dead will come out in trade paperback.) Here’s a sneak preview of the further adventures of Kate Clifford & community.

 

twisted-vengeance_new-coverPrologue

York, second week in July, 1399

The terror of the dream never abated. She opened her eyes in the dark prison of her childhood bedchamber. Heard his ragged breathing, smelled his breath—cloying sweetness of wine, rancid stench of bile—as he leaned down, reaching for her, whispering of his need, his hunger. She opened her mouth to scream, but she was mute. She struggled to push him away, but her arms were limp, heavy, dead to her.

Why do you not strike him down, my Lord? How can you abide such abomination, my Savior? Are you not my Savior? Is he right, that I deserve this?

It is a dream, only a dream, now, tonight, it is truly only a dream, he is dead, he can no longer hurt me, it is a dream, wake up wake up wake up.

She sat up, panting, her shift clinging to her sweat-soaked body. A noise. Someone moving about on the other side of her door, in the kitchen. Outside her window it was the soft gray of a midsummer night. Who would be moving about the kitchen in the middle of the night? Why had Dame Eleanor lodged her here, across the garden from her sisters, all alone? But they did not know she was alone. They thought Nan, the serving maid, would be here. Perhaps it was only Nan she heard, returning early.

He had sworn that he would find her, rise from the grave and take her, that they were bound for eternity. Whoever it was, they were at the door. The dagger. She slipped it from beneath her pillow. The door creaked open. Not Nan—much too tall for Nan. A man’s breath, a man’s smell. He took a step in. She leapt from the bed, throwing herself on him, forcing him to fall backward into the kitchen. Stabbing him, stabbing, stabbing. Not speaking. Never speak. Never make a noise. He will kill me if I wake the others.

“God have mercy. Have mercy!” he wheezed.

She stopped. This voice was soft. Frightened. God forgive me. It is not him. Not Father.

She dropped her dagger in the doorway as she backed into her room. Heart pounding, fighting the fear and confusion clouding her mind, she dressed, stumbling in her haste. She must think what to do. Berend. He was strong and kind. He would help her. She would go through the gate to Dame Katherine’s kitchen and wake Berend.

She retrieved her dagger. Bloody. Slippery. Wiped it on her skirt. Tucked it in her girdle. Stepped to the door, lifting her skirts to step over his body. But there was no body. God help me!

A hand over her mouth. He spun her round and clutched her so tightly she felt his blood flowing, soaking the back of her gown, the warmth of it. She gagged on the sickly sweet smell of it, like her father’s wine-breath. He dragged her outside into the garden. The great wolfhounds began to bark. Salvation? She struggled, but he did not lose his grip; even when he stumbled he grasped her so tightly she could not breathe. Her feet skimmed the grass, the packed mud of the alley. I am dying.

A jolt. She was pulled free, falling forward.

“Run to the church.” It was the soldier who watched all night from the street. More than a soldier, a guardian angel. He kicked the wounded man in the stomach.

She curled over herself, gasping for breath.

“Get up. Run to the church. Do not stop. Do not look back.” He nudged her, gently. “Run!” Suddenly there were more men. They rushed at her savior.

She rose and ran, her breath a searing knife in her throat and chest, but she ran, ran for her life. She heard the men attacking the soldier, bone against flesh against bone. Surely an angel could not suffer mortal wounds. But she would pray for him. To the church across Castlegate. Door locked. Stumbling round to the side, where the sisters entered. Footsteps coming her way. She fled, and there it was, the door, opening, the candle by the lady altar. She crumpled to the floor, the cool tiles. She stretched out upon them, bloodied, cursed, saved.

___________

If you’d like a chance to win one of three galleys of A Twisted Vengeance, sign up for my publisher’s giveaway on Goodreads (giveaway runs 7 Feb – 7 Mar).

Performing Medieval Music: the Medieval Women’s Choir

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As you might recall, the launch for The Service of the Dead at the University Bookstore was graced by members of Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir raising their voices in exquisite harmony. I loved the sound and the women so much that I joined the choir in September!

So during the darkening days of autumn I was buoyed by the rehearsals for our join-choirChristmas concert, Monday nights becoming beacons of light, laughter, song, and camaraderie. Our performance in St. James Cathedral on the first evening in December was truly a magical experience for me. Our voices soared, while  musicians accompanied our voices with lively harp, vielle, and percussion. Such a gorgeous venue, and we received a standing ovation at the end. Icing on the cake! (Photo is from a past performance by the choir.)

I’m hooked. I cannot wait for rehearsals to resume in January.

And what a fabulous way to dive into the topic of medieval music. Our choir director, Eric Mentzel, is not only a specialist in early music, but a gifted and congenial musical coach; he is an associate professor of voice at the University of Oregon. Even when he’s correcting us, he inspires laughter and ease. My two favorite quotes from recent rehearsals: “Sing as if we’ve been singing this together in the convent for 40 years”; and, when instructing us in how to build on repetitions in a melisma*,“never repeat, insist.” So evocative. Marian Seibert, soloist and rehearsal director when Eric isn’t available is equally warm and humorous, even when drilling us.

Here’s a link to the choir website if you’d like to learn more about it: http://medievalwomenschoir.org/

6a21f0cfc30f69e020fcd0de044fe169And, yes, I’m sure that as I learn more I will discover a character just waiting to step into York Minster and raise his? her? voice. The minster choir would have been male, but perhaps the nuns of Clementhorpe Priory…

For now, I’m simply enjoying the experience.

Serendipity: This explanation of the medieval origins of the Christmas carol was just posted on the British Library blog!

I welcome recommendations regarding books/articles on medieval music. And if you’re in Seattle in March, come hear us!

* A melisma is a run of notes, quickly sung, on one syllable of text.

Gazing Inward, With Friendly Curiosity

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Our most important writing tool is trust in our own unique vision, our own voice. Stop comparing. Look within. I wrote that in my journal after a friend, a poet, confided that she was experiencing a storm of self-doubt. As I reassured her I smiled to myself, remembering times she’s done the same for me.

Here are some inspiring quotes with a similar message (italics mine):

If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient. –Hilary Mantel The Guardian 22 Feb 2010

[When asked, what’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift]: The Professional, by W. C. Heinz. It profiles a boxer before a match in the 1950s. I reread it before taping a stand-up special. Preparing to perform comedy in front of hundreds (or thousands) of people and telling jokes that may or may not make them laugh is just as terrifying as getting hit in the face while boxing. I boxed for a while a couple years back, and the fear of getting punched was a big hurdle I had to get over. But you know what helped? Getting punched. Just one time was enough to learn that the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. That’s like stand-up. I learned to just get up there and own my jokes. Relax and take the punches. The crowd will forgive you for less-than-perfect jokes, but nobody likes to watch a fearful performer.  –Amy Schumer NYT 8/11/16 By the Book

Wright Morris said that “Writes have an island, a center of refuge, within themselves. It is the mind’s anchorage, the soul’s Great Good Place.”

Paula Fox (Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 181) “I never felt any sort of egocentricity about my writing. I think I felt that it was a dispassionate gift that some force had given me. And I still think that. It’s as if something speaks through me, and then I have to sit up there every day for it to have a place to come and speak through me.”  Also:  “Everything you write is autobiographical, even science fiction, and the planet Ork. In some way even that is a reflection of you—who you are. You write about yourself as if you were a specimen, as if you were a specimen of a human being, and so you write about being human. The only one you really know, reasonably well, in some cases unreasonably well, is yourself.”

“…not only must we wake the sleeper in our self, we must help her enter and reenter the state of wonder.” Jonis Agee (The Daily Beast, “The True Secret of Staying Young,” 13 Aug 16)

Richard Wilbur: “Step off into the blank of your mind, something will come to you.”

October Sunrise

October Sunrise

Mostly importantly, enjoy your own wonderfully crazy imagination. Untether it. Later, you’ll edit.