Today, one hundred and fifty-six years ago, Joseph Conrad was born in Russia. He was Polish, but became a nationalized British subject in 1886. In 1899, his masterpiece Heart of Darkness first appeared in print, serialized in a British magazine.
There’s a simple, almost unbelievable fact hidden in the above paragraph. Conrad was Polish, did not learn English until he Read more
A while back, fan Keith Johnson asked a deceptively simple question: “How has your writing changed from your first book to the last one?”
As I’ve explained elsewhere, my first published novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, was an idea I’d nursed from 1980 to its publication in 2007. My second novel, Blood Groove, as well as my most recent, Wisp of Read more
My friend (and fan) Richard Garrison asked me, "Kevin Smith of Clerks fame has stopped making movies, claiming the 'tank was empty.' A lot of writers continue a series well past it's arc in some cases to meet reader demands, in some cases to pay the bills. When you start a series, do you see the end of the Read more
There might be cooler things in the world than a band you really like, writing brand-new songs based on your novels. But at the moment, I can't imagine what. Here's Tuatha Dea premiering their original song, "The Hum and the Read more
Although music forms a huge part of many of my novels, I don't, as a rule, like traditional musicals. People bursting into song, unless it's played for laughs (as in Cannibal: the Musical, an early film by South Park's creators), overwhelms my suspension of disbelief. Even something as monumentally clever as Little Shop of Horrors stops dead (and never Read more
Three new stories featuring Tanna Tully, a.k.a. Lady Firefly, have arrived just in time for the quintessential witches’ holiday, Halloween (or Samhain, if you want to be technical about it). Here’s a bit about The Book of Cunning Women.
In “The Mischief Shades,” she investigates a seemingly light-hearted haunting borne of a ghastly tragedy that hits surprisingly close to home; in “Tourist Trap,” a friend’s suicide attempt exposes something long buried in a local park; and in “The Book of Cunning Women,” an artifact that could change history has to be pried from the selfish grasp of a popular novelist in the heart of Southern Gothic country, New Orleans.
This collection is available on Kindle, and will soon be on Nook, Kobe and all the other usual platforms.
And if you like it, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice.
The Hurricane Sandy benefit anthology Triumph Over Tragedy is now available. It includes 41 stories for $6.99 (one of which, “Wrap,” is by me), so it’s basically only 18 cents a story. And all the proceeds go to the Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief.
It’s available for the Kindle here, and the Nook here.
How does one become an honorary Tufa, you may wonder?
The criteria is really pretty simple. You must have a song that you’ve written quoted (with your permission, of course) in a Tufa story.
So far, there are three honorary Tufas.
The first was Jennifer Goree. You can find out more about Jennifer and her connection to the Tufa here, but it’s safe to say she made a massive contribution, and she’s also been a staunch supporter. You can check out her music here.
Jennifer Goree, who composed the song “The Hum and the Shiver.”
Second, in order of appearance, is Andrew Brasfield. When I was thinking about a Tufa-themed story for my holiday collection, Time of the Season, I knew I needed a song that would be central to the plot: something that both captured the atmosphere, as well as becoming a literal presence in the story. I thought about using a traditional hymn, especially since the story features the young minister Craig Chess, but nothing really worked. So I reached out to Dale Short, Alabama author (you really should read his story collection Turbo’s Very Life) and host of Music from Home, and asked if he could recommend a song by a roots/folk/country indie artist that might work.
He recommended Andrew Brasfield, and pointed me toward his song, “Cold Wind.” It not only had the requisite atmosphere, but like The Hum and the Shiver before it, it provided the title. You can read an interview with Andrew and learn about the song and the story here.
And finally, we have Mississippi-born singer-songwriter Kate Campbell, whose song “Wrought Iron Fences” is crucial to the story of the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing. I first encountered Kate’s music way back in the early 2000s, when I was first researching what would eventually become the Tufa. I’d begun scouring the internet for examples of current roots/folk music, and came upon Kate’s website, where I won a CD. It was her first one, Lanterns on the Levee, and it’s as good a statement of purpose as any artist can make with a first album. Even the first track, “Mississippi and Me,” stakes out the territory she would explore in her subsequent work. But it was on her second CD, Moonpie Dreams, that I found two of my favorite songs of hers, “When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas” and, of course, “Wrought Iron Fences.”
Kate Campbell, who composed “Wrought Iron Fences”
Another artist prominently mentioned in Wisp of a Thing is Matraca Berg, one of the greatest contemporary songwriters in country music. Just check out the list of hits she’s written for other people. Unfortunately, she’s also a major-label recording artist, and therein lies one of the great rubs of contemporary music: many of the most famous songwriters, because they are contracted to major labels and music publishers, lack the legal standing to authorize the use of their own songs. You have to go through these other organizations, who do not grant permission lightly or cheaply. So unfortunately, Ms. Berg will remain a mentioned but not quoted presence.
The great Matraca Berg, songwriter extraordinaire
So that’s the list, so far. Hopefully you’ll check out the music by these great people, who are out there trying to do something meaningful and substantial in a world where popular music seems to consist of auto-tuned clones and divas. Because if you don’t support the cool stuff, you won’t have it for very long.
When I began planning Time of the Season, my holiday-themed e-book chapbook, I already had two of the stories. Both the title story and “A Ghost, and a Chance” had been around for a while. But I wanted to write something new, and I’d gotten such a good response from my novel, The Hum and the Shiver, that I decided to write a holiday story set in the that world. The Tufa stories all revolve around music, so I needed a song to form the center of this new one. So I asked around: did anyone know of an original winter or holiday song, one by an indie artist who could grant permission for me to use the lyrics in a story?
The first time I heard it, I knew it was the right song.
I contacted Andrew Brasfield, and happily, he agreed to let me quote from the lyrics in the story. This is a trickier proposition than it sounds, because a lot of musicians, particularly the ones played on mainstream radio, don’t actually own the rights to their own songs. Music publishers, record labels and other for-profit intermediaries have to also grant permission, and usually require payment to do so. Happily, there’s a whole world of great music being done by people like Andrew (and Jennifer Goree, and Laura Powers, and Jen Cass, and Kate Campbell) who not only own all their own rights, they’re delighted to have them included in a story or used in a book trailer.
Andrew also recorded a new version of the song at AudioCzar Productions, and played all the instruments himself (except for percussion). That version is available as a free download when you buy Time of the Season.
Andrew was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the song.
1) What inspired “Cold Wind”?
I used to work in television and was sent out west to Lander, Wyoming for a documentary shoot a few times over the course of 2010. On one of the final trips we set out early in the morning to catch some college students who were waking up for the last of their 21 day trip in the Wind River Range. It was really early in the morning and beautiful and I had some time to think while we were hiking. The wind was very cold and cut through me and I thought, the cold wind is an interesting image. So I came up with the first line then thought of other natural elements. Fire and water were classic images so and made verses to go with all of them. Somehow I remembered those lyrics and committed them to a small Holiday Inn Express notepad as soon as I got back to my room late that evening.
Side note: The cover photo for the song is actually a public domain photo of the Wind River Range that I manipulated a bit.
2) Your cousin Dale Short first told me about “Cold Wind,” and directed me toward the video. I had that same thing happen with the characters in the story: they learned the song from that same video. What’s the story behind the video?
There is no real story to be honest. I knew I wanted folks to hear some of my songs and while they can get a glimpse from the three songs I wrote on the first Motel Ice Machine CD, those aren’t the only songs I have in me and some of those are arranged differently from the way I usually do them. Also, I don’t have the cash to get into a studio whenever I write a new song so YouTube seemed like a more accessible medium. I’ll be certainly be adding more videos soon.
Dale still hasn’t given me all the details on how we are kin, but he is a good guy nonetheless and I appreciate what he does for local musicians through his radio show.
3) What did you think of the story that incorporates your song?
I really dug the way you wove it all together. I actually got chills when I read my lyrics in the story. I’m a big Tufa fan and having the Hyatt’s play my song in their living room is sort of surreal. I read The Hum and the Shiver shortly after it came out and was hooked. I’m (im)patiently waiting for Wisp of a Thing.
Andrew Brasfield is from a small town in Alabama where he lives with his wife and two daughters. His main axe is harmonica, which he wields in a few different bands including Motel Ice Machine and The Lefty Collins Band. He also plays a bit of guitar, bass and ukulele. He knows a handful of mandolin chords and has a few piano tricks. You can find out more about him here.
Elizabeth Montgomery in an early episode of “Bewitched.”
Witchcraft has an iffy history in film and television. When I first started doing my Firefly Witch stories, one thing I reacted against was the standard image of the pop-culture witch. Leaving aside the blatant “wicked witch” portrayals, it’s still hard to find anything remotely accurate, let alone sympathetic. It’s not impossible, though.
One of the earliest films about witchcraft, which unfortunately took the devil-worship position, is the unique Swedish/Danish film Haxan. Retitled Witchcraft Through the Agesin English, this one-of-a-kind 1922 silent film depicts witchcraft the way history describes it, then explains how witches were tortured by the Inquisition. It’s impossible not to be horrified by the treatment of the unfortunate women, and to feel sympathy for them. It’s not really a narrative film, yet it’s not a documentary, either. An indication of its strangeness is that the best-known version in English was narrated by William S. Burroughs.
In 1942, Veronica Lake played the witch Jennifer in the romantic comedy I Married a Witch. In the 1958 movie Bell, Book and Candle, Kim Novack plays Gillian, desperately in love with James Stewart. On TV in the 60s, Samantha Stevens (Elizabeth Montgomery) dominated Bewitched(okay, Agnes Moorehead dominated it, but still…). All these characters, though, labored under the kind of strictures common at the time: Gillian and Jennifer lost their magical powers when they fell in love, and Samantha had promised not to use hers to help her husband’s career.* At the time, witches had to be de-powered to allow the “natural order” to assert itself.
Kim Novak in “Bell, Book and Candle”
These comedies also embraced the common trope that one is “born” a witch; that somehow, the special powers are inherited rather than learned or earned. It’s even possible to read it as saying witches are not actually human, but a different species. But the idea of “innate powers” is a thread that runs through most witchcraft movies, with a couple of notable exception.
In the 70s, one of the most accurate depictions of genuine witchcraft appeared in the seldom-seen George Romero film, “Jack’s Wife (1972). Also released under the more exploitative titles Season of the Witch and Hungry Wives, it’s about a woman who’s drawn into witchcraft as a remedy for the ennui of her suburban life. It’s a blatantly feminist film, and treats the main character’s involvement with magic as empowering. It’s also very much of its time, which means it gets a little arty-for-art’s sake at times.
Jan White in “Jack’s Wife,” enmeshed in the symbolism.
The other notable exception, the character of Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, brought the idea that witchcraft was a learned skill into the popular imagination. Unfortunately, it’s also depicted as something addictive, and an entire story arc was devoted to its detrimental effects on Willow.
The rise of feminism and the idea that women were, I don’t know, actual people capable of doing something other than supporting men changed depictions of witchcraft. The Witches of Eastwick (1987), a pretty dire film from a critical standpoint, did at least show that women supporting each other could defeat even the Devil Himself. The Craft(1997) starts with the idea that outcasts working together can be strong, but then degenerates into standard horror.
My favorite positive depiction of witchcraft is 1998′s Practical Magic. Based (extremely loosely) on Alice Hoffman’s novel, it shows two sets of sisters, younger (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) and older (Dianne Weist and Stockard Channing), using their powers to protect their family. I confess that I have a total crush on Sandra Bullock’s character (not, I hasten to add, on Ms. Bullock herself).
Sandra Bullock in “Practical Magic.”
Together, these movies and TV shows present a very distorted view of witchcraft filtered through society’s concerns. That’s fine as far as it goes–witchcraft can be used as a metaphor, just as anything else can be–but to me, it never captured the true (okay, wait for it…) magic of Wicca/Paganism/the Craft. It was never shown as joyous, rarely as empowering, and certainly never as the religion it truly is. When I began writing my Firefly Witch stories, I wanted to put as much of that back as I could and still tell interesting, dramatic horror/fantasy stories.
If you’d like to check them out and decide for yourself how well I did it, go here. And if I’ve missed an important example, please tell me in the comments.
*I reference this show in my short story “The Darren Stevens Club,” in the first Firefly Witch collection.
Sure, some people think about witches all year round. But in October, the folks who don’t the rest of the year suddenly do. They see pointy hats, pointy noses, pointy chins everywhere. Cauldrons and black cats and flying broomsticks abound.
Standard-issue, Church-sanctioned witches. From an Australian production of “Macbeth.”
Except, those aren’t really witches.
Those are bits of folklore, handed down from a time when anyone who disagreed with the status quo (i.e., the Catholic Church’s view of the world) was labeled evil. That applied especially to women who disagreed with their roles in society. Whether they’re burned at the stake or shot in the head (like the brave Pakistani girl in the news), women have suffered at the hands of repressive religion and rigid society for (if you’ll forgive the pun) a hell of a long time.
Real witches doing what they do.
Witches are individualists: there’s no central text, like the Bible or the Koran, that lays out the religion for its believers. Each witch decides what he or she* believes, and how best to express that belief. There are common denominators, of course: a belief in a god and goddess, a reverence for nature, a sense of personal responsibility and an open attitude toward sexuality. You can imagine how even these simple things send fundamentalists into apoplexy. And it’s these beliefs that, to me, make a modern witch such an interesting and courageous character, and why I write my Firefly Witch stories.
Most importantly, from a common-perception perspective, witches do not worship the Christian devil. Since both God and the Devil are Christian beliefs, you have to be a Christian first to do that. When Christians say that witches worship the devil, it’s a bit like calling a football penalty in a baseball game: it’s applying a standard that just doesn’t work in context.
So when you see a witch depicted with a pointy hat, a wart on her nose, a black cat underfoot and a bubbling cauldron before her, keep in mind: this is propaganda. It’s no different than any group demonized by the majority. A real witch can be found planting a garden, reading a book, supporting women’s rights or buying groceries. You might know a witch already, and not be aware of it. Because that’s the most powerful thing about them, and the one thing the fundamentalists drive themselves into a frenzy trying to obscure: witches are just like everyone else.
Want to know more about real witches? Try here. And here. And here.
Shameless self-promotion: want to read fiction about a real witch? Try here.
*The term is gender neutral. Warlock is not a male witch, it’s something else entirely.
Available on Kindle as of right now, the third collection of Firefly Witch tales, Back Atcha.
In these three new short stories, the darkest adventures yet for the Firefly Witch, Tanna and Ry encounter their most vicious, diabolical and dangerous foes. One is a redneck who intends to sell his girlfriend to the devil, another is a serial killer with unexpected psychic powers, and the third is the hatred that leads people to barbarous acts of murder. Tanna must rely on her wits as well as her Wiccan beliefs, and Ry has to be stronger and smarter than he’s ever been, if they are to survive.
The new Firefly Witch e-book chapbook collection, Croaked: More Tales of the Firefly Witch, is now available for only $2.99.
Also, from now through Monday, July 2, 2012, the first Firefly Witch collection is available for FREE on Amazon. So if you’re curious about this new character and her world, there’s no better way or time to check it out.