The Redbud Tree

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I thought my redbud tree was diseased. Little black nubs grew in clusters, fungus-like, over the trunk and branches. I curled my lip in disgust. Still, I felt a tinge of sadness. It’s a lovely tree, and a red birdhouse sits snug in a crook between two branches. It would be a shame to lose it.

I ran my hands over the bark, easing them toward a little growth that was unlike the others. I leaned in to look. These black nubs were tipped with purple, where the dark skins had pulled away. I smiled and patted the unsightly trunk. This tree wasn’t dying. It was on the verge of flowering. In a matter of days it would be dusted with fragile purple flowers, shedding the deceptive skin that had so repulsed me, the skin that was merely the husk of something deeply beautiful.

My world, both without and within, has looked like that lately. To an outsider, a casual Facebook observer or website visitor, it must seem that I’ve done very little, that my work or my passion has dried up. My professional garments are wrinkled and stale. But behind the scenes, worlds are being mapped, covers designed, manuscripts edited, ISBN’s assigned. There is a flurry of activity in preparation for the birth of a new book.

The landscape of my soul is much the same. I’ve grown dry and scaly. This old skin has shrunk too small, and it chafes. My color is faded, lost beneath a robe of milky scales that pulls away oh, so slowly. It will take friction to loose me, and the initial tear may be painful, morbid, repulsive even. But when I emerge, when another layer of immaturity or impatience or self is sloughed off, I will be brighter. I know my unloveliness. I know my lack. But Jesus is formulating rich new color behind the scenes.

My fingers press lightly against the dry, feathery moss that carpets the ground beneath the redbud. It gives. There’s a gap between the moss and the thick-packed earth. There is air, and there are thin, distilled rays of light. There is life. Worms wriggle, and beetles scurry along unseen paths through the dim dark.

To the casual observer, it doesn’t look like much. But it is. And overhead, a humble redbud tree shames the skeptic, the insensate, flaunting its purple veil and leaning in to the wind.

 

May 3, 2014 Comments Read More

The Music of Shiloh (listen here…)

More than one of my readers has asked me about setting some of the songs from Shiloh and Seeker to music. While I would desperately love to have some Celtic instruments accompanying these tunes, all I have at the moment are acapella vocals. Here are “Come, Little Nightingale,” “Mariah’s Lament,” and “Song of the Bleeding Flower.”

 

“Come, Little Nightingale”

 

“Mariah’s Lament”

 

“Song of the Bleeding Flower”

 

 

April 3, 2014 Comments Read More

Evander’s World (a sneak peek at the landscape of Seeker)

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April 3, 2014 Comments Read More

Fear Grows Large

I haven’t worked out in five years. Five years. Not since I was pregnant with my first child. Off and on, during that time, I thought about getting back into the swing, but it never happened. I had good reasons: sleepless nights and crying babies and diapers and teething and exhaustion and just wanting to collapse into a chair and not think about making an effort to sweat. Lack of exercise isn’t the worst thing. I’m still alive and kicking. The real problem with putting off something important for so long is that it starts to look like a monstrous impossibility.

If fear has any substance at all, then its diet must be chiefly one of time. It begins as a wriggling worm, a parasite, hardly capable of impeding our progress or even attracting our attention. But it gorges on minutes and hours, on days and weeks. Months and years are its greatest and most exquisite feasts, and the longer we allow it to feed, the larger it looms in our vision. It will destroy our health. It will ravage our peace of mind. It will blot out our dreams. If we let it…

It’s the same with writing. There’s a reason the most difficult part of writing is sitting down and starting. The longer I put off that first sentence, the more terrifying the idea becomes. Fear makes me feel as if those words will never come, as if I might actually die in the process of putting them on paper. How ridiculous.

Once you sit down and begin, no matter how poor your beginning, you discover that it really isn’t so bad. The process doesn’t kill you, and your day continues as it would have done. The only difference is that you’ve begun. You’ve taken the first, worst, best step toward achieving your goal. Funny thing about getting started: once you do, you start to get finished.

I’ve been jumping around and working up a sweat for a few weeks now. It’s not that bad. A short morning workout isn’t the central focus of my day, and I’m not in excruciating pain, and I’m feeling kind of good…kind of strong. And if I keep exercising my muscles (my writerly muscles, too), I won’t give fear the time to loom larger and larger. My goals will seem to be what they are: attainable…with just a bit of effort and consistency. Before I know it, I’ll be healthier. I’ll have written more. I’ll start to get finished.

April 3, 2014 Comments Read More

Seeker – Excerpt #2

Action scenes make me nervous, but I’m taking a risk and sharing one from chapter 9 of Seeker. Sorry to leave you with a cliffhanger. :)

 

Evander looked around him. To his right was the Fayrewood. He could just make out the first line of trees, splashing color over the gray landscape. Soon, the pink blossoms would give way to tight buds and then to clear green leaves. Evander wanted to see them when they opened. He could just hear the roar of the wind in the treetops over the din of the villagers and visitors crowded behind him. They called and shouted and speculated, their torches and lanterns a chaos of shifting light. Ahead of him was a dim, broad plain. Beyond, out of sight, stretching impossibly high, until their peaks were lost in Shadow, were the mountains. And somewhere, far ahead and to his left, the falls spilled over a lofty crag in ceaseless thunder.

Rogue stamped beneath him, sensing his anxiety. Frost was nearby, looking as skittish as her competitor. Knox did nothing to calm her. He was not drunk, but neither was he sober. Evander wished he would take this challenge seriously, win it cleanly, and have done with it. It was a vain hope. Knowing Knox, he’d concoct some other reckless plan before the close of Market Day. It made Evander wonder, yet again, if he’d lavished his unflinching loyalty on all the wrong people.

“Would ya like ta make a wager, my friend?” Knox asked.

“No,” Evander replied.

“You’re seated beside a champion, Evander. Why not at least earn some reward fer engaging in this hopeless contest?” Knox raised his brows, spreading his hands magnanimously.

Evander offered him a level gaze. “Alright then, Knox. I forfeit. I surrender. Let us be done with this.”

Knox grinned and motioned for the Magistrate. Nolan positioned himself in front of Rogue and Frost, facing back toward the crowd.

“Torches ready?” he asked. Knox and Evander nodded. They were accustomed to carrying torches, in turns, when they hunted. It took no small strength to carry a torch aloft for an hour or two at a time. But these men were fierce, and hardened by many years’ journeys, and both were expert at riding with one hand.

“Horses ready?” Nolan asked. Frost gave an impatient whinny, and tense laughter rippled through the crowd. The men nodded.

Nolan took a step back, raised a lantern in front of him, and spoke softly. “Knox?” he asked, searching Knox’s face. Knox gave him a defiant grin. “Evander?” He held Evander’s eyes for just a little longer. Evander nodded.

The crowd was silent, every breath held. The torches flickered, and far off, the falls thundered. Nolan opened the glass door at the back of his lantern and blew a little puff of air. The flame was gone. And the horses were off, their riders spurring them on at a maddening pace.

Evander could hear the shouts and cheers behind him, but the pounding of the horses’ hooves quickly drowned out all other sound but the roar of the falls. He knew that the crowd was following the progress of the torches. It was the only way to gauge the race in such scant light. Even then, the torchlight would be swallowed by mist and darkness before ever the riders reached the falls.

The falls and back, Evander thought. The falls and back. He pushed everything else from his mind and concentrated on his goal. He ignored Knox’s wild laughter, ignored the protest of the torch fires as they struggled against the wind, ignored the panting of his beautiful black horse. His face was set, the muscles in his legs gripping his seat, one hand clutching the torch and the other holding the reins.

Frost pulled ahead, but Rogue dogged her heels. The Fell horses were finding their rhythm, eating up the land between the village and the Pallid Peaks.

A gust of icy wind came careening out of the mountains, and Knox’s torch was snuffed out. Evander rose in his saddle, eyes strained on the figure that pushed ahead into the thickening dark without the slightest hesitation.

“Come on, Rogue,” he said. “We can’t lose ‘im.”

He urged the animal forward, into the roar of the approaching waterfall, into the mist that obscured the ground around it. He came to the edge of the falls. He could hardly think for the rushing din of the water. He stopped, turned Rogue back toward the village, and searched the mist for some sign of Knox. Evander lifted one foot from its stirrup, preparing to dismount. Then, a shadowy form shot past him, laughing, the mist swirling in his wake. Evander growled and set off after Knox. There was no torch to follow, and the lights of the village were not visible from this distance. As near as he could judge, he pointed Rogue south and east, and leaned in to the pursuit.

After a moment, he thought he could just see the vague outline of Knox and Frost. “Let’s go, Rogue!” The falls and back. The falls and back.

A gust of wind, not icy but torrid, extinguished Evander’s torch. He was riding blind. He could not make out the lights of Holt, could see no sign of his friend. The world around him was gray. And blue.

The air stilled to the slow pulse of great wing beats. Screams broke over the roar of the falls, and Evander’s blood went cold. Two Dragons belched blue fire in waves that lit the open plain. Evander saw Knox, perhaps thirty paces ahead. The village was within sight now, its many-colored lights suddenly bathed in the blue of Dragon fire.

Evander spurred Rogue onward, clenching the sides of the horse with his knees, holding tightly to the darkened torch. The air above was hot and foul, and he could think of nothing but his goal. The falls and back. One Dragon swooped down on the assembled crowd. Its immense wings, as ragged and black as if they’d been torn from the Shadow itself, blotted out the lights of the village. Evander could hear distantly, faintly, the cries of his people.

But the other Dragon seemed set on pursuing him alone. The beast swept in on his left, rose, descended on his right. It was toying with him, scorching the grass on either side of his path. Rogue screamed in terror, his eyes wild. Evander was consumed with pity for the horse he could not save, the people he could not reach. A fire was kindled in him. His face shone with it. He leaned against Rogue’s neck and shouted in his ear, “Straight on, Rogue!”

The Dragon pulled back. Its wings beat the air, preparing for a dive. Evander wrapped the reins around the palm of his left hand. He pressed his right hand, still gripping the torch, against the horn of the saddle. He lifted one foot, then the other, onto Rogue’s back. His feet pivoted, turning him around, and he fell into the saddle with his left arm behind him and the reins held at his back.

Overhead, blue eyes marked him.

“NO MORE GAMES, WORM!” he roared. “COME AND GET ME!”

A sound like the shattering of a mountain of glass broke from the Dragon’s throat. Wave upon wave of blue flame billowed down. Evander thrust his torch into the fire until it caught. He dropped the reins, snatched a dagger from his belt, and hurled it into the Dragon’s mouth. The blue fire sputtered and faltered, and the beast retreated.

Now the cries of the villagers rang in his ears. Women and children, young and old fled from the fury of the remaining Dragon. They rushed to their cottages. They cringed in narrow lanes, cowering beneath the eaves. They ducked into the cave in the hillside. Anything to stay out of sight.

But the men among them came out to fight. Evander breathed his relief as he rode up the hill and found Knox, Hallam, Chase, Lachlan, Lorne, and Alistair moving their horses into formation. Two other bands of hunters did the same, and all eyes were trained on him. He carried with him their only hope, for Dragon fire alone could conquer the Dragons.

He rode to the center of each band of hunters, lighting the torches in the hands of the men at the hub of each Wheel. He guided Rogue around the rubble and wreckage of the tables as the hunters lit their arrows with blue fire, then took his place in the center of his own band.

From the southern end of Holt came the sounds of stones crunching against one another, of slate tiles shattering, of screaming and bleating.

“GROSVENOR!” Evander shouted. And all the hunters echoed his cry.

 

January 28, 2014 Comments Read More

Seeker – Excerpt #1

I’ll be posting a couple of excerpts from the new book, just to give you an idea what Seeker is like.  Remember that it’s a prequel, not a sequel, so we’re moving back in time to hear the full story of Evander and the Lost Clan.  I’m excited about this, y’all.  Here’s the prologue from Seeker:

 

Prologue

          Their voices echo still, in the winds that whip down from the mountains, in the rush of the stream that winds its way around the forgotten village and plunges into the pool where lazy currents of black water drift below ice-crusted banks. But all else is silent. Charred stones and decaying boards, like discarded bones, peek through a blanket of snow. The lanes that wind between the shells of collapsed cottages are empty apart from the snow that collects in ever-rising drifts. The furnace in the hillside, once bright with fires and the varied colors of cooling glass panes, is cold and black.

To the east is a strange, broken forest. The blackened stumps of ancient trees squat on the ground, shouldering their heavy snow burdens. Hundreds of years of fallen leaves and flowers rot beneath the snow, in layer upon layer of death. No man who sees this desolation could envision the gentle rain of pink petals in the heart of the Fayrewood in spring, or the clear green of the fan-shaped leaves in summer, or their transformation to vivid gold in autumn. All of that is lost.

When the snows thaw, little clusters of bleeding flowers will spring up again on the hillside. Nectar will gather on the tip of each folded, velvet petal and fall to the ground, sinking like blood into the soil. The flowers could tell the tale. They remember the colored wood and the bright lanterns, the loveliness that blossomed, for a time, beneath the Shadow. The remnant that retreated to the village of Fleete could tell it, too, though their version could hardly be trusted. The others are gone, lost. Women of great beauty and courage and children who hardly knew how much they had to fear vanished in the tangled gloom of the Whispering Wood. Fierce warriors, men of skill and daring and cunning, faded into the darkness of the Black Mountains, never to return.

This is the story of the Sun Clan, the Lost Clan, and all that was lost with them.

January 27, 2014 Comments Read More

End of Year Book and Writing Insanity Linkup

http://www.notebooksisters.com/

The Notebook Sisters is doing a blog linkup as part of their end-of-year celebration and giveaway.  I’ve answered a few of the questions on their list for writers.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!

1. How many books did you write this year? (Estimate your overall wordcount for us too!)

This year I published my first novel, Shiloh, and I completed two drafts (hopefully three within a month or so) of the prequel, Seeker.  (about 80,000 words)

2. Which was your favourite to write?

Seeker has been easier to write.  I’ve doubted myself just a little less.

3. Tell us about you favourite Male Character you wrote this year!

Errol is my favorite.  He’s an old craftsman who makes glassHe’s covered in scars and missing a finger, but I love him.

4. And how about your favourite Female Character?

Mina!!!  Without a doubt, she’s my favorite character of any I’ve written.  She sees beauty where others fail to find it, and she’s fearless.
5. Can you introduce us to some awesome sidekick(s)?

Simeon is the “sidekick” character in Shiloh, but he ends up more like the hero of the story.  He’s a boy who comes into his own, who exceeds everyone’s low expectations and grows into an admirable and courageous man.  I’m awfully fond of him.
6. Any romances in your writing?

I’m really uncomfortable writing romance.  I always imagine Fred Savage giving a suspicious glance to his movie grandfather and asking, “Is this a kissing book?”  I don’t know how to write kissing books, but there is a little romance in both Shiloh and Seeker.  
8. What’s your favourite Pinterest Board for one of your books? Can we see some pics for the book they inspire?

My “World of Shiloh” board is pretty neat…  http://www.pinterest.com/helenamsorensen/the-world-of-shiloh/
11. Epic quote(s) you wrote?

Here’s a bit of the prologue from Seeker: “

“When the snows thaw, little clusters of Bleeding Flowers will spring up again on the hillside. Nectar will gather on the tip of each folded, velvet petal and fall to the ground, sinking like blood into the soil. The flowers could tell the tale. The remnant that retreated to the village of Fleete could tell it, too, though their version could hardly be trusted. The others are gone, lost. Women of great beauty and courage and children who hardly knew how much they had to fear vanished in the tangled gloom of the Whispering Wood. Fierce warriors, men of skill and daring and cunning, faded into the darkness of the Black Mountains, never to return.

          This is the story of the Sun Clan, the Lost Clan, and all that was lost with them.”

12. Last word from your manuscript(s)! Go!  “day” and “wait”

13. First sentences from your manuscript(s)!  From Shiloh: “In the beginning, there was Ram.”

17. What has writing taught you about yourself this year? This year, I’ve learned that I can deal with disappointment and criticism and indifference and failure. And I can keep going.  :)

18. Best piece of writing advice you learnt this year? Write your first draft at breakneck speed. 

19. Anything big on the horizons for next year? Plans to query? Publish? Edit? Seeker will be published in the spring, and I’ll start work on the final book in the series. 

December 4, 2013 Comments Read More

Bleeding Flowers and Blinking Trees

They caught my attention as soon as I walked through the door.  I was trying to negotiate the cart around the fruit displays, trying to keep the kids from eating food off the shelves. My grocery list was shouting at me. Not one item had been crossed off.

But I couldn’t tear my eyes from the black calla lilies.  They looked like little scrolls, poised on the ends of their stems, full of stories waiting to be read and unraveled.

I did my shopping. It was time to check out and go home, but my cart drifted back over to the flowers. I asked a salesperson about them, arguing with myself about the unnecessary expense. But in the end, I could not resist. I bought the black flowers and brought them home and set them in the kitchen window and watched them.

I didn’t know, couldn’t possibly have guessed, the secret they held. As the days passed, little drops of nectar gathered on the tips of each of the flowers. I crouched down, studying them at eye-level. I looked out the window through the warped nectar lenses. It was captivating.

I tried to avoid bumping the flowers. I moved pots and glasses and rags carefully around them, so as not to disturb the nectar drops. To my astonishment and delight, as the days passed, the clear drops darkened to rosy pink, then deepened to red. When at last the nectar fell, it splashed on the counter and left a stain as dark as blood.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that these black flowers dropping nectar are a major element in my next book, Seeker.  I call them bleeding flowers, and the idea would never have entered my thoughts if it hadn’t been for a visit to the grocery store on an unremarkable spring day.

Inspiration has very little to do with strikes of lightning or brilliant insight. Inspiration is really nothing more than awareness…of everything. 

There’s a yellow poplar outside the very same kitchen window, and in the trunk of that tree is a distinct mark. It’s an eye. When I wash dishes and look out at the poplar, I see it staring back at me. This takes no great leap of creative genius. It requires nothing at all, except the awareness that the tree is there, watching. Oh, the possibilities.

 

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I heard someone say recently that she experienced a major turning point in her life when she realized that our world, this world, is every bit as magical as Middle Earth.

Crickets sing in harmony, in a rapid and haunting chorus. Leaves shed their green uniforms and parade their brilliant reds and golds beneath crisp blue skies. Impossibly deep, unexplored trenches line the ocean floor, hiding who-knows-what wonders and terrors. Flowers bleed.  Trees stare.  It’s all right here, waiting to be seen, waiting to delight, waiting to inspire.

 

If you need a bit of help, here are some links…

Snowflakes:  http://www.boredpanda.com/snowflake-macro-photography-diy-alexey-kljatov/

Cricket Chorus:  http://holykaw.alltop.com/listen-to-the-lovely-orchestra-of-crickets-singing-at-human-speed-audio

Tree Tunnels:  http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-incredibly-beautiful-tree-tunnels.php

November 24, 2013 Comments Read More

Phebe’s Lantern: A Supremely Awkward Video for my Readers

I just had to do a quick post so that this little video would be available on the website.  My grandfather took his vision of Phebe’s lantern and brought it to life!  You can see his creation at the link below…

 

October 1, 2013 Comments Read More

Beowulf and Mrs. Robinson (Guest Post for Reading the Alphabet)

My first draft of Shiloh was bare bones. When close family members read it and I nervously asked for feedback, they told me they liked the story…they just wanted “more.” That one little word felt so large, so overpowering. I had a story; I had characters. What I did not have was a rich fantasy world for them to inhabit.

 

I thought about Tolkien’s world, about the unbelievably detailed history and the multitudinous side stories he wrote. He spent his life creating Middle Earth, even going so far as to invent a new language for its people. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle is beautiful, too. I thought about the map of Earthsea, with its innumerable islands. I thought of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, of the scope of the world she created, the number of characters and spells and plot twists.

 

Frankly, after my first draft, I felt hopeless. I knew that I could never do what Tolkien or LeGuin or Rowling did. But then, a thought struck me. You can learn a great deal about a culture or an era of time just by looking at one representative thing. I know next-to-nothing about Swedish history, much less 6th century Swedish history. But I’ve read Beowulf, and so I’ve gotten a taste of an ancient warrior society.  I have an idea of what those men wore, how they fought, what they feared and valued, what they considered honorable and dishonorable, all from one epic poem.

 

And, on a vastly different note, what about Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “Mrs. Robinson”? I wasn’t born in the 60’s, and, honestly, I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time immersing myself in the historical, cultural, religious, political, and economic movements of that decade. But one pop song, written for a movie no less, gives me a good idea of what the people of that era valued. I can sense the anger, the frustration with hypocrisy both in the church and in the government. I can feel the disillusionment of a generation that has lost its heroes. Of course, the song is just a fragment. Like Beowulf, it’s not a detailed journal of every man’s daily experience in that time and place, but it’s something.  It helps me connect to a world that is not my own.

 

I was so relieved when I realized that I could enrich the culture of Shiloh simply by writing songs and poems. I’d music and poetry before, so I felt some level of comfort with the idea. I slipped out from under the burden of creating detailed maps and writing new languages, and I decided that it was possible to understand a group of people, just a little, by learning what they sang about, what they repeated to their children generation after generation.

 

“The Tale of Grosvenor” took me some time, but I was determined to have an epic hero for the people of Shiloh. It made sense to me that he would be a hunter, and I wanted him to fight valiantly against the forces of the Shadow. The Tale is repeated every year before the Great Hunt as a kind of reminder: that men have suffered, that men have been hunted, and that men have prevailed. I could think of nothing more rousing to offer the men of Shiloh as they went to risk their lives in the Whispering Wood.

 

“Come, Little Nightingale” was one of the first songs I wrote. It’s a song about hope, a song that many people of that dark world would never sing. But Phebe sings it. It’s like a lifeline for her. And I like the connection between Phebe and the nightingale.

 

“Mariah’s Lament” was heartbreaking to write. I have children, and the thought of them being taken from me is nearly unbearable. But I think Shiloh needed that song, as a reminder of how much had been lost and how much was at stake.

 

“Far, Far Away” was the only song present in the first draft. I love the sing-songy rhythm of it, and there is something wonderful and terrible about how children face evil. They can talk of dark things without fully comprehending them, and, thus, they are somewhat immune to them. At the same time, their innocence makes them even more vulnerable. It’s a strange dichotomy. How can children speak lightly of the things that threaten them at every moment? But I digress…

 

In the end, I feel that the use of song enriched the world of Shiloh immeasurably. Without giving lengthy histories or spending too much time away from the narrative, I (hopefully) was able to give the reader a sense of an entirely new world, a world where there is much to fear and much to hope, a world of monsters and heroes, a world with a history and a future.

 

 

“Far, far away

In the crystal teardrops,

Hangin’ from the branches o’ the Silent Trees

Gone, gone away

Ta the Hall o’ Shadows

Peerin’ through the mist with eyes that cannot see

 

Shine, shine away

Keep the lights a’burnin’

Never let the embers o’ the flame go out

Run, run away

Fer the Shadow Weavers

Come ta take a trophy ta their Master’s house”

October 1, 2013 Comments Read More