Hens & Chicks

The following is a flash fiction written during a meeting of my writer’s group in September 2013:

Hens & Chicks

hens and chicks

“Think he’ll make anything himself?” asked Mother Hen.

“Undoubtedly, my son will be President of United States of America,” replied Papa Hen. “If we can elect a black man and a scarlet woman to the highest post in the land, there’s no reason our Ralphie can’t make it.”

While nosing her chicks toward Farmer Brown’s corn and barley grain, Mother Hen considered her husband’s statement. Indeed, after the recent election of Ms. Sarah Green-Peas (no relation to the Jolly Green Giant of frozen peas fame), there seemed no limits to what the American people might do. If Ms. Green-Peas, a belly dancer from New Hampshire, could capture the heart of the nation, then there was no reason her chick might not do the same.

“Mama?” Suzie Q stopped pecking and cocked her furry yellow head. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“A penny won’t get you far these days, sister,” chuckled Ralphie. “When I’m president , I’ll see to it that a penny buys each and every chicken in America a full bale of hay.”

While nosing her chicks to the pond behind Farmer Brown’s stately grey slate mansion, Mother Hen considered her son’s statement and wondered where he could have learned so much about political economics. Last she knew, neither Harvard nor Stanford accepted chickens for full matriculation although, interestingly, Notre Dame had just taken in a lamb.

“When’s dinner ready?” demanded Papa Hen. “I got an overpowering urge for scrambled eggs. I stopped by the duck pond next door on my way home from the office and wouldn’t you know it, I found four just laying there.”

Although she really didn’t approve, Mother Hen cooked the eggs to perfection. She was a good wife and mother.  But she had always wondered if there might be something wrong with a man who was prepared to eat another’s children? She hoped Ralphie wouldn’t grow up to be like his father but she supposed that he probably would.

After all, to be President of the United States of America, a chicken would have to do whatever it was that a chicken had to do.”

The Secret of Silene Tomentosa

The following 500 word short story was written as an exercise in my writer’s group:

The Secret of Silene Tomentosa

UnknownOn Tuesday, Gerald rose as usual.  After meditating, he ate a small bowl of muesli and packed a sketch pad, watercolours, and thermos of coffee (laced generously with Jack Daniels). Then he locked his cabin, joined the coastal trail, and walking stick in hand,  hiked the four and one-half miles from Herne Bay to the highest cliff at Reculver. If anyone had asked why he’d done this every morning for the past six months, he’d gladly have told them. But since no one – not even his wife – had shown the least interest in his labours, he’d kept the secret of Silene tomentosa to himself.

Spreading his blanket in front of the soft, pink clump, he enjoyed a long, hard pull of coffee. Despite being delayed along the way by a group of unruly adolescents – four boys and two girls about the same age as his grandchildren – he’d still managed to arrive at Silene tomentosa while the dew lay thick. This was the only time to properly observe his darling.

With a wash of Festival Fuchsia, he outlined the ten-fingered blossom in the sketchpad and recalled how the last sighting of Silene tomentosa had been made in 1994 by a hiker in Gibraltar. Since then, scientists had proclaimed it extinct. This was a vicious, pernicious lie, calculated to delay the modernisation of European horticulture by decades.

“Hey,” shouted the unruly adolescents from the trail. “Fancy meeting you again.”

Using a thick paste of Chinese White, Gerald framed the flower’s frothy beard. The correct development of modern horticulture depended not on scientists, but on artists like him. True that in pursuit of his art, Tennyson had plucked flowers from the ‘crannied wall – “roots and all’ – and vivisected the flower as would a scientist. But Gerald wasn’t Tennyson. Gerald was Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese poet who’d simply observed.

“Painting posies?” The unruly adolescents approached. “That how you’re saving the world grandpa?”

Unlike Basho, content to read the deepest mysteries of life in every petal, Tennyson and those meddlesome scientists were incapable of leaving anything alone.

“That’s a pretty flower,” cooed one of the girls.

It was through its sheer innocence that nature evokes mans’ fondest thoughts and admiration, creating vibrations akin to what Christians called divine love.

“What’s it called?” asked the girl.

Unlike Tennyson and those scientists who cared only for curiosity, Basho cared deeply for the destiny of all things.

“She asked what it’s called,” said one of the boys.

Gerald stood up, took another pull of coffee, and packed his things.

“Hard of hearing old man?” The boy yanked Silene tomentosa from the ground and stood dangling it by its sooty roots. “What’s this fucking thing called?”

Gerald walked to the coastal trail.

Following, the boy heaved Silene tomentosa  at Gerald – roots and all.

Gerald turned, struck the unruly adolescent with his walking stick, and after watching him tumble over the highest cliff at Reculver, carried on the coastal trail.

And all you wanted was a good ghost story…

imagesMy new novel will be ‘postmodern Gothic’.

Thus I must understand the nature of the beast.

Terror has been central to Gothic literature since it first emerged in the 18th century.  Although the goal of Gothic remains unchanged – to  give voice to societal fears and desires – the goal posts have shifted.

Instead of fearing loss of meaning as did our forefathers, post-moderns fear loss of connection with self and reality. Makes perfect sense in today’s world where entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense – and gratifying – than RL.

In the old days, terror was generated through encounters with various aspects of the supernatural with emphasis on the duality between good and evil. This was achieved through elements of the ‘sublime’  –  that quality in nature which inspires awe, reverence, and other high emotion (OED, noun. 1. b). Hence the emphasis on turbulent landscapes, sinister forests and darkening skies.

Postmodern gothic also centres on the sublime – but no longer is the emphasis on the representable characteristics of nature such as landscapes, forests and skies, but on that which we can conceive- but cannot represent.

Strange enough, herein lies the connection between the 18th century preoccupation with meaninglessness and the 21st century preoccupation with loss of connection with self and reality; regardless whether represented or not, the sublime bridges the boundaries between the visible and invisible.

We establish boundaries through cosmologies or systems of thought through which to order our world. The sublime requires a certain type of cosmology – a psychologically spatial orientation of that which is ‘me’ and that which is ‘other than me’. It is through the shift between the microcosm and macrocosm and back again that we enlarge our perspective and transcend the boundaries of our cosmology.

The unthinkable happens.

 Thought is paralysed.

 Through circumscribing the Idea by image, the Idea is negated.

We comprehend that which lies beyond the borders of our cosmology as ineffable – or perhaps even as God?

In The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto reminds us that fear, shock, and panic are all reactions attributed to experiencing traditional gods like that worshipped in Christianity – attributes like ‘goodness’ and ‘benevolence’ being idealist after-the-fact add-ons.

But according the psychologist James Hillman (An Essay on Pan), more primitive gods – like the great god Pan – seize us not in words but in immediate psychic shock. According to Hillman, in order to grasp Pan as nature we must first be grasped by nature.

So where does this leave us with the postmodern Gothic?

Full circle to 18th century concepts of Gothic and the sublime as an aspect of nature – but – according to my new heroine, Harriet, this time around the stakes are much higher.

Harriet's new home in SN_001

Will the Literary Agent that just asked for a partial decide to represent me?

I’m not as good at horary astrology as I might like to be, but every once and awhile, I do give it a try.

I’ve just finished my first astrological novel – The Curve of Capricorn (not quite like the Booker Prize winning The Luminaries, but just as good if I might say so myself).  In the process of sending out query letters to a few literary agents, I’ve just received a request for a partial.  For those familiar with the publishing industry, this is encouraging – but much could still go wrong.

So I asked the ‘stars’ if the agency who requested the partial would ultimately decide to represent me – and this is the chart I got:

astro_w2gw_112_will_nelson_decide_to_represent_me_hp.55075.25075

1)   Because I’m the querent, the planet ruling the Scorpio ascendant – MARS – represents me (note in horary – the traditional rulers are always used).

2)   Because the literary agents are ruled by the 9th house where Leo is on the cusp, the SUN represents them.

3)   Sadly MARS (in the 10th house of reputation and fame – YEAH) is making a  SEXTILE (good) aspect to the SUN that is separating rather than applying. This indicates that the desired representation deal will never PERFECT (i.e. it will not come to pass).

4)   BUT THEN – I recall the principle of TRANSLATION OF LIGHT (the astrological bucket brigade) whereby if – MERCURY – a faster moving planet than the two significators (MARS and the SUN) connects with both MARS and the SUN in a favourable way, it can actually restore the action of the separating aspect – in other words (especially since MERCURY is in Scorpio which because MARS rules Scorpio is in essential dignity) me and that literary agent might still do a deal.

5)   Well, wouldn’t you know it – good old MERCURY is leaving it’s (still within orb) SEXTILE (good) with MARS (me) while applying for a CONJUNCTION (also good) with the SUN (the literary agency) – all within orb.

6)   Even better, as required by Lilly, because MERCURY is in Scorpio, it’s in essential dignity to the first significator – MARS.

7)   The only trouble is that dear old MERCURY is in RETROGRADE- which while not disastrous isn’t really the best either.  This suggests some back and forth to-ings and for-ings – missed communications or changing of minds.

So if you happen to be the literary agency who just asked for a partial for The Curve of Capricorn, hang in there – MERCURY goes DIRECT on Sunday, 10 November 2013 at 21:13 GMT.

The Pinch of Pisces

pisces-tiny-blueAccording to mundane astrologers, the conjunction of Neptune/Pluto heralds transformation on a mass scale – old empires dissolve and ancient institutions crumble.

Almost overnight art, science, and religion change direction and people change their whole outlook on life. Although the effect will be felt immediately, it will take well over 100 years until the seeds sown at the conjunction will have fully sprouted with the incoming square (the average synodic cycle of Neptune/Pluto is 492 years).

The current Neptune/Pluto cycle commenced in the 1880’s-1890’s when perceptions of ‘reality’ underwent an extreme makeover: for example – Sigmund Freud published Studies in Hysteria (a significant breakthrough in the study of the human mind) and William James published The Principles of Psychology, another boundary-pushing landmark in humanistic psychology.

In The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption, Liz Greene suggests that the Neptune/Pluto expresses itself primarily through religion.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in 1882 (The Gay Science), Nietzsche proclaimed that ‘God is dead’?

Imagine that it’s now 2063 and that incoming square is upon us.

Not only has post humanism made redundant our most fundamental assumption that God is superior to man but also that man is in turn superior to nature. This leaves nothing left but nature and the funny thing is that the distinctions were all manmade in the first place.

If you want to learn how this all turns out, the follow this blog as, building on the work of William James, I commence my next novel  – The Pinch of Pisces.

As one character will so aptly put it:

“Today, the idea that there’s a separate God, or whatever you like to call the numen driving the universe, is clearly bunk.  It’s all a matter of perception.”

Elements of Postmodern Literature

Postmodern Literature
Postmodern Literature

While writing query letters to literary agents, I was forced to classify my  new novel, The Curve of Capricorn  as belonging to a particular genre.

For better or worse, I’ve chosen postmodern literature.

That might sound a bit presumptuous but here’s what I think it means:

1)   Postmodern literature attempts to depict the crisis of human identity (ethic, sexual, social, or cultural) and its struggle for legitimization in a hypocritical society.

I realize that’s a mouthful – but suffice it to say that answering the question “who am I?” has become a good deal harder by constantly being forced to sort ourselves into predetermined boxes – (TICK ONE PLEASE): native American, Asian- American,  Hispanic, agnostic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, white, gay, lesbian, …. or ‘other’ .

To allow both my readers and my characters maximum freedom in this regard, I’ve chosen to categorize or identify the characters in The Curve of Capricorn in a way that unless you’re an astrologer, won’t carry much baggage:

 

Greatest flaw Greatest Strength Greatest Fear Desires
ABBY

(Faithful)

Capricorn

Ambition Perseveres Inability to justify existence To be worthy daughter of a great man
JENNIFER

(Opportunist)

Gemini

Justifies everything Emotionally Detached To lose To ‘have it all’
CASSIE

(Earth Mother)

Taurus

Can’t

forgive and forget

Emotional strength To be a bad wife and mother Save her marriage
RICK

(‘nice guy’)

Leo

Pride Geniune To hurt others Not to be a failure
McCABE SR

(‘sugar daddy’)

Cancer

Can’t escape emotions Ability to amass followers To be forgotten Win love & respect of Abby’s mother
McCABE JR

(‘smart ass’)

Aquarius

Single-mindedness Strategy To be like his father Revenge on father for having ignored him
ALEX

(antihero)

Sagittarius

Lack of ambition Survivor To look into the mirror External stimulation and excitement
JACK

(hero)

Libra

 

Ability to see all sides Diplomat To be overcome by guilt Save the world
BELINDA

(princess)

Pisces

 

gullible Knows that to ‘err’ is to be ‘human’ To take charge Someone to take care of her

 

2)   In postmodern literary works, the idea of originality and authenticity is undermined and parodied – For example, when I first started writing this novel for NANORIMO 2012 using astrology as my superstructure I thought I was really on to something original.  I could have had no idea that Eleanor Catton in her Booker prize winning novel The Luminaries would beat me to it!

3)   Postmodern literature is closely connected with advances in technology. If Abby had lived in the days of snail mail, things would have turned out differently.

4)   Postmodern literature is also associated with the growing distrust that ‘reason’ can provide us with verifiable ‘truths’. Jennifer (Gemini = Opportunist) is the narrator in The Curve of Capricorn and trust me – her truth is most certainly not the same as mine or yours.

5)   Postmodern literature often questions its own fictional status thus becoming ‘metafictional’. This one’s a bit tricky – but how about ‘metafiction is a fiction about fiction’? In terms of The Curve of Capricorn, Jennifer and I always encourage you as the reader to imagine how things might have turned out differently if only, if only, if only…

6)   One of the most important aspects of a postmodern literary work is its intertextuality – suffice it to say that in The Curve of Capricorn, all those allusions to the heroines of Jane Austen are there for a reason.

7)   Another important aspect of postmodern literary works is the use of postmodern parody, which emphasizes the difference between past art forms and sensibilities.  My all-time hero is Henry James and while his novels exquisitely explore the psychology of their characters, poor Henry didn’t have the opportunity to study psychological astrology with Liz Greene as did I.

Postmodern Literature

8)   In postmodern literary works there is often an overlap between fiction, fantasy, dreams and sometime hallucinations in an attempt to demonstrate that unlike with modernist thinking, these spheres are not always distinguishable.  Jennifer covers that one in the preface where she explains her reasons for using Zen Ko-ans (along with astrology) as a structuring device.

The Makings of a Good Character – Motivation

A good character is as important to good fiction as it is to a good life.

Because no matter how moving or clever or fast-paced the story – if you, dear reader, don’t find my characters both interesting and accessible, you won’t continue to read.

Character = Action = Motivation

Syd Field (The Screenwriter’s Workbook):

Great – it’s all about motivation – but how do you find what that is?

With astrology, that’s easier than it sounds.

When I create a character, I first draw up their natal (birth) chart– that way I can get a deep-down feel for who – and what – they are at their core.  Sure I made up their chart– I’m making them up too.  That doesn’t stop my character from possessing the ‘ring of truth’ that (hopefully) keeps you reading.

maslowmaster4ts

Motivation = that ‘something’ (or bundle of ‘something’s’) that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviour –  that which your character wants, needs, or fears that drives the action.

Astrologically, I believe motivation is primarily symbolised by the placement and connections of three natal planets:

  1. Venus = that which your character ‘wants’ – finds pleasing, stimulating, rewarding, validating (affirms her sense of self worth) = Venusian energy is a very selfish energy as it operates through differentiating between self and another (“I’m prettier than she is…”) 
  2.  Moon = that which your character ‘needs’– finds comfortable, nurturing, necessary for continued life = Lunar energy is a very clingy, suffocating energy as it operates through symbiosis and fusion (“I’ll never leave you if you…”)
  3. Saturn = that which your character ‘fears’ – gives him the strength to carry on and establish the boundaries that keep him healthy and whole = Saturnine energy is very uncomfortable as it behaviourally reprograms us through shame and guilt (“You made such a fool of yourself, you won’t do that again soon…”)

Some common motivations associated with the twelve zodiac signs (each manifesting in it’s unique way- which is where ‘character’ really comes in):

  • Challenge = Aries, Capricorn, Scorpio, Cancer and Sagittarius
  • Curiosity = Gemini, Aquarius, Sagittarius, Virgo, and Pisces
  • Competition = Aries and Scorpio
  • Control = Scorpio, Taurus, Cancer, and Leo
  • Recognition/ Security = Capricorn, Taurus, Leo, and Cancer
  • Cooperation/Collaboration = Libra and Aquarius
  • Fantasy/Escape = Pisces
  • Revenge =  Scorpio
  • Reform = Aquarius

For example, Abby (the heroine in my new novel, The Curve of Capricorn) has:

  • Venus in Aquarius
  • Saturn in Libra
  • Moon in Aries

She wants justice (Libra and Aquarius) and forward thinking reform (Aquarius).

She needs challenge and competition (Aries).

But above all, she fears collapsing cultural cornerstones and the loss of not just relationship, but the possibility for true partnership where all the parts work synergistically as a whole (Libra).

And wouldn’t you just know it, it’s precisely that which she fears that Abby’s going to get.

Truth and lies – do you know the difference?

“That won’t do.”  Lord James Barksdale, better known as Jack, stood beside her.  He shook his carefully cropped head of jet-black hair and looked her straight in the eye.  By the thin shaft of the crescent moon, his craggy face looked cold as steel.  “Talk like that will set tongues wagging.   Believe me, Miss Adams, you do not want that.”

“I said nothing untrue.”

“Truth and lies.  Such a fine line.  Might you know the diference, cousin?  I am most certain that I do not.”

“Lies are never justified, my lord.  Herr Kant, a highly respected gentleman from Königsberg,says we have a moral obligation to our fellow men to tell the truth.”

“Does he?”  Lord James grinned.  “Does Herr Kant also suggest the truth is always justified whatever the consequences?”

______

Something is either true or not – right?

At least that’s how we behave.  We even have machines to tell us when someone is telling a lie.  That’s assuming that telling a lie is other than not telling the truth.

Semantics you say?

I’m not so sure.  While researching for my new novel – Lords and Lies – (excerpt above), I discovered that contrary to popular belief, there’s no agreement on what is truth – indeed finding one is a central aim of  philosophy.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit on the subject.  Luckily, Lord James and his cousin, Miss Adams, live in the 18th century.   So they only have to worry about ‘truth’ as it was conceived of then.

Before Herr Kant of Königsberg, there were two routes to an 18th century truth (both inspired by Descartes):

(1)          Rationalism – finding truth by rational deduction – in other words truth is determined solely through reason (Leibniz).

(2)          Empiricism – finding truth by observation and experience – in other words what you see is what you get (Hume).

Kant believed both Leibniz and Hume were wrong.  Thus he  articulated a third approach – a sort of middle ground.

For Kant, truth came in two varieties (1) those which were a priori true (i.e.  all bachelors are unmarried) and (2) those which required  empirical testing  (i.e. all bachelors are unfulfilled).

Not so easy –  but Kant believed that once you had determined that which was true from that which was not  – then as my heroine points out – one has a categorical  impertative (i.e. moral obligation) to tell the truth.

Now comes the really tricky bit – as  Lord James points out.

For example, assume that a Nazi demands to know if you are hiding Jews in your cellar   If you tell the truth, everyone knows what will happen and it won’t be pretty.  But if you don’t tell the truth, then you’ll have failed to meet your moral obligation.

So what if you decide (poker-faced) to refuse to respond?

Truth or lie?

That’s what Lord James and Miss Adams will have to decide.

Valentine’s Day / Flash Fiction/ Shards of glass

With the twins asleep and my mother was watching reruns on the telly, I  took my chance.  Grabbing my purse, I slipped out the door, and hurried down to the shops.  This was Bob’s and my first Valentine’s Day together and it was going to be absolutely fabulous.

I’d taken in in some  extra sewing and  with some economy had been able set aside just enough for the perfect gift.  According to his best mate, Jack, Bob had been a real wine connoisseur  in his  bachelor days.  Although we’d never shared anything more exotic than a pint of Fullers, it gave me great pleasure to know that,once upon a time,  Bob had drunk only Chardonnay.

I pushed open the door to the new wine shop on the corner of Market Street.  A little bell tinkled.  It sounded so jolly – just like at Christmas.  And there, on the counter, along with jars of cheeky chilli-pepper chutney and fat, white balls of goat’s cheese, was the pair of the most beautiful wine tasting goblets in the world  – Chef Sommelier – tall, sleek, and wondrously thin.

“How much?”  I asked even though I already knew.

“Fifty-two pounds.”  The leprechaun-like man stroked his beard.   “Gift wrap?  Extra five quid.”

I shook my head and glanced up at the clock.   Bob would be home any minute now and I still had to take his shirts to the cleaners.   He was very fussy about his shirts.  Understandable.  In his job, he had always to look his best.

Having misjudged the effect of rush hour traffic on the buses, I arrived at my neat little front door at just past quarter to six.

“What’s for dinner?” asked Bob, as he sat propped along with my mother in front of the telly with a beer.

“Hold your horses,” I said.  “First, I have to have a peek at the girls.”

In the safety of their room, I pressed out some silver wrapping paper I’d been saving for a special occasion.   After adding some curly red and white ribbon, I scribbled ‘I love you’ on the gift tag and rehearsed my presentation for the last time.

Sadly, nothing ever turns out as planned and at the last minute, instead of reciting my pretty poem, I just held out the package and smiled.

“What’s this?” he said.  “It’s not my birthday.”

“Valentine’s Day,” mumbled my mother.

“Oh,” he grunted and turned away.

“Open it,” I urged.  “Please?”

“Wine glasses?” He pulled a funny face.

“For your Chardonnay.”

“My chardonnay?”

“Just like in your wine connesisour days.  Jack told me all about it.”

“Jack’s full of shit.  How could you be so stupid as to believe a word he says?  By the way, how much did these cost?  They look expensive.”

“Fifty two pounds,” called my mother from the couch.

“You spent fifty two pounds on these?” he growled.  “Are you crazy, woman?”

“I…I wanted…”

“I don’t care what you wanted.”  One by one, he heaved the goblets against the wall.  “I want you to stop wasting my money.”

As shards of  glass shimmered back at me like cracked ice, I remembered the jolly little bell in the wine shop and picked up the broom.  Next Valentine’s Day would be absolutely fabulous.  I was certain of that.

if you were a literary agent …how would you respond?

Dear Ms Agent,

In the aftermath of The Great War when Europe is cloaked in social disillusionment, twenty-four year old, newly widowed, Sophie de Belcoupe returns home to Paris. With conventional ideals of the feminine thwarted, she determines it’s through art that she will forge her future.

Complications arise when, by accepting a job on a design project directed by her beloved, Uncle Maurice, she reencounters Andrew John Hancock, the young American artist with whom she’d once been in love.

As the project prospers so does Sophie and Andrew’s relationship. But both crash to a halt when, to cover his own misdoings, Uncle Maurice accuses Andrew of embezzlement. While clearing his reputation, Andrew uncovers dangerous secrets about Sophie’s family – secrets which blow apart her idea about who and what she was about.

Using old-fashioned philosophy and new-fangled psychology, Sophie  pieces herself together only to discover what she’d been led to believe she didn’t want, was precisely that which she did, the love of the man who honours her above all others.

According to Simone de Beauvoir, women are made, not born. The struggles of brave women like Sophie played a vital role in shaping twentieth century ideas of what it meant to be a modern woman. My complete 95,000 word historical romance, Adieu The Rose, further explores this theme, offering today’s women a unique view on their struggle to shape what it means to be a post-modern woman in the equally challenging twenty-first century.

I’m approaching you because of your excellent track record with unusual historical romance novels.

May I send you a synopsis and the first three chapters?

Regards,

DA Hopeful