Of Horses, Horns, Wings, and Tails

Feb. 26th was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, so this seems a fine time for an adventure into the wilds of words and mythical beasts.

What do you call a unicorn with wings? The Oxford English Dictionary blog once posed that question. As a word nerd with a passion for mythical beasts, that fired my interest! The blog, sadly, was taken down, but it gave several possible answers. Since that venerable and wide-reaching source gave no one definitive answer, I have to conclude there isn’t one.

A search of the web similarly brings up lots of possibilities, including pegacorn, unipeg, unisus and other portmanteau combinations of unicorn and pegasus. I have to say to my eye and ear these seem rather inelegant and clunky, conjuring up images of flying pigs and peg-legged unicorns. Cerapter is a clever alternative, from the ancient Greek keras for horn and pteros for wing.* To me it has a sort of dinosaurian flavor, though.

And then there is Alicorn. This is a lovely and historic old word I first encountered in my copy of The Lore of the Unicorn by Odell Shepherd.

Cover of the Lore of the Unicorn

He traces Alicorn back to 14th century Italian and later Arabic; he uses the term to mean the horn of a unicorn,** a most precious, almost sacred object. It was the sovereign antidote to all poison, and it could heal the sick, even of the dreaded Plague.

In the dark corner of a museum, I once had the privilege of seeing an Alicorn. Well, at least its mortal cousin.

Narwhal skull and tusk
A Mortal Alicorn

This is the skull of a narwhal, found in a whaling museum. I’d never seen one before, though I’d read about them. It gave me a shiver of pleased recognition to lay eyes on it.

Alicorn is a word of both elegance and substance to my mind. But since it already refers to something other than a winged unicorn (or horned pegasus), I’d suggest a slight variation. My proposal: alacorn, from the Latin āla for wing and cornū for horn. (Like cerapter, only without connotations of velociraptors and pterodactyls.)

Now for a somewhat related question: what do you call a sea-going unicorn?

For example, this magnificent beast:

Hipporn by Sarah Minkiewicz
Hippicorn by Sarah Minkiewicz

This incredible creature is the work of the artist Sarah Minkiewicz (bought for me as a gift from her Zazzle store).

It is called a Hippicorn, and since that name was given by its creator, there can be no more fitting title. Hippicorn is a doubly hybrid word, a portmanteau of hippocampus (from Greek roots) and unicorn (from Latin). More on that later.

Some might wonder what a hippocampus is.*** I’m so glad you asked! (Pretend you did, even if you didn’t.)

A hippocampus is a mythic seahorse, the equine equivalent of a mermaid. Sometimes it has a dolphin-like tail, sometimes a fishy one. Here’s a fine one found on Cape Cod. It seems to have a fondness for jewelry and scarves.

carved hippocampus in shop window
An Elegant Hippocampus

The name is from ancient Greek, hippos for horse, kampos for sea monster. It is, I think, a close cousin to the campchurch, which is another kind of sea-going unicorn, but rather different from Sarah Minkiewicz’s wild hippicorn. It has no tail, but webbed hind feet. Here it is where I first encountered it in one of my favorite childhood books.

illustration of campchurch
from Georgess McHargue’s Beasts of Never

Here the marine cousins are together:

illustration of campchurch and hippocampus
Cavorting Together

And here is another close relative, found in the same whaling museum as the alicorn, carved out of whale ivory.

whale ivory hippocampus pie crimper
Bicorn Hippocampus?

Because I am a word nerd, I wondered where the “church” in campchurch came from. Webster’s Unabridged dictionary was, alas, no help. Even the massive Oxford English Dictionary was silent on the matter. Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon of Ancient Greek vouched for the antiquity of hippocampus, but had no trace of campchurch.

An online search brings up a lot of opportunities for worship while camping, but very little about sea-unicorns. I found one woodcut image of a campchurch from 1575 – walking flat-footed on dry land!

Could the “church” of campchurch have come from the modern meaning of house of worship? It seemed unlikely, but Webster’s and the OED do agree that “church” is derived from the ancient Greek kyriakon, and ultimately kyrios, lord and kyros, supreme power. Could campchurch mean something like the lord of sea monsters? I’m left to wonder…But Sarah’s hippicorn is certainly a lordly beast!

I also wonder what else might one call a horned hippocampus or marine unicorn? What about mericorn? (I think I kind of like that).

The truth is, if I should ever be so fortunate as to see any of these mythical beasts, I’m certain I’d be unable to call them anything at all, being struck dumb with awe and wonder!

If you, too, like mythical beasts – one of these creatures lurks in the pages of Running Wild Anthology of Stories V. 3! I won’t tell you which one, but the title gives a clue. Why not go explore? You’ll find several supernatural creatures hiding among those excellent stories.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Check back in a couple of weeks for another interview with one of my anthology colleagues!

 

*I encountered this term here: https://mythicalmagicalbeastsandbeings.com/alicorn.html (2020-02-17). The other terms showed up several places, including Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winged_unicorn (2020-02-17).

** Lexico, the online dictionary authored by Oxford University Press, agrees with the usage if not entirely with the derivation.  https://www.lexico.com/definition/alicorn (2020-02.17)

***This post is about supernatural creatures, so we’ll leave aside the area of the brain, which got its name from the beast, anyway.

A Bit of Happy News

Today, Feb. 21st, my writing friend, guest blogger, and Running Wild Press colleague Laura Nelson Selinsky has a story published on Havok, “Better Than Here.”

Laura kindly let me have a look in advance, and it is a quick, fun read that caught me offguard more than once. “These are not the angels you expected,” she says. Indeed! Go, read it.  You’ll see what she means.

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

As I understand it, everyone can read it for 24 hours, and then it’s available only to members.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a few minutes and have a fun read!

Interview with Dawn DeAnna Wilson

Dawn DeAnna Wilson, Author

It’s my pleasure to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories interviews with Dawn DeAnna Wilson. Her story, “Los Sueños,” was very vivid and poignant.

Welcome, Dawn!

Gemma: Can you give a taste of what your story is about?
Dawn: The story is about a medical student who can sleep, but she can’t dream. One night, during her pathology rotation, she discovers that she can hear the dreams of the dead.

Gemma: What a striking story premise. Do you remember what the seed for it was?
Dawn: I have serious insomnia, and the whole science of sleep has always fascinated me. There was a sleep center at the hospital I used to work for, and the director knew about all these unusual and bizarre sleep disorders. Essentially, the REM phase in dream sleep is what is responsible for keeping us healthy. Dreams are necessary.

From there, it kind of meandered. I remember thinking of the dead as being “asleep” and wondering what it would be like to never, never be able to dream.

Gemma: That is quite a disturbing concept – and disturbing concepts can turn into great stories. Yours is proof of that.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?
Dawn: Through the Submittable website.

Gemma: I need to explore more about Submittable’s calls for submissions and other resources for writers. Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Dawn: I wrote my first story when I was in kindergarten. I loved creating the characters and delving into different worlds. I can never remember a time when I did not want to be an author.

Gemma: That’s impressive – I’m not sure I was writing full sentences when I was in kindergarten! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?

Dawn: My first novel, “Saint Jude,” is about a young adult with bipolar disorder. The novel is far from perfect, but it has touched the lives of others, which of course, is the whole point of writing.

 

Gemma: That is truly something to be proud of – and the best kind of legacy for a story. Can you tell me a little more about your writing history?

Dawn: My first poem was published when I was in eighth grade and my first short story was published when I was 16.

My work has appeared in such publications as Byline, Writer’s Digest, Evangel, and The Lutheran Journal. I won second-place in the N.C. Poetry Society’s annual contest for my love poem, “Learning English in Four-Letter Words.” My play, “Jesu of Fondue,” has been produced by the Nash County Arts Council and presented as a staged reading at the Storefront Theatre in Waxhaw, NC.

I’m the author of three novels, two traditionally published and one indie published. They are Saint Jude (Tudor Publishers, 2000), Leaving the Comfort Café (The Wild Rose Press, 2007), and the indie published Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves (Carraway Bay Press, 2011). I have also compiled a short story collection that I indie published, Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina (Carraway Bay Press, 2011).

Gemma: You have a wonderful array of published work. How has your writing changed over time?
Dawn: I think I’m delving much more into quirky characters, exploring the difficult facets of what makes them who they are. I’m also going more outside my comfort zone, as I’m preparing to tackle a murder mystery novel that is in a genre I’ve never written before.

Gemma: Good for you for going outside your comfort zone! What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Dawn: I wouldn’t dare undertake some historical fiction. I would just get so easily overwhelmed by all the research.

Gemma: I have dabbled in historical fiction, and I can totally understand – I got lost in the research for a couple of years, I think! (It was a really good excuse to not get down to the nitty-gritty of writing.) What do you like best to write?

Dawn: It’s hard to say, because every story and every project has its own joys and its own personality. I think that my favorite part of the writing process is the exploration that goes on during that first draft, when you’re getting to know the characters and unearthing the story. It’s like going on a treasure hunt.

Gemma: Oh, that’s a cool analogy. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the character(s)? Or does it vary from story to story?

Dawn: Honestly, sometimes it’s a line or two. Sometimes, it’s a scene that stands out very crisp in my mind. Then I explore—WHY did they say that? Who is in this scene and why is it important?

Gemma: I remember C.S. Lewis saying something about how the Chronicles of Narnia (one of my childhood favorites) started with the image of a faun with an umbrella in a snowstorm. So you are in good company! What authors did you love most growing up? What authors have influenced your writing most?

Dawn: Ray Bradbury, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. LeGuin and Rod Searling. And maybe a bit of Donald Barthelme.

Gemma: Ray Bradbury and Lloyd Alexander are two of my favorites to this day! For a long time I’ve been meaning to read Ursula K. LeGuin, and now I want to learn more about Donald Barthelme. On another topic, is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?

Dawn: Living on the coast of North Carolina is a fantastic, inspirational place to write. There’s the gorgeous beaches, the marshy inlets and the full spectrum of Southern characters.

 

Gemma: What are you working on now?

Dawn: I’m polishing up a few short stories to try to get them ready to send out. Not trying to give anything away, but one does have a lizard man in it.

Gemma: A lizard man sounds intriguing! What do you plan to work on next?

Dawn: I’m going to tackle my first murder mystery/thriller that’s kind of in the same vein as the Stephanie Plum series.

Gemma: Going outside your comfort zones like you said! How can readers keep up with you and your writing?

Dawn: I’m around here and there. You can connect with me by contacting me through my website or on my author Facebook page. Although I encourage readers to email me through my website (I’m not on Facebook as much these days. I find that the more I’m on Facebook, the less I write)
Gemma: Oh, yes, social media and the internet in general can be such time-stealers! I find I have to keep offline to get writing done, too.

Thanks for taking time to join me on my blog, Dawn. And Happy Valentine’s Day to you and our readers!

Urban Fantasy Magazine Reviews Our Anthology

I’m very pleased to report that Urban Fantasy Magazine has reviewed Running Wild Anthology of Stories V.3.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

There’s a rich variety of stories in our anthology; not all of them are urban or contemporary. (Take, for example, VT Dorchester’s haunting Western, Under the Eye of the Crow, and Monique German Gagnon’s Creach, which takes place at an indeterminate time.) And by no means all involve elements of fantasy. But as Katrina points out, “There’s an air of mystery that ties all the stories together; the sense that something more is going on in the scene below the surface.” And the very variety of the stories included is one of the anthology’s many pleasures

Along with her thoughtful review, Katrina (editor) also generously posted an interview with me. Elsewhere on the website you can find helpful and interesting reviews of books of speculative fiction both new and old. It’s well worth taking a look!

Interview with Monique Gagnon German

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

I’m welcoming 2020 with interviews of some of my Running Wild Anthology of Stories colleagues. I’m delighted to begin with Monique Gagnon German, whose story Creach gripped me with its understated tension.

Welcome, Monique!

photo of author Monique Gagnon German
Monique Gagnon German, poet and author

Gemma: Give us a taste of what your story is about.
Monique: Creach is a story about a family living a simple life off-grid, until the unexpected arrives. Creach asks the question, “When something entirely new shows up in your life, do you embrace it or fear it?”

Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
Monique: A parenthood moment spurred this story. With two kids, there is an almost constant barrage of requests for various toys, pets, games, & tech. For me, there’s always this decision-making duality: I want to protect them but I want to give them whatever they need to grow and thrive. Knowing with certainty the “best” yes’s and no’s is impossible.

Gemma: Your story crystallizes and magnifies this paradox so well!
Monique: That is a great compliment. Thank you!
Gemma: You’re very welcome! How did you find out about this anthology?
Monique: I saw a call for submissions. I investigated the background of Running Wild Press and was very impressed with who they are and what they published. When I sampled some of their published pieces, I really wanted to be in that company. I was absolutely thrilled when they wanted Creach.

Gemma: Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Monique: I grew up immersed in books. Quite the book nerd, actually. Some of my heroes include: Alice Walker, Steven King, Stephen Dunn, Nathanial Hawthorne, Lucy Grealy, Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, and Billy Collins. I wanted their jobs; I wanted to create worlds in stanzas and paragraphs.
Gemma: That is a cool way of putting it! And you wanted to be a poet from the beginning, it sounds like. What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Monique: One poem I’m still proud of is, “God’s Voice,” (it was picked up by The Wayfarer).

Cover of Wayfarer magazine

 

Monique: One short story I’m still proud of is, “The Gambit Game” (it was published by The MacGuffin).

Cover of The MacGuffin magazine

 

Gemma: Tell a little about your writing history.
Monique: I started with poetry, but stories were also always coming to mind. I’ve written both pretty much all along, but only in the past few years have I submitted stories for consideration to be published.

Gemma: How has your writing changed over time?
Monique: Hopefully, it has gotten better. By better, I mean better at transporting the reader into the content, so they feel they are “in” it for the journey of the story or poem.
Gemma: In Creach and your more recent story The Now I really felt immersed in the atmospheric worlds you created, so well done! What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Monique: My first thought is always, hey, there’s no challenge too big! And then, the second thought races in, every story/poem I write is the current biggest challenge.

Gemma: What do you like best to write?
Monique: Anything that feels new.

Gemma: When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the character(s)? Or does it vary from story to story?
Monique: Story ideas are a combination of plot, characters, setting, and mood for me; even at inception they form a sort of blurred painting in my mind. But, usually, the spur that gets me excited to write the story is the engine: the plot concept.
Gemma: I love the “blurred painting” analogy! Plot is often what comes to me first, and spurs me to write, too. Do you tend to know the ending when you start writing?
Monique: Never. Sometimes I think I have an inkling, but I am always wrong. [laughter]

Gemma: Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
Monique: I think living in so many places has influenced my writing more than any one place in particular.
Gemma: What are some of the places you’ve lived?
Monique: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona – But before you gasp at so many moves, let me explain, I married a Marine some 14 years ago. He’s retired now but we moved every three years for awhile there based on his assignments.

Gemma: What are you working on now?
Monique: A few things are in progress… a few new flash fiction stories… a few new poems. I have a process where I get multiple things started, then edit, change, edit, change, edit until they feel done.
Gemma: I admire your ability to work on more than one thing at a time! Readers can find one of your recent works, The Now, on Typishly. I really liked how swiftly I was immersed in that new world, and the tense journey you took readers on.
Monique: Thank you. I had a weird sense of fun writing The Now, I felt immersed in that world and like I was seeing it rather than “inventing” it. That story really came alive almost movie-like in my mind when I was writing it and it was such a cool journey for me.
Gemma: That is cool! And I think it shows in the story. How can readers connect with you and find out more about your work?
Monique: The best way is through my website or email.

Gemma: Thank you so much for joining me on my blog, Monique! I hope readers will check out your stories in our Anthology, TypishlyThe Wayfarer, and The MacGuffin. And if you haven’t gotten a copy of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3 to read her story and all its fine company, do so!

Check back in coming weeks for more interviews with my Anthology colleagues.

 

Holiday Gift Ideas

My favorite gifts to give are books. If you’re like me (and also haven’t finished your gift buying yet), I have some books to recommend. Many of these I have already given as gifts, or would happily give, and some are current favorites of mine.* Of course, you can always give them to yourself anytime of year!

Covers of several books
A Small and Varied Selection

As a gift to your community, buy books from your local bookstore if you can! If you can’t visit a store in person, you can order online from many independent bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble.

Some of these books are e-books – and yes, you can give e-books as gifts! Here’s how for Barnes and Noble Nook books and for Amazon Kindle books.

For picture book lovers and readers:
Imagine! by Raúl Colón. A story told in the luminous illustrations of Raúl Colón, about a boy who goes to a museum where people from the artwork leap out to interact with him.

Stretchy McHandsome by Judy Schachner. A delightful book for fans of Skippyjon Jones, and cat-lovers of all stripes.

For Middle-graders and above, especially fans of sci-fi:

My Best Friend Runs Venus by Katrina Forest. A fun interplanetary journey undertaken by kids in robot avatars trying to save the solar system.

 

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. The poignant story of a boy who discovers the mind-boggling fact that his family are time-travelers, while dealing with the loss of family members. It’s about family, friends, adventure, grief, and the love that changes everything; it truly touched me.

For fans of fantasy, young adult and older:


Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. A captivating take on Romeo and Juliet’s story, as seen from the characters in the shadows, with magical underpinnings.

Ink and Bone, The Great Library Book One by Rachel Caine. For those who prefer a steampunk flavor over Shakespeare, this is the story of a book smuggler in a world where owning books can get you attacked by automaton lions.

 

For adults:


Accessing the Future  ed. by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad. An inclusive anthology of speculative fiction, featuring a favorite of mine, “A Sense All its Own.”

 

The All-You-Can-Read Buffet by Stephen L. Thompson. An eclectic collection of short stories for varied tastes, from horror to humor, the everyday to the fantastical.

 

The Easy Road by Alexandra Scott-Coulter. For fans of rock ‘n’ roll, especially anyone who’s dreamed of being a rock star, this is the story of a man who becomes just that.

 

Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 3 edited by Lisa Diane Kastner. I’d buy this for the story “Broken Soul to Broken Soul” alone; a story about ‘Two souls, two traumas, one path to healing … love.’ [Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the other stories yet – it just came out this month!]

 

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Find out in this heartwarming Romance novella.

 

Strife and Harmony  ed. by Dixianne Hallaj and D.J. Stevenson. Strife, doubt, & suspicion — heroic (and not-so-heroic) characters search for harmony in this international anthology. Especially read the exploits of Sippy and Algernon Moynihan, two characters I’ve met and am quite fond of.

Legendary by Amelia Kibbie. I fell in love with the short story that predates this novel – about two boys in England, struggling with bullies and the perils of WWII England; Kirkus Review calls the novel (set years after the short story) “A rousing story of love and sacrifice.”

 

And in honor of the very soul and heart of Christmas,
A Vine-Ripened Life by Stanly D. Gale, a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on and exploration of the great fruits of grace.

 

However you observe this season, may you celebrate the light, and share it.

 

 

* where the picture quality is questionable, it’s because it’s of my own treasured copies.

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Holiday Reading Break

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

Today is St. Nicholas’ Day, a traditional time of gift-giving, and in honor of the occasion I offer you this gift: a blog by my friend Laura Nelson Selinsky.  It is particularly fitting for this day – please read on to find out why!

Candles, a cup of tea, and…a Christmas story. Sure, there are television specials by the score, but nothing compares to cocoa or tea and a heartwarming story after a busy day. I’m here to share my favorite way to step back from my too-busy life and prepare for the holidays.

In my family, we often shared reading breaks before Christmas…our quiet little respite in the hallowed chaos of the season. Until my kids left home, we read aloud regularly. For the holidays, we read everything from Luke’s sublime nativity story to the nonsense of Vip’s Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher. We read our copy of Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to tatters. I owe the Christmas reading tradition to my high school drama teacher who read Dylan Thomas’s* A Child’s Christmas In Wales to us each year, a practice I continue in my own classroom.

Perhaps you’d enjoy a holiday reading break of your own. The best place to start is Charles Dickens’* A Christmas Carol, with its happiest of happy endings. Be prepared for a little social justice tucked between the candles and figgy puddings of the Dickens. There are many shortened versions of his novella available, and reading a condensation is not an insult to the author. Dickens himself recited a condensed version on his lecture tours. Christmas Carol always awakens a little holiday spirit. If you are one of Gemma’s writer friends, visiting Scrooge is a good way to review Dickens’ mastery of playing his reader’s heartstrings.

If heartstring tugging is your pleasure, then holiday romances make a perfect break between wrapping and baking. My own little romance Season of Hope** was released by Anaiah Press on November 1. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Of course! That’s why romance is the perfect genre for a relaxed holiday reading break.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Gemma’s note: And the hero of this story is a pastor named Nick! Happy Namesake Day, Nick.  

Thank you for sharing your lovely way of calming this hectic season, Laura! I invite readers to connect with you on your Twitter and Facebook. They can also find you on Amazon.

*Thomas’ and Dickens’ works are in the public domain and can easily be obtained online, but reading from a screen is less relaxing than from paper, (blue light, social media, yadda, yadda…). Your public library certainly has A Christmas Carol on paper. {And likewise your local bookstore! Gemma.}

**Season of Hope is available from Anaiah Press  {Gemma’s note: see coupon code for 30% off , then scroll down just a little to see their Seasonal Titles on sale!} or from Amazon. My publisher Anaiah Press has a Santa’s pack  full of charming novels and novellas being released for the holidays. They might be just what your reading break requires.

Banner of Season of Hope cover art

 

 

A Day’s Trip into History

One of the pleasures of living in Pennsylvania is the rich history woven deep into the fabric of the land. There are many celebrations of such history, and I’ll gladly travel quite a distance to take part. One occasion in late September commemorates the Battle of Paoli.

Though the battle was bloody, Paoli Heritage Day is a happy celebration of history in general, and the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods especially. On a sunny, sloping field, inventors, soldiers, crafts-men and women, and artists pitched tents and shared their talents and passions.

Encampment

One I sought out in particular was Dr. Franklin. I had met him earlier at a previous Exhibition and Demonstration held in a public library.

Franklin’s Exhibit

He was extremely affable, and demonstrated for me his recently-built re-creation of a small vacuum pump, made from a design invented in the mid-17th C. He also pointed out the handsome flag beside him.

Mr. Franklin and His Inventions

He designed it for the Associators of southeastern PA, a volunteer militia group (which was, he told me, the roots of the Pennsylvania National Guard).

The sound of music drew me to a tent aswirl in color, where a group of men, women, and children were dancing: the Heritage Dancers.

Country Dancers

I delighted in watching them, and then they invited me to take part! The learned lady who talked us through the steps later told me that the English Country Dances, like those we were doing, were very popular in the Colonies. A Briton had made written record of many of them, and that is our sole surviving record of most of them. (That record now is protected in a British museum).

Next door was another musical sound: the blacksmith.

He was making various kinds of useful hooks out of iron, and when his hammer hit the hot metal just so, it rang with a bright, clear, penetrating sound that resounded – I could feel it in my body! I’ve watched blacksmiths before, but never heard or felt quite that musical a sound; maybe this man had particular skill. A gentleman who came up to buy some of the blacksmith’s handsome hardware said that he had dug up a number of just such hooks while restoring a historic house. History relives!

Nearby to the blacksmith, a woman was churning ice cream – yes, an authentic Colonial treat! Thomas Jefferson, in fact, had imported from France the receipt (recipe) she was using for – what else? – French Vanilla.

The woman was Susan McLellan Plaisted of Heart to Hearth Cookery. She was using what looked a great deal like the ice-cream maker my family had when I was a kid (ours was a replica – I’m not quite that old!). It was a rather narrow, wooden-staved bucket holding a metal canister in a bed of crushed ice and salt.  Unlike ours, hers had no crank; she turned the tall pewter cylinder with her hands. Anyone who helped churn could get a taste of ice cream; it was chilly work. I would have liked to get a picture of her, but she was always surrounded by an audience eager to try her ice cream! (It was delicious).

There were more fun things for children. Another booth had a spread of Colonial toys and games.

Two ladies there were making corn husk dolls, one for a child who waited with delightful eagerness.

I visited a number of tents with information from a wealth of historic sites nearby, like Historic Waynesborough, home of “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Did you know that General Wayne was the “ancestor” of Bruce (the Batman) Wayne? I’m enough of a comic book geek that I did! And Historic Waynesborough did, too: their tent had a poster with a comic book panel of Bruce Wayne researching and musing about his ancestor!

The sun was powerful on that open field, so it was a relief to go down to the tree-line, where a woman was surrounded by a small audience seated on straw bales. The woman was Molly Pitcher.

Story Telling

She had a warm accent that sounded like it came from the British Isles – but then, many of the Colonials did, too! She talked of how she supported her husband and showed us the gear she carried. Sometimes in the heat of summer, a soldier discarded his hot and heavy blanket, but if a woman traveled with a soldier, she kept hold of that blanket!

Molly told us how she braved cannon balls and musket fire to fetch water and carry ammunition during the famous battle of Monmouth. In the act of passing a cartridge, she got her petticoat shot off!

While Molly recounted her story, a Patriot soldier nearby enlisted children volunteers to come into the woods to scout for Redcoats.

Several minutes later, we heard gunshots! But the children came running out of the woods chasing the Redcoats – it was a rout!

Around the field was a veritable timeline of American Military History: the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. All had re-enactors in historical dress, many with camps and arms. I gravitated toward the Colonial period…but sometimes, time warps appeared on the field.

Wrinkled Time

The celebration was a commemoration of history both local and national, and a fine way to Remember Paoli.

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Writing By the Numbers

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

{From Gemma: I am deeply pleased to welcome my friend and colleague Laura Nelson Selinsky as a guest on my blog to celebrate the release day of her new novella, Season of Hope. Please read on for Laura’s post.}

Banner of Season of Hope cover art
Release Day Nov. 1 2019

If you are a reader of a certain age, your childhood included “paint by numbers,” an allegedly artistic activity. It was the sort of gift you received at Christmas from childless and unimaginative relations. Paint by numbers sets attempted to quantify beauty and force it into the chubby fingers of eight-year olds. At best, painting by numbers represented a quixotic and foolish quest.

As a fantasy writer, I do love a foolish quest. Today, I’m on a quest to quantify my writing by numbers, starting with zero.

Zero: For much of my life, I wasn’t a fiction writer. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write, but that my writing wasn’t a passionate creative process. In college and seminary, I wrote essays, analyses, and research. As a pastor and ministry leader, I wrote sermons, scripts, and curriculum. For teaching, I wrote reports, emails, and even a few letters. But I wrote zero words of fiction from the day I graduated from grammar school to the day I turned fifty.

Fifty: On my fiftieth birthday, I started a novel. A host of fictional people live in my head, and I wanted to let them out to play. Two months later, I had completed a draft of the still unpublished Daughter of Fire. By the time I was fifty-two, another novel was complete. I began to write query letters, seeking print homes for my books.

300,000: The next decade of writing meant watching my wordcount tick toward the stratosphere. 300,000 is roughly the number of words in A Game of Thrones or Bleak House, depending on how classy you like your wordcounts. And that’s only if I think of each story as a single draft. Some of my projects have been through five drafts; one has been revised nine times. If I consider the number of words deleted, supplemented, or revised? Yikes, that’s a lot of writing. 300,000 is easier to imagine.

Ten: By my sixtieth birthday, I had published a couple of short stories and a nonfiction piece about teaching students with learning differences. My birthday gift was an email from the wonderful editor Kara Leigh Miller, saying that she was taking my Christmas novella before the purchasing committee at Anaiah Press. I had sold Season of Hope by the end of the following week—ten years after I began writing seriously. Through Kara’s editorial guidance Season of Hope grew to 50,000 words, treading the line between an overgrown novella and a wee little novel. Ten is also the number of years that I have spent in a priceless critique group sponsored by Pennwriters and marshalled by Gemma Brook, mistress of this blog.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

One: Season of Hope is being released today, November 1, 2019. It will be followed in ten days by Beach Dreams. I entered my first writing competition this summer, and my short story Shells won second place. That story, a meditation on the ways we measure the children we love, will be featured in Beach Dreams, published by Cat and Mouse Press.

cover art for Beach Dreams anthology
Release Day Nov 10 2019

Winning a writing contest in one try seems absurdly, undeservedly easy if you ignore ten and 300,000. But writers aren’t paint by numbers automatons. If you want to write, ten and 300,000, and the perseverance they represent, are the only numbers that matter.

From Gemma: Thank you for sharing a bit of your writing history, Laura, and the inspiring perseverance encapsulated within. Congratulations on the excellent news of your imminent publications! I invite my readers to connect with you through these links for Facebook and  Twitter or by searching Laura Nelson Selinsky. Readers, you can also find Laura on her Amazon page. And you can meet her in person at the Beach Dreams launch party! If you can’t make the party, you can read new interviews with Laura by Melinda Dozier, by Sara Beth Williams,  and at Batya’s Bits

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