Monthly Archives: December 2013

And so this is Christmas . . .

Almost two years ago,my mother passed away at the age of 96 1/2 and the following is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral. You’re probably wondering if I’ve gone barking mad to publish a eulogy during the holiday season but it is all about Christmas and memories of my mother.


 

A Poet . . . . A Nurse . . . . An Artist . . . . A Mother

Four facets of a highly intelligent and talented woman. We could spend all afternoon relating her many attributes and achievements. This morning, however, I will tell you about only one.

It is no great secret that Lucile Parsons loved Christmas. In fact, if it had been possible, our mother would have married Santa Claus. This means that my brother and I would have gone into the family business  . . . . as Elves.

Her love of Christmas began when she was little Lucile Tench.  She remembered that as the season approached, she would catch my grandmother sitting down to rest and would immediately beg: “Let’s talk about Christmas”. Grandmother Tench must have known what was coming every time as she would patiently explain – step by step – the process of baking,

shopping, and so on down to that exciting morning when Christmas finally arrived.

A perennial story told by our aunts and uncles – as well as Mother herself – relates how one year, Lucile refused to allow her mother to take the Christmas tree down after the holiday was over. Epiphany came and went and the tree remained standing in the parlour.

There was no such thing as central heating at the Tench house on Petersburg’s East Bank Street and in the winter, a fire was laid in the front parlour only when it was absolutely necessary. Those cool conditions kept the tree in a relatively fresh state for weeks, and Lucile would go into that room after school and gaze in wonder at the tree’s magnificence; so beautiful, so fragrant, so tall in its finery.

January was history, February came and went, and still the tree stood in the Tench parlour, and Lucile still paid a visit every day. It was not until mid-March that the tree finally came down and only then because the parlour was needed for a family funeral.

Webster’s dictionary defines Christmas as “a Christian feast on December 25”.  At 208 Oakwood Avenue, feast could be considered to be the operative word, as an avalanche of cookies, fruitcake, fudge – three kinds, mind you – and candies of all sorts poured forth from that tiny kitchen.

My brother and I were gainfully employed carrying plates of these tasty treats to teachers, neighbours, family friends–and I do not once remember anything but a big smile when they opened their front doors, and saw what we were delivering.

The feast was not limited to these goodies. Returning home from the service here at Saint John’s, we were treated to a Smithfield ham baked to perfection, turkey, fresh rolls, the obligatory vegetables, and fanciful concoctions such as Tipsy Squire and Syllabub for dessert.

The day was capped off – at least for the adults – with cups of Eggnog, sometimes made from scratch, and always spirited appropriately. And I should add that on Lucile’s last Christmas Day, she was offered a cup of eggnog and the first words out of her mouth were “Does it have anything in it?”

Lucile was a stalwart of the annual Christmas bazaar here at Saint John’s. Every year, along about March or April, our house was transformed into Santa’s Workshop as Mom began to turn out a variety of items to be sold in Eppes or Ribble Hall the following November. Our mother – as artisan – would try her hand at new painting and handicraft techniques to create holiday trimmings and other decorative items.

Even today, there are Christmas Trees – both here in Hopewell and elsewhere – that still boast Lucile’s hand-made ornaments.

My mother loved Christmas.

They say that spring is less than a month away and today’s weather would seem to bear that out. But for the next few minutes, I want you to pretend . . . and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” just as if it were Christmas Eve here at Saint John’s and Santa Claus is on his way.

Wreath

Mildred - Our Merry Mermaid Christmas Mascot

Happy Christmas!

This retro Christmas Mermaid was created by Rosie Scanlon. Click the image to learn how you can can buy a copy!

This retro Christmas Mermaid was created by Rosie Scanlon.

I’ve been getting a number of inquiries concerning my progress with Urban Mermaid so I thought I would bring one and all up to speed.

  1. I’ve finished my first complete chapter which includes one of the pivotal moments in the story. By the term “Finished” I mean that it’s out of my head and on to paper, so to speak. I’ve still got plenty of tweaking, massaging, Rolfing, etc. before I’m ready to show it to my publisher.
  2. Today, I will continue on the “warm-up” chapter that was set aside when everyone started asking to see samples of the story. The warm-up chapter was intended to be one of those that connects point A with point B and still is to some degree. Mostly minor things involved here. I may have this finished on Friday.
  3. After that, I want to go back and expand the fragment entitled “The Art of Choosing A Mate” into a full-blown chapter with scenes before and after the fragment.
  4. Once that’s done, I’m going to start on the two-part Prologue consisting of “In the Beginning . . .” and “A Brief and True History of Colony Island”. Parts of both already appear in the “bible” for the series so it’s not  a total “from scratch” effort.
  5. Once that’s done, the saga begins with chapter one.

There’s also an administrative task in the offing and that’s moving the “bible” into Microsoft OneNote for better organisation and indexing.

All the while, I’m going to be reading and reviewing books. Wish I got paid for all this!

For more day-to-day details, follow my writing blog on Goodreads.com.

Cover art for Keeping Merminia

Cover art for Keeping Merminia

by Emm Cole
We are all familiar with the old conversational chestnut that “something” is going to be a tough act to follow. We have all seen examples of that pronouncement ringing true. When this reviewer learned that Emm Cole was working on a sequel to Merminia, he said the same thing to his faithful cat, Rankin, who was sleeping behind his PC monitor at the time. Today, as Rankin sleeps behind the monitor once more, this reviewer is pleased to say that Emm Cole has more than successfully followed her own “tough act” with her sequel, Keeping Merminia.

In Merminian pre-history, two princes fought an ever-widening war over their late father’s estate. Adessia, daughter of one of the warring brothers, implored them to end their fratricidal war but to no avail. Desperate to end the conflict that swept up innocent commoners in what was a simple dispute over what had been bequeathed to each son, Adessia created a ring from tokens gifted by her father and uncle and then threw it and herself into the sea as a sacrificial offering to the fates that controlled the world. The fates complied and the armies of Adessia’s father were engulfed by the sea and transmogrified as merfolk. Although, they had gotten the better part of the bargain, the merfolk devolved into warring clans, all the while searching for the ring of Adessia and the ultimate power it gave to it’s possessor. In the concluding pages of Merminia, Ulric, of the Litiant clan obtains the ring and invades the land in what is essentially a continuation of the original conflict.

In Keeping Merminia, Ulric has taken over the land-based kingdom and changed its environment to suit himself and his Litiant followers. They are here to stay and the sea has suffered for it. Food becomes scarce while more and more merfolk, Merminians as well as the neighbouring Julgrenians give up the sea in the hope of surviving on land even though this change of venue robs them of their scales and their powers. Things are becoming dire and it falls to
Selinne, leader of the Merminians, to act; to end the turmoil and chaos that is affecting her clan and her beloved sea.

In the back of my mind, I recognize what I’m supposed to do next. I remember my dream. I can hear my dead father’s message on repeat. The fates want you to take the ring back from Ulric, he said.

Even with the ocean crying out, even as the bravest mermen flee from the waves—I hesitate. I can’t imagine the horror of being without my tail. How can I leave my home? If I do manage to stop Ulric, will there even be a home left to come back to?

And so, Selinne and Arimis, her protector, embark on a perilous quest to leave the sea behind and stop Ulric at any cost. They are not alone on this journey as they are accompanied by Gabriel, the Litiant who was Selinne’s first love, and Walter, the parentless 9 year-old child who saw Ulric first come ashore near the south coast fishing village. Their guide on this journey will be Yuri, an odiferous, drunken ale trader.

It is at this point that your reviewer dates himself by comparing the party’s perilous journey to that taken by the commando team in the 1957 movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The task of the commando team was to destroy the Japanese railway bridge. The task of Selinne’s party is to destroy Ulric. In both cases, the overland journey is long and arduous. The commandos will have to deal with Japanese patrols while Selinne’s party will have to deal with wild beasts and enchanted beings that pose an even greater threat than the patrols. There are hardships and wounds. As the movie-goer wondered if the commandos would reach the bridge in time, the reader wonders if Selinne and her followers will arrive in time to end Ulric and take back Adessa’s ring.
As one might imagine, an overland journey is not easy on those whose usual method of travel is in and through the water. Emm Cole brilliantly articulates the sense of loss and separation from the sea experienced not only by Selinne but by other merfolk – both Merminian and Litiant – as well. This longing is best expressed by Zara, the wife of Ulric.

Her hands dip into the pond. She traces the surface, making the water curl under her fingertips. “I miss the salt of the ocean soaking into my fins. I miss the way the current rocked me to sleep. I think about the freedom of somersaulting through a lit haze of jellyfish. I’m scared I’ll forget how the morning tide sifted sunlight. I’m lost in this place. I hate not being able to float, Ulric. These weighted legs make me feel like I’m constantly sinking to the ground.”

Aramis is Selinne’s long-time body-guard and unrequited lover. He will strike up an easy-going relationship with Gabriel even though they were once sworn enemies and had both sought her affections. Although Gabriel was her first love and Aramis was treated more like a long-term close friend by her, the reader will see the tide shift from Gabriel to Aramis. Gabriel is meant for other things and though he loves Selinne like no other mermaid, he understands that the tide is turning and must turn in Aramis’ favour.

You captured my heart because you weren’t afraid to look Merconius in the eye when his trident was at your neck. I’d never had that kind of confidence in front of him before. I adored you because you insisted on being yourself for better or worse. You refused to accept his judgments. I’d give anything to go back—to tell him that I didn’t need his acceptance and love if it came with conditions. I want to believe you’re still that fiery soul—the one who wasn’t twisted by him. I want to trust that this hideous war hasn’t changed you like it has changed Ulric. But if you’re going to let your fear of what the fates might do—or how I might feel about it stop you from going after Aramis—”

Most of Keeping Merminia takes place on dry land rather than in the sea and while this reviewer had potential reservations about mer-fiction where the venue was dry land rather than salt water, Emm Cole has indeed made it work and work very well. Ms Cole is an author of no mean talent and it shows in every word, sentence, and paragraph of this story. Emm Cole has accomplished something very special here and this reviewer is eager to what she will bring to future works The only adjective that is adequate for Keeping Merminia is Brilliant.

Regrettably, this story is most likely the last that readers will hear of Merminia. Emm Cole has no plans to extend the series and has turned her considerable talents towards other projects. Though her fans will miss additional stories from the hidden gardens of Merminia, they will nonetheless be grateful for the time she has taken to build and share this underwater world with them. If this is the first you have heard about Merminia, then do not read this story and expect to somehow fill in the gaps. The story of the Merminian world is much too complex and enthralling to be absorbed and understood in one go. Read Merminia first before embarking upon Keeping Merminia. Getting caught up in Emm Cole’s underwater world is perhaps one of the best things that a reader can do.

My Rating:

Emm Cole’s website may be found at emmcole.com

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Son of a Mermaid Cover Art

Son of a Mermaid Cover Art

by Katie O’Sullivan

Most of us are familiar in some way with the ballet, Swan Lake; lots of female dancers in white and a couple of token male dancers. In 1995, Matthew Bourne launched his own adaptation in which the female corps de ballet is replaced by male dancers and the focus is shifted away from Odette and towards Prince Siegfried. Since its debut, this ballet has not been off the stage – somewhere in the world – for more than a few months and was the longest running ballet on Broadway and London’s West End.

Katie O’Sullivan’s Son of a Mermaid is like Bourne’s adaptation in that the central character is male and it follows in the footsteps of Zoraida Cordova’s Vicious Deep series. Although both books share elements of similar themes found in female focused Mer-fiction, they provide a refreshing take on an oft told story and it is hoped that Young Adult males as well as the traditional female audience will enjoy both of these stories.  Whereas Zoraida Cordova’s series is definitely geared more towards the upper end of the YA age range, Katie O’Sullivan’s Son of a Mermaid serves the lower end of the range quite ably.

Shea MacNamara keeps losing members of his family. His mother left when Shea was a baby, his Uncle and Grandfather lost their lives when a rogue wave hit their fishing boat off of Cape Cod and most recently his father was swept away in a tornado that struck the family farm in Plainville, Oklahoma on the eve of Shea’s  15th birthday. Indeed, the only remaining relative is his paternal grandmother, Martha, whom he has never met. Martha MacNamara arrives in the days after Shea loses his father to take him “home” to Cape Cod, a place to which he has never been. While Oklahoma was almost as far away from the ocean as one could be,  the shores of the Cape were as close  to the ocean as one could be without actually being in it. However, in the ocean is one place that he has been told not to go. It’s just as well since Shea’s father, Tom, was never keen on his being in the water or learning to swim.

While Shea is homesick for his friends and school back in Oklahoma, living with his grandmother does have one benefit as he is finally able to learn something about his mother. Tom MacNamara was silent on that subject and asking questions about his mother had been a no-go area for all of Shea’s 15 years. Rather than dying in childbirth or abandoning Shea and his father entirely, his mother is still very much alive and his parents have kept in touch over the years. There is so much more to learn but the answers will be slow in coming. The biggest question Shea has is “Why?”

To pass the time, Shea walks up and down the beach with the family dog every morning to collect the detritus of human life that finds itself upon the sand, either en route to or returning from the ocean. While he is pondering “why” and “how”, Shea is being watched.

Hiding amidst the waves, she’d watched him walk the length of the beach and back again, gathering up the debris that’d become all too common along the shoreline. Something about him fascinated her.

She wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers at the beach. That was a hard and fast rule that she’d only broken once before. But those had been girls, and they’d been much younger. This was a boy…and a cute one at that.

The girl’s name is Kae and Shea will meet her on occasion as the days go by. She is something of an oddity as Kae doesn’t seem to understand the basics of life like wearing blue jeans or riding a bicycle. Another oddity is added to his life in the form of Hailey Thompson, a 13 year-old  transplant from New York City with a voracious appetite and a penchant for rapid fire questions and pronouncements. Stir in a helping of quirky neighbours and Shea has an interesting  summer ahead of him. This includes things like taking Hailey fishing – or rather, Shea going fishing with Hailey tagging along. Thanks to Hailey, Shea winds up tumbling off the dock and like a stone, sinking to the bottom where he discovers – after some anxiety — that he can breathe water. It appears that there are indeed some things about which he needs to learn.

It is Kae who becomes his teacher and she tells Shea who and what he really is. He is a merman and the son of Princess Brynnelania. At some point in their lives, most young boys dream of being able to rescue their mom from something or other and Shea is presented with the perfect opportunity. His mother is being coerced into an arranged marriage for political reasons and the fact that her prospective fiancé is only 6 years old makes her situation even worse. Though Shea himself is only 15 years old, he intends to do something about the situation and getting from the shore to the King’s Summer palace requires a different form of locomotion than he is used to. Kae shows him how easy it is by rubbing a special stone and repeating some special words.

Having never even been in the ocean before, or any large body of water for that matter, each new sensation amazed Shea. Every new sight, every new smell, every different texture that he reached out to run his fingers across. Everything was so completely different than anything he’d ever imagined.

Each nuance of his new appendage, the shimmering tail that was suddenly a part of him, continued to fascinate and distract him. All five of his senses threatened to overload from the sheer pleasure of the cool ocean current caressing his body. He felt like the ocean was running its fingers through his hair, welcoming him home. He wondered if he’d ever be able to get used to the feeling enough to ignore it completely.

Son of a Mermaid is a fun and enjoyable story and Katie O’Sullivan has done an outstanding job in bringing Shea MacNamara’s  story to life.  There is mystery and adventure in this tale of tails as well as enough young romance to interest YA girls. The romance will probably also interest YA boys as well though they most likely will not admit it. Although Shea does play the hero in this story, MS O’Sullivan has definitely included Kae in the action and this rescue against all odds in not a one mer-man show. Katie also artfully educates the reader concerning the growing problem of trash that both intentionally and unintentionally finds its way into our planet’s oceans.

By the end of the story, readers will want to know what happens next as there are some questions left unanswered. Fortunately for everyone – and that includes this reviewer – Katie O’Sullivan has planned more books in the series, the first of which is due in the Spring of next year (2014). Do not let the fact that her exciting and mysterious coming of age story is aimed at the younger YA market put you off. Among other things, reading should provide a fun and entertaining escape from the mundane experiences of everyday life. Son of a Mermaid provides exactly such an escape and this reviewer believes that anyone interested in mer-fiction will enjoy losing themselves in this story.

My Rating:

Katie O’Sullivan’s website is at katie-osullivan.com and her Blog may be found at http://katieosullivan.blogspot.com

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