Elements of Halloween

halloween decorations

Halloween is second only to Christmas in money spent specifically for the holiday. Americans spend almost $10 BILLION per year on candy, costumes, and decorations. But how many people have considered the meanings of things associated with Halloween? Here, for your edification, is Halloween deconstructed. Many Halloween traditions have their roots in ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Halloween came to America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s, and was widely popular by the early 1900s. But some modern Halloween traditions were first practiced approximately 4,000 BCE, so it’s no wonder that meanings and traditions have morphed over time.

skulls

Skulls, Skeletons, and Bones

Skulls serve as reminders of death and the transitory quality of human life (a reference to Golgatha in Christian tradition). A skull is often depicted with cross bones (St. Andrew’s Cross), a symbol of spiritual perfection.

A skeleton is the personification of Death and sometimes the devil. In alchemy, it is the symbol of blackness and putrefaction which precede transmutation.

In some instances a skeleton symbolizes death in general and the brevity of human life.

Druid priests would throw bones of cattle into the flames and thus bone fire became bonfire. Also, see CATS below.

One superstition is that if an unmarried woman sits in a darkened room and peers into a mirror on Halloween, she will see her marriage future. If a face appears, it will be her future husband. If a skull appears, she will die unwed.

In the United States’ Deep South there lingers a belief that white moss taken from the skull of a murdered man has special magical and medical properties.

Currently skulls represent courage and rebellion, embraced by bikers and others.

Skulls carved from crystal and mineral rocks are thought to be strongly protective and healing.

witch doll

 

Witches

The word witch comes from the Old English wicce, meaning wise woman. Wiccan were highly respected at one time.

According to popular belief, witches held one of their two main meetings, or sabbats, on Halloween.

Witches and warlocks were regarded as priestesses and priests of devil worship.

In medieval Europe, owls were seen as witches, and have historically been one of the most popular Halloween images.

At various periods in history, witches were believed to be in league with the Devil, and anyone (mostly women) associated with unexplained occurrences was suspected of witchcraft, leading to hunts and trials.

At one time, all cats were thought to be familiars of witches, and witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into cats at will to carry out their evil intentions

elements halloween

Halloween Animals

Cats. During the ancient celebrations of Samhain, Druids were said to throw cats into a fire, often in wicker cages, as a means of divination. From their association with Samhain, and later witches, cats are now an integral part of Halloween, especially black cats. (see above and below.)

There is a worldwide superstition that a black cat crossing your path will bring good luck. (Be sure to make a wish if it does.) In America, black cats are generally thought to be unlucky—although black and white—and grey—cats are said to be lucky. The international good luck belief in black cats dates back to Egyptian times when one of their most important goddesses was Bast, a female black cat. So, a black cat walking into your house is an omen of good fortune, particularly of money to come.

(Other aspects of cat luck depend on whether you own it or meet it, whether or not it crosses your path, and how many cats are involved.)

Not directly related to Halloween, but in both America and Europe, a white cat is looked upon with some suspicion, and a gray tortoiseshell coming into your home is a bad omen.

Black cats are thought to have curative powers. A little blood from the tail is reputed to heal many minor wounds if rubbed on the affected area. They are also used in rituals to appease the gods, but never killed. To kill a black cat is extremely bad luck.

During the Middle Ages, Satan was believed to take the form of a black cat while consorting with witches.

Cats are not just cats. Druids believed that cats were humans who were being punished for evil acts during their lives. Opposite: Buddhists believed that cats were the temporary resting places of extremely spiritual people. Related: In Japan, it was believed that spirits of the dead sometimes take the form of female cats. Cats have long been believed to be the familiars of witches. (See above.)

A cat on top of a tombstone signals that the soul of the body buried beneath was possessed by the devil.

sri lanka bats

Although in the East, bats are a good omen, in the West, they are considered harbingers of evil. It’s a creature of mystery and darkness, coming out at night and mysteriously disappearing at dawn (as witches were also thought to do).

In the Middle Ages bats were believed to be in league with the devil and in partnership with witches. A bat was called the witches’ bird.

Bats were thought to be able to transform themselves into human form or that of a wolf or other unrelated species.

owl night

Owls are associated with both wisdom and doom. There are lengthy myths and beliefs going back to the Greeks and Romans and probably earlier. For Halloween purposes, I’ll focus on the doom beliefs. One superstition is that hearing an owl’s call is a sign that someone is about to die.

In Vedic mythology of the Hindus, Yama, the god of the dead, had owls and pigeons as his messengers.

An owl shrieking during the day heralded an impending defeat in battle, a plague, sickness, or death. In rural communities, the owl is still seen as an evil omen.

Native Americans believed the owl wasn’t a real bird but the spirit of the dead, taking that form to warn of approaching death. In addition, the hooting of the owl was sometimes the dead communicating with the living. The owl was supposed to be the heartbeat of the dead person who came to tell news in the gloom of midnight.

A Seminole Indian who hears an owl call whistles back. If the owl doesn’t answer the whistle, s/he believes s/he has received the summons of approaching death.

When a single crow caws near a house it is announcing an approaching calamity. If it flies to the left, it is a sign of bad news.

When a crow is seen immediately before or after a wedding ceremony, the unhappy couple will divorce.

ghosts halloween

Ghosts and Ghouls

Although Celtic folklore is full of ghosts, driven by both good and evil intentions, generally it’s unhealthy to meet a ghost.

Ghosts embody, and in a sense symbolize, fears of beings who dwell in another world.

The Druid Thanksgiving for harvests occurred on October 31. It was the feast of Saman, lord of Death, who called together the souls of all the wicked ones who had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals during the year. The good souls were believed to take human form, but it was impossible to tell the real human beings from the ones inhabited by ghosts.

Good souls entered the body of another human being for the occasion, but wicked ghosts had to roam around in search of an abode.

It was believed that any harm that might be inflicted by a wicked soul could be lightened by gifts.

Medieval people believed that cats and rabbits were inhabited by evil souls. When these animals were seen on the ground where the dead were supposed to rest forever, they were taken for ghosts in disguise.

scary jack o lanterns

Jack-O’-Lanterns

Originally, a jack-o’-lantern was intended to light the way of a wandering spirit, denied entry into either heaven or hell. Carved pumpkins are a New World variation on an old Irish tradition.

The Irish Celts invented the jack-o’-lantern. According to folklore, Stingy Jack was out drinking with the Devil and convinced him to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks without spending money. He put the devil coin in his pocket with a silver cross which kept the Devil from changing back. He promised to free the devil if the Devil wouldn’t bother him for a year, and if he died, the Devil could never claim his soul. Subsequently, he tricked the Devil another time or two. When Jack finally died, God found him unfit for heaven, but the Devil had promised never to claim his soul for hell. So Jack was sent to roam the earth with only a burning coal for light.

Stingy Jack put the coal in a turnip and became Jack of the Lantern. The Irish carved jack-o’-lantern from turnips, beets, and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and any other spirits.

trick treaters

Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes are an offshoot of an ancient Celtic belief that dressing up as ghouls and other spooks would allow them to escape the notice of real spirits roaming the streets during Samhain. Traditional Halloween costumes reflect supernatural beings such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, or other monsters.

According to ancient Roman records, people in today’s France and Germany wore costumes of animal heads and skins to connect to spirits of the dead.

One belief was that people who wear their cloths inside out and then walk backwards on Halloween will see a witch at midnight.

masquerade

Early celebrants of Samhain often disguised themselves as evil spirits by simply blackening their faces. This may be the earliest form or “false faces,” as masks in Ireland were known.

Among the Iroquois, their False Face dances originate from Flint, the evil one of their Twin culture-heroes, who rules over darkness.

Masks sometimes carry magic power which protects their wearers against sorcerers and those who would harm them. On the other hand, members of secret societies use them to impose their will through fear.

Masks are agents to control the movements of spiritual energies scattered throughout the world and all the more dangerous for being unseen. Masks are designed to subjugate and control the invisible world. Trap them to stop their wandering.

Halloween Colors

Orange is known as a symbol of strength and endurance, often represented today by pumpkins, carved or not. FYI, A New Hampshire man has grown the largest pumpkin ever recorded in U.S. history – weighing in at an incredible 2,528 pounds. Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H., won $6,000 in prize money at the Deerfield Fair for his first place pumpkin on September 29, 2018.

As a color midway between yellow and red, it’s primary symbolism is that of the balance point between the spirit and the libido.

Black is frequently seen as a symbol of death and darkness, a reminder that Halloween festivals once marked the boundaries between life and death.

Black is most often seen as cold and negative, nothingness and chaos, confusion and disorder, a symbol of evil, and the color of death.

Black is the color of melancholy, pessimism, sorrow, and misfortune.

Brown and gold are typically the symbolism of autumn and harvest. Corn stalks and hay bales are common representatives today. Scarecrows symbolize the agricultural roots of Halloween.

Brown is the color of earth and excrement. At various times, in various cultures, it has been the color of melancholy, humility, poverty, and sadism.

In Ireland, brown shared all the underworld and warlike symbolism of black.

Gold and light are symbols knowledge leading to immortality. If it is used well, in the search for knowledge, it brings happiness. Otherwise it brings disaster. The color gold and the pure metal are solar symbols, but “minted gold” is a symbol of perversion and the exaltation of unclean desire, the spiritual degraded to the level of the material, the immortal to the mortal.

In Greek tradition, gold is associated with the sun—and thus fertility, wealth, dominion, a center of warmth, love and generosity, the fire of light, knowledge and radiance.

sweet sour candy

Halloween Treats

In ancient times, the Celts put treats on their doorsteps and in the streets to provide offerings to placate the spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.

“Souling” is a medieval Christian precursor to modern trick-or-treating. On “Hallowmas” (Nov. 1) the poor would go from house to house, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.

Early door-to-door begging involved the poor seeking coins.

Some trace trick-or-treating to the practice of mumming or guysinging, which involved costumed people going door-to-door performing prepared dances, songs, and plays in exchange for treats. This was common in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Wales.

The first known mention of trick-or-treating in North America was 1927, in Canada.

Halloween Superstitions

October 31 is traditionally the time when the spirits of the dead are allowed a last fling before winter sets in. In Ireland, it’s said that if you hear footsteps behind you on that night, it is one of the dead following you and you never look around lest you see him or her and soon become one of them.

During celebrations of Samhain, bonfires were lit to ensure that the sun would return after the long, hard winter. Even earlier, worshipers of Baal, the Syrian sun-god, built fires in his honor about the same time of year as Halloween. Around 837, when Pope Gregory IV declared Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, people believed that ghosts and goblins were abroad on the eve of All Saints Day and built great bonfires to keep them away.

To banish evil spirits, walk around your house three times backward and counterclockwise before sunset on Halloween.

The Name and Associated Tidbits

Hallowe’en dates back to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. Halloween is short for Hallows Eve, which was the evening before All Hallows (sanctified or holy) Day, also known as Hallowmas on Nov. 1.

In Mexico, people dress up like ghouls and parade in the streets to celebrate The Day of the Dead on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival) is one Halloween celebration in China in which dragon and other animal lanterns are put out to guide spirits back to their earthly homes. Food and water to honor their deceased loved ones are placed by ancestral portraits. In Hong Kong Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) includes fires, food, and gifts to placate angry ghosts looking for revenge.

San-Apple Night and Nutcrack Night are names derived from the ancient Roman Festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds. Halloween customs and games that feature nuts and apples (such as candied apples and bobbing for apples) have their roots here. Apples are strongly associated with the otherworld and immortality, while hazelnuts were associated with divine wisdom.

In some American towns, Halloween was referred to as Cabbage Night, and the use of cabbage in a Scottish fortune-telling game. BTW, there are many old traditions in which girls can “see” their future husbands on Halloween. Several other fortune telling activities involve apple peels, pairs of hazelnuts near open fires, salty oatmeal bannocks, or items symbolizing the future hidden in food (e.g., a cake), or stones around the remains of a bonfire.

Besides those mentioned above, Halloween has been called Witches Night, Lamswool, Snap-Apple Night, and Summer’s End.

BOTTOM LINE: Everything associated with Halloween has deep roots and multiple meanings. Know what you’re symbolizing! And incidentally, make your characters know, too.

FYI: Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween!

elements halloween

Clichés—True But Tired!

Today’s blog is actually less a blog than a rant, a list of true but trite phrases that mark writing as unimaginative. So here goes.

bird hand
A bird in the hand
A piece of cake
Abject terror
Alcoholic haze
Angelic smile
Black as coal
Black as midnight
Black as sin
Bone chilling
Brothers in arms
cliches true tired
Cat-like
Catastrophic
Doe eyed
Drunken frenzy
Dumb as a stump
Easy as pie
Evil through and through
Eyes like saucers
Fighting tooth and nail
Guilty as sin
Hair raising
Heart pounding
heart pounding stopping
Heart stopping
Herd mentality
High as a kite
Honey tongued
Lion-hearted
Moaning and groaning
Need to know
Nubile young thing
Old as dirt
Paralyzed in fear
Pure as the driven snow
pure driven snow
Ran for his/her life
Rich as Croesus
Roaring like a lion
Rock hard
Scared stiff
Scared to death
Smoke and mirrors
Smooth as silk
Soft as butter
Soft as cotton
soft cotton
Strong as Atlas
Stood stock still
Sweet as sugar
The Midas touch
Tight as a tic
Tried and true
Walking on eggshells
Warm as toast
White as snow
Yelling like a banshee

Come up with better options. What are your pet clichés? Help your fellow writers by adding to the list!

Netflix Originals Based on Books

It seems like everyone is watching television and movies through streaming services now — especially Netflix. Each of those streaming services boasts a wide array of original shows and movies, and of course some of those are born from books.

netflix originals based books

So many of those book-to-movie adaptations (or book-to-tv adaptations) are taking the world by storm. Here are a few to check out (keeping in mind I’m not counting comics like Riverdale or The Defenders). These are in alphabetical order by Netflix show/movie name.

 

Television shows/miniseries

A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Alias Grace, based on Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Altered Carbon, based on Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Anne With an E, based on Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Girlboss, based on #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Hemlock Grove, based on Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

House of Cards, based on House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

Kiss Me First, based on Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Mindhunter, based on Mindhunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

Orange is the New Black, based on Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Shadowhunters, based on City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

The Last Kingdom, based on The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell

13 Reasons Why, based on 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

 

netflix book movie

 

Movies/Documentaries

A Wrinkle in Time, based on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, based on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Lovely Bones, based on The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

 

netflix originals based books

 

I’m sure there are movies and shows I’ve forgotten. Don’t see your favorite on the list? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook!

When Writers Wait

when writers wait
Writers, like everyone else, can—and often do—use wait-time to read, check Facebook, etc. But writers have so many more options!

 

Things to do during any wait

 
when writers wait
Practice describing: Choose any one person and describe him/her in detail, and as vividly as possible. For the most benefit of this practice, try describing both stand-out characters and those who look as ordinary as possible.

 

when writers wait
Practice judging a book by its cover: Which is to say, consider another waiting person and, on the basis of what s/he is wearing, imagine socio-economic class, education, type of job, personality, and anything else that comes to mind.

 

Practice noticing non-verbals and extrapolating from them: If a man is fidgeting, repeatedly checking the time, etc., maybe his marriage is precarious, and he’s imagining confronting his wife, saying, “I swear! I was standing in the post office line the entire time!”
when writers wait
 
How are the waiters behaving? Is there generally patience, politeness, and/or acceptance? Grumbling, swearing, people leaving? What might contribute to the ambiance? Size of community? Geography? (E.g., Richmond vs. New York City.) Consider what would happen if someone behaved differently from the majority.

 

Practice disrupting the status quo: Do something unexpected, even if minor, and observe the responses around you. For example, sway from side to side, pat the top of your head, march in place, etc., and keep doing it. Don’t make eye contact—and don’t laugh!

 

Practice introspection: When stuck with a long wait—longer than expected—how are you feeling? Check your visceral reactions: breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, stomach. Are you relaxed, tense, bored, impatient, or something else? What are your inclinations—stay, leave, sigh audibly, complain loudly, try to jump the line, seek redress with someone who seems to be a gatekeeper, or something else? Why do you act on those inclinations—or not?

 

Things to do while waiting when noise isn’t an issue

when writers wait
Listen to ring tones: Try to identify them, or at least get the rhythm, and extrapolate from that their personality.

 

Practice eavesdropping—and spin a story from it: A woman says, “I noticed that your wife is wearing orthopedic boots.” Man says, “She has diabetes, and doesn’t have any toes on her left foot. She doesn’t have a big toe on her right foot. The boots are so she can try to balance.”  Listen to mobile phone conversations and proceed as above.

 

Incite responses: This is in line with disrupting the status quo. Say something outrageous! You can say it to someone else in line or you can pretend to have a mobile call and let others in the line “overhear” you saying something outrageous. For example, “I’ve had sex with thirteen men—and, no, I’m not promiscuous!”

 

Opportunities in specific places

when writers wait
Airports: Where is s/he going? Why? What’s in his/her carry-on? Traveling coach or first class? Why was s/he pulled aside for further security screening? Is this person traveling alone or not? Is it a family? Business colleagues? Lovers?

 

doctor waiting room
Doctor’s/dentist’s office: What’s his/her condition? Is it terminal? Does that bald person have cancer? Does that person have reason to be nervous or is it just “white coat syndrome”? If the former, what reasons? If the latter, what is the origin?

 

grocery store cart
Grocery store: Check out the carts around you. Is this person shopping for one or a family? Is this a health-food nut or a snack food junkie? Omnivore or vegan? What does it say if the other shopper brought bags, asks for paper, or goes plastic?

 

waiting in line
BOTTOM LINE: Use your waits to build your writing arsenal!

Writer Wonder Woman Ursula K. Le Guin

ursula k le guin
Ursula K. Le Guin reading from Lavinia at Rakestraw Books, Danville, California, on June 23, 2008 [Source]
 
On several dimensions important to me—and to most writers—Ursula Le Guin has excelled almost beyond comprehension. One thing I admire, which doesn’t fit into any particular category, is that Le Guin’s writing is a spiral rather than a line, i.e., she didn’t write one way and then move on to another, never looking back. When you examine the list of her publications at the end of this blog, you’ll see that in any given year, she was writing in several directions, and in later years she circled back to earlier series.
 

Wonder Woman for Breadth

 
Although best known for science fiction and fantasy, over a writing career that spanned more than half a century, she wrote all sorts of things for all sorts of readers, across genres and formats. Her first publication was a poem, “Folksong from the Montayna Province,” in 1959. She continued to write poetry over the decades, but she would never have labeled herself a poet. The New York Times (2016) called her “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” but she preferred to be known as a novelist.

 

Ursula K. LeGuin
Ursula K. LeGuin in 1973 [Source: New York Public Library]
Besides poetry, science fiction, and fantasy, she wrote children’s books, short stories, literary fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism, and blogs. Among her non-fiction writings are books of advice for writers, which grew out of her work as an editor and teacher (at Tulane, Bennington, and Stanford, among others), the best known of which is Steering the Craft. BTW, within the last nine months, this guide has been recommended to me by two separate and independent writing teachers.

 

Wonder Woman for Social Justice

 
Writing during years when what was socially accepted was evolving, her fiction often depicted alternatives seldom spoken of regarding gender options and alternatives, religion, race, sexuality, politics, the natural environment, and culture. Perhaps this was the legacy of having an anthropologist father and a mother trained in psychology who later turned to writing. According to Wikipedia, her writing contains many recurring themes and ideas: the archetypal journey, cultural contact, communication, the search for identity, and reconciling opposing forces. This is as I remembered her fiction from years ago. I think it’s about time to revisit Le Guin!

 

Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) has been called her first contribution to feminism. Le Guin created, for example, a planet where humans have no fixed sex. Her work brings to the foreground on an ongoing basis equality, coming-of-age, and death.
What I call her “sociological/cultural” approach is what appealed to me, as opposed to sci-fi/fantasy that depends on technology, genetic modification, mind control, robots, and similar machines of domination.

 

Wonder Woman for Achievement

Overall Achievement
Le Guin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe and was awarded three Fulbrights. In 2002 the U.S. Library of Congress made Le Guin a Living Legend in the “Writers and Artists” category.

 

  • A PEN/Malamud Award
  • American Library Association honors for young adult literature and for children’s literature
  • Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Lifetime Achievement Award
  • The Maxine Cushing Gray Fellowship for Writers from the Washington Center for the Book
  • The Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation
  • National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (a lifetime Achievement award)
  • Gandalf Award Grand Master of Fantasy
  • Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association
  • Induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
  • Grand Master of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
  • North American Society for Utopian Studies Lyman Tower Sargent Distinguished Scholar Award
Awards for Specific Works
  • 5 Locus
  • 4 Nebula
  • 2 Hugo
  • 1 World Fantasy Award.
  • 4 awards in short fiction
  • 19 Locus awards voted by magazine subscribers
  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Finalist for 10 Mythopoeic Awards
  • Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • Hugo Award for Best Related Work
  • PLUS: other annual “Year’s Best” awards
ursula k le guin
[Source: New York Times]

Wonder Woman for Productivity 

See for yourself below. And this is only an approximation!  I’ve marked award winners by *. For more than one award, multiple asterisks. Disclaimer: I’ve done my best but I’m sure I’ve missed both publications (particularly short stories and novellas, which often don’t make lists) and awards. Still, it’s pretty impressive!
 
Hainish science fiction series 
left hand darkness le guin
[Source: Amazon]
Rocannon’s World, 1966
Planet of Exile, 1966
City of Illusions, 1967
The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969**
The Dispossessed, 1974***
The Word for World is Forest, 1976*
Four Ways to Forgiveness, 1995
The Telling, 2000**

 

Earthsea fantasy series
tehanu le guin
[Source: Goodreads]
A Wizaard of Earthsea, 1968*
The Tombs of Atuan, 1971*
The Farthest Shore, 1972*
Tenah: The Last Book of Earthsea, 1990**
Tales from Earthsea, 2001 (short stories)
The Other Wind, 2001*
Earthsea Revisioned, 1993 (an Earthsea non-fiction book)

 

Adventures in Kroy books
adventures kroy le guin
[Source: Goodreads]
The Adventures of Cobbler’s Rue (1982)
Solomon Leviathan’s Nine-Hundred and Thirty-First Trip Around the World, 1982

 

Catwing book series
catwings le guin
[Source: Amazon]
Catwings, 1988
Catwings Return, 1989
Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, 1994
Jane On Her Own, 1992
Cat Dreams, 2009

 

Chronicles Of The Western Shore books
gifts ursula le guin
[Source: Amazon]
Gifts, 2004
Voices, 2006
Powers, 2007*

 

Standalone Novels
lathe heaven ursula le guin
[Source: Amazon]
The Lathe of Heaven, 1971*
Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, 1976
The Eye of the Heron, 1978
Malafrena, 1979
The Beginning Place, 1980
Always Coming Home, 1985
Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand, 1991
Changing Planes, 2002*
Lavinia, 2008*

 

Short Stories and Novellas
The Day Before the Revolutios, 1974*
The Water is Wide, 1976
Leese Webster, 1979
Gwillan’s Harp, 1981
The Visionary: The Life Story of Flicker the Serpentine of Telina-Na, 1984
The Shobies’ Story, 1990
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, 1991*
Nine Lives, 1992
Buffalo Gals: Won’t You Come Out Tonight, 1994**
Solitude, 1995*
Coming of Age in Karhide, 1995
Old Music and the Slave Women, 1999
The Wild Girls, 2011

 

Short Story and Poetry Collections
writer wonder woman ursula k le guin
[Source: Goodreads]
Wild Agels, 1974
Orsinian Tales, 1975
The Winds’s Twelve Quarters, 1975
Walking in Cornwall, 1976
Nebula Award Stories 11, 1976
Hard Words and Other Poems, 1981
The Compass Rose, 1982
In the Red Zone, 1983
Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, 1987
The Visionary, Wonders Hidden, 1988
Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, 1993
Going Out with Peacocks and Other Poems, 1994
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, 1994
Unlocking the Air and Other Stories, 1996
Sixty Odd: New Poems, 1999
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, 2002
Incredible Good Fortune: New Poems, 2006
Dragon Lords and Warrior Women, 2010
Finding My Elegy, 2012
Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014

 

Picture Books
A Visit from Dr. Katz, 1988
Fire and Stone, 1989
Fish Soup, 1992
A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back, 1992
Tom Mouse, 2001

 

Non-Fiction Books
Surviving Technology Dependence
From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, 1973
Dreams Must Explain Themselves, 1975
The Language of the Night, 1979
Steering the Craft, 1984
Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989
The Way of the Water’s Going, 1989
The Wave in the Mind, 2004
Cheek by Jowl, 2009
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, 2009
The World Split Open, 2014
Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, 2015
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, 2017**

 

ursula k le guin no time spare
[Source: Amazon]
This book is a collection of the best of Le Guin’s blogs—the newest frontier of writing. If she had not died January 22, 2018, who knows where she might have gone next?

Why Human Skulls?

October is traditionally the month to bring out Jack-o-Lanterns, ghosts, spiders, monsters of all sorts, and skeletons. But this October, my focus is on human skulls. Some of you are aware that I have been posting skull pictures on FB dailyBut why? Short answer: because I love them! They can, do, and always have represented many meanings to many people and cultures.
why human skulls

Skull Symbolism

 
As best I remember, I first noticed skulls on old tombstones in Boston. Virtually every tombstone featured some version of a skull. A frequent depiction was a skull with angel wings, presumed to represent death and life after death.

 

why human skulls
Subsequently, traveling abroad, I saw skulls in paintings, representing mortality, the swift passage of time, and that life is temporary.

 

Catacombes of Paris
Catacombs of Paris, 2007 [Source: Djtox]
In Rome, Prague, and cities in Portugal, I saw whole rooms and cathedrals walled and decorated with skulls, often honoring dead saints.

 

Skulls For Honor

Skulls honoring the dead took a much more personal turn in Cuzco, Peru. Since Inca times, mummies of the dead emperors were kept in homes and played an important role as leaders in Cuzco. Traditionally, families kept the skulls of ancestors on small altars in their homes. The pictures above are not mine, but when there I visited a one-room Inca home still inhabited by a family where an ancestral skull rested on a shelf carved into the stone wall, along with a partly burned candle and dried herbs. The skulls of loved ones are said to be good company, and to watch over and protect the family and the home.

 

why human skulls
In Mexico’s Day of the Dead, dead ancestors and relatives are honored in a joyous celebration in which sugar skulls in bright colors create a celebration of life as well as death.

 

Using Skulls

 
why human skulls
Using the domes of skulls as bowls, as ritual drinking cups, and/or as a tribute to the victor goes back millennia. The oldest known one was 12,750 BCE. Posting or displaying the heads of slain enemies is well known. It may be that people made skull cups to honor and remember their dead, but it could also have been to try to tap into magical or healing powers.

 

Skull medicine has a long history. In the 17th century, people would drink from skulls, drink the powdered skull, or imbibe the entire head. This was part of a widespread tradition of medicinal cannibalism using everything (bone, blood, flesh, and fat) that continued into the 18th and even the 19th centuries.

 

But I Don’t Do Any of Those Things With Skulls.

why human skulls
I have skulls for ornamentation and symbolism.  At first I wore skull scarves and jewelry for mystery book signings and panel presentations only. The more I looked at created skulls, the more attractive I found them to be. I’m not alone in this. A human skull with its large eye sockets is especially appealing to people and is easily recognized even in fragments. I especially like mineral skulls, and created this one-of-a-kind choker for myself.

 

why human skulls
I first read about the power of stones for a short story, “Beast and the Beauty.” Interestingly, I didn’t come across any stone for which the asserted power is malevolent. And even more interestingly (to me), some ancient societies believed that objects like crystal skulls represent life, the honoring of humanity in the flesh, and the embodiment of consciousness. That appeals to me.

 

why human skulls
If you search for skull symbolism online, you will find a post on bikerringshop.com, “Behind the Bones: the History of the Skull Ring.” This anonymously authored post includes a lot of interesting info; for example, “To the Victorians, a skull ring was a way to celebrate lost loved ones and a reminder of the wearer’s own mortality.”

 

In addressing the complicated symbolism surround skull rings, they address the following topics.

 

  1. Death Symbolism: most obvious association; a way of embracing and understanding your fate
  2. Carpe Diem: time is limited, so free spirits make the most of it
  3. A Reminder of Life: associated with the afterlife in many religions, from Aztecs to Christianity
  4. A Symbol of Equality: everyone will die, and one skull is pretty much like another
  5. Toughness and Rebellion: representing rebels, people who play by their own rules; bravery and toughness in the face of death.
why human skulls
Actually, I have more pendants and earrings than rings, from the totally formal to the clearly casual.

 

BOTTOM LINE: Find out about skulls, consider their meaning, and enjoy them.

Horror Week is Here

horror week here
Celebrate it on Goodreads! Here you will find their list of the 50 most popular horror books on Goodreads, “From Mary Shelley to Stephen King.”  You can also read the Ghastly Horror Subgenres (sic), Book-to-Scream Adaptations, 13 True Tales of Terror, and—just for fun—The Nightmare Generator. My worst nightmare is supposed to be an incompetent vampire in the nursery. For my husband, it’s supposed to be a paranoid cannibal in the attic. FIND YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!
complete works edgar allan poe
Edgar Allan Poe is only one proof that well-written horror is well-written literature. It’s timeless. And every set of tips on how to write horror includes the observation that good writing, and all the elements thereof, are the foundation with horror being an add-on. “Horror” means an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

 

horror week here
Now Novel is a good place to start if you are thinking of dipping your toe into this genre. According to this blog, the 5 common elements of the best horror stories are these:

 

  • They explore malevolent or wicked characters, deeds, or phenomena.
  • They arouse feelings of fear, shock, or disgust as well as the sense of the uncanny.
  • They are intense.
  • They contain scary and/or shocking and scintillating plot twists and story reveals.
  • They immerse readers in the macabre.

 

The blog then goes on to discuss six tips:
  1. How to write horror using a strong, pervasive tone.
  2. The importance of reading widely in your genre.
  3. Giving wicked characters credible motives
  4. Using the core elements of tragedy
  5. Writing scary novels by tapping into common human fears.
  6. The difference between terror and horror.

 

horror week here
If you want even more advice, you can find it at The Ramble. According to Chuck Wendig, horror is best when it’s about tragedy. It contains subversion, admonition, and fear of the unknown. Horror works on our minds, our hearts, and our gut. It can be gross, but that isn’t necessary. What is necessary is for characters you love to make choices you hate. “SEX AND DEATH ALSO PLAY WELL TOGETHER.” You should never tell readers they should be scared. He writes much more than this, of course.

 

horror week here
In my opinion, one of the best sites is Bustle. It includes comments from ten authors, including Stephen King, who discusses gross-out, horror, and terror.

 

horror week here
Advice from others includes:

 

  • Shirley Jackson: Use your own fear.
  • R.I. Stine: Get inside your narrator’s head.
  • Tananarive Due: Don’t worry about being “legitimate.”
  • Ray Bradbury: Take your nonsense seriously.
  • Anne Rice: Go where the pain is.
  • Clive Barker: The scariest thing is feeling out of control.
  • Linda Addison: Just start writing and fix it later.
  • Neil Gaiman: Tell your own story.
  • Helen Oyeyemi: Keep it real (kind of).
horror week here
And the advice goes on. Bottom line: This is the week to read and/or write a little horror!
 
horror week here
goodreads horror week

When E-Readers Are Better than Physical Books

mary renault books kindle
I’m picturing and talking about Kindle here because that’s what I have, but I assume other e-readers have the same characteristics. No doubt some of the points I make will be already known to you—for example, portability and convenience. As you can see in the above picture, my Kindle currently contains 338 books. That’s hundreds of books at my fingertips—i.e., hundreds of choices, virtually anytime, anywhere.

 

Then, too, any book can be read in large print. Sometimes, depending on fatigue, people who don’t usually need larger print temporarily do! Then, too, one can control the brightness to read comfortably in varying ambient light. And, not insignificantly, new e-books cost considerably less than their physical counterparts. (One can often find great prices on old books, overstocks, books in library book sales, etc. The downside is often not being able to get the book you want, when you want it.)

 

king must die mary renault
I recently started rereading Mary Renault. She was a favorite of mine years ago, and I decided to revisit her work and see what I think of it now that I write fiction myself. I’m not disappointed! She writes well: strong verbs, vivid action, good sensory appeal (especially visual), a well-rounded protagonist, and excellent weaving together of myth and archaeological evidence.

 

But, frankly, I don’t know how I made it through the physical books! For example, The King Must Die has a cast of thousands (only a slight exaggeration), references to gods who are (to me) only vaguely familiar, complex family relationships, unfamiliar geography, and lots of references to antique items and geology. KINDLE TO THE RESCUE! By holding my finger on an unfamiliar word, I learned that keeking means peeping surreptitiously, porphyry is a reddish igneous rock, greaves are shin armor, and hundreds more! Where in the past I would have skimmed the unfamiliar or approximated meaning from context, my e-reader gave me a much richer read.

 

last wine mary renault
The King Must Die was such a joy, I’m now on the next. Indeed, I’ve downloaded every Renault Amazon has available. (FYI, I binge read authors I really like.) And I believe every reader of the unfamiliar, whether fiction or nonfiction, can have an enhanced read on an e-reader.
 
Bottom line: Reading on an electronic device is an opportunity to broaden vocabulary, deepen general knowledge, and make the esoteric available to the non-expert!