Witchy Weekends: Samhain

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone! This is my last Witchy Weekends post until next October. I hope you have enjoyed the smorgasbord this year.

I’m finishing out the series today with an acknowledgement of Samhain, the pagan New Year. You can learn about this high holiday here. In a nutshell, it’s the day when the Wheel of the Year turns, the veil between the worlds (the living and the dead) is the thinnest, and it’s an important time for remembering the life and death cycles of our world and everyone and everything in it. In other words, it has many of the same qualities as other major world religions and cultures. One thing I’ve learned from my research is that the associations of evil times and practices with this holiday is about as far from the actual truth as you can get.

You can look online for images of Samhain altars and find a virtual cornucopia of beautiful pictures. Some of them resemble gardens, some of them resemble goth art installations, and some of them resemble Dia de Los Muertos shrines. They are all personal and special and endearing, each in its own way. I’d include some of them here but don’t want to accidentally impinge on anyone’s copyight.

I’ve been considering doing something different with my Hallowe’en decorations next year and might be borrowing some of these traditional aesthetics myself. Time will tell.

Now I must get ready to take my kids trick-or-treating. Have a wonderful end of the holiday!

 

Witchy Weekends: Review of WITCH PLEASE by Ann Aguirre

Witch Please by Ann Aguirre is an entertaining paranormal rom-com that nibbles at some important social issues without treading into heavy-handed territory.

Danica Waterhouse lives with her first cousin Clementine in a small midwestern town. They own a fix-it shop and perform technomancy, a form of magic that repairs broken gadgets, appliances, and electronics, for their fellow townspeople. The catch, though, is that they can’t let anyone know they’re using actual magic, because for one thing, they can’t let people know that witches (the actual magical kind who have metaphysical powers) are real, and for another, they don’t want to bring witch hunters onto themselves and their coven. (Or, as they like to call themselves, their “book club.”)

The challenge comes in when Danica meets Titus, a mundane (i.e. not a witch), and they have instant romantic chemistry. And since this book is firmly in the romance genre, working out whether they’ll end up together is most of the plot. But the journey through that plot is pretty fun.

I won’t lie, this book feels like a confection sometimes, and not just because Titus is a supremely talented baker. But Witch Please does begin to explore deeper issues, too, including real-life dangers and prejudices against pagans, bigotry rooted in fear, emotional manipulation within families, and the importance of ride-or-die friendships against the pull of one’s heart.

Other reviews online have made some valid points about some of this book’s features and quirks that are not satisfying for every reader, particularly Titus’ arguably underdeveloped bisexuality and the question of whether the varying gray shades of honesty within their relationship would work well in the real world.

The second book in this series focuses on Clem, and the foundation of her storyline is significantly developed, dovetailing quite nicely with Danica’s in this first book. I haven’t read the second one yet, but since I generally enjoyed Witch Please, at some point I’m sure I probably will.

What fun witchy books have you read? Or entertaining romances? Tell us in the comments!

Witchy Weekends: Review of Deborah Blake’s New Book

I encountered this book when Alethea Kontis recommended it on her #FriendlyFridays series, and since I’m fascinated by spellbooks as cultural artifacts, I checked it out. While it was published earlier this year, it took several weeks to arrive after the presumed release date due to the supply chain woes currently hampering the book industry (as well as most other industries right now). But it was definitely worth the wait; this is a fun one!

The Eclectic Witch’s Book of Shadows by Deborah Blake is part grimoire, part journal, part recipe collection, and part friendly encyclopedia. It is both practical and entertaining, with a wealth of competent knowledge that any practitioner from New Age to hobbyist to pagan can find real value in. It also contains ample space for the reader to add plenty of their own knowledge and experience to make this a truly personal book of shadows.

This cover art gives you a good idea of what the interior illustrations look like.

The sections included in this book include herbs, stones, candles, magical recipes, divination, gods and goddesses, invocations and quarter calls, spells, rituals, recipes, and correspondences. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet radiates respectful kindness of the faith practices (and to some extent psychology) of a healthy swath of the population.

This book contains charming and colorful illustrations by Mickie Mueller, the kind that give off a peaceful and cheerful vibe. This is not the sort of book conspicuous Goths like Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade (from SNL’s Goth Talk, ca. 1997-2000) would gravitate toward, but a useful and fun book that could be appreciated by a young or new practitioner and an experienced one and everyone in between — as well as those who, like me, find this genre of literature interesting for its peek into another worldview.

Witchy Earworm: INTO THE WOODS

Hello! We’re having a long weekend here, so my days are a little disorganized and I have a ton of work to do for school, and I’m therefore combining this (long) weekend’s Witchy Weekends post with today’s Monday Earworm. But you get two delightful items in one blog post, so that’s something, right?

Here are two of my favorite selections, sung primarily by The Witch, from the musical Into the Woods, written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

Fun fact: I have only a handful of musicals on the list of musicals I like. Into the Woods used to be my favorite, until Hamilton came along, and now that one is my favorite, but ITW is still definitely on the list.

The first song is the Witch’s Rap from the first act, and the second one is “Your Fault / Last Midnight” from the second act. I love them both for how beautifully they convey the complicated multiple facets of The Witch — not only in this play, but also in the rich pageant of literature and literary archetypes. (Maybe more on that later. We’ll see.)

A lot of amazing people have played The Witch in this musical. I’ve included here the original, Bernadette Peters, who is an icon and a legend to be sure. But Meryl Streep, Vanessa Williams, Hannah Waddingham, and countless others have rocked this character onstage (and perhaps also in film?). Who is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below, and feel free to link to a video of your favorite performance, too!

And the second one…

 

Witchy Weekends: Holiday Decor

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll last month to help me curate this year’s series. Turns out the votes were all over the place! So a seasonal smorgasbord it is…

This weekend I’m posting a book spine poem I created while I was decorating my house for Hallowe’en. So far only the library is done — okay, mostly done — but I will get to the outside of the house in the very near future; I just want the heavy rains to be finished for a while first. (I also have a mountain of papers to grade and report card comments to write this week, so…)

One of my favorite things about book spine poetry is that it illustrates the versatility and importance of punctuation. (Yes, I’m a grammar geek.) Similarly to grammar, punctuation is architecture: it gives our sentences structure. Book spine poems are just a bunch of seemingly unrelated or random words — until you add punctuation in there and create a story.

Enjoy!

The tale of Murasaki:
Cleopatra’s daughter,
witches of east end,
the lust lizard of Melancholy Cove,
tea,
Arabian nights.
Spoiler alert:
any rogue will do.
And for a bonus, here’s the rest of this year’s mantel.

September Poll Plans For October

Hello! Welcome to September. I don’t know about you, but I’m desperately happy it’s not August, The Official Worst Month Of The Year In Texas. This September is admittedly not ideal, but we’re going to press on forward, onward and upward, and fake it till we make it around here.

One of the things I really love about September is its proximity to October, which actually is my favorite month! (Or one of them. Or probably my actual favorite. I mean, October is just grand.)

And October on the blog means the triumphant return of Witchy Weekends, one of the seasonal celebrations we do around here. This series has taken on a variety of forms over the years, and this time I’m in a bit of a quandary deciding what to feature. There are just so many options!

So I thought I’d pose the question to you, dear readers: what would you enjoy seeing here on the blog this October? Please let me know in this totally informal and unscientific poll, and feel free to expound upon your opinions in the comments section. I will take your preferences into account.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

 

Witchy Weekends: Something Different

First, Happy Hallowe’en! Today’s will be the last installment in this year’s Witchy Weekends series. I hope you’ve been enjoying it this year (and every year, for those of you who have been here for a while).

Today I’m posting something very different, because, honestly, I just wasn’t able to produce another scene in “The Frog Wish” this week that I felt satisfied with. I’m not one of those authors who feels The Muse must descend in order for me to write anything. I’m realistic enough to understand that stuff has to get done regardless of whether I feel “inspired” in some grand or mythical sense.

However, part of that realism is recognizing that I have multiple projects happening at the same time, and sometimes those projects have deadlines, and some of those deadlines are more pressing than others. So while I’m loving “The Frog Wish” and having a lot of fun with it, it is definitely a side lark, and the more pressing business of the new novel I’m currently writing had to take precedence this week.

However, I do have something else to offer you. The video I’ve posted below is a book chat between my friend Kara and me, about witchy books for the season and some movie adaptations we’ve been enjoying. I hope you’ll find it interesting. We certainly had fun chatting with each other, enough that we might do it again in the future. So stay tuned.

Have a very nice and safe Hallowe’en, if you’re celebrating it, and otherwise, see you in November!

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. Read on for part 5.

***

The Frog Wish (continued)

“Do you know if there’s any food here?” Eleanor asked after she’d been jogging after Reginald’s hopping form for at least fifteen minutes. At least this activity had taken the edge off the cold. He stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’ve been eating this whole time,” he said, “but my guess is you don’t like mosquitoes.”

“Clever of you.” She just barely prevented herself from snarking about frogs’ legs. “You said sometimes people come here? Humans? How long do they usually stay?”

And did they bring food with them? And did they come of their own volition? And were they trapped here? She had so many questions but didn’t think Reginald would bother answering if they come at him in a volley.

“There’s a market road about two clicks ahead.”

“Market of what? Is there a village around here somewhere?”

“All kinds of things. And maybe? I’ve never seen any settlements in these woods.”

Eleanor looked around at the silvery landscape. Trees as far as the eye could see, and only shadows between them. The trail they’d been traveling wasn’t even well established: she’d had to stop several times to extract pebbles or leafy twigs from her shoes. At least she’d put on sneakers when she started moving the bedroom furniture. Furniture she’d really love to get back to right this very minute. “How many times have you come here?”

“Ribbit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“Fine, don’t answer me. But I really need food, and so far I haven’t seen anything Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)”

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns

So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!

But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.

Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.

That said, let us commence with…

 

THE FROG WISH

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him. 

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.” 

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said. Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns”

Witchy Weekends: The Frog Wish (part 4)

Hello! Sorry this post is a little late, but there were too many holiday festivities over the weekend for me to get this scene into a readable state in time.

So below you’ll find the fourth installment in a new story I’m working on, working title “The Frog Wish.” I hope you’ll read it and give me your opinions on it. It’s best to start with the first scene and work through them in order for them to make the most sense.

Click this link for the first scene.

Click this link for the second scene.

Click this link for the third scene.

*****

“The Frog Wish” (part 4)

The mirror world was cold. Eleanor wasn’t dressed warmly enough in the bum-around t-shirt she’d put on to move furniture. She let her hair out of its ponytail, but that only kept the wind off her neck and shoulders. It was something, but not enough. And she had no idea how long she’d been here because whenever she looked at her watch, the hands just spun around like a drunken compass pointing at everything but the time. And the landscape they gestured to appeared to be a grayscale world of nebulous wooded avenues and the vague sense of the outdoors. She couldn’t see far and didn’t want to go wandering, lest she become lost and unable to return to whatever portal Moira had sent her through. So she sat down in the shelter of a large silver tree and stewed in furious wait for Reginald to show up.

“A frog. How am I even going to recognize him?” He hadn’t looked particularly unusual, as frogs went, the one time she’d seen him in Moira’s shop.

Had that only been this morning?

Yes, she had just been in the shop today, and she remembered Moira had dropped something small and hard into her pocket. Eleanor was still wearing those same loose lounging pants and pulled the item out. It was maybe the size of three acorns tied together and wrapped in black and white ribbons. She unwrapped them and found a dark stone, almost burgundy-brown, covered in alternating bands of different shades of red. It was polished smooth and warm from being close to her body.

“Thank you for not traveling far from this spot,” came a croaky voice off to her left.

Eleanor spun around and saw a large frog staring at her. “Reginald?” she asked, hoping she wasn’t talking to some random frog and also, hearing voices that weren’t there.

“That’s me. Ribbit.” The frog’s tongue whipped from its mouth and licked its own eyeball.

“Moira sent you?”

“Ayup.”

“Did she tell you why she sent me into the mirror world?”

“Is that what you’re calling it? Ribbit.

“What else am I going to call it?” she asked, more shrilly than she intended. “How did she even put me here? How can I get home?” She lifted the book and the stone. “And what use are these?”

“You have any other questions?” Was it possible for a frog to look even more nonplussed than a frog usually did? If so, Reginald seemed to be attempting it.

Eleanor put her head down on her knees. “This experience has reached the limits of my ability to handle the surreal.”

“That’s okay.” She looked up at him. “I’ll wait until you’re ready to get going.” Reginald’s tongue flicked out again and caught something Eleanor couldn’t even see.

“Are you going to take me home?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“I want to talk to Moira.”

“I don’t have a phone, so you’re going to have to wait until you get back to the other side.”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that??”

“Ribbit.”

Eleanor put her face in her hands and screamed. When she looked back up, Reginald was still sitting there, looking as calm as any frog she’d ever seen. Which is to say, just like all frogs. Frogs which sat on the edges of ponds, and under hedges near the sidewalk after a rain, and occasionally in the woods Eleanor had visited when she was a child and her family got out of the city for a couple of days. Frogs which could not, as far as she had ever known, do anything at all to be helpful other than eat mosquitoes.

Finally she got up and dusted off whatever black dirt might have gotten on the back of her pants. She held out the stone toward Reginald.

“What is this rock?” she asked. “Can you identify it?”

He twisted his eyes slightly. “Looks like a tiger’s eye.”

A stone of protection. Okay, best not to lose that. She stuffed it back into her pocket and wrapped the ribbons into a loop and put them in there, too. She held up the fairy tale book.

“And this? Why did Moira think I need this here with me?”

“Don’t you like to read? Ribbit.

She took a deep breath to avoid shouting at him. He was just a frog, after all. What did he know from books?

“How long am I going to be stuck here?” Moira had made it seem like it might be a while, if she was planning to take care of Eleanor’s house while she was gone.

And what about her client meetings next week?
And what about food? She was starting to feel hungry. So far she hadn’t seen anything in the twenty-foot radius she’d explored that might be edible.

“And what time is it, anyway? Do you know?”

Reginald’s eyes swiveled up at what passed for sky here: a dense canopy of metallic looking leaves. He looked back at her. “Night.”

She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Then let it out. Then took another, and slowly let it out. After her third cleansing breath, she could speak in a calmer tone of voice.

“What am I supposed to do here?”

“My guess is go on a quest. Ribbit.

“And are you going to help me with that?” Why else would Moira have sent him?

“I could. I know a pretty terrific spot not far from here where people sometimes visit.”

She wondered what people, and whether Moira had shoved them through their own mirrors, too.

“All right then.” She bent down, then untied and retied her shoelaces a little more securely. When she stood up, she made her t-shirt as presentable as she could. She put her hair back into its ponytail then thought better of it; it was still pretty cold here. She looked down at Reginald. “Lead the way.”

“Ribbit.” He turned around and hopped off, pretty fast for a little guy. She had to jog after him to keep up.

*****

Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
*  What did you like?
*  What confused you, if anything?
*  What needs work?
*  What are you most interested about?
*  What do you think will happen next?

The Witchy Weekends series is finished for another eleven months, but if you’re interested in reading more of Eleanor’s story, please do let me know! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little experiment of mine; tell me what you thought in the comments below.

*****

Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!