Land of Talismans: Dante’s Story

Vue-sur-Potosi-bon[1]

While I await the arrival of my grandson, I write Land of Talismans, #4 in the Night Angels Chronicles. These books have been inspired by my travels all over the world. This excerpt tells us more about the rebel Dante, a Yazidi by human birth. He takes Sera to Potosi in Bolivia to show her how he became a rebel.

I found we had landed on a high mountain plateau. It felt like early morning. I had lost track of time, of days. I was living outside of normal constraints, moving where I wished, on whims. On instincts, perhaps.

Wind moaned, dust swirled. This was a desolate yet beautiful place. Below us lay a red-roofed city, stretching far across a valley. At its center rose glorious colonial Spanish churches and administrative buildings. From there, the city spread and the further it went, the more tumbled-down and neglected it became. It was as if the creators of the central beauty had used the outskirts to casually toss their trash in heaps, which had then been gathered by the poor into makeshift homesteads.

Dante seated himself on a nearby rock and I did the same.

“Welcome to Potosi, Bolivia,” he said.

“Why here?” I said. I had expected him to take me to where he had been raised, in the northern mountains of Iraq somewhere.

potosi devil

The devil of the mountain 

“Because this is the first place I came on my own, after I left the one who turned me. This is where I first practiced the ways of the rebels. It is a place of such contrasting beauty and suffering. It is a place where the piety of the church and the worship of the devil coexist, almost in harmony. What I saw here decided my path. This city was once the largest and richest in the world.”

Gold Altar in Santo Domingo Church

He gestured toward the mountains behind us. “Silver mines. The Spanish got their hands on the mines. Millions of people have died, children, feeding the greed of the Spaniards. The streets down there were once paved in silver. Eventually, it ran out, but then, there were other minerals to be dug out of the earth. Humans have insatiable appetites, as do vampires.”

He stopped for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Then, he began to speak, telling me his story.

“”I am relatively young, compared to your denizen friends. I was born a human in the year 1798, in the mountainous region of northwestern Iraq.  I was–I am–a Yazidi. Perhaps the most misunderstood and persecuted people in the world. Muslims and Christians hate us as devil worshipers. Most recently, the Islamic State has swallowed up our territory, forcing us to flee, convert, or be killed. Ours is the oldest religion in the world. We believe in one god, but we also believe in an angel Tawusi Melek, who defied god and served as an intermediary between man and the divine. The way we describe or refer to Tawusi Melek, Muslims somehow have decided we are talking about the Quranic description of Shaytan–the devil–even though Tawusi Melek is a force for good in our religion.”

“So, this angel is interpreted also by Christians as the devil–Lucifer?” I said.

Dante nodded. “It’s all stupid talk, you understand. All these words that divide us. Different interpretations. Lucifer is the father of us all. But where, I wonder, is our mother? Perhaps she is the ultimate god above us all?”

“That’s something I never thought of before,” I said.

“And perhaps Lucifer is just another soul like the rest of us, seeking redemption.”

I nodded. “I wonder about these things. I’ve asked Strejan, but he has few answers.”

“Strejan is a wise and learned denizen. I know you question whether you can trust the Night Angels. I believe you can trust them as much as you can trust anyone who truly does their best to live a good life under impossible circumstances. But whatever happens in the end, Sera, even if they betray you, it doesn’t mean they are any less good than you or I. Remember, they have the same trust issues about you that you have about them.”

I had never thought of it quite like this before. “It’d be nice if there was an obvious way to tell what was good and what was evil.”

“Those who look for absolutes, who claim to have found them, are the most dangerous of all.”

“It was Blanca who turned me.” He said this so suddenly, so unexpectedly, it took me a moment to even realize he had changed the subject.

Some of the heaviness fell away from Dante and he grinned. “Yeah, that little firecracker. My people have faced genocide many times over. There are only some 800,000 of us left. It was like this when I was growing up.  Fear. Persecution. Hatred. When I was twenty, I made a pilgrimage with my mother and father and my betrothed to the sacred city of Lalish, as all Yazidi should do. There, on the night we arrived, I left my family at an inn and went to meet some of the men of our group. But I never got to the meeting place. In a narrow street I came upon some bandits who were attacking a group of pilgrims. I went to help them but someone pushed me aside so forcefully I was flung hard against a wall. I must have passed out for a brief moment because when I came to, I saw this hooded figure with a sword, cutting down the bandits. The figure was so small, so insignificant in stature, and yet it radiated power, like a young, vibrant star, pulsing in the cold, dead universe surrounding it. When the battle was finished and the bandits lay dead or mortally wounded, the figure turned, without even a word to the stunned pilgrims, and walked away, right past me, as if I, too, did not exist.

“I never gave a thought to my next action. I simply stood up to follow. I kept my distance, but of course I didn’t fool the warrior who disappeared around a corner and when I went to turn the corner, jumped out and grabbed me by the throat, pinning me against the wall.

“I saw with shock that it was a woman holding me with such strength that I was powerless to fight against her. Yet her features were delicate, she had such a small pointed chin that looked somehow so vulnerable. Her lips were parted and much to my amazement I saw two sharp fangs. Her eyes were black, the white surrounding them tinged with blood. From the core of her being rage and torment radiated outward like a living thing. In that moment of facing her for the first time, I felt that if she killed me, I would gladly go into eternity. To have my life taken by such a one would surely send me to a higher plane in my next existence.

“But she did not kill me. She let go and I dropped to the ground. Understand that I was a strong young man, filled with the arrogance that goes with it, yet I had been humbled to the point of obeisance. I could not comprehend what had happened to me. She walked away, still without a word. I got up and went after her.

She turned and growled like an animal–the first sound I’d heard from her lips. But she didn’t attack me again. She walked away. And again I followed her. She ignored me, pretended I wasn’t there, but I was beginning to hope that perhaps she was testing me, and that perhaps she wasn’t as adverse to me being there as she tried to appear.

I smiled. “You were already beginning to know her. That sounds just like Blanca.”

Dante smiled back. “Yes, always hiding her true feelings. I followed her out of the city to her camp, hidden between some rocks with a narrow opening. I stayed my distance, at the entrance, but I wouldn’t leave. She continued to ignore me. This went on for days, maybe weeks. I don’t remember. I followed her. She ignored me.

“What about your family, your betrothed?” I asked.

Dante shook his head. “I never went back to them. Never gave them another thought. I don’t know what they must have thought of my disappearance. It didn’t matter. This thing that had happened to me, this encounter, how could I not pursue it? One moment in time had completely altered my perspective, my reasoning, my very reason for living. All that mattered was following this otherworldly creature, wherever it led me.

“And then on night, as I lay in a kind of stupor, exhausted almost to the point of death for I hadn’t eaten in I don’t know how long, I looked up to find her standing over me. I thought it must be an hallucination. Above her dark head the stars shone like jewels. I could not see her face, only the glint of her fangs when she opened her mouth.

“She had not spoken to me, not once, but now, for the fist time since I had followed after her, she did.

“You know Blanca’s voice, her mocking tone. It was like that then, but with an underlying sweetness. ‘I think I have grown used to you. I think I must keep you.'”

Dante stopped speaking, overcome by the intimacy of what he was telling me. When he spoke again, it was almost imperceptible.

“In the moment of hearing her voice, I lost all of myself into her. To say I fell in love. What does that mean? I fell into infinity.”

“She turned you,” I offered.

“Yes. You know how it is, there is no adequate description. Except for all of us, depending on our circumstances, our need, our connection to the one who turns us, the experience is unique.”

He looked at me gravely. “Yours is the most unique of us all. To be turned by the five Night Angels. To have drunk of all their blood. To have survived.” His gaze held deep respect. “Oh how you must worry Lucifer with the potential of your power!”

His words frightened me. “Stop. It terrifies me when people insinuate such things. Just continue with your story. Please.”

He nodded. “After that, we were inseparable for perhaps one year. The battle against vampires raged. Vampires were being captured and imprisoned in crypts all over the world by denizens families. The Night Angels had not yet given themselves that name, but they were a family and I was supposed to be one of them.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Dante gathered a handful of small stones and we both watched as he let them fall slowly through his fingers back to the ground.

“I was a Yazidi, remember. I could not believe that Lucifer was evil–or anyone else for that matter. For me it was more complex. We had our arguments. In the end, Blanca and I parted ways, as I did with all denizens. But Blanca and I never lost our love for one another. And although most denizens despise and disapprove of rebels, it is different with the Night Angels, as you have seen for yourself.

“But now things are more serious. Because we have chosen different paths and because of the tensions within the denizen world, the factions, the growing distrust, the possibility of the queen escaping. Well, we find ourselves increasingly at odds with one another. Denizens have never fought against one another. Not until that night above the Gore research Institute, when we tried to free Ruben. Rebels and denizens have maintained an uneasy truce, a mutual respect. But now, sides will have to be chosen. Darker days will bring tougher choices. Denizens are impeded by their traditions, their need to assuage their guilt. Oh, it is their traditions that have given them purpose as well. It is a fine balance.”

“This path you chose that is different from denizens’, what is it?” I said.

Dante got up. “It’s why I brought you here.”

 

 

For All the Girls on the Schoolyard

Beautiful morning, out running the streets of Phoenix, fantasizing about the Zombie Apocalypse because those wide, eerily empty and silent streets always make me imagine hordes of zombies are about to burst around a corner (I love my imagination).

Anyway, as I ended with some jump squats, two men on bicycles, decked out in bright blue helmets and tight spandex outfits that showed off their paunches, whizzed by yelling “ribbit, ribbit!” and laughing obnoxiously.

Suddenly, instead of the Zombie Apocalypse, I was someplace far worse: back on the schoolyard with all those entitled boys, and me wanting to join in the dodge ball, basketball, and handball games and them pushing me out.

“Why can’t I play?”

“Cuz you’re a girl.”

I pushed back and got in those games, and I was as good and most times better than those boys. It makes me mad to this day that I had to “prove” myself. In fact, I realize now that they were intimidated by me. I was taller than all of them. Maybe not always as strong, but a whole lot more focused and generally more coordinated. There were a couple of boys who gave me respect, but even they never gave up the distinction that I was a girl in a boy’s game. I got made fun of constantly. I was called all kinds of derogatory terms, but the one I remember is “Mommy Long Legs” which I would now consider a compliment, but they didn’t mean it that way.

The school bully was named Bill. I know it sounds cliché, but that was really his name. Even more cliché, he had a blond buzz cut, was meaty, and turned pink under the hot sun. Bill would stand at the end of the street, just beyond the school, and demand money from everyone who needed to walk home that way. In the private world of children, where real monsters are always more prolific and scarier than imagined ones, no one said anything to the clueless adults about this.

I never gave Bill a penny. It was one of those important life lessons where I learned how to get out of a sticky situation by using my  brain and not giving in to fear. Bill was lazy and hid his own fear inside his big body, preying on the weak. Except that he was really weaker than everyone else. I always managed to talk my way around Bill, confusing him with language, until before he knew it, I was gone.

You learn to pick your battles.

As for the incident this morning, if I’d been a hefty guy doing those jump squats, or if a guy had been jumping with me, not a peep would have come out of those smirking, lily-white mouths.

I envisioned chasing after them, pulling them off their bikes and grounding their smirking mugs into the pavement. Making them apologize, not to me because what do I care, I’m a fighter who can well defend myself, but to all the little girls they must have intimidated on the schoolyard and then the women in the workplace and just generally in everyday life that they must somehow feel they have the right to lord it over.

Ah, the satisfaction of making them grovel.

I used to train with some British Kyokushin men who would come to Los Angeles every summer. I was the only women “allowed” to train with them. These guys were tough, seemingly oblivious to pain. The workouts were grueling, probably the hardest I’ve ever experienced. That’s why I liked them. It was freeing to train like that, to have all thought of differences in sex or ability fall away. I do remember one time when the guy who led the class, a scrappy fellow with a heavy cockney accent, tough as nails, half my height, yelled out, “Come on, don’t fucking hit like a bunch of girls!”

I was right in the front row, in the middle. No one reacted, I didn’t think anyone but me  realized he had made a faux pas. But then, maybe to them I wasn’t a “girl.” But then, what was I? Should I have taken it as a compliment that they didn’t put me in that category? Of course not. Still, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t throw a fit, demand an apology, or walk out in a huff. I just kept on training.

Again, you pick your battles. I was already doing something that most women never get the chance to experience. My actions spoke for me because afterwards, a couple of the men came up to me and apologized, explaining their fearless leader came from a rough background and wasn’t all that educated in proper etiquette.

“He didn’t mean it that way.”

I didn’t want to say, “What way?” I just left it at that.

As I did with the twerps on the bikes. I didn’t attack. I continued to jump my way home. Ribbit, ribbit….

And then, I did the same I did with Bill. I used my brain and wrote these words.

How Social Activism can Inspire and Promote Your Writing–All while Turning You into a Better Person

As writers and artists we have unique opportunities to change the world.

Check out my article in Night Owl Reviews about the win-win opportunities of social activism.

How Social Activism can Inspire and Promote Your Writing–All while Turning You Into a Better Person

WHO ARE THE NIGHT ANGELS? The Story of Blanca

Book of Angels on Amazon.com

Book of Angels, volume two in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, opens with Sera’s Turning. In order for her to survive, she is given the blood of the five Night Angels and she becomes one with them and sees their terrible pasts. This gives Sera her first real understanding of who they are.

Blanca is the NIGHT ANGEL who Sera feels hates her and wants her dead. In Key of Mystery, Sera thought that Blanca must be Peter’s girlfriend, but she finds out this isn’t so. Their relationship goes back hundreds of years. Sera still doesn’t find out what happened all those years ago, that will have to wait for another book. But this is what she does now know:

  1. As a human, Blanca was a gypsy, or a “traveler” would be a better term. She was thought to be a witch and was a victim of the Catholic Church, at a time just before the official start of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. All of the Night Angels suffered terribly as humans before they became vampires, but for Blanca, that suffering was the worst. She was tortured and thrown in a trash heap, left for dead.
  2. Sera doesn’t get any insight into how Blanca ends up in the court of Sultan Mehmet II, in the Ottoman Empire. But once Blanca is there, Sera sees how Blanca meets Fabian Gore, Peter, Strejan, Malek and Marianne. Together they fight as Janissaries in the Sultan’s army. The Sultan is the one who turns Blanca and the other Night Angels into vampires.
  3. Sera doesn’t yet understand why Blanca hates her so much, but she struggles with her own hatred of the Night Angel. However, as she begins to get to know Blanca better, a grudging respect and even compassion unfolds. When it comes time for them to go on a mission together to find out if the Queen is still imprisoned in the Life Box in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sera and Blanca make an uneasy pact. Sera begins to wonder if she isn’t misinterpreting Blanca’s hatred and it is really about something else.
  4. There is one more interesting fact about Blanca that Sera finds out in Book of Angels, but I will leave that for readers to discover for themselves! It will be interesting to see how Sera and Blanca’s difficult relationship unfolds throughout the series!

Here is an excerpt from the time when Sera, Peter and Blanca are about to embark on their journey to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert. Blanca doesn’t want to take Sera and an argument ensues, during which Sera discovers some important things about Blanca’s character and the bond between the Night Angels:

Blanca groaned impatiently. “Why must we take her?”

“Be quiet,” said Peter with a growl.

I was desperate to stall for time. I didn’t care if it made Blanca angry. “What I want to know it, am I going to have to listen to you two fight the whole time? Because it’s fucking boring. How do you even keep it going for hundreds of years?”

Peter pretended surprise. “Fight? Us? Perhaps on occasion, like everyone, but never on a mission.”

“We’re on a mission and you’re fighting.” I raised my eyebrows. “Hello?”

“Shut up,” said Blanca, adjusting her sword on her back.

“Whatever,” I said.

“Whatever,” Blanca mimicked. And under her breath, she said, “Ignorant Oak Haven bimbo.”

I had literally taken off into the air to attack Blanca, but Peter grabbed me and slammed me back onto the ground.

Blanca folded her arms, chin raised triumphantly. “See that?” She walked right up to me, while Peter restrained me. “Let’s get one thing straight, baby. I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. I don’t want  you here.”

“That’s three things.,” I said through gritted teeth.

One corner of Blanca’s mouth turned up slightly. And then she laughed. Peter let me go, and I glared at him. I didn’t know which one of them made me angrier.

“An irritating little thing, isn’t she?” said Blanca.

Peter grinned. “Yes, she is.”

Blanca turned back to me. “Peter and I might have our problems. But we trust each other. And we have each other’s back. We have fought together for hundreds of years. When we’re on a mission, we put our differences aside. I’m willing to do the same with you. Think you can reciprocate?”

I just stared at her, saying nothing. I hated her so much.

Peter reached toward me. I flinched, but he put his hand on my arm gently and I calmed down. “Maybe you don’t like Blanca’s rough ways, but she’s telling you something important. When you’re in battle, there’s no one better than Blanca to have at your side. Do you understand?”

“No, I don’t!” I jerked away from him resentfully. “Why should I? This is all crazy! But still, I’m trying. And what do I get for it? I get made fun of,  insulted. By everybody! You treat me like dirt, Blanca, and I’m supposed to take it?”

“Pretty much, yes,” she said. “You’re the runt of the litter. You have to pay your dues.”

“Okay,” said Peter. “Can we do this? Can we all agree to put our differences behind us while on this dangerous mission?” We nodded. “Great. Now, humans would call what we are doing teleportation. As I said, we call it the Passage. You are a denizen, Sera. This means you know yourself on a molecular level. You will easily navigate the Passage.”

I sighed. “If you say so. I’m ready, let’s get this over with.”

The next thing I knew, I had leapt into the air with the two of them, my mind on St. Catherine’s Monastery, and I found myself hurtling through the Passage, horribly aware of every atom in my body and the indomitable forces of the universe that were trying to pull me apart.

Painting by Theodor Aman

 

 

My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

I want to thank Christine for hosting me. This is my first experience writing a post in an exchange with another author and it was fun! Here is my post about how my traveling experiences inspired Book of Angels and the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, with photos and everything! The photo featured here is the seventh century Swiss castle I lived in as a child.

Book of Angels Released Today!

Book of Angels $4.99 @Evernight Teen

book-of-angels-evernightpublishing-2016-A

All Sera ever wanted to do was to solve the mystery of her dad’s death and find out if the Night Angel, Peter, really loved her. Now, there are bigger issues at stake. After being saved from death by the Night Angels, Sera returns to Oak Haven to find her brother, Salem, has been saved by her nemesis, the sinister Los Angeles mayor-to-be, Fabian Gore. Sera and Salem meet again, in their hometown, as powerful denizens. And as enemies. Someone is channeling power to the Queen, imprisoned in St. Catherine’s Monastery. If she escapes, the Ancient Ones will rise up from their sarcophagi beneath churches throughout the word and wreak vengeance on denizens and humans alike.

To thwart the Queen, Sera has no choice but to form an uneasy alliance with Gore. Meanwhile, Sera’s power and her connection to the Key of Mystery is growing. Only she can open the Book of Angels. But whoever does that will become something that Sera never wants to be: the Seventh Angel. How can Sera solve her own problems when everyone else wants her to solve their problems as well?

epeditorsesal1s (1)

Book of Angels in an Editor’s Pick.

Excerpt:

The next thing I knew, I had leaped into the air, my mind on St. Catherine’s Monastery, and I found myself hurtling through the Passage, horribly aware of every atom in my body and the indomitable forces of the universe that were trying to pull me apart.

As if it were a part of my very being, I held myself together, “remembered myself,” and traveled through the Passage.

Within seconds I was floating down from the sky, surrounded by the immense, desolate beauty of what looked like a moonscape. Except that the moon shone brighter and bigger than I had ever seen. Behind me, sand stretched, wave upon wave of it, with not a hint of grass or trees, while in front rose a sheer cliff, taller than a skyscraper. The monastery seemed to grow out of the rock, so closely was it pressed against the cliff.

“All looks peaceful,” observed Peter.

“Maybe too peaceful,” said Blanca.

Together, we jumped over the fortress walls, landing in the empty courtyard. We entered the sixth century basilica. We walked from the vestibule into the ornate nave and down the aisle, toward the sanctuary. I gazed in awe at the ancient artifacts and the icons shining with gold.  Hundreds of lamps hung from the ceiling like glittering galaxies, bathing the vast room in an eerie light. Out of the shadows the figure of the Abbot appeared, wearing a long gray robe and a cylindrical, flat-topped hat. His long black hair was tied in a knot at the nape of his head, a frizzy beard spreading out from his face ling tangled wire. His large, hooked nose resembled a bird’s beak and his dark eyes burned uncannily from deep sockets.

He greeted us with a humble bow and wordlessly led us through a dark and narrow arched doorway, and into a small circular, windowless chamber, padding silently on bare feet. The chamber was empty except for one plain wooden table. On the table sat the black lacquered Life Box, looking just as insignificant as the Object Holder had when I had first seen it and fought over it with Salem. This box, though, was about twice the size of the one that had held the key. And whereas the Object Holder had a gold lock and a tiny gold key to open it, the Life Box had no key and no visible way to open it.

On either side of the table stood two impressive Bedouin warriors. Each had one hand resting on a curved scimitar and the other hold the hilt of a knife, tucked into a belt. Their faces were lined and weather-beaten and expressionless, as if carved from the rocks of the mountain. The desert surrounding the monastery was home to many Bedouin. They were devout Muslims with a long history of guarding the monastery. They had made a vow to guard the Life Box with their lives.

The Abbot motioned for the Bedouin to stand at ease.

Bowing low to us, the guards said in unison, “Assalamu Alaikum.” It meant, “peace be upon you.”

Along with Peter and Blanca, I responded, “Alaikum Assalamu.” This meant, “upon you be peace.”

Like everything else in my crazy life these days, I had no idea how I knew to say that, but I did.

The Abbot didn’t speak, just gestured for us to gather around the box.

“He has taken a vow of silence and hasn’t spoken in thirty years,” said Peter.

My attention was drawn to the box. I realized it vibrated and hummed in an almost undetectable manner. Only when I remained completely still and stared fixedly did I notice it.

“This is does without stopping, and just today it gained in force,” said one of the Bedouin.

Sure enough, as we watched, the box jumped slightly, shuddered, and jumped again before falling back into its continual vibration. It hummed a little louder now.

As I watched in fascination, I slowly became aware that the key around my neck was growing heavier and beginning to burn.

The box vibrated more violently and hummed louder. As it did, it rose into the air and hovered about two feet above the table. The vibrating and humming grew so loud, I thought the box might split apart.

The key was searing my skin and I yelled in pain. I tried to tear it off but it was stuck to my chest and my hand burned when I touched it. I felt the Queen’s presence, reaching out to me. It was pure evil and I felt attracted to it. I wanted to bow down and worship the Queen, give her the key. I became brutally aware of her perfections and my own failings. I loved the Queen! I despised and hated myself! Horrible thoughts rose in my mind, the impulse to do horrible things.

Blood was pouring from my eyes. Tears or something worse, I didn’t know.

“Take me away!” I cried out to the others. “She’s grabbing at me. Take me away. Please!”

The Bedouin had drawn their swords and whipped out their daggers, but there was nothing they could do except stand there, at the ready. Blanca and Peter had drawn their swords, too. They’d placed themselves as a shield between me and the box. The Abbot ran in front of us all and pushed Blanca and Peter back.

He turned to face the box, as if bracing himself against a great wind, and raised his hands to heaven to pray.

Peter and Blanca were then able to pull me out of the chamber. I don’t think I could have moved before the Abbot faced the box. As soon as we were back in the nave, I collapsed onto the ground, gasping great gulps of air, thankful to find the heat of the key subsiding. With a great cry, I tried to take it off, but it was stuck. Completely stuck now. To my skin.

“Fuck this key! Why am I cursed with it?”

My entire body was bathed in read sweat. I looked down at myself in horror. What had I become? What nightmare had I entered? I pushed back my hair and swallowed, my throat dry and constricted. I breathed in and out deeply.

“She’s getting stronger all the time. She’ll get out. Maybe soon. And I was going to help her!” I shuddered.

“But you didn’t,” said Peter.

“At least now we are sure she is still inside,” said Blanca.

“She won’t stay there.” I could see my fate as I had already seen it in my Turning, and it was clearer than ever. One day I would face the Queen.

And I would fail! How could I not when she was so easily able to deceive and confuse me?

One of the Bedouin exited the chamber. “The Abbot wants you to know he is now sure someone is channeling power to the Queen, but he cannot see who.”

“It’s just not possible,” said Blanca.

The Bedouin bowed respectfully. “I only tell you what the Abbot believes.”

“Thank you,” said Peter.

He bowed again and returned to the nave.

“He’s right,” I said, as we walked out of the sanctuary and into the vestibule. “She and her sons will kill me and take the key.”

“Coward!” Blanca kicked the church door open with her foot. “We might as well be protecting a pile of trash. If it weren’t for the key around your neck, I’d kill you myself.”

For the first time, Blanca’s words didn’t bother me. “You can call me what you want, I don’t care. But you better listen because she will escape and we won’t be able to stop her. We need to figure out what to do instead of arguing all the time.”

“Well said,” said Peter. “Let’s get back to the castle and tell the others.”

We were outside of the basilica now and we stood for a moment, surveying the courtyard, the full moon casting eerie shadows across the ground. I looked more carefully and saw that some of the shadows moved like living things.

“What’s that?” I asked.

Peter and Blanca looked up at the sky and I did the same. A gathering storm of wispy black tendrils snaked across the sky, mirroring the moving shadows on the ground.

“What the hell…” I said.

“Wind demons,” said Blanca.

I looked at Peter inquiringly. “Seventy-two demons were captured by King Solomon and then released by mistake. Up there you see maybe twenty of them.”

The Abbot and the Bedouin had joined us in the courtyard.

“We have never seen them here before,” said one of the Bedouin.

“And so many,” said Peter. He sighed. “I hate wind demons.”

The Abbot was motioning us to follow him. We hurried across the courtyard, which was now filled with a howling wind, the shadows of the wind demons slithering back and forth across the stones like snakes. A group of monks appeared, running in the opposite direction, heading for the church.

“They will pray,” yelled one of the Bedouin above the din.

This was not making me any happier. I had just escaped the clutches of the Queen and now I had to contend with wind demons? Was there no end to the problems I had to face in one day?

The Abbot led us into the Fatimid Mosque that stood across from the church. Standing on its own, opposite the gigantic bell tower was the minaret and we entered and climbed swiftly up the stairs. It was from this highest point that the muezzin sang across the desert, calling the followers of Islam to prayer, five times a day. We climbed out onto the little platform that ran around the top of the minaret, and from here, I felt the full force of the gale. The shadows screamed and I could see cavernous, greedy mouths appear and disappear as they whipped around the tower, creating a whirlpool of darkness. Only when I looked straight up could I see clear sky and stars. But that opening was growing narrower by the minute. All around was completely empty of light, as if the very sky itself had been sucked into a giant black hole of whirling mouths and tails, into which we, too, would be sucked if we tried to fly upwards.

Peter and Blanca unsheathed their swords and I did the same.

Peter pointed with his sword. “We must fly straight up. They don’t dare come to c close to the minaret.”

The Abbot nodded, making motions that we should hurry.

“Put your sword away,” Peter said.

I began to object, then obeyed. This didn’t seem like the time to argue.

He gripped my arm. “Listen carefully. Jump onto my back. Once we’ve achieved the Passage we’ll be safe. Until then, you must hold your breath–don’t breathe, understand? If you do, the shadows will enter and steal your soul.

I nodded, terrified.

I jumped onto his back and held on tightly.

The Abbot raised his arms, while the Bedouin brandished their swords at the swirling darkness. It seemed to abate a bit, and Peter and Blanca seized that moment to leap into the air. I breathed in deeply and held onto my breath.

All was chaos in the tunnel through the shadows, the terrible wind trying to push us back. down, a screaming noise, like a thousand pigs being gutted. Flying straight upwards, the two Night Angels fought the demons with their swords, slicing into the tendrils that tried to encircle them.

I was sure we had almost made it when I felt an icy tendril touch my leg. I almost opened my mouth to scream. As it was, I let go of Peter with one arm and tried to reach down to bat at the tendril. I felt myself slipping halfway down his back and scrambled to pull myself back up again.

I was falling!

The snaky thing had my ankle now. I tried to kick with my foot to shake it off, while struggling to get a better hold on Peter. I was growing weaker. I had to take a breath. My chest was exploding.

And then, the Passage was achieved and we were through. I pushed away from Peter with relief, feeling the now familiar force of my molecules trying to split apart and me holding them together as we rocketed through space and time, landing within seconds in the little garden of the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society?

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Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.

It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.

As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.

The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.

Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.

My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.

As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.

At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.

My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.

We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.

For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?

How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?

 

 

Interview about MY WORLD PROJECT

The Missing Slate, Interview with My World Project Founder Karen Hunt

For me, this is a way of life. It isn’t a “cause,” it isn’t a “movement.” I can’t put some spin on it. There aren’t any buzz words. It is how I choose to live, and I really can’t help it. It is so much a part of who I am.”

Honored to have this interview, by Constance A. Dunn, published in The Missing Slate, an international arts and literary magazine. The interview tells about My World Project and the backstory leading up to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the backstory…

“I went on a personal quest…I met a woman named Alma Woods, who was responsible for single-handedly getting the Watts Library built. And to illustrate the politics, they didn’t want to name the library after her, they wanted to name it after some big-wig politician and there was a huge outcry and they had no choice but to buckle under public pressure and name the library after her. She was a simple lady, lived in a simple house in Watts and I would go and visit her and “sit at her feet,” as it were, she was a real guru, she taught me so much! She would take me around her neighborhood and I saw Watts through her eyes. If there were kids loitering outside the liquor store she would reprimand them and they would hang their heads in guilt and listen to her. She was respected. She was fearless. I grew to love her. She encouraged me to follow my heart and not be afraid of where it led me. It was after that that I went into Central Juvenile Hall and talked to the principal, Dr. Arthur McCoy, an older version of the nutty professor and the most amazing human being, and he let me start teaching there, along with the amazing teacher in the girls’ school, Cheryl Neely.

Like a beautiful, magical web, one person has led to another in my life. Not big celebrities, or what you would call “movers and shakers,” but the salt of the earth people. The ones who really have the power because they don’t care about it. They are the ones who truly balance the good against the evil. The ones we never hear about. I know I use the word amazing a lot, but really, there is no better word for all these people.

SUCRE, THE WHITE CITY OR, CIUDAD BLANCA

I have been busy lately! I have been in Sucre, Bolivia since April 7th and will be here until June 7th. What an amazing experience. This is a gem of a tiny city, all painted white. The sky is piercingly blue. The contrast is breath-taking. I was told that long ago a plague came to the city and they started painting the buildings white, I am not sure why, perhaps to indicate which house had the plague or which house didn’t. The habit stayed and eventually, all the buildings were painted white. And so they still are, today, making this city unique and memorable.

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I came here to write and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working on Cave of Secrets, the third book in the Night Angels Chronicles series. This place has truly inspired my writing. I have become obsessed with the churches. The heavy austerity, the gold on the alters, the light pouring down from high windows. I can never fully reconcile the contrast between the beauty of these monuments, built to display the power of God, with the poverty of the people upon whose bent backs these monuments were built. It is the same around the world, religion is used by the powerful as a form of control, through fear, of the masses. Yet, you also see how these awe-inspiring buildings bring comfort to those who enter them to pray. A young woman, an old man, I have seen so many people sitting in silence, staring up at a carving of a saint, and you know they have a heavy heart about  something and have faith that there is an answer and that these lifeless images hold that answer.

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I am here long enough to get a real feel for these churches and how religion is so integrated into every aspect of life. The churches dominate the city, they are the landmarks you look for when you are walking. If the door is open and you go inside, there is always something happening, musicians practicing for a performance, ladies placing flowers in front of statues, children laughing and playing, preparing for something, who knows what. The schools all seem to be associated with the churches and I have been told that children are brought here from the outlying villages. Since there are so many churches at the center of Sucre, children are everywhere. You hear them playing, practicing in bands, and at lunch break and at the end of the day, they spill out onto the streets in hordes, from the tiniest tots to college age. I really have never seen the center of a city so filled with children.

As a visitor, you cannot escape the overwhelming spirit and presence of the churches. Mostly, the doors are closed and locked, as are the gates in front of the churches. If you are a tourist, you can pay to visit certain ones of the convents or the churches, during visiting hours. At San Filipe Neri, my favorite church, you can climb up to the roof and enjoy a view of the city and the mountains. If you go at sunset the beauty is astounding.

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Remembering back to my time in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, during the month of December, 2015, it would be hard to find two more contrasting places than Sucre and village Tissardmine. In the desert, I was finishing up Book of Angels, while in Sucre, I am finishing up Cave of Secrets. I signed the contract for Book of Angels while in Sucre. Both places inspired my writing but in such different ways–going from the stark desert, endless, undulating waves of sand and rock, to the up and down streets of Sucre and the ornate colonial buildings. Here, the altitude takes a bit of getting used to, as it is over 8000 feet. In the Sahara Desert, the wind and flies, the freezing nights and often hot days, the heavy shadows and blinding light, everything spoke of extremes. In Sucre, the extremes are in the altitude, the brilliance of the white against the blue sky, the heavy dominance of colonialism, almost as if old spirits still haunt the streets at night.

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At least a few times a week I face the challenge of walking up the steep cobbled path to reach La Recoleta, a big plaza with, yes, another church  and convent, established by a Franciscan order in around 1601. There is a garden café up here and I like to sit outside and enjoy the warm sun. Relaxation takes over, after hours of sitting at a computer, writing. In fact, I think I will go up there after I finish this! From there, you can look down on the sparkling jewel of a  city, with the Andes Mountains a purple shadow in the distance.

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Although I have been here for five weeks already, I still huff and puff my way up that hill, never getting enough oxygen. Once I reach the top, the feeling of accomplishment makes it all worthwhile. Fortunately, it isn’t a long climb, but the last block is extremely steep. Again, the plaza is often filled with children playing soccer, if they are on break from the school attached to the church. This church has a beautifully serene monastery with a one thousand year-old cedar tree. The tree stands outside the convent wall, somewhat forlorn and forgotten, looking down on the city below. I was shown it by a young girl who guided me through the various parts of the convent open to the public, all the while, listening to some television show on her phone. It was an odd juxtaposition of the past and the present.

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I am looking forward to being here on May 25th, Independence Day, which happened in 1809. I was wondering why early every morning I was awakened by bands playing the type of music you associate with military functions and political events. Well, they are practicing for Independence Day. Although, every day seems to be an excuse for some kind of celebration. The main square, aptly named Plaza 25 de Mayo, is always alive with music and parades.

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I still have four more weeks here and it is going by way too fast. This is my first visit to South America and I would definitely like to return. I knew nothing of Bolivia or Sucre when I came. At the place I am staying, Casa Verde, I have encountered only two Americans. Which is one of the reasons for its appeal, I wanted to completely escape from everything that was familiar to me. And I am happy I made this choice. It is a renewing experience.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to come to this magical place. Of course, every place that I visited has been magical. I can’t wait to see where I will end up next.

HOW MY TRAVELS AND WORK WITH YOUTH AROUND THE WORLD INSPIRES NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES

FANTASY LITERATURE Expanded Universe article

Inspired by my current travels to Sucre, Bolivia, where I am writing for two months

Writing is never just about sitting down in front of a computer and obsessing about characters and stories. For me, writing is powerfully connected to my life experiences. And some of the most influential experiences I’ve had have been the result of traveling to incredible destinations and having amazing adventures as a result. This led to me founding the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. Knowing the power of words to create change, I want to give youth a chance to speak out beyond the borders of their villages and towns and connect with other youth, who might have different cultures and faiths, but who share common goals and concerns.

Please check out the MY WORLD PROJECT Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/myworldproject