Friday, October 27, 2017

Go to Hell. Don't Mind if I Do

All Soul’s Day is fast upon us when the veil between dimensions stretches thin. Before you pop over to the other side for a cold brewski, you might want to consider which hell is the right one for you. Depictions of an afterlife, particularly one for naughty folk, have been part of religious beliefs from the beginning. After this word ends, any person who says the right prayers and acts according to the dictates of those in charge gets a fast-pass to the next. A common belief is the journey; good go up to the light, bad go down to a darker realm. No surprise there. Night was scary for our ancestors. With no understandings of modern science, demons in the dark were blamed for every bad thing that happened when the sun went down. Best stay indoors and huddle around the fire.  

Greeks even had a special word katabasis, meaning descent or downward to describe a journey to Hades. For the Greeks, it wasn’t always a one-way trip; sometimes the road to Hell resembled a superhighway. Although a place of fiery desolation, Odysseus managed to drop in for a nice chat with his mom, Hercules went there to rescue Theseus, Theseus was only trapped there because the dope muffed an attempt to spring Persephone. For the Greeks, the trip to Hades could have an upside. There was always the chance of snagging some mystical device, or at the very least, coming back wiser and more insightful. A quest to Hell was often a part of the hero’s journey.

The version of Hell in Judaism can be summed up in one word: meh. Little mention is made in Judaic texts other than references to a place called Sheol that is dark and deep (naturally.)  In general, there are no fixed notions of particular judgments or punishments. Another place in Judaic texts is Gehinnom, but again the views are mixed. Some scholars view it as a place of punishment and retribution, others more of a section of the afterlife set aside for introspection to review mistakes committed in life and then repent them. Don’t repent enough? Something bad is bound to happen, but details are murky. 

In Christian mythos, heaven and hell are ethereal planes that can’t be reached or seen by the common folk until after death.  They are always characterized as “up” or “down” in no uncertain terms as if AAA designed a TripTik. The route never detours; heaven is up, hell is down, and it’s definitely one-way. Christians had no doubts about punishment. They adopted earlier pagan beliefs that Hell was a place of burning and eternal punishment reserved for the wicked. The term ‘wicked’ has relaxed over the years. Many notions of Hell can be trace to the 14th century and Dante Alighieri’s epic poem. In the section of The Divine Comedy called The Inferno, Dante described nine circles of Hell; limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. Today, being consigned to hell because you snagged the last piece of double fudge chocolate cake seems unduly harsh, but gluttony meant more to folks in the Renaissance. Scarfing down all the gruel first meant the rest of the household starved to death.

While not all religions have an actual Hell, the up/down movement of the soul after death is often present. In the case of Hinduism, it is an ascending/descending judgment. After death the best of the best rise up and are led by divine beings to the highest, immortal heaven of Brahman. Those who led virtuous lives, but haven’t quite reached the top tier can be reincarnated according to previous actions. You can come back (down) as a person and try to live a more virtuous life. Those that reveled in sinful ways don’t end up in Hell, but do descend to a lower life form, often one that lives underground such as an insect. Tibetan Buddhism has a similar outlook. After 49 days in a limbo-type place called Bardo the soul either ascends to enlightenment or, if the soul doesn’t make the cut, it’s back down to a rebirth on Earth to try again.

The Rules for Lying
In my new fantasy Big Easy Shaman series, I incorporate a mix of beliefs. Very bad people end up in the Lower Worlds. Yes, there are more than one, but keeping with tradition, they’re all fairly miserable places inhabited by demons, evil spirits, and all sorts of general nastiness. Terrible places to visit and you definitely don’t want to live in any of them. So the next time someone tells you to go to hell smile broadly, thank them for the fine suggestion, and politely ask which one. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings by Matt Sewell

Sometimes an ordinary word just won’t do when describing clusters of animals in nature. That’s when you take the poetic approach. This little book by Matt Sewell illustrates different groups and their poetical nomenclature; a plague of rats, a crash of hippos, a murder of crows and so forth. The author is an artist and each group of animals is accompanied by a painting and a brief description on the opposing page. The descriptions are only a paragraph or two and not much to read. The real charm is the paintings. I’d hang any one of them on my wall. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Escape from Behruz by Judy Meadows: 99 Cent Sale

by Judy Meadows
99 Cent Sale

Olivia treks through the mountains to Iran--with her baby, her puppy, her secrets, and the man she is forbidden to love.

Rashid will help Olivia and the baby escape the violence in Behruz, but he won’t let Olivia near his heart. Not again. Not after the way she trampled it two years ago.

Olivia accepts Rashid's help, but she has no interest in his heart. She’s never forgiven him for abandoning her when she needed him most. Still, she has to be careful. He mustn't learn that the baby the world thinks is heir to the Behruzi throne is actually her son. And Rashid’s.

Can they make it through the trek, sharing a tent each night, without giving in to the attraction that has always drawn them together? Can Olivia hold in the secret that could destroy her?

“Olivia.” It had been two years since he’d seen her, but she looked the same. He stood gaping at her like the Behruzi men around him. Something in his essence reached for her, and he wanted... Never mind what he wanted. Never mind the memories that assaulted him and pulled on his heart. Losing her two years ago had almost killed him. He would never let himself be that vulnerable again. He was here for one reason, to get her out of the country. He must focus on that.
She gazed back at him, her eyes big and round in a face that had gone suddenly pale.
“Olivia.” He said it more loudly this time, and everyone turned to look at him. He stepped toward her, but when she cringed, he stopped. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. It’s just such a surprise. What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for you. What are you doing here?”
She wrinkled her brow as if his question confounded her. He saw her as the circle of Behruzis must see her, and he wondered, as they must be wondering, how this tall, green-eyed foreign girl with her silky golden hair and tight-fitting jeans happened to be standing in front of the butcher shop, pale and bewildered, holding a plastic shopping bag and a chador.
“Please move along,” Rashid said to the others. “I’ll take care of the young woman.” They dispersed, glancing over their shoulders as they shuffled off. Rashid stepped forward to face Olivia. “What are you doing here dressed like that? Why don’t you have your hair covered?” What are you afraid of?
She stood there with her chador clutched to her breast, her eyes dazed and round. Something was wrong. This wasn’t a carefree jaunt like those she’d taken when she was a teenager. It occurred to him that she might bolt like a frightened fawn. If she pulled the chador over her head, she could lose herself among the other women on the sidewalk.
Be careful, he said to himself. Go slowly. And so he softened the urgency in his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I was wearing a chador.” She lifted the fabric to show him it was right there in her arms.
“Well good. Why aren’t you wearing it now? Why are you here? How did you leave the palace?”
There was a glimmer of the old impish Olivia in her voice when she answered. “I snuck out like I used to do when I was younger. Abu-Khan will never miss me.”
“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong about that. The whole palace is in an uproar looking for you.”
“Oh no!” The blood drained from her face. “Oh, I must get back. Abu-Khan will be furious!”
Could she actually be afraid of Abu-Khan? “I’m sure he’s more worried than angry. I’ll let him know you’re okay.” He took out his cell phone and dialed Nur’s number. After a moment, he said, “Tell the sultan she’s all right. Tell him I’ll have her back shortly.” He put the cell phone back in his pocket. “Okay, let’s get you to the palace. I’ll find a taxi.”
“No.” She sounded like the stubborn adolescent she’d once been. “No. I have to take care of something. You go to the palace and calm Abu-Khan down. I’ll return as soon as I’ve finished with my business.”
As if he could walk away and leave her there alone. “What is your business, Olivia? Can I help?”
A camel loped down the street led by a barefooted man wearing a turban. Olivia watched the camel for a moment before answering. “Well, yes, actually, maybe you can.”
“What can I do?”
“The problem is that I have this little guy.” She separated the folds of the fabric to reveal the large, frightened eyes of a puppy. “He’s sick. I need to get him to a veterinarian. Do you know where I can find one?”
“What? Where did you get a puppy?”
She explained, in a disjointed story he could barely follow—about a boy on a bicycle…hippies…vomit…worms.
A sick puppy! He’d been thinking she had some deep, terrible problem, something to do with her life in the palace, or maybe something to do with the revolution brewing in Behruz. But no, it was a puppy. He could help with that. The knowledge made him feel powerful and heroic, as it always had. And that made him feel the aching pull of desire, a feeling she’d made it clear two years ago he had no right to feel.

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Author Bio

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and now live in a small town in Oregon. Between then and now I've lived all over the world, including two years in the Middle East and over a year in Mexico.

I've had a few careers--computer systems engineer (New Jersey), fruit farmer (California), domesticate violence advocate, doula (460 births), and childbirth educator (Oregon).

I'm a wife, mom, grandma, cat lover, gardener, embroiderer, traveler, and now (yay!) writer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My New Series is Out: Big Easy Shaman, Books 1 and 2

Release day for my new Big Easy Shaman series 

Big Easy Shaman, Book 1

Magic isn't for sissies.

No good comes from this book. The story has magic, mayhem, theft, murder, sass talk, demons, animals committing felonies, gleeful revenge, and bad things happening to good people for no particular reason. It won’t encourage good habits and probably fine tune bad ones. The only lesson learned is don’t lie unless you know the rules.
Teenager Peter Whistler lives at the Little Angels Home for Orphan Boys. Life in New Jersey is harsh in the Great Depression, but Peter has an exceptional ability to lie. He hones his talent, convinced it’s the ticket to easy fortune. He certainly doesn’t foresee the arrival of a murderous conjurer with mysterious designs on a little blind girl named Esther. Drawn into a nefarious plot to unleash a demon, Peter leads Esther and an enchanted terrier on a desperate escape to New Orleans and meets Amelie Marchand. Like all well-bred southern girls she’s trained in deadly martial arts, but with a murderous stepmother, Amelie has troubles of her own. Peter and Amelie’s one chance for survival is to head deep into the bayou and seek help from a mad shaman known as the Frog King.

Welcome to an alternate 1930s where both jazz and magic fill New Orleans’ air. Can a little luck, mystical lies, and a dash of Cajun crazy help Peter harness the power to kill an immortal demon? If not, the Depression will be a picnic by comparison when hell arrives on Earth.

Big Easy Shaman, Book 2

Life ain’t so easy in the Big Easy.

Peter settles into life in the Big Easy, but peaceful days are fleeting as new evil threatens the French Quarter. A mysterious ailment attacks people in their sleep, forcing them to commit crimes. Did someone find the Book of the Practically Undead? Legend states it has the power to turn innocent victims into obedient zombies; not quite living, not quite resting in peace. All the book needs is a new zombie master willing to walk the dark road, and in the Vieux CarrĂ© of 1930’s New Orleans, wickedness is available for a price.   

As Peter investigates, he meets opposition from both the local police and The League of Professional Shamans. To cross the League means banishment for Peter and the end of his life in New Orleans as a budding shaman. On top of that, an old flame of Amelie’s reenters her life. With all these distractions, how will Peter protect the good folk of the French Quarter when evil runs amok?

Even with magic, Peter’s life ain’t easy in the Big Easy. Zombie nuns, voodoo curses, and working up the nerve to ask Amelie on a first date. Which will strike the most fear in the heart of the intrepid young shaman?