Was on a good writing roll last week before a family camping trip. Hopefully, I can get back into the groove Monday.
Really starting to dig this new manuscript. ❤️
Even historical fiction needs a pinch of romance. Here’s a wee exchange I wrote today between the heroine and her love interest. #LoveTheseTwo
Muscling through a million pages of introductory material and nonfiction disclaimers to FINALLY reach the heart of the matter. #TheFirstHighPriestess
Every good novel needs a powerful villain. I think I found mine for The First High Priestess. Meet Cathbad, a druid priest with lofty ambitions and a dark malevolent side.
Here’s an excerpt I’ve been working on today:
Cathbad emerged from the darkness of tree cover into the grove. A towering goose-feathered headdress plumed from his forehead, the fringe alternating between vanes of black and grey. Red deer antlers sprouting from either side of his head, the polished spread seven-hands wide, cast a terrifying image in the shadow lurking behind him. Draped in a mantle of wolf pelts, he carried a golden sceptre, pitted with divots that sparkled like starlight in the glow of the torches. Tonight, he channelled The Horned One, Cernunnos, a god of infinite power who ruled over beasts and man from his palace in the Otherworld.
A slight tilt of his head brought his gaze to bore through mine. A shiver ran down my spine as a curl raised his lip. The ritual provided Cathbad a gateway into the realm of the ancestors and access to immeasurable power.
Well, I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a new writing project. This series would take place hundreds of years before we meet Avelynn but the lineage would be the same. Here, back in post-Roman Britain, in the wilds of Paganism, I’ve chosen to set the stage for the first high priestess on English soil. The following is the very first piece of writing in a story that is as elusive as the mists of time. Will be interesting to see where this one goes. 😀
The hem of my dress rippled along the shimmering quartz path that cleaved the outer circle, the stones of the ancient walkway crunching faintly underfoot, their resting place firmly entrenched by hundreds of reverent feet.
There was a time when entire villages of people—men, women, and children—would walk the path from one side to the other, entrusting the bones and prized possessions of their loved ones to the goddess, but those ages had long since passed, and the inner sanctum was reserved only for the priests.
Though I had been permitted to approach the outer circle with my father, I could tread no further. But even then, standing on the outside, I had marvelled at the earthen ditch, carved from the hill by hands that laboured beyond a time remembered, which marked the boundary between the living and the dead.
I cradled the urn containing my father’s remains, holding it tight to my chest, the weight of my transgression heavier with each tentative step as I passed through the inner circle of polished stone. The smooth surface of the sentinels flickered in the torchlight, blinking as if waking from a dream to see what would happen next.
I stepped onto the stone dais and knelt in front of the timber shelf, a triple spiral carved into its broad surface. I whispered the chants I had been taught, as much out of fear as out of respect, repeating the words over and over until they whirled like tendrils of smoke around the clearing. A gust of wind lifted the hair from my neck and sent shivers down my spine as I placed the urn on the convergence of the spirals and hung my head in deference.
My heart shook and stuttered, my muscles coiled like a caged beast rabid to escape. I had only a few moments before the druids returned. Eyes shut tight, I chanted faster and louder. The words roared like the thunder of waves crashing against the shore in my own ears, until suddenly, the whoosh and clamour retreated into silence.
I knelt not in the clearing on the hill, but in the middle of a great valley, surrounded on both sides by scarred and jagged mountains that clambered to the sky. A mid-day sun shone high above me and I basked in its warmth. A single coracle lapped gently at the water’s edge. Pulled by a force that I could neither explain nor deny, I climbed into the small craft, released the cord tethering it to the bank, and watched the sail billow, leading me across the tranquil surface to the other side.
A faint rustle exhaled from the stretched hide as the bottom of the boat glided ashore and I stepped overboard, my feet sinking softly into the silt. A raven circled, like thread wound round a distaff, its distant call announcing my arrival. When my gaze drifted to the mountains before me, the whole scene ebbed and swelled, undulating like waves of heat rising from burning coals. When my vision cleared a woman appeared before me. Dressed in glowing robes, as bright as the sun, I gasped at her beauty.
Her mouth didn’t move, though, I heard her speak as plainly as if a song bird called out through the trees. Her voice enveloped me.
“We’ve waited a long time for you to come.” She extended her hand and I opened mine in response. She placed into my outstretched palm a ring of silver. The outline of a woman had been carved onto its surface. Her hips and breasts swelled around a deeply indented waist. Her hair swept into the likeness of a bird, and under her feet reposed a wolf. On the inside, Ogham letters stretched from one of the edges to form the word Mother.
The golden vision blurred, the waves transforming until I stood before not one, but four shimmering women. Still, only one voice spoke from the depths of the river and the expanse of the sky. “You are the chosen one, to speak with one voice the echoes of our world. A high priestess of your people, a woman standing with one foot on either side of the great river.”
I slid the ring onto my first finger, the smooth metal nestling into a hollow as if it were always meant to belong.
“As we will it, so shall it be.” The women merged into one and when I looked into the depths of her golden eyes, in an instant, I was transported across lands and time, mist and worlds until I stood shaken in a cold, harsh wind, bathed in moonlight.
I stood in the clearing, my father’s remains resting at my feet. The torches still flickered, though the stones seemed to have dimmed, unmoved by my journey, having turned their shimmering faces away once more. I grabbed the burial urn and backed away, the hairs on my arms prickling, as if a storm had raged over the hill and great forks of lightning had severed the sky. I passed the sentinels of the inner circle, my footsteps faltering in my haste to retreat. It was only when I passed the outer circle, the weight of a silver ring burning into my skin that I turned my back on the power within and returned once more to the world of the living, knowing nothing would ever be the same.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
— Malala Yousafzai
If we don’t speak up, who will hear us? We can apply this concept globally by pointing out injustice or inequality, for example, and/or we can make this personal and contemplate all the ways in which we remain silent in our own lives.
Warning: here comes a Marissa catch phrase… ‘Life is about compromise, but we were never meant to compromise ourselves.’ (You’ll hear that one a lot.) We all have boundaries—lines we don’t want others to cross, parameters in which we feel comfortable operating within, i.e., our comfort zones. When people cross those boundaries, negative things happen. We can get hurt—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We can suffer from regret, guilt, doubt, anger and self-recrimination.
When people cross our boundaries, how many of us speak up? When people impose their judgements and opinions on us, or belittle us and undermine our self-worth and confidence, how many of us speak up? Family members, peers, partners, co-workers, supervisors… when people we respect and trust do this, how many of us let it pass, or speak out only in our mind—imagining all the things we wish we could say?
Speaking our truth is never easy. We run the risk of alienation and rejection—something we as social creatures avoid at all costs. But what if the cost is our own happiness and self-worth? When do we draw the line? When do we speak up for ourselves? When do we say enough is enough?
No one likes confrontation and very few people handle criticism well, but if we’ve been wronged or hurt, we need to express it. No one is above the truth. Not even ourselves. Denying the injury or pretending we are okay is a serious roadblock to healing. We need to be honest with ourselves. That stomach lurch when we consider confronting an issue is what typically stops us from going further and we gloss the matter over or sweep it under the rug. This often results in frustration or resentment.
Communication is key in a healthy relationship. If we can’t speak about what’s on our mind, or bring up questions or concerns, or point out hurt or wrongdoing then we need to examine the relationship. In my post Relationships and Monkeys, I talk to the idea of getting rid of negative relationships in our lives. But before we get to that point, we should always try to have open and honest communication with the people in our lives. It’s not always easy—for either party— but it’s necessary.
I’ve been together with my husband for 27 years. That doesn’t happen without a solid foundation of communication (plus he’s cute and funny, so that doesn’t hurt either.) We’ve built a relationship on trust and mutual respect. My concerns are not more important than his and vice versa. We listen to each other and then we reflect: How can we do this better? How can we make this work for both of us? It’s a partnership. A team effort. When one person isn’t happy, it effects the entire relationship. We also have to be humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and apologize for any transgressions. Then we have to step up and correct our behaviour. This is all about compromise. But, compromising and being compromised are two very different things.
There’s no mutual respect and trust when someone compromises our boundaries. It’s controlling at worst, and insensitive at best. Stand up for yourself. Speak up for yourself. Honour your truth.
“Keep a little fire burning, however small, however hidden.” — Cormac McCarthy, Author
I had a conversation with a wonderful classmate of mine the other day. He took an incredible risk by following his dream. He moved his family to a new country, turned down an exceptional opportunity within the organization he worked for and went back to school full-time. Most people he talked to were in awe of his decision, but he expected that. What surprised him was how many people mentioned that they too had a dream, but they weren’t ‘brave’ enough to take the chance. They couldn’t imagine doing what he had done. They kept their dreams on lockdown, tamped and filed away, labelled as fancy and fantasy.
I didn’t relocate my family, but when I made the decision to go back to school, people called me brave too. I had a hard time reconciling the word brave with my decision. I was just acting—doing. Nothing brave about that. But in a world where so many people extinguish their own fires out of fear, going against the grain or changing our entire worlds is brave and awe inspiring.
There’s an expression: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” What we know is comfortable—it’s safe. Taking a leap on nothing more than a dream is frightening. There’s no guaranteed outcome. We could fail… miserably. Not many of us are willing to take that risk. Sometimes it’s much easier to stay the course. After all, if things aren’t terrible, why rock the boat?
Deep inside, smoldering within each of us, is a small fire. In yoga, we call it our third chakra—Manipura. Hanging out near our solar plexus, this little bundle of spit and vinegar guides our will and motivation. It drives our passion. It’s the spark, the fire that lights us up and gets us going. We can’t let that flame blow out. We can’t let our dreams die.
Most of us have heard about SMART goals. One of the keys to a good or SMART goal is making sure it’s attainable. There are short-term and long-term goals, but all goals involve making meaningful movement forward by enacting small tactics or actions toward their achievement. Dreams, on the other hand seem like far-fetched unattainable, insurmountable wishful thinking. But what if we approached dreams like goals… deliberately making small changes, small decisions, small movements in the desired direction. Passion keeps the fire burning. Even if it’s just a gentle smolder, let your passion propel you in the direction you want to go.
Dreams can come true. One small step at a time. Find ways to move in the direction of what will make you happy. Never let your fire burn out.
Relationships can be a blessing and a curse. Everything for a reason or a season comes springing to mind. This year has been an interesting journey for me. I’ve experienced many periods and areas of growth. I went back to school, bringing with it a new set of friendships. I learned some hard lessons, letting relationships fade to the background, and I made an effort to move away from negativity and drama and resettle back into a place of peace and serenity. But in order to get there, I had to make some tough decisions.
We all have a limited amount of energy, think money in the bank. Where we choose to spend it should be ‘our choice,’ but sometimes we get so caught up in other people’s circuses that we start looking after their monkeys without even realizing it. When we spend our energy on negative people, we get depleted. We run on fumes. It’s exhausting looking after everyone else’s needs and letting our own take a backseat. The bank account drops into the red pretty easily. What are we doing to pull it back inline, to receive a return on our investment?
If the relationship depletes us, then it’s a detrimental use of our energy. If the relationship lifts us up, makes us feel loved and cherished, then it’s a good investment. Relationships can bring a lot of joy and incredible happiness, but the ones that drag us into drama, heartache or struggle need to be exorcised. And I do mean exorcised. We need to lift up and out our sense of obligation, fear and/or guilt. No one needs that shit. We need to let it go.
Relationships are not obligatory—not even within our own blood family. All relationships must be a mutually beneficial, two-way, give-and-take endeavour. Each person should feel valued and appreciated. We should never stay in a negative relationship out of feelings of guilt, nor should we be holding onto toxic relationships merely out of fear of loneliness. My experience has taught me that once you get rid of negativity, life has a great way of bringing in positive experiences to fill the void—things we genuinely want and need in our lives. But we have to open up space to receive it.
Loneliness frightens a lot of people into accepting negativity. We’re so afraid of being on our own, alone with our own thoughts that we hold onto relationships that have long outlived their value. Letting go and moving on can be a scary leap. It requires faith that things will work out for the better. Think about decisions you’ve made that were frightening at the time, moments that felt overwhelming, where the outcome was uncertain. If you look back on those moments, did everything work out? Most do. And even if they didn’t seem to at the time, can you see how they led to growth, or pushed you in a new direction, or offered a new perspective? Can you see how those results can be viewed as positive as well? They may not have taken the path you had hoped for, but in the end, something positive still resulted from them—even if it’s only proof that you can overcome hardships and adversity.
The point is, we don’t have the ability of hindsight when we’re knee-deep in a situation. It takes time and distance to gain a little perspective. But if you take the leap and remove negative relationships and negative people from your life, you’ll find you have more energy, a greater sense of self and what makes you happy, and you’ll move closer to finding people who align with your beliefs and values. A positive relationship pays dividends and you’ll be richer for it.
Let ‘em keep their monkeys.
On March 29, I wrote a Facebook (FB) post exploring the qualities of being exceptional and meh. It created quite a stir. My outstanding FB community offered encouragement and I received an outpouring of virtual hugs. I was overwhelmed by the support.
I wanted to take a moment and reassure everyone and offer some insight into the inner workings of my mind. Here then is:
In defense of meh…
Deep introspective thinking can be a curse, but I find it’s also the greatest path to transformation. We need to figure out where we are right now in order to change it. Being meh isn’t a bad thing. Most people tend to shy away from questions like: “What am I supposed to do with my life?” or “What’s the point of it all?” These may seem like melancholy sentiments, and sometimes they can be, brought about by low points in our lives, but even then, they are catalysts for change. I’m not at a low point, but I am a bit rudderless in my travels at the moment. I’m searching for just what it is that I need to feel that spark of passion and creativity again. Life has a way of bogging us down in minutia and sometimes we fall off the track.
This time around, I’ve fallen and landed in a place of inertia. I’m trying lots of different things, but it’s as if I’m treading water and not really going anywhere. When I’m writing books, this inertia phase is called writer’s block. For me, writer’s block occurs when I’ve taken the story or my characters in a direction they were never meant to go, a direction that doesn’t resonate with my vision for the story. Unfortunately, when you’re knee-deep in the mire of the ‘murky middle’ as it’s wanting to be called, it’s damn near impossible to figure out what’s wrong. You know something needs to be fixed, which is why you can’t write a single word more, but you have no idea what the problem is. In this state of impasse, all you can do is reflect on where your characters have been and where they’re currently at before enough time passes and you get an ‘aha’ moment and the words start flowing again because you found where the train jumped the track and you can pull it back in the direction it wants to go, rather than forcing it to bend to your will.
That’s where I’ve been this year… off track, forcing myself to move in directions I’m not sure I’m meant to go. And this imbalance had been multifaceted, spanning several areas of my life, which has created a ripple effect, driving a strong desire for change and growth. Sometimes you need enough distance to gain a little perspective. And often, there’s plenty of damn forests to try to see through to the trees. But eventually, if you keep asking the tough questions, the clouds will clear, and you’ll find some answers.
Someone asked me if I wanted to be exceptional, and while it may seem vain or politically incorrect, the answer is yes, of course I do. But how do we define exceptional? And in the same breath, how do we define success?
Every one of us will answer those questions differently. I’m exceptional when I’m following my passions, spending time with my friends and family and engaging in life. In other words, I’m exceptional when I’m happy. Happiness creates a glow—a bubbly, warm light of energy that surrounds us and embraces everyone and everything we touch. Success comes by following my passions and engaging in something that makes me happy. But success is also practical. In order for me to achieve it, I need to do all that and contribute financially to the well-being and stability of my family. So, while I’d love to create for the sake of creating, bills still have to get paid and food needs to find its way to the table.
When I ask the tough questions, I get closer to being exceptional and successful. I’m not content with anything less. Which means, I have to hunker down and find out why I’ve hit writer’s block in my own life. Fortunately, I’ve found some answers. Not all of them, mind you, but a couple gems of insight to move me slowly toward that next great thing that will set my soul on fire and ignite a passionate adventure…adding one word after another, until I build a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. I’m building toward a new chapter in my life, and I’m excited as hell to see where it takes me. Thanks for coming along for the ride. 🙂 <3