Who doesn’t like a freebie? People often stop to take a look at free things just because it costs nothing to do so. In the spirit of that, I offer a collection of short reads. They’re mostly character interviews from various stories of mine, either under Madeline Archer or Rose Anderson. They were originally guest posts here and there around the web and I had too much fun writing them not to share here.
I hope you enjoy.
Experience tells me the literary characters created in my imagination evolve into people of substance. I walk into their world and they share with me all the details of their lives, details I never realized while writing them. I’m always surprised to discover these insights for they too have life’s baggage and skeletons in their closets. That makes sense. Things like this make us the people we are. Funny thing, I feel these emotions when they reveal them, as if those insights are actually a view inside my own soul. Hmm… I
suppose they are. I wrote them!I had such an encounter recently when I found myself 111 years in the past …
I was standing beside an ancient tree on the Harvard campus, absorbed in the magic of being transported 111 years back in time, when a lovely old woman came up to me. She had snow-white hair and expressive green eyes, her appearance indefinably reminiscent of an Irish actor I’d seen once. I recognized her instantly as Finola Maguire and said hello.
She was all smiles and spoke with a faint Irish lilt when she said, “Ah, Rose, I’ve been waitin’ for ye to come to call. Come inside an’ I’ll put the kettle on for tea.”
She placed her hands on the ancient tree and I heard her indistinct whisper. Suddenly, a small glittering cottage appeared right before my eyes. I followed her inside and she asked me to sit. The house was cozy, no more than two or three rooms, as far as I could tell. She took off her coat and hung it on a hook by the door, then went to tend her teakettle. To my surprise, a brass button shot out of an old boot near the hearth to clatter across the floor.
Seeing it, Mrs. Maguire peered into the boot, and said, “Martin, stop sortin’ yer treasures. Look who’s come for a visit. It’s Rose herself!”
A second later, a packrat emerged. I greeted him and he chittered happily. I caught Mrs. Maguire’s eye hoping she’d translate. After all, she was a witch and he was her familiar spirit.
She said, “Martin says he’s so glad you’ve come and wonders if ye’d care to look at his
collection. He’s very proud of it, ye know. Go on an’ take a look, dear. It’s sure to make ye smile. I’ll only be a minute with our tea.”
Delighted, I turned my attention to the packrat. The little sprite dipped in and out of his boot with a great many buttons, keys, and other things that he’d found lost on the ground. I told him how impressed I was and could tell it pleased him by the happy ridges that appeared just above his eyes. He was about to show me the collection in the other full boot in the corner across the room, when we were called to take our tea.
Mrs. Maguire filled my cup first and then saw to her own. For Martin, she poured a splash of milk in a saucer,then buttered a corner of a biscuit for him. His tail pointed to the jam
jar and she spread blackberry jam over his butter then handed it over. He took the piece in his deft little paws and launched right into it.
Apparently his not waiting for us was a lapse in manners, in her opinion, for she tsked. Motioning to the plate of scrumptious-looking biscuits, she told me, “Oh do help yerself, dear. We don’t stand on ceremony, do we Martin?”
He looked at me and shook his head. His whiskers were purple with jam and crumbs stuck to his nose. I found him adorable.
I helped myself to the biscuits. They were delicious and tasted exactly like biscuits my grandmother used to make. But of course they would. We writers often use what we know when we write our scenes. I judiciously asked about her grandson. I pretty much knew the outcome of this story, but they didn’t just yet.
“Oh Rose,” she said, “for more than two hundred years I’ve searched high an’ low for others to help me with me daughter Abigayle’s charm. There are no other witch folk.”
She went on to say she recently spent two weeks traveling to Salem for the rents, then on to Boston for the banking, and then back home again. While she was in Boston, she placed inscrutable ads in the local newspapers, things only other witch folk would understand. Not a soul had yet replied. She dabbed her glistening eyes with her napkin, and said, “I’ve come to suspect the others of my kind were either all murdered during the witch hunts, or they abandoned the Auld ways to save themselves.”
Martin chittered and I suspected he wanted her to explain the Auld ways to me. This proved to be the case when she asked him the best way to distill this vast concept to a non-witch like myself. Whiskers dripping with milk, he chittered on and on. She listened and occasionally nodded. Finally, to me she said, “Ye know Martin is an ancient creature, Rose, far older than we. What he knows comes from long ago when people lived closer to nature. Back then, there were some with an affinity for the energies of all life. These were my people, Rose. The energies are auld, as old as time itself—a life force if ye will, an’ it exists in every livin’ thing. Folks with this affinity understand that life comes in two halves of the whole.”
Martin, now grooming himself after his meal, stopped and chittered once more.
“Oh that’s a good explanation, Martin.” To me, she said, “Ye don’t see a stag without seein’ a doe, nor a hen without a rooster. An’ ye don’t see a woman without seein’ a man. It’s the same for everythin’, Rose. Even the flowers an’ trees have both sides within them. My kind understands the glorious Mind who made it all, an’ we know the Mind walks among creation as both the god an’ goddess. An’ because we understand this, we are allowed to call upon the energies of nature for magic.”
I couldn’t help but ask why the witches of Salem couldn’t call upon these energies to help put an end to the persecutions.
“Oh bless ye, dear. If only we could have done so. There were so few of us to stand against the fear and intolerance, ye see. Long ago, when everyone followed the Auld ways, it would have been a small matter to turn an ill wish into good. It takes the belief of many to turn dark thoughts to light ones. But somethin’ happened when a few people learned they could wield power by incitin’ fear in others. The fearful ones turned away from the Auld ways, an’ in time they simply forgot.”
I couldn’t help but compare the intolerance of the past to current events in my own time. Intolerance was an ugly thing no matter when. I told them as much.
Martin chimed in. She nodded and relayed his words, “He says ye always must believe the world can be better, for that’s exactly how it becomes so. Ye must believe, dear. Believe and hope.”
I understood what they meant. Positive thinking often made the seemingly impossible possible. My thoughts turning to the nearly impossible situation her grandson was in, I asked about Neila.
“Oh, she’s a dear, sweet-natured lass. An’ so terribly shy. The poor dear gets all tongue-tied when it comes to talkin’ with people so she keeps to herself. I have her makin’ her sketches across the way in that empty building. She’s practicin’ her conversation while she works.”
How sly of her. I told her so.
Her cheeks pinkened. She smiled back at me and said, “Hope is a good thing, dear.”
Martin chittered. There was no need to translate. I understood.
Tell us about yourself.
Nicolas seated himself and crossed his legs comfortably before him. “Well, let me see…My name is Nicolas Halstead, 11th Earl of Halstead. I’ve assumed my deceased father’s seat in House of Lords. Though my travels puts me hardly ever there. As a young man I was educated at Eaton, and then finished my art history education at Oxford. From there I did my internship at the Ashmolean, where I recently became a fellow. It falls to me to add to her Majesty’s collections of state, and to do so, I acquire artworks from private holdings and collections.
I’m an exceedingly private person. To maintain that desired privacy, I live in London, away from the family estate. Mrs. Fletcher, my housekeeper, looks after me and has since the accident that killed my parents. My grandmother, Lady Augusta Halstead did me immeasurable kindness when she gave me over to her trusted servant’s care all those years ago. She has no idea of the bond between Mrs. Fletcher and me, or what we truly share. You see, my Grandmother comes from a time of little deviation from the path society placed before you. The old dear would come undone in knowing the truth of me.”
Nicolas’ lips twitch. “Until recently, I lived a quiet, somewhat content, life.”
Tell us about Ellie and Luca.
The twitch transformed into a wide smile. “I’ll assume by the question, you are aware of my nature. Therefore, to phrase it simply, we three are lovers and I love them. It’s trite to say, but we complete one another in ways we hardly realized were incomplete. Through them, I’ve discovered and accepted myself.
Were I to describe my new wife, I’d say she’s unlike anyone, male or female, of my acquaintance. Bold as brass in speaking plainly…in attitude and affections as well. She’s a suffragette, a progressive in the truest sense. If any woman deserved the vote it would be she. Her mind is extraordinary, her heart fiercely loving and protective. She’s American, you know. In general, Americans reminded me of impressionist artists. The Impressionists violated the rules of academic painting, and Americans violate the rules of conventionality. As a student of nuance, I very much like her. That on top of the love I feel. I consider Ellie to be a true partner in life and love.
Luca? He and I are cut from the same cloth in our interests and we share compatible views. I see Luca as one of the world’s purest souls. He’s kind and sensitive, loving and thoughtful. And I’ll add to that — he’s compassionate and self-sacrificing to a fault. Luca is also bold and brave, far braver than I. He’s been through a lot in the last ten years. Were I able, I’d take the heartache onto myself to free him of it. I know he would do the same for me. He’s a man anyone would be proud to know, let alone love.”
What do you think is your strongest point?
“Modesty?” He laughed. “How does one consider their strongest attributes without sounding conceited? Let’s see…I’m a loyal friend and devoted to those I love. I have empathy. Consequently, the unfortunate and hungry souls in Rome laid me quite low when we were there. Admitting to that, I’d have to add that I’m more than soft-hearted, I’m painfully aware. I suppose that is my strongest and weakest attribute — my attention to detail. I simply do not possess a blind eye. Given my training and interest in the artworks of the ages, I readily grasp nuance. I see the subtle shading of life in those small details often missed by others. It allows me to read situations quickly. Not a bad skill for a man with a deviate’s proclivity in an intolerant world!”
As a child, who was your best friend? Tell us about him/her.
“When I was a lad of twelve or so, Mrs. Fletcher’s orphaned nephew Thomas came to Halstead. He was a few years older than I and possessing a ready talent with horses, took a position working in the stables. I got to spend time with him when my Grandmother was out and about. I found him witty and fun and although our stations in life divided us, we enjoyed one another’s company. I went away to school and we stayed in touch through letters. When I returned home, I went to the stable to find my friend, and instead found him with his lover, the farrier’s son. Thom and I became lovers shortly after. Our relationship changed. And so had I.”
What do you wish was different about your life?
“I was born to a world divided by class structure and limitations. My mind sees the outward trappings of this divide daily, especially at Halstead. But my relationships with Mrs. Fletcher and her nephew Thomas transcend such boundaries. They mean the world to me, and my heart rebels at the very idea that I must keep my love for them a secret. I love Luca as well. It wasn’t all that long ago, loving him would cost us our lives. There’s no longer a death penalty for homosexual Englishmen, but we are still not free to love. I wish I was able to openly show my affections.”
If you were given your fondest wish, what would it be?
“I’d wish to turn back the clock to see my dear Thom living a full and happy life. We’d been together nearly thirteen years before I married Ellie. It was he who ended our relationship out of respect for her. I miss him.”
What do you wish I had asked you? Please ask and answer it now.
“I would have asked, Will we ever live in a tolerant world?
My answer would be, yes. It’s 1887. Look how far we’ve come. Women will be voting side by side with men shortly, and are soon to be equal in every way. Especially if my wife has her say! With such social progress broadening our understanding of ourselves, I can’t imagine it taking long for prejudice, bigotry, and hatred to fall by the wayside. Love and kindness, tolerance and charity – these are precepts of faith around the world. But we don’t need our faith to tell us this is best. Like water, mankind eventually follows the path of least resistance. I have every confidence that before long, we’ll do what makes sense.”
I’m fortunate to live in one of the prettiest places in America’s Midwest. This morning while walking my dogs, I saw the first harbingers of spring pushing their way up out of the frozen ground – my snowdrops. As the weather warms and winter transitions into spring, you can feel the restlessness in the earth. I can certainly feel it here. It’s the vibration of life. There’s even a smell to it, the fresh loamy smell of thawing. Tree buds want to open as sap begins to flow, and the young of many species will be born and hatched in the spring.
Living where I do, I’ve been privy to the fact nature wakens in precise increments of time. Abundant rabbits and rodents with their fast maturing litters will feed the slower maturing foxes and coyotes and enter the scene just as the fledgling hawks and owls start hunting for themselves. Predator and prey begin a dance of measured steps in the spring. Nature is balanced when left alone. There’s no doubt humans have great impact upon this balance. Sometimes it’s calculated and often cruelly lacking regard for other species – we drill and mine for fossil fuels or drain wetlands for development. Sometimes it’s innocent – allowing our cats and dogs out to wreak havoc on wildlife or introducing noxious plant species to areas they don’t belong.
As someone long involved in historic preservation, I feel the same way about precious ancient history. We can really mess things up, intentionally or otherwise.
Case in point: Wisconsin was once covered in ancient Native American burial and effigy mounds. Sadly most of them are gone now. Of the more than 10,000 that were once there, only a handful remains. Several years ago my husband and I stumbled upon an undiscovered (or at least unknown in our time) bird-shaped effigy mound not too far from our home. To this day, no one knows of it and we aren’t talking. As mentioned above, humans often impact treasures, whether treasure takes the form of delicate ecosystems, or irreplaceable remnants of prehistory. These 10,000+ mounds were destroyed for various reasons from artifact collecting, to field clearing for farming, to modern urban development.
There’s a fascinating self-guided driving tour across the state of Wisconsin and into Iowa that takes you to each intact mound. Captivated by the mystery of it all, I sought information and learned of Native American legends that spoke of grave guardians who assumed the form of wolves or dogs and watched over burial mounds. Curiously, some of the mounds we saw were clearly shaped like wolves walking upright. The writer I am couldn’t help but wonder what happened to these guardians when the mounds they watched over were destroyed. I found it all an amazingly introspective experience that led to my meeting Ashkewheteasu. The following is our rather candid discussion~
Rose: “Hello Ash. Are you alright with me calling you Ash, or would you prefer Askewheteasu?”
Ash: “Boozhoo, Rose. I’ve left my older name in the past with the legends of my people. I am Ash now.”
Rose: “My compliments, Ash. You speak my language very well.”
Ash: “Migwech. Immediate understanding is a gift from the Sky Father. I know the language of every animal and bird whose skin I wear. I’ve heard your words spoken for the last one hundred and fifty years, one of many languages I’ve learned as people came and left these lands. I admit I am slow to learn to speak it. For that, I need others to converse with.”
Rose: “I know a little about the Middle Woodland Culture and the Effigy Mound builders. What can you tell me about your people? I mean, your old people from long ago.”
Ash: “Tell me what you understand and if I am able, I’ll tell you what you don’t know.”
Rose: “Well, I know they lived along the Wisconsin-Illinois border and their lands extended from Dubuque Iowa on the west, north into southeastern Minnesota, and across southern Wisconsin from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. I also know for the most part, the Mound Builder culture is a mystery.”
He gave me a handsome smile and shook his head.
Ash: “I do not know these places you speak of.”
Rose: “Oh, uh…let me back up. The land around here has been named in the last two hundred years. It’s divided into territories called states. All the land belongs to the United States of America now.”
Ash: “Belongs to? Your people are unusual Rose. Does the land belong to the deer and fox? They live upon it as well. People only borrow land to live on, as other creatures do.”
I really didn’t know how to respond to that. Many primitive cultures around the world once held the same belief. Some still do.
Rose: “It’s my understanding that archaeologists believe the effigy mounds delineated territories of clan gathering areas and hunting grounds, and that most held burials.
I’d read it was estimated that 80% of the mounds that once existed held human burials, and typically the body interred in the animal-shaped mounds were placed in the head or heart area.”
Ash: “Yes, my people marked the ground this way. Some of the mounds we built did this. And yes, the others were graves. My wife was buried in one such grave. Her people were Water people. Her mound was an otter mound. I guarded her mound until recently.”
He shook his head. I understood. Such destruction made no sense. I changed the subject.
Rose: “I know you’re immortal. I can’t imagine living 3000 years alone.”
Ash: “It was a lonely life, Rose. I am not so lonely anymore. I have Livie and Cora, and tonight I meet John Redleaf.”
Rose: “You’re sure to like John. About Livie…you’re staying at Livie’s house as a wolf-mixed dog, and you’re helping her at the animal clinic as a man. I can tell she has feelings for you, and I know she loves the dog she’s been caring for. I’m aware you plan to tell her the truth of what and who you are.”
Ash: “Yes. But I am afraid once she knows my truth, she will turn away from me. I never thought I’d love again. I’ve grown to love her, Rose. I love her as the air I breathe.”
Dr. Rosalini hadn’t yet realized the dog she’d hit with her car and healed is a 3000 year old shaman in his shape-shifted form.
Rose: “I have to wonder if she needs to know you can shape shift. I would think you’d just not do that and stay as you are.”
He smiled again.
Ash: “I know you understand if the dog I am disappears and Livie grows to love me as the man I am, years will pass and she will see I cannot age. She’ll know my life with her is a lie. I love her too much to leave a lie between us. And more, were I to do that, our story would end here, Rose. If it ends, Eluwilussit lives and that story is yet to be read.”
He knew I’d just finished the sequel?? His words surprised me. Those brown eyes sparkled too. Maybe he wanted me to write a happy outcome. After all, he only knew what was in his half of the tale.
Rose: “How do you know that?”
Ash: “I know your mind. You understand he cannot be loosed upon the world. It only makes sense that you would continue the story to the end.”
Rose: “Whatever ending that might be.”
He smiled. Good lord was he handsome. He knew I already knew.
Ash: “I know you’ve already seen this. I am as much of you, as you are of me, as we are together. Gi zah gin, Rose.”
I loved him too. It’s an odd thing to converse with characters born from your imagination, it’s even stranger to interview yourself and not have to think too long before you answer! He was me and I was him and together we were something else entirely. Yes, I knew how the story would end. There were dangers ahead.
An unusual conversation took place the other night. I’d been fighting a cold and feeling under the weather all day, so went to bed early. I dream most nights. Some are remembered with clarity, while others disappear in the light of day. It was no surprise to find myself dreaming that night. I often dream aware, that is, aware I’m dreaming no matter where my dream takes me.
In this particular dream, I was sitting at a kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea. To my surprise, a ghostly presence appeared in the chair directly across from me. At first the spectre was nothing more than an eerie blue light. Before my eyes the light took the form of a translucent figure. A moment later and a solid and very handsome dark-haired, whiskey-eyed, man sat there. I recognized him instantly as the ghost of Victorian physician, Jason Bowen. After pouring him a cup of tea, we had ourselves an impromptu little chat —
Rose: “Jason, this is a surprise. I know I’m dreaming right now and I know as a ghost you’re able to enter dreams. I take it meeting you like this is no coincidence?”
Jason: “This is so. You’re actually in bed sleeping. I hope you don’t mind Rose, I wish to talk.”
Rose: “It’s alright. Isn’t it strange that you manage to enter dreams like this?”
Jason: “I believe you are familiar with the work of Wundt and Titchner…”
Rose: “Just the basics.”
Jason: “No matter. They were both European psychologists of my day. They would say the brain is susceptible in its unconscious state. To put it simply, as formless energy, my essence is able to flow as electricity flows and the sleeping mind is an adequate channel. To live again in the dream world is a bonus. I very much miss being alive, you see. Here I can enjoy a cup of tea and conversation with you. In the waking world, these pleasures are denied me.”
Rose: “So what would you like to talk about?”
Jason: “My house guest. I find the whole situation hopeless.”
Rose: “I figured you would eventually.”
He shook his head
Jason: “I fell into Lanie’s dreams and into the life I’d lived more than one hundred years ago. The problem is, in her dream world she’s a woman of that time, and I find she’s taken me heart and soul. I’ve fallen in love, Rose. Our love there is real, but the dream is an illusion.”
Rose: “I’m so sorry, Jason.”
Jason: “There’s more to her dreams, Rose.”
He nodded, obviously sad.
Jason: “Lanie’s dreams have taken us to a point in time mere days from my fate. My wife, her lover, and his sister are still conspiring to murder me…again.”
Rose: “And Lanie has no idea?”
Jason: “Of course, you’d know better than I. But I don’t believe she’s aware she’s actually dreaming while in the midst of the dream. I fear if this second murder takes place, all traces of me will disappear for good. I will be gone from Lanie’s dreams and no longer be the ghost haunting her house.”
Rose: “You do know she loves you, ghost or not…”
Jason: “I know it. But what future could we possibly have together?”
My heart ached for this untenable situation I’d put him in. I watched him fade away. A moment later I found myself awake. I lay there thinking readers would wonder is these unlikely lovers would find a way to stay together. I know they’d wonder if this could only happen through Lanie’s death, or maybe not even then.
I’d done several character interviews in the last two years. Believe me, it’s an odd thing to converse with characters born from your imagination, it’s even stranger to interview them yourself and not have to think too long before you answer! So I recently had an encounter with Nicolas where I sat him down and asked some questions. I wondered what Luca might say. I no sooner had the thought when he appeared at the table. Luca Franco was exactly how Nicolas described him. Of course he would be. I’d seen him myself roughly forty years ago. I never knew his name, but he was much older than I and worked in my neighborhood deli. I grew up in a blended Greek and Italian neighborhood in Chicago. Like a duckling, I do believe I imprinted on dark and handsome Mediterranean men. When I wrote Luca, I saw him in my mind’s eye because he was real. I recall he had very little English, but OMG was he beautiful with those snow-shadow eyes against his warm-hued skin. I think cold cuts sales tripled with him there. Luca is my imagination’s homage to that gorgeous foreign man. When my voice finally returned, I had a conversation with him.
Luca: Rose! Buona sera!
Rose: “Good afternoon Luca, I’m glad you could join me. The story is told through Nicolas’ eyes, but I was wondering if you’d like to share a few of your own perspectives.”
Lucas: “I am happy to oblige, mio caro.”
Rose: “Well, to start why not introduce yourself. I’m sure people will be interested in the inner workings of Luca Franco.”
Luca: “I can’t imagine that to be the case. I’m a simple fellow. But as I owe you much Rose, I’ll follow your lead. Where shall we begin?”
Rose: “Like Nicolas, you too work at the Ashmolean Museum. What work do you do specifically?”
Luca: “I travel the world searching for precious items from antiquity and bring them back to the museum to be studied, cataloged, and kept safe from the further ravages of time.”
Rose: “And this interest in Leonardo da Vinci that you share with Nicolas and Ellie…I know Ellie is drawn to the philosophy of the man many consider to be the personification of the Renaissance, and Nicolas is fascinated by the mind behind man’s unique artworks.”
Luca: “Yes. They bring perspectives into our conversations that are as intriguing as the artist himself.”
Rose: “And what do you bring?”
Luca: “I’ve studied da Vinci’s world and his place in history to feed my own curiosity. The man was beyond brilliant. He possessed a ricchezza d’ingegno, a talento. A persona di genio.”
Rose: “I’m sorry. I only speak a little Italian.”
Luca: “Forgive me. I said Leonardo possessed a richness of intellect, a talent. He was undoubtedly a person of genius.”
Rose: “I find him all of those things as well.”
Those snow-shadow blue eyes sparkled.
Luca: “But of course. You are the author here.”
Rose: “So…tell me about this unusual relationship you have with Nicolas and Ellie.”
Luca: “Never have I felt such loving acceptance. We’ve bonded through our common interests, beliefs, and temperaments. I love them with every fiber of my being.”
Rose: “And you see this…this… loving ménage lasting? Nicolas has family obligations to his title and estate.”
Luca: “Oddly enough, I do. The important thing is love, Rose. With love, anything is possible no matter the opinions of the world. Even in your time, mio caro.”
What more could I say. He mirrored my sentiments exactly. Of course he would.