"Headscarf left behind" by Yulia Brodskaya

“Headscarf left behind” by Yulia Brodskaya

Crone…the word alone conjures the image of an elderly woman with a wrinkled, warty face and penetrating gaze. In fairy tales, she’s often referred to as a hag or a witch, and (to the dismay of many an unwitting character) her advice and her voice is dismissed until it’s “too late.”

In some ways, things haven’t changed much since such folk tales were first told and written. All too often we push women aside as they age, relegating them to the fringes of society, leaving their wisdom unnoticed (and to our great loss) unheard. What is it we fear in the crone? Are we afraid she might tell us what we don’t wish to hear? Are we afraid she might be right? Or are we simply afraid of the inevitable…that we too are destined to age and decay and one day turn to dust.

Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. – Betty Friedan

I like who I am now. Other people may not. I’m comfortable. I feel freer now. I don’t want growing older to matter to me. – Meryl Streep

I’ve often marvelled at the audacious, brilliant verve that the wise-women I know possess. For some women, they seem to have been born with it, for others, it’s part and parcel of their “becoming.” To a one, they’ve embraced the aging process by throwing caution to the wind, speaking their minds, and claiming their right to rant and rave.

My Grandma B. - soft spoken, ever-wise, and always neat as a button.

My Grandma B. – soft spoken, ever-wise, and always neat as a button.

 

No matter what you do, someone always knew you would. - Miss B. in The Birth House

Marie Babineau, AKA “Miss B.” in The Birth House is a sage femme, a fictional midwife created from my fond memories of several beautiful crones I’ve known in my life. She’s a witchy mash-up of grandmothers-plucked from my family tree as well as a few branches outside my ancestry. I loved spending time with Marie. I adored writing her dialogue (especially since it allowed me to channel my inner crone to come. ) The line above is, hands-down, the most quoted passage from the novel. It came from a seniors’ recipe collection that my husband’s dear Baba McKay gave me. The book has sayings and bits of wisdom peppered throughout, and that one, along with “a lie is as difficult to unspread as butter,” are two of my favourites.

The person who served as the greatest inspiration for Marie Babineau was a woman I considered to be my own “Miss B.” She lived two doors down from me when I was a graduate student in Terre Haute, Indiana and she didn’t mind people referring to her as a witch. Her long, narrow back yard was enclosed by a tall wooden privacy fence, making her garden (lush with vegetables, medicinal herbs and ever-blooming flowers) a magical oasis in an otherwise plain university town. Her big Victorian house was filled with interesting objects (crystals, bones, antiques, odd bits of taxidermy, and countless witchy trinkets.) She invited me to tea one afternoon after she caught me leaning off my front porch, attempting to wash my hair in the middle of a sudden, intense cloudburst of rain.

She was unlike anyone I’d ever known. Our teas would vary wildly from one week to the next. One week we’d talk about guided meditation, the next I’d be greeted by a raucous hour of drumming and chant. Her “circle” included a former nun, a practising Ob/Gyn and several retired university professors. Outspoken and ever curious, she did a lot of things that both amazed and baffled me. (She once spent an entire autumn “observing” the head of a deer carcass that she’d affixed to the roof of her potting shed. Twice a day she’d visit the rotting thing and talk to it, believing that it helped her come to terms with death.) What a glorious example she was, always encouraging me to embrace all aspects of life, no matter how odd or off-putting they might seem.

Magical Maryann from "Advanced Style"

Magical Maryann from “Advanced Style”

At mid-life, one kid’s flown the coop and the other is in his teens. My years are increasingly littered with medical screenings and check-ups. In between these milestones, I’ve started to think about the kind of crone I’ll become. Will I be fearless? Will I be wise? Will I rage against the dying of the light? Heaven knows I’m trying to appreciate the wrinkles and silver hairs as they appear, but in this age of snip, suck, tuck and plump, it’s not always that easy a task. The women of Fabulous Fashionistas and Advanced Style inspire me. Have you seen them? If not, you should! They make 21st Century Cronehood look pretty damn good.

While scouring the Internet for women’s wisdom on aging, I came across this TED talk given by one of my favourite authors, Isabel Allende. I’ll give her the last word. “It’s great to let go, I should’ve started sooner.”

People, places and things mentioned in this post:

Yulia Brodskya – artist

Fabulous Fashionistas

Advanced Style

Isabel Allende

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse. 1902

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse. 1902

Welcome to Witchy Wednesday!

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be devoting to the topic of witches and witchcraft. I’ve long been a fan of all things “witchy”-crystal balls, incantations, black cats, etc., and as a child, my favourite Halloween costume was “the classic witch.” So, it seems only natural that I’d eventually choose to write a novel inhabited by witches of my own making in all their strange, enchanting glory.

While writing The Witches of New York, I gathered heaps of historical accounts and odd tales alongside bits and bobs of practical magic. Not all of it made its way into the novel, so I thought I’d share some of it here during the months leading up to the book’s publication. No spoilers, I promise, just a weekly post infused with witchy goodness.

WITCH – noun

1. a woman thought to have evil magic powers. (one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural power; especially: a woman practicing witchcraft with the aid of a devil or familiar.)

2. an ugly old woman. (hag)

3. a charming, alluring girl or woman.

4. a practitioner of Wicca

First known use: before 12th century.

What does the word witch mean to you?

When you hear the word witch, do you think of a woman wearing a pointy black hat and long black robe, flying through the sky on a broomstick? Is her face covered with wrinkles and warts, or does she have the perky-pretty face of Samantha from the 1960’s TV show, “Bewitched?”

I’ve always loved the moment in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Glinda the Good meets Dorothy for the first time. She floats across Munchkinland in her bubble of magic, then appears before the girl and asks, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”

There’s no “Hi, hello, how are you?” or “I understand you might be a little freaked out right now,” but just a scarily sweet, give it to me straight, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”

Glinda has it on good authority that Dorthy’s got some solid skills when it comes to piloting flying houses, so of course she assumes the girl’s a witch. I have to say that in that moment (even though Dorothy denies it) I, like Glinda, want to believe that even young farm girls from the Midwest can hold their own when it comes to magic. It was purely selfish speculation on my part, of course. I grew up in a land of corn fields and tornadoes. I spent lazy afternoons walking along dusty lanes singing songs about rainbows. If Dorothy Gale could be a witch (or at least mistaken for one) then maybe there was hope for me yet.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Over on Pinterest, I’ve been keeping a board of Witches to serve as inspiration while I write. The pins hold a wide variety of images, to remind me that all witches are not alike. Check it out if you’re so inclined, and then follow me on Twitter for some #WitchyWednesday fun. I’ll be sending out tweets from @SideshowAmi – including links to quizzes that will help you determine, which witch you are.

Follow Ami’s board Witches on Pinterest.

 

 

notes, notebooks, index cards etc.,

notes, notebooks, index cards etc.,

Last week I painted my nails black, cast a few spells, spent two days whispering a 400+ page manuscript to myself, and then, on the evening of what would’ve been my mother’s eighty-first birthday, I sent a book-shaped thing called The Witches of New York to my keen-eyed literary agent, Helen Heller.

You’d think by now I wouldn’t get jittery during this part of the writing process, but I do. I do! (Just ask my dear family.) It’s to be expected, I guess, because by the time I reach this point, I’ve become quite attached to the story and its characters (some more than others) and I want/wish/hope/pray (for the characters’ sakes and mine) that the intrepid band of humans who’ll be the first to read the tale, might, for lack of better words, “get it.”

If I’ve done my job right, they(my DH, HH and a team of amazing Editors)will find plot and promise in the story, and we’ll move on to the exciting push and pull of collaboration that comes with editing a novel. Ah, the season of notes and changes, when a manuscript moves from being an adolescent book-shaped thing to something that can stand on its own.

Drafts, Schmafts.

Don’t ask me how many drafts it took. I honestly can’t say. My creative process was much different this time around, varying in new and interesting ways from how I’ve written in the past. Most novelists measure progress by the number of drafts they’ve produced in order to craft a polished ideal, but I chose to throw that practice out with Witches in favour of allowing myself to work on scenes “in the wild,” out of sequence, whenever they happened to pop into my head. I also used a massive pile of index cards to organize said scenes, so I could keep track of plot and characters and move them around at will. In the end, a simple  experiment meant to keep my brain from getting bored, led to a leaner, meaner writing process (and a happier me.)

A couple of days ago, post writing, (while I was wondering if, despite my happiness I’d doomed myself to failure by not following the rules,) I stumbled on the following quote in the introduction of the tenth anniversary edition of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

“You never learn to write a novel, you only learn to write the novel you’re on.” – Gene Wolfe

The quote is from the writer, Gene Wolfe, and was given as a bit of sage advice to Gaiman after he’d commented (upon finishing American Gods,) that perhaps he had now learned how to write a novel. Oh, the mysteries of storytelling! May they never cease. Huzzah for following the heart of a story and for writing it the way it wishes to be written!

A field of Moontide Farm sunflowers on the Bay of Fundy.

A field of Moontide Farm sunflowers near my house on the Bay of Fundy.

one of my honey bees gathers pollen.

one of our “girls” gathering pollen.

Sunshine and bees

There’s still much to do before I’ll hold the finished book in my hands, but the sun is shining, the bees are buzzing and my Witches are in excellent care. I think I’ll go for a walk outside…

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