Oh, the Places I Write!

Our Kaysersberg flat

I’ve been taking every spare moment of late to finish my second novel (and begin the sequel to THE STONE MANOR), so my blog has sat dormant. With Book One of my YA Fantasy ready for an agent, I thought it might be interesting to backtrack a few of the many enchanting places I sat creating this fairy tale. It began in our cozy flat in the Alsatian village of Kayserberg, the setting for the novel. The village, not the flat. That’s our building. The ground floor is the restaurant, the next three floors are apartments. Ours is on the top floor, sitting up under the eaves. It was the old family flat, so lots of room, full kitchen, lovely antique furnishings, fantastic views.

Jean Jacques restaurant

This is the enchanting restaurant on the ground floor of our building, Le Capucin. It was home to my writing fits on numerous occasions. I ate more tarte flambée than should be allowed, but then I was in Alsace. If you are ever in Kaysersberg, which everyone should be at least once in their life, stop in and eat. Tell Jean Jacques and Gabrielle, I sent you. They are enchanting! More about them later.

Me writing in front of Kaysersberg apartment

When not writing inside the restaurant, I might be found outside in their sidewalk cafe area.

Me writing in kitchen in Kaysersberg

Some days I chose to stay in our flat and write at the kitchen table.

Me writing at bakery in Kaysersberg

Just down from our building was a trendy little French cafe. If the weather was nice, which it was often, I could be found here, trying to focus on my writing and not on the people around me.

Me writing at favorite bakery in Kaysersberg

A bit further down the street is my very favorite pâtisserie, Au Péché Mignon. Have you noticed a pattern? I eat, and I write. Why wouldn’t I? Right? The chocolate pastries are legendary. It’s a good thing our flat was on the 4th floor. Lots of walking, climbing, walking some more. And then we eat.

Me writing on bench Kaysersberg

Another of my favorite places to write was on this bench, above the village, near the chateau ruins. I would say this one does not have to do with food, but I think we actually picnic’d here.

Me writing at apartment in WF

When I was first diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2012, we got an apartment in Wichita Falls, Texas to be near our daughter and her family and near my oncologist in Grapevine. When we weren’t in Europe training and traveling for Young Life, I was here. And when I had moments of clarity and small windows of creativity, I would write . . . this fairy tale. I believe this story, this Alsatian tale, has been a therapeutic exercise for me, a means of escape through difficult times. There were days I killed off characters, and it was the right thing to do. I felt guilty the first time it happened because, as is often the case, she didn’t deserve it. I loved creating a world of my own making, some parts of it drawn from history, some drawn from folklore told me by people from our village, and some from my own imagination. I love being a writer!

My writing studio

We are no longer in that little apartment, a place that became my sanctuary. We now live right around the corner from our daughter in a lovely home. A gift to our family from God when we weren’t looking for it because we didn’t know we needed it. A few months after buying the home and moving in, our daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, this is where I write in those spare moments when we are in Texas and not in Europe, my very own space. It is as quirky and eccentric as I am.

The End screen Amélie

It is where I typed this. Book One has come to an end and is waiting to be discovered and given wings. I am very attached to this story because of the life I lived while writing it. Amélie and I have gone through a lot together. I am so grateful she introduced herself to me in that enchanted village in France. I have loved telling her story so far, and I can’t wait to continue the adventure that is her life in Book Two.

The smoke rising from lavender candle

And now, we wait.

 

Guinevere’s Grave and Pictish Stones

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Image: Meigle Kirk

The wee hamlet of Meigle lies just thirty minutes north east of Perth, Scotland. It doesn’t sit on a tourist route, but for those interested in Arthurian legends or Pictish stones, this village is a must see. In the graveyard of the local kirk stands a mound with a plaque. It reads Vanora’s Mound. This is where legends begin.

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Image: Vanora’s Mound Plaque

The plaque reads:

Vanora’s Mound

This mound is by tradition the burial

place of Vanora or Guinevere, the

legendary queen of King Arthur.

The stone claimed to be her

momunent is now situated within

Meigle Museum at the south west

corner of the churchyard.

 

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Image: Vanora’s Mound

There are several variations of this local legend. One says King Arthur was leaving for Rome on Crusade and left his nephew, Mordred, as regent of the kingdom and Guinevere in his care. Mordred soon took Guinevere as his wife, either by force or of her own free will and then made himself king of the Pictish kingdom. Arthur learned of this treason and returned with his army. They battled until Arthur killed Mordred, but was himself mortally wounded. He died before Guinevere was able to seek his absolve. She was arrested and held at the fort at Barry Hill nearby until tried and found guilty of treason and adultery. She was torn to pieces by a pack of wild dogs as her punishment and buried in the kirkyard. A curse was placed on her burial mound, and it is said that to this day if a young woman walks upon the mound she will be barren.

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Image credit: Pictish Stones at Meigle Museum from Undiscovered Scotland

In a small former school building, 26 Pictish stones are housed. One is an 8 foot carved stone. A series of figures on horseback are carved on the top back side with mythical animals carved along the lower section. In the middle is a carving of a person in a long robe with four animals tearing he or she apart. The official interpretation says this is a rendition of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Even though, Daniel was not torn apart in the Biblical account. The local story says this is the depiction of Guinevere’s death. This stone once stood at the mound, and her name is found on the stone.

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Image: Me at the mound

I found this amazing landmark while researching for Arthurian sites in Scotland. This is only an hours drive from where we office while in Europe. What makes this personally fascinating and quite enchanting pertains to my second “yet to be published” novel. It begins with a backstory, a piece of Arthurian legend having to do with this very story. However, I had not heard this particular version. I took one of the more romantic tellings and added my own personal touch. Being a fiction writer and lover of legendary tales, this was not a difficult undertaking.

This is one of the many reasons I love writing. I love finding myself in the middle of a story, even when I’m not looking for one!

 

 

 

The Fairy Bridge: A Bridge of Sorrows

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Image: The Fairy Bridge on the Waternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye.

Just off the A850 between Dunvegan and Edinbane is a small road that cuts across the Waternish Peninsula, the B886. Turn onto the single track road, and the Fairy Bridge sits to the left. It has been closed to anything other than foot-traffic for a long time. This is a very old bridge, but not as old as the story tied to it. I would like to believe stones from the original bridge were used to form the current one.

This is believed to be the very bridge on which one of the Macleod clan chiefs said a sad farewell to his fairy wife. She was the daughter of Oberon, King of the Fairies. He had agreed to the marriage, but only for a year and a day, after which time she must return to her own people. A son was born to the happy couple, but she had to honor her father’s agreement and said her goodbye to her husband and son at this very bridge. It was a much lamented farewell. (This is one of many versions of the story and my personal favorite.)

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Image: Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Dunvegan Castle, home of the Macleod chiefs for centuries, is where the story gets even more enchanting. Some say she gave her husband a fairy shawl to remember her by, a magic shawl of protection. It could be raised three times, and three times only, if he or any of his clan were ever in need of help. On the third time, aid would come but at the expense of the clan standard and all their possessions. It has been raised twice with great success and is kept in a glass case for preservation and viewing inside Dunvegan Castle.

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Image from Dunvegan Castle website: Am Bratach Sith (The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan)

There is little left of the fairy flag, it is quite faded. It was such a thrill to see this remnant of an enchanted tale. It was magical, indeed. Experts have never been able to determine it’s origin. Possibly Persian, 4th century, or maybe it is the missing battle flag of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, of whom the Macleods descend. I like to believe it is the shawl of the fairy princess.

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If you are fortunate to visit this wonderful bridge, you must remember this: anyone who walks across the bridge must acknowledge the fairies by waving to them and greeting them politely. Of course, I waved and spoke a genuinely friendly “Hello.” Mustn’t be rude to our hosts.

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Sitting on the Fairy Bridge on a recent visit, I recalled a story my friend, George Macpherson, the Skye Storyteller, shared about one of the battles that took place on the hillside behind his home in Glendale, just a few miles away. It was one of the times the Macleod’s raised the fairy flag and called for aid from King Oberon and his fairy army. It’s a wonderful story. A story for another time, perhaps.

If you could possess your own wee family heirloom, given to you from a fairy princess, what might it be? How might it be used?

 

The Last Skye Seannachie: George W. Macpherson, Scottish Storyteller

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George W. Macpherson is the last traditional storyteller on the Isle of Skye. His Gaelic name is Seoras. He is a national treasure, truly. This man has stores put to memory that span thousands of years. He has the ability to tell a story in his soft thick Scottish accent that will transport you into a different time and place where giants roamed the landscape and the fairy folk danced. As I sat in his living room, along a ridge above Glendale on the Isle of Skye, his voice carried me away. I was surrounded by color and scent, I heard the voices of those he described and stood in the middle of each tale, fully engaged, fully part of it. It was magical.

I asked when he first began telling stories. “Well, I started when I was three years old. My grandfather took me on his knee, and he told me a story, and I’d have to tell it back to him. And he’d say, ‘No, that’s not the way it was.’ And he’d tell it to me again, and I’d have to retell it till I was tellin’ the story the way he told it. And I did that then for seven years till I was ten. Then, I was allowed to tell a story outside the house for the first time. That was the kind of training at that time for a seannachie. After that I was collecting stories and telling them ever since. So all together I’ve been learning and collecting and telling stories now for over eighty years.”

He comes from a long line of seannachies. (Pronounced  shan-nach-hee.) Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers were seannachies, as was his father. So all the stories and all that comes with this ancient bardic office funneled down to him. He told me there are three levels of stories for story tellers, the “big stories,” the “middle stories,” and the “small stories.” Only a seannachie could tell the “big stories,” and they must be told exactly the same, word for word, as they were passed down. If you aspire to be a storyteller, you should begin with at least fifty stories committed to memory, always building your collection to include more and more. George has hundreds of stories. Eighty years and generations upon generation of stories passed down from his ancestors and others. He has one story that takes three days to tell. “I’ve only told it once!”

He also said he knows many story tellers today who practice in front of a mirror, so they can get all their facial expressions and hand motions and body movements down just so. “They’re trying to tie attention to the teller not the story. And that’s wrong, it’s not the teller that’s important it’s the story.” The power is in the story. I loved these words. So much truth in them on so many levels.

Seoras Macpherson is the last Skye Seannachie and one of the last three in all of Scotland. He has been writing his stories down and publishing them, so as not to lose all of them. It is an oral tradition, an oral office of bard, clan historian, druidic heritage, but we have lived long enough to see the last of these great men and women aging without apprentices to carry on this legendary gift. I found myself saddened as I listened to this wise, gentle man and his powerful stories, and I wished with all my heart to be three again and sitting on his knee, repeating them . . . word for word . . . until I heard him say, “That’s just right. Now for the next story.”

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Sample story by George W. Mapherson

 

 

The Fairy Glen Revisited

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In 2008, my husband and I traveled to the Isle of Skye so I could do a wee bit of research for my first novel, THE STONE MANOR. I was enchanted by everything I saw and everyone I spoke with. It is the ancestral home of my maternal grandmother. (Well, one of them.) We were Macdonalds, from Skye, who emigrated to America around 1774. I must tell you I felt very much like I had come home when I crossed the Skye Bridge that first time. Nothing has changed.

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When I saw the bridge with the Cuillins just beyond, my heart began to sing! I felt all warm inside. And as we crossed the bridge onto the Misty Isle, a smile spread across my face. It continues, and it’s day three. Just sayin’.

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This was the Fairy Glen in 2008. Cloudy skies. I was wearing a sweater that day, and it was the last week of May. The weather is fickle in Scotland. I didn’t climb to the top of Castle Ewen that trip, although I had Kathryn, Beth, and the boys do so in my novel. I was determined this trip to take in the view from the precipice, as it were.

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Here we go! Join me for a wee bit of a climb.

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Oh look. A narrow trail leading up the backside. Hmm.

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Let’s do this! Watch your step. The small pebbles are loose and slippery along the narrow path. And it’s best not to look down if you’ve ever had Vertigo. I didn’t realize that till I tried it.

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We made it!!!! Well done!

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View from the top! It was so worth it. After spending a few minutes taking in the panoramic scene, it’s time to make our descent. This will be much easier. Just below the pathway to Castle Ewen we find the stone circle labyrinth. Join me in walking through it clockwise. When you get to the center you’re supposed to make a wish. Just one, not three.

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For our final taste of the enchanted, climb with me along the sheep trails to the Portal to the Otherworld. If you read my novel, you’ll remember Kathryn leaves something here as an offering. She felt badly about this afterward, and in the sequel, she makes amends by joining the group of folks that clean up the Fairy Glen from time to time to try and get it back to its original condition, without all the manmade offerings left with the best of intentions. (So, this is me saying, don’t take or leave anything in the Fairy Glen. Respect this place, please.)

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It’s been such a fantastic visit to the glen. Unfortunately, there were a number of people wandering around, so I saw no fairies. I plan to return one final time before we leave Skye to say my goodbyes . . . maybe, just maybe.

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As we were leaving, I took out my novel and had a couple of photos taken with it in its birthplace. I’d like to think the wee people were pleased with my offering in words. (I didn’t leave it there. Just took the pic. Remember, don’t take anything away. It’s very bad luck. And don’t leave anything behind, you’ll mar the beauty of the Fairy Glen.)

I’ll leave you with one final pic of the Fairy Glen. Do you see any wee folk peaking out from under a flower or maybe from behind a rock? They’re watching you.

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Latest on Amélie!

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I’ve finished the manuscript for Amélie: An Alsatian Tale (Book One)! FYI, this is a working title. It is currently being read by several Beta readers. Then, time to edit once again, and again, and again. I’m still up in the air on whether to continue my path of indie publishing or wander down that rocky road of traditional publishing. Decision to come soon. Input welcome.

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As this novel sits and marinates, I’ve begun the sequel to The Stone Manor! It’s been great fun to reconnect with my old friends, Mairi, Kathryn and Duncan, Beth, Ian, and Sean. Angus wondered why I’d taken so long to get back to them. Then, there are the new characters I’m meeting for the first time. I hope you’ll love them all as much as I do. For now, back to writing!

Fairy Tale . . . Shoot!

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Fairy Tale Shoot was my January 2015 post. My first and only post of the year. The reason being, our daughter Rachel was diagnosed in February with breast cancer. The dreaded C dragon swooped into our realm and darkened our family fairy tale.

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(Before things went dark.)

2014 had been a difficult year for our family, so I was happy to say goodbye to it and welcome 2015 with open arms. Rachel traveled to Nacogdoches with me to be my personal assistant, (a.k.a. hairstylist, make-up artist, photographer, cheerleader), as I attended my very first Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend. I met Kathy Murphy, the founder and Queen Herself, along with many fabulous authors and book club members. It was a fun, enchanting time. At the end of the weekend. Rachel and I went to a wooded spot and did a magical photo shoot of my Fairy Godmother persona. ( Rachel is a fantastic professional photographer. Score.)

Then February came along and on our granddaughter’s birthday the dreaded news came, and our world turned upside down. It is still upside down as she is still in treatment, but the prognosis looks good, and we are grateful for God’s presence with us in these hard days, weeks, months, and now year.

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(Siblings: Sean and Rachel)

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(Family Racing for the Cure!)

This has been her personal fight, but not without the support of our entire extended family and many, many friends. We have all surrounded her with every ounce of love and strength and courage we could muster, and then, we abide. It’s a helpless feeling to watch your child fight for her life. There are no words to truly describe the depths of these emotions, so I won’t even try. But, I have watched her stand strong, and on those days she could not stand, I watched her husband carry her . . . I watched her brothers lean in . . . I watched her family and friends circle up around her . . . I stood with her dad on her behalf.

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And yet . . . there are days when no one else can stand up for her, and she fights on because she is a warrior. She is strong and brave and beautiful. And I love her with all my heart.

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The battle continues. It requires the drinking of poison for an entire year, but she has beaten the C dragon, and she has the scars to prove it. Fairy Tale . . . shoot! This is real life!

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And because this is real life, I write fairy tales. There are days I cannot gather one creative thought, and I sit. Then, I am carried away by my own emotions and I write. Several characters lost their lives in 2015. It was a dangerous year. However, no matter how dark and desperate things appear, I will bring light to my story, and my heroines will be strong and courageous, ever-flawed, but heroes just the same.

I have come to realize I cannot wish away bad years, bad months, bad weeks, bad days. What I can do is embrace each day as a gift. I have to take it as it comes and do with it what I can. I have to live in the middle of the pain and the mess and feel it completely. And, I am grateful for the days that are full of joy and beauty and light, because I have those as well. Life is an adventure! Grab your sword, your bow, your wand, your pen, whatever weapon you use and join in.

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This hangs on the wall in my writing studio as a reminder.

(Original quote by G. K. Chesterson: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”)

 

Fairy Tale Shoot

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The morning after I attended the Great Big Ball of Hair – Ball at the Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas, my daughter, Rachel Archer, of Rachel Photography followed me into the woods and did this enchanting photo shoot. https://www.facebook.com/rachelphoto 

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I felt like a fairy princess at the ball, but in the woods I became an elven queen. I kept waiting for the woodland creatures to come out to play or a gnome to appear from under a mushroom. Let’s just say for now they were camera shy.

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I did bring my own owl with me into the woods, but he was quite tame.

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I wandered through the trees in search of the perfect spot.

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The sunlit leaves glistened . . .

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. . . and I attempted to fly.

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My wings are now hanging in a closet in my home, hidden like selkie skins. They’re waiting for me to take them out and put them on, leaving my humanness behind, and disappear into the woods.

Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend 2015

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(Author, Pat Montandon, Darlin’)

“If you take a book with you on a journey an odd thing happens. The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it…yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”  INKHEART by Cornelia Funke

I have a stack of books I purchased at the Girlfriend Weekend. It is not quite as tall as the Empire State Building but close. I will need to buy a new bookcase to house them. And, we will not be able to buy groceries for the next two months. But, what can I say. I could not resist. Each time I heard the authors speak I was intrigued, first by their story, then by their book’s story.

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(A sampling of my book purchases)

As I begin to read each of these books the quote from INKHEART will be true because I will remember the author I met and the amazing time I had this weekend . . . and the memories will return. I will smile, I will laugh, I will dance, dance, dance.

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(The Queen Herself, Kathy L. Murphy)

Thank you, Kathy for following your dream and allowing all of us to be part of it! I love your energy, your heart, your creativity, and your love of books and their authors. You are amazing!

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(Our Grimm’s Tales Table)

Saturday night, we concluded the fabulous weekend with The Great Big Ball of Hair Ball – Around The World With Books! Our table chose Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Thanks to Jan Ward and Marsha Toy Engstrom for the fabulous table decorations!! It looked as magical as the tales themselves. We all dressed as one of the characters. What a fun group!!!!!!

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(A partial group pic)

I wasn’t sure how I would fit in with a hot pink, leopard print, tiara wearing group of book lovers. I discovered they accepted my fairy crown in place of a tiara and my bohemian dress in place of the hot pink leopard print. I met a lot of kindred spirits and made many new friends. Such an open-hearted group of people with a love of books and literacy.

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(Carolyn Turgeon as the Little Mermaid)

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was meeting and hanging out with Carolyn Turgeon, author extraordinaire and editor of Faerie Magazine. Dreams do come true people. She’s as beautiful and enchanting as her magazine. Subscribe to it now!!! And, if you love an amazing retelling of fairy tales buy her books.

I know you’re wondering which character I chose to be for the ball. Well, thanks for asking. I chose the twelfth fairy godmother from Sleeping Beauty. There were thirteen in the Grimm’s tale. The thirteenth was the evil fairy who cursed the princess with death. The twelfth fairy godmother held back her blessing till after and then saved the princess by changing the curse to sleep and not death.

would like to thank my son, Matt, for the beautiful fairy crown, my Christmas gift. What mother doesn’t want a fairy crown for Christmas. I’m so easy to buy for! I want to thank my daughter, Rachel, for traveling to Nacogdoches with me and doing my enchanted makeup and hair! And, last but not least, I want to thank my sister-in-law Cathy, for making my incredible feather cape! 

There is a long list of fabulous authors that attended the weekend. Too many to list here. So, I will just have to blog more about each of them in the future. I highly recommend you check out the Beauty and the Book website and look for the reading lists!

The weekend was magical and enlightening. I will remember it always, or at least till next year when I attend Girl Friend’s Weekend 2016. You should join us!

 

 

 

Taking Legends and Making Them My Own: The Invisible Castle of Lac Blanc

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There are many legends in the region of Alsace, France. One that I have embraced and made my own, weaving it into my latest work of fiction, transpired in and around Lac Blanc (White Lake). This beautiful pristine lake is nestled inside a glacial cirque and sits atop one of the Vosges Mountains at 3,458 feet (1054 meters) in Haut-Rhin, France. It’s counterpart Lac Noir (Black Lake) sits just below at 3,130 feet.

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This view across the lake shows the rocky white shoreline surrounding the water. 

One of the legends states there is an invisible castle that appears only to those who are pure of heart and mind. It rises up out of the waters and extends a walkway for the righteous one. I was told by someone who lives nearby that “once upon a time” a young man who was pure of heart came upon the castle and when he crossed the walkway he met a beautiful young woman who resided within the castle walls. They immediately fell in love and lived “happily ever after” under the water of the lake in the castle. Stuff of legends, people.

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In my novel, at the far end of the lake, Coventina’s castle appears to Ursula who is hiding behind the rowan trees, watching her brother Lancelot play along the shoreline. Then, four hundred years later it appears again to Ursula as she brings her daughter to meet Coventina, the Lady of the Lake. Yes, I said four hundred years later. And, yes, I said Lancelot. I love that Arthurian legends abound in this part of France.

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This is a photo taken of the opposite end of the lake. The large granite tower to the left is known as Château Hans. It has its own stories to tell, for another time, perhaps.

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The day we drove up to the lake the wind was howling. This is the fourth and final attempt to have my picture taken. I grabbed my hair, wound it tight and held it down, but to no avail. It would not be tamed. Thus, with my wild hair flying this way and that, a story formed in my head. I walked along the shoreline and tried hard as I might to see the invisible castle. It did not appear! No righteousness of my own to bring it forth. No surprise there, but disappointed all the same. So I did what all fiction writers do. I used my imagination, and voila, the castle presented itself to me. It was at that very moment I met the Lady of the Lake, and we have been friends ever since.

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She introduced me to the Enchanted Wood that surrounded Lac Blanc. We have taken a number of walks through the forest, and of late she showed me the hidden Hermitage where old knights retire and spend the last of their days.

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As I said goodbye to Lac Blanc, I knelt down and picked up a small rose quartz stone along the water’s edge. A stone of remembrance, as is my habit. I looked into the crystal waters hoping for a glimpse of something otherworldly. It was then another tale came to mind, of water horses, who would take you for a ride into the depths of the lake from which you could never return. I stood, put the stone in my pocket and walked rather quickly to the car. Yes, I would live to see another day, write another chapter.

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Once back in Kaysersberg at our little apartment, I grabbed my notebook, ordered a cup of hot chocolate from Jean Jacques and put pen to paper. It has been a year since that day at Lac Blanc. The scenes are finally where they belong, in chapter form. And, I continue to listen as my characters reveal what happens next. I promise you it is as much a surprise to me as it will be to you, someday, when you read the novel.