The Writer’s Life Vs. The Real Life

a-map-of-a-writers-mind

By A.J. Llewellyn

With the social whirl that makes up the end of the year it’s come to my attention that I am a bit schizophrenic. I think all writers are. It’s not a new observation perhaps, but it’s a valid one, especially around the holidays.

I love my friends and family, but I have so many books in various stages of completion/edits/promo that I veer between my imaginary world and the real one, and oh yes, I do most often prefer the fantasy one!

In my books, my gay couples rarely cheat. The men love each other and communicate easily. The forgive each other, have romantic dinners, and manage to overcome the various crises of all those around them. They even manage to have sex, even when they have children in their lives!

The reality for many gay men is nothing like my books. I was made painfully aware of this over a pre-Christmas dinner with friends last night at a gay couple’s home. I mention they’re gay because it is pertinent. I am in the middle of doing rewrites for a book originally published several years ago. The couple in question inspired it. I trooped to their home and should have known it was a bad sign when I dropped the wine bottle on their doorstep and it broke,

They were lovely about it, but there was tension in the house as we all chatted and waited for dinner. The house stands on Mulholland Drive, overlooking Los Angeles. As usual, I began plotting a book set right in this home and imagined a sex scene taking place in front of the log fire. Oh, I could see it all. Every body movement, every kiss, hand gesture, you name it. I ran off to the bathroom to jot it all down in a notebook and returned to find a scene of total disaster.

The two men were arguing over the electricity being shut off earlier in the day for nonpayment. Though it came back on, their temperamental oven refused to work and the turkey and ham were sill raw inside it. They were upset with each other’s in-laws, with social services for deeming their home inappropriate for child adoption – it went on and on. We ended up ordering Chinese food and laughing about life, but of course, being a writer, all these negative things only enhanced the scene I planned to write.

In my mind – and in my story – once the guests had gone, the happy couple would kiss and make up by the dying embers of the fire. I suspect it’s not what really happened, but I don’t want to know. I believe in true love. I believe that it conquers all. And I believe in happy endings.

I like to think there is a place for love and magic in the real world. At this time of year and every other season. I wish you a holiday time of love, and joy, and yes, I wish you the belief in all things possible. I wish you a year of all good things.

Merry Christmas,

Love, AJ

The Great Pumpkin Chase

pump

By A.J. Llewellyn

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

- Henry David Thoreau

‘Tis the season of pumpkins. Lots and lots of pumpkins.

I’m not sure if we’re all yearning for a return to gentler times, or we’re embracing the spirit of the great round thing called The World, but I like it. I’ve been reading a lot about the symbolism of pumpkins and way back when – before we commercialized this time of year – pumpkins were considered a sign of good fortune and abundance. Households had strict rules about keeping only round pumpkins, which represented the world. They would carve their pumpkins for good luck. They would sometimes hollow them out and place candles in them to symbolize lighting the way home.

We’re still observing these rituals and I noticed I’ve been invited to more pumpkin-carving parties this year (for adults) than I have in all the years I’ve lived in Los Angeles.

Shopping at my favorite store Trader Joe’s recently, I became a bit obsessed with the “everything’s pumpkin!” motif. There were pumpkin raviolis, pumpkin bread, pies,soup, breakfast rolls, pumpkin truffles (with sea salt and caramel…mmmm…), pancake mixes, pumpkin muffins, seeds, spiced seeds, pumpkin fudge, ice cream, toaster pastries, and my favorite, pumpkin cheesecake.

Sure it’s seasonal, but it seems to be just huge right now. After this weekend the scary Jack-o-lanterns will be replaced by plain pumpkins and gourds in readiness for Thanksgiving. I love this time of year. I like the chilly mornings and evening, the hot summer days and thinking about how I’ll cook pumpkin for dinner. I was walking my dog today thinking about this blog and it struck me that ever since I heard the story of Cinderella’s coach, which of course. was really a humble pumpkin, I’ve seen them as a symbol of hope, and love. And of course, magic.

I write about all three, so as I started thinking about this blog I realized as much as we’re heading into chaotic waters with the electronic generation, many of us are sticking to tradition and myth. I’ve never liked Halloween because I didn’t grow up with it, but as I yearn for a simpler life, of reconnecting with my own family’s traditions and celebrating cycles and seasons, I will attend those pumpkin-carving parties and I’ll happily participate in Halloween festivities with my niece and nephews.

I want them to have memories of pumpkins, the belief in magic, tradition, and most importantly, love.

As I write this, my niece is in my kitchen making coconut pumpkin cookies from a recipe she found online. I have baked with her since was two years old and I will get in there in a minute and help her demolish them all. We’ve stopped pretending that we’ll save some for our other family members.

She is is so in the moment as one is when young, and she is a powerful reminder to me that some things never change. Anticipating the seasons and the good things to be found in them is like re-reading a treasured book. We want the comfort of the story, for the magic to weave its glow all over us again.

However you celebrate this time of year, I wish you peace, love, freedom, a good book to read.

And a great big pumpkin.

Happy Halloween,

A.J.

Phantom Lover Chronicles Chapter Two FREE BLOG STORY! Comment for a chance to WIN!

PhantomCHRONICLES

Phantom Lover Chronicles

By A.J. Llewellyn

Cover Art: Silver Pixies

Link to Chapter One: http://www.ajllewellyn.com/site/2013/03/18/2039/

 

 

Chapter Two: The Kawatarō

 

Kimo chewed his lip a moment. It had finally sunk in that the ‘E’epa had not only abducted our children, but taken our car, which left us stranded. Kimo could shape-shift and jump from one spot to another thanks to his huna magic, but he wasn’t Superman and couldn’t fly around in the sky hunting for our kids.

“Do you think Snape would be able to fly after them?” he asked. As usual, he was able to read my thoughts. It wasn’t very convenient sometimes, like now. He looked at me, anxiously awaiting a response.

“No. He can’t fly.”

“That’s a relief.” Kimo grinned. “Okay. I have good news for you, and bad news for you. Which do you want first?”

“Gimme the good news.”

“I promise that I’ll have the kids all home in time for dinner.”

“Okay. So what’s the bad news?”

“I have no idea where the heck they are.”

My body swayed involuntarily. I adored my husband, but I’d never been so mad at him. How could he have let this happen? Kimo was in touch with the infinite. The nature spirits and the deities of our islands all communicated with him. This was a bad sign if he had no information, no whispery thoughts or images in his mind.

“I didn’t say I have nothing.” His expression turned wounded. “I keep seeing a river.” He shrugged. “I know it’s not much, but…” He began biting his lip again. His eyes took on the vacant look they did when he was receiving communication. “Oh,” he said, his face looking ashen. He was having a conversation with somebody or something on the other side of the veil.

When this happened, I couldn’t read his mind. He closed his thoughts from me. I wanted to scream at him, but it was my fault, really. I was the one who’d suggested he conjure up some magic. This was a whole lot worse than green ogre ears. My sister. Oh, God. How was I going to explain this to her? She would freak out. She would kill me. Oh, man. I’d kill me too, if I were her.

Kimo turned suddenly and as I followed his gaze, I spotted the ghost of a Japanese woman. She stood on the edge of the heaiu, gesturing to him. He walked right over to her, but something about her frightened me. It took me several seconds to realize the heavy wooden yolk she wore around her neck was the type that King Kamehameha the Great forced people to wear when they’d been selected to his human sacrifices in honor of the war god, Ku. The intended victim would wear the yolk that was so heavy it made movement difficult, for up to three days before death.

The spirit of a Hawaiian man appeared beside the Japanese woman. His body was mangled, and around his neck he wore a ka’ane, a strangle cord that was used to hold down victims designated to be beaten to death.

I shivered. There must have been many restless ghosts here. Thousands of men had been sacrificed to Ku. That crazy old king was keen on human offerings, and in the most gruesome ways possible. He thought the more pain the victim suffered, the more it pleased his war god. What puzzled me was that he selected criminals usually, and as far as I knew, always men. I’d never heard of him choosing a woman. He apparently considered women and children inferior sacrifices.

And putting the yolk around her neck – or any victim’s neck – signified they’d committed a terrible kapu, a violation to be marked for death. It wasn’t difficult to commit kapu back in those days. Just standing in the king’s shadow or looking him in the eye condemned you to death. What could she have done to displease his majesty so much? She seemed anguished and exhausted.

Kimo conducted a lengthy conversation with the spirits of the Japanese woman, and the Hawaiian man, then turned and moved back over to me, his eyes grave. “We have a little problem,” he said.

No shit, McGarrett.  ”What is it?” I asked.

He peered at me anxiously. “It’s kind of an interesting problem.”

“You don’t say,” I deadpanned.

Kimo winced. “This lady, her name is Momoko. She has quite a tale to tell.” He took a deep breath. “Her father came from Japan as a sugar slave a long time ago. When he received his freedom papers after five years of work, he sent for his wife, Momoko’s mother. She became pregnant very quickly and Momoko was born here. She says when she was four, she realized around the same time as her mother, that her father had a secret life. He was kappa.”

I stared at him. “What’s a kappa?”

“In short, they are river monsters. He kept his secret for a long time, but Momoko’s mother took off, leaving Momoko and her brother, Yasu, in their father’s care. Momoko says he was a good father, and in spite of their reputation as killers and tricksters, he was a good monster.”

“A good monster. Kimo, do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”

Kimo held up a hand. “He provided food and shelter for many families in their village, which she says was in Hale’iwa.”

This made sense to me. Many of the freed Asian workers flocked to the North Shore of Oahu when they achieved freedom. Firstly, it was largely unpopulated and land was cheap. The island’s very first hotel, the Hale’iwa, had been built there and many Asian families created small businesses that catered to the guests. Some of the men helped build the now-defunct Hawaiian railroad that carried visitors from Waikiki to the North Shore each weekend.

Hale’iwa also had a beach and a river…

A river.

“Anahulu River,” I said.

Kimo nodded encouragingly. “Exactly.  There was a very bad storm, Momko said. A typhoon that devastated parts of the North Shore. Her father helped everybody, but the work of restoring homes and businesses was back-breaking, so he and her brother, Yasu turned themselves into kappa late at night and finished a lot of the work without anybody realizing. They had supernatural powers and worked hard and fast. The locals credited the menehune, and the family never corrected them.”

“So,” I said, “He does sound like a good um, monster.”

“As you know, once King Kamehameha died, this heiau was used by some dark kahuna who also performed human sacrifice. Momoko’s father was seen in his kappa form, captured and blamed for shark kills on the shores of the ocean. He’d been seen shape-shifting, but he always denied he had anything to do with the ocean. He stuck strictly to mountains and rivers. He said he loved the land, and its people, and protected them.

“Only one kahuna believed him and fought to spare his life. Instead, a stronger sorcerer-type guy shackled him, then captured Momoko and Yasu by lying to them. He said if they came willingly to the heiau, they would be designated official land spirits. Momoko had never shown any signs of being kappa, but she worried her brother and father would be slaughtered and that they would not be accepted as land spirits.”

I looked across the rough expanse of stubbly grass and pebbles where she’d been standing, but I could no longer see her now. “And what happened?”

“All three of them were painfully sacrificed.” He let the words sink in. “Yasu however, has turned into a very mischievous kappa. She says he is a Kawatarō.”

“Which is, I’m afraid to ask?”

“A river boy.” Kimo turned to look back at the spot where Momoko had been standing. “She said he has been waiting for a long time to return to the river. He longs to be with their father, who returned here many years ago. She can come with us. If we are willing to take her, and reunite them. The only way Yasu was able to return was with human children.”

“He’s not going to hurt our babies is he?” I was near hysteria now. How the hell were we supposed to get to Anahulu River?

“Oh, ye of little faith. Don’t you know me better than that, Mypaka?” He dropped a kiss on my lips. “I will ask Pele to provide us transportation and it will come.” He gestured to Momoko. “Our people wronged her family. I’d like to take her with us and give final freedom to her and her family.”

“But that little…whatever he was that ran off with our children didn’t look like a little Japanese boy.”

“No. That was a shell he created. The Kawatarō are tricksters, just like our own ‘E’epa. He must have met a lot of them over the centuries here. He would have found it easy to create the shell, and I walked right into his trap.” He shrugged. “Everybody makes mistakes.”

I said nothing. I just wanted to get to Hale’iwa. From where we were in Pupukea, it was about a five-mile drive. With the winding Kamehameha Road traffic, it would take us about twenty minutes to get there, depending on what type of transportation he was able to summon for us.

“Momoko,” Kimo said, his voice deeper now, his breath coming out frosty. This happened whenever he worked huna magic. She emerged from the same spot. She knelt before Kimo and the man with the strangle cord appeared beside her.

She spoke in rapid-fire Japanese.

“What is she saying?” I asked my husband.

“She said, save me.”

That made me so emotional. She was already dead. It was her soul that screamed for peace. I suddenly remembered the spirit of the young Japanese girl who had invaded our lives – and my body – the previous Halloween, seeking justice for her unsolved murder.

I sighed. Kimo and I drew troubled souls both living and death like flames lured moths. I didn’t mind helping Momoko, but I could tell Kimo was having a hard time convincing the dead Hawaiian with the strangle cord that he should let her go. I couldn’t figure out their connection and Kimo’s voice fluttered into my mind.

::He was the bounty hunter who captured Momoko’s family. The kahuna who hired him, tricked him, and killed him, too. He doesn’t want Momoko to leave. He’s grown to love her.:: Kimo looked at me imploringly. ::His feelings are not reciprocated.::

Oh, boy.

Kimo worked wonders in his communication with the dead. The spirits of tribal elders soon emerged, supporting Kimo in his efforts to right a wrong.

“Go,” one of the older men said, pointing a spear toward the exit. Kimo, Momoko and I didn’t need a printed invitation. We left. When I turned to look, everybody had vanished.

“What happened?” I asked as we trudged up a long slope toward the street.

“They gave me ten minutes to get away from here.” He glanced at me, a guilty look on her face. “Lopaka, we’ve become her family’s guardians. I’ve personally guaranteed they will be benevolent spirits and not harmful ones. Momoko says her father is quite bitter. Hopefully he won’t make a liar out of me.”

Out on the street, we looked up and down the highway. “Well, ain’t that a pip,” Kimo said, hands on hips. I felt certain Madame Pele would send a vehicle. After all, she did promise.”

The clip-clop of horse hooves caught our attention. From our left came an old-fashioned mule-drawn streetcar, the kind that used to be the popular form of public transportation in the islands. Motorized streetcars had replaced the mules around 1900.

“Perhaps I should have been a little more specific,” Kimo muttered.

“No. This is right.” I watched Momoko climbing up the steps. She was still wearing the yoke and I could tell it made movement difficult. “She would freak out in a modern vehicle.”

“Yeah.” Kimo nodded. The streetcar was half full, but nobody seemed to be aware of us. To our left sat elegantly dressed men and women wearing formal, wintry suits ill-suited to the Hawaiian climate. On the right sat workers, mostly Asian, giggling and whispering among themselves.

“When does she lose the yoke?” I asked Kimo.

“As soon as we deliver her safely to her family.” A muscle worked in his cheek. “And before they turn over the children to us.” His eyes took on that vacant look again. “I’m so glad Pele is with them. Our little girl won’t take shit from anybody.”

“Language, darling.”

“Well, it’s true. I sort of feel sorry for that little river boy. He’s met his match with our firecracker.”

He was right. Thank God we hadn’t been able to tame her wild ways. I’d never have to worry about her on a date. I’d have to worry that she’d do something to the guy. I could live with that…

Momoko sat beside me, head bent. In some ways she reminded me of Ayumi, the girl we’d sent to the Pureland when we solved her murder.

Kimo shook his head at me. Momoko lifted hers. I realized then it was hard for her to sit up straight with the yoke and I wanted to rip the damned thing off.

I gasped when I looked outside of the slow-moving streetcar, stunned to see a gleaming black and green railway carriage gliding past us on the edge of the road. I was giddy with excitement because I’d always wanted to see the long-gone train, but that was the point. It was gone. Long, long ago.

“Lopaka,” Kimo said, a mixture of excitement and dread on his face. “I have bad news for you, and bad news for you.”

“No good news?”

“Well, some.”

“Gimme that first.”

“The good news is, that we’re getting close to the river.”

“Okay, so what’s the bad news?”

“We’ve somehow, I don’t know how, stepped back in time over a hundred years. I don’t think I’ll get our kids back by dinner time because I have no idea when that is.”

I stared at him. “But we will find them, won’t we?”

The streetcar stopped.

“This is it.” Kimo helped me and Momoko off the vehicle. Around us stood tiny stores all bearing Japanese names. Momoko stared toward the river.

“Papa!” she cried out, then ran toward a bent-over elderly Japanese man. Beside him loomed the little ‘E’epa and he pointed and laughed at us.

“Where are my children?” I screamed at him.

The little bastard just laughed and laughed.

“Huh,” Kimo said. “This shit just got even more interesting.”

 

 

 

Giving New Life to Older Titles

whoshelf

By A.J. Llewellyn

If I had my way, my whole house would be books, books, books. My favorite bookstore in Ojai, CA – Bart’s Books – is located outdoors and even has shelves built into the trees. And I am all about recycling so I fully approve of this photo depicting a novel use for defunct telephone booths.

Having said that, sometimes, reaching back to the future as an author is an exciting prospect. To that end, I’ve talked with my publishers at Totally Bound and I am going to be revamping a couple of my very early books with them, such as “The Mediator” and “Paper Valentine.”

I think both these early efforts could use a little expanding, and new covers, too. I am excited to go back and rework these stories, which I still love, but see definite areas for improvement.

My work has changed a lot since I wrote these books and I still love the characters. So, while I won’t be moving them into a refurbished phone booth (especially the Victorian men from “Paper Valentine”) I do want to spruce ‘em up a bit. I am really happy to be able to do this.

When I looked over “The Mediator” recently, I could remember exactly what I was doing when I wrote it. I was still a boxing journalist and moving out of the sports arena and into writing romance novels full-time.

Ironically, I was in Las Vegas at the time and my boyfriend took me to the old Avenue D area, where in the 1940′s, African Americans were kept segregated from the white population. When Sammy Davis Jr. blew into town in the 50′s to perform on the Strip, he spent his nights in the awful Berkley Square section of West Las Vegas. This is a little-known, shameful chapter in American history, but on that fateful weekend in Vegas, I became absorbed in the area.

My boyfriend and I strolled the old neighborhood that consisted of 148 homes, a barber, a couple of grocery stores, and a shop-front dentist’s office.

It was as though time stood still that Saturday morning. I could feel the ghosts of those who’d lived there and my emotions ran deep. I shouldn’t have been surprised when boxing promoter Don King showed up in a limo armed with a crew of architects. He donated a huge amount of his own money to preserving Berkley Square, and invested in a park to memorialize the original residents.

In 2009, in no small part due to Mr. King, this area was placed on the National Historic Register. The area looks so different in so many ways because a whole new community has sprung up around it, but Berkley Square, the heart of this community, remains the same. This storyline played a strong part in “The Mediator” but just like the Square itself, the book’s integrity, its heart, will remain the same.

There will just be more. More sex, more love, more…mediation.
Aloha oe,

A.J

« Previous PageNext Page »