Closer to the Spirit

Five women and I gathered in my classroom yesterday morning and indulged in creative play and writing.  The work we did is below.  Enjoy!

by Peggy Thompson

by Peggy Thompson

Peggy did two collages.

This collage is of a health worker being sprayed by Clorox after carrying the body of an Ebola victim.

Be sure to read her poem inspired by her second one below.

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Pat Giacomini wrote a beautiful piece about finding grace in the challenges of life to go with the next collage.

by Pat Giacomini

by Pat Giacomini

Welcome to Holland

A person shared a story with me written by a woman with a child with special needs who was trying to explain to other people what it is like to be a parent of a child with … unexpected beauties. She explained it thus: that when you are expecting a child you prepare and plan as if you are taking a trip to Italy … everyone you know has been to Italy, and are joyous with you and your upcoming trip to Italy … that’s where you are going, and you prepare and bring everything with you for that trip … to Italy. Your dreams are of Italy and what it will be like living and growing as a family … in Italy.

So you get on the plane and the flight eventually lands and the pilot comes on the over the intercom and says, “Welcome to Holland. Enjoy your stay.” And you say, “Wait!! I’m not going to Holland; I’m going to Italy. I’m not supposed to be in Holland … I planned! I dreamed! and I am going to Italy!!

But, Holland it is. The author’s message was one of encouragement and a vivid, yet gentle reminder … To grieve for the loss of Italy is understandable and to a certain extent needed; and the loss of those dreams should be honored … but if you live your life always in that grief for what you lost, or didn’t get … you will miss the beauty of the gift you did get … the beauty of Holland … with its tulips!

My process for this collage started with the startling sight of a painting of a sweet house at the edge of a tulip field … It shocked me and raised the consciousness in me that I am once again (like a recurring wave) struggling with my grief over my lost dream of Italy. As do we all, from time to time, I need the reminder of the beauty of the gift of the life I have with the colorful spirits that are my tulips, corny as it sounds. There is beauty, and it is grace filled at every moment of the struggle, and also the joys.

My collage is backed with the golden light of Grace that is always surrounding me in every moment of my life. My dreams are there, grace filled; my hopes are there, grace filled; my heart is there … and my fears. It is a moment by moment leap of faith to trust in Grace sufficient to the day, to the struggle and to appreciate and embrace the joys, and the struggles, that are there and that are perhaps hidden gifts. Pictures of Tulips come to me from time to time from the hearts of friends who move thru this journey with me. They may be in Italy, but they love Holland too.

We encourage, enjoy, share and vicariously experience each other’s lives in our different worlds of grace, love and children! Today’s tulips are timely. The gift of today is my collage bringing me to the center of my heart once again, embracing my life, how time has fashioned it, and how my choices have crafted the ever evolving beauty

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Susanne La Faver used a file folder as the background for her collage.  She was inspired by memories of time spent in the Middle East and her life now in Lake County, California.

Collage by Susanne La Faver

Collage by Susanne La Favor

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Here is Peggy Thompson’s What Does It All Mean?  Her collage follows.

What Does It All Mean?

Yellow, yellow, catch a fellow?
Well I already have the fellow,
so why all of this yellow?

Hot trends and cool stuff?
It is so not me,
well the cool stuff maybe.

Cool stuff what makes it cool?
One gals junk,
is another gals tools.

Changing horses in mid-stream?
Now what does that all mean?
Yellow, yellow catch a dream.

by Peggy Thompson

by Peggy Thompson

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Jennifer Kelly used the workshop to create a collage to explore aspects of a novel she plans to write.  This is a collage of Zieg and the Magic of Niebel.

by Jennifer Kelly

by Jennifer Kelly

Finally, I wrote a fable, of sorts, based on the collage that I made on a clipboard.

by Alethea Eason

by Alethea Eason

Turned the World Upside Down

We lowered our eyes at her audacity. No one challenged King Cock.

He stood in front of his throne, chest puffed out, eyes narrowing, hands on the ample girth of his royal sides. He had come to power through battle in the ring, not through inheritance like the sissy French Pullet to the south, and the red crown of his comb quivered with rage at the sight of the witch in the golden robe that glimmered brighter than anything else in the room, including his thrown, including the amulet that hung from his neck, the signet of his ultimate authority over the yard.

We ministers mumbled to ourselves.

“How did she managed to pass through the guards outside the castle?”

“Did she suddenly appear out of the emptiness of air?”

“Where did she find such cloth with the very sun itself stitched into it?”

“Silence!” the king raged, and his voice sent a shock wave through the room. “Hen, why is it that you come in robes glowing of impertinence? Why are not you laying at the hen house? Or being cut and quarter, your breasts Sunday dinner for the humans who live in the far kingdom of Farmhouse?”

The miserly Banty, now the Minister of Treasury, wheedle from our clutch, strutting unctuously toward the witch. He was called Uncle Sam, though no one knew why, and over the years had grown closer to King Cock, conspiring with him long into the night, feather-a-feather. One by one, the bolder ministers had been sent to the pot. We who remained were chickens, nothing else.

“I believe she was the witch sister of Queen Cluck, your cuckolding wife,” he said, yanking the hood away from the witch’s face. “My spies warned me about her treachery, and she was sent to the pot, only on a more quiet trip than the queen’s. This figure before you is an illusion by some disgruntled subject whom I will soon discover and make soup of. Behold, there is no substance here.”

He raised a spur toward the form, but then he froze. The hen pulled the rest of the robe from her and flung it over Uncle Sam’s frame. He vanished with one loud squawk. We crowed in alarm. The king’s eyes narrowed and his beak stabbed the air like a knife white meat.

She did not cluck like a good hen but spoke in clear tones, her voice clear, despite coming from the realm beyond the pot.

“The world has turned upside down.”

Most kings had such short reigns; the next contender’s beak and spurs soon claimed the throne. But King Cock, the Strongheart, was powerful, brilliant, and so ruthless the thought his oppression would someday end was just scratch in the yard blown away by the wind. But now, deep within my own breast, under the feathers of fear that have grown under the years of tyranny which have made me wish I had been born an ordinary rooster in the yard, a small cock-a-doodle-do of hope sprouted.

The good witch spread her wings. “I pour out my heart. My love for my sister fills this realm.”

A visage, a shadow, of Queen Cluck grew large, her reflection overshadowing the king himself. King Cock flew toward the witch hen. She was Princess Ruby Breast, I knew now. We ministers stepped back to let the feathers fly. Even at this moment, to my shame, I was afraid. The princess had the courage of a tigress, the wisdom of the ancient Tree of Life from from whence we all come. She simply vanished, taking the king to whatever poultry realms that lay beyond this mortal one.

May justice be done.

And we were left alone, ministers of Feathers and Crowing, Clutch and Yard, without a king for the first time in memory, but out of the pot as well. I looked at my chest. The golden amulet hung there, no longer sparkling. I would lead? I left the chamber for the long trek to Farmhouse to hide it there for some human to find.

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A homily I gave at St. John’s Episcopal, Lakeport, CA.

A wonderful thing about reading the Bible is to be challenged by it, grappling with what doesn’t fit in one’s world view, when it conflicts with the way one wants things to be said and resolved. Notice I’m using third person here. I could say “you”. But in reality I need to say “me”. There have been times I’ve put the Bible down because I’ve taken what it says literally; my Southern Baptist background colors my perceptions. I often feel I can’t trust God, that I don’t want to believe in God, or at times even don’t believe because how could all that is Holy, all that is perfect, be so egotistical and cruel to throw people into Hell? Especially since God has some seemingly impossible standards to live up to.

So when I read the passages for today, a familiar wall arose. Since I’m trying to become a preacher, I suppose I’ll have the opportunity to scale many more walls as I wrestle with looking beyond the literal, beyond a God I’ve projected as one to fear. To learn, instead, to find the Holy Spirit within and discover She is love. God is love, but that doesn’t mean God needs to be “nice,” or that Jesus doesn’t have to hit us over the head with a verbal two-by-four to wake us up from time to time. And this week, we’re awakening into the nature of real forgiveness.

In the Old Testament reading, Joseph of the Techno-Color Dream Coat fame is older, his treasured multi-colored coat a memory that stirred envy and downright nastiness in his older brothers. They sold him into slavery and lied to Jacob, their father, telling him that Joseph was dead. If anyone had a case to not “get over” what was done, it’s Joseph. He does have his touche moment by pretending to keep the youngest brother Benjamin as a hostage, but by doing so he gets the Israelites to safety. Being in Egypt is temporarily good for them. Though things go south fast in the first verses of Exodus, they have survived and have a future as a people thanks to the fidelity Joseph shows to his family.

Today’s story brings the book of Genesis to a close, and in it Joseph demonstrates some Christ-like behavior toward his brothers who seem to still be scheming. Joseph has told them they are forgiven, but they don’t believe it. When Jacob dies, they grow paranoid. What if he still holds a grudge and wants revenge? “We’d better grovel,” they tell themselves. And what does Joseph do when they commence to grovelling? He cries, just like he did when they first arrived and did not recognize him. Does he cry this second time because his brothers have been unable to receive his forgiveness? Is he just tired of the drama? I have no idea, but when they offer to be his slaves, he abides in love and says, “Do not be afraid,” echoing Jesus’ frequent command. And then he asks, “Am I in place of God?” Joseph has done his Earthly work; they are in God’s hands now. Perhaps seeing Joseph’s tears, they finally understand and the weight of their guilt lifts from their shoulders because by being forgiven they can forgive themselves.

The scope of the Bible leads us in one direction, despite however meandering the stories flow within it: our limited perceptions are challenged and we are asked to do the hard work of letting go in love, over and over again, as often as we need to; for some aspects of our lives this may be a lifetime’s work. To forgive not only others, but ourselves as well, and to trust that God has forgiven us.

The discussion between Jesus and Peter about how often we must forgive sounds pretty academic as it starts off. Maybe it’s just me, but does Peter act like he’s trying impress Jesus? Look, Jesus, I get it…we need to forgive a lot…7 times! Good try, Peter, but let’s try again. Not 7, but 77. Whenever certain numbers appear in Bible, 7, or 12, or 40, we know that these are symbolic. Jesus was not giving Peter a recipe for forgiveness…there is no magic number that we need to forgive, keeping track of the exact number of attempts we have made. The number seven in this passage represents an ongoing spiritual discipline, the never-ending search in our hearts for peace.

Some wrongs done to us can be let go of without too much struggle. But there are other wounds, the ones that hurt to the depths of our souls that others have cause because they were suffering or were simply not aware of the toxicity of their words and actions. Some of us have been hurt by people who have taken pleasure in the wounding. Maybe something in childhood has impeded our ability to be true to ourself as adults. Maybe we feel God has wronged us, taken someone too early that we cherished, and we can’t understand why this child, this young person, this mother or father has died. In these situations, it is impossible to forgive seven times and be done with it, even seventy times seven.

At the end of his conversation with Peter, Jesus turns personal and talks to all of us. The father will hand you over to the fires of Gehenna…the trash heap outside of Jerusalem…where you will burn forever. I’m talking to you, are you listening? This is my two-by-four: forgive or you will burn in Hell.

I’ve often closed the Bible at moments like this, too much of Dr. Bob’s haranguing sermons from Central Baptist in Anaheim filling my ears. How could I ever be good enough? How could I ever forgive enough? But aren’t we already in hell, and doesn’t every day feel like an eternity when we’re eaten away by anger, beating ourselves up with self-pity and regret, putting salt on our wounds and reliving our betrayal over and over?

In writing to the Romans, Paul asks the members of the church to forgive what they see as extreme grievances, some thinking the others were dishonoring God by what they ate, insisting upon or ignoring practices that defined who was a Jew, or for this group, a true follower of Jesus. Like Joseph, Paul reminds his readers that God is the judge, not us. We are not to condemn someone else because she doesn’t vote like us, believe in gun control or not, marry whom we think he should marry. To love each other as a community, as Christ’s Church, we must forgive each other for not measuring up to our personal values and standards of piety, even as our judgments rise up time after time.

Forgiveness is a continual practice, a prayerful awareness we must be vigilant about, even when we feel it’s impossible, even when we’re convinced that the beliefs of others are wrong. This isn’t easy stuff. This doesn’t mean we need to be in relationship with someone who will continue to harm us, nor that we must be nice and never challenge one another, but we can ask for the Holy Spirit to lead us toward dialogue, reconciliation, and communion. We do this again and again, until layers of pain and resistance release, until one day we find we are able to breathe deeper into the darkness of our hearts, to cool the smoldering trash heaps that blind us from becoming more whole, healed, entrained with the sacredness of our lives, present with ourselves and each other in the love of Christ Jesus.

 

IMG_0722 The dream is the forest,

becoming Daphne-like, tattooed white skin that wishes it were a tawny self,

roots like a snorkel, breathing out the flowering bush,

snake spine, and a cap of grass.  The last to go will be the glasses,

at least they have become a mask.  Laurel leaves are another myth,

one that echoes, but no god has frozen me, condemning my spirit into a single tree.

I choose the entire forest, each color, the wind which makes the branches speak,

the whisper in the invisible syntax of meaning of light and leaves.

The forest dreams in my body as I lay on its sheet, declaring Apollo dead.

no longer my lover, reclaiming my wild virginity.

Drouais-Jesus-Heals-Canaanite-Woman

I am in training to be a Lay Preacher. This is a sermon I gave on Sunday, July 17, 2014 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport, CA.

 

My house will be called a house of prayer for all people,

Thus says the Lord GOD,

who gathers others to them

besides those already gathered.

Last month my husband and I were shopping in Santa Rosa, California. On an overpass above the freeway, dozens of people were gathered in a protest against welcoming the tide of parentless children crossing our nation’s southern borders. This will not be about immigration reform, but no matter where we stand on the issue, our readings today are a clear call to welcome the “other” in our hearts, to know that all people are welcomed in God’s house. Our human consciousness can create deep divisions because we so often accept that our way of seeing reality must be God’s way. Feelings of fear and of superiority that make us pass judgment that our people are the chosen people, happens now as it has happened through history. Yet, there are voices in the Bible as far back as David and the psalms, who have proclaimed that God’s love spills over racial identity and cultural boundaries.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you judge the peoples with equity

and guide all nations upon earth.

At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans he states that God’s message of salvation was proclaimed “to the Jew’s first and then to the Greeks,” but it is clear that it is the Gentiles who have been most receptive audience. From the context of the letter, a reader might assume that these early non-Jewish Christians have started to feel that they have replaced the Jews as the chosen people. Paul asks outright if this is so, but then answers immediately: God does not rescind promises. He uses himself as an example, a former pharisee and a strict observer of Jewish law. God was faithful to him and called to him despite the fact he was responsible for the death of some of the first Christians. Paul emphasizes, perhaps trying to break through the smugness of his readers, that God has not forsaken the Jews, will never desert them; nor will the Gentile Christians be forsaken. Today God does not abandon the world either, even when people abandon Divine Love by believing their group is the “in” group and people who are different “less than.” There is no hierarchy of identity in which God metes out love.

The gospel lesson then is one of the most challenging ones to wrestle with. When the Canaanite woman approaches him, Jesus appears to…appears to… act like a jerk. Some translations offer the more politically correct label of the “Syro-Phonician woman” because there were no Canaanites left by the 1st century. The term was a racial slur. It’s impossible to say if the author of the gospel used the word deliberately in the narrative or not, but the beginning of the scene resonates with a prejudicial world view. Jesus’ first response to her is no response, as though his silence states that she is not worthy of his attention. Then when his disciples bug him to get rid of her, he announces that he was “only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” This is interesting, since he has led his disciples into Gentile territory, where the woman has found him. His reluctance to engage with her is especially intriguing as she has done nothing but to honor him and insist he hears her plea. She is not asking anything for herself, but for her daughter’s healing. She bows to him, recognizing him as Lord, showing she knows he is the Messiah, a concept those closest to him are struggling with, even though they’ve seen him walk on water and do a host of miracles. And then Jesus compares her (and by proxy, her people) to dogs who do not deserve the Israelite’s spiritual food. She indeed is the underdog here, and, brilliantly, she does not put up a defense against his treatment of her but offers the rejoinder, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

Was this the moment that Jesus realized He was on Earth for all humanity?  Or did his understanding of the universality of his mission precede the event?  What point is made right before this scene? Words that come out of our mouths can defile us. Is this why he led his “group” outside of their native territory? Were the words he spoke…seemingly to defile the woman…expressions used about those “Canaanites” whom they believed could not be heirs of the Kingdom of God? Was he holding up a mirror?

A friend of mine who has studied Buddhism at a very deep level had never heard this story. When I shared a draft of this homily she presented an insight that broke open the story even more: In a more eastern spiritual tradition when a disciple ‘recognizes’ a Spiritual Master (and I mean a true heart recognition) then immediately the Spiritual Master will test the disciples ego so to speak. It feels to me that is what Jesus did and she responded from her heart which is a non-egoistic response. All of the disciples around Jesus were tested at the same time and their responses were reflected back to them as well. A true Spiritual Master does not have empathy with the ego and so when a ‘real’ disciple approaches there are the ‘lions at the gate’ that must be addressed for a disciple to be taken on. This is how I understood the story and found it to be a beautiful example of egoic transcendence and Heart Recognition of the Divine.

Woman,” Jesus says…an address that unlike today had connotations of respect… “great is your faith!” This was recorded with an exclamation mark. “Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Three daughters of Palestinian Doctor Izzeldin Abeulaish, ages 13, 15, and 21, were killed by an Israeli tank shell in 2009. Despite this, he proclaimed that he would not hate. An article in the British newspaper The Guardian quotes him. “I have concluded if my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I accept their loss. I promised that I would fight with the only means available to me: wisdom, courage, strong words, and meaningful actions. But what I have learned from that war was that all of us (Palestinians and Israelis both) take a defensive position to justify our acts. Only when we start to take responsibility and reconcile ourselves to new thinking will we get a different result… We are like conjoined twins and any harm induced to one will impact the other. We have no choice but to work together to heal our wounds, wipe out our tears, and, while learning the lessons of the past, look forward.”

Doctor Abeulaish has welcomed the other, his enemy, into his house. Let us open our hearts and be glad that God’s house will be called a house of prayer for all people.

Holding On To Time

new voice 2I

I am the woman with fire legs and the feathered voice of  birds,

with Mercury’s wings suspended in flight, blessed by the waters of ocean and air,

born by decades of thoughts, cells bound by ancestress and daughter,

mother after mother, hearts beating the blood caught in mid-stride,

my lips pushed into invisible air, my body holding on to time

 

 

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A response to Chapter One of the Book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian by Paul F. Knitter

God is a dead word to me. I feel no life in it. It has no meaning.

Abba holds more meaning than the word “father.” I am going to make it a conscious effort to refer to God as “Abba” when speaking to him directly. To the part of EVERYTHING that feels masculine to me. The picture of Mary Magdalene Father Leo gave me, her holding an egg, pointing to it before it turns red before Caesar as the legend says, is before me. I actually hate the term Goddess almost as much as God. Divine Feminine is better. Divine Masculine. And Spirit is their non-duality.

A spirit moving through being-ness does hold meaning.

What does this say about a transcendent consciousness? A consciousness imbued within the pulse of life. As a Christian I must use the vocabulary my mind is steeped in. Is this spirit the Cosmic Christ? The Holy Spirit? The Shekinah, which was on the face of the earth before she descended as flames to the disciples in the Upper Room.

Was she there watching at the Crucifixion? Yes.

And where is this spirit moving in the world?

Personally: I tell myself I experience her when I am doing heart talk with good friends, with the women I love and trust. Our conversations bring groundedness and honesty to our lives creates a communion.

Where else?

The last couple of weeks I’ve felt that I need to acknowledge the presence of a greater agency working within, the Shekinah, in my existential life. Finding the divine in the midst of struggling to sit and write, to connect with the deeper part that needs expression in writing more than just as a voice needing to patter away.

Writing this is a grace, as though the entire summer has been a wall..and before summer, to be true…a wall I’ve had to bore through time after time to commit, sit, write. Why is the fear so great?

Acknowledging that God….using the word because it’s so engrained…is in the core of my doubt, in the exasperation love ones kindle, in the leg pain, in inarticulateness, and boredom, and in the finding the future has caught up with me…has been comforting and allows a spaciousness to open, one like candlelight in a dark rooms, chiaroscuro shadowing that is beautiful.

Where is Shekinah, God, Spirit in the world?

Certainly not in the news. We’re watching the brutal play of the ego playing out in every corner of the world.  But she is there in the stories we do not see.

Where I always go from thoughts like these…

My devil’s advocate begins to speak. Why do you need a God for these things. To merely accept yourself? To feel connected with good friends?  To do good in the world?  You know a lot of people who do not need God and do good with joy in their lives. You create a fiction.

What I always say…

Could very well be. But this is the framework I must use. And there is a felt-sense inside me below rhetoric which I guess could be explained away by all sorts of psychological theories, but I trust this sense because it’s proven to steer me right. And when I don’t listen: oh, disaster. Intuition perhaps is a synonym. This part feels more than I am, though. The promised Holy Guardian Angel of Qabala practice? The one I don’t really believe in but who I have courted?

Is this a listening, this writing after such a drought of words, where I’m guided? Is this Spirit of Being-ness?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here.  My apologies to other bloggers.  I would love to spend more time with your blog but my eyes aren’t strong and I can only do a certain amount of screen time.  I do hope I can find the place to read more of the wonderful, multitudinous work of so many creative people.

AINSWORTH is a gem of a story. Carson writes with emotional honesty and such a fine sense of detail that one wonders why she is not a better known author. Janey-Lou, eight years old and the scapegoat of older siblings, tells the story of family secrets that are unearthed during a summer her family spends at the farmhouse of her aunt, uncle, and cousins in the prairie of Nebraska.

The story begins: “The same wind that blew dirt in my eyes blew over Claude’s gave, over all their graves, over the plains of Nebraska, over that flat bed hay hauler where I sat now sweltering in the afternoon. The hot wind moaned and howled. The corn fields bent. The giant elms bowed in its path. Everyone in my family agreed that wind was the worst kind of weather. I might pick wind as my favorite, just to be different.”

Janey-Lou’s voice drew me right in from this beginning and kept me engaged during the whole book. The characters are intensely real: the brainy and dominant brother Daniel, cousin “Scram,” the only other girl who mentors Janey-Lou in how to control both wayward horses and brothers, though she ultimately sides with the boys, and Aunt Pearl who scolds and fusses, impatient with the children, but who seems to be more wind than fury.

The children explore the abandoned house of their great-grandparents, defying their parents warnings to never set foot in the place because of the dangers inherent in its dilapidated state. But it beckons the children nonetheless. Objects are unearthed that tie their family to the mystery surrounding the death of a great uncle, his fascination and connection to the Sioux culture, and a direct link to the massacre at Wounded Knee. Janey-Lou is forced to undergo a trial by terror by the other children which finally uncovers the ghost the family has lived with for a hundred years.

I wondered about the feat the children accomplished in the final pages. Would it be possible? But what they find is harrowing, especially in the light of Janey-Lou’s innocence.

Carson, the author of the OSHKOSH TRILOGY and the intense psychological thriller The DARK LAKE, writes with aching beauty in this book. This is a novel with such a strong sense of character and place that it will stay with you for some time.

Alethea Eason:

This is a soul opener.

Originally posted on symbolreader:

According to a well-known saying by Whitehead, all Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Philosophy may have begun with Plato but storytelling and literature began with minstrel poets such as Homer. Our cultural womb and cradle is ancient Greece; rereading the Odyssey and marveling at its psychological depth left me with no doubt about that. The world of the Odyssey is imbued with the presence of gods and goddesses. You may be familiar with James Hillman’s notion that in our times gods have been replaced with symptoms with some dire consequences for our collective and individual psyches. Reading myths helps us keep in touch with the divine realm and our own divine essence, hence my little project with the Odyssey. Tracing Hillman’s thought, it is true that we can say that Odysseus is depressed on the island of Calypso, but how much more fascinating and non-pathologizing is to…

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19345344Roland Clarke is the author of the thriller SPIIRAL OF HOOVES, a taut novel about murder and deception in the high stakes horse world of European eventing, also known as horse trials.

Thank you for coming to The Heron’s Path. You were an equine journalist and a photographer. You must have made many connections with both breeders and riders. In the real world of eventing, are the stakes as high as portrayed in SPIRAL OF HOOVES?

Although I was never aware of any murders, the stakes were high in the sense of personal commitments. As Carly Tanner’s lifestyle shows, making a success of a career in horses makes a lot of demands on one’s life. For all the professional riders it is a job with more painful downs than exhilarating ups, and the sport is a high risk activity in which there are injuries. And as Carly says a few riders have been killed while competing. I saw relationships being tested, broken and re-built. Partners changed and for observers there was little warning, just subtle signs hiding behind a public facade. Yet the community is very friendly and close knit. 1,767 people expressing their condolences at the death of an Italian rider’s star horse in 20 hours on Facebook is testament to the depth of feeling. Finally, there may be far less money involved than in the racing world but I know of horses being taken, doped and abused. There is plenty of motivation for a murder, or worse.

I was fascinated with the relationship of Carly, the expert rider, with the breeders who owned the horses she rode. Carly was not only a rider but also had a highly trained science background. Is this typical?

The background of riders varies a great deal, from those with nine-to-five office jobs to those who have a University level education, be it in equine science like Carly or as veterinary surgeons. I even interviewed one rider who was part of an exclusive armed response police unit – remember our police are normally unarmed. Some riders are even members of the armed services; not surprising when eventing has its roots in the military as a challenge for cavalry officers. It is even called the Military in some European countries. Carly’s science background is closely based on the advanced education of a rider friend, who went to an agricultural college that I knew well. Quite a few English agricultural colleges have equine courses, and one, Hartpury College, has been running International Horse Trials for many years. When Carly says, “…I was in the Young Rider team at the Europeans,” I had in mind the Europeans at Hartpury, which I covered for an internet site.

Are breeding operations all controlled by corporations or are there private people who are able to compete?

Unlike racing, the small private operations are at the forefront. There are some notable studs with a handful of well-bred stallions, a few dozen mares, and they breed both their own foals and supply stud services to owners of single mares upwards. Many of the Olympic horses can trace their bloodlines to these studs. I also know of successful family operations, including one rider that bred ten intermediate and advanced horses from her star mare. For ten years I ran the South East Eventers League and we always gave a prize for the season’s Leading Mare – in the SE – and that was sponsored over the years by various prestigious sport horse studs. They were professional operations but never corporations. In each case, the owners were approachable and familiar figures on the eventing circuit.

The competing horses in the book are the results of highly selective breeding. Also, they are fed a highly modified diet of GMO enhanced food that seems to affect their performance as well as genetically altering the potentials of their future offspring. Can you talk about the role of bio-engineer in the world of horse breeding and nutrition?

Selective breeding is part of the eventing world, with the program at most events carrying details of a horse’s sire and dam – stallion and mare. Some stallions and stud prefixes appear repeatedly demonstrating their success and popularity. When I was involved, bio-engineering was a fringe activity barely mentioned, and I was unaware of anyone making use of it. Therefore, the Boissard operation is a projection of what I suspected might happen. Having been involved in the organic food movement in the late 70s, I was aware of the emergence of GMO, which is now everywhere. Then when Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996, I began following all the developments in the area of cloning. After Prometea, a Haflinger mare, was cloned in 2003, my interest in the cloning debate intensified; I had already worked it into the first few drafts of ‘Spiral of Hooves’. I knew about embryo transplants from a top rider whose owners were using it extensively as breeders. At that point the concept of a cloned competition horse lay in the future, and even embryo transplants were a rarity in England. Not so on the continent where it was an accepted way to breed from a competition mare. By the time ‘Spiral of Hooves’ was accepted for publication, the bio-engineering of horses and feed was becoming more common – even though the argument whether to allow them to compete still raged, and the costs were still prohibitive to regular horse owners. However in 2012 the FEI, who govern sports horse disciplines worldwide, lifted their ban. Too late to make any radical changes to the novel, but I suspect that they would never endorse the offspring of the illegal activities that dominate my fictional breeding world.

I was impressed with the amount of research you must have done to write this novel. You not only describe eventing in amazing detail, but you also seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of weapons, cyber-spying, military strategy, and biotechnology. How long did it take you to write this book? Did you use any system to keep this information organized?

Pleased that the novel gave the impression of well-researched. The writing time period, from the moment that I first began developing the idea to when I had a manuscript ready for submission, must have been thirteen years. Although that doesn’t include the first scribbled outline when I was living in Canada in the early 70s, but the only common elements were possibly eventing, an English female rider, and a Canadian male rider. As for the encyclopedic knowledge, thanks for the compliment, but I think it’s got more to do with research and copious notes, many of which have been discarded while moving house or are buried in files on a hard drive. In the early days, while I was still a journalist, the information was scribbled down in notebooks or recorded on mini-tapes. Then I progressed to computer files, which were easier to consult, although ‘organized’ might be an exaggeration. More recently I used internet links to point me to relevant articles and research by wiser beings. This was all in the days when I used Word to organize (?) information, and before I moved first to WriteItNow software, then Scrivener.

What have been the most satisfying aspects in the writing and publication of SPIRAL OF HOOVES?

Initially the most satisfying aspect was finishing the novel after so many years in which acquaintances were asking, “which Olympics will it be finished by?” It might have been released in 2013 but it was finished in time for the London Olympics, which in an earlier draft was the climactic scene – but it didn’t fit the plot line. I am also satisfied with the way that the story worked out and just hope that the readers like the ending. Hopefully, many of the readers will be eventers and the sport will ring as true to them as it did when I enjoyed writing it. Finally, I am satisfied to have my first novel published and out there, so I can call myself an author. Of course the real test comes over the forthcoming eventing season, starting March 1st in the UK. How will ‘Spiral of Hooves’ fare in the horsebox parks at events? I will be immensely satisfied if it becomes a positive rumor spreading from rider to rider, from event to event.

Would you care to tell us about any new writing projects on your plate?

I finished the first draft of the sequel to ‘Spiral of Hooves’ in November, as my NaNoWriMo entry, and, although it involves some of the characters, eventing is not the main focus. The sport in ‘Tortuous Terrain’ is endurance riding and the setting is Idaho and Nevada in the USA. Plus it has even more murders. I have a third sport knocking around in my head, carriage driving, and that would be called ‘Suicide Seat’. Does that mean a greater body count, or just more thrills?

However, there are other projects ahead of those equestrian-themed mysteries in the creative pipeline. I have three mysteries at various draft stages, the first up being a cyber-crime set against a fantasy role-playing game. ‘Wyrm Bait’ has been edited professionally, but needs a re-write before my beta-readers get their chance to improve on it. The role-playing game, called ‘Gossamer Steel’, is a project in itself as it entails creating a post-apocalyptic world, using Scrivener to compile all the research. I am working on some short stories set in the Gossamer Steel world, including a novella, ‘The Last Leaf’. Moving to Wales will also inspire new ideas as well.

My grateful thanks, Alethea, for this opportunity to talk about ‘Spiral of Hooves’ and my writing; also many thanks for your wonderful review of the book. My website at http://rolandclarke.com/ gives further information on my writing, including more details on how to acquire my novel.

19345344Spiral of Hooves is an intelligent, detailed, intricately plotted thriller and love story set amidst the highest levels of European horse event racing. Roland Clarke, a retired equestrian journalist and photographer, uses his expertise to create a rarified world where wealth, science, and equestrian skill intersect, where profits are high enough for the villains, delightfully Canadian…going against their stereotype of being the nicest people in the world…to succumb to subterfuge and murder. Clarke wisely uses the sympathetic character of Carly, a top level rider who is severely diabetic, as the heart of the novel, and concern for her keeps the reader turning pages to find out if she will survive the brutal conditions of the event racing while being targeted by the bad guys. Armand, or “Loup,” a former member of an elite French military squad, is haunted by the murder of his cousin Odette, the woman, who previously had Carly’s position as the event rider for the dysfunctional Canadian horse breeding family, and whose life he did not save. The trauma causes him to have amnesia. Was he responsible for her death? Together with Carly and former comrades in arms, Armand puzzles his way through the shapeshifting of his employer, the world of biotechnology, cryptic messages, and double crosses upon double crosses.

I love learning about worlds I know nothing about. I never would have imagined that horse breeding is now so scientifically controlled. If I understood this correctly, the embryos of top performing mares are transplanted into other mares so that the original mother can continue to compete, but Clarke mentions cloning. Are horses cloned now? He also writes about GMO modified feed…which I believe could be used to either destroy a line of horses or enhance the line’s performance, creating “super’ horses, and thus creating more profit.

I wish there were more transitions in the book. The plot is very complicated and there were times I had to reread to understand what was happening. The character of Giles is a bit of an enigma, I wished there was a bit more detail in the beginning that would prepare me for his multiple personalities/transitions. Giles and Carly become involved, but I could never really see why she would be attracted to him with her positive values, despite her love of horses and his gift of the wonder horse, Wanda. Armand and Lina are also lovers until Lina’s true character is revealed. Then there is a quick shift where the couples trade places, Giles with Lina, Armand with Carly. I needed more time for the Armand/Carly relationship to develop.

Spiral of Hooves should be a fascinating read for those who enjoy thrillers, are interested in scientific innovation, or who love horses or competitive events. I’m very glad to have read this book.

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