the cutting room floor

As I’ve discussed before, history isn’t tidy. I made some strategic cuts to the story at the outset, mostly for my sanity. Now I’m cutting even more as they don’t add to the story I’m trying to tell, which is a damn shame as Dee and Kelley generated So. Much. Weird. that begs exploration. Just not by me:

Dee and Kelley’s possible ties to Shakespeare – interesting if true, but not relevant to my story

Nuances of alchemical process and symbolism – you’ll get your furnaces and flasks but not painstaking detail because I’m not a chemist.

Dee and Kelley’s sojourn in Poland courting the patronage of Stephen Bathory (yes, cousin of that Bathory). It’s not the story I’m telling and someone already has anyway.*

A series of incidents in which Kelley apparently conjures demons and poltergeists outside of his actions with Dee – and this breaks my heart because I so, so want to play with what was going on here! I found this delicious story in the footnotes of part 9 of I.R.F. Calder’s thesis but it’s so divided from the rest of the spiritual actions that I can’t justify including it.**

The possibility that Jane Dee was from a recusant family. I could only find one reference (since removed), and there’s more narrative tension if Jane is solidly Protestant in Catholic Bohemia.

And there’s probably more. What are you cutting, and why?

animated gif of little girl and men in suits sawing/drilling away on a piano
Hacking away. Courtesy gfycat.

*Looking forward to reading this after I finish the WIP.
**Actually, I might do a short story based on this.

biweekly links 11-8-2017

Tom DeLonge on JRE: “You Don’t Know What I Know About UFOs (But I Can’t Tell You): Um, yeahhhhh. I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to have The Truth™, especially when they claim they can’t share it – such people are either selling something or being sold something. In DeLonge’s case it might be both: he’s promoting a book that claims to reveal true secrets via fiction, while his unnamed “top government advisors” may be using him for…who the hell knows what. Or maybe the controversy is just fueled by jealous veteran UFO researchers resentful of a newbie with fame and connections. Should I bother to read this, just to figure out what the fuss is about?

screenshot from Raiders of the Lost Ark of government official. Text: Who's looking into the issue? Top...men.
DeLonge’s contacts. Via Memegenerator.

Top 4 Revelations From the New JFK Files: Just the four? From the FBI’s surveillance of MLK to Oswald’s ties to the Soviet Union to wild attempts to kill Castro, there’s something for everyone with a taste for Cold War-era paranoia, and people are still going through these with fine-toothed combs. NPR has put out a call for citizen journalists to share their findings so if you’ve got the time and inclination, go for it.

Religion vs. Superstition: Subtitled “Is Religion Just Organized Superstition? Is Superstition Always Religious?” And yeah, I know I’m wading into a minefield. Talk amongst yourselves.

Reformation “What Might Have Been”s: on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses it’s worth asking: what if the Catholic hierarchy had listened? And did the Reformation ultimately fail because they didn’t?

necromancy: why, how, and why not to do it

Coincidentally, it’s just when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest that I passed the point in my book where the Papal Nuncio accuses Dee and Kelley of necromancy. Mind, they probably didn’t do it (or Dee didn’t–too goody goody for that), but why would anyone want to raise the dead, and how would they do it anyway?

Black adn white engraving of two men in a nighttime churchyard standing in a magic circle, a skeletal ghost before them.
Fanciful nineteenth century portrayal of “Edw[ar]d Kelly, a Magician. in the Act of invoking the Spirit of a Deceased Person” from Astrology, A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences by Ebenezer Sibly, M.D. F.R.H.S., Embellished with Curious Copper-Plates, London, 1806, courtesy Wikipedia

Technically early modern Christian necromancers weren’t trying to raise the dead–that was seen as something only God could do. No, they just conjured demons who looked like spirits, and used them for a variety of things including finding lost objects, telling the future, controlling other people, or creating illusions.

Kind of mundane, considering the spiritual sketchiness of necromancy and the sheer inconvenience of performing it. You had to consider magic circles, moon phases, and offerings before you even got to the incantations. Check out this bit from Reginald Scot’s 1584 best-seller “The Discoverie of Witchcraft”. Though Scot rejected the reality of witchcraft bits of it read like a how-to, with a surprisingly pious bent:

…I conjure thee spirit by the living God, the true God, and by
the holie God, and by their vertues and powers which have created
both thee and me, and all the world. I conjure thee by these
holie names of God, Tetragrmnmaton Adonay Algraniay
Saday Sabaoth Planaboth Craton Neupinaton…

…etc. What happened if you forgot or mispronounced a name isn’t recorded.

But why did Kelley perform necromancy, if he did it at all?

The story goes that long before he met Dee he was arrested in Walton on Dale for conjuring a spirit, but a local squire named Langton managed to get him released. Given that so much of Kelley’s history is legend I’m unsure how seriously to take this, and even the legend doesn’t have much about Kelley’s’ reasoning.

So I’m just making something up. It’s historical fiction, remember?

biweekly links 10-25-2017: the fear edition

These first two links refer to Chapman University’s Division on the Study of American Fears’ report America’s Top Fears 2017. My extremely broad takeaway is that fearful people do and say stupid things, but it’s more complex than that (isn’t it always?) Do check out the site for more details though – it’s a fascinating, if sobering, read.

What do Americans fear most? Researchers release 4th annual Survey of American Fears: the top three are actually pretty rational: corruption of government officials, Trumpcare, and pollution of water. Once you get into the weeds though things get…contradictory. For all the fear of natural disaster, most citizens have no clue what to do in an emergency. Almost a third think Americans need to give up civil liberties to protect themselves from terrorism while an apparent completely different third think exactly the opposite.

From the same study we get Paranormal Beliefs. Roughly 3/4 of the population believes in some unexplainable phenomenon, the top 3 being ancient civilizations, hauntings/ghosts, and ancient aliens. I could be glib and blame the History Channel but:

How America Lost Its Mind: The Atlantic breaks down the reasoning for these apparent irrational fears and beliefs far better than I ever could. There’s a lot to unpack here but the gist is: the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos and conservative fear of the same combined with American exceptionalism to create a present in which subjective belief is considered on a par with objective reality. No one is immune, either, not even the “reality-based community” derided by Karl Rove.

I’d like to think myself a champion for the validity of subjective experience, but I have one strong caveat: those experiences are only valid to the experiencer – you can’t demand everyone else play along. In order to do anything in this world people have to work with an agreed upon “baseline reality”, if you will, and that doesn’t include that which can’t be proven. Belief in something doesn’t make it so.

But yeah, we live in a world where that needs to be said aloud.

fizzle to a bang

The third act. The moment of truth, the home stretch, the part of the book in which I bring the reader to the climax of the story by throwing everything I have at my protagonist so he has no choice but to face his demons and cut them down.

Which is great when your historical timeline fits nicely into a three-act structure but when it doesn’twell.

Most fictional treatments of the Dee/Kelley partnership fudge the timeline, I suspect because thumbnail biographies of Dee imply that he parted ways with Kelley right after they swapped wives–a well timed climax (ha!) if ever there was one.

In reality they–and their wives– limped along in the same house for another year and a half and I really want to milk those 18 months for all the dramatic tension they’re worth. Unfortunately, this is the part of the book where I’m supposed to tie up loose ends and race for the finish.

So I have to either make this drawn out angst into a rollercoaster or cut it completely. If the latter it’ll break my little black heart but I’ll do it in the name of art. Besides, I can write short outtake vignettes if I still feel the need to punish my characters just that little bit more.

How about you? If you write based on real events, how do you work with (or against) the timeline? Or if you’re a reader, how much accuracy do you want in your “based on a true story”s?

biweekly links 10-11-2017

Sylvia Plath and the Occult: Interview with Julia Gordon-Bramer: I leave it to the experts to determine how serious Plath was about tarot cards but to my inexpert mind Gordon-Bramer may be onto something.

New documentary is a magic portal into a weird and wonderful library: this 90 minute doc on the Ritman Library explains what they mean by “western esotericism” with abundant gorgeous shots of historic tomes from their collection. Available free through Amazon Prime (at least last week) if you love magical history and/or illustrated manuscripts, check it out. Should I ever get to Amsterdam this library is on my list of must-sees.

Borley Rectory animated documentary: the trailer evokes early horror films and steampunk but I’m willing to see if it winds up being more substance than style. As this “most haunted house in England” burnt down in the 1930s, I wonder what the most haunted is now?

writing on wall:
Ghostly(?) writing from the wall of Borley Rectory. I always found this image deliciously eerie. Courtesy Tumblr.

You Can Now Visit a Witch Museum in Cleveland: the Buckland Gallery of Witchcraft and Medicine has bounced around the states for years and is currently (permanently?) attached to a record store. Advertising is minimal (they’re concerned about how they’ll be received) but open during some regular hours and by appointment.

the stupidest Slytherin

I’ve been re-watching the Harry Potter movies of late. I find myself still impressed again at how engaging the saga is and how the stories grow up with the characters: as they mature to into a more nuanced, less black and white outlook the stories gain complexity as well. And damn if she doesn’t know how to world-build!

And I got to thinking about The Book (hell, I’m always thinking about The Book). Rowling rolled at least one historical magician into the Potterverse (are there more I’m forgetting?) so surely there are others. So:

If John Dee were any more Ravenclaw he’d live in a library OH WAIT. He certainly embodies wit, learning, and wisdom, even if he’s a bit gullible. What do you wanna bet his wardenship of Christ’s College Manchester was just cover for his real trip north for a Hogwart’s fellowship?

Edward Kelley may have all the ambition of a Slytherin but he’s not together enough to carry out his wildest schemes…or is he? I think the Snapes and Malfoys of the world would disown him if he didn’t get himself kicked out of Hogwarts outright.

Jane Dee is a muggle, period. She doesn’t approve of all this magical nonsense–it’s dangerous and unseemly besides.

I imagine Kelley’s brother Thomas is clearly Hufflepuff. He’s loyal and patient to though Kelley often doesn’t deserve it.

Joanna Kelley may well be the only Gryffindor. She’s got to be brave to see all of their continental travel as an adventure rather than a hazard, and she’s determined to put a bright spin on everyone and everything.

Elizabeth Jane Weston (Lizzie), Joanna’s daughter? She’s about four years old during the story – too young to sort, certainly. But she’s definitely got some of her mom in her.

The spies Sledd and Pucci are Slytherin through and through. Sledd would make a stone-cold Death Eater but Pucci would be a toady like Peter Pettigrew and possibly less competent than Kelley.

Draco Malfoy sitting under the sorting hat
Pucci would make Draco Malfoy look strong willed. Courtesy Giphy.

Of all my characters Joanna is possibly the only truly likeable one of the lot (but are there any unlikeable Gryffindors?). But at least my less-than-savory characters aren’t dull.

How do your characters (or your favorite fictional characters) sort out?

biweekly links 9-27-2017

Bess of Hardwick in spotlight of new play: about time! Perhaps best known as the woman who kept Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest, she became the second richest woman in Elizabethan England through both strategic marriages and shrewd business dealings. Definitely worthy of her own play. Her stately Hardwick Hall still stands.

How Renaissance Painting Smoldered with a Little Known Hallucinogen: Not THAT unknown. Short version: some artists were heavily influenced by ergot poisoning, either by their own experiences or from observing others in the throes of “St. Anthony’s Fire”. I’m unsure what to make of this – on the one hand artists must get their inspiration from somewhere, on the other it suggests lack of creativity if  they were just depicting their hallucinations to the last detail. Full disclosure: I love Bosch’s work and prefer to think he was just that inventive. Thoughts?

Painting of man in throes of agony, covered in pustules.
LSD may be derived from ergot fungi but St. Anthony’s Fire looks like a bad trip to me. Painting by Matthias Grünewald of a patient suffering from advanced ergotism from approximately 1512–16 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Books Discovered Once Again is a Czech-Norwegian project dedicated to identifying, cataloguing, and returning to original owners/libraries non-Bohemican volumes found in the Czech public libraries. Related: According to the historians on this project, the “Himmler’s occult book stash found in Prague” story I linked to last year isn’t true. Thus far they’ve found “common philosophic literature, yearbooks of lodges, some Masonic poems collection and so on” but nothing explicitly occult. Old news offered belatedly and borrowed (thanks Astonishing Legends) but I don’t want y’all running around with the wrong info.

just the right amount of fear

I have an uneasy history with horror.

On the one hand it’s unbearable. I hate jumping at every damn thing just because of words on a page. At the same time elegantly creeping horror is impossible for me to put down.

I admire Stephen King – I know it’s cliché but he really is a master of subtle terror. Having said that, I’ve only ever read “Pet Sematary”. Even though it stole two weeks of sleep during my teenage years (with the help of the family cat), I remember renewing my library checkout for it anyway.

Whitley Strieber’s “Communion”, however, casts the longest shadow. Before the first page you’re treated to this:

Painting of gray alien with huge wrap-around eyes an an enigmatic smile from the cover art of
Makes me flinch but I can’t look away. Courtesy Tumblr.

Then the story starts, and though Strieber’s claim that it’s contentious to say the least it’s damn near perfect horror. I started to imagine I’d see one of these every time I turned around, and that they could and would get at me no matter how much security I had or how many friends I surrounded myself with.

That ability to compel someone to keep reading despite their fear is power, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that power for myself. While I don’t necessarily want my readers to lose sleep I’d love it if I can make the hair on the back of their necks stand up when Edward Kelley first hears voices, or look over their shoulders the first time one of his “spirits” materializes.

I’m just afraid it’s over my pay grade, so to speak. And I’m too terrified to do the necessary homework (i.e. read King’s entire back catalog and brave “Communion” again) to learn by observation.

What about you? What books or genres do you find utterly impossible to put down though they make your skin crawl (in fear, disgust, or something else)?

biweekly links 9-13-2017

Sally Quinn’s Next Act: how have I never heard of this woman? Journalist, tv presenter, and fixture of DC “salon society”, she now reveals her belief in the occult in her new memoir. Sounds a bit sensationalistic, but I’m curious how one goes from atheism to casting hexes on enemies (yes, she claims she did that).

Have you got the nerve to take on this spooky tour through creepy cellars and centuries-old cloisters?: The house of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer) is open for “spooky” tours October 18 through 31. Fun fact: Burghley tried to lure Edward Kelley back to England from Prague to share his secret of gold transmutation. Kelley declined because Rudolf II gave him so many lands and titles that it wasn’t worth his time. He wound up in several of Rudolf’s prisons for failing to make gold when requested–though interestingly, he was never accused fraud.

JFK Conspiracy Theorists Are About to Receive the Motherlode: the remaining classified 20% go public on October 26. Though there are as many conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination as there are conspiracy theorists I’m still curious to know what we’ve been missing for ~50 years.

Tweet from John F. Kennedy:
Too soon? Courtesy Tumblr.

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic In London Opening: November 2, if you’re in the area. Put together by the Last Tuesday Society, a group that’s been in London since 2006 and is “dedicated to subverting life, the universe and everything bored of the life and world it sees around it seeks to create a new world filled with beauty, wonder and the imagination”. Could be a barrel of fun. Ah, to be in Merrie Olde…