Felt like Fiction

The doctor took my arm and studied it, then examined the other. Still holding my forearms lightly, without making eye contact, he asked, “How do you respond to quartz?”

This was a dermatological exam. I’d driven all the way to Silver City because there were no dermatologists in my insurance network in my vicinity. The choice was either a two-and-a-quarter hour drive to Albuquerque or the same length trip to Silver City. I picked the latter because it would be more of an adventure. I hadn’t been to Silver City for a couple of years, and my nurse practitioner in T or C had recommended the doctor there. Maybe it was that recommendation, or spaciness from getting up early and driving (I’m not a morning person), that made me react with less puzzlement to the question than a dermatologist’s patient normally would. Instead, I simply answered.

“It helps me sleep. Makes me feel grounded.”

“And amethyst?” the doctor asked.

“Intuition,” I replied.

“That makes sense.” He regarded me though his glasses. He was a Hispanic man I guessed to be in his early sixties, though his smooth brown skin—appropriately for his profession—looked youthful compared to his thick silvery hair. “We use those for the direction of the North. The ancestors. You feel protection and guidance.”

We use them? My morning brain fog somehow didn’t clear enough to let me ask who “we” were. He said something about the South being the direction of children and family, and resumed the exam, occasionally mentioning things other than the usual dermatological inquiries and slipping into Spanish a few times as if I should understand it, though he spoke English without any accent. He was into holistic health—nutrition, exercise, meditation—and I was already following a healthy lifestyle along those lines, so he had little need to give me advice. Most of his observations about my skin were identical to those my dermatologist in Virginia had made. Perfectly normal medical conversation. He discussed a new study on a nutrition-and-disease link, and then went on to ask me about having premonitions. “Yes,” I said, “I dream the future.”

He examined my hand. “You have the signs of being a sensitive.”

I knew I was. The surprise was that a medical doctor would bring these things up as if it were as normal as explaining the importance of eating right and using sunscreen. He mentioned what he’d found to be a few other indications of a sensitive and completed the exam. Nothing was wrong, and I should come back in a year.

On my way out, I noticed an intriguing work of art propped on a table, a crucifix with the Christ figure on it crafted from forks and spoons. The circle above the figure’s bowed spoon-bowl head was made from a small ponytail holder, containing a pinch of pink-red dirt under a clear cover, and the word Chimayo was engraved into the wood, following the shape of the circle. This was healing dirt from the chapel in northern New Mexico, the Lourdes of the Southwest.

“That was a gift from a patient,” said the doctor, noticing my pause to admire the artwork. “He was complaining to me about his ‘crazy aunt’ and how she claimed she could tell what was wrong with people just by …” He mimed running a hand over a human aura. “She was curandera and she had people lining up for her limpias.” This was the first time he’d slipped into Spanish that I knew what he was saying. A limpia is a healing and cleansing ritual. The doctor continued, “I explained to him about her gifts, and then told him he too had this gift. He had the signs of a sensitive. An hour later, he came back to give me this. The fork is meaningful. On those special occasions when we had dessert, Grandma would say, ‘keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’ Some people ask to be buried with a fork, because the best is yet to come. The spoon means ‘I will feed my people.’ ”

The patient had been so relieved to understand and accept his gift of healing, he had brought the doctor the gift of the fork-spoon-and-healing-dirt crucifix. I didn’t ask if the patient has made it, still too dazed by the strangeness of the whole encounter to ask questions I later wished I had.

I kept thinking about it, though, as I played tourist in Silver City, passing a sign in a window that said “Dog Grooming and Healing Center.” (You know you’re in New Mexico when you see something like that.) After strolling in a shady park, shopping at a second-hand store, and admiring murals, I followed a series of little purple pig-like outlines stenciled on the sidewalk to the most excellent and badly needed Javelina Coffee shop. After a dose of their light roast, I finally felt awake and clear-headed. And yet, still confused. Had I walked into a Mae Martin mystery or a Selkie Moon mystery? It felt like a bit of both. The doctor’s crystal questions were like something that would happen to Mae in my books, but the way he told me I was a sensitive and that his patient who gave him the unusual crucifix was also one struck as the sort of thing that happens to Virginia King’s synchronicity-prone protagonist, Selkie.

I wonder if I’ll create a curandero-dermatologist character. And what he’ll say during my check-up next year. I know I’ll be more awake and ask more questions.

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Quick and Quirky Free Fiction

I’ve only read one of these, but I plan to download a few I’ve never heard of and have some reading adventures.

The one I’ve read, Virginia King’s Laying Ghosts, is a page-turning spooky mystery that introduces Selkie Moon, the protagonist of her series. If you like my books, I think you’ll enjoy hers. They’re also unconventional mysteries with a touch of the mystical.

Ready to read something quick and quirky? Click here.

Have fun!

The Thorn in my Soul

In July in Truth or Consequences I got a mesquite thorn in my flip-flip. It burrowed in deep and I couldn’t get it out, so I set those shoes aside and wore others. This week, in Virginia, I decided that the thorn wouldn’t come though, that it was simply buried in the sole somewhere, and I wore the shoes walking back and forth across campus. Little by little the thorn began to poke me. Not painfully, but it was there.

New Mexico is there. In my soul. The need to change my life so I don’t thave to keep coming back to Virginia to work is always there. The thorn is the craving to be my true self, the writer and yoga teacher, not the professor. I tell myself this job is not a bad way to earn a living, and compared to most jobs it isn’t, and yet the thorn is always prodding me. Go back. Go home. For good.

I’ve been reading Virginia King’s The Second Path, a novel that defies categories—though I’d say visionary fiction is the best fit. It’s a mystery, but like mine, it’s not about a murder. King’s books are about inner mysteries, psycho-spiritual discoveries. In this one, the protagonist Selkie Moon dreams clues to solving her own life’s mysteries and follows them into an extraordinary adventure. I read it before bed and it provokes me to have message dreams.

Preface: A student recently dropped my health class because the emphasis on positive psychology and a “no upper limits” personal vision of wellness upset him. He confided that he felt he didn’t have control and choice in his life, and though he was in counseling, this approach to the class was too distressing for his present state of mind—one in which he felt confined and powerless.

A few nights ago I dreamed that this young man had stolen a valuable rose-gold antique watch from me. I was chasing him across the campus of the college where I got my undergraduate degree and saw him heading for a bike rack. I knocked his bike over and he headed for a van instead, pausing to read a text message before he opened the door. He gave me smug smile. “I just got a higher bid on it.” End of dream.

Belief in “I can’t” is stealing my precious time. I’m still puzzling over the bike, the van, and that higher bid. Higher self? Higher income in a new life? Higher values? Selling my time to the highest bidder instead of taking it back? I guess I’ll have to be like Selkie in the book, following my clues to see where they lead.

It’s possible to ignore spiritual discomforts for a while, but they don’t let go. I can try to change who I am and what I value, but that doesn’t work. My first book, The Calling, is about this theme in my protagonist’s life, and now I need to take that lesson into my life. Change is calling me. How long will it take? Maybe a few years. How hard will it be? Not easy. Staying in a familiar but unsuitable place or situation can feel easier than the effort it takes to get out of the rut, but I know from the effort I’ve put into other life changes, the view from outside the rut is worth the climb.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25754726-the-second-path

Virginia King: Mything in Action

The First LieVirginia King Portrait

Intrigued by the blend of world mythologies in Virginia King’s mystical psychological mystery, The First Lie, I asked her to write a guest post on how she wove mythical elements into her fiction. Virginia’s answer to that question follows.

*****

Everyone, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences. Robert Louis Stevenson

In The First Lie, Australian girl Selkie Moon has run away to Hawaii to escape a destructive relationship but she’s landed herself in the middle of a mythical nightmare. Her name already has mythic origins – her mother named her after the selkies, the Celtic seal people who peel off their skins and dance in the moonlight on human legs. Ironic, since Selkie almost drowned as a toddler and has been afraid of the sea ever since.

Now that she’s arrived in Hawaii, with mythical symbols lurking under every lava rock, a series of bizarre events beset her. It all begins when a voice wakes her from a dream: Someone is trying to kill you.

The First Lie was originally set in Sydney, my home town. The writing was going through a flat patch so I decided to re-energize by grabbing a camera and visiting all the locations in the story—a whole day on the road. The outcome of that fateful excursion wasn’t what I expected. I came home and burst into tears. None of the places spoke to me.

In desperation I dropped Selkie into a whole new location, Hawaii, and the story came to life. She was now a stranger in a strange place, so I was on a journey of discovery too. My editor wasn’t too sure about it: You’ve got an Australian main character in a Hawaiian setting, but you’re drawing on Irish/Scottish mythology (selkies); it’s difficult to make those disparate elements fit together cohesively. She suggested moving the story to Ireland or giving Selkie a Hawaiian name, but I did the opposite. I made it work.

I mingled the mythical elements across the cultures to see what happened. I don’t plan when I write because it stifles psychological layers emerging in the story. Instead, if I get an idea— no matter how bizarre—I drop it into the manuscript and let it ride, let it niggle away at me until something pops. It’s incredible how connections form—usually in the middle of the night—each time adding another layer of depth. I wake most mornings and decipher the notes I’ve scribbled while half asleep.

In Chapter One, Selkie sees something strange in a mirror. It once belonged to a Kahuna and has special powers. Mirrors feature in many real Hawaiian encounters with the supernatural and they drip with symbolism in fairy tales—remember the queen in Snow White. I allowed aspects of these elements to create their own consequences. The mirror inspires some mythic scenes later in the book.

The First Lie is not a retelling of the selkie myth, but selkies create their own psychological thread. The myth involves a fisherman stealing a selkie’s pelt as the selkies dance in the moonlight. When one selkie can’t find her skin, she has to go with him and be his wife. Then seven years later, she finds where he’s hidden it and returns to the sea without looking back. This is an issue of identity, of theft, of soul. I used these concepts to add depth to this modern mystery.

Pele, the volcano goddess, has been encountered by many real Hawaiians. She’s associated with warnings of danger, such as house fires and other mishaps. Selkie is being stalked by a mysterious woman. Could she be Pele? Then there’s the landslide on the highway that sends Selkie and her friends in the opposite direction. Or could the stalker be warning Selkie about one of her new friends?

For a Celtic connection, I created a fictional Hawaiian beach named by a homesick Irishman—only to remember in the middle of the night that there’s a place in Sydney with the same name, just near Selkie’s childhood home. Spooky! And there are monk seals in Hawaii—they’re aumakuas or animal spirit guides that look out for the living. Meanwhile in Europe, scientists have theorised that the sirens in The Odyssey, who lured sailors to their deaths with their singing, may have been based on the moaning of monk seals. Greek mythology too? Yes, because the oceans are interconnected. Add another layer.

Just to make my editor’s head spin, Selkie has a fondness for Chinese food. Chinese mythology adds another thread to the mystery. Cowry shells, hugely symbolic in the islands and around the world, were used to create the Chinese symbol for money—survival in a strange place is an element in the story. And the cooks in Selkie’s favourite noodle bar see something in her aura that no-one else can see—old friend from far away—the Chinese phrase for a memory. It plunges Selkie into a deep investigation of her past.

I had no idea how The First Lie would end until all the mythical layers and threads collided in the last chapter. I just had to trust that the banquet of consequences would be—as the Irish might describe it—grand.

*****

Bio:

Virginia King has lived most of her life in Sydney, but has travelled to many places. Sheʼs been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, a producer of audio-books, a writer of fifty-plus childrenʼs books, and an award-winning publisher. These days sheʼs a full-time writer who paints a bit, living in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband.

Web site: http://www.selkiemoon.com

Sales link: http://www.amazon.com/First-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00K1VC20Y

*****

Next week, Virginia King and Marion Eaton and I will be doing a give-away for the first book in each of our series. Details will be posted Tuesday. (Marion was featured in an interview last month. https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/interview-with-m-l-eaton-the-mysterious-marsh ) We are fans of each other’s work and want to share that enjoyment with other readers who enjoy a touch of the mystical in a mystery.