A Prayer for the Season and Beyond

Last year I created a mandala in response to what seemed to me the inhumanity and lack of compassion emerging from the newly elected American administration.
 
This year I find myself struggling against despair. I don’t understand how we’ve gotten so muddled. What happened to  “Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female”? “Let justice roll like a river”? or  “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly”?
 
Here again is that mandala, in hope that the incomprehensibly deep love we celebrate at this season may fill all our hearts, and open our eyes to the wideness of the mercy encompassing the whole of           Creation.
For those of you who are curious about such things, the basic             pattern is taken from the south rose window of Notre Dame, with hundreds of layers of digital images underneath and overlapped.
An image with higher resolution is available is available @                http://clfrancisco.com.
May this season when the light returns be one of joy and hope for us all.

A Season of Violence

In the months since I decided to withdraw Blood on Holy Ground, I’ve never stopped examining that decision. I may yet change my mind. More than anything else, I’d hoped to avoid contributing to the            climate of violence in America–against women, against racial and      religious groups, against the LGBT community, even against white males. A mystery novel dealing with sexual violence suddenly seemed inappropriate.

But things have changed. With the rapid spread of the #metoo       phenomenon, public reports of sexual abuse have overwhelmed the media. For the first time, thousands of people are speaking out about the sexual violence they’ve suffered, and they’re finding healing in sharing their stories. Anger is also part of breaking that long     silence–and a natural and healthy response to abuse. Releasing this anger is so crucial that people who can’t manage it almost inevitably find themselves sharing their inner space with emotional volcanoes –vents of fury that blight their own lives as well as searing those around them. Yet even those who confront their anger face a further danger: addiction to the rush that rides on “righteous” rage. Instead of  bringing healing, endless rage only traps its victims in mazes of  bitterness.

Sadly, publicity has also brought complications. The sudden flood of abuse narratives is rocking the boat of American business-as-usual. Anger flares on all sides. Spurious accounts find their way in. People rationalize and whitewash their own actions and demonize others. Decency, compassion, and concern for human rights struggle to hold their own against riptides of emotion. The whole issue shows signs of deteriorating into a political firefight. Human pain is swept aside. Ethics blur in the media blitz. A screen of empty chatter dulls the     reality of human cruelty.

So I’ve created a short video in which I speak as a woman, but with the words of trees . . . of forests who for thousands of years have suffered assault . . . yet who continue to offer new life and seeds for the future. Perhaps my images will slip past some of the barricades.      After all, trees bear no more blame for their felling than a child bears for her abuse. If I tell a story of trees, raw human emotions may fade into the distance. Woodland tragedy may allow space for compassion and understanding. Perhaps, in the company of trees, we can even remember our humanity, and find healing together.

The video’s  title is Women’s Abuse Through a Forest Lens: #Metoo in the Voice of Trees. You can find it here.

For those of you who don’t care for videos, I’ve reproduced the images and words below, but without the soundtrack.

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Blood on Holy Ground Release Cancelled

It’s a sad thing to decide that a book you’ve created doesn’t need to be born into the world. Perhaps if I’d listened to that small wise voice that speaks just below the threshold of ordinary hearing, I could’ve saved myself a lot of time, pain, and expense. But I didn’t, so now—at this late date—I find myself announcing that my upcoming mystery, Blood on Holy Ground, will not be released this fall. Perhaps it will be reborn some day in a vastly altered form. Who knows?

I won’t go into detail as to why I’m withdrawing Holy Ground. I’ll just say that my reasons lie somewhere in a hazy area between ethics and spirituality. The possibility of future Miranda Lamden Mysteries is also on hold for now. I’ll need some distance before making that call.

Speaking of ethics, I feel that I have a responsibility to those of you who’ve been waiting for this new book and planning to buy it. I’m honored by your interest and faithfulness. So although I won’t be publishing Holy Ground, if you write to me and request a copy, I’ll attach a free PDF or E-PUB in return. Obviously, I would appreciate your not sharing it further. (At the moment I’m having trouble getting an e-pub to work with images included, so if you request an e-pub, you might receive a reviewer’s copy stripped of the frontispiece owl, the map, and the page breaks)

You can contact me at yeshuascat@gmail.com—and please specify which format you’d prefer. As always, I will never give your names or information to anyone else, or use them myself for any other purpose.

With regret,

 

 

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Blood on Holy Ground due out Nov 1!

Coming November 1st!

Blood on Holy Ground

the new Miranda Lamden Mystery!

 

Blood on Holy Ground, the 2nd volume in the Miranda Lamden Mysteries, is due to be released on November 1, 2017, in both Kindle and paperback formats, on Amazon.com! Mark your calendars!

Here’s a brief summary:

Blood on Holy Ground, the 2nd gothic mystery in the Miranda Lamden Mysteries series, follows Miranda to the convent of Monte di Angeles, where she plans a quiet summer’s research into an old Native American legend. Instead, almost before she can uncrate her cats, the killings begin, and she finds herself caught up in bloody murders, stalked by a deranged killer, and haunted by evil dreams. Rolling foothills blessed with a deep and almost conscious peace are suddenly overwhelmed by one vicious atrocity after another—striking at the people as well as the land itself.

Miranda is a professor of religion at a small Appalachian college, an expert on paranormal phenomena, and a woman gifted with spiritual vision. Free for the summer, she abandons her significant other, artist Jack Crispen, and sets out for the Tennessee convent at the invitation of her old friend Catherine, a sister there. Catherine settles her into a forest hermitage close to the tiny Conicoke Indian reservation adjoining convent land. Miranda knows that unless she can persuade the Conicoke Grandmothers to trust her enough to share their traditions, her research will founder, and the heart of the legend will never open to her, since her only other sources are a few heavily-edited church accounts.

When Jack arrives for a visit, they stumble onto the first murder victim at the base of the spill from the convent’s dump, and the killer’s bitter, twisted monologues join Miranda’s narrative. After their first discovery, Miranda and Jack seem doomed to come across more and more evidence of the killer’s crimes, goading the murderer’s malice into raging paranoia and convincing him that Miranda is out to destroy him. Abandoning his other targets, he stalks her with obsessive fury . . . with more than just murder on his mind. The Conicoke Grandmothers draw Miranda into their circle, in hopes that their combined seeing may show them a way to stop this monster. This powerful new connection immerses her in a flood of visions from the spirits of the land, as well as from the killer’s victims.

The murderer finds himself ensnared by his own evil when his brutal assault on Miranda miscarries, leaving him to prowl the forest wounded and delusional, but lethal as a cornered viper. His ruthless violence and the powers roused by its toxic presence come together in a raging vortex that nearly destroys everyone in its final combustion. Only the Grandmothers can guide Miranda and Jack into visions powerful enough to escape the firestorm unleashed by their relentless enemy.

 

 

 

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Creating New Worlds

 

Writing novels is all about creating alternative universes with stories that play out according to the laws the author creates. People often ask how I create these worlds . . . so here’s a brief explanation, using This Madness of the Heart as the model.

coal mine fire

For me, creating a fictional world always begins with research—or at least research comes close on the heels of the original germ of inspiration (that is, if I want my created universe to resemble reality as we know it). Before I knew anything else about This Madness of the Heart, I knew I wanted to write a book about a sleazy preacher-man in a small college town deep in the old coal fields of Kentucky. Right there I had several general research subjects:

  • the history of coal mining in Kentucky

  • small towns in Appalachia, layout and architecture
  • small Appalachian colleges, size, administration, issues, architecture

  • different types of religious groups and pastors in Appalachia

 

 

And that was just the setting for the story. When I started considering the characters, research subjects literally popped out of the trees. For instance, Miranda:

  • She lived in an Appalachian old-growth forest: what would it have been like?

  • What was involved in gutting and remodeling a 100-year-old chapel for a home?
  • Her hobby was quilting: I needed details of Appalachian quilting patterns and techniques

  • She was researching Appalachian superstition: I needed to find reliable examples.

 

Jack Crispen was a military vet with PTSD, who worked as a carpenter and stained glass artist. In his spare time he was a caver and a binging drinker, so:

  • What PTSD symptoms did military vets often experience?
  • How would a single artist in a small studio make stained glass windows?

  • I needed details on Kentucky caving
  • What exactly was involved in making moonshine, and were there different kinds?

 

Viola Ricketts was the last living descendant of coal baron Obadiah Durham, whose entire family, except for himself, had died in a fire caused by a vodun curse that still haunted the family, so:

  • I needed to know more about vodun among Southern plantation slaves

  • What kind of home would a wealthy coal baron build in the mid-late 19th C?

 

And that doesn’t take into account things like the violent deaths of various sorts that I needed to study, or the characters’ names. To make sure that the names were authentic I spent a couple of days wandering through old graveyards, copying names off tombstones.

 

Of course, if I hadn’t had a fairly good grasp of much of my subject matter, I couldn’t have written the book at all. For instance, I needed no research in any of these areas:

  • College faculties, departments, and their personal and political relationships
  • Appalachian ecosystems and hiking trails
  • Living with cats
  • Teaching religion and doing first-hand research using a phenomenological model
  • Religious charlatans
  • Southern and/or Appalachian society
  • Southern/Appalachian worship practices
  • World religions
  • Spiritual/paranormal phenomena
  • Women’s support groups

And then there are the maps. I always make maps to help orient myself geographically in the broad area where the story takes place. Madness has one of my maps inserted just before the first chapter (below). I often make interior plans of buildings as well, especially if they’re large.

Once I’ve mastered what I see as the essential research topics, I soon start feeling the need to write, whether the plot is complete or not. Having the broad strokes of my new world laid down allows me to begin weaving imaginary details freely. I know the practical limits and essential imagery involved in every aspect of the story. It’s kind of like understanding the basic skills, proportions of ingredients, and appliances involved in baking a cake before deciding to create new recipe. Some things you can change as you will, other changes result in disaster!

“Angustia,” Remedios Varo, 1947

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This Madness of the Heart out in e-book and paperback!

“This Madness of the Heart” out in e-book and paperback!

The paperback 2nd edition of  Madness is now available in the CreateSpace Store, and on Amazon! The Kindle format is also live on Amazon.

 

Here are some of the reviews coming in:

 

Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan, Editor and Senior Reviewer

“Evangelical religion, supernatural forces, and romance seldom collide under a single cover, but This Madness of the Heart combines all three and more in a gripping piece that holds the rare ability to grasp and attract reader attention from more than one direction . . . Mood and setting are exquisitely placed throughout the story . . . the plot moves deftly with the skill of a thriller, the stealth of a cat, and the fine-tuned precision of personalities well developed.

“The result is a blend of supernatural thriller, romance, and mystery that will thoroughly engross anyone looking to break free of genre reads with a powerful journey through competing spiritual perspectives.”

IndieReader Review: 4 1/2 stars

“An adventurous and richly drawn mystery, with the age-old primal conflict between love and hate at its core. Vigorous and lively, engaging from beginning to end, the lyrical poetry of Francisco’s writing carries just enough supernatural spookiness to add a delicious chill!

While Jarboe fits many of the nastiest stereotypes of the fundamentalist preacher, others – particularly his retired predecessor, Elmus Rooksby – show themselves as models of warmth, generous love, and human kindness.

Can Professor Miranda Lamden untangle the threads of a crime involving an old family curse, a secret religious fellowship, a business partnership gone sour, and family relationships embittered at their roots before it’s too late?”

Self Publishing Review

“Francisco is an engaging writer, a fun narrative voice . . . great at establishing setting and individual characters. The hints of paranormal phenomena are intriguing throughout . . . The mood combines gothic with the present day, giving it a feeling of “True Detective” (first season), in which backwoods religion and real supernatural phenomena collide – a world where anything can happen. Professor and paranormal investigator Miranda Lamden is an exciting basis for a series . . . the rock through it all.”    

Kathleen Eagle, New York Times Bestselling author of Sunrise Song:

This Madness of the Heart is a wild ride through the dark hills of eastern Kentucky with Miranda Lamden, a professor of religion who spends her spare time studying arcane spiritual rituals–if not participating in them herself. Francisco fields an engaging cast of characters, and throughout she weaves a compelling pattern spun of the Appalachian wilderness and its people. The plot twists kept me guessing, all the way to the very satisfying ending. Fans of Joyce Carol Oates and Nevada Barr should relish this new series, and I look forward to more–the sooner the better!”

Nancy McKenzie, award-winning author of Queen of Camelot:

“Kudos to C. L. Francisco for an absorbing read and an original thriller, with intriguing characters and hair-raising plot twists (protagonist Miranda Lamden is solid gold)! This Madness of the Heart explores the genesis of hate and the power of forgiveness in a small college town in eastern Kentucky’s hill-country, where a haunting spirituality–both Christian and pagan–drives this fast-flowing mystery to an electrifying close. But beware: pick it up and you won’t be able to put it down again—I couldn’t!”

Gail Godwin, author of Evenings at Five

“Blair Yeatts can certainly write!”

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Jane Reads Blogspot:

“This Madness of the Heart is amazing . . . I haven’t read such a good gothic mystery in ages! I was intrigued from the beginning, and hooked from the first chapter. Even though there are many twists and turns in the plot, each time, I thought, “I did not see that coming!”

“I highly recommend This Madness of the Heart to all fans of gothic mystery and suspense—and particularly to fans of Barbara Michaels and Sharyn McCrumb.

“Five out of five stars!” (kitties)

 

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Miranda Lamden and Yeshua’s Cats Together!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how This Madness of the Heart (and all the following Miranda Lamden Mysteries) fit together with my Yeshua’s Cats series–and why I feel certain the two series can coexist as books by the same author. But since my reasons are more feelings and instincts than logic, I’ve had trouble putting them into words.

So I did what I often do when I need to make sense of something: I created a piece of art (below). After all, what good is an art therapy degree if you can’t use it to clarify your own confusion? If I’m lucky, by explaining the image I’ll be opening up what lies behind it!

The Sleuth, Chi Rho, and the Cat

So, what are you looking at here?

First, I chose a Hubble image for the background: “Interacting Spiral Galaxies” . . . surely ideal for this project, since galaxies don’t often interact–anymore than churchfolk and professor-sleuths! It felt like a propitious beginning.

Hubble, Interacting Spiral Galaxies

Three interlocking circles fill the foreground. The center circle pulses with a glowing gold and green light; the Christian Chi Rho emerges from its heart.

What is the Chi Rho? Like most symbols, it has different meanings across cultures, but for me it’s a symbol used by early Christians in the first three centuries after Yeshua’s birth–before Constantine transformed it into an imperial banner (the cross didn’t emerge as a Christian symbol until after the year 500).

Chi Rho, early 3rd C catacomb

The Chi Rho gets its name from the two Greek letters that overlap to create the symbol: Chi and Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word Christos, or Christ. In the image above, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega are added. I like the visual effect of the Chi Rho better than the traditional Christian cross, probably because it has “rays” like the sunburst. Anyway, the central circle is meant to be the Christian faith–not the organized religion–but the living faith of all the individuals who hold themselves to be Christian.

The circle to the right is the cat Mari, from Yeshua’s Cat, turning aside from a path in a green forest to investigate the central circle. In her circle she represents all of the natural universe. Creation.  Everything that exists naturally, apart from the intervention of humankind. This natural order also includes human beings, since they’re part of the universe–but not their civilizations, which (to my way of thinking) have crossed the line into something aggressively unnatural.

The totality of the natural world–as we know it on Earth–is flowing back from Mari’s search like the tail of a comet.

The circle on the left is where Miranda, my detective, lives. Her circle is the world of human civilization–urban, complex, multi-cultural, and often unsure exactly what they believe. Many, like Miranda, have roots in Christianity, but have turned away from the church. Spinning out from her circle is a spiral of different world religions. In her circle Miranda, like Mari, has paused to examine something about the Christian faith that has caught her eye.

Both Mari and Miranda live outside the Christian fold, and they approach it from opposite directions. Mari moves from the non-human, natural environment, Miranda from a detached, urban, academic world. Still, both find themselves intrigued by the center circle. Mari has the easier approach: Yeshua introduces himself by saving her life, and she joins him as a friend. But Miranda has been scarred by her Christian experience; she mistrusts the church and its agendas. As a professor, she sees all religions as examples of the human yearning toward the divine. Truth claims don’t enter the picture. She simply records what she observes, without making judgments. Her methods are catlike: she steps cautiously toward anything new, not committing herself, poised to slip back into the shadows if conflict threatens.

I knew a number of women like Miranda in my years apart from the church. Their worlds were full and rich, and they didn’t screen their experiences through a Christian worldview. Yet they were sometimes attracted by a light shining out from this tradition many of them had left behind.

. . . maybe the light shone through a person
a man like Elmus
or as comfort in the midst of  evil
perhaps through the One’s presence in some crisis of their own
or simply in prayer and meditation.

But today we live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to say, “I believe.” The language is lost. What does it mean to believe? Who are we believing in? People who live in the secular world can’t respond to most Christian overtures–because they don’t understand the words anymore. God-talk is becoming literal non-sense to those outside the churches.

People like Miranda are who they are, just as cats are cats. Each responds to life according to their gifts . . . but for some reason those inside and outside the churches are drawing further apart.

Perhaps we might learn from the effort, and love, we put into cross-species communication with our cats (and dogs, gerbils, birds, and ferrets) . . . and look at the incomprehensible human beings around us as if they concealed inner selves as delightful, unique, and full of surprises as a cat’s. It’s not really such a stretch.

I happen to find the lives of alienated Christians intriguing, perhaps because I’ve been there myself. And if the polls are right, their numbers are growing. Their honesty is often fierce, like their determination never to be taken in again by faux-Christianity and self-serving lies. Sadly we don’t have to look far to find the lurking predators they’re avoiding. And that’s what This Madness of the Heart is about.

Miranda peers into the light of Christian faith–but she looks from a place apart. Her own experiences haven’t shown Christianity to be that promised “light to the gentiles.” So she watches, examines, records, and considers. In the meantime, I feel privileged to narrate her journey.

 

Click here to visit my Yeshua’s Cats site.

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