Squirrel!

I love paper the way Imelda Marcos loved shoes and in my “art room” there is a pretty good — if small — collection of beautiful handmade papers. Paper is a miraculous thing.

When I started writing Martin of Gfenn, a novel about an artist set in 13th century Zürich, Martin had paper. Then I learned that he could not have had paper because Northern Europe did not have paper and even the exotic, cosmopolitain trading center of Venice had only two or three sheets brought in from Asia. Yep. It was very difficult for me to imagine being an artist without paper, but Martin had to succeed at that and I had to write so no one reading it would feel the absence, would feel — as I felt — that Martin had a big challenge. No one’s challenged by the absence of something that has not yet existed, right? I couldn’t really do it until I acquired my own small piece of parchment. Wow. I have kept it safe for a decade and don’t think I’ll ever do anything worthy of its surface.

THEN I had to consider that every animal back then was skinned and many of the skins were made into something to write on. Squirrel skin was especially prized for parchment. However, squirrel pelts were also highly valued for the linings of rich peoples cloaks… I began to imagine incredibly high prices for dead squirrels, and that led me to imagine a completely different economy. In fact, the problem of paper more than any other thing, awakened me to the fact that the 13th Century was an alien world.

When paper paper took off, the squirrels must have been really, really, really happy about it.

Early paper was made from something plentiful in medieval times — linen rags. There are echoes of this in some papers used for stationary (Classic Laid) and for charcoal drawings in which you can see the “laid,” the way the fibers were pressed. Laid paper was all there was for the first 500 years of European paper making.

I’ve made paper — recycled paper made from, uh, paper, and fibers and leaves. My brother taught me and I made it on my stove, using macaroni and/or rice for binder. It was fun and I did a few paintings with it. I didn’t have a lot of the fancy tools or expertise many other people have. I had only an old silkscreen and pressed the pulp by hand. I am pretty sure everything I made that way has disintegrated by now — I don’t have any of it. I sold the two or three pieces.

There is an art supply store in Denver — Meiningers — that in these days has, of course, branched out to more than one store, that sells more kinds of paper than any place I know, except the vast world of the Internet. I recently bought a selection of papers — and I think the most beautiful papers come from India and Japan. Since I’m not an artist any more, I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but it’s there, safely rolled and cared for.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/paper/

A Raise

When I was teaching, if I got good words from a student (or even a boss, but that was rare as I was a semi-slave and to keep a semi-slave in bondage it’s important not to let them get “uppity” and to make sure they’re grateful to be employed) I called it a “raise.”

Martin of Gfenn got a raise recently and I only learned of it today. It was a real mood-lifter!

Hello Martha,

I truly enjoyed your historical fiction “Martin of Gfenn”.

Since I was born in Switzerland, I was especially interested in your story. My niece lives in the general area of the book. Not too many novels have been written about that time, Switzerland was still in its infancy, barely separated from the Habsburg rule. Zurich joined the Swiss Confederation the first time in 1351, but was expelled and then joined again in 1450. Not too much of this was taught in school.

I felt compelled to send a print book to my brother in Switzerland. He taught latin languages and literature for many years. He just recently retired.

This is what he had to say:

. . . Dir zu danken für das Buch von M. Kennedy, Martin of  Gfenn, das ich vor der Reise nach Andalusien mit grossem Vergnügen gelesen habe. Die Geschichte dieses Martin wird von M. Kennedy grossartig erzählt und die Geschichte an sich ist auch sehr stark. Ich war von diesem Roman begeistert und das kommt nicht alle Tage vor (, obwohl ich nach wie vor viele Bücher lese.)

J S PhD

Translated:

Thank you for the book, written by M. Kennedy, Martin of Gfenn. I read it during my travels to Andalusien with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. The story of Martin is told by M. Kennedy with spellbinding language. The intensity of the story itself is exceptional. I read it with enthusiasm, which is not often the case these days, even though I’m an avid reader.

I thought you ought to know. Hopefully it will brighten your day.

Thank you for a great read.

Art and Life Converge

“In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.” William S. Burroughs

In 2006, I went to Fresco School in LA. I had prepared well for this. It was a HUGE experience for me to learn to paint what Martin of Gfenn had painted. I had fallen in love with fresco from writing about it and fallen deeper in love from seeing it in Italy. A few years later, I wrote about it — finding it today, I was stunned and entertained and wanted to share. I was rewriting Martin of Gfenn in 2009 and reached a passage in which Martin’s teacher tries to help Martin understand the difference between a detailed sketch and what will ultimately work on a large wall.

***

January 2009 — Perhaps behind our perception of coincidence is a level of unconsciousness. In my novel, Martin of Gfenn, the protagonist, Martin, faces the moment when he paints his first solo wall-mural fresco. The subject he’s been given to paint is a sequence of panels telling the story of Man’s Fall from the Garden. He begins with the Temptation of Eve, and is guided by his teacher, Michele, to understand that the central symbol of the story is not the serpent, but the apple. Martin decides (correctly) that the apple must be perfectly beautiful and irresistible. When he brings the painted sketch to his teacher…

Michele smiled when Martin showed him the colored sketch of the apple. It was an elegantly colored drawing, rich in detail and intensity, lovely on its own but impossible for its purpose.

“That will never work, Martin. Such intricacy will be lost in a picture of this size. Your strokes, shapes, everything, the colors, must have meaning and these will have no meaning.”

“How can you say that? It is clearly an apple.”

“You are not making fruit, Martin. You are painting fresco! It is an apple NOW, but on that wall it will be confusing, unless everything else you have in mind is of the same pattern. Then it will simply be bad.”

“It should look real if it’s going to be believed, you said that yourself, you said, ‘catch the life within it’.”

“The life within the apple, Martin, is not that it has myriad tiny yellow dots.”

“But it does, Michele. I drew from life; it is an apple.”

“I don’t say that it is not a lovely rendering of an apple. It is just that it will not come to life as an apple on the wall you are painting.”

“But isn’t THIS the center of the picture? Isn’t this the essence of the sin? I think it has to be perfect!”

“Perfect?”

“An apple, a perfect apple, as an apple is perfect. Here,” Martin reached into the pocket of his cassock. “This is it!” The two were virtually identical. “Is that not a perfect apple?”

“All right then. Tell me. Do you want to illustrate books and have your work closed between jeweled covers where only monks will look at them or do you want to paint for people, stories they can see? Decide now.”

“You make no sense! You keep saying, ‘discipline your eye and hand to see what is in front of you’ and I have done that; you yourself say, ‘that is a perfect apple’ so I have disciplined my eye and hand and produced this and you tell me it is wrong. If that discipline is wrong, what is the point?”

“Discipline, Martin, is not only in your eye and hand as you draw from something in front of you. It’s also in the tools, the paint, the walls. You must cooperate with them.”

“But I will be the master, isn’t that right? It is just a wall!”

“A true master surrenders to the imperatives of the craft, of the surface. You must see them as partners, teachers. Someday, God willing, you will understand that is freedom. Go try again, or not, as you choose. It is your wall.”

I have been going through this part of the novel today, making sure all the bits fit together in preparation for another attempt to send it out there. As I read this I remembered something and was amazed I had not thought of it before.

In March 2006 I went to L. A. to The Fresco School. I had spent the whole winter in my freezing, drafty, leaking laundry shed relearning how to paint watercolor (because I had the idea that fresco would be like watercolor) and relearning how to draw. I had no idea what my fresco would be, but I had been told to find a simple subject for the one fresco I would be painting on a 12 x 12 tile. At the store I found an apple; it was absolutely the most beautiful green apple I had ever seen, and completely different from all the other green apples there in the apple bin at Vons. I bought it and three more apples and brought it home. It would be my fresco. I was honestly in love with that apple.

I photographed the bowl with its apples, and drew from the photo since I knew my divine apple would lose some of that perfection through time (or I’d eat it – I never did, though…) and drew a black and white sketch, and a colored pencil sketch, and a grey and black wash drawing, and everything I could think of to get to know that apple as I’d placed it in the bowl with the others. The result was that THE apple appears larger than the others (bigger than life!). I sent it to my fresco teacher who approved the drawing. He liked it!

 

Colored Pencil Drawing of What I Imagined My Fresco Would Be

When the time came, I got in the Scion and drove up to LA, to my sleazebag hotel in Venice Beach (do not ask me why; I had some Bukowski reason or flaky nostalgia or something to account for that choice) and my agonized hip. It was cold and damp and the deteriorated joint made my life very difficult, but I was excited. That night I parked where I had been told, ate my dinner, read my book about Masonic rituals (which I left in the sleazebag hotel) before going to sleep with ear plugs and the two vicodin that made sleep possible. In the morning I headed off to make my fresco dreams come true.

There are many stories of that weekend but this post is to tell the story of what I realized today as I worked on my novel when I realized that my first fresco was the same subject as my protagonist’s first fresco, almost as if I re-enacted his experience in my own. How much do our creations captivate our minds? I think it may be impossible to know.

 

The Hideous Painting that Was My Fresco

I hated my fresco when it was done — not ONLY because it was bad (it was) but because my teacher took over. Two people cannot paint a small painting. He was just so worried that I would fail, or be unhappy with the result, that he took the brush out of my hand, painted the apples and the rocks himself, and stole from me my own glorious opportunity to fail. I drove home frustrated and resentful with another bad painting in the back of my car. There was ONE good part and I took some consolation knowing I painted it all myself. I love the medium and really want to learn it; that I had THIS success was heartening.

The One Good Part — the Wicker Seat

So the question, does art follow life or does life follow art? I don’t know. Is art the future and did I predict in my story what I would do when given the chance? Maybe. Is the protagonist of my novel me? Loosely, I guess, as much as I can be a male, 13th century artist who gets leprosy — certainly in that he is my creation — but I am ready to argue now that I am also his.

“Isolation and Courage in Martin of Gfenn”

Stephanie Hopkins of Layered Pages asked to write an article about one of the characters in one of my novels, and presented me certain topics I could use. I was struck by the topic of courage and isolation as demonstrated in the life and choices of the protagonist in Martin of Gfenn. This article was published today.

Layered Pages and IndieB.R.A.G. work together to promote high quality, self-published books. It’s a wonderful service and needed not only by serious writers who self-publish but by readers! If you’re a person who likes to read, I recommend checking out Stephanie’s blog, Layered Pages, to learn about good books that are not published by the mainstream press.

Here’s the article, “Isolation and Courage in Martin of Gfenn

 

Christmas Blog-hop

This year I’ve been invited to participate in a blog-hop sponsored by IndieB.R.A.G. a collective of readers who undertake to read, review and rate independently published fiction. Martin of Gfenn was named an IndieB.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree this November.

Beginning on December 1, following the link below will take you through the whole blog hop and into a world of wonderfully written Christmas stories.

indieBRAG

My story will appear on martinofgfenn.com on December 13.

No Surrender

I submitted Martin of Gfenn to be reviewed by the Indie novel editor of the Historical Novel Society. I sent the book to him about a month ago. It was no sure bet, but… This is what I received today. My leper and I are SO happy!!!

Hi Martha,

Just a quick note to follow up about “Martin of Gfenn” – a review will be appearing in my upcoming (February) issue. I thought it was very impressive – for the first time in 2015, a book moved me to tears. I can’t thank you enough for sending it along. Needless to say, it’ll be on my short list for our next Indie Award.

I’d love to hear the genesis of this amazing piece of work, but what I’d like even more is an assurance from you that you’re writing every day. The world of historical fiction could really use a few more novels by you.

Steve

————

A Leper’s Christmas

Daily Prompt Getting Seasonal The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog- bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

***

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

Martin stood in the back against the wall.

Brother Lothar entered first, swinging a censer to purify the air. He wore the white cape with the black cross of a Teutonic Knight. Brother Heinrich followed, in the black robes of the Knights of St. John, Hospitaller. In one hand, he held a branch of hyssop and in the other a silver dish from which he splashed holy water to cleanse the way.

The Master General entered wearing a sword and carrying an ornate silver cross. On the left shoulder of his black woolen cloak was appliquéd the cross of the Knights of St. Lazarus. He knelt before the altar, then stood to remove his sword and lay it upon the altar. The sword lay beside the gleaming silver chalice, reflecting the light from dozens of candles. At first, Martin could not tell if the Master General were a leper, but the wrappings on his hands answered Martin’s questions.

The Master General then stepped to one side, and the ritual was repeated by the Commander who served as Deacon. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar helped the Commander to kneel and then lifted him to his feet. He removed his sword and laid it on the altar, and made again to kneel. The Master General, who had seen his difficulty, motioned him to remain standing. The Commander bowed to the crucified Christ and said his silent prayer. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar, in their turns, laid their swords on the altar.

Asperges me,” said the Master General to the Commander who, in reply, dipped the hyssop twigs into the holy water and sprinkled the Master General. “Domine hyssopo et mundabor; lavabis me. . .”

The lepers spoke, together, those who were able, wheezing and hoarse many of them, “Thou shalt sprinkle me, Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Amen.”

The hyssop was used in the Bible, yes, Martin remembered, for cleansing lepers, but these were the words of Mass when all of God’s world was cleansed of the accumulating filth of human life. “Everyone is unclean,” had said the wandering priest of the Zürichberg.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy on all,” responded the Commander.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”

Expecting no mercy from God or man, Martin crossed himself in an automatic gesture of pious anonymity.

The Master General offered the Host as a sacrifice to God, and asked for God’s forgiveness. All those around Martin responded, “Amen.”

Ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus et particips Jesus Christus Fillius tuus Dominus noster…

Martin had heard this in every Mass since his boyhood, that Christ was God humbling himself to participate in the bitter, confusing struggle of man. Martin wondered if being human were not more difficult than being God.

The Commander waved the censer over the chalice to purify it before this first communion, purifying it for lepers. No clean lips would ever drink from it.

The air grew heavy with incense, the scent of fresh-cut pine, wet wool and human breath. It took a long time for the lepers to take their communion, and Martin stayed, kneeling on the stone floor, head bowed, eyes closed, his mind dragged through time on the voices, the singing, the words and the smoke of the incense. Confusing present and past, he listened for Michele’s pure Latin accents. The sun broke through the clouds and sent a bright flash through the chapel’s east window, the body of Christ. Startled by light pressing his eyelids, Martin lifted his head. He opened his eyes, but the sun was gone, and he was surrounded not by bright paintings, but by bare rock. Memory and hope collided, and he crumpled unconscious on the stone floor.

***

This is an excerpt from my novel, Martin of Gfenn.  If you like it, you can read more at martinofgfenn.com. In those days, people did not have Christmas trees as we know them, but they did put up what they called “the miracle tree.” It was an evergreen tree with apples tied to it.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/getting-seasonal/

Shameless Self Promotion

I know ALL of you are actually DYING to read my novels, Martin of Gfenn and Savior, or the small book of silly cat poetry I wrote for my niece, Andrea, when she was a kid, Cats I’ve Known, but you’re afraid that (since a sort-of-friend wrote them and they’re self-published [the shame of it]) they might not be that good, right? It’s OK. I’m NO different. MINIMIZE your risk! (Never mind that they are good books!) For this weekend you can get them at 20% off by ordering directly from the publisher. They are already well under $20. What a deal!

Just use the code READ when you check out. And imagine how THRILLED your historical novel loving friends and family will be to get them as Christmas presents! To find them? http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mindwanderweg

There Is No Time

Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone, by Krista on February 28, 2014 Ever have an experience that felt surreal, as though you’d been suddenly transported into the twilight zone, where time seemed to warp, perhaps slowing down or speeding up? Tell us all about it.

More unique in my case would be an experience that’s NOT like the Twilight Zone. Still, I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

After I wrote Martin of Gfenn, I wanted to write a “prequel” about one of the characters in the novel. I did write it. In the second novel he was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived on the, on the, on the? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some cool information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Beatrice, but I changed it to Anna and a fiancee named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf, but he changed his name after certain important events, to Johannes.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancee — Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out and I got a fan-email from a man in Switzerland asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zurich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower. Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives and his brother is killed. I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one change I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It seemed to leave the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. He had also had children, the “real” Rudolf. I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. He would have to do the same. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

My ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are three chapters here.

I also remembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family was on that wall. You can see it at the top of this blog. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful and their sons even more powerful in Zürich and in Bremgarten. In Aargau there is are towns that bear their name.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/daily-prompt-twilight-zone/

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