Haunted Landscapes

Image belongs to Killian Shoenberger
Image belongs to Killian Shoenberger

This past weekend I was privileged to attend Sirens 2014, a writer’s conference devoted to literature by and about women. I attended so many fantastic keynotes and panels, and found kinship and inspiration in the ideas and creativity of my fellow attendees. One panel in particular, however, sparked something deep within me; the panel discussing Haunted Landscapes, hosted by Kate Tremills, Roberta Cottam, and Kathryn Cottam. Perhaps it was the just the fog-drenched hills of the Columbia River Gorge, but the idea of landscapes echoing with memories of the past promptly tip-toed into my imagination–and refused to leave.

When I first heard the phrase haunted landscape, my mind immediately conjured up the setting of Wuthering Heights; a windswept moor, howling with the voices of restless spirits, and a cold, empty manor, full of memories and secrets. But any landscape, really, can be haunted–by terrible acts of violence, or moments of human bravery. History, memory, action–places are indelibly marked by the past, and by the people whose lives shifted and changed the environment around them.

Cloister Cemetery in the Snow, by Caspar David Friedrich
Cloister Cemetery in the Snow,
by Caspar David Friedrich

All too often, a haunted landscape is one that has borne witness to bloodshed, tragedy, or death. Ghosts of terror shade the atmosphere of a place, and some things never leave. We’ve all experienced this–the sudden hush of a cemetery, the creak of tree branches heavy with some unseen burden. In college, I visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin. From the moment I set foot through those gates, I sensed the layers of memory and pain etched into the very earth I walked on. The site of the Battle of Culloden–a battlefield soaked with the blood of an entire people, where the grass and sky heard the final breaths of a thousand brave soldiers. Tiananmen Square. The Tower of London. A Native American burial mound.

But even as human history and memory can haunt a landscape, so too can a place or environment haunt our minds and souls. From the mundane to the extraordinary, the landscapes that make up the backdrops of our lives can stick with us like a handprint on the heart. Your childhood home. The towering sycamore tree in the front yard that grew up with you, until its lowest branches were too high to grasp. The abandoned quarry overgrown with gorse bushes where you used to play. The vast expanse of the Burren, the cracked karst limestone giving way only to man-made monuments from another time, like Poulnabrone Dolmen.

The Burren Image belongs to Mike Brown
The Burren
Image belongs to Mike Brown

Even landscapes we have never personally visited can haunt us, specters of hopes and dreams that may or may not come to pass. The idea of home; a physical place that calls to you from far away, and when you finally arrive, embraces you body and soul. My friend Emmie speaks of the moment she stepped off the plane in Scotland–she knew, without a doubt, that she had come home. Even fictional landscapes can haunt our imaginations. The Yorkshire setting of Jane Eyre, complete with Thornfield Hall and its owner, brooding Mr. Rochester. Narnia, where the animals dole out wisdom and magic lurks around every corner. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Barcelona, where the Cemetery of Forgotten Books holds the secrets of the ghosts who haunt its twisting streets.

As humans, we cannot separate ourselves or our lives from the places we inhabit. Human interactions with the landscape reverberate through the ages and through the rocks, trees, cities and monuments that exist today. We are ourselves merely ghosts–what impact will we make?

Are you haunted by a landscape, real or fictional? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Monthly Post at Spellbound Scribes

Hello, my lovelies! Because it’s Halloween month, when the leaves start to change and everything is pumpkin flavored and things go bump in the night, I thought I’d try my hand at a piece of horror flash-fiction, called “Lost at Dusk”! Check it out here!

What’s your favorite thing about autumn? Let me know in the comment section below!

#PitchWars Mentee Blog Hop!

Oh! Hello there! I am delighted to be participating in Brenda Drake’s fantastic Pitch Wars contest this year, and figured I ought to throw my bio out there as part of the Mentee blog hop! If you have no interest in learning more about me, or for some reason really hate obnoxious amounts of GIFs, well, you might want to move along.

First off, I’m Lyra! (Yes, it’s my real name, and yes, the Golden Compass books were based entirely on my life.) I’m 26, and live in the Best City in America, aka Boston.

I’ve been writing since a very young age. My mom recently unearthed a short story, written and illustrated by eight-year-old moi, about a farmer tying chickens to pigs in order to prove the old adage “when pigs fly.” In 5th grade, I wrote a novel about a warrior princess named Jade and her trusty unicorn steed. My stories have since become slightly more sophisticated.

I’m pretty bad at Twitter. Like, I still don’t really get it?

I read. A lot. My worst nightmare is people asking me what my favorite book/author is–that question has no answer. I love fantasy first and foremost, but I’ll read just about anything. The last book I cried over: Leigh Bardugo’s Ruin and Rising. The last literary book I read: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Book I’m itching to get my paws on: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unmade.

I graduated from the University of Florida. With a major in Political Science and a minor in English. I once took a class called “Victorian Vampires” from a Romanian professor named Dragan who wore only black. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

I play the piano, sing, paint, and do calligraphy. My husband says I belong in an Austen novel since I’m such an “accomplished young lady.”

I am a fangirl. Full stop. I belong to more fandoms than I care to name. Supernatural, Doctor Who, BtVS, Battlestar Galactica, GoT…the list goes on. And on. I have no shame. What can I say, I love to squeeeee!

When I’ve had a few glasses of wine, I start to sound reeeaalll Southern. But that’s okay–there’s something to be said for growing up in the South.

And that’s me in a nutshell!

Be sure to head over to Dannie Morin’s blog to check out the other Mentee bios!

 

O Captain! My Captain!

"Good Morning Vietnam"
“Good Morning Vietnam”

I don’t usually blog about current events, much less celebrity deaths. When the newspapers are filled with school shootings and police shootings and dead Palestinian children and natural disasters, spending time mourning a famous person seems worse than trivial.

But it is a queer thing to cry for a stranger. To feel tears running down your cheeks and an ache in your chest for someone you never met, someone you only know through their on-screen performances. To feel genuinely heartbroken about the suicide of a famous person. But that is how I feel about Robin Williams’ death, and if the lachrymose outpouring on social media is any indication, I’m not the only person grieving for the late actor and comedian.

I never met Robin Williams, but he was a fixture in the pop culture of my childhood and an icon for my generation. He outran a stampede of animatronic jungle animals in Jumanji. His manic, ebullient, and mercurial voice-acting brought Genie to life in Aladdin. He hilariously cross-dressed as a Scottish nanny to spend time with his children in Mrs Doubtfire. And when I was older, he sat on a bench in the Boston Public Garden and said to a young and arrogant genius, “You’re just a kid. You don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about.” He taught a group of young men about loving literature, about standing up for what they believed in, about seizing the day. “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Genie, you’re free.

And that’s just to name a few.

Continue reading “O Captain! My Captain!” »

THE MASKED SONGBIRD, by Emmie Mears!

THE MASKED SONGBIRD, by Emmie Mears
THE MASKED SONGBIRD,
by Emmie Mears

Sometimes, when you meet a random roommate on Craigslist and move in with them, they wind up stealing your food or refusing to take out the trash or throwing all-night ragers in your living room. And other times–if you’re reallllllyyy lucky–they become successful writers and bloggers who go on to found websites and publish books.

Emmie, as you may have guessed, is the latter kind of roommate. United by Craigslist, we bonded over our shared Celtic heritage, our love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and our aspirations to become writers. Although we no longer cohabitate, Emmie and I have kept in touch for years, and I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that her first book, The Masked Songbird, is being released by Harlequin in July! Set in Scotland on the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum, the novel tells the story of Gwen Maule, a young woman who develops powers after she accidentally drinks a strange beverage.

Here’s Emmie to tell you a little bit more about herself, and her new book! Make sure to snag a copy of The Masked Songbird on July 1st–you can preorder it HERE!

1. Hello Emmie! Thanks for being here. I’m so excited to get my grubby paws on The Masked Songbird at last! Tell us a bit about the titular superhero, Gwen Maule. What is the quality you most admire in her, and what do you think is her biggest flaw?

Even at her worst, Gwen is nothing if not tenacious. I think that’s probably her best quality and one I try to emulate. She keeps trying even when things go wrong. Even when her life sucks, she keeps getting up in the morning. I think her biggest flaw is thinking she can do it all herself. In spite of her superpowers, she can’t be everywhere at once.

Continue reading “THE MASKED SONGBIRD, by Emmie Mears!” »

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