The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Love, Honor, and Inspiration

9:50 PM PDT, April 30, 2009

Before I get down to blogging about my topic, I’ll note that the Kindle editions of my books are now on sale, and will be priced at .99 each for the entire month of May. It's always a pleasure to acquire new readers, and that sensation will, I hope, be heightened when both volumes are available on Mobipocket in the near future. Established reviewers are invited to email me for complimentary pdfs of both Wysard and Lord Brother; the address is on my website at A Writing Life, along with links to synopses, first chapters, and media commentary.

Regarding my subject matter, inspiration comes from anywhere, and I can't specify my wysard Ryel Mirai's origins. I was an adolescent when I envisioned him, and I didn’t know his name; he had none. He was then as he is now: about 24, slender and tallish, heroic and kind, with long dark hair and features mingling classic Greece with Mongol steppes. I made him the protagonist of a Victorian-flavored short story and a whimsical narrative poem, both of which are still extant in some shelved box or other; eventually I’ll type them up as Word files.

I more or less forgot about my wizard after that, immersing myself in Tolkien and Eddison and Burroughs along with less fantastical classics. But not until college did I encounter John Dryden’s two-part play ‘The Conquest of Granada,’ written in 1672 when Charles II ruled Britain and Louis XIV France, and not much else in the world mattered. Its influence has stayed with me ever since. It was really and truly magical, and ensorceled me entirely. I recently re-read it, and even though I’m older and wiser and have been rigorously trained to recognize all its faults, I love it still, as I will always love that which is magnificent and brave.

Like all extremely serious things, ‘Conquest’ is easy to make fun of, and was hilariously lampooned in its day. The dialog is exclusively rhyming verse, the subject matter is entirely love and honor, and the characters are without exception noble even when behaving deplorably. Its plot deals with the power struggle between the ruling Spanish Moors and their Christian enemies in 1492, but the beating, bleeding heart of the story concerns the hopeless passion of the heroic warrior Almanzor for the beautiful Almahide, wife of King Boabdelin. There are striking lines in it, like Almanzor’s taunt to the king:

“No man has more contempt than I of breath,
But whence hast thou the right to give me death?
Obeyed as sovereign by thy subjects be,
But know, that I alone am king of me.
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.”

Despairing in her adoration of the bold hero, Almahide laments:

“How blessed was I before this fatal day,
When all I knew of love, was to obey!
'Twas life becalmed, without a gentle breath;
Though not so cold, yet motionless as death.
A heavy quiet state; but love, all strife,
All rapid, is the hurricane of life.”

King Boabdelin, cankered with jealousy, breaks into bitter distichs:

“Marriage, thou curse of love, and snare of life,
That first debased a mistress to a wife!
Love, like a scene, at distance should appear,
But marriage views the gross-daubed landscape near.
Love's nauseous cure! thou cloyest whom thou should'st please;
And, when thou cur'st, then thou art the disease.
When hearts are loose, thy chain our bodies ties;
Love couples friends, but marriage enemies.”

Granada with its gorgeous oriental court became Wysard’s Almancar, with some Renaissance Venice and Edo-era Yoshiwara and the Empire of Trebizond thrown in.

The play in its two parts can be found here. No one would think of performing it now, for excellent reasons; but it’s wonderful to envision a world in which people flocked to watch it, and to imagine being part of that rapt audience.

More to come about influences, inspirations and defining moments.


Friday, April 24, 2009

The Milk Of Paradise

11:33 AM PDT, April 24, 2009

The official drink of the angels, I'm convinced, is St. Germain liqueur. It’s celestial in every way—from its graceful bottle that resembles a fin-de-si├Ęcle flacon, to the pale refined gold of its hue, to its exquisitely fresh, heady fragrance, to the mystery of its making which involves hand-picked Alpine elderflowers, to its divine flavor, at once tangy and sweet in perfect balance. Its only drawbacks are its expense and its rarity, but even those seem virtues.

The other night Hub and I shared our last precious drops of this nectar with a favorite couple, making a very heaven of the warm spring evening, candlelight, civilized music playing softly in the background, and a sense of everything being exactly as it should be, however briefly.

Monday, April 20, 2009


5:45 PM PDT, April 20, 2009

My house surely must be blessed by the kami, since I've got a whole family of foxes living in the brush pile out back. The mother is slim and pensive, supervising her brood with mild vigilant care, her russet pelt vivid against the emerging green of the trees. The five little ones romp about adorably, wrestling and pouncing and tumbling. I look at them and can't help but think of the way I grew up; and then I turn my thoughts elsewhere.

April can indeed be the cruelest month, but for me it marks a time of needful endings and wished-for beginnings. The other night I was dancing with Hub at a benefit party teeming with Bright Young Things, feeling the combined bliss of Santana-tinged music and liberal Cuba Libres, when a girl came up to me and said, shouting over the racket, "You're the only one here who looks like they're having any #&@%ing FUN!"

That's just the way I want it, from here on out.



Photo taken by me, a few years before this post.
Information about my other writing can be found here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

La Princesse Lointaine

12:43 PM PDT, April 15, 2009

(Information about my other writing can be found here. Happy reading!)

Life is often irksome, and at such times I take refuge in that which is pleasing and uplifting.

While in Kyoto last summer, I chanced, on a couple of rare occasions when I wasn’t embroiled in extreme sightseeing or sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, to watch a bit of television. One program in particular intrigued me: a historical drama featuring court ladies in splendid kimono, indulging in behavior dismally typical of people with too much time on their hands--gossiping, scheming, maligning, betraying. Among these craven weeds one woman stood out like a sweet, slender flower, taking no part in the pettiness, fulfilling a higher destiny.

There were, of course, no English subtitles. I knew the period was Tokugawa, but other than that I was lost. Once I returned home, I did some Internet sleuthing to find out just which program it was, and with only a little trouble learned I’d been watching Atsuhime (Princess Atsu), a multi-segment story set in the 1850s when Commodore Perry and his black ships were threatening a status quo unchanged for centuries. Just the other day, to my surprise and pleasure, I stumbled upon a site featuring English-subtitled videos of every episode. It’s heaven.

Atsuhime moves at a deliberate, almost dreamlike pace. So far I’m at Episode 11 and haven’t yet witnessed a single usually de rigeur multi-samurai katana battle, nor any overt exertion at all save for a great deal of carefully calibrated bowing. It’s wonderfully restful. The beauteous young princess is admirably wise and noble, and defies convention in various charming ways. Although she and her family exhibit no physical affection whatsoever, the bonds of the heart are clearly deep-rooted and unshakeable. This restraint is shown by everyone: deadly enemies never come to blows, and desperate lovers never touch. Honor, sacrifice, and loyalty are emphasized and exalted. The production values are quietly stunning, and the acting topnotch; the only off note, so to speak, is the Westernized musical score in a milieu demanding koto, shamisen, and hyoshigi.

Elegant, informative and pleasurable Atsuhime eminently is, in ways American television can never comprehend. Only when one stirs the inscrutable surface of the princess' world does one remember that this was a pivotal, terrible point in Japanese history, marking the end of the nation’s lofty seclusion and the wholesale influx of all that now makes the culture so uniquely strange—Shangri-La crossed with Bartertown.


(Photo was taken by me at a Kyoto shopping arcade during the visit described above. Click image for a larger view.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Petals on a wet, black bough

2:56 PM PDT, April 11, 2009

Mildly seasonal as this post's title may seem, Ezra Pound's poem about faces packs all kinds of brooding angst in its two short lines and perfectly sums up my present mood. I admire Pound most because without his censoring pen like a refiner's fire, Eliot's The Waste Land would have ended up a negligible ditherfest.

I never thought of myself as the Facebook type, but life can be either a luxury cruise or dinghy ordeal of self-discovery, depending on viewpoint. So far my profile page is an abject blank, but I'll add to it once I get over the social anxiety I never have in person.

And there's always the Delete feature. Would that all of life's events had one.

Writing is coming along wonderfully, given much recent inspiration.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dear Shadow

11:45 AM PDT, April 8, 2009

Note: The tale referred to in this post is "The Kind Gods," published in Bewildering Stories and free to read on my website ( (Update: It can also be read here on my blog, at

It came like a flash—and ended in flash fiction. By sheer accident I chanced to listen the other day to a song I’d never heard before by a group I’d never heard about, and in another moment I was writing a story. It’s been a very long time since I've done that.

“Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” is by Fleet Foxes, a Seattle-based band who debuted in 2008. Its lone-guitar, single-voice slow waltz, poignant chords, and evocative lyrics rife with ambiguity were simply ensorcelling, bardic, timeless. It took me about twenty minutes to write most of the story, and I thought up the ending last night.

Perhaps it’s the season, or a change of outlook that makes time inestimably precious, or good friends and fan mail, and/or just finally getting my chemical balance right, but to feel like creating again is like being saved from drowning.

Grateful thanks to everything, anything,


Wanderers this morning came by
Where did they go
Graceful in the morning light
To banner fair
To follow you softly
In the cold mountain air

Through the forest
Down to your grave
Where the birds wait
And the tall grasses wave
They do not
know you anymore

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

In the town one morning I went
Staggering through premonitions of my death
I don't see anybody that dear to me

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon
I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon